Do you want to build muscle mass? Have you tried it, but it didn’t work out (so well)? Are you just starting to grapple with the topic? Or do you already have a bit of experience but want to get more out of it? In all three cases, this article is here for you.
In this article I want to introduce you to the things that really play an important role if you want to gain weight effectively. And by mass, I mean muscle mass, because that’s a big difference. I will come back to this later in the text. I have deliberately left out things that play little or no role in building your muscles. So you can focus on the things that really matter.
In addition, I will also address some common questions in the article that come up again and again when it comes to building muscle mass. I will deal with the following topics:
- Why building muscle mass can be useful
- What are the 5 success factors in building muscle mass
- How to train if you want to gain mass
- What to eat if you want to gain mass
- Why the difference between mass and muscle mass is crucial
- Whether you can build muscle mass without a gym
With a click on the title you get directly to the respective section.
In the end, you should know the most important factors that are important when building muscle mass in a targeted manner. This should be a good starting point if you want to start building muscle effectively. In some cases there are also in-depth articles, which are referred to in the respective sections.
Why it makes sense to build muscle mass
I’ve heard from people many times that they don’t want to build muscle. After all, they don’t want to look as muscular as me. But apart from the fact that these people often do not realize how much hard work there is behind my muscles, they also often forget that there is much more than just aesthetic arguments in favor of building muscle.
Of course, a slim, well-trained body is an ideal of beauty in our society today. For that reason alone, it is worth striving for for many. But many are not even aware of how many other good reasons there are to build and strengthen your muscles.
Strong muscles bring you much more than just an attractive appearance. Among other things , the following arguments speak in favor of building muscle mass, even if your appearance is not extremely important to you:
- Your muscles move you and everything you move
- Trained muscles strengthen your immune system
- Your muscles use up calories (even if you don’t move them)
- Trained muscles reduce the risk of various diseases
- Healthy muscles improve your brain function
- Your muscles protect you from injuries
And you don’t have to gain muscle mass like a professional bodybuilder to do that. With regular strength training you can build healthy, strong muscles. If you’re not doing hard physical work, however, regular strength training is required.
If you already wanted to build muscle, then you may have found a few good arguments here when asked why you are doing this. 😉
You can find out some of the reasons why I personally exercise regularly in my article Why I do sports regularly (and write about it) .
The 5 success factors for effective muscle building
If you do some research on building muscle, you will find all sorts of things that you should supposedly do and be aware of. There are all sorts of split training plans that you should do for perfect muscle building, special exercises that you should definitely not skip, or certain foods that you should eat. In some places, various muscle building preparations are also recommended.
This whole mass of sometimes contradicting information makes the topic seem frighteningly complex. But don’t let that put you off. Ultimately, everything can be summed up in 5 factors that essentially decide whether you are building muscle mass successfully and effectively, staying behind your possibilities or possibly even stepping backwards.
1) Success factor: the right training
Without training, your muscles cannot grow either. I bet you already knew that.
What many do not know, however, is that it is much more about observing the right training principles than strictly adhering to a specific training plan. Which muscle building training plan is right for you depends very much on you, your living conditions and your preferences. However, there are good training plans to start with and to build on.
However, even with the best training plan, you cannot avoid observing the most important principles for successful muscle building training, such as repetitions, volume and technique. I will go into this in more detail in the following main section, How you should train if you want to build muscle mass .
2) Success factor: the right diet
Just as important, if not a little more important, if you want to gain muscle mass, is proper nutrition. In order for your muscles to grow, your body needs the right building blocks. Here, too, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet plan. Especially when it comes to eating, it just depends too much on what your circumstances and preferences are. In addition, there are intolerances that seem to be more and more common.
I’m not a big fan of strict eating plans. However, if you find it difficult to get used to, an individual nutrition plan can serve as a guide, give you structure and help you to develop a feeling for good nutrition.
In essence, nutrition is all about following a few principles in order to make progress successfully. You have to eat the right amount of calories, follow some rules for the distribution of nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and eat enough fruits and vegetables. But I’ll go into that in the next but one main section What you should eat if you want to gain weight in a little more detail.
3) Success factor: Enough and sufficiently long breaks
The importance of breaks for building muscle is unfortunately neglected by many. This applies to both the breaks between sets during your training and the breaks between the respective training units. I regularly see people who don’t even take a minute break between their sets and thus waste potential for their muscle growth.
During muscle building training, you should do at least 90 seconds, preferably 2 minutes, between your sets. Shorter break times are only useful if you want to train your strength endurance .
When it comes to the breaks between workouts, the rule of thumb is that your muscles need 48-72 hours to recover. That depends on your physical requirements as well as the training intensity and the volume with which you train. Training a muscle group again only after a 2-day break has proven to be a sensible rule for the masses. This will prevent overtraining and make good progress at the same time.
