- 7 Beginners Workout Myths That Are Costing You Muscle Gains
- Beginners workout myth no. 1
- Beginners workout myth no. 2
- Beginners Workout myth no. 3
- Beginners workout myth no.4
- Beginners Workout myth no. 5
- Beginners Workout myth no. 6
- Beginners Workout myth no. 7
- How do you build muscle and Strength? Lift Heavy Things
- what’s a sample routine for building muscle?
- How many sets and reps should I do?
- Any other Muscle Training and weight-lifting tips?
- Proper diet to gain muscle (and which Supplements)
- How many calories should I eat to build muscle?
- Won’t all of this eating make me fat? I don’t want to get bulky.
- I’m not skinny, I need to LOSE weight – what’s different for me?
- Rest days for building muscle and strength
- Get Started Building Muscle Today
7 Beginners Workout Myths That Are Costing You Muscle Gains
I remember when I was first starting out, it was hard. It wasn’t hard because I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone but because of the sheer volume of information about beginners workout available that I needed to get through.
One might argue that a lot of information is good since it lets you pick out the most important stuff but when you’re a beginner that’s not the case.
I was completely lost. I spent countless hours searching the web for a routine that would get me started in the right way.
Unfortunately for me, 90% of workouts for beginners I found on the web, were written for the genetically gifted people which in my experience is not your average fitness enthusiast. The routines were all about training 5 to 6 days per week, doing almost every single exercise you can in the gym.
Sure in the beginning you’ll make progress no matter what you do (just even walking into the gym will be better than sitting home on the couch) but in the long run a more common-sense approach to training is needed if you want to build a head-turning body.
So in order for you not to make the same mistakes as I did, let’s bust some myths.
Beginners workout myth no. 1
“For optimal muscle gains, you need to train at least 5 days a week and each workout should last at least 2 hours.”
While the above statement might be true for some sports, when it comes to building a great physique, this statement is pure nonsense.
Somehow we always think that more is better ergo the more we’ll train the better our physiques will get.
Visiting the gym too often for long training sessions will probably get you overtrained. If you’re overtrained you can kiss your muscle gains goodbye.
You get big muscles by allowing your body to rest in between the training sessions.
This is why a high volume training routine is not suitable for a beginners workout.
What you should aim for is doing a low volume, high intensity workout routine.
A low volume, high intensity workout routines are short in duration and intense. The shortness of the routine allows you to be maximally focused on your main compound lifts like deadlift, squats, bench, etc. since these are the exercises that will allow you to build the most muscle.
This means no more fooling around in the gym, doing endless sets of decline ab crunches.
Keep your workouts short and intense.
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Beginners workout myth no. 2
“You need to hit your from different angels in order to stimulate growth”
This one is rather similar to the first myth.
Some people in the fitness community believe that the only way to build bigger arms (or any other minor muscle group) is to blast them with countless sets of different exercises. This will work the target muscles from different angles, increasing the potential for growth.
So if you’re training your biceps for example, you’d do sets of preacher curls, seated-incline hammer curls, reverse-grip barbel curls and so on.
Luckily, all of these exercises combined won’t have the same anabolic effect for your arms as weighted chins.
Compound movements, like weighted chins in this example, are far more superior for developing your smaller muscle groups than any other isolation movement. This is because compound movements produce a much bigger muscle building effect in your body than all of the isolation exercises combined. By doing compound movements you’ll get bigger release of testosterone, growth hormone and other biochemicals responsible for muscle growth.
Remember that your body works as a unit, so you should train it accordingly. Believe me that your arms won’t grow no matter how many sets of bicep curls you do if you’re deadlifting 100 lbs or can’t even do 8 pull-ups with your body weight.
Focus on compound movements, your arms will be grateful.
Beginners Workout myth no. 3
“You should train for hypertrophy, screw strength.”
If i got 1 euro every time I heard that, I’d be a millionaire by now.
