How to Build Muscle- The Definitive Guide


How to build muscle as fast as humanly possible. That’s what this definitive guide is all about. Getting big, strong, lean and built like a badass.

It’s the summation of everything I have learned over the course of 25+ years in the Iron Game.

These techniques helped me overcome horrible skinny-fat genetics and gain 47 pounds of muscle. They’ve also helped thousands of other in-person and online clients of mine achieve similar results.

If you work hard and smart, they’ll do the same for you.

But first the bad news…

If you’re a genetically average, “skinny-fat” dude who really struggles to gain strength, build muscle and lose fat I gotta tell you something…

You’re being lied to.

You’re being fed a bunch of bullshit that’ll never work for average guys like us.

I’m talking about all the typical nonsense you hear and read all the time like:

You should do nothing else but the big power and Olympic liftsYou should always go heavy, no matter whatIsolation exercises are uselessYou should always do full body workoutsCircuit training gets you in great shapeCrunches and cardio give you a six packYou have to eat 6-7 meals a dayYou should eat 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweightCarbs are the devilYou need to spend a thousand dollars a month on supplements

All total and utter bullshit.

The only thing you’ll get from following that advice is a laundry list of nagging injuries. I should know. Been there and done that.

Because I don’t want you to have to waste all the years and money that I did (not to mention the surgeons bills) I came up with a method of training and eating specifically for skinny-fat, injury-prone hardgainers (and all guys over 35).

It’s been tested on thousands of trainees, both at my private gym and online. It’s been tweaked, retooled, upgraded and perfected.

I’m a genetic misfit when it comes to building muscle. I was frail and weak for the first 20 years of my life. I tried every training system and diet imaginable over the last three decades. I took what worked and got rid of what I didn’t.

The result is an all encompassing training and lifestyle plan that is guaranteed to build size and strength without the typical injuries, burnout and plateaus that most programs have.

The Renegade Method is designed specifically for average, busy guys aka “skinny-fat hardgainers,” who want to get built like a badass but…

Don’t have a lot of timeAren’t on steroids and performance enhancement drugsDon’t have great genetics for building muscle and strengthAre sick of getting injured from their workouts and feeling like crap all the time

Now, I’m not gonna promise you gains of 84 pounds of muscle in the next month if you follow what I recommend. You’ve still gotta put in the required time and effort.

If you’ve followed my blogs, podcasts and social media long enough you’ve seen the incredible transformations and the features in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, ESPN and CBS so you know this stuff works.

If you follow the program and put in the work you’ll get results. But the reality is most people won’t even finish any training program that they start. They’re too mentally weak. They’ll keep looking for shortcuts and an easier way. Those people are sheep. They can’t get anywhere in life.

Don’t be a sheep. Be a fucking lion.

Rule #1:  To Build Muscle You Have to Get Strong

You can’t expect to transform your physique by doing the same workouts over and over. You have to force adaptation to occur. The easiest way to do that is by adding weight to the bar. Get stronger, primarily in the range of 5-10 reps, and you’ll get bigger.

Training heavy will always deliver better results than training light. That’s just common sense.

If there is one thing I can’t stress enough it is the importance of setting rep PRs (personal records).

Pick a few key exercises and write down what you can currently do for 6-8 reps on each of them. Now work your way, over the next few weeks/months, up to the point where you can either add 10-20 pounds to each of those lifts or do 3-5 more reps with the same weight. That’s how you force your body to grow.

Once you get to the higher end of the rep range add weight and start over with 6. Simple, brutally effective; no advanced calculus degree required.

The bottom line is to get big you have to get strong.

Rule #2: You Have to Use Compound Muscle-Building Exercises

The exercises that allow you to use the greatest amount of weight and also allow for the greatest percentage of increases in loading are the ones that will help you build muscle fastest.

You’re not going to grow with a workout comprised of machine exercises and isolation movements.

You have to overload your body with big, manly, testosterone producing exercises.

The best compound weight training exercises for building muscle are:

Military Presses– barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, logLow Incline Presses– barbell or dumbbellSquats– back, front, safety bar, Buffalo bar, beltDeadlifts– conventional, sumo, trap bar, Romanian, rackRows– 1 arm dumbbell, chest supported, landmineLoaded Carries– farmers, bear hug, zercher, racked, shoulderedSled Work- pushing and dragging

Get strong on those exercises and slowly add weight and reps.

