How to Build Muscle: 5 Step Guide to Lean Gains

Mike Wines
Written By: Mike Wines
February 1st, 2021
Updated: May 27th, 2021
Tags: Expert Guide
2.1M Reads
How to Build Muscle: 5 Step Guide to Lean Gains
The process of muscle building is an incredibly complex physiological and biomechanical process which can confuse even the most experienced trainee. Here are 5 simple steps that can get you started on the right track today.

Looking for the most comprehensive muscle building guide on the internet? Well, good thing you stopped by, I’ve got you covered. 

This guide will take you through everything from nutrition to training and even supplementation, which will get you on the right path to add quality slabs of muscle.

If you need help or clarification, please feel free to post a question or comment at the end of this guide.

How Do You Actually Build Muscle?

Before we discuss the nuts and bolts of how to build muscle, we need to run through the basics of muscle physiology so that we’re all on the same page.

When someone lifts weights, they create trauma within the muscle fiber by generating micro-tears. Once damage occurs, a cascade of biochemical signaling takes place and satellite cells become active. These cells actually bind to muscle cells in order to repair the damaged areas and help to synthesize new contractile components.

When these components increase in cross-sectional area, you experience the phenomenon commonly known as muscular hypertrophy.

Essentially, you must remember the goal of training is to stimulate protein synthesis but the key to building muscle is cellular repair, not damage.

Now don't get me wrong, there is some truth to the saying, "stimulate, don't annihilate." But, to quote supergenius and performance specialist Alex Viada,

"Adaptation requires pushing the body to do something it doesn't really want to do, it's gonna hurt. If it gets easier, then chances are, you're getting lazier."

Somatotypes: Do They Even Matter?

When it comes to training and nutrition, most guys want to classify themselves in 1 of 3 body type categories: ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph.

Before we get into breaking down each somatotype, let’s first examine the origins and significance of body typing.

Somatotypes were originally developed by a psychologist from Rhode Island named William Herbert Sheldon. Originally, body typing was developed to characterize an individual’s psychological state based upon their anthropometry.

In the end, the bodybuilding and fitness community adapted the somatotype classification system as a way to categorize physical deviations present in trainees.

Not only that, the original model developed by Sheldon was designed entirely for men, so what are women supposed to use?

As you can see, somatotypes are fairly limited in their design, application, and significance. That being said though, here are so typical characteristics exhibited by each classification within Sheldon’s developmental model:

Image courtesy of Govt. of Western Aust. Dept. of Health


  • Typical skinny guy:
    • Small joints
    • Narrow shoulders
    • Fairly lean build
    • Long bone structure
    • Tall and lanky
  • Defined as a “hardgainer” in the weight training community


  • Fairly athletic physique:
    • Large bone structure
    • Higher levels of lean body mass
  • Somewhat “blocky” appearance
  • Naturally strong despite a lack of proper training


  • Short and “stocky” physique:
    • Thick overall
    • Slightly higher levels of body fat
  • Limb lengths provide advantages to strength training in the lower body

Muscle & Strength Gym

If you’ll notice, I didn’t include any specifics on training or nutrition recommendations for each body type like most articles.

In fact, I think that most of those articles are rather short-sighted in their approach as many folks don’t follow the “cookie-cutter” outline associated with somatotypes.

For example, what happens if you possess an ectomorphic build but you feel terrible on a higher carb diet and you can handle 5 days of training per week?

Should you just continue to bang your head against the wall by slamming carbs, avoiding cardio, and only training 3 times per week because that’s what all the internet “experts” recommend?

In short, no.

Somatotypes were never designed as a means to estimate muscle growth potential or an individual’s genetic response to training.

Remember, body types are not the “be all, end all”; you’re not destined for hardgainer hell simply because you’re tall and lanky with narrow shoulders.

Similarly, you’re not doomed to put on fat if you’re an endomorph who loves carbs. This is merely a reference point, nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t limit yourself psychologically by believing your somatotype is something you can’t control and the limiting factor for your gains.

As Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes has said before,

More than anything else, I think somatotypes are useful for the most general of classifications for beginning trainees, not as a rationale to limit one's potential. Your somatotype isn’t even “real.” Don’t use somatotypes as an excuse to create a preconceived limit where there isn’t one.

Step 1: Calculate Your Calorie Needs

First thing’s first, you need to determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is essentially an estimation of the minimum energy required to keep basic bodily functions online (heart rate, respiration, etc.) if you spent an entire 24 hour period at rest.

After you establish your BMR, you'll need to use the active factor multiplier to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is a combination of the calories need to maintain your basal metabolic rate coupled with your daily activities.

  • BMR Calculator - Start here, you’ll need this number for subsequent calculations.

Lean Bulk

 A lean bulk is generally recommended for healthy individuals at an average weight. Use the following formula to determine your daily calorie needs for a lean bulk:

TDEE + 250 calories.

Aggressive Bulk

If you’re fairly new to training, underweight, or a classic hardgainer, it might be beneficial to eat more aggressively. Use the following formula to determine your daily calorie needs for an aggressive bulk:

TDEE + 500 calories.

Muscle Building Meals

Keep in mind, all of these calculations are based upon algorithms for most individuals. However, they cannot factor in every individual variable such as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), genotypes, hormones, lifestyle factors, hobbies, or nervous system dominance.

Therefore, some individuals may need to add more calories in order to gain weight while others will need less to get the scale moving in the right direction. Start with a set number, eat accordingly for a month, check the scale, and then reassess.

Realistically, if you’ve been training for a year or two, you should shoot for roughly 0.5 pounds per week. Beginners should aim slightly higher in the 0.75-1.0lb per week range in order to maximize their muscular potential.

Step 2: Plan Your Muscle Building Diet

Meet Joe.

Joe is a 20 years old student who is new to weight training but wants to gain some muscle. He’s 150lbs, 6 feet tall, and works part-time as a busboy at a local restaurant. He’s looking to train 4 days per week as he’s fairly skinny and resembles the average ectomorphic physique.

