Fitness transformation photos are a social media black hole. Before you know it, you've spent an hour scrolling through mind-blowing before-and-after images of people who made over their bodies in just 30 days. But don't be fooled by the photo editing.
That's right, editing. Photos might make one month of training seem like enough to go from beginner to shredded. But serious muscle development usually takes more effort.
Still, one month isn't nothing. Four weeks gives you more than enough time to start a strength training routine, clean up your diet and get on the right track to the physique you want.
Read more: The Best Way to Gain Lean Muscle Mass
Strength Training for Muscle Growth
If your goal is to build up your body as quickly as possible, you're going to need to maximize the time you spend in the gym. To increase your muscle size and strength (also known as hypertrophy), start with a well-rounded resistance-training program, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
For muscles to grow, you need to expose them to repeated tension by lifting weights. Then, as your muscle fibers tear and adapt, they'll grow bigger and stronger, according to the NASM. Our bodies actually adapt to tension pretty quickly, so to keep those fibers growing, you'll need to increase the weight, reps and/or sets you use for the exercises you choose.
Compound moves — like deadlifts, squats and incline chest presses — are among the most effective exercises for strength training, according to the American Council on Exercise. These moves trigger several different muscles at once, which means they'll burn more calories, too.
Train each muscle group twice per week in 8-set intervals; that's most effective in supporting muscle growth, according to an August 2019 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
And even though cardio exercise won't necessarily help your body build muscle, don't totally neglect your time on the treadmill. Cardio is important for maintaining heart health and can help boost your muscular endurance. Aim to complete either 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If jogging on the treadmill sounds like a yawn, give high-intensity interval training (HIIT) a try. Alternating between intervals of high-intensity exercises (like jump squats or burpees) and recovery revs your metabolism and torches calories. You can even do HIIT workouts with dumbbells and get some muscle-building benefits from your cardio, too.
Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Gaining Lean Muscle
Eating for Muscle Growth
What you eat in the kitchen is just as important as your training in the gym if you're going to build your body fast. The amount of calories you'll need to eat for maximum muscle growth varies from person to person. But a calorie surplus (when you eat more calories than you burn) is generally needed to grow muscle, according to an August 2019 study in Frontiers in Nutrition.
To calculate how many calories you need, start by establishing your typical calorie intake. Use a food tracking app or journal to log your calories for a few days to pinpoint roughly how much you've been eating. From there, gradually eat more calories week after week as you increase your weight training.
Focus on getting enough protein, a crucial macronutrient for building muscle. Aim to eat between 0.5 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of your body weight to support muscle growth, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. For a 165-pound adult, that's about 75 to 128 grams of protein each day.
And it's fine to enjoy the occasional burger, prioritize lean protein sources, like turkey, chicken breast, low-fat dairy and fish, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These foods are high in protein but low in fat (and therefore lower in calories than red meat).
Protein is vital, but you shouldn't totally neglect carbs, either. They're converted into glycogen, which your muscles use for energy for all that strength training. Opt for brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes, which are more nutritious than refined carbs like bagels, bread or pasta.
Complement your protein and carbs with some healthy fat. About 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from healthy fat sources like nuts and seeds, olive oil and avocado. Fat also supplies your body with the energy you need to exercise and recover. Keep in mind that fat contains 9 calories per gram (whereas protein and carbs deliver 4 calories per gram), so be aware of your portion sizes.
Read more: Can You Get Bigger Biceps in Just One Week?
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Back to the Basics: Hypertrophy"
- American Council on Exercise: "Benefits of Compound Exercises"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Effect of Resistance Training Frequency on Neuromuscular Performance and Muscle Morphology After 8 Weeks in Trained Men"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity and Health"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Keys to Strength Building and Muscle Mass"