How to Gain Muscle: 7 Proven Beginner Tips
The only way to cross a finish line is to first find your way to the starting line. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to drag yourself to the starting line. But, in order to break through that tape at the finish line, and raise your hands in victory, you have to start somewhere.
The finish line isn’t always at the end of a race or competition. A finish line can be an image you have for your body, or a lifestyle you want to live.
If you don’t know how to get started this article is for you. This is for the dad who wants to ditch the DadBod for a ManBod. This is for the kid who just watched Pumping Iron for the first time and dreams of becoming one of the greats.
Related: Top Tips for Young Bodybuilders
This is for the girl who is tired of her weekly Zumba class and wants to hit the weights and look her best. This is for the college freshmen who just walked into his school gym for the first time and is intrigued but doesn’t know where to start.
These tips will serve as a starting point for you in your weight lifting journey. It will also remind us veterans why we started lifting and the guidelines we continue to live and preach every day.
How to Gain Muscle
Tip #1 – Set goals, both small and long term
Now I know you’ve all probably heard this preached time and time again. We’ve been hearing it since our elementary school days: the importance of setting goals. But, there’s a reason why you have, and will continue to hear about the importance of goal setting.
Setting goals is the starting line for your fitness journey. Before you join a gym or start buying random workout equipment you need to set concrete goals for yourself.
Do you want to lose fat? Do you want to put on weight? Do you want to bench press 315 before Christmas? Do you want to enter a power lifting competition? Do you want to hit 8 reps instead of 7 next week?
Whether they’re big, small, daily or monthly goals, once you’ve set them you can start building your game plan. It’s time to crush your goals, so you can move on to bigger and better goals. Think of your body as a business: In order to be successful you need to set short and long term goals and develop a path towards conquering each one.
Tip #2 – Master your form and basic lifts
Mastering the basics is a phrase that can be applied to any aspect of the sports and fitness world. If you’re a boxer you need to master your right jab or your left hook. If you’re a basketball player you need to master your jump shot. In weightlifting, mastering correct form and technique for each lift is crucial in developing overall strength and provides a foundation for all weightlifting exercises.
For example, mastering your flat barbell bench press is going to help you build an explosive chest, while teaching you the correct form and technique needed for performing other chest building exercises such as incline barbell bench press or dumbbell chest press. The same goes for mastering a dumbbell curl so you can develop your arms or mastering a back squat so you can develop your gluteus and quads.
Once you’ve mastered the basic, foundation lifts for each body part you will then feel more comfortable trying new exercises for that particular body part.
When it comes to exercise form I see this time and time again. And, if you haven’t seen it yet, I promise you will at some point.
The same person, week after week, using every muscle and fiber in their body to perform a lift well above their actual max weight with no focus on form and no focus on targeting the intended muscle group. I know it’s tough to not want to lift the heaviest weight you possibly can every single time. You just want to lift heavy stuff.
I get it. It’s fun. But, don’t let your form and the muscles you are trying to develop suffer the consequences.
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In order to master the basics, as we discussed above, you need to practice proper form during each lift. Don’t load on the weight because you saw the guy before you lift that much, or because you lifted that super heavy box that one time you were helping a friend move.
When you start lifting for the first time or are trying a new exercise, start out with a weight that’s 75-80% of your one repetition max (f you don’t know your one rep max you can calculate it here). For example, if your one rep flat bench press max is 225lbs, start your lift in the 170-180lbs range for 8-10 reps to focus on your form and the squeeze of the muscle as you come down and push up with each repetition.
Mastering your mechanics and knowing what a correct versus incorrect rep feels like will lead you towards increasing that weight and mastering new exercises.
Tip #3 – Nutrition basics are a must
Understanding the basics of nutrition is just as important as understanding the basics of weight lifting. Lifting weights without the addition of a proper nutritional regime is going to get you nowhere. Your body needs the right amount and right types of fuel to allow the weights you are lifting to transform your body.
Understanding the basics of macronutrients and micronutrients is a good place to start. The three major macronutrients your body needs in order to function properly include carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel and act as your body’s main energy source. Protein provides growth within the body, preserves lean muscle mass, and acts as a secondary energy source when your body does not have any more carbohydrates to burn. Fats also act as a source of energy and assist in your body’s growth and development.
Micronutrients are more commonly known as vitamins and minerals. They are essential for the functioning of your bodily systems.
An example of a well-balanced meal would be 4-5 oz. of chicken (protein), 1 cup of rice (carbohydrates), half an avocado (fats), and a cup of broccoli (micronutrients). Depending on your goals you may want to add more carbohydrates to your diet or more protein. If you are a vegan or vegetarian your protein sources may come from tofu or beans rather than animal products.
