How to Build Muscle: 9 Strength Gaining Steps - Old School Labs
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Home » OSL Blog » How to Build Muscle: Tips & Workouts Included

How to Build Muscle: Tips & Workouts Included

November 18, 2019

Key Takeaways

  1. If you want to know how to build muscle, it takes time, dedication, and commitment to a training schedule to see results.
  2. Eating healthy food with enough calories for your increased activity levels, plus supplementing as needed, gives you a good baseline for success.
  3. Consider an accountability partner, taking progress photos, tracking your calories and workout results to keep the momentum going.
  4. Resistance training with progressively heavier weights is the key to gaining muscle and developing a physique you can be proud of.
  5. Know that everyone is different and will build muscle at different rates. Don’t expect to reach the same level as a bodybuilder or celebrity that commits to muscle gains like a full-time job.

Some people work out for months without any significant muscle gains. They think they are doing everything right:

  • Working out multiple times a week
  • Spending hours at the gym
  • Taking all kinds of supplements or other muscle enhancers

But they still aren’t seeing the results they want. If you are looking to build muscle but aren’t sure how then keep reading. 

Man Posing Upper Body

Today, we’re going to discuss the real way to build muscle. This isn’t going to be a “how to build muscle fast” guide. Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t gain muscle relatively quickly. 

In fact, a beginner committed to the right principles of bodybuilding can add pounds of muscle in as little as 90 days. More seasoned bodybuilders and weightlifters that already have muscle will take longer to build more. 

First, we’re going to provide you actionable tips that can help you through the process of building muscle. Then, we’ll offer up some exercises that you can work through progressively over time to reach your goals.

These tips will get you started and then help you through the time it takes to maintain your muscle motivation.

Take Progress Photos

Some people may not see the value of in-progress photos, but they are great for motivation. Looking at a picture rather than in the mirror can help you better see your starting point and progress.

Comparing Small and Large Biceps

When you begin your muscle-building journey, take at least six photos. One will be natural and the other flexed. You’ll take one photo each:

  • Front
  • Back
  • From the side (consider doing both sides if you prefer)

You can take progress photos at any interval, but space them out by at least three to four weeks. This way, you can actually see some progress and won’t get discouraged. 

If you are working to gain muscle and lose fat, the photos will help you with that as well. For weight loss, you might be able to see progress sooner than strictly for muscle building.

To further track your muscle growth, take measurements of your biceps, quads, and calves at the same time. Even if you might not be able to see visual change, the numbers don’t lie.

Increase Lift Strength

One of the best ways to increase your lift strength is to lift heavier. From week to week, you should be progressively increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting.

If you are starting as a beginner, you should be able to lift heavier with each session.

Muscular Man Lifting Barbell

Focus on:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead presses
  • Bench presses

Choose a barbell rather than dumbbells; you’ll be able to lift more weight. When lifting heavier, you’ll want to reduce your reps. The higher the weight, the fewer reps you should be doing for each set.

Frank Zane Posing
Frank Zane, Golden Era Legend

Golden Era legends came in all different shapes and sizes. For the most part, the biggest and best used free weights over machines to build their muscle mass. Still, some machines work well to help with muscle development, like the:

  • Cable machine
  • Calf machine
  • Leg extension machine
  • Smith machine

Use free weights at least 80 percent of the time when working to build muscle for the best results.

Grip Strength

But first, make sure your grip is strong enough to handle the heavier weights. If your grip needs help, get a hand gripper to test your strength and increase the tension level over time. Do reps and sets just like you would lifting weights. 

Grip Strength

Improving your grip strength will help you lift heavier and improve your forearm size. This can be a tough place to build muscle for some, so the added benefit is worth it.

To keep your arms symmetrical, start with your non-dominant hand first. This will give you a baseline of how many reps per set to avoid imbalanced strength in your dominant arm.

How to Build Muscles at Home

Wondering if you can gain muscle doing workouts at home? You definitely can, with the right equipment.

Working Out At Home

At a minimum, you’ll need:

  • A weight set
  • Barbell
  • Weight bench

If you choose to work out at home to gain muscle, there is another requirement. YOU MUST HAVE A SPOTTER! They can help you with proper form, moving weights, but most importantly, keep you safe.

All it takes is one lift that’s too heavy for you to cause yourself serious injury. Don’t leave it to chance, always have someone around if you’re lifting at home, especially if you’re a beginner.

Eat Right and Eat More

To properly fuel your muscle gains, you need to eat a healthy diet full of nutrients. Empty calories found in processed foods can increase fat and reduce muscle gains.

Man Eating Salad

For skinny guys, you’ll need to eat more than you think, especially to build muscle fast. You don’t necessarily need to count calories, but you should know how to calculate the minimum you need. The more active you are, the more calories you need.

If you don’t eat enough calories, you risk getting no gains from the workouts you perform. There’s no point in even going to the gym if you aren’t fueling yourself properly. 