If you want to gain muscle mass then you need to bring your main lifts up to a decent level.
Here are the main lifts you should bring at least to an intermediate level:
- Deadlift: body weight x 2
- Squat: body weight x 1.6
- Chin-ups or pull-ups: body weight x 1.2 or 8 reps with body weight.
- Bench press: body weight x 1.2
Your workout routine should focus on getting these lifts up to the respected numbers. Don’t even think about doing a specialization routine for your arms until you hit those numbers.
If you have your diet and rest all set up correctly, you should experience amazing muscle growth once you reach even intermediate level numbers.
You can’t mention lifting heavy weights without mentioning the next myth.
Beginners workout myth no.4
“Screw form, what matters is that you’re lifting heavy.”
When lifting heavy weights you need to have your form dialed in as much as possible.
When starting out spend quite some time reading and watching videos about how each exercise should be performed. Youtube is a great resource for watching videos about how to perform exercises correctly.
It’s especially important that you get accustomed to the squat and deadlifting technique. Use light weights to get into the groove first and then progress forward by using heavier weights.
I had to learn the importance of good form the hard way.
4 years ago I was doing a set of bench press to failure. Since I was stupid enough to go to muscular failure, without any spotter near me or safety pins that could catch the weight, I suffered a muscle injury that took 3 years to fully heal.
If you think that you won’t be able to complete the last rep in good form then don’t do it. Taking sets to extreme muscle failure will only worsen your lifting technique, which could potentialy lead to a muscle injury.
Remember that being able to train is a privilege.
Beginners Workout myth no. 5
“In order to get a six pack, you need to do a lot of crunches.”
If you want to build your abdominal musculature then doing endless sets of crunches is a complete waste of your time.
You get a visible six-pack by first building some ab muscles and then shedding the abdominal fat that’s covering the muscles. Doing direct ab work won’t help you get rid of abdominal fat nor will it help you to build up your abdominal musculature.
What I’m going to tell you now is going to probably save you hundreds of hours in the gym.
A simple routine that focuses on deadlift, squats and other compound exercises will go a long way to developing that elusive six-pack.
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Beginners Workout myth no. 6
“Dude check out the latest issue of Muscular Development! Can’t wait to try ’s workout … man I’m going to get freakishly big!”
A lot of beginners believe that if they follow the training programs of their favourite professional bodybuilders (found in most health magazines), they will get big like them.
Here’s a truth bomb for you … you’ll never likely get as big as the pro guys.
Why, I hear you say?
Well first of all, they have insane amounts of discipline, secondly they’re are genetic freaks and last but not least, a lot of them (if not all of them) are using steroids to reach their ultimate physiques.
For the above reasons professionals are able to thrive on routines, that for a normal guy would result in an overtraining kamikaze.
If you’re serious about building a great physique, then one of your top priorities should be to find out what kind of training works best for you. Switching routines every two weeks won’t allow you to figure this out.
Start by choosing a workout routine that works your whole body and stick to it for a minimum of 3 months. Simple routines done over a reasonable periods of time will get you far. The only condition is that you must be willing to put in the effort.
Beginners Workout myth no. 7
“Bodyweight exercises will get you far more bigger than deadlifts and squats ever will.”
Doing bodyweight exercises like push ups, chins and dips just with your body weight, will only increase your endurance after a certain number of reps is done.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing only bodyweight exercises, you’ll probably have hard times getting the physique of your dreams.
You get stronger and bigger by increasing the weight you lift every workout. If you’re doing pull-ups, instead of increasing the number of reps you do, try lowering the number of reps and increase the weight you’re lifting. For chins, just stick a dumbbell between your legs for additional resistance.
While doing 30 pullups in one go is sure an impressive feat, it can’t be compared to you being able to deadlift 500 lbs.
I hope this article helped you get rid of some common bodybuilding myths. In case you know of some other myths I forgot to mention in this article, please mention them in the comment section.
If you enjoyed this article, you’re going to love this!
