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Last Updated on February 22, 2021

How to Gain Muscle Quickly and Naturally (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Gain Muscle Quickly and Naturally (A Step-by-Step Guide)

People often want to gain muscle in order to look their best, but building muscle has many benefits beyond the aesthetic. With more muscle, you can be more active without feeling pain the next day, create more supported joints for greater flexibility, and decrease your risk of certain diseases.

If you really want to learn how to gain muscle quickly and naturally, you’ve come to the right place, but there are no magic answers. What we do have is research-backed workout programs, nutrition coaching, and motivating support. Read on to learn how you can increase your muscle mass quickly and naturally.

What Is Muscle Mass?

One of the reasons I joined martial arts classes years ago was that I hoped that training regularly would give me a Bruce Lee body, and it didn’t, of course.

I lacked a fundamental understanding about how building muscles works. Martial arts gave me the necessary skills for self defense and improved my endurance, but it didn’t make me a Dwayne Johnson lookalike.

What I only later realized is that your muscles only build themselves up on a microscopical level when they need to. And you, as a macroscopic human, can foster that need in your muscles.

To gain muscle, you have to train on a specific rep range and on a specific frequency.

Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Muscle Gain

To gain muscles in the first place, you have to put your body under stress. Training itself is not altogether healthy for you. You’re losing precious body fluids in the gym, emptying your energy resources, and creating micro-tears in your muscles. It’s only when your body feels uncomfortable that you build muscles in the first place.

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Losing weight is also a stressful situation for your body in the short term. You’re taking in less energy than your body desires, which forces your body to restructure your organism in a way that needs less energy. In a non-scientific term: Your body starts burning fat if you eat less calories.

The common denominator of those two scenarios are necessity. Robert Greene, author of the international bestseller 50 Laws of Power, calls necessity the ruler of the world, as humans only act when they need to. Necessity implies being under stress.

Remember, healthy is always relative. Forcing an alcohol-addict to stop drinking may hurt them drastically in the short-term, regarding stress hormones, but in the long-term it might be a great decision when we consider the alternative.

In the sense of learning how to gain muscle, extreme muscle gain might be harmful, but if the alternative is obesity, it can be considered healthy, as it increases the life-expectancy for the individual more than being obese.[1]

What makes muscle growth healthy is the recovery phase. The pinnacle of a healthy muscle gain would be to do it on a plant-based diet, with plenty of sleep and a stress-reducing personal life.[2] Also, without the help of anabolic steroids, of course. 

How to Gain Muscle Naturally

Here are the 7 steps that you can take today to achieve maximum, healthy, natural muscle growth in the shortest time.

1. Commit Yourself

The first step to every long-lasting change is your mindset. This may sound cliché, but if you’re not committed to changing your lifestyle, you might just as well stay on your couch.

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“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

Write down exactly why you want to gain muscle. Is it to impress that crush you have, to get more confidence, or to make your everyday life a little easier? Write it down and keep it where you can see it every day.

Pro tip: Use inspirational pictures to increase the effect.

2. Set a Goal

While you already have your pen and paper out, write down your goals. There’s something special about writing your goals down on paper. This is another side of commitment.

Make sure you’re setting your goals the SMART way—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. These are called SMART goals, and they work.

To build muscle mass is not a goal; to increase your bodyweight by 5 pounds of muscle before the end of July is. To measure your success, be sure to take before and after pictures to compare your results.

3. Find the Right Training Routine

I have a client in the fitness center that I manage for whom I just recently designed a full-body workout. After a month, he came up to me and confessed that he wasn’t following my training routine anymore. He was shocked when I told him that was fine. He expected me to be frustrated by his actions, but I wasn’t. I know that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, and I know that the right training program or routine is the one that works for you.

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You could have the best workout routine in the world, but if you always have to drag yourself to the gym and never feel excited, it’s not the right routine for you.

While the traditional, recommended repetition range for muscle growth is between 6-12 (based on studies of time under tension), there are also studies citing that 5-7 repetitions may be more optimal.[3] The exact same thing goes for training sets and rest periods between those sets.[4]

I generally would advise you to keep your rest periods between 1-2 minutes. Start with a whole-body training plan (yes, even train your legs), and aim for about 8-12 repetitions as a beginner. When you’re experienced, meaning you’ve been training for more than one year, you can decrease the number of repetitions.

Do about three sets per exercise and aim to spend no longer than 1.5 hours in the gym. This way you’re minimizing muscle protein breakdown due to avoiding a long training session, and, most importantly, you’re not neglecting your personal life.

