The Best 5-Day Workout Plan to Build Muscle at the Gym

fit woman and man doing barbell deadlifts at the gym as part of a 5 day workout plan
This 5-day workout plan strengthens every muscle group and allows you to recover at least two days a week.
Image Credit: FlamingoImages/iStock/GettyImages

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.

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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.

Tip

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 at least several months.

If you're a beginner, start with two to three strength training workouts per week until you feel comfortable in the gym and solid in your form.

Day 1: Glutes and Legs

  • Dumbbell Squat:​ 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Walking Lunge:​ 3 sets of 12 reps (6 per side)
  • Romanian Deadlift With Barbell:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Hamstring Curl to Glute Bridge:​ 4 sets of 8 reps

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Move 1: Dumbbell Squat

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Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides.
  2. 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.
  3. Keeping weight in your heels, exhale, and straighten your legs to return to standing.

Move 2: Dumbbell Walking Lunge

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. With your chest tall, step your right foot forward and bend your knee to lower into a lunge. Your front and back legs should form 90-degree angles.
  3. Keeping your core braced, push through your right foot to stand.
  4. Bring your left foot through the middle and step forward, planting that foot and lowering into another lunge.
  5. Continue stepping forward, alternating legs.

Move 3: Romanian Deadlift With Barbell

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing forward, with a loaded barbell over your feet.
  2. Keeping your back flat and legs straight, push your hips. With straight arms, grab onto the barbell with an overhand grip. You should feel this in your hamstrings.
  3. Bracing your core and maintaining a flat back, push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and stand up with the barbell, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
  4. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then return the bar to the floor and repeat.

Move 4: Hamstring Curl to Glute Bridge

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and place your heels on top of a stability ball with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Bracing your core, lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your heels.
  3. With. your hips lifted, curl the ball in toward you by bending your knees until your soles are on top of the ball.
  4. Squeeze your glutes to bridge as high as you can.
  5. Straighten your legs, then lower your hips back down to the ground.

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Day 2: Back and Biceps

  • Lat Pulldown:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Banded Pull-Up:​ 1 set of 3+ reps
  • Conventional Barbell Deadlift:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Bent-Over Row​: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Biceps Curl:​ 4 sets of 8 reps

Move 1: Lat Pulldown

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Tie a long-looped resistance band to a sturdy anchor at least a foot above you sitting down on the floor.
  2. Sit on the floor with your feet hip-width apart and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Hold the band overhead with straight arms and your palms facing away from you.
  4. Bend your elbows and separate your hands as you lower the band toward your chest.
  5. Pause here for a second, then slowly return to the starting position.

Move 2: Banded Pull-Up

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Sets 1
Reps 3
  1. Tie a heavy-duty, long-looped resistance band around the center of a pull-up bar. Pull the end of the band down and place one bent knee into the loop.
  2. Grip the bar with both hands and slowly pull your chin up toward the bar, bending both knees.
  3. Lower your body back down.

Move 3: Conventional Barbell Deadlift

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing forward, a barbell over your feet.
  2. Keeping your back flat, hinge your hips back 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).
  3. Brace your core and pull the weight off the ground as you stand, squeezing your glutes at the top.
  4. Return the bar to the floor by hinging at your hips and bending your knees.

Move 4: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing your body.
  2. Hinge your hips back and your torso forward, so your back is parallel with the floor. Bend your knees softly. Let the dumbbells hang straight down in front of your knees.
  3. Bracing your core and keeping your chest open, row the dumbbells toward your ribcage just past your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.
  4. Keeping your core braced, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Move 5: Biceps Curl

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold onto a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing the sky.
  2. Keeping your elbows tucked to your sides, squeeze your glutes and engage your biceps by bending at the elbow to bring the weight up to chest height.
  3. Pause at the top, then return the dumbbells to the starting position.

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Day 3: Chest and Triceps

  • Diamond Push-Up​: 3 sets of as many reps as possible (with good form)
  • Dumbbell Skull Crusher:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Barbell Bench Press:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press:​ 4 sets of 8 reps

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Move 1: Diamond Push-Up

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Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Get into a high plank position with your hands in a diamond shape on the floor: Your pointer fingers and thumbs touching. Your hands should be right under your chest. You may find that your legs need to be a bit wider than normal to help you balance.
  2. Bracing your core and squeezing your glutes, lower your chest toward the floor. Pause at the bottom position for a second.
  3. Then, press your hands into the floor and push your body back up to the starting position.

