Do you want to know how to gain muscle? Do you want to know the rules of bodybuilding ? If so, you've come to the right place.
In this step-by-step column, I lay out everything you need to know and all the training guidelines you need to follow to get the best results possible. And it works both indoors and for your sessions at home.
Let the party begin…
Table of Contents
- Our sections dedicated to muscle building
- Our last 10 articles on weight training
- Step 1: Understand what builds muscle
- Step 2: The reality of “fast” bodybuilding
- Step 3: Choose your strength training frequency
- Step 4: Choose the distribution of muscle groups
- Step 5: How many reps per set
- Step 6: Select your strength exercises
- Step 7: Determine your rest periods
- Step 8: Progressive Overload
- Step 9: Fuel Your Muscles
- Step 10: Get enough sleep
Our sections dedicated to muscle building
Before going any further, here are the different sections devoted to this subject:
BODY MUSCLES AND ANATOMY : It is important to know the different muscle groups and their functions to make them work well.
PROGRAMS : Sessions already ready to use and advice to create your tailor-made bodybuilding programs.
EXERCISES TO BUILD MUSCLE : Movements classified by muscles and muscle groups.
WEIGHT GAIN : Everything you need to know to build muscle.
GENERAL AND SPECIFIC PHYSICAL PREPARATION : Everything you need to know about PPG and PPS for your workouts as well as warm-ups and stretches.
MASS GAIN COACHING : Inexpensive program to gain muscle with 2 dumbbells and an incline bench.
Our last 10 articles on weight training
You will find the complete list of articles on the site at this page.
Step 1: Understand what builds muscle
Believe it or not, there are only 2 major requirements that must be in place to gain muscle mass:
The first thing you need is a strength training program that signals the start of the muscle building process. Research has shown that a well-designed program will generate this "signal" by combining:
- a progressive overload muscles to get stronger over time;
- of metabolic stress to tire the muscle and obtain the famous pump effect;
- from damage to muscle tissue.
Once that signal is there, then you need a diet that will provide your body with everything it needs to actually build new muscle tissue. This supply will mainly take the form of sufficient calories and protein.
Of course, there are many other important things involved in the process, but there you have the only 2 things you really need to build muscle.
Step 2: The reality of “fast” bodybuilding
I hate to say things that will make you unhappy…but the reality is that muscle growth is an extremely slow process.
We'd all like to get there fast, but the reality is that it's not happening at a pace that any sane person would consider 'fast'. Of course, using a more efficient workout routine or diet will help you go faster. However, even when you're doing everything right and have optimized every major and minor factor, the truth is that building muscle takes time.
How fast can you build muscle?
Realistic muscle growth rates are:
- Men: from 220 g to 1.2 kg of muscle gained per month
- Women: 100 to 600 g of muscle gained per month
Specifically, you can expect to find yourself in the upper half of these ranges ONLY if you are a beginner, young, and/or have amazing genetics. You can expect to find yourself in the lower half of these ranges if you already have a good level of training, are older, and/or have the genetics on your shoulder (as Jean-Jacques Goldman would say). The average person can expect to end up somewhere in the middle.
You see, nothing transcendent… especially since you probably won't really notice the difference from one month to the next. And this, even if you find that you are stronger and more enduring during your weight training sessions.
Why do some people believe you can build muscle fast?
First of all, you need to understand that bodybuilding specialists are deceiving you. No athlete with tons of muscle is clean. You need to be aware of this before going any further. The shortcuts are, among others, anabolic steroids, growth hormones and for some even the injection of Synthol into the muscles (a horror). But these practices should not exist. Type “badly finished bodybuilder” in the YouTube search tool to see clearly.
Here's why the reality of building muscle the natural way is different…it's the reality, and you may be disappointed when I tell you that. After all, you've probably seen the countless workouts, diets, supplements, programs, products, and people claiming that super-fast muscle growth is possible.
Keep a (very) critical eye
You've probably also seen articles and videos on the Internet like "gain 10 pounds of muscle in 1 month". Some say it's possible, but that's bullshit. Serious sites speak at best of 10 kilos in a year. There it is possible.
So be suspicious when you read or watch a video about the incredible transformation of so-called “natural” people (bodybuilders, celebrities, athletes, social media fitness gurus, etc.). It is largely (if not entirely) a combination of lies, deception, nonsense, and misrepresentations that are there to create the illusion of unrealistic muscle building.
