All gym goers are always interested in knowing the best way to put on muscle, in the shortest time possible. The problem is that you will find so many options and opinion to help you achieve your fitness goals. One so-called expert would make you believe that doing 6-12 reps per set promises optimum growth, while others would say that you should do no more than 4-6 reps per set to get good results. Some would suggest that it is better to train different muscles on different days, while others would preach that you should train your whole body thrice a week.
There is conflicting advice coming from everywhere and it is natural to feel all keyed up, but the good thing is that scientists have tested many of these ideas and found that some of them are actually effective. They have also found that certain methods used to help build muscle quickly are completely ineffective. So, what should you do? Well, you should look for scientifically proven ways to promote muscle growth. You will experience muscle growth when you take the correct actions, not only inside the gym, but outside the gym as well.
You can try different approaches inside the gym to gain muscle mass. Most strength coaches and athlete use one of three approaches to promote muscle growth – metabolic stress, mechanical tension, and muscle damage.
All three approaches work differently to promote muscle growth, but most programs focus on a single approach only. Incorporating all three of these approaches into your workout may help you get better results. Here is more about these approaches:
- Mechanical Tension: The idea is to put your body under intense stress using heavy weight. You will be performing fewer reps, but you will be lifting up to 90% of your one rep max. You usually need to take longer rest breaks between sets for optimum results. Some of the most common exercises suitable for creating mechanical tension are deadlifts, squats, weighted chin-ups, presses, rows, and other common compound movements.
- Metabolic Stress: Many people are simply in love with this technique because of that burning sensation it creates. The idea is to use lightweights and perform as many reps as you can. You will be doing all your sets until failure. Each set will leave you with “the pump” many people chase in the gym. You will be hitting 2-4 sets with 12-20 reps per set – the rest period will be shorter too. You can use this technique with exercises such as bicep curls, lateral raises, split squats, and some compound movements, such as bench press.
- Muscle Damage: The feeling of soreness you experience the next day of a strenuous workout is the result of muscle damage. When you lift the weight, it leaves tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Your body uses nutrients to repair that muscle and make it bigger and stronger. You can inflict muscle damage by emphasizing the eccentric phase of a movement. You will also be able to cause muscle damage when you try something completely new. It means changing your workouts regularly will help promote muscle growth. Some common exercises for muscle damage include eccentric pull-ups, stiff-legged deadlifts, reverse lunges, slow eccentric bench presses.
When you follow any of these approaches, you ought to see an increase in your muscle mass. Know that something is off if you spend hours upon hours in the gym, but still fail to see obvious size increases from month to month. You need to try scientifically proven approaches, such as the ones mentioned already, but you need to pay attention to some other important tips to get better gains. For instance:
Increase Your Training Volume
Your training volume refers to the total number sets multiplied by the number of reps per set. Sticking to a set training volume for long enough would keep you from maximizing your gains. You have to think of increasing your training volume to build muscle efficiently. How can you do it? Simple – you either need to increase the number of sets or have to lower the weight a little and increase the number of reps per set. Keep in mind that intensity will drop when you hit the hypertrophy phase; in fact, it may come down to 50% of your one-rep max. Therefore, it may be a better idea to increase the number of sets instead of increasing the number of reps per set.
Pay Attention to the Eccentric Phase
Eccentric phase is when you lower the weight during any exercise, which is why it is considered the easy phase. When you lower your body while performing squats, you are in the eccentric phase. When you exert your force to lift your body back up, you are in the concentric phase.
By slowing down on the eccentric phase, you can inflict more muscle damage, which in turn will help support hypertrophy. You may also benefit by adding eccentric-only variations into your exercise program.
Just be sure to go really heavy when performing eccentric only exercises.
Load Up on Protein
Exerting yourself during exercise would damage muscle fibers, and your body needs nutrients, especially protein to repair those fibers. You have to understand that your muscles grow when you give your body enough time to recover from all the hard work you have done in the gym. For better recovery, be sure to increase your intake of protein. Ideally, you should eat no less than 0.25g of protein for each kilogram of bodyweight. It means that you should get more than 20g of protein per meal if your body weight is around 175 pounds.
- According to a new study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, a healthy, active adult needs about 0.6 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight, compared with the old number of 0.4 grams—a 50% increase. (And if you lift, you need even more.)
A good idea is to opt for casein before bed. Your body takes time to metabolize casein protein, which makes it a suitable choice to help feed your muscles with essential amino acids over an extended time.
- In one Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, consuming casein protein immediately before bed boosted young men’s levels of circulating amino acids for 7.5 hours; they built muscle all night long while they slept.