Move 2: Dumbbell Skull Crusher

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Lie on a weight bench with your back flat against it. If you don't have a weight bench, you can do the exercise on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, shoulder-width apart, palms facing in.
  2. Straighten both arms so the weights are at eye level and brace your core.
  3. Keeping your elbows tight, lower both dumbbells as far as comfortable.
  4. Once you feel a squeeze in your triceps, pause, then extend your elbows to raise the weights back to the starting position.

Move 3: Barbell Bench Press

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Lie on a weight bench, barbell directly over your eyes. Grab onto the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Lift the bar off the rack with straight arms and pause with the bar over your chest.
  3. Keeping your elbows in toward your body, bend your arms and lower the bar until it touches the middle of your chest.
  4. Pushing your feet into the ground, exhale and return the bar to the start.

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Move 4: Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Adjust the bench to an incline position and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Sit down on the bench and stack the weights on each knee.
  2. Lean back and lift the dumbbells directly over your chest.
  3. Bring your ribs in so that your entire back is on the bench. Pull your shoulder blades together, lowering the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, then exhale and push the dumbbells up and together over your chest.

Day 4: Legs

  • Front Squat​: 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Leg Press:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Reverse Lunge:​ 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise:​ 4 sets of 8 reps

Move 1: Front Squat

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Hold a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart, resting the bar across the front of your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointing straight forward.
  2. Set your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward.
  3. Bracing your core and keeping your chest lifted, push your hips back and bend your knees.
  4. Continue lowering into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  5. Keeping your weight in your heels, drive up and out of the squat, squeezing your glutes at the top.

Move 2: Leg Press

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pause at the top, then return to the start.

Move 3: Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with a kettlebell in your right hand, feet planted about hip-width apart.
  2. Bracing your core, hinge your torso forward as you raise your right leg behind you, maintaining a soft bend in your left knee. Think about pushing your left butt cheek back behind you as your torso moves forward.
  3. At the same time, lower the kettlebell toward the ground, keeping the weight relatively close to the body, back flat.
  4. Once your torso is parallel to the ground, or as close as your hamstring flexibility allows, push your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.

Move 4: Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keeping your chest upright, step right foot back and bend your knees until both legs form 90-degree angles.
  3. Bracing your core, push through your left foot to return to standing.
  4. Repeat, this time stepping your left foot back.

Move 5: Standing Calf Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet together.
  2. Push through the balls of your feet and lift your heels until you’re standing on your toes.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back to start and repeat.

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Day 5: Shoulders

  • Dumbbell Push Press:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Front Raise:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Rear Deltoid Raise:​ 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Scaption:​ 4 sets of 8 reps

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Move 1: Dumbbell Push Press

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in the front-rack position.
  2. Brace your core and bend your knees, lowering four to six inches into a dip position.
  3. Explode upward, driving dumbbells overhead until both your arms and legs are straight.
  4. Bring the dumbbells back to the front-rack position, re-bending knees to help absorb shock.

Move 2: Dumbbell Front Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the floor.
  2. Keeping your arms straight and bracing your core, raise your arms until they’re parallel with the floor.
  3. Pause at the top, then lower back down.

Move 3: Dumbbell Lateral Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
  2. Brace your core and lift your arms straight out to the sides, palms facing down. Your arms should be parallel with the ground.
  3. Pause at the top, then lower your arms back down.

Move 4: Dumbbell Rear Deltoid Raise

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
  2. Keeping a flat back, hinge at your hips, bending your knees slightly.
  3. Extend your arms so that they’re hanging straight down, palms facing each other.
  4. Brace your core, exhale and raise your arms back and out to the sides.
  5. Inhale and return to start.

Move 5: Dumbbell Scaption

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Hold the dumbbells in a neutral grip with your palms facing your body.
  2. Brace your abdomen and lift the dumbbells in front of your body at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Raise the weights until they're slightly above shoulder height.
  4. Then, lower the weights back down with control.

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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.

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