Hearty Salad

On the other hand, if you eat too much, you could end up gaining unwanted body fat. This is where progress photos come in handy. Building muscle doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited amounts.

Instead, keep track of your food and eat for your activity level.

Eat three meals a day with two snacks in between (including protein prior to working out). Carbs are needed after your workout, so plan accordingly. 

Carbs help replenish glycogen stores that are depleted during a hard workout. Have a banana or peanut butter sandwich within 90 minutes of your workout to rebuild your energy stores.

The Right Supplements Can Help

We are here to teach you how to build muscle naturally, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use supplements. Using the right supplement is key as they are not all created equal. 

To get started, you really only need a few supplements.

Protein

If you are eating a proper diet, you should be getting some protein already. But you still need the supplement to get enough protein to gain muscle. 

How much protein does the average person need to build muscle? The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests a minimum of 1.6g/kg/day (0.73/g/lb/day). 

They also suggest dividing between meals. That means a 180-pound person should consume a minimum of 131 grams of protein each day.

However, an athlete or someone trying to build muscle can consume even more protein. A good guideline is one gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. 

Old School Labs Vintage Brawn
Old School Labs Vintage Brawn™

Vintage Brawn™ offers 24 grams of protein per serving along with a complete amino acid profile for long-lasting muscle support. If you are plant-based or don’t consume meat and/or dairy, there is another option.

Flaxseed is also high in protein, as well as other nutrients. You can take it in capsule form or powder form. 

If you choose the powder, you can add it directly into your protein shake for an added dose of protein. Or, make a stand-alone shake with some juice and fruit, add yogurt if you want a thicker shake consistency.

Creatine

While our bodies do produce creatine naturally, you can give your muscle gains a boost by supplementing. Creatine supplementation is generally considered safe with no negative side effects.

Creatine Powder

It can help with:

  • Improving volume (weight) gains
  • Improving overall performance
  • Increased muscle gains

For the best results,  you’ll take a loading dose for the first week. This means you’ll take it multiple times a day, then go down to one dose per day thereafter. 

Creatine is not something you’ll always need. Once your muscle-building goals are reached, you should no longer need to supplement it.

Citrulline Malate

If you’re looking to make some serious muscle gains over a longer time period, consider citrulline malate. This supplement can increase your volume of reps, which you’ll need to avoid the plateau and continue to gain.

Old School Labs Vintage Blast™
Old School Labs Vintage Blast ™

Vintage Blast™ is a great pre-workout that contains 5,000 mg per serving of citrulline malate. Take it 60 minutes before your workout (there is no benefit during or after) for energy and to improve your gains.

Some foods contain higher levels of this amino acid and can be added to your diet:

  • Gourds
  • Watermelon
  • Cucumber
  • Pumpkins

Slow and Steady Gets Faster Results

Some people just want to get in and get out of the gym, so they blow through their sets. But if you do that, you are doing your muscles a disservice.

Bicep Curls

To speed up your muscle growth, you actually want to slow down and focus on each rep. Feel your muscles moving under the weight and hold it under tension for a few seconds.

To prove this theory, 12 experienced lifters went through a 12-week training protocol. Half the lifters did fast reps and the other half did slow reps.

  • Fast reps = 1 second concentric, 0 second transition, 1 second eccentric, 0 second transition
  • Slow reps = 1 second concentric, 0 second transition, 4 seconds eccentric, 0 second transition

At the end of the study, the slow rep group built three times the amount of muscle as the fast rep group. There are other studies that support the theory that time under tension increases the amount of work produced.

To get the best muscle building results, go slow when you’re lowering your weights (eccentric motion). Those few extra seconds during each rep can improve your muscle gains faster.

Rest is Essential, Not Optional

Rest days in between sessions is a requirement for increased muscle gains. Your muscles tear while lifting, and rest allows recovery time for your muscles to repair.

Plan your schedule so that there is always at least one rest day between gym sessions. Get in a full-body workout, then a great night’s sleep, followed by a low-key day.

Relaxing Bike Ride

You can walk, swim, or ride a bike if you need to get out of the house. But only do things that are low impact so that your muscles have adequate time to rest.

And don’t skimp on sleep! If you struggle with quality sleep, chances are your muscle-building workouts will help.

Getting enough sleep is also a factor in recovery. Your body can actually lose muscle mass if you don’t sleep enough.  

Commit to going to bed earlier as hard as you’re committing to building your muscle mass. Your entire body, including your immune and endocrine system, repair and replenish during sleep. 

Consistency is Key

If you don’t commit to a muscle-building workout plan, you won’t see results. You need to make a plan and stick to it. 

  • Eat right
  • Eat often
  • Lift heavier
  • Work out three times a week
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Supplement as needed

Once you get into a routine, working out just becomes part of your day. Anyone can gain muscle, but it takes dedication and perseverance to make it happen.

Do You Need an Accountability Partner?

Some people have a hard time motivating themselves or are prone to giving up. If this sounds like you, it’s worth it to get an accountability partner.

