The Ultimate Guide to Building Muscle and Strength
How can you gain muscle fast?
Studies have shown that training a muscle group at least twice a week will maximize growth and increase the growth rate of the muscle (Schoenfeld, Ratamess). This is due to the fact that protein resynthesis is greatest 1-2 days after you train (Kumar). So targeting the same muscle group multiple times per week ensures longer time in protein resynthesis for that muscle causing it to grow faster.
How long does it take to build muscle?
It depends on the individual's genetics as well as training frequency and effort. But with the right training program and effort you can gain 5-15 pounds of muscle in 10-12 weeks (Hartman, Willoughby). However the more experienced you are the slower the muscle gains. You gain the most amount of muscle initially at the beginning of your training career.
The below chart shows the muscle growth over time. As you can see initially the gains are much greater and begin to taper over time (Ogasawara).
Is it hard to build muscle?
How easy or hard it is to build muscle partly is based on your own genetics and what body type you are. Mesomorphs gain muscle easily where ectomorph have trouble gaining weight and endomorphs gain fat easily. Knowing your own body type will help you find the right training program for you.
Body Type for Muscle Gain
A mesomorph has a large bone structure, large muscles and a naturally athletic physique. Mesomorphs are the best body type for bodybuilding. They find it quite easy to gain and lose weight. They are naturally strong which is the perfect platform for building muscle (Britannica).
The mesomorph body type responds the best to weight training. Gains are usually seen very quickly, especially for beginners. The downside to mesomorphs is they gain fat more easily than ectomorphs. This means they must watch their calorie intake. Usually a combination of weight training and cardio works best for mesomorphs (Britannica).
Typical Traits on a Mesomorph:
- Generally hard body
- Well defined muscles
- Rectangular shaped body
- Gains muscle easily
- Gains fat more easily than ectomorphshttps://www.britannica.com/science/mesomorph
An ectomorph is a typical skinny guy. Ecto’s have a light build with small joints and lean muscle. Usually ectomorph’s have long thin limbs with stringy muscles. Shoulders tend to be thin with little width (Britannica).
Ectomorphs find it very hard to gain weight. They have a fast metabolism which burns up calories very quickly. Ecto’s need a huge amount of calories in order to gain weight. Workouts should be short and intense focusing on big muscle groups. Supplements are definitely recommended. Ectomorphs should eat before bed to prevent muscle catabolism during the night. Generally, ectomorphs can lose fat very easily which makes cutting back to lean muscle easier for them (Britannica).
Typical Traits of an Ectomorph:
- Small “delicate” frame and bone structure
- Classic “hardgainer”
- Flat chest
- Small shoulders
- Lean muscle mass
- Finds it hard to gain weight
- Fast metabolism
The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft. Endomorphs gain fat very easily. Endo’s are usually of a shorter build with thick arms and legs. Muscles are strong, especially the upper legs. Endomorphs find they are naturally strong in leg exercises like the squat (Britannica).
When it comes to training endomorphs find it very easy to gain weight. Unfortunately, a large portion of this weight is fat not muscle. To keep fat gain to a minimum, endomorphs must always train cardio as well as weights. Usually supplements may not be needed as long as the person has a high protein intake in their diet (Britannica).
Typical traits of an Endomorph:
- Soft and round body
- Gains muscle and fat very easily
- Is generally short
- "Stocky" build
- Round physique
- Finds it hard to lose fat
- Slow metabolism
- Muscles not so well defined
Bodybuilding vs Power Lifting
Bodybuilding is focused on hypertrophy and building muscle. Power lifting is focused on solely building strength. Hypertrophy is the process of increasing the growth of muscle cells thereby increasing the size and shape of muscles. Power lifting is about increasing the amount of force your muscle can exert translating into lifting heavier weights.
Hypertrophy is focused on causing mechanical damage and metabolic fatigue to the muscle which stimulates a repair response in the muscle. Resulting in increased muscle growth. There are 2 types of muscular hypertrophy, myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.
- Growth of muscle contraction parts
- Increases Strength and Speed
- Activates contractor muscles
- Increased muscle glycogen storage
- Increases energy storage and endurance
- Activates glycogen storage in muscles
What is a bodybuilding training program?