Why ? To get your attention…then your trust…then your money. You know, the usual 3-step process that the entire diet and fitness industry relies on.
Stop dreaming and think about your long-term health...
Why you need to know the truth about bodybuilding?
There are 2 main reasons for this:
1. You must have realistic sports goals
Do you know what happens when someone tries to build muscle faster than they can? He fails, then they wonder why it's not working as quickly as they thought.
If you were to go through this, you would jump from one workout, diet, and supplement to another in hopes of finally finding the missing link that will make a difference. But that won't happen. You will waste your energy, time and money looking for something that does not exist. And maybe you will finally be tempted to take dangerous shortcuts for your health.
2. You will avoid gaining fat
Long story short, it's COMMON to gain weight quickly in hopes of gaining muscle quickly. The problem is that the majority of the pounds you gain in this case will be body fat rather than muscle mass. This is something that should be avoided at all costs, and we'll talk about that a bit later…
Now is the time to see what you need to do to build muscle as quickly as possible. Let's start with your muscle building program...
Step 3: Choose your strength training frequency
Generally speaking, 3-5 workouts per week will be ideal for building muscle. But you must also define the frequency at which you will work each muscle group during the week.
The 3 most common choices are:
- Once a week. For example, you do a chest and triceps session every Monday.
- Twice a week. In this case, you train, for example, your pectorals and triceps every Monday and Thursday.
- Three times per week. For example, you train your pecs and triceps every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Despite what some may claim or what others may misunderstand, ALL of these frequencies can work for muscle growth if the program is designed and executed correctly. The real question is… which one works best?
What is the best frequency for muscles
Research and the experience of many athletes has shown that a frequency of 2-3 times per week is more effective for hypertrophy (link to an American study by the NCBI).
Of course, you will often find bodybuilding programs from bodybuilders who claim that one pec day is enough per week. But that's completely wrong for average people like you and me who naturally build muscle and are genetically average. Does it actually work for steroid users with excellent genetics?
This is why those who want to develop their muscles as quickly as possible without doping will have to work each part of the body 2 or 3 times a week.
Step 4: Choose the distribution of muscle groups
After training frequency, the next step is to choose a training split or exercise split. This will determine the timing of your program. Like…you will train your back that day, your quadriceps that other day, you will rest that day, etc.
Factors to consider for your training program
When it comes to choosing the distribution of your strength training program, you need to consider 5 main factors:
- Your ideal training frequency. We just talked about it, so there is no need to repeat it.
- Your schedule. You must actually take into account all your obligations which limit the time and frequency of training. For example, are there days you can train on and some days you can't? Are you able to train 5 days a week, or 3 to 4 maximum? This choice is crucial for your program to hold up over time.
- Your recovery capacity. Even if you have a flexible schedule, you may not have the recovery capacity to make it work. It could be due to genetics, age, health issues, etc. In this case, you will get better results with 3-4 workouts per week.
- Your level of experience. Some distributions are more effective for beginners than for experienced athletes.
- Your preferences. They also play an important role in this decision. You have to like your training pace to join 100%.
So, as you can see, there are many factors worth considering, many of which involve your own needs and preferences. That said, let's take a look at what tends to be best for most people...
Recommendations on the distribution of sessions
There are actually a number of possible breakdowns for building muscle. Here are the most common and easy to implement:
1. Full Body Program
This is the ideal distribution for beginners who want to progress quickly. It is ideal both for those who want to lose weight and for those who want to prepare their muscles for more effort in the future. Each session must work all the muscles of the body.
Here's how you can set it up:
- Monday : Full body session
- Tuesday : Rest (or cardio)
- Wednesday : Full body session
- Thusday : Rest (or cardio)
- Friday : Full body session
- Saturday : Rest (or cardio)
- Sunday : Rest
2. Half Body Program
This is an extremely common distribution. It is particularly suitable for intermediate to experienced level bodybuilders. It also helps to better manage physical fatigue.
You can set it up like this:
- Monday : Upper body session
- Tuesday : Legs and Abs session
- Wednesday : Rest (or cardio)
- Thusday : Upper body session
- Friday : Legs and Abs session
- Saturday : Rest (or cardio)
- Sunday : Rest
3. The Push/Pull/Legs split
This is the type of program that I have preferred for a long time, and even more so since I turned 50 for reasons of managing energy expenditure per session. Indeed, the sessions remain shorter, but there is only one day of rest.
