Gaining muscle is simple on paper, but note quite so easy when you're actually doing it. Resistance exercises, whether they're with your bodyweight or with exercise equipment, stimulate your muscles to grow, while eating protein helps the muscles recover from the workouts. The hard part is staying consistent.
When you work out, you create micro-tears in your muscles. They adapt in one of two ways. The first way is to get more efficient. Your nerves fire faster, and your muscles contract with more force. That makes you stronger without adding any more muscle.
The other way that your muscles adapt is by adding on new muscle tissue. During a workout, you break down muscle tissue and your body responds by building up more than you had before to prepare for your next workout.
Over time, your body adapts to the training. If you start your workouts doing 20 push-ups and you struggle by the end, your body will adapt. Eventually, 20 push-ups will be easy, and your body will stop responding—then you need to slowly increase the number of push-ups you do.
The challenge, when you want to build muscle, is to keep pushing yourself and your body so that you never completely adapt to your workouts. You can do this by adding more weight, reps or sets.
Exercises to Build Muscle
When you're working out at home, you might not have access to gym equipment. If you can afford dumbbells and barbells, you'll make progress faster than someone who doesn't have weights.
If you don't want to buy equipment, however, you can do bodyweight exercises. They're not as effective because it's hard to make some bodyweight exercises, such as squats, difficult enough to force your body to change.
Upper-body exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups are usually challenging enough to force your body to adapt. Lower-body exercises like lunges, step-ups and single-leg squats are more challenging than two-legged exercises such as squats.
Start by choosing exercises that you can do given the amount of equipment you have and your skill level. If you've never done a push-up, start from your knees. If you've never done a squat before, you shouldn't start with single-leg squats—they require a lot of balance.
Designing a Workout Plan
After you figure out what exercises you can do you have to figure out how you want to split up the exercises. Beginners should do three full-body workouts per week. As a beginner, you're still learning the form of exercises so the workouts aren't as intense and you can do them more often. That's why you can use full-body workouts.
As you get more advanced you can split your workouts up into upper body and lower body days. That allows you to put more energy into each body part instead of spreading it out over the workout.
If you're going to split your workout up into upper- and lower-body days, then you have to make sure you're not doing two upper-body days or two lower-body days in a row. Ideally, alternate upper- and lower-body days, so that you have at least 48 hours to rest each body part. With the increased intensity of a split workout ,you need more time for recovery to avoid injuries.
Now, figure out how many reps and sets you're going to do. Start with three sets of 10 reps for each exercise. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, doing more than three sets won't necessarily help build muscle faster. The researchers found that four to six sets wasn't much better than two to three sets of an exercise.
Ten reps is the sweet spot between high and low reps. To do 10 reps, pick a weight that's light enough that you're not focusing on muscle strength. However, the weight isn't so light that you're building muscle endurance. This sweet spot helps you focus on simply building muscle.
Each week, strive to increase one facet of your workout. You can up the weight if you have equipment. Alternatively, you can increase the number of reps or sets that you do. It's only necessary to make small jumps, such as 5 pounds or one or two reps. Take small steps, so that you have room to improve each week.
The journey to gain muscle doesn't end with exercise. You have to give your body the resources to build. Try to eat 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, according to an article from the American College of Sports Medicine.
For a 68 kilogram, or 150-pound person, that's between 81 and 115 grams of protein per day. Consistently eating that much protein through sources like nuts, meat, fish and legumes will give your body what it needs to build up your muscles quickly.
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training
- Frontiers in Physiology: Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men