They say muscle growth is simple, not easy. Adding size requires a lot of good old-fashioned hard work. Muscle growth needs to check several boxes – with both nutrition and training — to help your body break down muscle tissue and build it back. It’s the principal reason most people don’t see big changes often. They do some of the work, but not all of it.
1. Muscle Growth Requires Calories
The quest for more muscle starts with nutrition. Your first order of business is getting your calorie intake in order. Gaining muscle fast requires being in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you burn). This means eating is a priority, but you don’t need to go overboard. You can only gain muscle so fast, and a modest calorie surplus works just as well as “eating everything in sight” and leaves you with a lot less fat to lose later. To start, you need to figure out your average daily calorie intake, or maintenance calories. Tracking your eating with an app makes this much easier, but a basic notebook works too.
2. Optimise for Protein
On top of dialing in your calorie intake, you need to make sure you’re eating enough sources of protein. Research suggests that the perfect range for building muscle is anywhere from 1.2 grams – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of your goal body weight. That’s most of the dietary battle. If you’re consistently hitting your calorie and protein goals, then you’ve got your nutritional bases covered for gaining muscle. Whether you’re building muscle or losing fat, it’s important to think about eating for the body you want, not the body you have.
3. Train Each Muscle 2/3 Times Weekly
You can gain muscle by only hitting each muscle once per week, or by working each muscle even more frequently. But, if you’re trying to maximize muscle gain, 2-3 times per week seems to be your best bet. The cellular processes of building muscle (muscle protein synthesis) are only humming away at high speed for about 24 – 48 hours after you finish a workout. So, if you only train a muscle once per week, your muscles are only spending about 1/7 – 2/7 of their time in “growth mode.”
4. Focus On a Full Range of Motion
Working a muscle through a full range of motion builds the most muscle and strength. When muscles are slightly stretched under load, more muscle damage occurs, and local concentrations of muscle-building hormones increase much more than they do with shorter ranges of motion. Lifting through a full range of motion may also help with injury prevention. Your muscles add more contractile units in series, meaning your muscle can stretch farther without the risk of tearing.
5. Prioritise Full-Body Exercises
You add muscle when you prioritize multi-joint lifts that focus on your entire body. Make sure you track your workouts and try to beat your numbers each week. This can be done in a few different ways. You can use the same weights and perform more reps, do the same weights and reps and add an extra set, or try to add weight to the bar. When your performance improves, as long as you’re not cheating your reps, you will gain muscle.
6. Challenge Your Muscles
There’s no magic rep-range to maximize muscle growth. That’s a good thing because it means you can train with lower and higher reps and still see results. In general, though, the best approach might be using loads that let you get anywhere between 5 to 15 reps per set with good form. You can gain muscle with fewer reps per set, but that usually means using loads that can beat up your joints. And, you need to make sure you’re doing enough sets to reach a volume that maximizes muscle growth.