Not everyone who hires a personal trainer is looking to lose weight! Sometimes people seek out professional training in order to put on muscle. Gaining weight by adding muscle is a good goal if you think you’re too skinny, or if you’re happy with your weight but you feel flabby. Here are the basics of how to put on muscle:
To put on muscle, you have to train with weights
This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people think that doing cardio (like jogging on the treadmill or using the elliptical trainer) will build muscles in their legs. Cardio exercise is not difficult enough to stimulate muscle growth. You can’t put on muscle unless you stress your muscles enough to stimulate growth. To do this, you have to do strength training workouts with weights.
Focus on basic compound exercises in the gym
Compound exercises are multi-joint strength training movements. To put on muscle, focus on the basic moves like squats, pushups or bench presses, deadlifts, rows, overhead presses, and abdominal training. Single-joint exercises like arm curls and the inner/outer thigh machines are ok to add in, but the real foundation of putting on muscle is focusing on the compound exercises in the gym.
(After you finish reading this article, check out this list of basic compound exercises for various body parts, yours free from Basics and Beyond fitness & nutrition.)
Eat often, and eat enough protein
In order to maintain a state of hypertrophy – that’s the fancy name for putting on muscle – you’ll need to eat every 3-4 hours. Keeping a steady stream of nutrition (and calories) coming into your body is essential for gaining muscle.
Every time you eat, you should consume some protein. Good sources of dietary protein for gaining muscle are:
- Whey: Use a hormone-free when protein without added sugars or artificial flavors. This is the whey protein I keep on the shelf for personal training clients: https://amzn.to/2kxtMNu
- Eggs: Eat the yolks too — they have lots of nutrients. I suggest pasture-raised eggs if you can get them.
- Lean meats: Organic or hormone-free is best.
- Fish: Wild-caught, not farmed.
- Poultry: Organic, or raised without hormones and antibiotics
- Cottage cheese: Full fat is best if you’re looking to gain weight
The minimum daily amount of protein that you need to put on muscle is about half your bodyweight in grams of protein. So if you weigh 150 lbs now, you should aim for at least 75 grams of protein each day. Maximum protein intake is about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Here’s an interview I did for Muscle & Fitness magazine about how much protein you need.
To gain muscle, skip the cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is not conducive to gaining muscle. You’ll burn valuable calories and tax your recovery that is needed for putting on muscle. Stick to lifting weights, and if you need some activity outside the weight room, go for a hike.
How often should you work out?
If you’re looking to put on muscle, you should be in the weight room 3 or 4 days per week. Beginners should do a full-body workout three times per week that consists of about 18 total sets of work. Here’s an example of a simple, full-body workout that you can do on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays:
- Dumbbell Chest Press
- Cable Row
- Romanian Deadlift
- Overhead Press
Do 3 sets each, at a level of difficulty that allows you to complete 8-10 reps.
After you’ve made some muscle gains, you can increase the number of sets you do for each body part, and upgrade your workouts to a split routine.
Post-workout shakes are a good tool for gaining muscle
After your workout, drink a protein shake that consists of two scoops of whey protein mixed with a cup or two of vegetable juice or milk. You can juice your own, or you can buy vegetable juice like Bolthouse Farms, Naked, or low-sodium V8. Stay away from sports drinks like gatorade — they are typically loaded with chemicals and unhealthy sugars.
Give yourself enough recovery time to gain muscle
Recovery time — when you’re sleeping or resting — is when your body puts on muscle. The workouts are just a stimulus for muscle growth. The actual muscle building happens while you’re sleeping, using what you’ve eaten.
You must give yourself adequate recovery time in between workouts (typically at least 48 hours) in order to gain muscle. If you train muscles too often, they do not have time to recover, and you will not make the gains you deserve from your hard work in the gym!
Track your nutrition
If you’re having trouble gaining weight, you need to track your calories, protein, and meal timing with a simple food journal. Get some numbers to give yourself a reality check. If you’re not gaining weight, try increasing your calories 15%. See the protein intake notes above. Consider using some nutrition supplements for muscle growth.
A personal trainer can help you put on muscle faster than you can do it alone! If you want help with a program to put on muscle, or even if you just want a few free tips, contact Basics and Beyond, and we’ll get back to you right away!