The Best Way to Gain Muscle and How to Keep It

Plenty of people would like to put on muscle. Whether to improve their appearance or athletic performance, exercisers often seek major strength gains. Yet many who embark on muscle-building quests find their efforts thwarted, unable to add much bulk at all. 

In truth, muscle gains usually result from mutually reinforcing diet and workout habits. If one side of this equation is out of whack, your muscle mass may stay painfully stalled. To gain muscle successfully and sustainably, you’ll need expert advice on both exercise and eating. That’s where this article comes in.

Below, we’ll share evidence-backed insights to guide your workout regimen and nutritional choices while attempting to put on muscle. After covering both areas, we’ll provide some additional suggestions for maintaining all the muscle you’ll gain. Though bulking up is never easy, we’ll help you discover the best ways to get big. 

Muscle Gain Methods: Essential Exercise Tips

female working on her muscles at the gym

Building muscle requires more than enthusiasm alone: With a haphazard approach, you can hit the gym with gusto and enjoy frustratingly few results. These tips suggest a strategic approach to the goal of getting “swole” – and position you for strength training success. 

Be Cautious About Cardio

When trying to gain muscle, some people assume that cardio is counterproductive. After all, cardio promises weight loss benefits, whereas building muscle typically entails bulking up. 

We’d never advise cutting out cardio completely: Aerobic exercise is an important dimension of overall fitness. That being said, you’ll need to choose forms of cardio that support your muscle development rather than undermine your progress.

Long runs at a steady pace, for example, will probably hinder your muscle gains. Conversely, high-intensity interval training could actually help your cause, eliciting a hormonal response shown to augment muscle development. 

However you do your cardio, you may need to cut it back when trying to bulk up. Some experts suggest no more than a couple of cardio sessions per week when attempting to build muscle. Of course, the right cardio balance will depend on your body type: If you’re more heavyset, for example, more cardio may be advisable. 

Pick the Right Rep Range

Among trainers, scientists, and amateur gym enthusiasts, the rep range debate rages on. Some folks swear by lifting big weights just five times or less per set. Others say beginner lifters can get the same gains from a high-rep approach. 

Skip the argument and split the difference: Go with a moderate-rep range of eight to 12 reps per set. This approach offers tons of benefits, stimulating hormones conducive to muscle growth and straining your muscles in all the right ways. 

That being said, variety is also key to ongoing muscle growth. While a moderate-rep approach can be your go-to, diversify your routine with low- and high-rep sessions as well. And keep moving forward, of course: Add weight progressively at every rep range to prevent complacency. 

Go Full Body – or Alternate Areas

Even if you’re seeking gains in a few specific areas, it’s best to take a total-body approach to adding muscle mass. You’ll avoid developing a lopsided look or experiencing overuse injuries. That being said, there are two viable ways to bulk up across your body: Do a full-body workout every time you exercise, or target a different set of muscles in every session.

Neither approach is necessarily better, so go with whichever feels best (and fits your exercise schedule). With either method, compound exercises targeting multiple muscle groups are an efficient way to involve the whole body. 

Stretch Smart

Stretching is a hot topic among fitness professionals, but new research casts some doubt on traditional wisdom on the subject. Still, most experts agree that stretching can help expand your range of motion, allowing you to get more from muscle-building exercises. 

Some fitness gurus suggest stretching during rest periods between sets, citing studies indicating that this tactic can spur muscle growth. Whatever you do, don’t stretch to a counterproductive extent: Going too far can cause or exacerbate an injury.

Moreover, stretching doesn’t really help prevent or alleviate soreness. For that, you’d be better off investing is a solid foam roller

Rest to Get Ripped

Rest between workouts isn’t just essential to preventing injury. For your muscles to recover and grow, you’ll need to give them a break. Many experts recommend lifting every other day for this reason.

Indeed, exercise actually damages muscle fibers, leading to soreness. By resting after a vigorous workout, you allow your body to rebuild your muscles bigger and stronger than ever. In this sense, gains actually occur when you’re taking time off.

Think Big (Muscle Groups)

When you’re new to strength training, virtually any workout will spur the muscle-constructing process of protein synthesis. Habitual lifters, however, may need to take a more targeted approach to kick-starting a new chapter of muscle development. 

Research shows that experienced lifters can initiate muscle growth most efficiently by emphasizing big muscle groups, such as the chest, back, and legs. Thankfully, some common compound exercises hit two or more of these big muscle groups simultaneously. Classics like squats, deadlifts, pullups, and dips will help you see gains in these areas relatively quickly.

Muscle Gain Methods: Essential Dietary Tips

While strength training is essential to muscle gain, you’ll get nowhere without the right sustenance. By eating a diet built to add bulk, you’ll reap the rewards of all your hard work.

male adding protein powder to cup

Multiply Your Meals

You can’t build muscle without substantially increasing your calorie consumption: Food is the fuel that supports a robust workout schedule, and you probably need more meals than you think.