We’ll use Joe as a practical example to take you through the steps to determine your calories and macros. In step 1 you learned how to calculate base calories, now here’s how to break this all down into macros and plan your meals.

  • TDEE: ~2750 calories
    • Estimated calorie target for an aggressive bulk: 2750 + 500 = 3250 calories
  • Protein:
    • Start at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight
    • Each gram of protein contains 4 calories
    • 150g (i.e. Joe’s bodyweight) = 150x4 = 600 calories
  • Fat:
    • Start at 0.45 grams per pound of bodyweight
    • Each gram of fat contains 9 calories
    • ~70g  = 70x9 = 630 calories
  • Carbohydrate:
    • Fill your remaining calories with carbs
    • Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories
    • 3250 – 1230 (600+630) = 2020 calories divided by 4 = 505g

So in Joe’s case, he would be shooting for roughly 150g of protein, 70g of fat, and 505g of carbs per day.

Now, don’t freak out, I know that may sound like a huge amount of carbs and/or calories but for some guys (and gals) this is what it’s going to take to build muscle.

As I mentioned above regarding carbs, if Joe can’t get that many carbs down or they don’t seem to sit well with him, then he could easily up his fats as they are calorically dense and low in volume.

I should also note that all of these recommendations are for young, healthy, and active individuals. Certain macronutrients would require manipulation in older populations and those who might not respond to specific nutrition strategies.

Joe’s Muscle Building Diet

Ingredient Serving Size
Oatmeal 1.5 Cups
Whole Egg 3 Large
Banana 1 Large
Assorted Vegetables 1 Cup
Meal 1 Total: 865 Calories - 125g C/25g F/35g P
Ingredient Serving Size
Chicken 4 Ounces
White Rice 2 Cups
Broccoli 1 Cups
Olive Oil 1 Tbsp
Cherries 1 Cup
Meal 2 Total: 820 Calories - 120g C/20g F/40g P
Ingredient Serving Size
Ground Sirloin 6 Ounces
Sweet Potatoes 2 Large
Green Beans 2 Cups
Diced Mango 1 Cup
Meal 3 Total: 655 Calories - 90g C/15g F/40g P
Ingredient Serving Size
93/7 Ground Turkey 4 Ounces
Whole Wheat Spaghetti 6 Ounces
Tomato Sauce 1/2 Cup
Apple 1 Medium
Meal 4 Total: 890 Calories - 155g C/10g F/45g P

Muscle Building Spaghetti

You don’t have to eat this exact meal plan, there is nothing magical about the foods included or any foods for that matter. This was merely an example to show you how you can easily set up your macros for your body and then compose a sound meal plan around them.

DAILY TOTAL: 3230 calories - 490g C/70g F/160g P
DAILY GOAL: 3250 calories - 505g C/70g F/150g P

Now, these totals don’t match exactly but they are close enough that the minutia won’t make a single difference. Consistency and sustainability determine success, not your ability to hit macros exactly.

That being said though, here are a few simple guidelines from the folks at Precision Nutrition for measuring your food intake if you don’t have access or don’t prefer to use a food scale:

  • Palm = 1 serving for protein sources (~5-6 ounces)
  • Length of your thumb = 1 serving for fat sources
  • Cupped hand = 1 serving for carbohydrate sources
  • Fist = 1 serving for vegetables

I should also note that most folks will have to recalculate macros routinely (every 4-6 weeks) and add calories if their weight isn’t increasing. Your body will attempt to maintain homeostasis despite the fact that you’re trying to get heavier so you may have to coax adaptation by increasing your calories even further.

Muscle Building Foods

Certain foods contain carbohydrates in the form of glucose, fats in the form of triglycerides, and proteins as amino acids.

Muscle Building Supplements

Calories are the building blocks of muscle but you should also be aware of each individual macronutrient and have a general idea of how much you’re consuming.

When it comes to making gains, you should do your best to keep things simple and wholesome on the nutrition side of the equation.

Stick primarily to whole foods, meaning foods that have one ingredient – the food itself and very minimal additives. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:


  • Chicken
  • Lean Beef
  • Whey Protein
  • Fish (Lean and Fatty Options)
  • Eggs


  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables


  • Olive Oil
  • Mixed Nuts and Seeds
  • Coconut Oil 
  • Cheese
  • Avocados

Keep in mind, as your caloric intake increases, it may become progressively tougher to consume enough whole foods to meet your goal. If that becomes an issue then look to liquid sources such as smoothies or coconut/whole milk depending upon tolerance.

Once dietary macro and micronutrients have been met, some processed sources can be consumed to help increase caloric intake if appetite is lacking.

Hard training individuals can consume a higher level of "discretionary calories" from processed sources due to their high work output, but ideally, this should only compose 10-15% of their calorie intake. Remember, everything in moderation. 

Foundational Supplementation

This section is exactly as the name implies: a supplement to an already sound nutrition and training regimen.

Until you nail both of those aspects, you won’t be able to “out supplement” poor lifestyle choices and you’re decision to neglect the two most influential components in your muscular development and physical growth.

As Paul Carter says,

"If your supplements cost more than your groceries, you've already failed."

Creatine Supplement

  1. Creatine – Creatine is cheap, effective, and backed by vast quantities of research showing its efficacy in regards to power output, muscular hypertrophy, and anaerobic energy system performance.
  2. Fish Oil – Ensuring a proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is incredibly important for both long term cardiovascular health and management of triglycerides.
  3. Vitamin D – In actuality, vitamin D is not a vitamin at all. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient similar to A, E, and K but it differs from the others as it acts as a steroid precursor from a hormonal perspective. Research has shown that optimal vitamin D levels can influence heart health, cognition, and bone density.
  4. Whey Protein – If you struggle with your protein intake or increasing meal frequency to get in your calories, then whey protein is one of the cheapest options that is portable, tasty, and convenient.