4) Success factor: getting enough sleep
This is a success factor that is unfortunately neglected by many. Here I also have to hold my own nose. It happens to me regularly that I don’t sleep enough and my regeneration and thus my training results suffer as a result. In addition, it is not necessarily healthy to sleep too little.
If that concerns you too, I wrote an article on how you can sleep healthier and better . In it I have collected tips that have helped me to significantly improve the quality of my sleep and thus my regeneration.
5) Success factor: Drink enough water
A problem for most people is that they do n’t drink enough and often don’t even know it. Even if you think you are drinking enough, the chances are high that you will not get the recommended 2-3 liters of water a day. If you do sport regularly, you need 1-1.5 liters more.
If you want to build muscle mass, a lack of water has a direct negative effect on your progress. Your muscle consists of around 70% water. It plays a decisive role here for the development of force. A dehydration of 2-3% leads to a clearly noticeable reduction in physical performance. So you can practically only train on the back burner.
Apart from that, our whole organism is dependent on an adequate water supply. Many metabolic processes only work really efficiently with a good water supply. This includes, for example, the transport of nutrients into the cells and also the removal of all possible pollutants and degradation products. If that doesn’t work optimally, your regeneration will deteriorate.
How to exercise to gain muscle mass
Obviously, the right training is a key success factor if you want to build muscle effectively. Below I will explain you briefly how you train should or what is in your muscle building training in the core takes to make you possible can build a lot of muscle mass.
I will go into the most important key points. These are the right type of training, the correct training frequency, the best training plan for you and the correct technique. I try to get to the essentials quickly with simple answers so as not to overload anyone with details. However, I will always refer to other articles at the appropriate point if you would like to know more about a certain topic.
The right type of training for maximum muscle growth
The best type of training for maximum muscle building is hypertrophy training . This type of training has proven to be ideal for maximally promoting the growth of muscle volume. In this type of training, 6-15 repetitions are performed with an intensity of 60-85% of the maximum strength output. The literature also often recommends 8-12 repetitions at 70-80% of maximum effort, which is a good starting point.
Note that other types of training, such as IK training or strength endurance training , can also be useful for your long-term training planning and can also promote muscle building. However, if you want to gain muscle mass, hypertrophy training is the best place to start.
The correct training frequency for more muscle mass
The best recommendation for the training frequency for most people is to do 2 training units per week for each muscle group. This also results from the previously recommended break times. This means that, depending on the training plan, between 2 and 6 training units per week are possible sensible training frequencies.
You could certainly train each muscle group more often and / or more often overall (even daily training is possible). However, it is questionable whether this makes sense. For the vast majority of people, that won’t make much sense. Even if you can make it from regeneration, the possible small advantage is in my opinion not in an attractive relation to the effort.
The only scenario in which I consider 3 training units per muscle group and week to be sensible is with full-body training three days a week. Because of the large amount of time required, the volume here is usually small enough to get enough regeneration between the units.
The right training plan for building your muscles
Which training plan is right for you depends primarily on you. The best plan for building your muscles is therefore an individual training plan that is tailored to you personally.
In order not to make this all too complicated, I would like to introduce you to a few rules for a good training plan for building muscle mass. On the basis of these basics, you can already determine whether your training plan for building muscle is suitable for you.
- If you can invest in training less than 4 days a week, you should follow a full body training plan. If you have 4 or more units per week, switching to split training makes sense.
- Your plan should be built around complex basic exercises – like squats , deadlifts , bench presses, and barbell rows – at the core .
- If you want to build muscle mass, the volume has to be big enough. You should therefore complete at least 10 work sets per (large) muscle group and week.
- Smaller muscle groups are often also trained in the larger ones. A smaller amount of supplementary isolation exercises is sufficient here to achieve sufficient volume.
If everything fits, then you already have a good basis!
Not only the weight, but also the technique makes the muscle big
Last but not least, a hint that even though regular weight gain is beneficial to muscle growth, it’s not just weight that is crucial. Always make sure that the exercise is carried out correctly. Do all the exercises in a concentrated, slow and clean manner.
Especially the eccentric part of the movement (= negative-dynamic, yielding) should not be too fast. As a rule of thumb, a movement speed of 1 to 2/3 is particularly beneficial for hypertrophy. This means that the concentric moving part takes about one second and the eccentric moving part about 1 to 3 seconds.
These are the most important factors in training if you want to gain muscle mass effectively. If you stick to it, you should come very far. In another, special article about muscle building training , I will go into a little more in-depth.
What to eat if you want to gain mass
The second major pillar when it comes to creating the best conditions for rapid muscle building is proper nutrition. Ultimately, no matter how perfectly you train, if your diet does not fit, then you will always fall short of your potential.
In essence, there are three things that you should keep in mind if you want to eat what is beneficial for your muscle building. You need to eat enough, you need to eat the right things, and you should be eating at the right time. The latter does not play such a decisive role, but I will come to that later.
Eat enough calories
Building muscle only works (with a few exceptions) if you consume more calories than you use. Your body can use this additional energy to fill and expand energy stores and build new structures.