>> Get Your FREE 12 Part Muscle Building Course for Hardgainers
We all make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. But lucky for you, I’m here to make sure you do NOT make the same mistakes I did when I started working out. – Rob Gronkowski
The Main Reason Why Many Beginners Stay Beginners Forever
As a beginner lifter trying to reach your goals, your training schedule can get super chaotic very fast, especially if you don’t know where to start or how to establish a proper foundation.
The problem is in that most beginners are usually very excited and eager to see quick results and at the same time they’re constantly bombarded by fad articles in fitness magazines and now, more than ever, Fake-Natty YouTubers which inevitably leads to unrealistic standards and goals. As a result, a lot of you become frustrated by the lack of their results and desperately try to turn the tables by experimenting with a NEW PROGRAM or a new muscle-building “secret routine” every week, and finally they end up quitting fitness altogether just because they didn’t have the right tools and knowledge to begin with.
1. Get Your “Compound” On!
When you step into the weight room for the first time, there are just too many options to choose from and it can become very overwhelming. Barbells, dumbbells, machines, bodyweight exercises, bands, cables the list goes on.
But the weight room doesn’t have to be intimidating. As a beginner, you just need to focus on building a strong foundation, grow your major muscle groups, strengthen your tendons and connective tissue and increase your work capacity over time. Now, the best way to do all that is simple and it’s by utilizing compound movements in your routines.
If you’re unfamiliar with this term, compound movements are exercises that train more than one muscle group at the same time and are also known as multi-joint exercises. For example, an exercise like a triceps kickback will only isolate and work your triceps during a set. But an exercise like a barbell bench press will train the entire chest, triceps and shoulders at the same time during a single set. So, as you can already see, compound movements will build more overall strength and muscle mass much faster than isolation exercises. They can also help prevent asymmetries and muscle imbalances as well.
Now having said that, you also need to understand that the number one prerequisite for muscle-building is progressive overload, which is a fancy way of saying “making progress in the weight room”. This can be done by either increasing the resistance, increasing sets or reps, or decreasing rest intervals between sets. However, you WILL NOT be able to do any of these things if you do not STICK to a program for at least 6 to 8 weeks. This is because if you start changing your program week to week, you’re always doing something new and your body has no time to adapt and grow. Therefore, it’s smart to generally follow a program until you stop making progress with it and that could be 3 months, 4 months or even up to a year.
2. Cheating Is For Losers!
You might have come across huge lifters in the gym lifting insane amounts of weights with sloppy form, thinking that this is what you should be doing. WRONG. You think you can mimic those guys and you think you can get away with it. Then after a few weeks, you either get injured or you see NO progress at all so you end up switching to another bound-to-fail technique or just quit.
Listen, when you’re a beginner, you do NOT need advanced weightlifting techniques yet. Drop sets, cheating sets and super sets are all advanced lifting tools and they’re used by advanced lifters to bust through plateaus. But when a beginner tries these techniques, their body will not be able to handle them just yet which either leads to an injury, or much slower progress.
What you need to do as a beginner is to stick to the BASICS and this means applying proper form and full range of motion to every single exercise. This will allow you to establish a solid foundation, build your mind-muscle connection and most importantly, it will ensure that you do not get injured. Remember…whatever range of motion you’re not training in, you’ll be weak in! Master proper form first, and then we can talk about more advanced techniques that will take your physique to the next level!
3. Rest Is NOT Just For Losers!
The third thing every beginner should know, and honestly it probably should’ve been NUMBER 1, is don’t underestimate rest days! This is because most people think that they’re growing when they’re in the gym but the fact is that your body is only growing when it’s repairing itself on rest days.
Also, as a beginner your body may not be able to recover from continuous abuse which means you really shouldn’t work out every day. Sometimes LESS IS MORE. Try to rest at least 1 to 3 times per week and don’t feel bad if you skip a gym day, because it’s probably going to do more good than harm.