  1. Probiotic/Digestive Enzymes – If you’re putting down 4,000 calories on a daily basis, your GI system is going to be working overtime. Not to mention improving the bacterial flora can enhance short-chain fatty acid production, nutrient absorption, and individual immune responses to antigens.
  2. BCAAs – Admittedly, these are highly context-dependent. If you’re fasted or performing excessively long training sessions then these have slightly more applications but for the average trainee, there are wiser uses for your money.
  3. ZMA – Sleep is essential in the production of new muscle and improving your recovery in between sessions. However, many athletes are deficient in both zinc and magnesium as these are depleted through intense exercise and can have nocturnal and hormonal effects that influence the results from training.

If you’re interested in some of the mechanisms behind each of these, then check out my other expert guide found here: How To Increase Muscle Mass: The Complete Guide.

Muscle Building Nutrition Tips


  • Bookend your workout with protein both pre and post-workout.
  • Eat protein with every meal or snack.
  • Space meals roughly 3-4 hours apart to allow amino acid levels to return to baseline.
  • Ensure you’ve eaten some sort of protein or at least branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) before training in order to maximize anabolism.


  • Should be emphasized around the workout period.
  • Can be catered to personal preferences and individual response – i.e. spaced throughout the day, later in the day, less at night, more in the morning, etc.
  • Prioritize fruits, vegetables, and other whole food options – rice, potatoes, oats, etc.
  • Carbohydrates should not be feared or avoided completely as they are vitally important in the muscle building process.
  • If carbs tend to make you sleepy, choose lower glycemic options or simply place more of them later in the day after you’ve trained.


  • Experiment with avoiding fats during the pre, intra, and post-workout period as they delay nutrient digestion.
  • Include them in other meals throughout the day as they lower the glycemic index and improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Consume a balanced variety of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated sources.
  • Avoid fats that are not naturally occurring (i.e. those made in factories - corn, canola, safflower, etc.)
  • Ensure a sufficient intake of Omega 3’s from a variety of sources.

Salmon Omega 3's

Step 3: Choose Your Workout Routine

Nutrition will only take you so far; if you’re not training, it doesn’t matter if you hit your macros perfectly or consume the healthiest diet known to man.

If you’re the adventurous and inquisitive type, you might be interested in setting up your own workout routine but this takes a bit of experimentation and knowledge. Depending upon your preferences, goals, and availability, your training will likely revolve around one of the following training splits:

We’ll go over exercise selection in another section of this guide, but generally, you’ll find that one of those 3 templates will work best for most lifts.

Remember, it’s not about getting fancy, it’s about a relentless application of the basics until you become a master in the most mundane things.

A Quick Word on Technique

When you first begin to lift weights, it can be tempting to focus more on the actual weight on the bar rather than the biomechanics of the movement. Don’t fool yourself, poor technique will catch up with you in the long run.

Ideally, you’d start your training session with foam rolling for 5 minutes and then move into a few dynamic stretches and activation drills for your shoulders and hips. It doesn’t have to be anything incredibly lengthy, but it will make a drastic difference if you incorporate these elements in the long run.

Muscle Building Deadlift

Most Effective Muscle Building Exercises


Deadlifts are without a doubt one of the best muscle builders that any trainee can include in their training routine. How many 600-pound deadlifters have small backs? My point exactly. Like squats, deadlifts should ideally be performed with a barbell.


Squat deep and think deeper. Deep squats are one of the toughest exercises to master but they are essential in every training program. Everyone won’t be able to squat butt to ankles given the differences in hip anatomy and bony articulations, but in general, everyone should be working to maintain both the front and back squat pattern. 


Dips are an excellent muscle builder for the chest, triceps, and shoulders if they are progressively overloaded with weight. You should be able to manipulate your body weight in space against the influence of gravity. If you can’t perform simple movements such as push ups, dips, and chin-ups, then you need to work on your relative strength.


The chin-up is the easiest way to determine someone’s relative strength. If you can knock out sets of bench with your body weight but can’t perform at least 5 bodyweight chin-ups, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. Chin-ups are an excellent mass builder for the lats, biceps, and upper back, so they should take the place of machine variations like lat pulldowns whenever possible.

Bench Press

The bench press is about as American as apple pie, fireworks, or bald eagles. If you’re in a gym on a Monday, then you can pretty guarantee at least 85% of the males in the building will be benching. With good reason though, variations such as the flat barbell bench press or flat dumbbell press and the incline bench press or incline dumbbell press are very effective mass builders for the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Overhead Press

Everybody wants to know how much you bench, but when the last time someone asked how much you overhead press?  The press is an excellent indicator of overall upper body strength and balanced programming. Most seasoned lifters should be able to press their bodyweight overhead.


Bilateral (barbell) and unilateral (dumbbell) versions are both incredibly beneficial for developing the musculature of the upper back, which is typically weak in most trainees. Machine versions can be beneficial as well as each provides specific benefits, but you’ll find the most success from free weight versions.

You Can Only Train as Hard as You Recover

It’d be a serious mistake if I glossed over the importance of recovery. Your recovery outside of the gym will determine your training frequency, duration, and intensity.

You can’t continually grind yourself to powder in the gym and expect your body to perform at 100% on the daily. As I said in the opening paragraph, “The key to building muscle is cellular repair, not damage.

When you watch bodybuilders or professional athletes absolutely crushing volume, you have to remember that there are specific parameters in place that will allow them to train extremely hard and recover exceedingly well, namely performance-enhancing substances.

Steroid discussion aside, their lifestyle revolves around their training; they eat, train, eat, nap, eat, rest, eat, sleep, and then do it all over again. External stressors are limited in order to allow them to focus all of their time and energy on training and improving their physique or skill set.

For the average trainee, you should be focused upon these 3 points:

  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Rest


Sleep is without a doubt one of the most underutilized performance-enhancing endeavors. There is an entire area of research dedicated to just sleep and the effects on body composition and muscle growth.

Most trainees should be shooting for 8 hours or more every night. Suffice it to say, you should be able to wake naturally at the same time every day without the use of an alarm clock. If not, you need to improve your sleep hygiene and circadian rhythms. 

