Building muscle is often looked at as the ultimate goal of the gym-goer, which makes sense. Muscles are great! They make you look better, ease the aging process, and can protect you from injury as you get older.
But what's the best way to build muscle?
That question has puzzled many for a long time, and it's not quite as simple as "lift a bunch of heavy things," though that's not the worst idea. There's plenty of information available about obscure lifting techniques and dietary tricks that are supposedly going to help, but a straightforward set of rules is tough to come by for anyone who's not looking to go full bodybuilder.
Not anymore. Here are the basic exercise and dietary principles anyone can follow to build lean muscle.
Choose mainly compound lifts (lifts that have multiple joints moving at a time)
Compound lifts work well for muscle-building purposes because they force a large number of muscle groups to work at once, and you can typically lift heavier weights. This combination leads to more overall strength and size gains.
A few examples include squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and overhead presses.
Lift eight to 12 reps for three or four sets, most of the time
While it's true that you can build muscle lifting extremely heavy for just a couple of reps, or much lighter for 20 reps, for most people a moderate rep range seems to be the sweet spot when it comes to building lean muscle.
The eight-to-12-rep range typically means you’re using heavy enough weight to build muscle, yet it's also light enough to allow you to get in enough overall work.
Train between three and five times a week
One of the most critical aspects of muscle-building is recovery -- unfortunately, this is the aspect people most frequently overlook.
When you're trying to build muscle, you’re actively damaging muscle tissue via lifting weights, causing it to adapt by growing bigger and stronger. But in order to adapt, you've got to take time off to allow the body to recover.
Shoot for anywhere between three and five training sessions a week, and leave it at that. More isn't always better.
Incorporate interval training
Interval training is one of the most popular forms of training for people who are looking to build muscle, yet also stay lean enough to proudly shed their shirt at the pool this summer. But to many, interval training is a bit ambiguous. What exactly is interval training?
At its most basic, interval training is periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest or lighter exercise mixed in. You take resistance training and cardio, and blend the two to get a form of exercise that melts fat and builds muscle.
The good news is that it’s actually easier to start incorporating than most people think. If you're lifting weights, you're also interval training. If you're looking to turn your weight workout into a blend of muscle-building and fat-burning, the simplest thing you can do is start paying attention to how long you're resting. I typically recommend most people rest between 45 and 60 seconds between sets.
That time frame seems to be the sweet spot for giving you enough time to recover, while also keeping your heart rate high enough to torch through calories.