It is hard to build the kind of muscle that gets noticed on the street, in the office, or, hell, by your partner. It takes intention, planning, and hard work. The best functional strength training programs, after all, tend to not have an effect for weeks. If you’re looking for something more specific — and difficult — like getting big arms — you’re going to have to plan that much further in advance.
But what if you just need to build muscle fast? Whether it’s to look good for your college roommate’s BBQ pool party in a few weeks or just trying to jumpstart your strength training , there are a few tips and tricks to expedite the process. We’re not saying you’ll be looking super fit come next Saturday’s party or that you’ll be moving weights like your gym rats friend, but, hey, it’s a start.
Eat More, Not Less
It seems counterintuitive, but if you’re looking to build muscle, you need to slightly overfeed your body. Not only does your body need extra calories to build new muscle, but muscle burns more calories than fat so you have to reload on energy in order to support new muscle growth. Restricting calories to lose weight will backfire big time, since your body senses “starvation mode” and respond but shutting down the production of new muscle cells.
Increase Your Volume
You’ve probably heard that the amount of weight you use is the critical component to whether or not your build muscle. But actually, increasing your number of reps is equally essential for muscle growth. Switch up your lifting routine so that you spend at least one day a week lifting 50 to 75 percent of your one rep max, for 15-20 reps per set, aiming for about 6 sets.
Eat More Meat
Or other forms of lean protein. Protein is the more important building block for new muscles, so make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. According to the American College for Sports Medicine, if you’re looking to build muscle mass, aim for .5 to .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or about 95 to 148 grams of protein daily for a 185-pound guy.
Provide New Stimulus
Known as the progressive overload principle, the fastest way to build more muscle is to force it to adapt to a stimulus above and beyond anything you’ve yet done. That means if you had been using 25-pound dumbbells for curls, you should try doing one set with 30 pounds, then progress to 35-pound weights.
Get Your 7 to 9
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health. Achieving the prescribed dose of nightly sleep plays a key role in expediting muscle development. During sleep, muscle fibers that have been mildly damaged from a tough workout (not a bad thing, that’s how growth occurs) have a chance to repair themselves, knitting back together in a tighter formation that translates to muscle strength. If you cut your zzz’s short, you’re also shortening the amount of time your muscles have to grow.
Slow It Down
The process of building new muscle, also known as hypertrophy, benefits from placing muscles under duress for an extended period of time. For this reason, rather than pumping iron as fiercely and frantically as you can, you should do at least one set of every strength-training exercise at slo-mo speed. And, yes, it burns.
While isolation moves like biceps curls are great for honing in on one specific muscle, you’ll get the biggest bang for your strength-training buck with moves that recruit multiple muscle groups at once. That’s because the more mass you can put behind a move like squats, pullups or deadlifts, the greater the load your body can bear, and the stronger you can make your muscles.
Mix It Up
Just like you need to test your muscles using progressive overload, you also need to surprise them by serving up new types of exercises every week. Your muscles, it turns out, are pretty smart. They very quickly adapt to whatever exercise you’re doing, so the next time you do it, it feels easier — because it is. Rather than fall into the same sequence of moves week after week, seek out new ones that are different enough that they stress slightly different parts of your body.