If you’re looking for some simple tips to maximize your Z’s when you’re in between the sheets, then check out this article I wrote on the subject: Hacking Your Sleep 101: Nine Tips For Better Gains.

Sleeping gives you gains


Stress can be good at times; training is a stressor, right? Sure it is, but when you have multiple stressors in your life that are weighing on you mentally and physically, you’ll quickly begin to notice their deleterious effects on your health and performance.

Spend 5-10 minutes each day in complete silence, unplugged from social media or electronics. You’ll be surprised just how difficult this can be but it’s important to get away from the constant stress of updates, texts, and incessant messages.

Surround yourself with those who have similar goals in mind and are willing to build you up in your pursuits. If someone is constantly dragging you down, it’s going to wear on your motivation and desire to train.


Muscle groups need time to recover, you can’t expect your chest and shoulders to be firing on all cylinders if you hit 8 sets of bench yesterday.

Most muscles can sufficiently recover in roughly 48 hours so working them every other day is a good place to start, hence why most beginner total body programs are based on a 1 day on, 1 day off setup.

That's not to say you should never work muscle groups on back to back days as there are programs that do exactly that (e.g. Smolov, Sheiko, etc.), and folks have tremendous results. However, 48 hours is a solid general rule of thumb. 

Not only that, your whole body needs time to adapt to the stimulus of lifting, you shouldn't expect to look like Arnold after 6 months in the gym.

Training through minor soreness is fine, but if you’re consistently lifting to the point where you can barely walk or psyching yourself up before every set, then it’s time to chill out and take a step back for your body’s sake.

Recommended Workouts

If you’re new to training, then check out some of the options found on the site and run them exactly as the author intended them to be executed. Too many young guns want to alter every training variable rather than running the program as written and focusing on getting stronger. No, you don’t need an entire day dedicated to arms when you can’t even complete a single chin-up.

Here are some popular 3-day splits which work exceptionally well:

Not your style? That’s cool, here are some 4-day splits that might be up your alley:

5 days per week doesn’t equate to more gains but some may enjoy the higher frequency if they can recover with adequate sleep and nutrition:

STEP 4: Implement Your New Plan

When it comes to reaching your goals, you have to remember that nothing works until you do. You won’t reach your goals just hoping and wishing you could be different. You get in the gym and make it happen. Nobody said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it.

Food Prep and Nutrition

Make Time to Work Out

Most folks work a 9 to 5 position, but if you’re not in the corporate world yet, then odds are you’re a student with classes scattered throughout the day, and it takes up a vast portion of your free time. That being said, you’re likely going to have to work out in the morning or the evening in order to fit in your session amidst the hectic commitments in your everyday life. Here are a few things to consider in regards to each time period:


  • Improves mental acuity and sets the tone for your day.
  • Prevents you from talking yourself out of a workout later on.
  • Motivates one to make healthier food choices since they “started their day on the right foot.”
  • Teaches discipline as one must voluntarily wake up earlier than normal to work hard and improve themselves.
  • Leaves more free time after work to socialize.
  • Gives you something to look forward to at the start of every day.


  • Physical performance outcomes are typically higher as the day goes on and peak in the early to midafternoon.
  • Less stressful as one isn’t rushed to get to work on time – allows for longer sessions overall: lengthier warmups and greater rest periods typically correlate with greater improvements to both short and long performance measures.
  • Allows for less hectic mornings as one can sleep in, prep their food, pack their gym clothes, and adequately prepare for the day ahead.
  • Very relaxed atmosphere so it may feel easier to ask others for advice or simply socialize with those around you to distress from the workdday.
  • Helps many folks to “wind down” before going to sleep.

Food Prep

Nutrition is the crux of your success. Until you dial in your nutrition, you won’t meet your goals whether they’re muscle gain or fat loss related.

That being said though, you’ll find that the vast majority of your success will come through preparation and staying consistent.

Sure, you’re going to eat a few meals at restaurants occasionally as there are social and celebrative aspects of food that should not be ignored or forgotten.

However, if you prep and cook most of your meals, you’ll find that it is much easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle when nutritious options are readily available. This process doesn’t start in your kitchen though, it begins when you walk into the grocery store.

If you only have healthy options available at your house, then it will be much easier to make a conscious effort to eat whole, nutritious foods. Food prep will take a little time out of your schedule in order to make sure you’re ready for the week but in the end, it will make your life easier during the hectic periods.

All natural foods

Keep a Training Journal

There’s nothing more important than tracking your progress. You’ll never realize how far you’ve come if can’t turn around and look back over your successes and failures.

You don’t have to document every single occurrence in your fitness journey but some may enjoy the process and find satisfaction in the little things. Progress pictures and measurements are an easy way to objectively measure progress rather than just relying upon your subjective opinion, what you see in the mirror, and the scale.

Above all else though, make sure that you’re keeping track of your nutrition and training. You should be focused upon progressive overload in each training session and you should also have a general idea of how many calories you’re consuming.

I’ve already laid out 2 different methods for calorie tracking above so whichever you choose, just make sure you’re consistent so that you can make adjustments when progress stalls. 

STEP 5: Stay Motivated

Getting to the gym is often the toughest part of the day. Once you walk through the door and get rolling with your warmup, things get much easier as the momentum starts to build.

However, for some folks, motivation seems to wane with every passing day as they fight to sleep in and skip workouts or blow off their diet when things get tough.

In the midst of this social media obsession, it can be quite tough to find the motivation to work out when so many shirtless selfies are posted to demonstrate the progress of certain individuals.

We have to remember that psychological factors play a huge role in intrinsic motivation and the commitment to remain dedicated despite the influence of external factors.

For example, intrinsic motivation stems from behaviors that are personally rewarding whereas extrinsic motivation is rooted in behaviors based on the enticement of reward or to avoid punishment.

When it comes to your goals, individuals with high intrinsic motivation often reach their goals and remain successful as they are motivated by the enjoyment of the activity rather than the need to feel social validation from their physique.

