How to Maximize Muscle Growth
Building muscle is one of the most common goals among the fitness-going population, both newbies and grizzled veterans of the iron.
As common as the goal may be, the number of individuals struggling to see the type of muscle growth they want is astonishing.
This boils down to a combination of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Having unrealistic expectations (both in terms of rate of muscle growth as well as the total amount of muscle that can be built)
- Not training hard enough
- Not eating enough total calories and protein to support muscle building
- Suffering from analysis by paralysis (e.g., program hopping due to listening to too many differing "experts" and influencers)
Rest assured that if you've been training for months (or even years) and frustrated at your lack of progress or just starting and looking for the real deal information required to get results, you've come to the right place.
Today, we'll tell you exactly what you need to maximize your muscle growth with proven tips and techniques you can use to build muscle quickly.
Let’s get started!
Increase Your Training Volume
There has been a clear link established between training volume and muscle growth. By that, we mean that you need to perform a sufficient amount of "hard sets" to provide a big enough stimulus to the muscles to make them want to increase in size.
You see, the body is stubborn. It likes its size and will make you work damn hard to increase its size (a combination of extra calories and hard resistance training workouts).
The current body of research indicates that the “optimal” amount of volume to maximize hypertrophy (aka “muscle growth”) is between 10-20 hard sets per week.
A “hard set” is considered a training set in which you are within 1-3 reps of failure (7-10 RPE).
If you're newer to training, you can get by with less volume and intensity (e.g., 10 total sets per week, leaving 2-3 reps in the tank each set).
However, the more experienced you are and the more muscle you've built, the total volume and intensity you will need to bring to your workouts.
For some, this may mean performing 16, 18, or even 20 hard sets for "stubborn" muscle groups each week, taking several of those sets to "failure" -- the point at which you can no longer perform another complete rep with good form (i.e., NO CHEAT REPS).
This assumes that you're performing the exercise with good technique, controlling the weight (making your muscles do the work and not gravity/momentum), and using as complete of a range of motion as your body tolerates.
Some of you reading this may need to pick your jaws off the table when seeing the need to perform 20 hard sets for a muscle group,
Understand that this is the "upper end" of the set range. You also don't need to perform all 20 sets in one workout. It may even be deleterious to perform that much volume in a given workout.
Current recommendations are to perform 6-10 (maybe 12) "hard" sets for a given muscle group in a workout. This provides a robust muscle-building stimulus to the body without creating so much muscle damage that you hinder your body's ability to build muscle (because it devotes so much of its resources to just repairing the damage and restoring you to baseline).
By dividing your total weekly training volume (10-20 sets) across 2 or more training sessions, you can stimulate muscle protein synthesis more frequently and devote a higher quality of effort to each set and training session, all of which support better training and ultimately greater hypertrophy!
Decrease Between-Set Rest Intervals
Progressive overload is a core principle of muscle hypertrophy.
This means that your training must become more challenging over time, or else you will plateau and stop getting results (at least in muscle building).
There are many ways to implement progressive overload in your training. The most common recommendation is to “add weight to the bar.”
This is a phenomenal way to incorporate progressive overload, and for newbies, it is possible to add a small (1-5lbs) to the bar each time you hit the gym.
However, the more experience you get and the more strength you gain, it is impossible to keep slapping weight on the bar. Otherwise, some people that have been lifting since high school would be capable of bench pressing the Empire State Building.
Something else to consider is that many individuals train at home or in gyms with limited weight selections, so it is physically impossible to continue to add external loading.
Fortunately, adding weight to the bar is just one way to apply progressive overload to your training. It is NOT the only way.
You can also decrease between-set rest intervals.
So, if you’re currently resting 2 minutes between sets of an exercise, you can shave off 10-15 seconds and attempt to complete the same amount of sets and reps.
Naturally, you may not be able to perform all of the reps you previously did because your muscles and cardiovascular system do not have as much time to rest and replenish ATP stores before subjecting them to more tension and stress.
Keep the shortened rest the same until you can complete your previous numbers. Decreasing rest while maintaining the same training volume increases training density (amount of work completed in a given time).
One thing to keep in mind is that just like you can't continue to add weight ad infinitum to the bar, you can keep reducing the rest intervals between sets. There will come the point where your cardiovascular system becomes the limiting factor instead of your muscles (which limits your ability to tax the muscles and thus build muscle sufficiently).