Rather than three big plates per day, try eating five or six smaller meals daily. By doing so, you’ll keep your body constantly supplied with the nutrients it needs. Bulking up isn’t an excuse to wolf down junk food, however: Your meals should still revolve around high-quality protein and carbs.

Get Plenty of Protein

Speaking of protein, you’ll need tons of it to make significant muscle gains. In fact, experts suggest consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight when trying to bulk up.

To get to that total, look for lots of meat and animal products: Think beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and milk. Sure, some veggies and nuts offer solid protein content as well, but a carnivorous diet is the simplest way to meet your protein quota.

Consume Carbs After Workouts

While low-carb diets are all the rage, they’re not necessarily conducive to muscle gain. You need healthy carbohydrates to bounce back after tough workouts. Deprive yourself of carbs, and your strength-training performance will inevitably suffer. 

While there are plenty of suspect carb sources, you can get a healthy dose from sweet potatoes, legumes, and good grains (like quinoa).

Supplement with Shakes

Protein shakes really can help you hit your protein targets, whether you sip them before or after your workout sessions. Use them in addition to your scheduled meals, however, not as replacements for real food. Moreover, some brands use lower-quality ingredients and lots of sweeteners, so be picky about the powder you pick.

Mind Your Micronutrients

While you prioritize carbs, calories, and protein, don’t overlook vitamins and minerals that are just as vital. Make sure you’re getting plenty of calcium, zinc, and Vitamin D, for example. Similarly, iron is essential to muscle cell growth. You don’t need to stock up on supplements, however: Try to meet your recommended daily value through whole foods.

Don’t Forget Fluids – Unless They’re Alcoholic

Staying hydrated has innumerable health benefits, and your muscles need water to function properly. If you’re constantly thirsty or your fail to replenish water lost from sweat, you’ll likely suffer from fatigue or even cramping.

Conversely, alcohol has been shown to impede muscle growth, even when drinkers eat healthy diets otherwise. Research suggests that booze can inhibit protein synthesis and may even lower levels of muscle-friendly hormones like testosterone. So if you’re looking for muscle gains, keep drinking to a minimum. After all, lifting with a hangover is no one’s idea of a good time. 

From Muscle Gain to Maintenance

Once your muscle-building regimen starts to produce visible results, you’ll be anxious to keep those hard-earned gains. In many ways, the dietary keys to maintaining muscle are similar to the basics of building it: You’ll need to keep the calories coming to support your new mass, though you can return to a regular three-meal routine. As you make these adjustments, you’ll still need to rely heavily on healthy sources of protein.

Thankfully, new research has refuted long-standing fears that a protein-rich diet can negatively impact your kidney function over time. Of course, you’ll need to balance protein consumption with other health goals (such as monitoring cholesterol) and get plenty of good carbs and micronutrients. 

In terms of maintaining muscle through continued exercise, your approach will depend upon your personal fitness goals. For some, the ideal progression entails a transition from building muscle to shredding body fat: With less fat in the way, that new muscle will shine through. This means cardio can play a larger role in your routine, and higher reps with lower rates will help tone your muscles beautifully.

Unfortunately, however, even the most sculpted individuals face the prospect of muscle loss as they age. This phenomenon of “sarcopenia” is an inevitable part of growing older, but you can resist it by continuing to exercise regularly. Additionally, there are some important related steps you can take to maintain muscle over time.

Put Sleep on a Pedestal

We all get busy, and it’s hard to make time for all of our health priorities. Accordingly, some fitness fanatics sacrifice sleep to fit workouts into their busy schedules. But because sleep is key to muscle growth and maintenance, this approach is deeply misguided.

If you rack up a sleep deficit over time, you’ll deprive your body of opportunities to produce growth hormone, which is essential to muscle development and repair. You’ll also bring less energy to each workout, meaning your performance will inevitably decline over time.

Prevent Injury, Recover Adequately

As Father Time takes his toll, you don’t have to abandon exercise entirely. But you will have to make concessions to the aging process, adjusting your exercise methods to reflect your body’s needs. 

For older individuals, strength training can and should continue, with one key difference: You’ll need to build in more recovery time. If you typically rest one day a week, consider switching to two as the years go by. 

Additionally, your target areas may need to shift in order to prevent or address injuries. In fact, because bouncing back from an injury can get more challenging as we get older, you might want to emphasize muscles shown to defend against common injuries. For example, exercises designed to strengthen the glutes, calves, and hamstrings can prevent knee and lower back issues, which often affect older exercisers.

With the tips we’ve shared throughout this article, you’re well on your way to major muscle gains. Yet as we conclude our discussion, there’s one more way in which we can help you toward a more muscular future. Our expert reviews of home gym equipment have helped thousands of customers achieve their fitness goals – without having to commute to the gym. To learn which machines can help you build muscle most quickly, take some time to explore our site. We’re here to help – happy bulking!