If you are sore all over, it’s generally a good idea to skip the gym for a couple of days. In the grand scheme of things, it will help you rather than impede your progress.
4. Eating Right Is More Important Than Lifting!
Now OK, yes, as a beginner it should be very easy to see gains because your body has never been trained before. But that doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want and get away with it.
And it goes much deeper than just calories and macros. You have to consider vitamins and minerals as well which is why JUNK FOOD doesn’t equal more gains during a bulk. Eating McDonalds every day might help you get enough calories and protein for the day, but it’s not quality food. For NATURAL Athletes, eating junk will make you look like junk. Period.
Also, as a beginner you don’t need a lot supplements. Before you start spending loads of money on supplements, get that meal plan straight first. Use, but don’t abuse! Enhance your meal plan with supplements but don’t depend on them to replace your crappy eating.
5. Get Your Mind Right
To put it simply, you need to BE PATIENT. As a natural beginner athlete, you can expect to put on about 20 – 25lbs of muscle in your first year as long you’ve optimized your training, eating and resting.
But the problem is that most of us are very impatient and if we don’t get huge after 2 months of training we think there’s a problem… Gains take time, plain and simple!
There’s a process involved when building muscle and strength and it’s a consistent cycle of train, recover, and grow. Also, since you can only grow muscle in the 24 – 48 hour window after a training session, you can imagine it takes time to start seeing gains. But once you do, you know you’re doing things right.
It’s natural to be confused when you’re just starting out. The most important thing you need to do is have a game-plan, stick with it and as always…get your mind right.
Want to build muscle like this guy?
(Leopard print unitard optional but encouraged)
In this guide, we’ll provide step by step instruction that will help you start building muscle immediately! Like, today!
- How do you build muscle?
- What’s a sample routine for muscle training?
- How many sets and reps should I do?
- Muscle training weightlifting tips.
- What’s the proper diet to gain muscle? (which supplements)
- Calculating calorie consumption to build muscle and strength.
- Will I get too bulky lifting weights?
- Can you lose weight and gain muscle at the same time?
- Rest days for building muscle and strength.
That may seem like a lot of topics to cover. DON’T PANIC!
Because gaining muscle and strength really comes down to three things.
If you’re looking to start building muscle, getting bigger, and becoming stronger, these are the things you need to do:
- Lift heavy things
- Eat a diet based on your goals
- Get enough rest
I realize doing those three things is much easier said than done – I struggled with progress for a decade and know exactly what you’re going through if you’re feeling unsure.
You probably don’t have years to make the mistakes that I did, and you just want to start getting results today. In addition to the free resources below, we also offer 1-on-1 Online Coaching, where you’ll get personalized instruction for your body type and goals, and professional accountability from a Coach on Team Nerd Fitness!
But enough of that, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to get started with Strength Training!
How do you build muscle and Strength? Lift Heavy Things
If you are going to build muscle, you’re going to need to lift heavy things.
This means you’ll most likely need access to a gym with a great free-weight section.
Body weight exercises can be fantastic for weight loss and keeping the muscle you already have, but if you’re serious about weight training you’ll need a gym with a squat rack, bench, barbells, and a spot to do pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips to be most efficient.
Got access to a decent gym? Good, now we can started.
Because we’re looking to create functional strength and size, we’ll be doing lots of full-body routines with compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once.
They’re more efficient, they create solid growth and stimulation, and they will keep you safe. Why is that?
Well, when you spend all of your time doing stupid isolation exercises on weight machines (ugh), you’re only working those specific muscles and not working any of your stabilizer muscles (because the machine is doing all of the stabilization work). On the other hand, when you do compound exercises like barbell squats, you work pretty much EVERY muscle in your body, setting yourself up to be strong and injury free.
Stay away from machines, focus on dumbbells and barbell exercises.
