Building lean muscle mass is a top priority for a lot of you who enjoy reading Muscle & Strength.
So much so that 84% of you listed it as your goal for working out in the fitness survey we ran to begin the year.
We heard you.
Which is why we reached out to 33 of the top experts in the fitness industry to get some of their most important tips on building lean muscle mass.
We’ve separated them into 4 categories: Training, Nutrition, Lifestyle, and a blend of all of the above.
Hear these experts out, apply their knowledge, and get on track to achieve all of your muscle building goals.
Expert Muscle Building Tips on Training
To kick start any muscle building process, you’ve got to provide a stimulus first. And that’s why we decided to kick start our expert panel with some solid tips on training.
If you want excellent individualized advice on training to build muscle mass, you should seek out an experienced trainer who works with people of your demographic.
But, until you are in a position to do that, this is an excellent place to start as we’ve received tips from some of the world's most renown personal trainers and strength coaches.
Check them out and as you read them, consider how you can implement these tips into your own workout routine.
1. Miguel Aragoncillo
"Tonnage and rest.
Tonnage is referring to the total sets multiplied by repetitions multiplied by weight used that you lift in a given period of a training session. The higher the volume, the more muscle mass you will theoretically be able to build.
If you are lacking in muscle mass, I have to ask if your volume is up to snuff. You can do 10 sets of 10 reps, but if you're using 10lbs, that only equals 1,000lbs of tonnage. I'd rather see someone do ONLY 10 reps of 200lbs of weight used (depending on the exercise and technique) in order to best deliver a higher amount of tonnage at the end of the day.
And rest is a no brainer - you can't build back up if you don't sleep and eat with appropriate intensities. So do it."
- Miguel Aragoncillo,
2. Nick Cheadle
"There are two things you need to do if you’re looking to build muscle.
The first is to focus on increasing total training volume over time whilst ensuring you’re consuming adequate protein and eating at a calorie surplus.
The second, is to double check you’re doing exactly what the previous sentence outlined."
- Nick Cheadle,
3. Michael Israetel
"Growing muscle is largely dependent on training volume.
In most cases, doing 10-20 working sets per muscle group per week, spread over 2-4 sessions per muscle group, is the best route to gains.
And in most cases, using at least 60% of your 1RM is also a good idea."
- Michael Israetel,
4. Cole Matthews
"Top tips on building muscle mass fast?
Focus on basic, compound moves like squats, deadlift and bench press in the 6-10 rep range.
Eat every 3 hours, getting in 20-30 grams of protein at each meal.
- Cole Matthews,
5. Mike Matthews
"The single best way to maximize muscle growth over the long term is to maximize whole-body strength.
In the beginning of your weightlifting journey, the relationship between strength and size is weak (you can gain size without getting all that strong). That’s why research shows that when you’re new to resistance training, getting stronger does produce muscle growth, but you don’t have to gain much strength to gain size.
Once your “newbie gains” have been exhausted, studies show that muscle growth is going to skid to a halt if you don’t get serious about getting stronger.
This is where progressive overload must become the focus of your training if you want to keep your muscles growing, the best way to do it is adding weight to the bar over time, and especially on compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press."
- Mike Matthews,
6. John Meadows
"One of the biggest tips I can give you on training for muscle size is this, go as heavy as you can for 6 to 8 reps on your heaviest sets, while NOT BREAKING FORM!
It is important that you maintain perfect form with heavier weight so that the tension is largely directed to the muscle and not connective tissue and joints. Don't compromise form!
Also, it is important that you train the entire rep spectrum for muscle size. This means training from 6 reps up to 15 reps frequently. Don't get stuck in the habit of only doing low or high reps. Mix it up for the best gains in size."
- John Meadows,
7. Melissa Bell
"When talking about building muscle mass, there are a few general rules that I follow. When using weights, focus on 6-8 reps per set, go for muscle failure every set, progressively increase the weight, apply muscle confusion principles and have a proper diet.
Furthermore, by keeping your exercises short (up to 45 mins) you maximize the anabolic effects of testosterone and HGH.
For those who focus on body weight exercises, the first thing you should do is master the technique to the maximum - drastically reduce the speed of implementation and add isometric tension to as many muscles as you can.
While driving the movement, tense your arms, shoulders, core and legs as much as possible and literally fight yourself for every inch of movement.
Once your technique is perfected, try to progressively increase the resistance to build up strength and muscle."
- Melissa Bell,
8. Jeff Moore
"With my own workouts, I do 5 sets per exercise, that are 8 to 10 reps each. It should be a weight that's a challenge and that the final rep is 1 or 2 reps away from failure.
Then, I'm eating a lean protein after the workout and focusing on recovering for my next training session."
- Jeff Moore,
9. Zach Moore
"Training volume and frequency are key for building muscle mass. Most research shows that hitting each bodypart at least 2-3x/week with 10 or more sets is ideal.
