We’re here to tell you that the process of building muscle is neither complex nor confusing. Regardless of what you might have read or been told about the complexity of the muscle building process, the truth is that it’s quite simple and straightforward. You don’t need to focus on the physiological and biochemical processes that run behind the scenes or on measuring every bit of food you put into your mouth or on the various “supplements” that are the craze these days.
All you need to focus on is lifting progressively heavier weights and eating “good sized portions” of whole foods during the day.
(We’ll explain what we mean by “good sized portions” a little later on in the article)
Is it that simple?
But wait, I’m not athletic, and I never played any sports in school. I’ve always been the little guy who got bullied. It doesn’t matter what your story is, if you follow the principles we lay down in this guide, you will be successfully at sculpting a strong and solid physique.
No-BS and no Jargon, only guaranteed results.
1. Strength Training
If you want to build muscle and get big, you need first to focus on building a strong foundation. Without a strong foundation, not only will you be unable to perform the big compound movements that are the backbone of any real strength training program, but you will also be a frequent victim to all kinds of muscle strains and injuries.
2. Building a Strong Foundation?
We thought you’d never ask. Okay, so if you’re an absolute beginner, there are four basic exercises that you need to get acquainted with and master before you do anything else.
- The squat
- Push-up and,
There are plenty of good online resources, including various youtube videos that will guide you to learn the above four basic movements.
If you haven’t exercised much before you should ideally spend at least the first 6-8 months performing bodyweight push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges.
And, don’t fret the snickering buffoons in the gym lifting heavy dumbbells, just focus on your journey. However, if you are too embarrassed to go the gym, you could very well just workout at home. All you’ll need is a pull-up bar for the pull-ups, and you’re good to go.
Here’s an example routine of what you’re training should like for the first few months:
- 400m -1km run
- Light skipping
- 5-10 reps of each exercise in your workout
- 3-4 sets of 10-20 push-ups (Increase reps progressively as you get stronger)
- 3-4 sets of 6-8 pull-ups (Increase reps progressively as you get stronger)
- 3-4 sets of 10-15 body weight squats (Increase reps progressively as you get stronger)
- 3-4 sets of lunges (Increase reps progressively as you get stronger)
As you get stronger and more confident, you can upgrade to stuff like elevated push-ups, clap push-ups, Hindu push-ups, kipping pull-ups, muscle-ups, one-leg squats, jump squats, jumping lunges and a whole lot more.
There is no limit to strength training with your body weight when you master the basic movements and add leverage to increase resistance through the use of various household props, like chairs, stools, ropes and more. Check out more guide to body weight training for more workout tips on how to make the most out of your training.
Once you’re confident, and you’ve put in consistent time and effort for a few months, you’re ready for the next step in the program.
3. The Big Moves
Forget about the 6-day a week body part split muscle building routines that emphasize a different body part every day of the week. These are for the advanced, competition level athletes. What you need to focus is training your Full body with these 5 compound barbell lifts:
- The Front/Back Squat
- The Deadlift
- The Barbell Row
- The Bench Press and,
- The Overhead Press or Shoulder Press
Even the great bodybuilders, like Arnold, started with these lifts and powerlifting before they became full-time body builders. The truth is that compound lifts like the Squat and the Deadlift workout several muscle groups simultaneously while secreting ample HGH (human growth hormone) that is essential to the muscle building process.
You don’t need to go crazy and exercise 5 times a week. You’ll only hurt your progress and won’t be able to maintain consistency.
For the best results, including sufficient rest and recovery, we recommend a 3-day workout routine where your squatting and pressing three times a week.
4. Learn the Exercises
So, here is where you will have to join a gym and train under a professional who can teach you the fundamentals of each exercise.
Although the Squat, the Deadlift, Barbell Row, Shoulder Press and Bench Press may look easy, they require good instruction and proper technique to perform without injury or strain.
A professional instructor will look at your body type and suggest certain special tweaks to the original movements so that they suit your particular frame. For example, if you’re a taller guy with a shorter torso and longer legs, your trainer might suggest that you incorporate a wider stance and focus on pushing your knees further out to increase abduction at the hip and to aid you in staying as upright as possible in the hole without compromising your form. Besides this, on analyzing your overall build, he or she might also suggest certain alternate variations to the original exercises. For example, you might be more suited to benefit from the Front Squat vs. the Back Squat or the Sumo Deadlift vs. the conventional Deadlift. Also, your trainer or coach will also be able to give you invaluable advice on breaking through any walls you hit in your weight lifting program.
Once you’ve learned the movements, you can even ditch the gym, get a power rack and follow any solid strength training program that includes moderate to intense lifting 3-4 times a week. Check out Mehdi’s 5×5 Strength Training program that is awesome for both beginners as well as the experienced lifter.
5. Progressive Overload
This is the holy grail of building muscle consistently over time. Progressive overload is the process of increasing stress placed on the body by either lifting gradually heavier weights, increasing reps, sets or reducing rest periods. The added impetus of increasing weights or reps, shocks the muscle into growth and forces it to adapt to the demands of the higher weight and increased volume, thus making it grow and strength.
Achieving progressive overload consistently over a period is critical to seeing results in your resistance training program. Whether your goal is to build more lean muscle, increase muscle size, improve endurance or cardiovascular fitness, without progressive overload, your body will not adapt to higher demands unless you train it to.
