Whether your goal is to get bigger and stronger, or improve power and explosiveness for sports, you want to see progress — and pronto. But building muscle efficiently requires more than just putting in time at the weight rack. Along with your weight-training regimen, diet and lifestyle choices — such as proper sleep — all play important roles. Here are some resistance training strategies to help get you started:
1. Do Multi-Joint Exercises
Resistance training is the most efficient way to build lean mass — especially if you pack your workouts with big, compound (multi-joint) moves like the squat, bench press, lunge, and pull-up. “You can certainly build muscle with all types of moves, but a strong base in multi-joint efforts, at least some of the time, is a good idea,” says Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D., interim director of the Institute of Sports Science & Medicine at Florida State University. Science agrees: Compound exercises cause the greatest increase in testosterone, a key muscle-building hormone, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut.
2. Eat More Protein
Now that you’re lifting weights, you need to consume more protein to promote muscle repair, recovery, and growth since amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are necessary to build muscle tissue.
When you’re planning your high-protein meals, know that 20 grams of protein is the optimal amount because, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, your body likely won’t use much more than 20 grams for muscle-building at any one sitting.
Around 80 grams of protein per day (or, four meals containing 20-grams of protein each) is about right for most people. If you want to calculate the optimal protein amount for you and your goals, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming a range between .5 to .9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. So, a 150-pound person would eat between 75 to 135 grams of protein per day.
Since each meal should only contain 20 grams of protein, this person could break down the 80-gram daily allowance into three, 20-gram protein meals, plus a post-workout protein drink such as Beachbody Performance Recover (which conveniently provides 20 grams of protein per serving size). If you have ambitious muscle-building goals, such as committing to Beachbody’s Body Beast program, shoot for the higher end of the 75-135 range by adding one or two additional snacks to your day, each containing 20-grams of protein, making sure you don’t go over the 135 cap. The harder you exercise, the more protein you will need to maintain and build muscle.
3. Don’t Just Lift Heavy
When you lift heavy weights, or do explosive exercises like sprinting, you target your type-II muscle fibers, which have the greatest growth potential. But studies show that type-I fibers (AKA slow twitch—the kind used in endurance activities ) also have growth potential, so don’t ignore them. Once every week or two, target them with low weight, high rep work (e.g., three to four sets of 15 or more reps per exercise). Or simply follow a Beachbody program such as Body Beast, 21-Day Fix, P90X, 22-Minute Hard Corps, or The Master’s Hammer and Chisel, which has that kind of variation built-in.
4. Get Plenty of Shut-Eye
Shoot for a minimum of seven hours a night. Getting less than that on a regular basis can cause you to rack up sleep debt, which can put the brakes on protein synthesis (AKA muscle growth) and increase protein (read: muscle) degradation, according to a study by Brazilian researchers. Plus, you won’t reap the full benefits of human growth hormone, the levels of which spike while you’re in dreamland. Have trouble sleeping? Try these natural tips on how to get good sleep tonight.
5. Lift Responsibly
You need to challenge your muscles to trigger growth, but you also need to be smart about how you go about it. If you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting too quickly, you’ll increase your risk of injury. But if you do it too slowly, you’ll shortchange your results or hit a plateau. So how do you strike a balance? Pay attention to the effort you’re exerting. If you’re lifting with perfect form, and your last few reps an exercise feel similar to your first few, you know it’s time to reach for a heavier weight.
6. Get Some Rest
Muscles grow between workouts, not during them, so make recovery a priority. In practice, that means eating more healthfully, eating more protein, and not overtraining. Take at least one to two days off per week to allow your muscles to fully recover. “Training too often or at too-high an intensity too frequently — without rest and recovery — can actually hurt your muscle-building efforts,” says Ormsbee. Your move: Take at least one to two days off per week to allow your muscles to fully recover, and maximize the effectiveness of your downtime by doing light cross training (e.g. hiking, cycling) or activities like foam rolling and yoga. If you are patient, focused, and consistent with your workouts and recovery, you will see results.