A body building training program is a workout routine focused on building the size and physique of the muscles. It consists of a weekly weight training workout that targets the various muscle groups of the body.
Bodybuilding training programs are usually focused around the goal of either building muscle (hyptertrophy) or increasing strength. Depending on what your goal is will change the type of training program you should be on. Power lifting training programs are for increasing maximal strength. And traditional bodybuilding programs are predominantly focused on building size and increased muscle mass.
Common Bodybuilding Workout Split
Push/Pull Split: (3 days)
1 day for pushing exercises (chest, shoulders, triceps)
1 day for pulling exercises (back, biceps)
1 day legs
Body Part Split: (4 days)
1 day for chest
1 day for back
1 day for shoulders/bicep/tricep
1 day for legs
What is a good bodybuilding training program for beginners?
A beginner should choose a program that focuses on the primary muscle groups and involves compound lifts. Compound lifts involve using multiple muscle groups in the exercise which will result in increased overall growth then if you just did isolation exercises targeting 1 or 2 muscle groups.
Compound lifts also train balance within the body because smaller muscle groups are used during the primary lift. For example on Bench Press your legs and core are stabilizing the weight and your shoulders and triceps are contributing to the lift. The primary muscle group is chest but also your triceps, core, legs and shoulders are involved during the lift.
List of Compound Lifts
Main muscle group
2nd muscle group
Chest / Core
Chest / Core
Back / Core
Lats / Back
Hypertrophy Training Program
8 Week Hypertrophy Specific Training Program (HST)
Popularized by Bryan Haycock HST is a routine focused on the principals of mechanical overload, chronic stimuli, progressive load and strategic deconditioning.
This program is best for the goal of sparking muscle growth and not so much focused around building strength or endurance.
"Hypertrophy-Specific Training (HST) is an effective and safe weight training methodology based upon the application of principles universal to mammalian muscle, connective and neuro-muscular tissue biology. Setting up a HST macro cycle correctly can be a complex process, however by using the Hypertrophy Specific Training spreadsheet downloadable from this site every single variable of the entire cycle can be modified and all weights calculated for each training session."
The hypertrophy training program attached below is structured as follows:
- 8 week program
- 3 workouts per week
- All 3 compound movements per workout
- 8 accessory movements per workout
- Only 1-2 sets per movement
- Weight increases each workout
Principals of HST Training Program
1) Mechanical Load
Mechanical Load is necessary to induce muscle hypertrophy. This mechanism involves but isn’t limited to, MAPk/ERK, satellite cells, growth factors, calcium, and number of other fairly understood factors. It is incorrect to say “we don’t know how muscle grows in response to training”. The whole point of the HST book is not to discuss HST, but to present the body of research explaining how hypertrophy occurs. Then HST becomes a relatively obvious conclusion if your goal is hypertrophy.(Kleine)
2) Acute vs. Chronic Stimuli
In order for the loading to result in significant hypertrophy, the stimulus must be applied with sufficient frequency to create a new “environment”, as opposed to seemingly random and acute assaults on the mechanical integrity of the tissue. The downside of taking a week of rest every time you load a muscle is that many of the acute responses to training like increased protein synthesis, prostaglandins, IGF-1 levels, and mRNA levels all return to normal in about 36 hours. So, you spend 2 days growing and half a week in a semi-anticatabolic state returning to normal (some people call this recovery), when research shows us that recovery can take place unabated even if a the muscle is loaded again in 48 hours. So true anabolism from loading only lasts 2 days at best once the load is removed.(Kleine)
The rest of the time you are simply balancing nitrogen retention without adding to it.
