A Complete Guide To Muscle Building Primer

A Complete Guide To Muscle Building Primer

One of the biggest physical concerns that have played a vital role in modern human history is the process of maintaining the human form. Whereas before, the focus was on function, in the past few hundred years, trillions of dollars have been poured into discovering the best way to chisel our bodies into Roman statues through muscle building.

Personal fitness has played a massive part in everything from media and entertainment to health. Every dollar and experiment conducted have been toward finding the fastest way to gain muscle and keep it.

First – Check Out The Infographic

guide to gaining muscle infographic

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All too often, interested exerciser spends too much time trying to find the perfect workout for increasing, honing and toning muscle that could be used in execution. This guide provides the background information required to intelligently get started with building muscle without the possibility of injury.

Muscle building is one of the greatest and most significant challenges a person can undergo. It is not meant to be taken light, with gym related deaths being a very real threat.

guy with shirt flexing left biceps

The physical and mental changes gradually take hold and result in boosted confidence, strength, and mental acuity. Muscle building is for more than just bodybuilders. It is tied to long term personal fitness that assures longevity into old age.

Building Muscle For Dummies

Building muscle is complicated on the surface but simple in actuality. It's based on consistency above all else. It requires a consistent diet, exercise, and focus. The reason why in gym culture, so many people harp on gains is that as hard as it is to get muscle for most, it's substantially easier to lose that hard work.

The reason why most have trouble is they do not adhere to their workouts, keep an accurate record, nor variate their workouts when they stagnate. On top of that, many only go to the gym and go to through the motions expecting results.

How People Think Getting Ripped Works

Most people begin the process of building muscle thinking all they have to do is go to the gym and do a few arm curls and somehow they'll have a six-pack. While going to the gym can be an anxiety-inducing event, it doesn't have to be painful.

before and after picture of a guy from fat to ripped body

In actuality despite the saying "no pain no gain," pain during an exercise means that either you are either not doing it right or you're doing too much. It's important to understand your limits and to consistently but carefully work on breaking beyond them.

It Takes Time To Gain Muscle

Getting ripped or muscle building doesn’t happen overnight. And contrary to what most would think, steroids isn’t an overnight injection of muscle. The problem with using steroids as a shortcut comes down to the ingredients.

Besides having a negative impact on your sexual health and testosterone levels, many steroids cause cardiovascular stress in long-term users. This can contribute to heart attacks, poor genital function, and stroke.

muscular guy in the gym doing biceps barbell curls

The process of gaining muscle doesn’t have to be as complicated as most people make it. The first step is to take an honest look at your goals and your body specifications.

One of the biggest reasons why people never reach their fitness goals is because they try and do too much at once. They lack a fundamental understanding of how building muscle works and how their body converts the nutrients from their diet into that muscle.

How Building Muscle Happens

There are a variety of different muscle groups and types within the body. Your heart is as much a muscle as your pecs and gluteus maximus. Muscles work by moving according to what the brains tells it to. How well your muscles move or contract is dependent on how healthy you are as well as how much exercise you get.

infographic on how muscle building works

The amount of muscle or size you have doesn’t necessarily correlate with strength. It is dependent on how well your body responds to the signals your brain sends your muscles.

  • Speed: For those that want to have big muscles while still being fast and agile, your workouts are going to require a balance of speed training as well as heavy balanced full body workouts.
  • Size: If you just want size, heavy interval workouts coupled with a heavy protein diet is the way to go.
  • Definition/Tone: Your workout will need to be a balance of either bulking and toning through diet adjustments and exercises that will vary between low rep, high weight and high rep, low weight.

Everyone’s body is completely different. How you will react to some workouts will be better or worse than your friends or family. It’s due to a myriad of factors that we will get into later on.

Time & Money Invested

Most people treat the body like it's a game machine. If you press the right buttons at the right times, your body will dispense a prize that is a better physique. While this is faithful to some degree, the human body is complex and can be unpredictable.

The proper nutrition balance for your body may change over time. The way your body handles workouts can be impacted by sickness or by some other variables. In any case, your body has to be treated as a temple.