The exact volume and frequency will vary across individuals depending on a lot of different factors (training history, strength levels, genetics, personal preferences, etc.), but this is a good starting point to experiment from.
Lastly, push yourself! Nutrition is permissive for gains, but you have to put in the work."
- Zach Moore,
10. Greg Nuckols
"The most important tip for building muscle is to go back in time and pick the right parents.
Trainability seems to be pretty highly heritable, and well-controlled studies find that high responders to training build at least 4x more muscle than low responders in response to the same training.
However, in terms of things that are within your control, don't skimp on training volume (which I like to measure via hard sets, within about 0-3 reps from failure, regardless of rep range), and make sure you're eating plenty of protein.
When in doubt, if you're not growing, but you're recovering well between sessions, increase the number of weekly sets for the target muscle group by about 20%, monitor for a couple months, and add more volume if needed.
Increasing performance in the 6-10 rep range with exercises you commonly do is a decent proxy for muscle growth to let you know you're headed in the right direction."
- Greg Nuckols,
11. Mike Samuels
"Basics ALWAYS work best. You can't beat the squat, deadlift and bench press, and their variants.
I'm not anti-isolation movement at all, but routines should be 70% compound free-weight moves. Leave 1-2 reps in the tank on each set, and aim to get progressively stronger.
Oh - and eat a lot."
- Mike Samuels,
12. Max Shank
"Get some serious volume in push-ups and rows. If you can hit 30 reps of push-ups and rows, you are well on your way to building the upper body.
The great part is that you can do them every day. Just like walter payton and herschel walker.
The big takeaway here is that the basics never go out of style--do your damn push-ups! Oh and be sure to change the hand position frequently to limit overuse injuries and maintain mobility."
- Max Shank,
13. Dean Somerset
"Building muscle comes down to a couple of basic things: muscle tension (how much weight you use or how hard you can contract a muscle), and muscle damage. This could come from minor tears to the muscle from the metabolic tension, or some metabolic damage from the chemical reactions occurring during the workouts.
That burning sensation could be a component of this, as could other factors of fatigue that normally come with the workouts. If your workouts have enough tension and stress within them to create some disturbance, the next big factor is making sure you have enough fuel to rebuild that tissue, so having enough protein intake each day is essential."
- Dean Somerset,
14. Greg Robins
"For most people, the greatest importance in building muscle has to do with measurement of progressive overload.
Progressive overload is simply doing more that you did before. You can accomplish this by adding weight to the bar (intensity), moving more total weight than you did before (volume), or accomplishing more work in less time (density).
You don't have to move all three markers at once, but make sure you improve in one category every few sessions."
- Greg Robins,
15. Alex Viada
"Learn to deal with being uncomfortable.
It doesn't matter what rep range you work in, it doesn't matter what program you're on, whose advice you follow, or how much you focus on that mind/muscle connection- if you don't understand what it's like to actually work HARD, not just for one workout, but training day after training day, you'll never get anywhere.
Adaptation is uncomfortable- we don't like pushing our bodies to their limit, and we're VERY good at trying to "science" our way around the simple fact that working harder gets you better results, period.
Work smarter AND harder, and don't let the former obfuscate the latter."
- Alex Viada,
Expert Muscle Building Tips on Nutrition
Having proper nutrition is a crucial part of the muscle building equation, as mentioned in some of our experts' tips above. If your nutrition isn’t on point, you will have a difficult time achieving your goals, no matter how well you stick to your workouts.
Below you’ll find some valuable tips from leading experts in the nutritional field. Use them to your advantage so you can pack on muscle mass.
16. Alan Aragon
"It's always tough to take such a complex thing as building muscle and choose a "most important" tip, so I'll morph two together.
Baseline protein intake should be a gram per pound of lean body mass, and ratcheted up from there if needed.
The accompanying tip would be to make sure you're getting enough total calories, and this amount will vary widely according to the individual's body mass and programming specifics.
While it's possible for certain individuals to build muscle in a caloric deficit, this has been shown to compromise muscle protein synthesis, so in order to maximize rates of muscle gain, a caloric surplus (eating above maintenance calorie needs) is necessary."
- Alan Aragon,
17. Douglas Kalman
"One of the most overlooked yet simple aspects of gaining muscle mass is understanding how to eat adequate calories for growth yet not too much where fat gains are spurred too.
If you are looking to gain weight, muscular weight, then knowing a few tricks will help you in this goal:
1. Check your body weight, jot it down.
2. Get an idea of how many basic calories you burn per day by using an online calculator such as this one.
3. Make sure to note your activity level on the choices when doing the calorie calculation.
4. Once you know your basic caloric expenditure, add 500 calories on top in order to get an idea of your new target level for growing mass.