How Long will it take to Build Muscle and Gain Size?
As a beginner or a newbie coming in with tons of enthusiasm and excitement for your new muscle building endeavor, you have everything to gain, if only you can stick to the program and remain consistent.
The good news: It’s possible for you to gain 18-25 pounds of muscle in the first year alone since you haven’t yet activated your genetic muscular potential. However, it will require you to the stay the course and put up with little to no results in the first few months of your training.
As a newbie, you’ll be hard pressed to see results in the first few months of training, simply because your muscles aren’t used to hard training and therefore will take the time to adapt and start growing. You shouldn’t expect any drastic differences in muscle size before 6-8 months of consistent training.
By the end of the year, you should see a considerable improvement in your physique and muscle mass if you’ve been consistent with your training and your nutrition. Stay in there, train hard, and don’t lose hope, because you will make gains.
However, the “Newbie effect” doesn’t last forever and after a year, if you continue to be consistent, muscle gains will slow down a bit as you continue into year 2,3 and 4. According to Lyle Mcdonald, a top fitness coach, you can expect to gain 10-12 lbs in year 2, 5-6 lbs in year 3 and up to 3 lbs in year 4. All in all, if you run the natural route (without using any anabolics) over the course of 4-5 dedicated years of training, you can effectively gain 40-50 lbs of muscle before you hit your genetic limit.
6. Diet and Nutrition
Know this, regardless of how hard you train, unless you take your nutrition seriously, you won’t put on put any significant muscle. You’ve probably heard the old body building adage that says it’s all about a ‘90% focus on nutrition and a 10% focus on eating’. While that isn’t exactly the entire picture, it certainly gives you a strong sense of how important eating right is to the muscle building process.
Consume a healthy calorie Surplus: It’s true that you need to eat a surplus of 3500 calories in a week if you want to put on a pound of fat, but you’re looking to put on muscle, not fat right? Despite, what you might have heard about stuffing your face with huge calories, in reality, if you want to build muscle without the added ton of fat, all you need is a daily surplus of 250 calories; hard gainers are the exception (500 is good for you).
To find out your maintenance calorie level, just multiply your current body weight in pounds by 14 and 17. Your caloric maintenance amount will lie somewhere in between those figures. To gain effective muscle, simply add 250 kcal to that amount. If you’re gaining 3-4 lbs a month, your making good progress.
Get your Protein: Muscles are made of up to 25% protein, while the rest is water and stored glycogen. So, you need protein to build muscle and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Although there is an upper limit to the amount of protein you should ideally eat, if you’re looking to build muscle and put on weight, the majority of research suggests that you should consume between .6 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Also, make sure to eat high-quality protein sources throughout the day, in addition to your pre and post workout snacks.
Here’s a list of good protein sources to include in your meals:
- Whey Protein
- Eggs (Whole eggs and whites)
- Fish (Tuna)
Stick to Whole Foods, Healthy Carbs, and Good Fats: While it’s okay to binge every once in a while and eat junk, you should aim to consume good quality carbs that aren’t processed in order to lead a healthy life. In short, just because you’re looking to gain, doesn’t mean you should think its okay to go on a big mac, fries, and pizza eating spree. Carbs are important because they provide much-needed energy and aid immensely in recovery. Try to eat lots of veggies, oats, brown rice, potatoes, fruits, some pasta, and bread.
Eat good fats:
- Nuts and other dry fruit (almonds)
- Egg yolk (limit to 2-3 a day)
Meals and Counting Calories: There are no hard and fast rules to the number of meals that you should eat in a day. You’ve probably all heard that to gain successfully and give your body the “proper” nutrition it needs, you should eat six small meals throughout the day. Well, like I just said, there are no strict rules, what works for someone might not necessarily work for you.
If you’re training 3-4 times a week with moderate to high intensity, your body will tell when it wants to eat. In fact, it won’t just tell you; it’ll yell it in your stomach. You don’t have to eat every 2-3 hours, like clockwork, just eat well when you’re hungry and snack on whole food and fruits in between meals.
As far as counting calories go, it helps to know:
- Protein: 4 calories/per gram
- Fat: 9 calls/per gram
- Carbs: 4 calls/per gram
As we mentioned earlier, you should be looking to consume up to:
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and (25-30% from proteins)
20-25% of your total cal intake should come from fats;
And the rest of your calories from rich Carbohydrates (40-50%)
7. Rest, Recovery, and Motivation
Anything real takes times and effort, and there are no shortcuts. Well, let’s be clear here, there are shortcuts if you take anabolics and other testosterone enhancers and such. But the risks, with these, far outweigh the rewards, no matter how carefully you take them.
Think about, what you want, ultimately is to have a good looking physique and feel strong. If you put in the time, and you’re consistent, nothing can deny you the results. And, as we said earlier you don’t have to train five days a week. A 3 day split with adequate rest, recovery and food are all you need to get the job done.
There will be days, where you just don’t feel like it, and you’ll find your motivation fly out of the window. You’ll find ways to motivate yourself either with the company you keep, or through videos or pictures or a girl friend, but ultimately you’ll find that developing plain ole’ fashion stick-to-it-iveness pays the most dividends.
Taking time off from grueling weeks of exercise is also something you should factor into your schedule, so you don’t overwork your mind and body. Learn to listen to your body and take it slow when you have to. Remember that you’re in this for the long run. Good luck and keep your head up!