As we mentioned above, there are multiple ways to apply progressive overload.
You can add weight.
You can reduce rest.
You can also:
- Increase training volume (adding reps or sets)
- Increase training frequency
- Increase range of motion
- Increase time under tension (adding pauses at the hardest point of the exercise)
- Decreasing RPE (e.g., you performed 3 sets of 10 at a 9 RPE…you keep the weight the same and perform 3 sets of 10 at an 8 RPE…this is still within the intensity proximity to stimulate muscle growth…but this is best reserved for experienced lifters who have a realistic understanding of how close to failure they are)
Eat More Protein
Consuming enough protein is essential to building muscle. Your muscles (as well as the rest of your body's tissues) are made of protein and amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
Failing to consume enough protein daily directly limits your body's ability to effectively recover from training and support the creation of bigger, stronger muscle fibers.
Current recommendations are to consume between 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
This averages to 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Aim for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to keep things simple.
So, if you weigh 150 pounds and want to build muscle, consume at least 150 grams of protein daily.
Ideally, you want to evenly distribute your protein throughout the day across 3-6 meals, based on your lifestyle and preferences.
This provides several spikes in protein synthesis throughout the day, which supports muscle recovery and growth and combats muscle breakdown.
The best sources of protein for building muscle are complete proteins, such as:
- Wild game (elk, bison, boar, etc.)
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, Mahi Mahi, etc.)
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Whey Protein Concentrate
Plant-based protein powders, such as Steel Vegan, are also an option for those looking to diversify their protein sources.
Get More Sleep
When it comes to building muscle, most discussion centers around training hard and eating right, and rightfully so, as, without those two things, your efforts to effectively build muscle will be severely limited.
However, something else that’s just as vital to maximizing muscle growth is sleep.
Sleep is the time when the body does the vast majority of its recovery and growth. During sleep, important hormones course through your veins, enhancing muscle repair, energy replenishment, and growth.
Not getting enough sleep has been found to:
- Increase cortisol levels (a catabolic hormone)
- Decrease testosterone levels (an anabolic hormone)
- Reduce athletic and cognitive performance (which undermines your training)
- Hinders muscle recovery
- Disrupts metabolism (the way your body digests and utilizes the nutrients you eat)
- Decreases insulin sensitivity
- Promotes muscle breakdown
Everything you don't want to happen if you're trying to maximize muscle growth happens.
Now, the occasional night of poor sleep isn't going to tank your gains all in one fell swoop. But, chronic sleep deprivation will limit your muscle growth and prevent you from achieving your potential.
So, make it a goal to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
If you need help getting to sleep each night, consider the following sleep hygiene tips:
- Establish a set time to go to sleep each night (yep, just like your parents did for you when you were a kid)
- Avoid blue light (smartphones, tablets, TV, laptops, etc.) at least 2 hours before bed
- Limit sources of stress (news, social media, work emails, etc.) before bed
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed
- Take a warm bath/shower
- Read a book
- Listen to relaxing music
You can also try a nighttime relaxation and recovery aid, such as Steel Dreams which contains natural, non-habit forming ingredients to help reduce stress, calm a hyperactive nervous system, and improve sleep quality and duration.
What About Muscle Building Supplements?
Naturally, whenever someone has a goal of building muscle, an immediate question that pops into their heads (probably daily) is, "should I use muscle-building supplements?"
As a supplement company, it behooves us to say, "YES! Always use muscle-building products."
But the reality is that you don’t “need” supplements to build muscle or live a healthy and fit lifestyle.
That being said, if you have your diet and training in check, using the right supplements can enhance your results and recovery.
Plus, supplements can help some individuals get excited about training and staying on track with their diet.
At the top of the muscle-building supplement, the hierarchy is creatine monohydrate.
Creatine is the undisputed "king" of natural muscle-building products. It has been used for decades. It's been extensively studied and shown to enhance athletic performance and lean mass gains.
Creatine monohydrate powder should be a no-brainer if you're a weekend warrior, casual fitness enthusiast, or aspiring physique athlete.
Don't fuss with fancy (i.e., overpriced) forms of creatine. Creatine monohydrate is the most affordable and well-researched form of creatine. Plus, no other form of creatine is more effective than good old creatine monohydrate.
Other muscle-building products to consider are: