How to Build Muscles: 5 Steps to Success

November 20, 2015 Updated: November 20, 2015
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Do you want to build a wide back and a set of sleeve busting arms?

Turns out most men never reach their muscle goals because they don’t understand the synergistic relationship between each of the components in this anabolic process.

Here is a a simple 5-step system which will put you on the right track.

1.    Caloric Surplus

Nutrition is only as complicated as you want to make it, so be careful of not seeing the proverbial ‘forest through the trees’. If you’re the type who constantly over-analyzes every detail, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to have a tough time making progress.

Everyone talks about fad diets (I’m looking at you keto and paleo), macro percentages, or essential supplementation, but at the end of the day, your goals can only be accomplished by understanding caloric balance.

It’s not about specific foods, nutrient timing, meal frequency, etc…

You will only gain weight when you eat more calories than you burn—likewise, you will only lose weight when you consume less than you burn. Now obviously, this is a very simplistic description of what’s going within your body, but you need to realize and accept this before anything else.

It’s not about specific foods, nutrient timing, meal frequency, or any of the other fancy jargon that supplement companies push. In the end, it always comes down to calories as you can’t escape the first law of thermodynamics and you most certainly can’t outwork it.

Can you add muscle mass without maintaining a huge caloric excess? Of course. However, the main caveat here is that maximizing muscle growth is best accomplished in a caloric surplus.

So, how do you go about achieving a surplus? Track what you eat for two weeks using a simple calorie calculator such as MyFitnessPal. During this time, monitor your weight as well.

Increasing? Good, shoot for roughly 0.75-1 pounds per week if you’re fairly new to training. If you’re more advanced, then 0.5 pounds per week is a better goal.

If things aren’t moving in the right direction, add an additional 300-400 calories daily and see how your body responds over the next week.

(iStock)
Turns out most men never reach their muscle goals because they don’t understand the synergistic relationship between each of the components in this anabolic process. (MeikePetriPro/iStock)

2.    Compound Movements

Cool your jets hombre, there’s a time and place for curls in the squat rack, however the nuts and bolts of your training should revolve around these main motor patterns:

  • Squats
  • Hinges
  • Pushes
  • Pulls
  • Lunges
  • Carries
  • Sprints
  • Throws
Learn to love squats, dips, deadlifts, chin-ups, presses, and rowing variations.

No one ever got huge from 3 sets of 10 on lateral raises, leg extensions, and sit-ups. Learn to love squats, dips, deadlifts, chin-ups, presses, and rowing variations. Simplicity and enjoyment is the name of the game when it comes to long term adherence.

However, don’t think you’ll be able to back squat on Day 1. Not only that, age is a major consideration as well—younger guys can handle quite a bit more when it comes to training stimuli.

If you can’t back squat or do a conventional deadlift due to pain, then it may be time to look into other variations or workout routines that are possible with the available equipment. Maintain the pattern, work around the pain.

3.    Smart Programming

The vast majority of individuals in the gym don’t know how to create a fitness program for themselves. Not only that, those who write their own programs tend to default to personal biases and individual strengths.

Love to bench but hate squatting? There’s a pretty good chance you’re just not good at squatting and don’t like it because it’s hard.

We love to do the things we’re good at; that’s human nature. However, if you want to be a well-rounded individual, then face your weaknesses head on by addressing them in your programming.

4.    Nail Down Your Nutrition

If you’ve read anything in the fitness world lately, then I’m sure you’re well aware of the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) movement. I’m all for a DCA (discretionary caloric allowance) but we must remember that nutrition is about quantity (calories) and quality (nutrient density).

Of course, there is always a time for moderation and enjoying yourself in social situations, the vast majority of your nutritional choices should be based upon whole foods that are conducive to proper digestion and adequate energy while allowing you to simultaneously meet your muscle gain goals.

5.  Adequate Recovery

If you’re going to screw anything up, this will be it. In our society, we tend to glorify sleep deprivation, high stress levels, and excessive caffeine intake. It’s no wonder we have a nation of zombies struggling to keep their eyes open while staying glued to their phones.

You should consider these two categories when it comes to recovery:

  • Active: Low intensity activity, soft tissue work, hydrotherapy, etc.
  • Passive: Complete rest (i.e. sleep)

Active recovery can be more beneficial than passive recovery if you understand how to utilize it effectively and you don’t overdo. However, most neglect both categories and as such they eventually suffer one of two fates: a plateau or injury.

You can only train as hard as you can recover.

Mike Wines is a strength and conditioning coach, and content editor for Muscle & Strength. He received his B.S. in exercise science from the University of South Carolina. He provides programming and movement based solutions to match each individual’s goals. You can also follow him on Facebook.