9 Ways to Build Muscle Fast, According to Trainers
Looking to pack on muscle in a short period of time? Follow these expert-approved tips and tricks for how to build muscle fast.
If part of your get-in-shape plan involves building muscle, you’re making smart decisions for your health, especially as you get older. In fact, age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is a natural part of the aging process. Research published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found that muscle tissue changes approximately three to eight percent per decade after age 30.
“It is a proven fact that muscle weakness contributes to an endless array of problems, such as low back pain, knee pain, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and postural problems,” notes Rachel Straub, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and coauthor of Weight Training Without Injury. “Building and maintaining muscle is essential for sports performance, injury prevention, quality of life, and to ward off the aging process.”
(Here’s what you need to know about hidden muscle pain.)
What does it take to build muscle?
Building muscle requires a bit of energy to help your muscle fibers repair themselves, explains Kyra Williams, NASM-certified online personal trainer and USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting Coach. If you’re just starting out, “doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats will do the trick,” she says. “But once that is no longer a challenge, you will need to add more weight to stimulate the muscle fibers.” (Try these simple squat exercises.)
How to build muscle fast
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that all healthy adults, ages 18 to 65, perform muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. That includes push-ups, sit-ups, and lifting weights. To help support the muscle-building process, incorporate cardiovascular exercise alongside strength training, suggests Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based weight loss coach and corporate wellness trainer. Staying consistent and challenging your muscles is the key to results. (Check out these home remedies for muscle soreness.)
Here are some of the best ways top trainers recommend building muscle fast.
Perform compound exercises
To maximize your muscle-building capability, perform multi-joint compound lifts, suggests Williams. “These lifts include chest press, overhead press, row, deadlift, and squats,” she says. “They recruit more muscle groups and the most muscle fibers, giving you the biggest bang for your buck. You can also use more weight doing these lifts which also helps speed up the process.” (You can use this upper-body dumbbell workout as a starting point.)
Get enough sleep
Feeling sleep-deprived makes everything more challenging, especially when you’re trying to get through a muscle-building workout. “Not only does sleep allow your muscles to recharge, but muscle-building hormones are released during deep sleep,” says Mansour. “So it’s really important to make sure your body reaches this stage three to four times a night.”
Aim for seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night. Creating a nightly routine for yourself can help you get to bed on time. (Here’s when muscle pain is a bad sign.)
Be consistent in your weight training
Consistency and frequency of training with weights are essential, says Straub. The minimum number of days she recommends doing resistance training is two days a week. If you want faster results, she suggests training more often, but with this caveat: “Five to six days a week is possible, but you will need to alternate your focus so you give your muscles adequate time to recover,” she says. “For example, if you train your lower body on Monday, on Tuesday you will want to focus on your upper body.”
Muscles need at least 48 hours to recover, according to the American Council on Exercise. (Avoid these weight-lifting mistakes that can ruin your workout.)
Mike Harrington/Getty Images
Focus on maintaining proper form
“Nothing can destroy a workout faster than an injury,” says Straub. If you are new to weight training, or any type of exercise, she says your number-one goal should be learning proper form. “Piling on weight or doing too many reps in an effort to increase intensity is a recipe for disaster if your technique is bad,” she adds. (This is the best exercise to build muscle.)
Amp up the cardio
To build muscle fast, you may be inclined to focus only on weight training, but this is a bad idea, according to Straub. “Cardiovascular training helps aid in fat loss and improves your endurance when working with weights,” she says. “Balance training enables you to do more advanced weight training exercises, leading to faster results.” (Opt for this strength training routine that works the whole body.)
Protein is required to build muscle, so Tara Allen, registered nurse and certified health coach, nutrition coach, and personal trainer, recommends spreading out your protein intake across your various meals and snacks.
“You want to make sure you’re getting enough to supply the building blocks that are a necessary part of growing your muscles,” she says. That begins with breakfast. “Make sure you get at least 20 to 30 grams with breakfast since this is typically the meal that most people take in the least amount of protein.” (These are the foods that help build muscle.)
Utilize your body weight when equipment is not available
Physical weights are not always available, but that’s no reason to skip out on strength training. “Building muscle can be accomplished using simply your body weight—think push-ups and squats—as well as resistance bands and exercise balls,” says Straub. “You may need to get creative, but it’s definitely possible.” (You can also try these upper body exercises without weights.)
Aim to be in a calorie surplus
“Those who are fairly new to exercise have a unique ability to lose body fat and build muscle at the same time,” explains Allen. “However, for those who are more advanced or those looking to put on muscle mass as fast as possible, taking in more calories than you use up in any given day will be important for a while during your muscle-building phase.” (Learn how calorie content in food is counted.)
Take a rest
One of the best things you can do for your body while you work to build muscle is to give it a day’s rest. Research, including one study published in the journal Physiological Reports, found that reducing your workout volume by about half every eight to 12 weeks can actually enhance your progress. “Overworking your muscles will only slow down your growth,” says Mansour. “After about eight weeks, cut the amount of sets you do in half for about a week before going back to your normal amount.”
Next, learn what happens when you start a beginner strength-training workout.
- Rachel Straub, MS, CSCS, co-author of Weight Training Without Injury
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: "Muscle tissue changes with aging"
- Physiological Reports: "The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Physical Activity Guidelines"
- Kyra Williams, NASM-certified online personal trainer and USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting Coach
- Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based weight loss coach and corporate wellness trainer
- PLoS One: "The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Tara Allen, registered nurse and certified health coach, nutrition coach, and personal trainer
- Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock: "Post exercise ice water immersion: Is it a form of active recovery?"