An example of a weekly schedule:
- Monday : Push (Pectorals, Triceps, Shoulders)
- Tuesday : Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Wednesday : Legs
- Thusday : Push (Pectorals, Triceps, Shoulders)
- Friday : Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Saturday : Legs
- Sunday : Rest
In the blog posts you will find other program templates. But these 3 are the easiest to set up.
Step 5: How many reps per set
The number of reps per set basically depends on the intensity of the exercise. The easier it is, for example if you use a light load or low resistance, the lower the intensity. In return, your series will be longer. You follow me ?
And so you will understand, the heavier or more difficult the weight is for you, or the stronger the resistance of the elastic, the higher the intensity. And so your series will necessarily be shorter. Logical, right?
The whole issue of intensity boils down to one thing: How many reps you are able to do in a given set before you approach failure. In bodybuilding, we call “failure” the moment when you can no longer do an additional repetition in good conditions.
Some say your sets should always be between 5 and 8 to gain muscle. And others say you need to do 8 to 10 or even 10 to 15. But the truth about muscle growth is that a wider range of reps with a variety of training intensities is what which works best.
During a session, you must start with the polyarticular or compound exercises to go to the single-joint isolation exercises. For example, you should do bench presses or weighted push-ups, then incline presses or flys before you get to triceps exercises like push-ups or kickbacks. Because if you start by burning out your triceps, you won't be able to use your pectorals properly afterwards.
For these different exercises, the number of repetitions is:
- 5 to 8 repetitions for the main compound exercises (bench press, weighted push-ups, pull-ups, etc.);
- 8 to 10 repetitions for secondary compound exercises (inclined press, pulley pull-ups, dumbbell or elastic rows, etc.);
- 10 to 15 reps for isolation exercises (chest flies, tricep extensions, kickbacks, bicep curls, etc.).
Be careful, I am not telling you that another choice will not work for you. But these numbers work for the majority of those who want to seriously build muscle, whether men or women.
Should we go as far as muscular failure?
Trying to achieve failure on every exercise is a bad idea. This often does more harm than good. In most cases, you should be getting closer to failure…ideally, ending your set 1-2 reps before failure actually happens.
So, if you planned 8 repetitions but you feel at the 7th that you are almost at the end, stop there rather than being stuck at the 8th.
Before talking about the exercises that you can integrate into your sessions, here is the list of articles published on this blog on how to establish your program:
Step 6: Select your strength exercises
Now we come to the most complex part of designing a muscle building workout routine…the choice of exercises. There are so many different factors to consider and covering them all would take an entire book.
Let's make it as simple as possible...
Recommendations for choosing muscle exercises
Compound or isolation exercises?
The majority of your workouts should consist of multi-joint exercises. Common examples include squats, deadlift, lunges, bench press, pull-ups, etc. All of these exercises can be done with weights and dumbbells, resistance bands and a pull-up bar.
Isolation exercises should also be part of your program, but after compound exercises corresponding to it. Common examples include bicep curls, tricep extensions, flys, side raises, calf raises, etc.
Free loads and elastic bands, machines or body weight?
When it comes to building muscle, your body only knows or cares about the strain, fatigue, and damage an exercise generates…not what kind of equipment you use or don't use.
That being said, guided load machines often remove the important notion of balance to recruit all the muscles. And that's a shame. Try not to use them all the time (for example every other session in the week).
In what order do the exercises?
More difficult and more physically demanding exercises should generally precede easier and less demanding exercises (i.e. secondary compound exercises and isolation exercises).
Special needs to consider
You should definitely consider your injury history, physical condition, or medical issues when selecting the exercises and equipment used.
For example, as I suffer from osteoarthritis in my spine and right shoulder, I have noticed a marked improvement in my condition since using the elastic bands. In addition, it allowed me to put an end to tendonitis in my elbows.
Step 7: Determine your rest periods
Now that you know what exercises you're going to do, it's time to figure out how long you should blow between each set.
NOTE: Of course, we're talking about rest times for sessions intended for muscle mass gain. If your goal is fat loss and cardio vascular development, like with HIIT Tabata or the Insanity method, you need to keep the time between sets as short as possible. For me, I always work with fairly short rest times for breath and cardio.
Let's get back to training for mass gain. There are 3 main factors to consider when determining rest times:
1. What is the requirement of the exercise performed?
The more difficult an exercise, the longer the rest time should be. Thus, sets of squats and deadlifts should be spaced further apart than quad or calf raises. Similarly, bench presses or pull-ups require more rest than bicep curls or tricep kickbacks.