4. Be Consistent

Having the right training routine when you’re learning how to gain muscle is key because it helps you be consistent. If you’re going to the gym regularly for 3 years, you will see results. It doesn’t matter if you have the best exercise program or your genetics; commitment will pay off.

If you need help creating an exercise habit, check out Lifehack’s 30-Day Resistance Band Workout Challenge. This will help you stay committed to a routine for a month, which can help you move more easily into a muscle-building schedule.

5. Focus on Progression

Progression is the major key when you are trying to build muscles.

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Adding more weight in the long term adds mechanical stress to your muscles. Your body has to see a reason to adapt, and a great way to make it adapt is to add mechanical stresses.[5] Each week or month, try to bump up the amount of weight you’re lifting or the number of reps you’re doing.

6. Eat More of the Good Stuff

To lose fat but build muscles, you need energy. You gain energy through your food, which then is transformed into muscle tissue. To gain muscle, you have to be in a calorie surplus, eating more calories that you actually need, and these calories need nutrient dense. Eat dried fruits or drink smoothies, as they increase your calorie intake without decreasing your appetite. I suggest you aim for a calorie surplus of about 200 calories per dayYou should include protein with every meal, which can come in the form of protein shakes or even protein powder. Eat carbs only post-workout in order to help with recovery as you build strength and muscle. You should also be drinking a healthy amount of water, as this will help your muscles heal and grow after a workout.

7. Switch up Your Routine

This is similar to progression. Again, you want your body to keep guessing in the long-term, as once you hit a plateau in your training, you have to try a new approach.

Implement different exercises, and train at a different rep-range. Have fun with your training, and experiment. You never know when you will find what works for you.

Final Thoughts

Muscle growth is an extremely complex process that involves many different physiological functions and variables. You can spend hundreds of hours studying it and barely scratch the surface, but building muscles isn’t that complicated.Most people who have built a great body in the gym are not renowned scientists; they’re regular people following a proven plan. They have committed themselves to the gym, and they are being consistent with their routine while seeking constant progress. This is possible for anyone who is motivated enough to try. Use my advice above and get started building muscle today!

More on How to Gain Muscle

Featured photo credit: John Fornander via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Florian Wüest

Qualified and experienced fitness trainer and online coach.

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Last Updated on October 4, 2021

5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

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5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

With the lines of work and home becoming increasingly blurry, it’s no wonder why we struggle to find the time to prioritize our health. Particularly with weight loss, it’s often difficult to manage the ever-present constraints around work, children, time to exercise, and the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day.

Taking the effects of stress and the rise of remote work and work-from-home situations, we need to be far more tactical in our weight loss pursuits. Quite often, these exercises for weight loss at home aren’t even fitness-related.

Firstly, let’s look at a standard day in the life of a busy professional or parent to really understand the battlefield in which we need to operate.

We all have 24 hours in a day to work with. Knowing how we spend that 24 hours is crucial when learning where time will be best spent for our weight loss journey. Setting unrealistic expectations can be a quick way to end up back at square one.

  • Sleep: 8 hours (parents, if you’re lucky)
  • Work: 8 hours (sometimes more)
  • Children: 2 to 4 hours (includes pickups, drop-offs, and play)
  • Meal Preparation: 1 hour (at a minimum)
  • Household Activities: 1 to 2 hours (because someone’s got to do it, right?)
  • Total: 20 to 22 hours

Taking into account that switching between tasks takes time and cognitive space, we can start to understand why people just want to sit and scroll through social media at the end of a day. We also haven’t factored in the work commute if you have to report to the office.

Just realized you now have minimal time to yourself? This might start to explain why you struggle to gain momentum in your weight loss journey. Let’s work out how to take back the initiative:

  • Automate – Are there any tasks you can automate? If you’re fortunate enough to be gainfully employed, maybe it’s time to hire a cleaner or have ready-made meals delivered to your door. It doesn’t have to happen every night, but removing the decision of “what’s for dinner?” can be a great way to reduce stress and free up brain space and time.
  • Optimize – If you’re time-poor with kids, it’s time to optimize your activities. Turn screen time into playtime outdoors, and get them to join in on your activities. If your children are old enough, it might be time to start offering pocket money for chores and meal preparation. This strategy helped me stay fit as a single parent. By getting out and active with my son, I doubled my return on investment by staying fit and enhancing my relationship.
  • Eliminate – We’re only human. Sometimes, we simply have too much on our plate due to our high expectations. Take a look through your daily tasks and work out what can be removed.

Now, go through this exercise yourself. What potential spare time do you have to work with? If the answer is none, you might want to keep reading.

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Exercise Selection: It’s Not All About the Burn

No equipment? No problem.

