You can build muscle faster than you might expect if you follow the correct strategies. Unfortunately, most people turn to the internet for advice to build muscle. But while a few quick searches can provide plenty of information on creating an effective workout plan, you need more than this to give you the results you want to add a layer of muscle mass to your frame.
If you're looking for science-backed ways to build muscle faster than molasses — without spending a whole year next to buff dudes grunting and clashing weights on the ground in the gym — you've come to the right place. I've worked with dozens of people via personal training and online fitness coaching, and many of them had a common goal: Build muscle fast!
One study found that in as little as three 13-minute weekly training sessions, trained men gained muscle in eight weeks. Now, it’s worth noting that although training at a lower frequency and volume (reps, sets, exercises, and time) will yield results quickly as a beginner, you’ll want to increase your volume over time as you become an intermediate or advanced lifter. This means more reps, sets, exercises, and ultimately, time spent on building muscle. Also, building muscle will come at a slower rate the longer you’ve been lifting.
But, if you’re a beginner, you’re in luck! Because building muscle fast is easier the newer you are to lifting.
Although building muscle fast is more than obtainable for beginners, it does require specific training and nutrition strategies. In this article, I'll teach you the best methods for building muscle fast that’s not only backed by science but also worked well for my clients.
The Ultimate Benefit of Building Muscle Mass
Before getting into the nitty gritty of how to build muscle faster, first, we should briefly disclose why you would want to put on muscle. Besides the obvious (to look good), building muscle mass has a subtle benefit many people aren't aware of: it'll speed up your metabolism.
Building muscle increases your calorie expenditure. That's because the more muscle mass you have, the faster your resting/basal metabolic rate (BMR) is, meaning, you’ll burn more calories when you’re not exercising. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NSAM), gaining just two to four pounds of muscle can boost your metabolic rate by seven to eight percent — that translates roughly to 90 to 110 calories burned per day.
What’s more, skeletal muscle — the muscles that connect to your bones and allow you to move — helps you maintain blood sugar control and energy balance. Lean muscle mass is associated with a reduction in insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As promised, now that you know the ultimate superpower beneath muscle mass that doesn't involve countless mirror selfies and Instagram-worthy poses, let's dive into the strategies that have worked for my clients and me to build muscle faster than average.
Weight Training Strategies That Work to Build Muscle Faster
The first step in building muscle faster is understanding what your body needs from a weight training perspective. As you might have guessed, weight training is required to pack on muscle mass. How you train is what makes or breaks whether you build the physique of Chris Hemsworth or struggle to gain muscle no matter how much time you spend in the weight room.
Low-Volume and High-Intensity Strength Training
When I work with new clients, they're often surprised by the low volume — the number of exercises, reps, and training frequency — I prescribe to them because they're used to doing much more.
Let’s take a look at my client Gary. When Gary and I first started working together, he informed me that he was doing more exercises and spending more days in the gym than I prescribed him. I brought Gary’s training volume down from six days in the gym to four days, and from eight to 10 exercises to four to six.
Now, this may sound counterproductive. But what this did was allow Gary to get more rest and focus on what matters — making strength gains. He came back every workout ready to tackle the next with more vigor. Rather than countlessly doing a bunch of exercises for the sake of doing more, Gary went into the gym with a purpose: to increase the weight he was lifting and make strength progressions workout after workout.
Fast forward three months later. Gary informed me that he had made more progress in the past three months than he had his entire life — what’s more, Gary was in his 40s!
Although the amount of volume you do plays a part in how much mass you gain, once you reach an optimal threshold — four to six exercises per workout — shifting your attention to the intensity of your workouts becomes more crucial.
Imagine that you’re pushing yourself to a five on a scale of one to 10 when you’re working out. This is known as your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Instead of adding more exercises to your plan, performing each lift at a five RPE, we want you to bring your RPE to around a seven or eight (lower than nine or 10 to prevent injury) with fewer exercises.
Once my client starts to focus on lifting the heaviest weight they're capable of (with good form, of course) in a given rep range, rather than adding more exercises, reps, and sets, the gains flood in!
Once you can’t lift more weight for five or fewer reps, that’s the heaviest weight you can lift. For example, if your goal is to perform three sets of eight reps on barbell bench press, the max weight you can use to do a set of eight reps is the heaviest weight you’re capable of lifting.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), eight to 12 reps with 70–85% of your one-rep max is recommended for novice lifters.
Avoid too much volume and training. How do you know if you’re training too much? Well, everyone’s body is capable of doing more or less. And it will largely depend on your lifting level. For instance, beginners will not be able to do the same amount of volume as an advanced lifter without spurring the risk of overtraining.
