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Exercise & Training, Fitness

How To Build Muscle Fast: 9 Science-Backed Ways

Written by Chad Alexander
Certified Personal Trainer, Teacher, Founder of Fitness Minimalists
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Wondering how to build muscle fast when your schedule is already packed? Building muscle takes time and effort, but there are science-backed ways to make building muscle faster without having to live in the gym.

To build muscle fast, you will need a science-backed workout plan and a nutrition strategy. Strength training is key if you want to build muscle fast while also burning off some of the fat that can hide those lean gains.

A meta-analysis uncovered that resistance training not only helps build muscle but can also “reduce body fat percentage, body fat mass and visceral fat in healthy adults.”[1]

The fitness world can be confusing. It seems like everyone has big claims, and they often don’t lineup. In this article, each point is backed by peer-reviewed research.

Let’s jump in and discover nine science-backed ways how to build muscle fast.

1. Do Compound Lifts

Compound lifts are exercises that require the movement of multiple joints while working on many muscle groups at the same time. Some examples of compound lifts are the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and pull-up.

Research shows that compound lifts can help you build muscle faster with less time in the gym because you are working a variety of muscles as opposed to exercises that target only one muscle at a time.[2]


2. Stay in the Muscle-Building Game

One of the fastest ways to put your muscle-building goals on hold for weeks, months, or even years is to sustain an injury. By learning the proper form while getting stronger in the big five compound lifts, research indicates you will strengthen your core, which is key for preventing injuries.[3]

Learning the proper form for these compound exercises will help prevent injuries in the gym and also during daily tasks.[4]

For example, learning to properly perform the deadlift will help prevent injuries that could happen when moving heavier objects like a couch or bed. Learning to perform the bench press can help with pushing a car out that is stuck in the snow.

One way to learn to perform these exercises is to work with a personal trainer or physiotherapist. Others might be able to watch exercise tutorials and work with a partner to get the proper form down.

Skipping this step to go straight into lifting heavy weights can lead to muscle imbalances or injuries.

As physiotherapist and founder of Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook, explains, it is essential to learn to: “First move well, then move often.”[5]

3. Build a Strong Foundation

Taking the time to learn the key lifts with lower weight and higher reps is an important step for beginners and people who have not worked out for a while.


This is a key first step before moving on to lifting heavier weights. This will help you develop a foundation of core strength, muscular endurance, and stability necessary to support the joints and maintain proper posture throughout your muscle-building journey.[6]

Building muscular endurance with lower weight and higher reps can also help build impressive muscle. For instance, multi-sport professional athlete, Hershel Walker, bench pressed 375lbs without lifting weights. Instead, he focused on doing super high reps of bodyweight exercises.[7]

If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, your workout routine for the first two to six weeks might consist of performing the following three times a week:

  • Three core exercises[8]
  • Bench press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead press
  • Pull-ups

Following the guidelines from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you might aim to perform one to three sets of the above exercises for 12 to 20 reps with little or no weight.[9] Start with a weight at which you can easily perform 12 reps.

4. Get Stronger Using Progressive Overload

Research has shown that to put on muscle fast, you need to get stronger using a principle called progressive overload.[10] Progressive overload means that you will consistently gain muscle mass by increasing the weight, the number of reps, frequency, and/or sets you can perform.[11]

Every time you workout, a good goal might be to lift about 10% more weight or to perform one or two more reps than you did last time.


5. How to Build Muscle Fast Without Living in the Gym

Research indicates that working out just two to three times a week can be enough for building lean muscle mass fast. One study found that training one time per week was almost as effective for building muscle as working out three times per week.[12]

Another study found that it is the number of sets you perform each week that matters most when it comes to building muscle fast. A meta-analysis revealed that hitting each muscle group with more than 6-10 sets per muscle, per week led to greater increases in muscle mass than lower volumes.[13]

In terms of a workout plan, this might look like lifting weights three times a week with each workout consisting of five sets of four exercises.

Sample Workout Plan

  • Monday: Incline bench press, elevated push-ups, chest flies, flat bench press, chin-ups
  • Wednesday: Squats, deadlift, dumbbell lunges, glute bridge, leg press
  • Friday: Lateral raises, overhead press, pull-ups, face pulls, dumbbell rows

A systematic review of muscle-building literature indicates that the optimum path to building muscle fast is to perform three to six sets of six to 12 reps.[14] Once you can perform 12 reps of the exercise, increase the weight by 10%, and aim to hit at least six reps. Repeat with each exercise you perform.


To keep each workout under an hour, don’t rest for too long between sets. Research shows that having shorter rest intervals of 60 seconds was best for building muscle fast.[15]

6. Patience Is Your Friend

When people are looking to build muscle fast, a common mistake is to consume too many calories so the muscle is hidden by fat.