If you’re going to do a full-body routine each workout (which is what I would recommend for ANY beginner), each routine can have one leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and a core exercise:
- Leg Exercises: Squats, Deadlifts, or Lunges
- Push Exercises: Bench Press, Overhead Press, or Dips
- Pull Exercises: Inverted Rows, Pull Ups, or Chin Ups
- Core Exercises: Reverse Crunches, Hanging Knee Raises, or Planks
That’s IT. Don’t worry about adding in any ridiculous machine shoulder shrugs, iso-chest flys, preacher bicep curls, calf-raises, whatever. Learn these few exercises, get really good at them, and your entire body will get stronger and bigger. Focus each week on adding more weight to each exercise.
For example, from one week to the next you could do:
- Week 1 Barbell Squat: 3 sets of 5 at 150 lbs.
- Week 2 Barbell Squat: 3 sets of 5 at 155 lbs.
If you do that, you’ve gotten stronger. Then, repeat next week. Eat right, and you’ll get bigger too.
what’s a sample routine for building muscle?
Using the principles I’ve laid out in my “how to build a workout routine” article, here’s a three day routine I’ve created for myself recently:
- Monday: Squats, Benchpress, Wide Grip Pull Ups, Planks
- Wednesday: Deadlift, Overhead Press, Inverted Rows, Hanging Knee Raises
- Friday: Weighted Lunges, Weighted Dips, Weighted Chin Ups, Reverse Crunches.
Each day has a leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and some core work.
While it’s possible to build out the perfect routine on your own, many of our Rebels end up spending hours and hours building something custom – only to realize it isn’t what they need (or isn’t effective) weeks and months later for their goals.
For people who want to avoid that altogether, we built the solution – our uber-popular 1-on-1 Nerd Fitness coaching program pairs you with your own Nerd Fitness Coach who will get to know you, your goals, and your lifestyle, and handcraft a workout plan that’s specific to not only your body, but also to your schedule and life. Click on the image below to schedule a call with our team to see if we’re a good fit for each other!
How many sets and reps should I do?
We have a MASSIVE article on the exact number of sets and reps you should focus on based on your goals, but you can follow the basics here.
- If you’re just interested in getting stronger, you can do: 3-5 sets of 5 reps, with a focus on lifting heavier and heavier each week.
- If you’re looking to add more size along with strength, mix up your rep ranges. Sets of 5 reps will build compact explosive strength, while sets of 6-12 reps will build more size but less concentrated strength.
If you get bored, want to change things up, or you’re looking to bust through a plateau, you can do the following:
- This week, I might do 3 sets of 5 reps for each exercise (other than the core exercises), adding enough weight to each exercise so that it’s incredibly taxing.
- Next week, I’ll do four sets for each exercise, adding weight each time and doing less reps. For example, I’ll do an overhead press in the following sequence:
- 100 pounds: 12 reps
- 105 pounds: 10 reps
- 110 pounds: 8 reps
- 115 pounds: 6 reps
The good news is that no matter which path you take (pure strength, size, or a mix of both), as long as you are adding weight each week – and eating enough – you WILL be getting stronger.
ANY path will work, provided you are progressively overloading your muscles with an increased challenge!
So if you do 5 sets of 5 squats at 140 pounds this week, aim for 5 sets of 5 of 145 pounds next week. Or 3 sets of 10 at 100 pounds, then next week try for 3 sets of 10 at 105 pounds.
Get stronger, which is 20% of the puzzle. The other 80% is nutrition (which I cover later)!
As I said before, if you want even more info, you can head to our article “Determining the Correct Number of Reps and Sets” for a deep dive into the subject.
Any other Muscle Training and weight-lifting tips?
Warm-up before exercising – don’t walk into a gym, slap 45-pound plates on the bar, and then start your routine.
Get your heart rate up and muscles warm first by doing a dynamic warm-up of jumping jacks, lunges, bodyweight squats, hip raises, push-ups, leg swings, jumps, etc.\
After that, always start with doing a set or two of lifting JUST THE BAR. Only then should you start adding weight for some warm-up sets before moving into your real sets.