When you can move big numbers on those lifts for sets of 6-10 reps you’ll be a big dude.

Rule #3: Complement the Big Lifts with Bodyweight Exercises

Big compound barbell land dumbbell lifts are great but you’ll need more than that for a well rounded physique and injury free training. Those exercises should be complimented by an equal amount of muscle building bodyweight exercises like:

Chin upsDipsSingle leg squat and lunge variationsPushup variationsInverted rowsPlank variations for core strength/stability and to protect your lower backGlute ham raises

The combination of big lifts and bodyweight exercises will produce an athletic, muscular physique that every guy wants.

Rule #4: To Build Muscle Safely You Have to Use Perfect Technique

This should go without saying, but if you walk into any public gym you’ll see that’s not the case. The perfect rep has several components to it. They are:

Get tight from head to toe. Squeeze the bar (or dumbbell) like you’re trying to crush it. If you’re doing a standing exercise be sure to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs.Control the lowering or eccentric portion of the lift in 2-3 seconds.Stretch the muscle in the bottom position.But don’t go so deep that you cause damage. You shouldn’t feel any joint stress.Reverse the movement and start the positive/concentric portion of the lift by forcefully contracting the target muscles.Don’t use excessive momentum.On big barbell exercises you should lockout at the top and reset.On bodyweight and dumbbell exercisesf you should stop just shy of lockout at the top and immediately reverse the movement.To build muscle think constant tension and continuous movement.Never just go into the gym and start hoisting weight.Do that and you’ll get injured.You’ll also severely compromise your results.

Rule #5: Train with the Optimal Amount of Volume to Build Muscle

I’ve said for years that the best muscle building rep range for skinny guys and newbies is 5-8. You want the majority of your sets to fall in that range.

After you have trained properly for a couple years you can bump the reps up a bit and start doing some sets of 10-12 reps in addition to the lower rep stuff.

When you get more advanced and over 40 years old you will want to spend a bit more time in the 8-12 rep range and less in the 5-7 range. That’s simply to protect your joints and reduce injury risk.

While the number of reps you do per set is important, of equal importance is the total number of reps you do per muscle group

Research has shown that around 30-60 total reps per muscle group is what is required to maximize growth.

That means if that you average six reps per set you’d need to do at least five total sets and upwards of ten for that particular muscle group.

I’d always recommend starting on the low end of the scale. Only increase volume if absolutely you need to.

As you get more advanced you can work in phases of both lower and higher volume through a properly periodized training program.

Adding some higher rep sets and more volume goes against the typical hardgainer rules where supposedly all that matters is doing a few sets of low reps on bench presses, squats and deadlifts.  Guys who do that usually end up fat and injured. They don’t grow as much muscle as they could, either.

So after you get some heavy work in d0 a few sets slightly higher rep sets and get a pump.

Focus on the muscle you are trying to build and squeeze every ounce of effort out of it for 8-12 reps. If you have been training properly for at least three years you’ll find that advanced pump-enhancing  techniques like rest pause sets can be effective when used sparingly. Just be sure not to overdo the use of them.

Rule #6: Train With the Proper Muscle-Building Workout Split

The first point to add here is that 3-4 hard strength training days per week is perfect for most steroid-free, average, busy people.

The second thing you need to know is that more frequently you can train a muscle group the better your gains will be… to an extent.

The next thing to address is training frequency for each muscle group. You have to train with the frequency that:

Allows you to recover properlyAllows you to make the greatest strength gainsDoesn’t start to wreck your joints and spine

The frequency at which you can train each muscle group generally decreases as your training age increases.

This is true despite the fact that high-frequency training is the flavor of the month in the fitness industry. And despite the fact that everyone is discussing studies showing that the anabolic response to exercise only lasts 1-2 days.

There are studies and then there are actua, time tested, real world results.

If you’re a beginner you should train with three full body workouts. Do both a compound pushing and pulling movement for the upper body like a press and a chin up. Then do a compound lower body movement like a squat or trap bar deadlift. If you want to add in 1-2 other exercises like loaded carries or swings as a finisher that’s fine.

If you’ve trained longer than 6-12 months you can split your workouts into two different days. The most common is to train upper body one day and lower the other. If you train four days per week it’s super simple to set up.

If you train three days per week you can rotate upper and lower body days every time you train.

