Building muscle is a goal pursued by many individuals seeking to enhance their physique, improve athletic performance, or simply promote overall health and well-being. While consistent training and proper nutrition form the foundation of muscle growth, incorporating specific strategies can significantly improve outcomes and accelerate progress.
In this article, we will explore seven science-backed tricks that can help you optimize your muscle-building journey. We should also keep in mind that there are also practices and habits that can hinder your muscle growth (e.g. lack of sleep, lack of protein, etc.)
By implementing the strategies outlined below, you can unlock your body's potential and achieve faster and more efficient muscle growth.
- Train Each Muscle Group 2-3 Times per Week
- Incorporate Supersets or Drop Sets
- Track Your Protein Intake
- Use The Right Supplements
- Drink Enough Water
- Incorporate De-Load Weeks
- Get Enough Sleep
Train Each Muscle Group 2-3 Times per Week
Training each muscle group 2-3 times per week can help maximize muscle growth (1). To achieve this, aim to hit each muscle group with enough volume, intensity, and frequency to stimulate growth. This can be done in many different formats including lower/upper body splits or total body workouts.
To effectively implement this strategy, make sure to consider the following principles:
Volume refers to the total amount of work performed in a training session, typically measured by the number of sets and repetitions.
Intensity relates to the level of effort or weight used during each exercise.
Frequency denotes how often you target a specific muscle group within a given timeframe.
Consider training each muscle group with a sufficient number of sets and reps, a high level of effort, and a frequency that allows for recovery and growth. Training each muscle group 2-3 times per week allows for progressive overload, a key driver of muscle hypertrophy, while still allowing for adequate rest and repair between sessions (2).
When designing a training program, it's important to consider individual differences and adjust training frequency and volume accordingly. Every athlete will adapt differently to a training program based on experience, genetics, and diet. A good starting point for most people is to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week, with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions (3).
Incorporate Supersets or Drop Sets
Supersets and drop sets can increase the intensity of your workout and help you push past plateaus. Incorporating these techniques can help you achieve muscle failure and improve muscle gains (4).
Supersets involve performing two exercises back-to-back with little to no rest in between. For example, you could perform a set of bench presses and immediately follow it with a set of rows. This allows you to work opposing muscle groups without rest, which can increase the intensity of the workout and stimulate muscle growth.
Drop sets involve performing a set to failure, then immediately reduce the weight and performing another set to failure. This can be repeated several times, effectively increasing the volume and intensity of the workout and time under tension. In order to avoid injuries, do not push through pain, and stop the exercise once your form starts to fail.
Both supersets and drop sets can be incorporated into any training program, but it's important to use them strategically and not overdo it. They should be used sparingly and only when needed to break through a plateau or add variety to the workout.
Track Your Protein Intake
Protein is an essential macronutrient for muscle growth, repair, and maintenance. It is the building block of muscle tissue, and without enough protein, the body cannot repair and grow new muscle tissue. In order to achieve your muscle-building goals, it is crucial to track your protein intake. Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, but keep in mind that consuming too much protein can be potentially harmful to the body (5).
Protein can be obtained from many food sources, some examples include:
- Dairy products
Additionally, protein supplements like whey protein powder can also be a convenient option for those who have difficulty meeting their protein requirements through whole foods alone. It's important to note that while protein supplements can be helpful, they should not be relied on as the sole source of protein.
Tracking your protein intake is a great way to ensure that you are consuming enough protein to support muscle growth. Keeping a food diary or using a tracking app can help you monitor your protein intake and identify areas where you may be falling short. By doing this, you can adjust your diet to meet your protein needs and achieve your muscle-building goals.
Use The Right Supplements
Supplements can be a valuable addition to your muscle-building regimen, providing support for enhanced performance, recovery, and muscle growth. However, it is important to approach supplements with intention and make informed choices based on your individual needs and goals. Not all supplements are created equal, and understanding their potential benefits and limitations can help you optimize their role in your muscle-building journey.
Creatine is a popular supplement that has been extensively studied for its potential benefits on muscle strength and mass. It works by increasing the availability of ATP, a molecule that provides energy to muscles during exercise. Several scientific studies have shown that creatine supplementation can be an effective way to improve strength and muscle mass when combined with a resistance training program (7). As a result, creatine allows our muscle cells to work harder and for longer periods of time.