Have focused form – if you’re doing a bodyweight squat incorrectly, you might develop bad habits.
However, if you do a barbell squat incorrectly with 405 pounds on your shoulders, you could do some serious damage. If you’re just starting out, check your ego at the door: start with a VERY light weight and make sure you are doing the exercise properly.
There is NO SHAME in starting with just the bar. You can always add more weight next week if this week is too easy.
Stimulate, don’t annihilate – I try to always have one more rep left when I finish a set.
Some trainers will preach working your muscles to annihilation, but I think that’s just asking for an injury, poor form, and beyond-sore muscles.
Your muscles get built while resting, not in the gym, so don’t worry about destroying them completely each day you step in the gym – it’s not worth it.
Change up the time between sets – if you’re doing 3 sets of 5 reps of a really heavy weight, it’s okay to wait 3-5 minutes between sets – you’re focusing on pure strength here.
If you’re doing sets in the 8-12 range, try to keep the time between sets around a minute or so. This will affect your muscles in different ways.
Learn all about sets and rep ranges.
Just be consistent between sets and when doing the same workout between weeks to track your progress.
Don’t overdo it – More does not mean better in weightlifting. You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym, you don’t need to do 15 different kinds of chest exercises.
My routines last no longer than 45 minutes, I only do three or four sets (after warm up sets) for each exercise, and it’s enough to stimulate muscle growth.
Three routines a week is plenty too – you shouldn’t lift every day, as you need to give your muscles time to regrow bigger – remember muscles are made in the kitchen!
Less is often more – just make your routines really intense and exhausting.
Write down everything – Keep a training journal, and write down exactly how many sets and reps you did for every exercise.
That way, you can compare how you did this time with how you did last time. You’ll know how much more you need to lift this week to make sure you’re stronger than last week.
Follow a routine, have a plan. The best thing you can do is have a plan to follow and stick with it! We provide a free bodyweight routine, and a comprehensive gym training routine to get you started with strength training in our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. Grab your guide when you sign up in the box below:
Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Proper diet to gain muscle (and which Supplements)
If you’re skinny and trying to bulk up, this will be 90% of the battle.
If you’ve been lifting weights for a while “but can’t seem to gain weight,” then you are not eating enough – it’s that simple.
I thought I was one of those people who just could never gain weight…and then I learned it was all diet, started eating 4,000 calories a day, and I put on 18 pounds in 30 days.
Yeah, I wanted to throw up from always eating along with three Muscle Milk shakes a day, but it worked.
Looking back I would have done things differently (so many calories and so much sugar/carbs), but after 6 years of exercising without putting on any weight, it was great to see so much progress in such a short period of time.
4,000 calories sounds freaking insane right? I know. It makes eating a full-time job, as you’re always either cooking, eating, or cleaning up after yourself.
But if you really want to get bigger and you’re struggling to do so, then all of your effort is going to have to go into eating more, eating healthier, and eating ALL THE TIME.
I’ve since changed my strategies and gotten much more calculated in my approach. It’s how I (jokingly) went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.
Here are a few different techniques for weight gain:
PATH #1: Eat a lot of whatever – this was my first plan years ago: it’s cheapest, the fastest, but probably the least healthy.
Just make sure you get 200+ grams of protein a day and 3,500+ calories in any way that you can: pasta, rice, pizza, milk, hamburgers, chicken, protein shakes, muscle milk shakes, whatever. This is how I went from 162-180 pounds in 30 days. I’m not proud of how I ate, but it produced results and I remained healthy and strong.
PATH #2: Eat a lot of “healthy” stuff – I did this once and put on about 10 pounds in 30 days. Lots of:
- Brown rice
- My home-made big-ass shake
- Almond butter sandwiches on whole-grain wheat bread
Still not optimal, but it works and is better for your insides than the previous method. Still relatively cheap, as tubs of oats, brown rice, and bread are inexpensive and can add on a lot of calories quickly.
