You don't need an expensive gym membership to gain muscle mass. With just a few pieces of equipment or your own body weight, you can learn how to build muscle fast at home with some challenging at-home workouts.
But before you dive into a new training session, brush up on some of the most important parts of muscle gain and learn how you can make them work for you anywhere you choose to train.
The Fastest Way to Build Muscle at Home
There's good news and bad news about building muscle fast when you're just starting a resistance-training program. The bad news is that during the first few weeks of your program, you might not make any gains at all.
A September 2016 study in the Journal of Physiology found that while muscle damage — necessary for muscle growth — was highest among untrained subjects in the first three weeks of a resistance-training program, it was not associated with hypertrophy (increased muscle size and strength). This is because, when you're brand new to a workout, your body focuses on repairing damage, rather than building mass.
But don't give up! As your body adapts to exercise, you experience less muscle damage after training sessions and greater muscle growth.
Rate of Muscle Gain
The good news is that you only have to wait about three weeks until your body starts building muscle, rather than just repairing damage. After that period, you can put on muscle relatively quickly. Beginners gain muscle at a faster rate than intermediate and advanced lifters, according to Eric Bach, CSCS, a strength and conditioning coach.
Generally, new lifters start to see strength gain within the first 8 to 12 resistance training sessions, according to a December 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. More experienced athletes, though, usually need to consistently vary their training program, as their muscles start to adapt after a period of time.
Volume and Frequency
Whether you're working out in a gym or at home, workout volume and frequency — in addition to your diet — are the biggest factors in building muscle fast. Although you should be conservative in the first few weeks while your body adapts to exercise, after that you build more muscle by working out at a high intensity and with a high volume of sets and reps.
Volume is crucial for hypertrophy. according to a June 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis in the Journal of Sports Science. In the 15 studies analyzed, researchers found that each additional set of an exercise led to an increase in muscle size. This means that the more sets you can get in, the faster you'll see growth.
As for frequency, a November 2016 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine found that training each major muscle group twice a week proved more effective for hypertrophy than only training once a week.
The researchers could not, however, determine if training muscle groups three times per week causes greater increases. But if more volume leads to more hypertrophy, then it's safe to say getting in three workouts per week per muscle group certainly can't hurt.
Ideal Repetition Range
There are a lot of opinions on the best number of strength training reps and sets and the best rest period length between sets to build mass. As far as reps go, the usual recommendation is 8 to 12 reps per set for hypertrophy, with higher reps being more effective for muscular endurance and lower reps more effective for strength.
However, it might not actually matter that much. A July 2016 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that there was no difference in muscle growth between participants who lifted lower weight for more reps compared to those who lifted heavier for less reps.
When you're working out at home, it mainly depends on your available equipment (more on that below). If you only have your own body weight to work with, you need to do more reps to exhaust your muscles.
Sets and Rest
When you're starting out, aim for 10 to 12 sets per muscle group, per week. As you start to see results and your body adapts, you should add more sets for more volume. With this approach, you can build muscle at home and improve your overall fitness.
In a January 2019 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who did 5 sets per exercise per body part achieved significantly more muscle growth than those who performed 1 or 3 sets. In total, the group that saw the most gains did 30 sets for the upper body and 45 sets for the lower body per week.
Rest periods between sets for hypertrophy are generally 60 to 180 seconds. However, you may want to lean toward the end of that range. Resting 3 minutes between sets results in more mass than resting just a minute, according to an a July 2016 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Equipment for Gaining Muscle at Home
Do you really need equipment to build muscle and strength? The answer is a resounding no, according to Al Kavadlo, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning coach. Classic body-weight exercises, like push-ups, pull-ups and squats, are enough for beginners to start building muscle quickly at home.