So, we’re finally tracking the elements that matter. It’s time to start leveraging exercise to accelerate our weight loss journey. Alongside focusing on individual exercises that help with weight loss at home or caloric expenditure, we’re going to focus on another method to help keep you consistent and accountable for the long term: interest.

Interest has been linked as one of the key motivating factors to maintain consistency towards a goal. By choosing a form of exercise that your body and mind can enjoy, your chances of weight loss success are far greater.

Here’re the 5 best exercises for weight loss at home:

1. Low-Intensity Interval Training (LIIT)

Maybe the body isn’t what it used to be, and intense forms of training simply just aren’t safe anymore. Also considering the body’s response to stress, it might be in our very best interest to choose low-intensity activities that we can repeat daily.

Mobility and movement flows have risen in popularity in recent years. This form of exercise focuses on restoring range of motion (ROM), improving stability, and returning people to activity. Some exercise options include:

  • Quadruped Rocks
  • Frog Stretch
  • Hip Prying
  • Scapula Push-ups
  • Hindu push-ups

Below is a 10minute warm-up flow that shows you how to put all of this together:

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2. Yoga

Yoga is another perfect example of LIIT methodology that can be advanced as your ability improves. Focusing on mobility, stability, and range of movement using only your body weight, it’s a perfect entry-level activity for those that may have lost their way on their weight loss journey.

3. Calisthenics

Strength training at home can be difficult when you lack equipment or experience. An obvious path to building strength at home is calisthenics. Starting with just the following basic bodyweight movements:

You can begin your journey with no equipment and build to quite an advanced level. Here are five movements you can look to master over time are:

Depending on your ability, choose movements that allow you to progress safely over time. There is also gymnastics-based training you can move towards if your body is ready for a more demanding form of training.

4. Aerobic Exercise

Another underrepresented form of exercise, aerobic exercise is often overlooked for its sexier counterparts like strength and HIIT. With the prevalence of obesity nearly tripling between 1975 and 2016 and the major cause in adults being cardiovascular disease, it makes sense to focus on activities that improve cardiovascular or heart health.

Another benefit is that it can be as simple as getting your steps in, going for a swim, or going for an easy ride or run. Phil Maffetone pioneered the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Method that almost anyone can adopt regardless of fitness level and experience.[1]

Here’s a 30-minute session of aerobic exercises you can try:

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5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training is a great way to elevate the heart rate and get the endorphins flowing. It can also be super time-effective, giving you a great bang for your buck. Try sequencing some of the movements and exercises above together with minimal rest to keep your heart rate elevated. Be sure to select movements that suit your current level of fitness and ability.

Here’s a HIIT workout that takes little time and is suited for any level:

Chipper 60

Complete all reps of every exercise for time. Exercises can be done in any order and repetitions to complete the workout.

If you can’t do jump squats, regress to normal squats, and don’t be afraid to change the leg raises to a 60-second plank if you need to. Finish up with some light stretching or foam rolling.

What Also Matters: Sleep, Stress, and Stimulants

Sleep, stress, and stimulants, also known as the hamster wheel of death. Tracking these elements gives us the power to finally stop relying on our ever-depleted stores of discipline and motivation to get the job done. It will also highlight the self-destructive habits that sabotage your weight loss journey.

Simply put, stress affects stimulants, sleep affects stress, and the vicious cycle continues.

Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? It’s well documented that sleep is an important factor in weight loss and recovery.

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“Restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.”[2]

Start this journey by tracking how much sleep you’re getting. Certain wearables can also track the amount of movement and time you spend awake or in lighter sleep cycles. Getting enough time in REM or deep sleep is critical for weight loss.

Stress

We don’t need to be fancy. A simple daily measurement out of ten indicates how much stress we think we are under. Using this number, we can observe the effects that sleep, stimulants, and exercise have on our stress levels, allowing us to deploy the right strategy for our weight loss goals.

Stimulants

Stimulants can be classified as anything we put in our mouths. Tracking calories, alcohol, and caffeine is a great way to observe, predict, and avoid trends or at-risk periods of overeating and destructive behaviors. Tracking this is aligned with how well we sleep, and our stress response gives us enough information to start forming better weight loss habits.

Work to identify the trigger, observe the response, and then look to adjust.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re fighting fit or returning to activity, the best exercises for weight loss at home are the ones that you can do day in day out that you enjoy. Think of exercise for weight loss as we do for compound interest. Consistently and regularly making deposits may not show immediately, but with time, they give you the momentum you need to reach your goals.

Featured photo credit: Olivia Bauso via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] PhilMaffetone: Maximum Aerobic Function
[2] SleepFoundation.org: Why is sleep so important to weight loss?

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