5 Rules From Successful Lifters

  1. Knowledge – When it comes to building the best physique possible, you have to be willing to experiment and learn from your body. No one will be able to tell you what’s the most effective nutrition or training split for your individual genotype. Not only that, they don’t know your personal preference, injury history, asymmetries, experience level, or current work capacity.
  2. Preparation – If you have physique or aesthetic goals, then you’re going to have to monitor your nutrition. That being said, it will require a bit of work to prepare some healthy meals and ensuring you’re getting enough calories. Not only that, you must approach training in the same way. If you don’t have your gym bag essentials prepped, you’ll end up wasting time looking for your belt and wrist wraps which should already be packed.
  3. Hard Work – I’m going to let you in on a secret that is going to transform the way you view training and nutrition: there is no secret that’s going to triple your gains. Muscle building takes time, calories, and progressive overload, there’s no getting around that provided you choose to stay natural for the duration of your lifting career.
  4. Dedication – Ever wonder why most weekend warriors never reach their fitness goals? Committing to consistency in the gym and the kitchen takes time and effort, both of which many fail to attain when it comes to improving their physique or breaking free of their strength plateau.
  5. Progression – Throughout the course of your lifting career you should consistently strive for progress both mentally and physically. Initially, you may find that you’re incessantly focused on nutrition and training but as you progress in both maturity and muscular development, you should be focused on improving the balance between lifting and your life. It’s never about having an all or nothing mindset, balance must be incorporated in all aspects but this takes time to develop and occurs with progression over time.

“How Do I Know if I’m Making Progress?”

Well as I mentioned above in the nutrition section, the easiest way to measure your progress from an objective standpoint is to simply ensure that you’re gaining the recommended range of weight for your experience level. Above and beyond that, you could also take some measurements for each of the following body parts with a measuring tape:

  • Forearm
  • Bicep
  • Neck
  • Shoulder (Top of the deltoid)
  • Chest (Tape under arms at the nipple line or slightly higher)
    • Omitted for women
  • Waist (At the navel)
  • Hips (At the largest part of the glutes)
  • Thigh (Equidistant from the hip and knee)
  • Calves (At the largest point of the muscle belly)

Tips & Tricks

  • Make sure that you use consistency in your measurements (i.e. location of the tape as well as the state of the muscle: flexed versus relaxed).
  • Don’t pull the tape excessive tight, it should just be snug.
  • Write everything down and keep track of all the numbers to watch your progress over time.
  • Try to avoid exercise before the measurement process as strenuous activity can cause blood to pool in the muscle (i.e. the “pump” you experience) and appear larger than normal.
  • Measure BOTH sides of the body to determine dominance and work to correct the deficit.

You can also measure your body fat using calipers to determine if you’re improving your lean to fat mass ratio but measurements with calipers are very tough to duplicate and often lack inter-trial validity when performed on yourself as you're likely biased towards subjective readings.

As such, you’d be better off having a qualified professional perform your caliper assessment or stick to just strictly overall girth measurements coupled with the scale and the mirror to determine your current state of progress.

Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.

11 Most Important Muscle Building Tips:

Muscle building isn’t complicated, just make sure you remember these 11 important tips:

  1. Nothing happens until you nail your nutrition.
  2. Focus on progressive overload with either more weight, reps, or sets.
  3. Stick to compound exercises.
  4. Don’t abuse training frequency (at least not initially) – more doesn’t always equate to better.
  5. Minimize stress and maximize recovery.
  6. Sleep as much as possible; nap frequently.
  7. Stick to whole foods but don't be afraid to incorporate some processed options (10-15% of calories) if appetite is poor and you consistently lose weight.
  8. Eat 250-500 calories above your BMR.
  9. Emphasize protein at every meal and eat 1g/lb of bodyweight.
  10. Gain 0.5-0.75lb (intermediates) or 0.75-1.00lb (beginners) of bodyweight per week.
  11. Adjust calories up or down according to weekly weight loss/gain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much do I need to eat?

A: Start with the calculations above but don’t be afraid to adjust up or down. Your metabolism and physiology will adapt to more food by trying to maintain homeostasis and regulate your body weight. Some may have to increase more than others but the number on the scale doesn’t lie. If it’s not going up, then you probably need to increase your calories.

Q: How much protein do I need?

A: The literature supports roughly 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight in young adults. Can you eat more? As long as you have healthy, functioning kidneys, yes. Will you receive any further physiological benefits from it? Most likely, no. Not only that, since our calories are set, if we choose to overconsume protein then we must reduce either carbohydrate and/or fat in order to keep caloric expenditure within our set range. Once protein needs are met (~0.8-1g/lb of bodyweight) you will likely see greater benefits from higher carbohydrate consumptions given the influence they have on anabolism and the anaerobic energy pathway. However, as I mentioned above, these recommendations will differ for older trainees given the blunted anabolic response from the ingestion of amino acids. 

Q: What supplements do I need?

A: Technically, nothing. A better question would be: “What supplements are beneficial?” If that’s the case, then refer to the foundation supplementation section found in STEP 2 above.

Q: How much weight do I use?

A: Use a weight that is challenging but still allows you to complete the desired number of repetitions while staying under control and utilizing good technique.

Q: When do I add weight?

A: Once you can complete the desired number of repetitions, then go up in weight. If you are given a repetition range, then shoot for the lower end if it’s tough. If it’s easy, then go for the higher end. Upon completing the higher end of the range, then add weight and repeat the process.

Q: How do I minimize fat gain when bulking?

A: First, you have to realize that when one is gaining weight it’s nearly impossible (steroid discussion aside) to gain solely muscle without the acquisition of some body fat as well. That being said though, you can improve the distribution of lean body mass to fat mass by ensuring that your calorie consumption isn’t too aggressive (i.e. 1000+ over your BMR). Also, it should go without saying, but you need to be training hard while focusing on progressive overload to ensure that the calories you’re ingesting are actually going towards muscle growth. You shouldn’t be neglecting cardiovascular work either; both HIIT and LISS each play a role in enhancing mitochondrial density, balancing neurotransmitters, improving oxidative capacity, and influencing brain plasticity.

