For most folks wanting to know how to build muscle, the weight room is a whole new world. The diet, the workout programming, and the mindset are equally foreign.

Fortunately, there are some easy measures you can take to ensure you’re building muscle in a healthy and effective way. By paying attention to what you eat and how you exercise, you can turn your body into a muscle-building machine.

To help you get down to the brass tacks of getting built, here are five steps to achieving the body you’ve always wanted.

1. Follow a Balanced Diet Plan

Before you bend down to pick up your first weight, provide your body with proper nutrition. To do this, pay attention to what, when, and how much you eat.

Generally speaking, you ought to increase your caloric intake by about 500 calories per day. [1] These extra calories allow the additional support needed to work out harder without exhausting energy supply.

Instead of eating heartier meals, get in those extra calories by eating five or six small meals throughout the day. This makes hitting your calorie goals easier.

As you probably know, protein should be a large portion of these additional calories. Eating 500 extra calories per day usually provides one or two grams of protein for every pound of body weight. This is a good start, but if you want to take additional protein in the form of a protein powder or supplement, it will further stimulate muscle fiber growth.

Perhaps surprisingly, fat is also a necessary part of the muscle-building diet. Unsaturated fats, like monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, support training as well as overall health. Try to consume 50 to 70 grams of these healthy fats per day, while avoiding saturated and trans fats. [2]

Supplementing your diet with a multivitamin is also a good idea. Because weight training drains the body, make sure you’re getting the necessary vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Consider your age, gender, and specific health needs when choosing a multivitamin.

2. Never Underestimate the Importance of Stretching

Now that you’ve got your diet sorted out, it’s time to incorporate exercise. Before you start, however, always make sure to stretch.

Stretching warms up all the muscles you’re working on, prevent injuries, improves flexibility, and increases range of motion. Similarly, stretching post-exercise aids muscle recovery. [3]

There is also some evidence stretching increases muscle growth. In a 1993 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers observed adult quails that had their wings stretched with weights between 10 and 35 percent of their body weight. Those that had their wings stretched showed a 318 percent increase in muscle mass as compared to birds that did not. [4]

Though this was an animal study, the benefits are thought to carry over to humans as well.

Try doing squats, kicks, or even a simple jog to prepare for your workout. Whatever you do, focus on loosening up joints, neck, shoulders, and arms.

3. Use Free Weights

Once you get to the gym, you may be tempted to head straight for the machines. However, you can accomplish most of your main lifts better with free weights.

Using barbells, you’re able to lift the heaviest weights. That means more resistance, more stress, and—consequently—more muscle. You’ll also avoid some of the stress of assistance exercises associated with dumbbells.

By contrast, machines put your body in unnatural positions and force you to repeat fixed movement patterns that cause injuries. These movement patterns are inefficient and the strength you gain doesn’t translate to use in real life. [5]

Movement patterns and strength gained with free weights, however, are always applicable in day-to-day life.

4. Practice Compound Exercises

Classic bodybuilding strategies focus on isolation exercises over compound exercises. While isolation exercise are important, compound exercises are the best for beginners because they work several muscle groups at the same time. This gives you a jump start when you’re ready to start on isolation exercises.

To get started, here are 3 compound movements recommended by Mehmet Edip of Muscle and Fitness. [6]

• Squat jump into lunge. Targets quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Perform 12 to 15 x 8 reps.
• Hanging clean into a front squat. Targets quadriceps, shoulders, and calves. Perform 12 to 15 x 8 reps.
• Deadlift into bicep curl. Targets quadriceps, shoulders, calves, and biceps. Perform 10 to 12 x 6 reps.

Once you’ve built up your base strength and gained initial muscle mass, start in on the biceps curls and triceps kickbacks to improve your workout.

5. Consider a Muscle-Building Supplement

You can do a lot of good by restructuring your diet and exercise regime, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want a support if you could get one.

There are many over-the-counter dietary supplements that provide the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids needed to develop healthy new muscle. These supplements increase muscles’ access to nutrients, which enhances recovery and growth.

Some of the best supplements available focus on creatine, protein, or amino acids that trigger nitric oxide production. Keep an eye out for these ingredients while searching for a muscle-building supplement.

Things to Keep in Mind When Building Muscle

While you’re working toward building muscle, remember to be realistic about your goals. For example, despite all your work, you can’t change your genetic makeup.

If you’re naturally skinny, you’re not going to look muscular unless you gain weight. In this case, you need to eat calorie-dense foods and beef up resistance training.

Conversely, overweight individuals must burn fat before any muscle gains will show. If that’s you, you’ll have to focus on cardio as well to get cut and see the results of your efforts.

Whatever your situation, making and keeping a realistic game plan ensures you’ll see the benefits as your muscle grows and fills out.


[1] Campbell, Adam. 11 August 2012. Gain a Pound of Muscle Every Week. Men’s Health.

[2] Ward, Elizabeth M. 2013. Fat Facts: Good Fats vs. Bad Fats.

[3] The American Council on Exercise. 19 February 2004. Top 10 Reasons to Stretch.

[4] Antonio, J. and W.J. Gonyea. 1993. Progressive stretch overload of skeletal muscle results in hypertrophy before hyperplasia. Journal of Applied Physiology: Vol. 75, Issue 3.

[5] Lee, Ian. 11 May 2013. 10 Rules for Building Mass.

[6] Edpi, Mehmet. 31 March 2013. 3 Compound Combination Moves for Total Body Fitness.