2. How many reps do you do?
As you read above, the lower the number of repetitions, the more intense the effort. And so, there needs to be more rest between sets. Thus, most of the time, sets of 5 to 8 reps require longer rest periods than exercises performed between 8 and 10 reps, which themselves require longer rest periods than sets between 10 and 15 reps. .
3. What is the desired effect?
Longer rest periods are better for progressive overload, and shorter rest periods are ideal for generating metabolic fatigue. So if you're doing one of the main compound exercises like the bench press and increasing the load between each set, you'll want to rest longer to maximize power.
And if you're doing an isolation exercise that's better suited to metabolic fatigue, you're reducing rest times between sets. And if you're doing a secondary compound exercise, you'll usually want a moderate rest period somewhere in between.
How to apply these principles?
My recommendations on rest times
1 to 2 minutes of rest
Ideal for muscle fatigue exercises, which include most isolation exercises. Resting this much won't be as good for strength and performance, but it will be great for burning out the muscles and creating the pump effect.
2 to 4 minutes of rest
Ideal for tension exercises, those where you will load to the maximum. They include most of the main compound exercises. Since gaining strength is the main objective of these exercises, longer rest periods will be optimal to achieve this.
No need to count everything either…
As far as how long to rest between different exercises, as long as you don't rush or take too long talking to people or playing with your phone, you can pretty much take as long as you have. need. No need to complicate yourself more than that.
Step 8: Progressive Overload
If you are new to bodybuilding, this is a new subject for you. In step 1 you read that there are 3 types of stimuli for muscle growth:
- Progressive overload
- metabolic stress
- Muscle damage
Of the 3, progressive overload is BY FAR the most important signal to the body. And this is the one on which you will have to work scrupulously if you want to gain muscle volume. On the other hand, if you only do sessions to be toned and in shape, you can skip this part without any problem.
The principle of progressive overload
This principle of progressive overload is extremely simple. For a muscle to grow, you have to force it to adapt to more demand than it has experienced before. This means that if you lift the same weight or always use the same elastic resistance with the same number of repetitions for 20 years… nothing will ever happen.
Your body will not change or improve in any way. You will not gain a gram of muscle. Otherwise all Tour de France cyclists would have huge legs?
On the other hand, if you demand more of your body by increasing the load or resistance, adding reps, or simply doing something that increases the difficulty, your body will have no choice but to adapt. And his only way to accommodate this extra demand is... build more muscle.
You cannot progress with each session
You must keep in mind that it is almost impossible to progress with each session. Except maybe if you are a total beginner. You should view muscle progression as a series of stair steps rather than a constant incline. Each time you manage to take a step, you have taken a step. But you need to be patient every step of the way.
“There is no point in running”, as coach Jean de la Fontaine said.
Eventually, when you have crossed a level, you will have difficulty crossing the next one. In fact, you have to be prepared to backtrack a bit to achieve this. A bit like stepping back to better jump the next step.
To achieve this, you have 2 options:
- Take a break: This means that for a few days you stop doing strength training. Like a week without training every 6 months to be ready to come back stronger. You can do cardio, exert yourself otherwise, but no more heavy lifting.
- Reduce the load: In this case, you continue training as if you had not progressed. You do slightly easier sessions for a few days with a maximum load of 80 or 85% from your maximum.
As always, there are pros and cons to each method. It's up to you to see what suits you best to develop your muscles.
We've now covered the most important factors in creating the "signal" that compels your body to build the muscle mass you need. Now is the time to start talking about “fuel” at the end of this article.
Step 9: Fuel Your Muscles
I will not go into all the details here since there is a whole sports nutrition section on this blog. I cover everything related to the distribution of macronutrients, including proteins and important dietary supplements.
However, I want to remind you of 3 important rules for gaining muscle mass:
- You need to create a small calorie surplus;
- Macronutrients must be well distributed;
- Although not essential, some dietary supplements help you progress faster.
1. Create a small calorie surplus
Your body needs a certain amount of extra calories to ensure your performance during training, to synthesize new muscle tissue afterwards and for recovery. Otherwise, the signal you're sending him to build muscle won't do him any good.
That's why you need to increase your calorie intake, unless you're already overweight…of course. Because in this case, that means you've been in a calorie surplus for a while. But in this case, it will probably be necessary to reassess your actual intake and the distribution of macronutrients (see point 2 just after).