You should focus on looking past the time or financial cost of building muscle as an impetus. It can be done in a cost-effective manner with little time if done consistently.

dollar sign on guys flexed biceps

One thing to keep in mind is that fitness has a bell curve. People on the low end will be extremely unhealthy, and in bad shape because of the effort, it requires. With a considerable amount of effort, they will gradually adapt and become better over time.

There will be those in the mid to high end that will make your goals easier than you just because of their age or body type. It's not an automatic

What Factors Influence Your Body Composition

Body composition is important when considering building muscle and your particular routine. Every exercise is meant to isolate a particular group of muscles to create tension that will lead to muscle regrowth.

Studies have shown that how you build muscle, body composition and the best way to gain muscle for an individual are intercorrelated.

There are a few factors that play important parts in your body composition:

  • Your Genetics
  • Your Personal Health History
  • ​Your Workout Frequency & Consistency
  • ​Diet
  • ​When You Workout
  • Sleep/The Quality of Your Rest
  • Each has a different function for determining your limitations, strengths, and weaknesses through your personal fitness journey.


Genetics plays a strong role in our general health. From our susceptibility to injury to disease, your parents and grandparents medical history and your genetic makeup can speak volumes as to what you can expect. While it isn't the end all deciding factor, it can give you ideas of where you need to improve/what weaknesses your family typically has in and out of the gym.

image of a dna strand

For instance, there are a few default body types that are considered in athletic performance and bodybuilding as the basis for how you can train.

They are ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs.

  • Ectomorphs: People that have a slim build. They tend to be on the more extreme side of tall or short height with extended legs and arms. They have the hardest time building muscle because of the way their muscle is distributed and their initial muscle build. Their muscle cells tend to be less responsive to building muscle despite having a great likelihood of being responsive athletically. Think of Kevin Durant as an example of an ectomorph.
  • Endomorphs: Large people that have a high percentage of fat on their bodies. Their fat tends to be concentrated in their intimate areas, stomach, neck, and legs. They have slower metabolisms usually, so while they can build muscle, toning down is more of a challenge than the other body types. Think of a center lineman on a football field.
  • Mesomorphs: People that seem to be extremely malleable. They are naturally physically fit, with well-shaped muscles and tend to have faster metabolisms than the other builds. Mesomorphs also tend to be more generally athletic without training.

While everyone would prefer to be mesomorphs, most are not. Genetics plays a role in the creation of mesomorphs. They are the mixture of ectomorphs and endomorphs.

  • If you are an ectomorph, your biggest impetus is going to be adding enough protein into your diet and high weight workouts.
  • If you are an endomorph, your greatest challenge is going to be limiting carbs in your diet, mixed with eating protein, and keeping your workouts dynamic.
  • If you are a mesomorph, your main challenge is going to be balancing shaping your muscle, maintaining it, and not letting your workouts stagnate.

On a final note regarding genetics, genetics can determine what you can eat, and how you handle the injury. While the injury is something that should be avoided at all cost, it is something happens to those that train for an extended period. Some will heal fast, and others will heal slowly due to their body type and genetic makeup.

Health History

Your personal health history plays a part in how well your nutrition is absorbed, where your body is at starting out, and what you can and cannot do. Those that have asthma shouldn't start out trying to break into one-mile runs without a plan.

If you suffer from any disorders or issues, it's best, to be honest and take them into account. They don't have to limit you, but they will influence how you can train to overcome them. Ask yourself honestly what is dangerous, and gradually work to adjust.

family tree

For instance, studies have shown that asthma can be improved by training using swimming drills. The increased lung capacity mixed with the aerobic movement leads to asthma improving. The point is to strengthen your body, not weaken it.

Increased lung capacity means more oxygen during and after workouts during your rests, which give your muscles more time to recover and increases the effectiveness of your workouts.

Your Workout Plan

To keep it simple, if you are going to the gym and just doing exercises without a plan unless you are lucky, you won't notice many results no matter how long you go. It's sort of like trying to fix a car with a wrench when you know nothing about cars and don't what the problem is.

The best muscle building workout or workout plan to gain muscle is simple.