Do Not Try to be in a Caloric Deficit Mode
You need to be in a calorie deficit mode when you are trying to lose weight, but you should focus more on calorie surpluses when your aim is to put on some muscle mass. Studies have found that when your body thinks that you are not getting enough calories regularly, it would switch to the survival mode and stop building new muscle. Your body would start using whatever you eat to take care of essential bodily processes. Therefore, you should be in a calorie surplus mode, but you have to ensure that you get those calories from healthy fat and protein.
- In a 2014 Pennington Biomedical Research Center study, people who ate a high-calorie diet rich in protein stored about 45 percent of those calories as muscle, while those following a low-protein diet with the same number of calories stored 95 percent of those calories as fat.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Again, the idea is to give your muscle time to recover, and your body is in the recovery mode while you are sleeping. Experts are of the view that you should take no less than 8 hours of sleep per night to promote muscle gain.
- The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 sleep seven to nine hours per night.
Your body triggers the release of human growth hormone during sleep, which helps with muscle growth. It also helps reduce the level of stress hormone cortisol.
- According to a study in the *Journal of the American Medical Association, *sleeping for five hours, as opposed to eight hours, per night for just one week cuts muscle-building testosterone levels by a whopping 10 to 15 percent.
Supplement with Creatine and HMB
While it is important to stick to a right diet, you may also need to introduce some supplements to your diet.
Studies have shown that you may see better gains by opting for creatine. It especially helps with high-intensity workouts – it is true for creatine monohydrate, which is the most research form of creatine.
- In one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research review in 2003, researchers concluded that, at a given weight, supplementing with creatine can help you lift 14 percent more reps than you can without supplements. Source
Being able to lift more weight will help you with progressive overload, which triggers muscle growth. Muscle damage occurs when you increase the intensity of your workout, and that is where creatine may come in handy. Along with creatine, you may also want to supplement with beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate (HMB), a compound that prevents muscle-protein breakdown. Not only does it help improve recovery, but it also promotes muscle growth at the same time.
- In one 12-week study of resistance-trained individuals, taking HMB in tandem with a high-intensity lifting routine significantly improved muscle strength and size compared to lifting alone. Plus, in the off-chance that you push yourself too hard, HMB helps prevent the effects of overtraining—including muscle loss.
These tips are certainly going to help you build muscle quickly, but along with incorporating these techniques into your routine, you should also know science says about the frequency and intensity of training.
Frequency of Training
If you are new to weight training, you may already be wondering how often to train each muscle group. Some experts are of the view that you should hit your muscle hard until failure once or twice a week with lots of sets, exercises, and reps. However, many studies have confirmed that the best way to promote growth is to hit a muscle more frequently.
- In one trial, subjects who trained a muscle three times a week built muscle more quickly than the ones training it once a week. Source
Another study has confirmed that hitting a muscle group once a week is not sufficient.
- When a team of scientists compared studies that investigated training muscle groups once, twice or three times a week, they concluded that “the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week” to maximize growth. Source
Scientists say that you are likely to get better results when you increase protein synthesis after exercise. It is found that protein synthesis, which triggers muscle growth, reaches a saturation point after a couple of days of heavy workout. It returns to normal after two days, which means that you may have to train the same muscle group again in the same week after allowing adequate time for recovery.
- In other words, when you train a muscle group directly only once per week, the muscles might spend a few days “growing” after the workout. But if you leave an entire week between training each muscle group, you’re missing several additional opportunities to stimulate growth. Source
Low or High Reps
Another important question new lifters have is regarding rep range. Experts believe that if your goal is to increase muscle mass, your aim should be to lift heavy weight for fewer reps. Training with lightweight for higher reps usually helps you with muscular endurance only. Again, it all comes down to how you use metabolic stress to encourage muscle damage, and both light and heavy weights can help you with that. Here is what studies say about training with light weights:
- Training with lighter weights and higher reps – where you “go for the burn” and your muscles feel like they’re pumped up and about to explode – generates a large amount of metabolic stress, which has also been shown to increase the activation of muscle fibers. Source
There are other studies too suggesting that lighter weights with higher reps work effectively to stimulate growth.
- In a study from Canada’s McMaster University, sets of 30-40 reps stimulated just as much muscle growth as sets of 10-12 reps. Source
Another study has found the same results in trained lifters. For instance:
- Even in guys with an average of four years training behind them, researchers found no significant difference in muscle growth after 12 weeks of training with sets of 20-25 reps versus sets of 8-12 reps. Source
The best option would be to keep mixing both high-rep and low-rep training techniques. The reason is that when you talk specifically about gains in strength, training with heavier weights for fewer reps is still the best bet. Source
Building muscle is all about doing the basics right and follow a right lifestyle in and outside the gym. You can push your muscles to grow by increasing intensity, encouraging muscle damage, and using metabolic stress in a positive way. Similarly, you should ensure that you train each muscle group at least twice a week to increase your gains.
Moreover, you should consider including both high-reps and low-reps in your training program to ensure that you gain muscle size and notice an increase in strength at the same time.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.