One study labeled overtraining as, “a condition of maladapted physiology in the setting of excessive exercise without adequate rest.” Overtraining can lead to both hormonal and physiological issues with your body, making building muscle next to impossible. So if you’re experiencing anything remotely close to this, you should dial the volume down. Symptoms of overtraining include fatigue, excessive muscle soreness, inability to sleep, irregular monthly menstral cycles (if you’re a woman), and mental health issues, such as anxiety.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly how much volume would be deemed as overtraining, so it’s important to pay attention to your body and avoid volume that leads to signs of overtraining. But several studies say that two to three days of resistance training leads to optimal strength gains for beginners. So that’s a safe place to start.
Also, it’s worth noting that if you’re in a muscle-building phase (and are an intermediate or advanced lifter), you’ll want to train with more volume than if you’re cutting (trying to lose weight and body fat), but not by much. Adding in an extra set and a few extra reps to an exercise or an additional exercise or two to your routine will be enough to reap results without putting you at risk for overtraining. Again, your intensity is the sole factor you’ll want to focus on for building muscle mass.
This brings me to my next point: Rest!
Get Enough Rest and Sleep
Having rest days is non-negotiable if you want to build muscle fast. It sounds counterintuitive, but your muscles grow while you're resting, not while you're lifting weights. Lifting weights creates tears in your muscle tissue that need to be repaired — that’s where rest comes in. My client Gary feels more well-rested and builds muscle faster now that he takes at least two to three days off from touching a weight.
So make sure that you always get plenty of rest between lifting sessions. I gained much more strength and muscle mass when I started lifting three days a week than five or six days a week.
Always have at least a couple of days off from weightlifting each week. If you're doing a split routine — separating the muscle groups you train on different days — then don't ever train a muscle group back to back. So, for example, after a chest and triceps workout, train your back and biceps the next gym day, not your chest and triceps again.
Sleep is also critical for the muscle-building process to take place. Your muscles grow while you’re resting, not while you’re lifting. When you’re sleeping, your body is rebuilding and repairing the muscle tissue that was broken down from weightlifting.
Most health professionals agree that you should shoot for at least seven hours of sleep per night to help prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Rest Between Sets and Reps
Clients often ask me how much they should rest between sets and how many reps they should do. I point them to a study that shows that rest should be moderate, between 60 and 90 seconds, if your goal is muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth). Research shows that eight to 12 reps are optimal for hypertrophy.
Nutrition Strategies That Work to Build Muscle Faster
Now that we've covered the best training strategies that work to put on muscle fast, let's discuss the less strenuous and more delicious side of things. Eating enough calories is essential if you want your body to have enough energy for intense workouts and recovery afterward.
Eating a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats will ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs for optimal workout performance and hypertrophy.
Most of my clients drastically under-consume protein. For example, Gary is a big dude. He’s 6’ 2” and hovers around 210 pounds. For optimal protein consumption, he would need to consume 152–210 grams of protein a day. That’s because research shows that your muscles need 1.6–2.2g of protein/kg of body weight; protein is essential to maximize muscle growth.
So, adding more protein to meals is the first thing we work on. Gary added 50g of protein to each of his three meals to meet his requirement (0.53/kg of body weight).
That said, there’s no point in having any more protein than mentioned above. In fact, too much protein may be detrimental to proper kidney functioning in some cases.
Once my clients start to send me pictures of what they're eating, I always encourage them to have most of their meals be protein-centric with other supporting foods that contain complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. An ideal meal may include the following:
Grass-fed beef (protein) with olive oil (healthy fats)
A potato (complex carbs)
A bowl of fruit with a side of mixed veggies
More good news if you're a foodie! If you want to put on muscle swiftly, eat more to get into a caloric surplus — meaning you're putting more food into your body than you burn. There are calculators on the web to help you determine your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) — the calories you need to maintain your current weight.
To pack on muscle fast, I start my clients at about 500 calories above their TDEE. I don't recommend any more because if you consume more than that, you'll start to acquire rolls you wish you didn't have. And I'm not talking about cinnamon rolls!
If done correctly, supplementation can provide additional benefits when building muscle fast. The two protein supplements that I always recommend to my clients: whey protein powder and creatine.
Protein powders are great for helping with post-workout recovery and building muscle; plus, it's tough to consume enough protein from food sources alone.
Creatine is another popular supplement that research supports for muscle growth. It helps you increase strength by allowing the muscles to retain water and work harder during workouts without tiring out too quickly.
The clients I work with who want to build muscle quickly get the best results when they strength train three to four days a week. They focus on eating high-protein foods and ensure they eat plenty of calories.
Whether you're new to the gym or an experienced lifter, you'll see impressive gains in no time if you work with a credentialed fitness expert. If you'd like individualized advice on the best ways to build muscle fast, sign up for a free consultation with a certified personal trainer today.