  • Some calories needed to gain muscle are varied on your weight, your exercise, and goals. If you are into high-performance workouts for athletic purposes or are looking for an athletic build, you will need upwards of the thousands. Make sure your nutrition is on point. We will go into that later.
  • Choosing a workout plan that is line with your goals. It's important to not just run for six miles a day and expect results. Every type of exercise has its purpose.
  • The main elements to include are weight lifting, warm up, cool down, stretching, and regular cardio.

Best workouts to gain muscle are based on free weights. These can include squats, cleans, deadlifts, bench press and more. The best starter and default exercise plan is the 5x5 method.

You will alternate between two solid workout programs. One day, you will do five sets of five reps of squats, five sets of five reps of bench presses and five sets of barbell rows.

The next day, you will squat five sets of five reps, five sets of five overhead presses, and do one set of five deadlifts. This done either three to five days a week will have results within only a few months. It’s the default workout because it allows you to see what you are good at and where you need improvement.

guy on bench doing kettlebell flys

For those that lack gym equipment, the convict conditioning strategy works well. It is based on using body weight exercises to increase your overall strength and tone your body.

The general basics of it are doing high rep amounts of push ups, sit ups, pull ups, planks, and squats. You gradually work your way up to more advanced workout exercises such as handstand squats and one-handed pushup.

As far as building lean muscle goes, convict conditioning is good. It's cheap, easy to do for those that travel often or don't have space for a home gym. At the same time, it's limited. Free weights are better for those that ask "how to gain muscle mass or how to gain muscle fast."

Your Workout Frequency & Consistency

While top tier athletes can and do train as many times as two to three times a day, it’s not recommended for the beginner thinking they are Rocky Balboa. It’s a surefire way to over exhaust both your muscles and motivation.

The biggest problem is that it simply isn’t an efficient way to get the job done.

Whereas previously, it was believed that long, exhaustive, immersive workouts were required for even the most minuscule of results. The theory of long workouts has recently been disproven.

personal trainer spotting guy doing bench press

The new theory that has taken hold is that keeping your weight activities to three days a week with longer periods of rest in between can significantly increase muscle mass.

This means previously, how to gain lean muscle was dependent on harsh workouts exclusively. Now, how to gain muscle is dependent on building a quick exercise that both consistently strains the muscle and allows it to heal.

As mentioned before in this guide, consistency trumps massive effort. It’s better to stick to a consistent schedule. It both improves your rhythm and builds the positive habit of naturally making working out an automatic activity and less of a struggle.

How long does it take to gain muscle? It depends on the person.


Everyone wonders what to eat to gain muscle. Just as diet can influence the amount of fat in your body, it also affects the amount of muscle you build. Building muscle without proper nutrition is like building a house without anything to keep it together.

trays of healthy food

Understanding Food

The food pyramid is an outdated concept. Nutritionists have long since abandoned it as a source for dividing up what foods are important and should be consumed in appropriate quantities. The food you choose to incorporate into your diet will influence how your body composition will adjust with or without exercise.

A simplified version of the various food groups are as follows:

  • Vegetables & Beans
  • Fruits
  • ​Grains
  • ​Meats & Fatty Foods
  • Dairy

Why Is It Broken Up This Way?

The main reason for things being divided as they are is for simplicity. It's easy to think of foods that have ambiguous categories such as tomatoes, seeds, cheez its and other junk food. This is meant to be easy to breakdown and keep in mind when organizing diet plans.

attractive shirtless guy eating healthy food

Each of these groups plays a part in having a balanced, healthy diet. In order, from what you should eat most to least. It goes:

  • 1. Vegetables & Beans
  • 2. Fruits
  • 3. Meats & Fatty Foods
  • ​4. Grains
  • 5. Dairy

The first thing to notice is the only difference is the placements of Meats & Grains. The reason is simple, while Meats are not a necessity, they are more prevalent as a basis for diets that are high in protein, especially when coupled with Vegetables and Beans.

Think of your food groups as going from eating all you want at the top, to eat sparingly at the bottom.