Q: Do I have to do cardio?

A: Yes, as I touched upon in the last question, it would be ideal to include some high and low-intensity options as each has physiological benefits.

Q: Do macros matter?

A: To put it succinctly, yes. Once you decide upon calories, the macronutrient composition of your diet is the next most important variable. For example, once you set your calories, if you decided to only consume 50 grams of protein, zero fat, and the rest carbohydrates, then this would definitely play a role in your accrual of fat-free mass. 

Q: Does meal timing matter?

A: At the end of the day, the most important variable regarding weight gain or loss is calorie consumption. However, meal frequency and timing around activity can both influence workout intensity and duration thus potentially allowing for further improvements in body composition. Remember, muscle growth isn’t a pulsatile process, it doesn’t just acutely spike and then return to baseline so if there aren’t circulating amino acids within the bloodstream then they’ll have to be broken down from muscle as this is the highest form of concentrated amino acids within the body. That being said, it would probably be a good idea to consume anywhere from 3-6 meals spread throughout the day depending upon your schedule and preference. Ideally, we want to stimulate anabolism through food every 3-5 hours.

Q: Is there a post-workout window?

A: If your goal is the largest accrual of muscle mass possible, then there may be some benefit to ingesting nutrients with a period of 30-60 minutes after your workout. Does this have to be a protein shake? No, but ideally it should be a meal lower in fat to enhance the digest rate of nutrients within the gastrointestinal tract. However, if you have just eaten a mixed macronutrient meal pre-workout then you should keep in mind that that meal is still likely digesting so there’s no need to throw down the weights after your last set and rush to your locker to slam a protein shake.

Q: How frequently should I train?

A: Depending upon your experience level, preference, recovery capacity, and time available, you’ll likely find that 3-5 strength training sessions per week is the sweet spot. If you’re just getting started with weight training, then you should stick with 3 days per week and work your way up. Novices and early intermediates can handle 4 days per week with a split such as an upper lower and seasoned intermediate lifters may be able to handle 5 sessions per week depending upon the programming, recovery, and nutrition strategies that are in place.

Q: Do I need to rest?

A: As I said in the first paragraph, “…the key to building muscle is cellular repair, not damage. The goal of training is to stimulate protein synthesis, not complete annihilation of a muscle group.

Q: I’m never hungry but I need to eat more, how?

A: Eat more frequently, drink fewer liquids while eating (they compete for stomach volume along with food), eat from larger plates and bowls, add lime or lemon juice to your water with meals (can help to increase production of hydrochloric acid that breaks down food), and consume more liquid calories (especially around the workout if appetite is suffering the rest of the day).

Q: Should you train when you’re sick?

A: Let your symptoms be your guide. A slight sore throat or runny nose may require you to back off for a day or two but don’t confine yourself to your bed and assume the worst. However, you must also remember that prolonged, intense exercise can decrease immune function and make you more susceptible to bacterial and viral-based sickness so it's equally as important to listen to your body and respond accordingly.

Q: What program should I follow?

A: Select one from the list above and run it AS WRITTEN. These programs work if you put in the work, remain patient, and don’t overthink things.

Q: Do I have to squat and deadlift?

A: Yes, the squat and hinge are essential to your muscular growth.

Q: Do I have to barbell back squat and conventional deadlift?

A: No. You should ensure that the squat and hinge motor pattern are both emphasized but other variations (front squat, sumo deadlift, safety bar squat, Romanian deadlift) should be included until you can master technique on the more advanced variations. For more information on exercise progressions and regressions see this article: Train Like An Athlete, Look Like a Bodybuilder.

Posted on: Mon, 11/13/2023 - 09:43

Hey Mike, thank you for the valuable write-ups. I've been feeling a lack of strength since my childhood, where I was bullied by kids who were much stronger than me. Now, at 36 years old, weighing 82KG and measuring 175CM, I still can't do a single straight chin-up. I've tried various techniques, but none seem to work. I also struggle with dips. I've been hitting the gym infrequently and have a small home setup. A previous X-ray, taken after a barbell incident that broke my toe, revealed weak bone density. Could this be due to genetic factors, resulting in lower bone density compared to my peers, making me feel weak? The maximum bench press I've achieved is 30KG, while I've seen much younger individuals easily handle 50+KG. Is it possible to increase bone density and core strength? Can this be achieved even if you're genetically predisposed to weakness? Thank you so much!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 11/26/2023 - 20:32

Hi there. I don't know how many techniques you've tried, but training consistently is going to be paramount for all strength including core strength, as is nutrition and calcium for your bone density issue. Since you're over 30, it will be an uphill climb. It could be due to genetics or other underlying health issues. Your doctor is going to be the best person to speak to about this. I believe it can be done, but only with the right guidance and commitment. I hope this helps or at least gives you hope and incentive to talk to your physician about that bone density issue.

Posted on: Sun, 06/18/2023 - 19:31

i'm male,age 30,height 178 cm and weight 80kgs . I have low upper body muscle and high lower body muscle, fat and i have right knee problem (not a big thing but can't do squats). From past 7 years i'm struggling to reduce my lower body in different ways so PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 06/19/2023 - 06:44

What have you done already to try to resolve this issue? I don't want to make any suggestions you've already tried.

Posted on: Fri, 06/16/2023 - 10:54

I heard some foods lower testosterone levels is it true?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 06/17/2023 - 05:46

Excessive processed foods could have a negative impact on testosterone levels, but I don't know about natural food sources. That may be a good topic for a future article.

Tom Hayest
Posted on: Sun, 02/05/2023 - 13:21

I'm going to say this is the most informative, complete, and well-written article on weight training I've read. It was very easy to read and didn't use "gym speak" to show how much you knew. Well done!

Posted on: Thu, 09/16/2021 - 19:52

Thanks a lot for these important information.

Mike Harrison
Posted on: Sat, 07/31/2021 - 23:45

Im trying to get back into the gym and gain muscle im 5,9 and weight is 265 what can i do to shredd the fat and turn it into muscle thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 08/04/2021 - 15:20

Mike -

A solid nutritional plan would be a great place to start. I recommend checking out our Complete Anabolic Diet Guide With Sample Meal Plan.