PATH #3: Eat Paleo – I’ve tried this strategy too, and despite my best efforts to GAIN weight I managed to lose five pounds (all of which was fat).
It’s certainly possible to gain weight on the paleo diet (try adding in three big-ass Primal Shakes per day), but it is tricky and very expensive to get 4,000 calories of paleo-approved food daily. LOTS of nuts, eggs, sweet potatoes, shots of olive oil, and yams along with tons of chicken, grass-fed beef, fruit, and veggies.
PATH #4: GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) – Obviously this method will only work if you’re not lactose intolerant.
Oh, and it has to be whole milk. You’ll definitely put on some fat, but you’ll build muscle and get really strong quickly – and then you’ll adjust the diet to thin out.
I’ve attempted this diet occasionally, as whole milk is certainly a fast path to tons of carbs, fat, protein and calories. Be prepared for your stomach and body to constantly feel bloated. Note: you can adjust the amount of milk you consume daily based on how your body responds.
“Which Supplements Should I Take to Build Muscle Quickly?”
As we lay out in our Nerd Fitness Supplement Guide, most supplements are a waste of money and completely unnecessary for building muscle.
However, there are two supplements that CAN BE helpful in building muscle quickly:
- Protein Shakes: If you are struggling to hit your protein and calorie intake goals for the day, adding in a high-calorie protein shake can be a game-changer.
- Creatine Supplements: Creatine helps your muscles retain water and can improve your performance, allowing you to push harder, for longer, in the gym.
Are you vegan and trying to build muscle? Read our full article on how to go plant-based properly!
How many calories should I eat to build muscle?
That’s going to depend on your situation – your age, how much you weigh now, how much you want to weigh, and how fast your metabolism is. For some, just 2,500 calories and strength training will be enough to build muscle.
For others, you might need to eat 4,000+ calories in order to put on weight. The only way to find out is to track your normal calorie intake for a few days, and then start adding on 500 extra calories per day for a week or two and see if you notice any changes.
Want a rough idea of how many calories you should be eating?
Head right here for our calorie requirement calculator.
Bottom line: If you don’t see any change, then you need to eat more.
- Yes, it will feel excessive.
- Yes, you will feel full all the time.
- Yes, it’s a pain in the ass and expensive.
But if you really want to be bigger, then you are going to need to really dedicate yourself in the kitchen.
Unless you’re a genetic mutant, it’s incredibly tough to build muscle and strength without overloading your system with calories and nutrients.
Just keep eating.
Won’t all of this eating make me fat? I don’t want to get bulky.
I get this question all the time in emails, usually from guys who are 6 feet tall and 130 pounds.
Don’t worry, if you can’t gain weight now, putting on extra weight is going to be great for you.
Yes, you will put on SOME fat along with the muscle you’re building if you’re running a calorie surplus. This is why picking the right amount of calories per day is important.
If you can build muscle at 3,000 calories, but you’re eating 4,000 calories, you’ll put on a pound or two of fat per week along with your muscle.
However, if you need to eat 4,000 calories to build muscle and you’re only eating 3,000, you won’t see any changes.
Everybody is different, so you need to experiment and find out what works best for you.
Once you get to your desired weight (actually, aim for about 10-15 pounds heavier than your goal weight), you can scale back the calories, add in some extra sprints to the end of your workout, and keep lifting heavy – the muscle will remain, the fat will disappear, and you’ll be left with the body you want.
I’m not skinny, I need to LOSE weight – what’s different for me?
You can actually build muscle and lose body fat at the same time.
You just have to be careful about how you do it.
We cover the subject in depth in the post, “Can You Lose Weight and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?”
This gist goes like this:
If you are eating enough protein, and have decent fat stores to pull from for energy needs, you can build muscle even while in a caloric deficit.
As long as you are resting (next section) and strength training (previous section), you can shed body fat while still putting on muscle.
