When you want to build lean mass (i.e. muscle tissue), your goal should be to maximize muscle hypertrophy while minimizing fat gain. More often than not, gym goers treat mass-building phases like an invitation to get as bulky as possible, resulting in unnecessary fat gain. To mitigate this, the following tips will help you maximize your muscle building potential and limit the amount of fat you put on in the process.
Training Strategies for Building Muscle
Below you will find proven, highly-effective training tips that apply to all individuals when trying to build muscle:
Focus on compound/multi-joint exercises
- Multi-joint exercises utilize multiple muscle groups and recruit a greater amount of muscle fibers than single-joint exercises; thus you get more “bang for your buck” by doing them. Furthermore, by using multiple joints and muscles you are generally able to lift a heavier loads, allowing you to put more tension on the muscle which is further conducive to muscle hypertrophy. Just think, when was the last time you saw Scrawny Johnny Doe squatting 500lbs ass-to-the-grass? That would be a rare sighting indeed.
- An example of some compound exercises include: barbell squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, barbell rows, pull-ups/chin-ups, leg presses, lunges, etc. This isn’t suggesting you should neglect isolation exercises, but make sure your program is mostly comprised of compound movements and do the isolation exercises as “assistance” movements to the primary muscles your training on a given day.
Always be progressing (when possible)
- It should be rather obvious that one of the main culprits of stagnation in the gym is simply not having a progression scheme in place. When you’re in the gym, your main goal must be improvement. You’d be amazed how many trainees just go through the motions and lift the same exact weight for months (even years) on end, and guess what? They look the exact same now as they did all that time ago.
- While increasing the amount of weight you lift should be a priority, progression can also come in the form of increasing training volume and frequency, as well as adding intensity techniques (like drop-sets), etc.
Keep some cardio (preferably “High-Intensity Interval Training”) in your regimen when trying to build muscle
- Most everyone can stand to benefit by doing a few sessions of cardio every week even while trying to build muscle. Reason being is that cardio, specifically high-intensity interval training (HIIT), helps to boost mitochondrial biogenesis and oxygen consumption when at rest. In turn, this means your metabolic expenditure increases and you will stay leaner while you put on muscle.
- Implement maybe 1-3 HIIT sessions per week based on how quickly you gain weight. A HIIT session can be as quick as 15-20 minutes if done properly and hard enough. For example, try starting out with something like hill sprints:
- Find a hill that is about 50-60 yards long
- Sprint as hard as you can to the top of the hill (should take about 10-15 seconds)
- Walk slowly back down to the bottom of the hill for “active recovery”
- Catch your breath and repeat ten times
If you want to incorporate some low-intensity cardio to burn off a few extra calories that’s fine. Just don’t go overboard as eventually low-intensity cardio will actually downregulate your metabolic rate and inhibit muscle growth. You should be doing no more than 2 to 3 30-minute sessions of low-intensity cardio per week when trying to add muscle.
Don’t neglect rest
- Time in the gym is certainly important in order to provide sufficient stimulation for muscle growth, but you should not be spending your entire day training either. You grow during the hours spent out of the gym (especially during sleep), and skipping out on rest and recovery is sure to hinder your rate of progress.
- Keep a consistent sleeping regimen, aiming for between 7-8 hours per night. If you are able, consider taking a “power nap” or two throughout the day when you start to feel a bit draggy. Again, when you’re in the gym work hard, but when it’s time to rest, rest. More isn’t always better, especially when it comes to time spent in the gym. Lift, eat, sleep, and repeat.
Simple Diet Rules to Follow to Build Muscle
Below you will find simple diet tips that apply to all individuals when trying to build muscle.
Always include a quality protein source in your meals
- Aim to take in a generous amount of high-quality protein every time you have a meal (at least 3-4oz. which is about the size of a deck of cards). For reference, this will generally be lean animal meats or animal-derived foods, such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk. If you’re vegetarian, emphasize plant- and grain-based proteins like pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp protein, etc.
Eat more calories than you burn (within reason)
- This should be a no-brainer for most readers, but if you plan to build muscle you are going to have to be in an energetic surplus at the end of the day. This simply means you need to be ingesting more calories than your body is burning on a daily basis. Use the calculator found here to get a baseline of your energy needs.
Preferably eat your biggest meals around the time you train
- Due to the acute effect elicited by weight training, you stand to benefit by eating optimally around the training timeframe. In general, post-workout is a prime timeframe to replenish the body with a generous amount of carbohydrates and a complete protein source.
Eat between 4-6 meals spread across the day, depending on what fits your schedule best
- This is rather intuitive, but try and spread your meals out across the day in a fashion that best suits your schedule and lifestyle. The main thing to aim for is having a relatively consistent meal pattern each day. This way your body starts to adapt to how many feedings you have and entrains that meal pattern into the brain. Essentially, you should subconsciously start to get hungry when you normally are about to eat a meal.
Foods to emphasize
- Most gym goers will benefit by eating foods such as whole grains, lean meats/poultry, fruits, vegetables, nuts and nut butters. These foods tend to be high in micronutrients, dietary fiber, and essential fatty acids, which are crucial for regulating gastrointestinal function, oxidative stress, blood lipids and many other aspects of your well-being.
Moderation is key
- Avoid extremes if possible; don’t fall into the trap of restricting yourself to certain foods; enjoy your life a little bit! If you want some pizza, have a slice or two. There is a reason “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) works…because its common sense! If you want a slice of cake it won’t kill you, just don’t eat the whole cake.