Caffeine is another highly-researched and proven supplement for athletes and bodybuilders alike. The main effects of caffeine are to increase focus, decrease fatigue, and improve overall performance. This means that when you train with caffeine, you can push your muscles harder and ultimately get more exercise volume for better results. Everyone will respond to caffeine differently, so it’s important to start with small amounts and then gradually work up to the dose that gets you the most benefit.
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that has gained popularity as a dietary supplement for its potential to enhance muscle-building efforts. When consumed, beta-alanine combines with another amino acid, histidine, to form a compound called carnosine, which is abundant in skeletal muscle. Carnosine acts as a pH buffer, helping to regulate the acidity levels during intense physical activity. Because of this, beta-alanine supplementation may delay the onset of muscle fatigue, allowing you to push harder and longer during your workouts. This extended endurance can lead to increased training volume and intensity, ultimately contributing to greater muscle growth over time.
L-Citrulline an amino acid found naturally in certain foods and also available as a dietary supplement, has been recognized for its potential role in promoting muscle growth and recovery. L-citrulline plays a key role in the urea cycle, a process involved in the removal of ammonia, a byproduct of protein metabolism. By assisting in the removal of ammonia, L-citrulline helps reduce muscle fatigue and improve exercise performance. L-Citrulline acts as a precursor to L-arginine, an amino acid involved in nitric oxide (NO) production. Increased NO levels result in vasodilation, widening the blood vessels and enhancing blood flow to the muscles. This improved blood circulation can deliver essential nutrients and oxygen more efficiently to the muscles, aiding in their growth and repair. Additionally, the enhanced blood flow may contribute to a greater "pump" during workouts, which can further stimulate muscle growth. By supporting exercise performance, reducing fatigue, and optimizing nutrient delivery, L-citrulline supplementation may help individuals achieve faster muscle-building results when combined with a well-designed resistance training program.
In addition, fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have numerous health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play a crucial role in many bodily processes, including reducing inflammation, improving joint health, and supporting brain function. Studies have also shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (8).
When choosing supplements, it's important to do your research and choose those that have been scientifically proven to be effective. It's also important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
Drink Enough Water
Water is essential for many bodily functions, including muscle growth and recovery. When the body is dehydrated, muscle cells can become damaged and muscle growth can be impaired (8). Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, and more if you are engaging in intense physical activity.
Individual hydration needs may vary depending on factors such as body size, activity level, and environmental conditions. Engaging in intense physical activity, such as weightlifting or high-intensity interval training, increases the demand for water due to increased sweat loss and fluid requirements. In such cases, it is important to consume additional water to compensate for the fluid loss.
Proper hydration is not only essential for muscle growth but also plays a crucial role in overall workout performance. Dehydration can negatively impact exercise performance by causing fatigue, muscle cramps, and decreased endurance. When you are dehydrated, the body has to work harder to perform the same tasks, which can lead to decreased strength and power output. By maintaining optimal hydration levels, you can maximize your performance potential and get the most out of your workouts.
To ensure you stay adequately hydrated throughout the day, it can be helpful to establish a hydration routine. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip water regularly, even when you are not feeling thirsty. This proactive approach helps prevent dehydration before it occurs. Additionally, consider drinking water before, during, and after exercise to replenish fluid losses and support muscle recovery.
Incorporate De-Load Weeks
Overtraining can be a common pitfall for individuals striving to build muscle. When the body is subjected to excessive stress without sufficient rest and recovery, it can result in diminished gains, increased risk of injury, and even a decline in overall performance. To counteract these negative effects and promote optimal muscle growth, it is crucial to incorporate de-load weeks into your training program.
De-load weeks serve as strategic periods of reduced volume and intensity, allowing your body to recuperate and adapt to the demands of training. They are excellent for many reasons including
- Providing your muscles, joints, and nervous stem a much-needed break
- Reducing the risk of overtraining
- Reducing the risk of burnout
- Decreasing overall stress levels
Integrating de-load weeks every 4-6 weeks is a general guideline, but the specific timing may vary depending on individual factors, such as training experience, recovery capacity, and overall training goals (9). Listening to your body and monitoring your progress can help determine the frequency and duration of de-load weeks that work best for you.