3) Progressive Load
Over time, the tissue adapts and becomes resistant to the damaging effects of mechanical load. This adaptation (resistance to the stimulus) can happen in as little as 48 hours (Repeated Bout Effect or Rapid Training Effect). As this happens, hypertrophy will stop, though neural and metabolic adaptations can and may continue. As opposed to hypertrophy, the foundation for the development of strength is neuromuscular in nature. Increases in strength from resistance exercise have been attributed to several neural adaptations including altered recruitment patterns, rate coding, motor unit synchronization, reflex potentiation, prime mover antagonist activity, and prime mover agonist activity. So, aside from incremental changes in the number of contractile filaments (hypertrophy), voluntary force production (i.e. strength) is largely a matter of “activating” motor units.(Kleine)
4) Strategic Deconditioning
At this point, it is necessary to either increase the load (Progressive load), or decrease the degree of conditioning to the load (Strategic Deconditioning). The muscle is sensitive not only to the absolute load, but also to the change in load (up or down). Therefore, you can get a hypertrophic effect from increasing the load from a previous load, even if the absolute load is not maximum, assuming conditioning (resistance to exercise induced micro-damage) is not to extensive. There is a limit to the number of increments you can add to increase the load. You simply reach your maximum voluntary strength eventually. (Kleine)
Hybrid Power and Pump Training Program
4 Week P.H.A.T. Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training
Developed by Dr. Layne Norton, the PHAT workout routine blends power and hypertrophy work, making it ideal for bodybuilders looking to gain size and lifters that want to look aesthetic without being weak.
Program centered around heavy compound lifts such as squat, bench, deadlift and dumbbell press. Consists of 2 power sessions and 3 hypertrophy sessions.
There are several dozen forms of the PHAT program but the basic premise is the same. Each muscle gets worked 2x/week. The first 2 days of the week are split into upper and lower body power days. This is followed by a rest day. Then 3 days of traditional hypertrophy orientated bodybuilding training.
- Day 1: Upper Body Power
- Day 2: Lower Body Power
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy
- Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy
- Day 6: Chest and Arms Hypertrophy
- Day 7: Rest
During the first 2 days of the week you will focus on big power movements for your upper and lower body like squats, front squats, deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, and box squats for lower body. Barbell and dumbbell presses and rows as well as weighted pullups for upper body. Your goal should be to stay in the 3-5 rep range for 3-5 working sets on the compound movements (only use one power movement for lower body, presses, and pulls/rows, i.e. don’t do squats and front squats in the same workout). Make sure you rest enough in between sets to completely recover and be ready for your next heavy set. If that means you need to take 5-6 minutes between sets then so be it. The purpose of these workouts is to move maximum weight! Save short rest periods for your hypertrophy days. On your power days you need to have a POWER mentality. Move the heavy ass weight at all costs! A good way to make consistent progress is to rotate your power movements every 2-3 weeks. A few sets of assistance exercises can be done for smaller body parts like hamstrings (though deadlifts and squat will involve significant hamstring recruitment), calves, shoulders, and arms.
On your hypertrophy days you should do some speed work (6-8 sets of 3 reps) with 65-70% of your 3-5 rep max to start your workout with the power exercise you used earlier in the week. For example if you did squats for 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 300 lbs earlier in the week. Then you would do 6 sets of 3 reps on squats with 195-210 lbs with an emphasis placed on moving the weight through the concentric phase of the lift as quickly as possible. Do not go too heavy on your speed sets; if you cannot move the weight explosively then it is too heavy! Rest no longer than 90 seconds in between each of the speed sets. This builds explosiveness and speed and may stimulate growth as well. Even though you are using less weight, you should still be applying maximum force to it. To elaborate on this point, you can apply the same force to 250 lbs that you apply to 400 lbs, 250 lbs will just move faster, and that is the point you want your body to be explosive. If you have access to chains or bands they can be VERY helpful in building your explosiveness. If you choose to use them however you may want to lower the weight you are using to compensate for the increased loading at the top end of the movement.
Make sure the weight is light enough that you can move it explosively. If you are slowing down at any point during the concentric phase then it is likely too heavy.
P.H.A.T Workbook Found here:
Hybrid Training Program
8 Week Hepburn Method Powerbuilding Program
Developed by Doug Hepburn known for brute force and simplistic workouts. This program is focused solely on heavy compound movements. There are 2 phases involved the power phase and the pump phase.
- Power phase consists of starting with 8 sets of 2 at ~80% of your 1RM
- Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Deadlift are trained
- One rep is added on the next workout until 8 sets of 3 is reached
- Two lifts are trained per workout
- Training is 4x weekly
- 5-10 lbs is added to all lifts and the cycle repeats
- Pump phase consists of starting with 3 sets of 6 at ~60% of your 1RM
- One rep is added on the next workout until 3 sets of 8 is reached
- Everything else remains the same as with the Power Phase
Types of Exercise
What is Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is long in duration and involves sustained movement. Aerobic means "with oxygen". Aerobic exercise uses a continuous supply of oxygen to maintain energy levels.
