Building muscle takes time — a lot of time. It also takes hard work and consistency. Even if you do everything right, you may only add one to two pounds of muscle per month.
That said, you can help yourself out with a few key strategies. If you’re wondering how to build muscle faster, keep these eight tips in mind and you’ll see consistent increases in muscle size, strength and your overall fitness.
1. Increase your training volume
Research tells us that more volume typically translates to more muscle.
Volume refers to the overall load you stress a muscle with in a given workout. To calculate volume, multiply your sets by your reps by your weight. For example, if you bench press three sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds, your volume for that bench press session is 3,000 pounds.
There’s even a specific rep range known to best facilitate muscle growth. Lifting 8 to 15 reps for each set is the generally accepted “hypertrophy rep range.” If you currently lift fewer reps, try increasing your rep range, knowing you’ll probably have to decrease your weights. If you currently lift more than 15 reps, try decreasing your rep range and increasing the weight.
2. Increase your training frequency
Some research shows that training frequency is just as important as training volume for building muscle. Frequency simply refers to how often you train a muscle or muscle group in a week, and the more you train a muscle, the more potential it has for growth.
This is an effective strategy, but can be a dangerous one if you’re not careful. Increase your frequency slowly if you use this technique to build more muscle — don’t jump from doing leg workouts once per week to four times per week, unless you want to battle it out with DOMS.
3. Lift heavier weights
Having more strength usually — but not always (it’s possible to be less muscular but still very strong) — correlates to having bigger muscles.
When you lift heavy weights, your muscles endure more tears in their fibers, thereby inducing more muscle protein synthesis (the process by which your muscles uptake protein to repair and build).
Keep in mind that “heavy” is relative, and I’m not saying you should max out on your deadlift every week. Choose weights that are heavy enough to bring you to fatigue on a set of 8 to 15 reps. You can also lift heavy in a lower rep range, such as 4 to 6 reps, to focus on building strength.
Repping “to fatigue” means going until you’re on the brink of failure. If you do so many reps that you end your set with an incomplete rep, you’ve gone too far and repped “to failure.”
Read more: Muscle pain: Is it soreness or an injury?
4. Switch to compound lifts
Compound lifts are easily the most effective, most efficient type of movement for building muscle. Compound movements include those that involve multi-joint movement, as opposed to single-joint movement. For example, a squat is a compound lift, whereas a seated leg extension is a single-joint movement.
Compound exercises engage more muscle fibers from the targeted muscle group, but they also tend to engage your entire body instead of a single muscle group.
Let’s use the squat versus leg extension example again: When you squat, your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, back and even your calves work to complete the movement. When you do a leg extension, only your quads work to complete the movement. Based on that information alone, it’s clear that compound lifts offer more potential for muscle growth.
5. Eat more protein
Protein quite literally builds and rebuilds your muscles. One of the primary roles of dietary protein in your body is to repair cells, including the muscles cells that get damaged when you lift weights. Protein supplementation is known to increase muscle protein synthesis, the process that repairs and builds your muscles.
Protein intake recommendations vary, but in general, to facilitate muscle growth, you should eat between 2 and 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For imperial-minded folks, that works out to 0.9-gram to 1.36 grams per pound of body weight.
For reference, the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) established by the Institute of Medicine is 0.8-gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36-gram per pound.
P.S. If you eat protein before bed, you might maximize your gains.
6. Eat more in general
“Mass builds mass” is what the bodybuilding community would say. Bodybuilders go through an off-season in between competitions, during which the primary goal is to build as much muscle as possible. To do so, they eat in a caloric surplus to facilitate strength gains and muscle growth.
It’s well-established that eating extra calories can help you build muscle — as long as you keep lifting weights. If you eat extra calories but don’t overload your muscles by increasing weight, volume or frequency, you may end up gaining more body fat than lean muscle.
7. Get more sleep
No matter how hard you work out, how heavy you lift or how much protein you eat, you will not see optimal muscle-building results if you’re chronically sleep-deprived. Not only will lifting weights feel exponentially harder, you might lose your motivation to lift weights at all. Then, obviously, you won’t build muscle.
Sleep also facilitates muscle recovery. Studies show that most of the muscle repair process happens during sleep, and that sleep influences important hormones like cortisol, human growth hormone and insulin growth factor, which all play a role in muscle maintenance and growth. A 2018 study even found that just one night of no sleep can curtail your muscle-building efforts by increasing protein breakdown.
8. Prioritize recovery
Workout recovery is so important. I can’t stress this enough, but I’ll try: Workout recovery is so important.
If you keep beating your muscles down without giving them a chance to rest and rebuild, they won’t grow — and you’ll wind up battling symptoms of overtraining syndrome. The reason so many bodybuilders use workout “splits” is so they can work out multiple times per week without overtaxing a certain muscle group.
For instance, a common split is push-pull-legs. It looks like this:
- Upper body pushing movements (focus on the chest, shoulders and triceps)
- Upper body pulling movements (focus on back muscles and biceps)
- Legs (focus on quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes)