If you’re on a mission to build lean muscle mass, and you take your questions to Coach Google, you’re going to turn up a lot of information.
As in an estimated 5 million results on “how to build lean muscle.” That’s a lot of information to sift through, and I don’t recommend trying to.
You’ve got better things to do with your time, like prep your meals, eat, work out, eat, cardio, eat, rest, eat.
The truth is, there’s a lot of sound advice out there about how to build lean muscle. Which means there’s more than one way to go about it.
The problem with that is when you’re just starting out, it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t to build lean muscle.
If you’re randomly trying to follow a strategy to build lean muscle, and don’t see immediate results, there’s a tendency to jump from one thing to the next, instead of sticking to a plan.
After helping thousands of people work through my customized 8-week and 12-week plans, and get results, (always inspired by the progress pics people share in my private Facebook group) there’s a few factors you can count on to build lean muscle.
Want to know what it takes? Here are the five best strategies to help you build lean muscle:
1. Train 5 to 6 Days a Week
You can get by on training just three days a week, preserve the muscle mass you already have, and stay in shape. But if you want to level up and build lean muscle, increasing the number of days you hit the gym can help.
During peak training, some pro bodybuilders lift twice a day. But you don’t have to take it that far to build lean muscle. Most of us don’t have that kind of time in our schedule.
Aim for training 5 to 6 days a week to maximize hypertrophy. Research shows that increasing frequency and volume, and training each muscle group at least twice a week, produces the best results.
2. Vary Rep Ranges
How many reps should you do to build lean muscle? 6 to 12 reps per set is the standard for building lean muscle, also called hypertrophy.
But that doesn’t mean every exercise, and every set in your program should stick to this rep range.
In fact, research shows that varying rep range can make a difference in metabolic stress to stimulate gains in strength and lean muscle mass.
In a University of Florida study, researchers found that low-volume training (4 sets per exercise, 3 to 5 reps, and up to 3 minutes of rest between sets), produced greater gains in upper body strength and muscle growth in 8 weeks, than hitting every exercise with 10 to 12 reps.
But a low-volume-only training plan isn’t the answer, either.
It’s why my training plans typically include a mix of rep rangers per workout.
3. Focus on Compound Movements
If you had an easy way to compare every training plan ever created to build lean muscle, here’s something the most effective ones all have in common: Compound lifts.
Those are multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, and other push-pull exercises.
Compounds lifts generate greater muscle activation, cause more metabolic stress, and stimulate more muscle growth, than any other form of exercise.
Ever wonder why you feel a little like you’ve been beat up after leg day?
If it includes squats, deadlifts, leg press, and lunges, you’re doing some serious muscle damage. And you can expect some serious growth, lean muscle gains, and improvements in muscular strength and endurance, when you train this way.
4. Eat More Protein
The ideal amount of protein to build lean muscle mass: 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim to consume about 150 grams of protein a day.
In a recent study, researchers put a group of overweight men on a high-protein diet for four weeks. They trained six days a week, lifting weights, and doing high-intensity interval training. Another group performed the same workouts, but followed a low-protein diet.
Here’s what happened: The group on a high-protein diet gained about 2.5 pounds of lean muscle mass, even on a calorie-restricted diet. They also lost an average of 10.5 pounds, about 2.5 pounds more than the low-protein group.
Want to build lean muscle? Hit your daily protein goal.
5. Reduce Stress
If you love going to the gym and want to build lean muscle fast, it’s easy to think more is better. And if you’re trying to stack intense training on top of work, family matters, school, and everything else you have to do, you have to be careful of one thing.
Too much stress.
Research shows that stress has a negative effect on physical activity, increases cortisol levels, interferes with protein synthesis, and prevents muscle growth. That’s hardly a recipe to build lean muscle mass.
So what can you do about it? Find healthy ways to keep stress under control, like:
- Take 1 or 2 rest days a week, where you don’t train hard, or maybe don’t train at all.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Say “no” more often, instead of putting more things on your to-do list.
- Try yoga, meditation, journaling, or breathing techniques.
- Laugh more.
Shred Fat. Build Lean Muscle
If that’s your goal, hit the gym, get your diet right, and leave room in your schedule for a little R&R. And if you need help figuring out a plan to make it work, check this out.
- Schoenfeld, B.J. (2016). Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. From:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172
- Mangine, G., et al. (2015). The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiological Reports. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562558
- Hwang-Bo, K., et al. (2013). A study of the effect of the compound physical activity therapy on muscular strength in obese women. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820232/
- Longland, T., et al. (2016). Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Nutrition. From: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/103/3/738.
- Varvogli, L., et al. (2011). Stress management techniques: Evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health. Health Science Journal. From: http://www.hsj.gr/medicine/stress-management-techniques-evidencebased-procedures-that-reduce-stress-and-promote-health.php?aid=3429