List of Aerobic Exercises
What is Calisthenics Exercise
Calisthenics is a form of exercise consisting of a variety of movements that exercise large muscle groups, such as running, standing, grasping, pushing, etc. These exercises are often performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment, as bodyweight exercises.
List of Calisthenics Exercises
What is Anaerobic Exercise
Anaerobic exercise is intense and short-lasting, in which exercise generally ranges between two seconds to two minutes. Anaerobic means "without oxygen." During anaerobic exercise, the body demands more oxygen than the aerobic system can produce and depends on energy breakdown from muscle stores. Anaerobic exercise is good for building muscle and strength.
The Benefits of Anaerobic Exercises
From building muscle to fighting depression, the benefits of anaerobic exercise supports physical and mental health.
• Builds Muscle: When muscles are exerted, the muscle fibers experience small tears that are reformed to build and strengthen the muscle.
• Improves Physical Performance: An increase of fast twitch muscle fibers as well as increase in strength, speed, and power. Regular anaerobic exercise likewise increases the ability to withstand fatigue and accelerates the recovery process.
• Augments Metabolism: Simply put, once muscle mass is increased, metabolism does as well. This is especially worthwhile to assist in weight loss and reduce body fat.
• Supports Weight Loss: In addition to supporting weight loss through muscle building, partaking in anaerobic exercise can continue burning calories at rest, or also known as that "after-burn."
• Fights Depression: While participating in regular physical activity is known to improve mood, a 2018 meta-analysis shows.
• Reduces Chronic Disease Risk: Sporting a healthy body weight and lowering body weight staves from the risks of chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
• Strengthens Bones: Weight bearing exercise of any kind not only builds and strengthens muscles, but bones as well.
• Promotes Healthy Aging: New research published in the European Heart Journal shows intense training promotes healthy aging by protecting for cell death.
List of Anaerobic Exercises
Box Jumps (Plyometrics)
H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training)
Sets and Reps
Sets consist of the number of times you do the exercise. Reps are the number of repetitions you do each time. For example if you do 10 repetitions for 3 cycles with a 2 minute rest period between each cycle. Then you did 3 sets of 10 reps.
Rep Ranges based on Goal
- Weight Loss = High rep range and low weight. Typically whatever weight you can do for more than 12 reps.
- Muscle Gain = Medium Rep range and moderate weight. Typically between 8-12 Reps
- Strength Gain = Heavy weight low reps. Typically between 1-5 reps.
Types of Sets
- Dropset = First set is heavier weight then immediately lower the weight after your set and do an additional set with no rest period.
- Superset = Immediately after your first exercise switch to next exercise. Usually used in conjunction of the same body part for example. Bench press primary then push up right after.
- Isolation - Set focused on single muscle group such as bicep curls. Isolation exercises you should focus on squeezing the targeted muscle.
- Compound - Exercise uses multiple muscle groups in the lift. For example Bench press primarily targets the chest but also uses triceps and core.
- Negatives = Slow on the eccentric portion of the lift. For bench press you'd go slow on the descend and fast on the ascend of the bar.
Muscle Gains Studies
Proven Methods of Building Muscle - Volume and Frequency
Method 1: Optimal Training Volume to Maximize Muscle Growth
Group of healthy but untrained men and women performed 12 weeks of full body resistance training lifting weights 2-3 times per week. Increased muscle growth was measured from the quadriceps using magnetic resonance imaging (Hammarstrom).
The testing subjects were seperated into 2 groups the high volume group doing 12-18 sets per week and 3 sets per exercise. And the low volume group performing 4-6 sets per week doing 1 set per exercise (Hammarstrom).
The first study focused on untrained individuals. This second study tested trained individuals with low, medium and high volume groups. The low volume group did 1 set per exercise, medium did 3 sets per exercies and the high group did 5 sets per exercise (Schoenfeld).