Tom Onay
Posted on: Thu, 06/03/2021 - 21:43

Thank your for the information.

I am 84 kg and 1.82 cm long. I am trying to take about 3000 calories and I am working out 5-6 day a week. However instead of building muscle, my belly gets bigger. When I lower the calories intake, then it looks like my entire body muscle is shrinking. Therefore, I am totally confused with the calories intake. I am very active person. May I ask your opinions please.

Regards. Tom Onay

Jeremy Meyer
Posted on: Sun, 04/18/2021 - 00:41

thank you so much I really appreciate your work here and you provide me best information which I need most.

Shivam panday
Posted on: Wed, 02/24/2021 - 22:33

My age is 24 weight-65,. I am willing to compete at state level, plz suggest me veg diet plan which can completely replace supplement. I am willing to invest amount only in my natural food in lieu of market chemical supplement. So plz suggest me that proper diet for.

Fahad qamar
Posted on: Wed, 10/21/2020 - 18:43

I'm not working out since three years I want to gain some muscles then shredd my body fat and then want to work out on my strength

Akshay Kumar
Posted on: Fri, 09/25/2020 - 07:57

Sir my weight is 83kg and my height is 6 feet please give me workout and diet plan

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 09/25/2020 - 08:56

Hey Akshay - what are your specific goals? That will help me point you in a direction of specific workouts.

Sandeep kc
Posted on: Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:44

I have been giming for a 6 month I want lean body but still have fat what to do no nutrition idea.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 08/26/2020 - 12:05

Hey Sandeep,

Here's an article on How To Build a Fat Loss Diet:

Let us know if you need any more help.

Posted on: Fri, 07/12/2019 - 09:13

I’m eating the right things I weigh 120 I’m 16 and I want to build a good looking physique for I start gaining weight I currently eating 130g of protein a day 156-158g of carbs 26g fiber 40-49g of sugar 44-50g of fat and my calories are at 1,500 I want to see my abs and stuff but I don’t know if I’m doing the right things

Posted on: Sun, 05/05/2019 - 07:23

I bought whey protein, bcaa, creatine, glutamine, anabolic tablets and carbo....I need to transform my body but don't know how to use them properly....plz suggest the use of all the above supplements and the timings to take body weight is 70kg, height 6 feet. I workout in morning...

Orlando Aravena
Posted on: Fri, 05/17/2019 - 10:56

Hey dude, those products surely will help you to attain your goal, but by far, the best thing you can do for yourself is to have a proper meal plan.

I recommend you to calculate your caloric needs and do a lean bulk. For example, if you need to consume 2.000 calories to maintain your weight, add a surplus of 200 - 400 calories daily if you want to grow.

It's important to note that you need to eat healthy and according to your macros. In case that you're new to training, you can pack a lot of muscle by just following and respecting a workout/meal plan.

To attend your question about those supplements, even steroid users need to train hard, so I suggest you to check a good workout that fundaments itself on periodization and your personal objectives. Don't use those supplements yet (besides whey protein), and eventually, if you hit a plateau, think about implementing them.

I know it's not what you asked, but I hope it helped you in some way.

Sandeep Varma
Posted on: Thu, 08/23/2018 - 13:54

i'm male,age 26,height 178 cm and weight 80kgs . I have low upper body muscle and high lower body muscle, fat and i have right knee problem (not a big thing but can't do squats). From past 7 years i'm struggling to reduce my lower body in different ways so PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
Posted on: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 11:23

I’m 6 foot and 154 pounds and I’m thinking of using this diet to bulk up before I do a cut to shed body fat for a more lean look. How good would this diet be to maintain body fat while building muscle and how much muscle could you expect to put on. Thanks. I do not want to gain that much body fat while bulking and if possible I would just like to maintain my current body fat while bulking.

Posted on: Thu, 03/29/2018 - 01:49

Where did you get the 70g of fat?

Posted on: Sat, 03/02/2019 - 22:46

Hey! it seems like the 70g fat is is a result of multiplying the body weight by 0.45

Posted on: Mon, 03/12/2018 - 21:38

actually, most people work 8 to 5 (not 9 to 5, you've been deceived by the dolly parton movie and song)

Posted on: Sun, 03/11/2018 - 12:04

Sir ,, my height is 175cm , weight is 76, plz you give me build muscle plan (gym workout plan)

Posted on: Thu, 11/30/2017 - 16:53

Wait this plan belongs to a certain age group. The article should state the age parameters for this weight and muscle plan .If you are over 60 years old , would this plan work?

Posted on: Mon, 09/25/2017 - 01:47

hi josh,i want to build muscle, i buy esn gainer it is good for incresing muscle or suggest me na which protin is perfect build muscle

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:22

Hi Prashant,

Check out our top protein and mass gainer products in the 2 links below:

Each product should have plenty of reviews and ratings to help you make the best and most informed decision based on your needs.

With that being said, supplements such as protein powders and mass gainers might help you reach your daily protein and calorie needs. But, it is still important to be tracking your food and supplement intake each day to ensure you are consuming enough calories and protein to achieve your muscle building goals.

Just because you drink 1-2k calories worth of mass gainer, doesn't mean you've consumed enough calories for your individual needs. To find your individual needs, check out the bmr calculator below and add ~250-500 calories to that number to build muscle mass:

Hope this helps!

Jeffrey Rojas
Posted on: Thu, 03/16/2017 - 23:48

Hey, I do sports in school (Tennis, Soccer) and im also thinking on working out at night, but I dont want to get a gym membership since they are all mostly contract, should Body Weight workouts give me the same results? Also should I avoid Junk food even if I want to build muscle mass?

Posted on: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 17:27

Question: What if you are on a tight budget and you need to buy supplements that are important for muscle gaining, which of the supplements, would you buy?