It will look like this over the course of two weeks:

Week 1
Monday- Upper body
Wednesday-  Lower body
Friday- Upper body

Week 2
Monday- Lower body
Wednesday-  Upper body
Friday- Lower body

I can’t recommend this rotating upper/lower split highly enough. I have made incredible gains on this split as have hundreds of clients I have worked with personally, and thousands of others online.

If you train three days per week and prefer to have set training days each week instead of rotating them here is what I suggest…

Do a heavy upper body day on Monday, legs on Wednesday, and then a lighter upper body day on Friday where you bump up the reps slightly and use exercises that aren’t quite as stressful. So instead of a barbell incline press for sets of 5-6 reps you might do a dumbbell incline press or weighted pushup on rings for sets of 8-12 reps.

An upper/lower split can last you forever. A lot of massive, strong powerlifters stick with that throughout their entire lifting careers. However, if you’re older and/or have some recovery issues you may prefer a push/pull/legs split that has you training everything directly once per week.

A large number of big, strong men have used that split throughout history.

That means you do exercises for chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday.

You do exercises for back and biceps on Wednesday.

And you do exercises for legs on Friday.

As long as you plan it properly that can work quite well. And if you want to do an arm or “beach day” on Saturdays you can extend it to a four day per week program.

Most training gurus scoff at this type of split because it’s “too bodybuilder-ish” and because of the fact that the frequency isn’t high enough.

To address the first concern I will say that typical bodybuilding programs have way too many sets and reps and use the wrong exercises. If you lower the total volume, go heavier and use compound movements there is nothing wrong a bodypart split for advanced lifters. In fact, it’s often less stressful to the joints.

As far as the frequency goes, training a muscle group once every 5-7 days is actually safer and more effective for advanced lifters.

And if you want slightly more frequency there are ways to do it. You can add a lighter set or two of work for a muscle group you need to bring up on days other than that muscle’s main training day.

Rule #7: “Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate”

This is a quote from 8-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney. It means you should train hard but smart.

Don’t kill yourself in the quest to get big and strong. When you leave a little in the tank, both at the end of each set and each workout, you increase your chances of making progress.

So don’t take sets to the point of failure where you’re turning purple and screaming like you’re getting interviewed by Mean Gene before WrestleMania V.

Work hard, but remember that you want to live to fight another day.

A great analogy that I once heard is thatrecovery is like a hole and each time you dig yourself deeper you make it harder to climb out. The only way to fill the hole back in is with more food and more rest. If you overdo it in the gym you’ll need more rest.

That means you won’t be able to train as often, at a high capacity. That means you won’t build muscle quite as fast.

Rule #8: Keep Your Conditioning Up

Despite some prevailing hardgainer myths out there, doing conditioning does not make you small and weak.

Skipping conditioning, however, makes you a lazy, out of shape, fat ass.

Conditioning work helps you stay lean and improves your recovery between strength training sessions. It’s hugely beneficial and has to be a part of your weekly routine.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been proven to be extremely effective at burning fat and boosting conditioning levels while preserving muscle mass.

You should do a minimum of one 15-30 minute HIIT workout per week if you are in a mass building phase. If you are cutting you should 2-3 HIIT workouts per week.

To do HIIT properly you go as hard and as fast as you can (I actually prefer about 90-95% of maximum effort) for 30-60 seconds. Then you take a break and coast/cruise for 60-120 seconds. You repeat the sequence for 15-30 minutes, total.

My favorite choices are:

Sprinting up hillsSprinting while pushing or dragging a weighted sledSprinting on a bike with the resistance cranked upKettlebell swingsJumping ropeSwimmingRowing (if your back can tolerate it)

In addition to the HIIT sessions it’s always a good idea to go for a 30-60 minute walk as many days per week as you can. I recommend using the tracker app on your phone and getting a minimum of 10,000 steps every day.

Rule #9: Make Recovery a Huge Priority

Training is just the stimulus for growth to take place. You can train your balls off, all day, every day but that doesn’t mean you’re going to grow.

You grow outside of the gym when you’re recovering; not during workouts. If you can’t recover you won’t grow. Plain and simple.

So how do you ensure that you will recover properly from workouts?

