Summer is approaching and we all yearn for a great shape. The last few months are where it counts the most if you want to bring your A-game on the beach or at the pool.
I’ve coached hundreds of people on how to best build muscles. I know what you want – you wonder how to gain muscle mass as fast as possible, but still in a natural way.
You’ve came to the right place then – but I must admit, we don’t have cookies. We only have scientific workout programs, nutrition coaching and motivating support on this side of the coin.
What is muscle mass?
One of the reasons I joined martial arts classes years ago was because I hoped that training regularly would give me a Bruce Lee body. It didn’t.
I lacked a fundamental understanding in how muscle build up in general works. Martial arts gave me the necessary skills for self defense and improved my endurance – but it didn’t make me a Dwayne Johnson lookalike.
What I only later realized is that your muscles only build themselves up on a microsopical level when they need to. And you, as a macroscopic human, can foster that need in your muscles.
For your muscles to build up, you have to train on a specific rep range and on a specific frequency.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy muscle gain
To gain muscles in the first place, you have to put your body under stress. Training itself is not generally healthy for you. You’re losing precious body fluids in the gym, you’re emptying your energy resources and you create micro-tears in your muscles. Only if your body feels uncomfortable, you build muscles in the first place.
Losing weight is also an extreme stress situation for your body in the short term. You’re taking in less energy than your body desires. This forces your body to restructure your organism in a way that needs less energy. In a non-scientific term: Your body starts burning fat, if you eat less calories.
The common denominator of those two scenarios are necessity. Robert Greene, author of the international bestseller 50 Laws of Power calls necessity the ruler of the world. As humans only act when they need to. Necessity implies being under stress.
This doesn’t have to get philosophical here, but healthy is always relative. Forcing an alcohol-addict to stop drinking may hurt him drastically in the short-term, regarding stress hormones – but in the long-term it might be a great decision, if we consider the alternative.
In the sense of muscle gaining: Muscle gain with severe amounts of meat might be disastrous, but if the alternative is obesity, it can be considered healthy in some form. As it increases the life-expectancy for the individual more than being obese.1
What makes muscle growth healthy is the recovery phase. The pinnacle of a healthy muscle gain would be to do it on a plant-based diet, with plenty of sleep and optimum, stress-reducing personal life.2 Also with no help of anabolic steroids, of course. But let’s try to look at it step-by-step.
How to gain muscle mass naturally (Step-by-step guide)
Here are the 7 steps that you can take today, to achieve maximal, healthy and natural muscle growth – in the shortest time.
1. Commit yourself to building muscles
The first step to every long-lasting change is your mindset. This mind sound cliché, but if you’re not committed to changing your lifestyle, you might just as well stay at your couch.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. — Abraham Lincoln
Write down why exactly you want to gain muscles. Is it to impress that crush you have? To get more confidence? To be seen as a leader among your friends? Write all that down and keep it where you can see it every day.
Pro tip: Use pictures to increase the effect.
2. Set a goal
While you already have your pen and paper out, write down your goals. There’s something special about writing your goals down on paper. This is another side of commitment.
Make sure you’re setting your goals the SMART way — Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Time-bound.
To build muscle mass is not a goal – to increase your bodyweight by 5 kilos until the end of july is. To look hotter is not a goal – to increase your subjective attractiveness from a scale 5/10 to a scale 8/10 is one. Take before and after pictures so you can compare your results.
Find out more about how to set a SMART goal here: Why I Can Be the Only 8% of People Who Reach the Goal Every Single Time
3. Find the right training routine for you
I’ve got a client in the fitness center that I manage which I just recently designed a full-body workout for. After a month, he came up to me and confessed that he isn’t following my training routine anymore. My response was simple: “It’s ok.”
He was shocked by my answer. He expected me to be frustrated by his actions. I wasn’t. I know that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink and I know that the right training routine is the one that works for you.
You could have the best workout routine in the world, but if you always have to drag yourself to the gym and never feel excited – it’s not the right routine for you. That’s why we focus on individuality on our plant-based online coaching service .
While the traditional recommended repetition range for muscle growth is between 6-12 (based on studies of time under tension), there are also studies citing that 5-7 repetitions may be more optimal.3 The exact same thing goes for training sets and rest periods between those sets.4
I generally would advise you to keep your rest periods between 1-2 minutes. Start with a whole-body training plan (yes, even train your legs) and aim for about 8-12 repetitions as a beginner. When you’re experienced, meaning training more than one year, you can decrease that number of repetitions.
Do about three sets per exercises and aim to stay no longer in the gym than 1.5 hours. This way you’re minimizing muscle protein breakdown due to avoiding a long training session and most importantly, you’re not neglecting your personal life.
4. Be consistent
Having the right training routine is key because it helps you to be consistent. If you’re going to the gym regularly for 3 years, you will see results in some kind of form. It doesn’t matter if you have the best exercise program or your genetics.
If you are consistent, you will see results. But make sure you consider step number 5.
5. Focus on progression
Fun fact: The first gym that I ever trained in was called ‘Progress’. I only understood the true value of this word later.
You have to realize that progression is the major key when you are trying to build muscles.
Adding more weight in the long term adds mechanical stress to your muscles. Your body has to see a reason to adapt, a great way to make it adapt is to add mechanical stresses.
Train hard and train smart.5
Increase The Weight Over Time
6. Eat more of the good stuff
To build muscles, you need energy. Energy through your food which then is transformed to muscle tissue.
Eat big – Get big.
You have to be in a calorie surplus. Eat more calories that you actually need. Eat dried fruits or drink smoothies as they increase your calorie intake without decreasing your appetite. I suggest you to aim for a calorie surplus of about 200 calories per day. This equals to about 1-2 extra smoothies.
7. Switch up your routine
This is similar to progression. Again, you want your body to keep guessing in the long-term. Once you hit a plateau in your training, you have to try a new approach to your training.
Implement different exercises and train at a different rep-range. Have fun with your training and experiment. You never know when you will find what works for you!
Muscle growth is an extremely complex process that involves loads of different physiological functions and variables. You can spend hundreds of hours studying it and barely scratch the surface. But building muscles isn’t that complicated.
Most people that I know that built a great body in the gym are not renowned scientists – they’re regular people following a proven plan. They have committed themselves to the gym. They are being consistent and they form a routine – while seeking constant progression.