This brief discussion of nutrients and food examples is just a needle in the haystack of nutrition. It’s the starting point for you towards learning how a fine-tuned diet regime paired with your workout routine can produce amazing results. So, I need you to put down the half-eaten Crunchwrap Supreme in your hand at the moment (unless it’s a cheat day) and get to work.
Tip #4 – Know your supplements
It’s important to do your research before you begin shoveling pills and powders into your mouth. Just as you need to watch and learn proper technique for resistance training and understand your diet, you need to garner a basic knowledge of how supplements can play a role in reaching your goals. Certain supplements can help you push past plateaus you may have originally thought were un-reachable.
Supplementation needs to be connected to your goals. Looking to add more protein to your diet? A powdered protein can help you add an additional 25-50 grams of protein a day to your diet without having to eat another pound of chicken every day.
Now you may be asking, what protein do I take? Again, you need to focus on your goals. Do you want a protein higher in carbohydrates per serving or higher in fat? Do you want a whey protein, a casein protein, a blend of multiple proteins?
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Or, you may be a couple weeks into beginning your training and realize you need more energy to get through your workouts or want to feel a more intense pump. Do you take a pre-workout? Do you take an amino blend? What are BCAA’s? What is taurine?
These are examples of simple questions you should ask yourself when starting your voyage towards Gains-ville. Now, you don’t need to become a supplement expert or start filling out applications to go back to school to become a registered dietician, but you should develop a general understanding of what supplements you are taking, what’s in them and how they can assist you.
Tip #5 – Proper workout attire and equipment
This may seem like a moot point to some of you, but many of you first time gym-goers or fitness enthusiasts may not own proper fitness attire or have the equipment you need in reaching your goals. If you are the guy currently working out in denim jeans and a denim shirt I need you to realize right now that these two clothing items combined are only meant for rodeo’s, or for those times you are hanging out with Brett Favre.
You don’t have to have the newest workout shoes or have a matching workout outfit, but wearing proper lifting attire is going to give your body the flexibility and proper range of motion it needs when lifting weights.
Resistance training accessories can assist you depending on your lifting goals. If your main focus is on becoming a strong powerlifter, a pair of lifting shoes or wearing a flat soled shoe like Converse All-Stars can help you with your lifts. If your lower back is weak, a lifting belt can provide some needed support as you work on strengthening your lower back.
If you have weak wrists or a weak grip, lifting straps can help you grip the bar when attempting that new dead lift personal record. Even something as simple as getting a backpack or bag designated for your workout clothes and equipment can help you stay organized and focused on reaching your goals.
Just because you don’t see your triceps muscle popping out of your skin after a month of lifting does not mean it’s never going to happen.
Tip #6 – Develop a routine
When you wake up every morning you have a normal routine right? Alarm goes off, you hop in the shower, brush your teeth, and leave for work. Or, if you work from home you wake up, make some breakfast, throw on a shirt, and fire up the laptop.
Just as you have a daily morning, afternoon, or evening routine you need to insert the 60-90 minutes you have allotted for your lifting into that routine. Are you going to work out in the morning before work or in the afternoon after work? Do you have time to work out 5 days a week or only 3? Is your week too busy that you only have time to work out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?
It’s important that your lifting time becomes a part of your daily habits just like brushing your teeth. Below is a simple example of how you can split your work outs throughout the week depending on how many days you can or want to train.
3 Day Split
- Monday – Chest, Back and Legs (calves)
- Wednesday – Biceps, Triceps and Abdominals
- Friday – Shoulders and Legs (hamstrings/gluteus/quadriceps)
4 Day Split
- Monday – Chest and Legs (calves)
- Tuesday – Back and Abdominals
- Thursday – Biceps, Triceps and Abdominals
- Friday – Shoulder and Legs (hamstrings/gluteus/quadriceps)
5 Day Split
- Monday – Chest and Abdominals
- Tuesday – Back
- Thursday – Biceps and Triceps
- Friday – Shoulders and Abdominals
- Saturday – Legs (all)
Tip #7 – Be patient
Stay focused and be patient. In time, the gains will come. You see that dude in the corner with the tree trunk legs and 22 inch biceps? He didn’t get that way in a week or a couple months. He’s been working on perfecting that physique for some time now.
Just because you don’t see your triceps muscle popping out of your skin after a month of lifting does not mean it’s never going to happen. If you stay focused and stay dedicated to your lifting routine, nutrition, and supplementation I promise you your body will transform in ways you never imagined possible.
These tips are general guidelines and advice for the novice lifter. If you really want to reach your goals and get serious in the gym there’s more to it than just picking up a bar and lifting it over your head. And, it takes time learning what works best for your schedule and your body.
But, I hope after reading this you have a better understanding where to start because there is always an open spot for a new member to join the lifting family. We’ll all be waiting at the finish line for you.