By adhering to the following:

Not doing more than you can handle in the gymNot training for more than an hourNot using extreme levels of psyche on every setNot stressing out about nonsenseGetting 8-9 hours of sleep per dayMeditatingDoing at least 15-20 minutes of mobility and self myofascial release work per dayDoing some low intensity conditioning and/or restorative work on off daysTaking contrast baths and showersGetting a massage once a month or as often as you can afford to

Rule #10: Eat For Health and Longevity First and Foremost, to Gain Muscle Optimally

Even if you’re a skinny dude you should never go on one of those all-you-can-eat, junk food diets. The old school approach to bulking up is dead. It has failed countless times and simply doesn’t work.

It’s unhealthy and makes you fat. No organsim that is unhealthy will grow at an optimal rate. The healthier you are the faster you will make progress.

I used to believe in the old school bulk approach for young, skinny hardgainers. Then I smartened up.

You have to fuel your body with high quality, real, wholesome food.

Eating pizza, burgers, ice cream and fast food is a really bad plan. Junk in, junk out.

If you put shit in your body you will look, feel and perform like shit.

Your recovery will be slower and you will be riddled with inflammation. So don’t let “bulking up” be an excuse to consume boatloads of crap. You know that cotton candy and soda isn’t healthy. You know that salmon and sweet potatoes are. Most of this is common sense.

Your diet should consist of a lot of the following foods:

Grass fed meatOrganic eggsWild caught fishStarches like white rice, potatoes, and quinoaNutsFruitVeggiesWater

Start with 16 times your bodyweight for total calories. So if you weigh 165 you’ll eat 2640 calories per day. If, after a few weeks, your weight isn’t budging, up it to 17x bodyweight. If you’re gaining more fat than muscle drop it down to 15x bodyweight. Always give things at least two weeks to assess.

Eat around one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. That’s more than enough. You could probably even get away with less.

Eat 1.5-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight (depending on bodyfat levels, insulin sensitivity and activity). Keep most of them around your workouts and at night.

Eat around .4-.45 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day. Fat is essential for hormone optimization, brain function, and joint health. But don’t go overboard. I’d never recommend more than 30% of your total calories come from fat if you are eating a decent amount of carbs (which you should be to gain muscle).

Breakfast should be protein, greens and maybe some fruit. Eggs, yogurt, meat, a shake, steamed broccoli, strawberries, whatever.

Lunch should be be pretty much the same- protein and greens. Chicken, fish or steak and salad is perfect here. Have some fruit if you want.

Dinner should be protein and all the starch you can handle. A huge piece of meat, a pile of potatoes or rice with some steamed veggies.

On training days consume an extra serving of protein and starchy carbs about 60-90 minutes before training, then eat again afterwards. Have some more protein and carbs in that meal.  If you can’t get enough carbs in around training and at night add some more to lunch. Then breakfast as a last resort. But this would be pretty rare. It’s very easy to eat a lot of white rice at night.

And one thing most people overlook is this…

The first step in the muscle building process is to get lean. You should be at least as low as 12% bodyfat before you change your diet up to focus on mass gain.

If you’re fat and you start eating for size you’re only going to gain fat. So get rid of the excess blubber first and to the point where you can see your abs,  then worry about getting big.

Bonus Rule: Consistency Is King

All the above information is completely useless if you don’t apply it consistently. I’m not talking about a week. Or two months.

The person who makes the greatest progress is he who is consistently getting in 3-4 workouts per week. The guy who never misses a meal. The guy who always gets to sleep on time. The guy who spends a few hours per week on recovery techniques at home. And does all of these things 52 weeks per year, year after year. That’s how real progress is made.

You have to commit and you have to believe in what you are doing. You can’t be second guessing everything all the time. You can’t change your routine every other week. You can’t be on the internet constantly searching for a better program.

There is no magical supplement or yet-to-be-discovered secret training technique that will help you build 100 pounds of muscle in the next three months. Those things will never exist.

The only things that get results are passion, commitment and hard work. Every. Damn. Day.

Lift weights. Eat steaks. Run hills. Sleep. Repeat.

There you have it; everything you need to know about building muscle.

This is an awesome guide indeed.

How to Build Muscle- The Definitive Guide

By SarahBee Healthy

My mission is to make a better world by empowering individuals to optimise their lifestyle to achieve their work-life balance, health and wealth goals.
I am an engineer turned project manager and BWY trained yoga teacher. I have been optimising lifestyles since 2007 by applying yoga therapy and coaching skills to help others solve life's “little” challenges.
I am a mum to two adorable boisterous boys, my passion is to make their world a better place. I do this through my exciting day job as a project manager, while also educating and coaching people about healthy living and optimal nutrition.

Sarah Bee

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