Now, this only works if you have plenty of fat stores to pull form. Once you start to lean out a little, you’ll likely have to increase your calories to start putting on more muscle.
I recently added some strength (and muscle) while losing 22 pounds in 6 months.
Just remember, you can build muscle while losing weight if you:
- Sustain a caloric deficit
- Lift heavy
- Prioritize protein
Let’s talk about that last one for a bit.
Rest days for building muscle and strength
If you’re skinny and trying to bulk up and build muscle, avoid cardio like the plague (also avoid the plague).
Why? Take a look at the best marathon runners in the world, and compare their physique to somebody like Usain Bolt, the best sprinter in the world – tons of muscle, power, and a body to envy.
There’s nothing wrong with EITHER body – we’re all awesome and are special and blah blah blah.
But you’re reading an article about how to build muscle fast, right? So focus all of your effort on building muscle!
You want all the calories you’re consuming to go towards “building muscle,” and not “fuel my run.”
I will admit that I’m biased against chronic cardio, but mostly because it bores me!
You can be far more effective when you focused on getting stronger and only do ‘cardio’ on things you enjoy – after all, your success will largely depend on your nutrition, NOT your cardio!
I spend three days a week in the gym, with each workout clocking in at 45 minutes.
I go for long walks on my off days along with a day of sprints to stay active, but I know that my muscles get built while I’m resting, not when I’m working out.
I really focus in on my workouts to make them as exhausting as possible, and then I give my body ample time to recover (while eating enough calories to produce a surplus).
If you’re lifting heavy, and eating enough, make sure you’re also getting enough sleep! 5-6 hours a night isn’t going to cut it – you need to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal muscle-building. Take naps too if you have the opportunity.
Sleep needs to become a priority.
If you’re a big guy/girl trying to slim down, a little extra cardio might speed up your fat loss but if you’re not eating correctly, it might result in losing some of the muscle you already have.
Don’t worry about going for 10 mile runs on your off days – do 20-30 minutes of intervals or go run hill sprints in your park. The weight will come off more slowly, but you’ll only be losing fat, not fat AND muscle.
Once you hit your goal weight and the target amount of muscle mass, I’d recommend adding back in some cardio for your overall conditioning, but keep it varied (sprints and intervals). The focus is to keep building explosive muscle and not long, slow, boring muscle.
If you love going for long runs and aren’t going to give that up, I’m not gonna stop you. Just know that the long hours of cardio will severely inhibit your progress on building strength and size.
Get Started Building Muscle Today
This is a basic overview to get ya started. It really boils down to a few major things: lift heavy, eat lots of good food, and rest. Simple to understand, tough to implement.
Trust me, I know – I’ve been battling this for the past decade.
If you made it this far, and you want more specific instruction, or have more questions about strength training and bulking up, sign up for our email list in the box below.
I’ll send you two free resources that will help you reach your goals: our massive Strength Training 101 guide and a Skinny Guy Bulk Up Cheat Sheet and Shopping List.
Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
So did I miss anything:
Do we have any muscle building success stories?
People who are skinny struggling to bulk up?
Big guys who lost weight and got stronger while lifting weights?
Post your questions in the comments and I’ll go ahead and answer them.
Let’s hear your strength and muscle stories!
PS – If you made it this far, and you are tired of not getting results, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. No more guesswork, no wondering if you’re doing exercises correctly – you’ll get expert guidance and accountability from a professional on Team Nerd Fitness who gets to know you better than you know yourself!
Sound good? Head over to our Coaching page and schedule a free call with our team to see if it’s right for you!
PPS: Be sure to check out the rest of Strength Training 101 series:
- Strength Training 101
- Strength Training 101: Equipment
- Strength Training 101: Finding the Right Gym
- Strength Training 101: Where do I start?
- Strength Training 101: How much weight should I be lifting?
- Strength Training 101: Inverted Rows
- Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly
- Strength Training 101: The Overhead Press
- Strength Training 101: The Deadlift
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