To illustrate, when shooting the movie, Father Stu, Mark Wahlberg packed on 30lbs of fat in six weeks while lifting heavy weights and eating mostly healthy foods.[16]

If this process seems too slow, remember that building lean muscle mass takes time. Research suggests that it can take six weeks of consistent training before noticing any increases in muscle mass. Even then, it can be difficult to detect.[17]

Patience is key. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to building muscle consistently.

7. Four Essentials for Staying on Track

When looking to build muscle fast, many people want to ensure the weight they put on is actually muscle so they will appear lean and muscular as opposed to bulky.

As previously mentioned, it is a common error to consume plenty of extra calories, lift weights, and assume the weight gain is muscle when it is primarily fat. Research has shown that is possible for people to build muscle while losing fat. This is known as body composition.[18]


But how do you know if the weight you put on is actually muscle?

Let’s turn to the tools that will help you measure your muscle-building progress:

  • Workout Journal (for tracking your reps, sets, rest, and weights lifted)
  • Measure your belly around the naval (first thing in the morning)
  • Check your weight using a scale (weigh yourself first thing in the morning)
  • Take photos

During your muscle-building journey, tracking your progress can be key to staying motivated. By using these four tools to track your progress, you will get a clearer picture of your results.

When you track your workouts, you can celebrate your progress in terms of the weight, reps, and sets you can perform. By taking photos of your body flexed and unflexed, you will be able to celebrate the progress you make in terms of how your body appears.

8. Don’t Miss This Muscle-Building Nutrient

To consistently pack on muscle without the extra fat, you want to make sure you are getting enough protein. After reviewing the data of one study, the researchers stated that approximately “70% of subjects improve[d] their overall body composition when implementing high-protein diets.”[19]

How much protein is enough?

People who work out regularly might want to aim to consume between 0.7 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.[20]. Other research suggests that you may want to consume more protein to see improvements in body composition.

For instance, one study found that people who consumed 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight while strength training were more likely to lose fat while building muscle.[21]


Consuming more protein can also help us lean down because our bodies burn four to ten times more calories breaking down proteins compared to carbs or fats. Protein also tends to leave many people feeling more satiated for longer periods than fats or carbs, which can help prevent overeating.[22]

9. Keep Your Calories in Check!

If you are looking to pack on muscle fast, it is important to consume enough calories. How many calories should you consume to put on muscle fast?

To prevent excess fat gain, you may want to start by consuming no more than 500 extra calories per day. This can lead to putting on an additional one to two pounds of muscle per month.

One study found that even bodybuilders who were training six days a week put on extra fat when consuming more calories.[23]

If you decide to take in more calories, you will also want to make sure you are tracking your progress using the tools mentioned previously. This will help you get a clearer picture as to whether or not the extra calories are building muscle as opposed to storing fat.

It might be a good idea to consume more protein as a way to increase your calories. As one researcher explains:[24]


“Dietary protein appears to have a protective effect against fat gain during times of energy surplus, especially when combined with resistance training.”

Wrapping Up

Building muscles is not an easy task, especially for people who may not have the most optimal genes for it. But nothing is impossible. You can start with these nine science-backed ways to help you jumpstart your journey.

Now that you have learned nine science-backed ways how to build muscle fast, you might also want to check out some of the best bodyweight exercises to get stronger without hitting the gym.

Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com


[1]SpringerLink: The Effect of Resistance Training in Healthy Adults on Body Fat Percentage, Fat Mass and Visceral Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
[2]SpringerLink: A Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises during Resistance Training
[3]Sage Journals: Core stability training for injury prevention; The health and performance benefits of the squat, deadlift, and bench press
[4]SpringerLink: Prescription of resistance training for healthy populations
[5]Functional Movement Systems: Movement Principles
[6]NCBI: Core Stability Training for Injury Prevention
[7]The Art of Manliness: The Herschel Walker Workout
[8]Fitness Minimalists: 19 Best Floor Abs Exercises To Help Injury-Proof Your Body
[9]National Academy of Sports Medicine: Stabilization Endurace: NASM’s Optimum Performance Training
[10]NCBI: Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods
[11]ResearchGate: Improving muscle size with Weider’s principle of progressive overload in non-performance athletes
[12]NCBI: Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High-Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training
[13]NCBI: Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods
[14]NCBI: Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods
[15]NCBI: Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods
[16]Today: Mark Wahlberg consumed up to 11,000 calories a day, including a glass of olive oil, for new role
[17]The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Effects of Training Volume on Strength and Hypertrophy in Young Men
[18]Strength and Conditioning Journal: Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?
[19]Strength and Conditioning Journal: Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?
[20]National Academy of Sports Medicine: The Power of Protein
[21]Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women – a follow-up investigation
[22]British Journal of Nutrition: Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss, and health
[23]Journal of Human Kinetics: Effects of Different Dietary Energy Intake Following Resistance Training on Muscle Mass and Body Fat in Bodybuilders: A Pilot Study
[24]NCBI: The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review
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