But some people like using equipment, and that's fine, too. You can outfit your workout space with the essential at-home workout equipment — or more, depending on your budget — that will allow you to do a variety of fun and challenging exercises in your home workout. For the essentials, consider buying:
If you have the budget and the space, you can consider investing in:
Best Exercises for Fast Gains
Now the really confusing part — which exercises should you do to build muscle at home? The exercises you choose can be either compound, or multi-joint, moves like squats and pull-ups, or they can be isolation, or single-joint, exercises like biceps and hamstrings curls. Which is better for hypertrophy?
This is hotly debated in the fitness field, but according to research, both are equally effective. After observing biceps growth between people who used either compound or isolation exercises, in a June 2015 Asian Journal of Sports Medicine study, researchers saw no big difference.
The researchers concluded that exercise selection should be based on individual preference, time commitment and available equipment.
You're not going to have as much variety at home as at the gym — no machines, maybe not even dumbbells or resistance bands. In that case, compound exercises that use large muscle groups and activate a lot of muscle fibers at once are going to be your best bet.
Move 1: Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, feet flat on the ground and knees bent.
- On an exhale, squeeze your glutes, press into your heels and drive your hips up toward the sky.
- Raise your hips until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to chest.
- Pause here for a moment.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
Move 2: Air Squat
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core. Focus on keeping your feet rooted into the ground and your core tight the entire time.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to lower toward the floor. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Lower down as far as comfortable, or until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
As your hips open up in your air squat, try to avoid letting your chest fall forward, says Jereme Schumacher, DPT, a California-based physical therapist and personal trainer. Leaning too far forward detracts from the move's core-building benefits.
Move 3: Banded Pull-Up
- Anchor a heavy resistance band around the center of the pull-up bar.
- Pull the end of the band down, and place one bent knee into the loop.
- Grip the bar right outside shoulder-width distance, palms facing away from you.
- In a slow, controlled movement, pull your chin up toward the bar.
- Lower your body back down.
- Since the band has the most tension at the bottom of the movement, it gives you a bit of a boost on your way up and helps to offset some of your body weight.
Move 4: Dumbbell Deadlift
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing your body.
- Push your hips back behind you and soften your knees to lower the weights toward the middle of your shins.
- Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long with your shoulders pinned back and down. The dip in your lower body should be very minimal. Brace your core to maintain this position.
- With your weight centered between your heels and balls of your feet, drive your feet into the floor to stand up as tall as possible. Imagine you are trying to push the floor away.
- Reverse the motion to lower the weights with control and repeat.
As you practice your dumbbell deadlift form, start with a light pair of weights, Schumacher recommends. 10- to 15-pound dumbbells should do the trick.
Move 5: Dumbbell Chest Press
- Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on a bench or the floor.
- Start in a prone (overhand) grip with your palms facing away from you toward your feet.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward and inward until your arms are almost fully extended and the dumbbells nearly touch.
- Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows again, lowering your arms gently back to the starting position.
Move 6: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
- Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it's nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
- Brace your core and think about keeping your back completely flat.
- Leading with your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and then pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells up toward your ribcage. Pause at the top of the movement.
- Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so that they hang by your knees.
As you do your bent-over rows, keep your core braced to protect your lower back from unwanted tension, Schumacher says.
Move 7: Push-Up
- Position yourself on your hands and your knees.
- Step your feet back and straighten your legs so that you're balanced on your palms and toes.
- Hold your body should in a straight line from head to hips to heels, and your hands should be directly under your shoulders or slightly wider apart.
- From a high plank, bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lower your body to the floor.
- Make sure to keep the body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
- Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
- Journal of Physiology: "Resistance Training-Induced Changes in Integrated Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Are Related to Hypertrophy Only After Attenuation of Muscle Damage"
- Journal of Sports Science: "Dose-Response Relationship Between Weekly Resistance Training Volume and Increases in Muscle Mass: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis'
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men"
- Journal of Applied Physiology: "Neither Load nor Systemic Hormones Determine Resistance Training-Mediated Hypertrophy or Strength Gains in Resistance-Trained Young Men"
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: "Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods"