Flex your biceps (the gym-goer's version of "raise your hand") if building muscle is one of your fitness goals. That should be everyone, since increased muscle mass can strengthen bones, improve body composition and even reduce the risk of certain diseases, says exercise physiologist Jim White, RDN, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.
Once you've committed to the gains, you need to learn how to build muscle at the gym. Luckily for you, White has a roadmap. Below, he shares a week's worth of gym workouts to help you build muscle and get stronger.
Make sure you have a solid foundation of strength first before beginning this plan. It's designed for intermediate to advanced athletes who've been working out consistently for a least several months.
If you're a beginner, start with two to three strength training workouts a week until you feel comfortable in the gym and solid in your form.
Monday: Glutes and Legs
- Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Weighted walking lunges: 3 sets of 12 reps (6 on each leg)
- Romanian deadlift: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Glute-hamstring machine: 4 sets of 8 reps
Move 1: Squats
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed out about 15 degrees.
- Brace your core, inhale and push your hips back as if you're going to sit in a chair. Bend your knees and continue lowering your butt toward the floor until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keeping weight in your heels, exhale, and straighten your legs to return to standing.
Move 2: Weighted Walking Lunges
- With feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell at your ches with both hands.
- With your chest tall and elbows tucked in, step your right foot forward and bend at knee to lower into a lunge.
- Keeping your core engaged, push through your right foot to stand.
- Bring your left foot through the middle and step forward, planting that foot and lowering into another lunge.
- Continue stepping forward, alternating legs.
Move 3: Romanian Deadlift
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing forward, with a loaded barbell over your feet.
- Keeping your back flat and legs straight, hinge at the hips. With straight arms, grab onto the barbell with an overhand grip (you should feel this in your hamstrings!).
- Keep your weight in the middle of your feet, and stand up with the barbell, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top, then return the bar to the floor and repeat.
Move 4: Glute-Hamstring Machine
- Get into the machine with the bottoms of your feet in the foot-plate, knees slightly bent, butt hanging just over pad.
- Maintaining a neutral spine, brace your core and lower yourself toward the floor until you pass parallel.
- Lift upward into a sitting position by squeezing your quads, glutes, and core. Continue sitting up until arms, when extended straight in front of you, touch your feet.
Read more: Leg-Day Workout Habits You Should Never Skip
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
- Lat pulldown: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Pull-ups: at least 3
- Deadlifts: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Machine rows: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Close-grip lat pulldown: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Barbell biceps curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
Move 1: Lat Pulldown
- Adjust the thigh pad so that there's no more than two inches between the tops of your quads and cushion when seated. If you're using a cable machine, clip in a pull-up bar.
- Hold onto the bar with a wide, overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width.
- Draw your shoulder blades together and pull the bar down to your chest.
- Keeping your feet flat against the floor, maintain a neutral spine, inhale and return bar overhead.
If you need to stand up to reach the bar to set-up the first rep, that's fine. As you're pulling the bar down for the first time, bend your knees as you pull until you sit.
Move 2: Pull-Ups
- Grab onto a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, palms facing away from your body, hands shoulder-width apart.
- Hang from bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as if you're juicing an orange between them.
- "Screw" your pinkies into the bar and pull down on the bar. Bend your arms and continue pulling until your chin is above the bar.
- Lower back down to the starting position by straightening your arms.
Move 3: Deadlifts
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes facing forward, a barbell over your feet.
- Keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips and bend your knees until you can grab the barbell with straight arms. Grab onto the barbell with a hook grip (palms facing toward the floor, thumbs wrapped around the bar).
- Brace your core and pull the weight off the ground as you stand, squeezing your glutes at the top.
- Return the bar to floor by hinging at your hips and bending your knees.
Move 4: Machine Rows
- Sit on a bench, feet planted on the floor (or on the foot pads, if your cable machines has them).
- Keep a neutral spine and lean forward to grab onto the V-bar, palms facing each other.
- Brace your core and bend at the elbows to bring your hands toward your chest.
- Squeeze your lats at the top of the rep, then straighten your arms and repeat.
Move 5: Close-Grip Lat Pulldown
- Adjust the thigh pad so that there's no more than two inches between the tops of your quads and the cushion when seated. If you're using a cable machine, switch out the pull so that there's a V-bar.
- Hold onto the V-bar with palms facing each other.
- Draw your shoulder blades together and pull the bar down to chest height.
- Keeping your feet flat against the floor, maintain a neutral spine, inhale and fully extend your arms overhead.
Move 6: Barbell Biceps Curls
- Hold onto the barbell with straight arms, palms facing the sky, hands just outside hips.
- Adjust feet to hips-width, squeeze glutes, and engage the biceps by bending at the elbow to bring the weight up to chest height.
- Pause at the top, then return the barbell to the starting position.
Wednesday: Chest and Triceps
- Wide-arm push-ups: 3 sets to failure
- Skull crusher: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Bench press: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Incline press with dumbbells: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Triceps dips: 3 sets to failure
Move 1: Wide-Arm Push-Ups
- Start on all fours, hands underneath shoulders and knees below hips. Straighten into a high plank. Shift your hands so that they're about two inches wider than your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows back at a 45-degree angle to your body and lower until your chest touches the floor (or as close as you can get it).