5. Make sure your diet has up to 35% protein (AMDR range is 10 - 35% protein). The ISSN recommends 1.4 - 2.0 gm/kg, which also fits in the AMDR range.
6. Consider using a macronutrient calculator to help make meal planning easier.
7. Websites such as this one can help with making meal plans.
8. For gaining muscle, remember each meal and snack should contain some protein (ideally not less than 20 grams of protein).
9. To prime muscle recovery and growth, make sure to have protein as part of every post-workout drink or meal, a minimum of 20 to 40 grams. Missing fueling recovery after a workout results in a wasted training session and hurts your goals of added lean mass.
10. Stay hydrated - an under-hydrated or dehydrated muscle will not be or become anabolic. Hydration matters."
- Douglas Kalman,
18. Josh Anderson
"Aside from pushing yourself every single workout (increasing your resistance and reps), it’s all about nutrition.
Be sure to consume enough quality calories to produce the gains you want.
If you want to gain, you must eat!"
- Josh Anderson,
19. Erik Bowitz
"For lifters both natty and non-natty alike, building muscle always comes down to primarily diet and the workout itself. Get both on point and you will build muscle right?
Personally, the one thing I have found to help massively with my gains is the inclusion of natural healthy fats in my diet. Like most lifters I am always trying to look lean, however super low fat diets leave me relatively flat looking.
Incorporating healthy fats like olive oil, as well as animal fats, give me more energy and ultimately more gains than excessively low fat diets do. Best pumps I've had often come after a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and a bit of pre-workout.
The point I'm trying to make is guys seem to get too obsessive about removing ALL fats from their diet, and they ultimately put a damper on their natural testosterone production and thus gains.
Cutting out unhealthy processed fats like those found in potato chips and fried foods while incorporating some healthy animal fats like egg yolks and dairy consistently have resulted in better workouts and more visible gains."
- Erik Bowitz,
Expert Muscle Building Tips on Lifestyle
Fitness is more than just making it to the gym and eating the right foods for a couple of weeks. To truly become successful at building muscle, you must adapt the fitness lifestyle.
It is easier said than done. And it might take you some time to get to the point where you’re fully committed to the lifestyle, but once you are, building muscle will become a consistently achievable goal.
Check out these expert tips on how to apply to the fitness lifestyle to your life.
20. Rohan Arora
"1. Consistency: Being consistent with both your workout as well as your nutrition is the most important key throughout your fitness journey. We all go to the gym and workout, but not everyone gets to see the results. The only thing lying between those who see results and those who don't is persistence.
Gregg Plitt says "In life, it’s not the genetic guy who wins or the guy with the most potential who wins; it’s the person with the greatest perseverance who wins"
2. Right Supplementation: Sure diet is 70% of your fitness journey, but supplements too are 10% and every little thing matters in fitness. Supplementing with the right products will help you lift more, stay energized and recover better.
Focus on your diet first, but fill in the left gaps with the right supplements. Invest your time in researching about various supplements and which one would work the best for your current goals.
3. Recovery: Most beginners make the mistake of working out hard in the gym. It's not the 1 hour workout that matters, but what you do throughout the day.
When you perform an intense workout, you should be focusing on nutrition and sleep in the same way to reap the benefits of your workout.
Workout, nutrition and rest form the tripod for fitness and each is dependent on one another. Focus equally on all three, and results are bound to come."
- Rohan Arora,
21. Michael Boyle
"Don't listen to anabolic steroid users talk about building mass. It has nothing to do with real life.
Also don't listen to people who gain mass easily. They can do anything.
Listen to drug free people who've gained mass. Usually it's a much lower volume approach than what you commonly read."
- Michael Boyle,
22. Ryan Douglas
"My most important tip for building muscle mass is consistency.
If you only train on the days you feel like training you won't get very far.
Sticking to your training schedule and not missing workouts is the easiest way to make progress, when it comes to muscle building."
- Ryan Douglas,
23. Dan John
"You gotta be BIG! Eat big. Sleep big. Lift big. Rest big.
Most people try to chase too many rabbits: six pack abs, pick up basketball games, and, almost forgot: build mass.
To get big, commit to it."
- Dan John,
24. Ravil Marat
"In order to achieve progress and success, it's important to know your body. Different people respond to different stimuli.
Find a specific diet and training program that works for you and stick to it. There's no one-size-fits-all solution."
- Ravil Marat,
25. Derek Huizinga
"The most important tip for building muscle mass for natural athletes is to manage stress properly.
Manage stress by avoiding stimulants, getting the proper amount of sleep, and eating a proper diet with supplements such as: vitamin C, l-theanine (found in green tea), and also phosphatidyl serine."
- Derek Huizinga,
26. Sara Subero
"I’m a big proponent of the holistic approach of building muscle mass.