Mike Wines
Posted on: Wed, 12/21/2016 - 15:11

When it comes to supplementation, that's a very tough question to answer as individual needs will vary based upon lifestyle, nutritional intake, and genetic factors. If you really wanted to drive into the nitty gritty and figure out exactly how to target your supplementation, that would need to be accomplished via blood work.

I would say that if your budget is extremely limited, your best bet would be to buy the highest quality food possible. Invest in your lifestyle and your nutrition first and foremost.

Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2016 - 00:50

i wanna build muscle mass i eat well and take shakes as well but i am not getting the results what should i do ?

Mike Wines
Posted on: Wed, 12/21/2016 - 15:36

"Eating well" is tough to objectively quantify. One can eat "well" but that doesn't necessarily mean that you are eating enough to build muscle or recover adequately from workouts. Also, taking protein shakes doesn't guarantee that one will start to accrue massive slabs of lean body mass. Muscle anabolism is a fairly complex metabolic process which has a number of contributing factors at the cellular level and can't be reduced to a single supplement or dietary component.

As such, to answer your original question, you must begin to dig. Here's a few places to start:

1. Are you tracking calories? Doesn't have to be religiously but one should have a general idea of where they're at if the goal is mass gain and things have stalled. I'm not talking about weighing every gram of food you put in your mouth and meticulously logging your life on MyFitnessPal. As long as you're aware (within 100-200 calories) of what's going in, you should have an idea of what to adjust.
2. What's your training like? Are you crushing 25 sets for chest like the average juiced out bodybuilder? If so, there's a pretty good chance you might be working above your MRV (maximal recoverable volume) and as such any physiological adaptation which could have taken place is going to be minimal given the cellular environment which occurs in a state of functional overreaching.
3. What do you do for recovery? Binge watching Netflix and crushing Lucky Charms doesn't count...Use proactive means to offset the deleterious affects of training -
- practice good sleep hygiene
- eat like an adult (aka real food)
- set aside time for mindfulness (look into the app Headspace)
- utilize soft tissue strategies such as foam rolling, IASTM (instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization), dry needling, etc. depending upon your individual needs
- assist the lymphatic system by utilizing contrast showers, compression, or inversion

There are even more factors which one could examine but ^that should get you started. If you want even more guidance, read through some of my other articles. I go into depth on many of the above topics and it should help to elucidate the area of interest.

Data is meant to drive decisions. You don't need to be tracking meticulously but you should have a system based methodology which allows you to adjust different aspects of your lifestyle and nutrition to overcome plateaus or modulate recovery depending upon training demands.

karan singh
Posted on: Sat, 11/05/2016 - 20:11

i need help,actually i m really skinny(weight=130lbs,height=6feet)
i want to gain weight and i m thinking about buying some supplement but i m confused what supplement would be good for me as i want to gain weight. I found these two supplements:-
1) Pro Gainer,ON
2) Serious Mass,ON
i want something that would really help me and would not have any side effects.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/07/2016 - 09:17


A mass gainer may be beneficial for you, but it is also important that you count your calories and make sure you're eating enough to gain weight every single day.

karan singh
Posted on: Mon, 11/07/2016 - 09:46

ok josh thnx for the help

Max Roegiest
Posted on: Mon, 05/02/2016 - 12:12

The BMR calculator is not right.

It says I would need around 2600 calories, then add about 250 calories for a clean bulk...

I am bulking right now with 2300 calories and I gain around 0.2kg per week. I would tell people not to completely trust this calculator.

Posted on: Mon, 02/29/2016 - 05:27

What is the best way to definitely confirm that I have recovered from my previous workout, any tips please.


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 03/01/2016 - 12:17

Recovery is entirely individual. There are both objective and subjective markers of recovery.

Objective: Are you getting stronger? Increasing either weight or reps? If you're measuring individual markers on a daily basis like vertical jump, grip strength, or resting heart rate then what sort of trends are you noticing in these variables? If they're staying the same while your strength is increasing, then you're recovering well. If they're decreasing and you find yourself weaker over time then you're not recovering well.

Subjective: What are your energy levels like during the day? How long does muscular soreness last? 24-48 hours? Longer than 72 hours? If so, you're likely doing too much volume and/or you aren't recovering properly with certain lifestyle factors. How's your sleep? Digestion?

Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg, you could delve into each of these topics individually at great lengths but if you just want to keep it simple, ask yourself this question: Am I getting stronger? If not, then you need to examine your programming, technique, nutrition, or lifestyle factors which can all play a role in systemic recovery.

Posted on: Thu, 10/15/2015 - 07:15

I am having difficulty with the "cup measurement" as we do not use "cup measurement" here in Thailand and Myanmar. Any suggestion?


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 10/15/2015 - 11:17

I'm not entirely what sort of system you use in Thailand but you can use a simple converter on google to determine the conversion ratio from cups to other units. For example, 1 cup is roughly 237ml if that helps.

Posted on: Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:53

Very nice artiarticle... Thanks for sharing n spreading the knowledge.

Posted on: Mon, 07/27/2015 - 20:53

Thank you for providing this information! Very well layed out! It has given me all the motivation and knowledge that I need to start gym and meet my goals! Thank you

Posted on: Thu, 11/27/2014 - 15:32

is there a printable pdf of this? Thx

garland hornbaker
Posted on: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 13:55

I read alot of articles about weight training some good, some BS but this one was one of the best I have come across in a long time.I really enjoyed it keep up the good work.

Posted on: Sun, 05/31/2015 - 15:28

yeah , agree with you

Posted on: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 09:39

Hi.i joined gym a week coach is saying start taking protein i want to know after how time we should take supplement after joining the gym it compulsory to take these suplement....and he suggest me dymatize way proten or isopure are they god..or can u sugest me better..i am non vegitrian
2. My second ques is my height 160 cm 5.3ft 168 weight not to fat not to slim and I want very decent muscle not very bulky...what shold I do ..if nessary what are the best suplement for pls suggest me

Posted on: Wed, 10/22/2014 - 20:33

Start with Muscle Milk. It's a good brand and it's basic and complete. Then start reading and learning and you will know what you need. Hope that gets you started. Good luck.