- Press into your palms to return to the start.
Move 2: Skull Crusher
- Hold onto a barbell (or EZ bar) and lie down on a bench.
- Straighten your arms overhead so that the barbell is right over your chest.
- Inhale and bend at the elbows to lower the weight behind your head.
- Keeping your elbows tucked, continue lowering the weight until it's behind your head.
- Brace your core and reverse the movement, straightening your arms until the barbell is back over your chest.
Move 3: Bench Press
- Lie on the bench, barbell directly over your eyes. Grab onto the barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Lift the bar off the rack with straight arms and pause with the bar over your chest.
- Keeping your elbows in toward your body, bend your arms and lower the bar until it touches the middle of your chest.
- Pushing your feet into the ground, exhale and return the bar to the start.
Move 4: Incline Press With Dumbbells
- Adjust the bench to an incline position and grab one dumbbell with each hand. Sit down on the bench and stack the weights on each knee.
- Lean back lift the dumbbells directly over your chest.
- Bring your ribs in so that your entire back is on the bench. Pull your shoulder blades together, then exhale and push the dumbbells up and together over your chest.
- Bend your elbows to return the dumbbells back to the start.
Move 5: Triceps Dips
- Grab a box or bench. Sit on it and position your hands just outside of hips, fingers pointed toward your feet.
- Press into your palms and step your feet in front of you.
- Bend your elbows back behind you to lower your body until they're at a 90-degree angle.
- Straighten your arms to lift your body back up.
- Front squat: 3 sets of 12 reps
- Leg press: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Lying leg curl: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Leg extensions: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Weighted lunges: 3 sets of 12 reps
- Calf raises: 4 sets of 8 reps
Move 1: Front Squat
- Hold a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart, resting along your shoulders.
- Get into squat stance, feet are shoulder-width apart and toes are pointed slightly outward.
- Brace your core and, keeping your chest lifted, push your hips back and bend your knees.
- Continue lowering into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your weight in your heels, drive up and out of the squat, squeezing your glutes at the top.
Move 2: Leg Press
- Sit down on the machine, back and head resting comfortably on the pad. Position your feet on the plate so that your calves and thighs make a 90-degree angle.
- Release the plate with the assist handles. Then, without moving your head or back, push the platform away with your feet until your legs are almost straight.
- Pause at the top, then return to the start.
Move 3: Lying Leg Curl
- Adjust the curl machine so that when you lie face down, the leg pad rests against your lower calf.
- Grip onto the assist handles. Then, keeping core braced, bend your knees to bring your heels closer to your butt.
- Pause in the contracted position, before unbending your leg.
Move 4: Leg Extensions
- Sit down and adjust the leg pad so it hits you right below the shins.
- Hold onto the handles, then squeeze your quads and glutes to extend your legs.
- Pause for a second at the top in the contracted position. Then, return to the start.
Move 5: Weighted Lunges
- Grab one with each dumbbell with each hand and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your chest upright, step right foot forward and bend at the knee to lower into a lunge, right knee stacked over right ankle.
- Keeping your core engaged, push through the right foot and return to standing.
- Repeat, this time on your left foot.
Move 6: Calf Raises
- Stand with feet together.
- Push through the balls of your feet and lift your heels until you're standing on your toes.
- Slowly lower your heels back to start and repeat.
- Push press: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Front raise: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Lateral raise: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Rear delt raise: 4 sets of 8 reps
- Cable rear-delt row: 4 sets of 8 reps
Move 1: Push Press
- Clean the barbell into a front-racked position, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your core and bend your knees, lowering four to six inches into a dip position.
- Explode upward, driving bar overhead until both your arms and legs are straight.
- Bring the bar back to the front rack, re-bending knees to help absorb shock.
Move 2: Front Raise
- Grab two light weight plates or dumbbells, one in each hand with your palms facing the floor.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms straight. Brace your core, then raise your arms until they're parallel with the floor, keeping them straight.
- Pause at the top, then lower back down.
Move 3: Lateral Raise
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, one light weight plate or dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
- Brace your core and lift your arms straight out to the side, palms facing down.
- Pause at the top, then lower your arms back down.
Move 4: Rear Delt Raise
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, one light weight plate or dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
- Keeping a flat back, hinge at your hips, bending your knees slightly.
- Extend your arms so that they're hanging straight down, palms facing each other.
- Brace your core, exhale and raise your arms back and out to the side.
- Inhale and return to start.
Move 5: Cable Rear-Delt Row
- Start by adjusting the cables so that they're above your head.
- Grab the left cable with your right hand and the right cable with your left hand.
- Adjust feet to hips-width, brace your core and draw your shoulder blades together.
- Keeping your arms straight, simultaneously move both arms across body and down to hip height.
- Return to the start.
Weekend: Rest Days
Muscle growth doesn't happen when you're at the gym repping out the above exercises. It happens when you give your muscles time to repair and grow back stronger — and that means taking the weekend to rest.
If two full days without exercise isn't possible for you, make one of them an active recovery day, White says. Do some yoga, go for a hike, walk the dog, go for a swim or do any other low-intensity movement that'll increase blood flow to your tissues, without getting your heart rate up too much.