As a simple guideline, you can try to consume a little more than your total sales. To do this, you should eat an average of 10-20% more every day than you consume in total. To do this, of course, you have to know your energy needs. But don’t worry: calculating your calorie consumption is not difficult and you can also measure it with an activity tracker
Make sure you get the right amount of macronutrients
There are three macronutrients. The proteins and the fats are of particular importance because they are essential nutrients for life. But the carbohydrates also play an important role in building muscle as the primary, faster energy source for the muscles. In addition, they contribute to an increase in muscle volume through water retention with full energy stores.
The following macronutrient distribution is useful if you want to build muscle mass:
- At least 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Fats should make up about 25% of the total amount of calories (including enough omega 3 fatty acids !)
- The rest can be filled with (mainly complex) carbohydrates
The right amount of micronutrients
Micronutrients occur in very small amounts and cannot be used for energy production. There is no process in our body that does not need micronutrients to function. Sufficient intake is therefore essential. In the case of a deficiency, this manifests itself with more or less noticeable deficiency symptoms. Therefore, you should make sure that there is sufficient supply, especially when building muscles.
The topic of micronutrients is really complex and I am not going to go into all possible ways right now. To check this point, it is important that you eat enough fruits and (green) vegetables . The guideline value here is around 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. I know this might seem like a lot to you, but just give it a try. I also help out with so-called greens shakes .
In addition, especially as a physically active person, it can make sense to also take a few selected food supplements . I can understand if you are skeptical about this. But even if your diet is already excellent, there are certainly still a few useful supplements that can be a good supplement for you.
Nutrition Timing – Eating at the Right Time
In principle, timing is only a small part when it comes to promoting your muscle building with your diet. There is one thing I advise you to keep in mind, however, and that is the intake of carbohydrates and proteins within 1 to 2 hours after training.
This simply makes sense so that your body can quickly fill up the stores and fully engage in regeneration. A protein shake right after training is not absolutely necessary, but it will make your life easier.
In addition, it can make sense to have a meal 2-4 hours before training so that you have enough energy during training to achieve maximum performance without pouring liters of Pre Workout Booster into it.
So you now know the most important factors that are important in your diet if you want to build muscle mass. If you stick to it, it will get you pretty far. In another, special article about the right bulk phase diet , I’ll go into a little more in-depth. If you want to know a little more about this, you should read this too.
The difference between mass and muscle mass
A note to everyone who follows the motto “a lot helps a lot ”: There is a crucial difference between the total mass and the muscle mass that you build up in your mass phase . This difference is also called fat. You certainly don’t want more of that than is absolutely necessary, do you?
You might be thinking “Of course, I know that” but it is important that you really make yourself aware of this again. If you want to build up muscle mass effectively, then you must be aware that you are always building fat reserves in addition to muscles. You will find it difficult to get rid of them next summer. So don’t overdo it with your bulking meal.
As a rule of thumb, if you gain more than 0.5 kilograms per week from the third week of your mass phase, you should reduce your calorie intake. What you gain more now will almost certainly only be fat.
The fact is that you can build a maximum of one kilogram of muscle per month. However, this only applies to beginners and over time it becomes less and less (see my article on muscle building duration ). So if you’ve been training for a year or two, there is no more than half a kilo of muscle a month in it. The rest is some water but mostly fat.
So remember: If you eat more, you will gain more mass, but this is not helpful for building up your muscle mass.
Build muscle mass even without a gym
I often hear statements that it is only possible to build muscle with weights in a gym. But that is not the case. While it’s a little easier because it’s easier to control progression, it’s also possible to gain muscle without going to the gym.
I once did an experiment myself when it came to strength training with my own body weight and I was able to achieve surprisingly good results. Ultimately, it is crucial that you adhere to the points explained above and, with a little practice, this is also possible with bodyweight training.
For example, on my travels I still often train without any weights, just with my body, a sling trainer and a few resistance bands . No matter what home gym equipment you have at your disposal, you can use it to complete an effective training.
If you are interested in the subject of bodyweight training and muscle building without a gym, I can recommend reading the book Fit without devices by Mark Lauren *.
Conclusion on building muscle mass
As you can see, it is not that difficult to do most of the right things if you want to gain muscle mass. You just have to focus on the most important success factors and ignore the other things (for now).
If you adhere to the rules of hypertrophy training, value a clean execution of effective exercises and complete a sufficiently high training volume, then you are doing a lot right. If you still consume enough but not too many calories and ensure a good distribution of the macro and sufficient supply of micronutrients, that’s half the battle. Now it is still a matter of taking the necessary break times , getting enough rest and sleeping well, drinking enough water and not exercising with sore muscles .
Now nothing stands in the way of your goal of building muscle mass and you can actually get started. Everything else is fine-tuning, which you can catch up on on the way if necessary. I wish you every success in building muscle mass!