Every piece of the puzzle must be present for long lasting results – real food to fuel and nourish, fluids for hydration and proper organ function, a quality sleep-wake cycle to repair, fresh air and sunshine for hormone synthesis, variety for increased adaptation, mobility and good range of motion to prevent injury as well as mindfulness for consistency and patience."
- Sara Subero,
27. Vijay Diwakar
"Consistently learn. Use the internet to stay up-to-date on the latest research and be involved in the fitness community.
But, don't get too lost in all of the information. Getting a shredded physique is all about plain common sense. Everything boils down to three words: Exercise, diet, and sleep."
- Vijay Diwakar,
Expert Tips That Combine Lifestyle, Nutrition, & Training
Without a doubt, building muscle is a multiple component equation.
Thus, some of our experts had a difficult time giving just one tip for one aspect of building muscle.
This section provides a larger scope for our experts to provide tips on building lean muscle mass.
28. Valentin Bosioc
"1. EAT MORE PROTEIN - Protein is absolutely crucial for gaining muscle. It helps keep your strength up and gives your muscles the nutrients they need to repair and grow.
Also, make sure you consume a variety of protein sources so you get all the amino acids you need.
2. DO COMPOUND EXERCISES - Forget about the dumbbell kickbacks and wrist curls. Replace these with compound exercises like bench press, pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, dips and shoulder press. These movements recruit large muscle groups and will give you more bang for your buck.
3. GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH RECOVERY TIME - While working hard in the gym it is crucial to let your body recover. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, or if you are hitting the gym hard every day, you simply won’t get the kind of growth you are looking for."
- Valentin Bosioc,
29. Diatta Harris
"I think the most important thing to focus on when building muscle mass is going heavy.
Also, eating enough protein post workout to support muscle repair and rebuilding is essential."
- Diatta Harris,
30. Aidan Huang
"Eat an appropriate diet based on your goals, lift weights, rest and recover.
You’re not going to turn into a bodybuilder just with running, although you will begin to build muscle and burn fat. So to enhance the process, you should go for a diet based on your goals, add on strength training and allow your body to rest on alternate days."
- Aidan Huang,
31. Kris Gunnars
"1. Lift heavy weights regularly, increasing the weight or volume you lift over time.
2. Eat enough calories, especially high-protein foods.
3. Be consistent. This is the most important tip."
- Kris Gunnars,
32. George Romasanta
"FAT IS YOUR FRIEND- Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone. Studies show a more significant correlation of high cholesterol diet to muscle growth.
Make your training sessions HARD for you - utilize different ways of achieving muscle overload and muscle failure every once in a while. Keep in mind that a training session cannot be LONG and HARD at the same time.
I don't base my workout splits on weeks - why? You are being limited by the "week" when every person has different recovery abilities, different jobs, schedules, genetics, level, etc; Most of the time if one misses a workout after the week ends, it is GONE forever!
What I do instead is divide the whole thing into cycle days (or the splits). Lets say the first split is push day, second is pull day, third is for arms - so you do that in that order and it doesn't matter how many days it takes you to go from split to split - just stick to the arrangement no matter what happens.
That way you will not miss any workouts at all, and at the same time make your training schedules as flexible as it can be with your lifestyle and recovery."
- George Romasanta,
33. Dr. Mike T Nelson
"Stimulate as much muscle mass as you can by focusing on a high amount of volume (weight x reps x sets) over the course of a week.
A combination of some full body work and a few smaller body part exercises do the trick there.
Make sure you consume enough protein (around 0.7 grams / lb) and more than enough calories, especially carbohydrates to fuel your training."
- Dr. Mike T Nelson,
Building muscle is a long process and involves being dedicated to training, nutrition, and an appropriate lifestyle outside of the gym.
Take these tips and find ways to subtly change your current muscle building efforts. Over time, continue to make these small changes. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you have incorporated most of, if not all of, these tips.
Do you have any additional tips you’d like to provide for people looking to build lean muscle mass? Be sure to leave them in the comments section below for others to read!
Great compilation, Demmy!
This is all excellent advice. Rest between workouts is a key to substantial gains. Next I would say proper nutrition including recovery after the workout. The difficult part for me has always been the correct exercises. I do not care for machines because of the restrictive range of motion. I use dumbbells and barbells only. I get moderate gains and develop my body slowly. I think that is more important than trying to achieve huge gains every time you exercise. You only get really sore and/or injured because you did too much or used incorrect form or both. Moderation is the key for sustained, long term growth. In addition, using proper form while lifting.
I have found recently that a natural estrogen blocker really has helped me with gains big time. I do subscribe to the advise of the 33 experts as well - progressive overload, compound lifts, protein x 1gram of body weight, calorie surplus, hitting your macros, and consistency. I go most days to the gym at 5:30 am whether I want to or not. I have had success with changing workout plans every few weeks to keep my muscle guessing.
Can you please tell me what natural estrogen blockers do you use?
Great roundup here Demmy!