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Learning how to build muscle can seem like a difficult and daunting task, but really it’s fairly simple. At the heart of it is the premise that if you use your muscles enough to break them down, they’ll rebuild stronger. So long as you provide them with adequate protein and nutrients, you’ll build muscle quickly and effectively by following some pretty basic rules of thumb.
The first step to build muscle is to make sure your diet is designed so that you’re getting enough protein. Most people recommend 1g of protein for every 1lb of body weight, so if you weight 150lbs (68kg), you’d want to be consuming 150g of protein each day. Meats, eggs, and dairy have a great deal of protein in them, but vegetarians and vegans can also get enough protein to build muscle by eating protein-dense foods such as beans, nuts, whole grains like quinoa and rice, and things like soy milk. Additionally, there are a number of protein supplements which can be used to make sure you’re getting adequate protein to build muscle, and these are often vegetarian or vegan.
If you’re serious about wanting to build muscle, and not just wanting to tone the muscle you already have, you’ll likely also need to simply bulk up. Muscle is weight, and that means a higher caloric input than you might be used to. Calorically-dense foods, such as cooking oils, nuts, and starches, are the easiest way to put on weight quickly. Some people choose to gain fat in order to build muscle, while others focus on keeping their diet calorie-rich but fairly lean.
It’s also important to keep feeding your body when you’re trying to build muscle, which means eating regularly. Having a large breakfast, eating five or six times a day, and having a high-protein snack after a workout session are all important to getting your body’s metabolism up to speed so that you have the energy to build muscle steadily. It’s also important to get ample sleep, as this is when your body can actually build muscle most efficiently, and to remain hydrated.
To start with, you’ll want to work out three days a week to build muscle. Eventually you may get up to five or six days a week, but to start with its important not to overdo it. Three intense workouts each week will make a strong start in your quest to build muscle, and it’s a good idea to focus on doing as much as you can in terms of form and weight, rather than trying to spend a long time in the gym.
Most people aren’t professional body-builders, so the path they’ll take to build muscle is a bit different than pros. Rather than focusing on certain muscles in isolation, most people will find it easier to build muscle by doing more full-body workouts. Squats are one of the best exercises for normal people just starting to build muscle. They work your entire body, and are relatively easy to get the form correct on.
Lifts should be done with free weights to best build muscle, as well. Squatting and deadlifting weight will build a number of muscle groups easily. Calisthenics can help balance this out, with chin-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups all helping to build muscle. As you start to build muscle, you may want to start focusing in on certain muscle groups more specifically, but for most average people they will find much better results working their entire body. Simple full-body workouts have the added advantage of needing only one set of barbells, making a home gym something anyone can afford and fit.
Thanks for the note on soy, Jason! Very good to have added to the article.
While I agree that full body routines are great for general fitness, weight loss and toning, if you really want to build big muscles, you are much better off doing a split routine. As the article says, stick to the major, compound exercises like squats, lunges and dead-lifts for the legs, bench press and dips for the chest and pull ups or pull downs and rows for the back. (Throw in a few sets for your biceps on back day, your triceps on chest day and your abs on leg day.) But work out each body part no more than once per week! You have to really hit them hard on that one day and then give them time
to recover. If you go too often you are cutting your progress short and wasting time and energy.
You should also be progressing in your workouts. Not just going in and lifting the same weights week after week. You should be striving to do a little bit more each time you lift. The more gradually you progress the better.
As far as protein, don't drink soy milk. Soy increases the estrogen levels in your body and you want the opposite, you want testosterone. Soy also hinders your body's ability to take up the protein it contains, so you should pretty much stay away. The only form soy can be good for you is in its fermented state. Tempeh and miso are OK. Stay away from tofu and especially powdered soy. If you want to have a protein shake after your weightlifting workout (which is a good idea because you want that protein in your system as soon as possible) then choose whey protein.
Jason Alan Griffin
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
PS. I love wise geek. Keep up the good work!
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