The second study consisted of 7 exercises per session targeting all major muscle groups of the body. The following exercises were performed: flat barbell bench, barbell military press, wide grip lat pulldowns, seated cable rows, barbell back squat, machine leg press and unilateral leg extensions (Schoenfeld).
Study 1: The results of the study found that increased number of sets resulted in faster muscle growth. The study found the high volume group gained around 6% where the low volume group was around 4% (Hammarstrom).
Study 2: The high volume group saw the highest muscle growth followed by medium group. The muscle gains were measured by ultrasound imaging to gauge muscle thickness (Schoenfeld).
However gains at the individual level varied. This is likely due to different body physiologies where some body types gain muscle easier than others. To offset this effect the average of the groups was taken (Schoenfeld).
Method 2: Optimal Training Frequency to Increase Muscle Growth
Study summarized findings from 10 other studies focused on training frequency. The studies focused on weekly resistance training frequencies to measure and determine optimum training frequency for muscle growth. Measurements included morphologic changes via biopsy, imaging, circumference and densitometry (Schoenfeld).
Analysis using binary frequency as a predictor variable found significant impact of training frequency on building muscle where higher frequency was associated with greater muscle growth. Study found that the current body of evidence available indicated that training a body part twice a week promoted superior hypertrophic outcomes compared to once per week. It can therefore be inferred that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth (Schoenfeld).
Proven Methods of Building Strength
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Scientific Studies on Effectiveness of Supplements on Building Muscle and Strength
Proven Supplements for Building Muscle and Strength
Creatine Study 2:
Creatine Ingestion Favorably Affects Performance and Muscle metabolism During Maximal Exercise in Humans
9 Male subjects performed 2 bouts of 30sec maximal isokinetic cycling before and after ingestion of 20 g creatine monohydrate for 5 days. (Casey).
Total work production during bouts 1 and 2 increased by approx. 4% and the cumulative increases in both peak and total work production. The increased ability to work was positively coorelated to increase in muscle mass (Casey).
The improvements in performance were mediated via improved ATP resynthesis as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability in type II fibers. (Casey).
Study 2: Protein
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Study 3: GABA - HGH
GABA is a supplement that has been shown to increase human growth hormone which plays a vital role in growth, body composition, cell repair and metabolism. By increasing HGH you can increase cell repair and muscle growth. Or check out this guide on increasing HGH naturally.
Eleven resistance trained men aged 18-30 participated in a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover study. During the experimental bout participants ingested either 3g of GABA or a placebo followed by either resting or resistance exercise. Fasting blood samples were take immediately before at 15, 30, 45, 75 and 90 minute intervals (Powers).
At rest GABA ingestion elevated growth hormone compared to the placebo. Specifically peak concentration were elevated by about 400%. The combination of GABA and resistance training also elevated the peak (Powers).
Study concludes that ingested GABA elevates resting and post exercise growth hormone concentrations. The extent to which growth hormone secretion contributes to skeletal muscle hypertrophy is unkonwn although the increased growth hormone may improve resistance training muscular adaptations (Powers).
Kleine Boris. "History of HST". Hypertrophy Specific. http://hypertrophyspecific.com/hst_index.html
Ogasaware, Riki. "Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training." Interv Med Appl Sci. Dec 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3831787/
Willoughby D.S. "Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass and strength." Amino Acids. Sep 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16988909
Hartman, J.W. "Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice male weightlifters." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. August 2007. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/2/373/4633050
Schoenfeld, B. "Influence of resistance training frequency on muscular adaptations in well trained men." J Strength Cond Res. July 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932981
Schoenfeld, B. "Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta analysis." Sports Med. Nov 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172
Kumar V. "Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise." J Appl Physiol. Jun 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19164770
Dankel S.J. "Frequency: The overlooked resistance training variable for inducing muscle hypertrophy." Sports Med. May 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27752983
Powers M.E. "Growth hormone isoform responses to GABA ingestion at rest and after exercise" Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jan 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18091016
Britannica. "Somatotype - Physiology". Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/somatotype
Hammarstrom D. "Benefits of higher resistance training volume are related to ribosome biogensis." J Physiol. Feb 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31813190
Schoenfeld B. "Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men." Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jan 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30153194