During a de-load week, there are various approaches you can take to reduce the training stimulus. One option is to decrease the number of sets and repetitions performed for each exercise. Instead of pushing for maximal effort, focus on maintaining form and technique while keeping the intensity at a manageable level.
Another method is to reduce the weight lifted, allowing for lighter loads and less strain on the muscles and joints. Alternatively, you can opt for complete rest or engage in active recovery activities, such as light cardio, mobility exercises, or yoga.
The benefits of incorporating de-load weeks extend beyond injury prevention and recovery. By strategically implementing these periods of reduced intensity, you create an opportunity for supercompensation. Supercompensation refers to the body's ability to adapt and improve in response to a training stimulus during the recovery phase. By allowing adequate recovery time, you pave the way for enhanced muscle growth, strength gains, and improved performance when you resume your regular training routine.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is not only essential for overall health and well-being but also plays a critical role in muscle growth and recovery. Sleep is the time when the body undergoes important physiological processes that promote muscle repair, growth, and overall recovery from daily activities and exercise.
During sleep, the body enters a state of restorative rest, allowing for the repair and rebuilding of muscle tissue. Growth hormone, a key hormone involved in muscle growth and repair, is primarily released during deep sleep. Adequate sleep duration and quality are crucial to optimize the release of growth hormone and facilitate the muscle-building process (10).
To support muscle growth and overall health, it is recommended to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, achieving sufficient sleep can be challenging for many individuals due to various factors such as work schedules, stress, or poor sleep habits. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help improve sleep quality and quantity.
Establishing a regular sleep schedule is an effective way to regulate your body's internal clock and promote better sleep. to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This consistency helps synchronize your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Your sleep environment plays a crucial role in promoting restful sleep. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or white noise machines to create a sleep-friendly environment that minimizes disruptions.
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine can also signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Engage in calming activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Avoid stimulating activities, electronic devices, or caffeine as they can decrease your overall quality of sleep.
By prioritizing adequate sleep and implementing strategies to improve sleep quality, you provide your body with the optimal conditions for muscle growth and recovery. Getting enough sleep not only supports muscle repair and growth but also enhances overall physical and cognitive performance.
Incorporating these tips into your workout routine can help improve muscle growth and get you closer to your goals. Remember to listen to your body, stay consistent, and always consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your workout routine. Building muscle takes time and dedication, but with the right strategies and mindset, it is possible to see significant gains.
- Lasevicius T, Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Laurentino G, Tavares LD, Tricoli V. Similar Muscular Adaptations in Resistance Training Performed Two Versus Three Days Per Week. J Hum Kinet. 2019;68:135-143. Published 2019 Aug 21. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0062
- Plotkin D, Coleman M, Van Every D, et al. Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ. 2022;10:e14142. Published 2022 Sep 30. doi:10.7717/peerj.14142
- American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670
- Fink J, Schoenfeld BJ, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Effects of drop set resistance training on acute stress indicators and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018;58(5):597-605. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.17.06838-4
- Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food Funct. 2016;7(3):1251-1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h
- Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, et al. Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31(8):1147-1156. doi:10.1097/00005768-199908000-00011
- Liu Z, Luo Y, Ren J, et al. Association between fish oil supplementation and cancer risk according to fatty fish consumption: A large prospective population-based cohort study using UK Biobank. Int J Cancer. 2022;150(4):562-571. doi:10.1002/ijc.33819
- Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug;68(8):439-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x. PMID: 20646222; PMCID: PMC2908954.
- Vann CG, Haun CT, Osburn SC, et al. Molecular Differences in Skeletal Muscle After 1 Week of Active vs. Passive Recovery From High-Volume Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2021;35(8):2102-2113. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000004071
- Van Cauter E, Plat L. Physiology of growth hormone secretion during sleep. J Pediatr. 1996;128(5 Pt 2):S32-S37. doi:10.1016/s0022-3476(96)70008-2