Man Working with Trainer

It may be someone who is working on different goals than you, but you respect and admire. You should find someone who commits and sees things through naturally. This person is someone that you don’t want to disappoint.

Whoever that person is, let them know of your plans. Tell them what you are working towards and your plans to get there. Check-in with them at predetermined time frames (maybe once a month) so you can share your progress.

Don’t Set Yourself Up for Failure

Be realistic in your goals. Aspiring to look like a certain celebrity or bodybuilder is great, but highly unrealistic in the short term.

First, if they have a different body type than you, the end results will look different. Genetics and body shape plays a huge role in how quickly you can build muscle and lose weight.

Man Flexing Upper Body

Second, celebrities usually work full-time to make their bodies conform to their goals. The amount of dedication needed is likely not something you can aspire to. If you work a job and/or go to school like most people, you won’t get the same results.

No two people are the same, and the look of their muscles and physique will be different. That’s just the way it is. So don’t emulate someone with a different body type, or whose job it is to build muscle (or lose weight).

Consider this study on 66 people who participated in the same 12-week knee extensor exercise program. At the end of the program, each participant had a muscle biopsy done. The results showed:

  • A quarter had 58 % hypertrophy
  • A quarter had no muscle gain
  • The rest had a 28 % increase in muscle mass

When further inspected, the researchers found the people with the highest concentration of muscle satellite cells gained the most.

Talking at Gym

Real, attainable goals are as individual as you are. Beginners can potentially add three or four pounds of muscle in the first month. It will take strict adherence to a diet and exercise regimen to get there.

If your main goal is to build muscle, then you’ll need to lift heavy three times per week. There’s no way around it, resistance training with heavier weights is what will build your muscle mass.

Muscle Building Workouts You Can Use

Males and females can both use these workouts to build muscle fast (at least in the beginning). Remember some key factors when determining your workout plan:

  • Heavier weights = fewer reps
  • Increase your weight each week
  • Consider supersets and drop sets 
  • Slow and steady for best results
  • Make sure you know the proper form before you start
  • Test (and improve, if needed) your grip strength before you pack on the weights
  • Fuel your workouts with healthy food
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Hydrate! 

If you are working on just one muscle group, plan for a 30-minute session. Compound exercises can get you a quality full-body workout without needing to spend more time in the gym. 

Push Ups At Gym

Remember, more time doesn’t equal more gains and too much time can decrease your gains.

The number of reps is up to you and the weight size you are using. Get at least 10 reps for your first set and six for your last set if you are doing drop sets. For a regular set, get 8 – 12 reps per set. Plan to get three sets of each exercise.

Stop after you’ve reached 30 minutes, and see how you feel. Sixty minutes will be your limit.

These exercises will have a mix of bodyweight and free weights. Take up to 60 seconds to rest between sets as needed.

Full Body Workout

  • Warm-up
  • Squats (use dumbbells or barbell)
  • Barbell rows
  • Bench press
  • Standing calf raises (advanced – hold a dumbbell or kettlebell or use the calf machine)
  • Dips
  • Overhead press
  • Plan
  • Burpees
  • Cool Down

Compound exercises will always give you a better workout than isolation exercises. Once you’ve gained the muscle mass you’re looking for, you can focus on isolation exercises.

Bench Press

If you want to work on specific muscle groups, then check out our workout library. There you can find full-body workouts as well as specific muscles to help you create a plan that works. 

Tips to Track Your Progress

If you really want to see how you’re progressing with your weights, then keep track. Have someone write down the weight you used, number of reps and sets for each exercise.

If someone isn’t available, you can use your rest time between sets to take down your numbers. Make a quick table beforehand so all you have to do is add in the numbers.

Here’s an example:

  • Exercise: Barbell Rows
  • Weight Lifted: 100 lbs
  • Reps per Set: 10, 10, 8
  • Sets Completed: 3

This is an easy way to know where you left off last time and also compare to your progress photos.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to the best way to build muscle, there isn’t a simple answer. It takes time, dedication, and determination to increase your muscle gains.

You have to commit to:

  • Eating healthier
  • Making weight progressions in the gym
  • Scheduling time to work out consistently
  • Giving your body adequate time to recover
  • Sleeping more

Plus taking the time to track your progress, if you choose to. Unfortunately, there are no “how to gain muscle fast” schemes, unless you’re a skinny guy. 

The less muscle you have when you start, the more you can build. But after a few months, you’ll start to plateau and the rate of muscle increase goes way down.

Depending on your goals, it could take six months to a year (or more) to see the results. Progress photos and measurements can help provide motivation, and so can an accountability partner.

Have you made a successful plan to build muscle? Can you share any tips that we didn’t here? Let us know in the comments section.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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Old School Labs™ is the maker of premium supplements that carry on the fitness values of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. Old School Labs™ products do not hide behind proprietary blends, contain no artificial sweeteners or artificial flavors, and are manufactured using only high-quality ingredients.

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