If you have little or no excess fat reserves, you need extra calories to ensure mass gain.
What is a caloric surplus?
Okay, I'm sure you've figured this out by now, a calorie surplus is consuming more calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight. However, you must remain reasonable so as not to store more fat than muscle. This is why I refer to a small surplus.
For example, suppose a person maintains their current weight by eating 2000 calories a day. If he eats less than 2000 calories, he loses weight in the form of fat and/or muscle. This is called a calorie deficit, and it is the prerequisite for fat loss.
Conversely, if he eats more than 2000 calories, he gains weight in the form of muscle and/or fat. This is what you need to put in place to gain muscle.
How to create your calorie surplus?
The easiest way to start is to use my calorie needs calculator. Here you enter your gender, age, height and weight.
NOTE: Many people think the key to building muscle fast is eating a ton of calories. They think that if they eat MUCH more calories, they will build MUCH more muscle. Sounds nice in theory, right?
Unfortunately, this is far from true. In fact, the human body is capable of a certain amount of muscle in a given period of time. But not more. So if you're providing your body with MORE calories than it's actually capable of devoting to the process of building new muscle…you're just going to put on fat. Don't worry, I've been there.
What you need to do instead is create a surplus that is small enough to keep fat gains to a bare minimum, yet still sufficient to maximize the rate of muscle growth. Here is what I recommend:
- Male: A daily surplus of about 200 calories above your maintenance level.
- Female: A daily surplus of approximately 100 calories above your maintenance level.
For most people, this will be a perfect starting point for surplus. You will only have to adjust according to your results.
2. Regulate your protein, fat and carbohydrate intake
Of the 3 nutrients, protein plays the most important role in the muscle building process, although fats and carbohydrates are important for other reasons that range from optimizing the production of hormones like testosterone to improved performance and recovery.
In short, since these are subjects detailed in the “Sports nutrition” section, the general recommendations of the specialists are:
- Proteins: For a woman who practices bodybuilding, it is 1.5 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a man, count 1.8 to 2.7 g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Fat: 20 to 30% of your total daily caloric intake.
- Carbohydrates: Anything that remains of your recommended intake after taking into account protein and fat.
3. Food supplements that are worthwhile
I want to be as honest as I can with you: No supplement is necessary to build muscle. But there are some that make your life easier and help you progress faster and contribute to your health.
My main recommendations are:
- protein powder. They greatly facilitate your nutritional balance and are economical to use. For my part, I gave up whey and now only buys pea protein.
- Creatine. It is the most proven supplement available. It improves performance during your sessions and promotes recovery. I personally use Optimum Nutrition Creatine.
- fish oil. The omega3 fatty acids it contains provide a variety of benefits. Especially since the Western diet is sorely lacking in it. It is not necessarily a bodybuilding supplement, but it contributes to your health.
- Vitamin D. Here is another supplement that plays an indirect role in the muscle building process. For example, there is a link between vitamin D levels and testosterone.
Of course, there are other interesting vitamins or minerals depending on your individual needs and your type of diet. In fact, you need to pay close attention to anything lacking in your diet because building muscle doesn't like deficiencies too much.
Step 10: Get enough sleep
Make no mistake about it, sleep is not a secondary step to gaining muscle. You can even ruin a lot of your efforts if you don't get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep has been shown to affect the human body in the following areas:
- Decreased testosterone levels
- Higher cortisol levels
- Reduced insulin sensitivity
- Increased hunger
- Impaired cognitive functions
- Reduced recovery ability
- Physical performance
To avoid all of this, you need to get enough sleep. Being a former insomniac, I know how much easier said than done. But you should do everything to improve the quality of your sleep.
How many hours do you need to sleep for muscle gain?
Aim to sleep around 8 hours each night. Different people have different needs, but the majority of us need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. And when you do weight training, these needs tend to increase to promote muscle building.
Are you looking for a complete guide with ready-to-use sessions for the home? And without breaking the bank on equipment? Here is exactly what you need:
And There you go ! You already know a lot about building your training program and tailoring your diet to build muscle as quickly as possible. All you have to do is put it into practice and be as consistent as possible.
You will find many additional information on these different points throughout the blog.
Leave a message in the comment area below to share your experience or ask questions. THANK YOU!
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Last updated on 2022-03-03 / Affiliate links / Some images are sourced from the Amazon Product Advertising API