Everyone knows that vegetables and beans are good for you and are packed with a massive amount of nutrients that contribute to better quality sleep, clearer minds, healthier hearts, and stronger bodies. People also know that fruits are essential for similar reasons.

decorative plate of cut fruits and vegetables

The list goes on that way with things like dairy being regarded as fatty or incongruous with the current human system. This is one of the causes for problems such as lactose intolerance and related bowel issues from over consumption.

The goal should be to have a vegetable and meat dominant diet that is varied enough that you don’t get tired of it.

The Best Muscle Building Foods

The best diet to gain muscle isn't dependent on protein for muscle gain alone. A good meal plan to gain muscle is realistic, enjoyable, and useful for long term use. For those that wonder how to lose fat and gain muscle, diet and exercise are the only two weapons you need to know how to use.

Everything else is secondary.

The best diet strategy for building lean muscle or muscle mass is somewhat similar.

  • Try and make sure you eat at least four to six meals a day. This will lead to you eating smaller meals opposed to in large portions that can make you lazy or go through your day hungry.
  • What To Eat To Gain Muscle Mass: Stick to lean meats, veggies, and light amounts of fruit six days a week. On the list of foods to eat to gain muscle, you can add some of your favorites one day a week. It’s called a cheat day.
plate of lean chicken meat and veggies are perfect for muscle building

It’s meant to keep your discipline but also provide yourself with a reward to keep motivated throughout the week. It has the added physiological spike to contribute to insulin levels in your body and avoid ketosis.

  • How Much Protein Do I Need To Gain Muscle? The rule of thumb is one gram of protein for every pound you weight. How much protein for muscle gain is needed will vary, but it is a good starting point. At first, eating that much meat will be hard, but gradually you will adjust.

To summarize, the best meal plan to gain muscle is basically: your body weight daily in protein through lean meats such as chicken and turkey, beans, spinach, and broccoli. You can substitute other vegetables and legumes to satisfy the criteria for a high protein diet plan for muscle gain.

When You Workout

When you workout matters more than you would think. Workouts early in the day are more effective due to you being freshly rested and awake. It boosts overall confidence, focus, and can set the right tone for the rest of your day despite the possible soreness.

three people doing kettlebell push ups

Those who workout later in the afternoon to the night have a higher possibility of cutting corners during their workout due to exhaustion. Especially after a long day of studying or working, it's easier just to say "I'll skip today and go tomorrow." While a little extra rest is good, it's when that tomorrow never becomes that it begins to become a problem.

Sleep & Rest

By far, the most important aspect of how long it takes to gain muscle mass, how well your muscle develops, and how it develops is rest. This can mean two things. First, the amount of rest you get between reps is important during your set.

Most new exercisers underestimate the importance of taking a short minute to a few minute rest between sets. The reason is pretty straight forward. While you exercise, as you become short of breath, the amount of oxygen in your muscles is lessened as the lactic acid builds up.

shirtless guy sleeping in bed

Taking a moment to let your muscles relax and oxygen to get to them will keep your workouts effective. You'll make the most of the set opposed to burning out and overtraining your muscles.

Not to mention, cooling down is as important as warming up for fully activating your muscles. It helped release the built up lactic acid, so you felt less sore and burned out after your workout is done.

It also prevents long-term injury and helps your muscles become better shaped opposed to bunching up. Greater flexibility is one of the most important tenets of having functional strength opposed to just aesthetics and being big.

Sleep Itself

Your body needs proper rest. This one goes without saying. You need to get a full night's rest the night after your day at the gym for your body to properly heal during your REM cycle.

8-10 hours 4-5 REM cycles

Without it, you will lose approximately 30-35% of the potential gains you could've made on the low end. On the high end, it will negatively impact your ability to perform and will lead to less ability to workout without injury over time.

The Top Cause Of Well Shaped Muscle Building

Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking

Many people with great metabolisms and natural physique advantages try and adhere to what is called a dirty bulk. While it is an effective method for some, for others it is a frustrating process. Dirty bulking is mainly eating a variety of foods, both good and bad, unregulated while doing high-intensity constant weight exercises.

This can include free weight exercises for the use of machines in the gym. The difference between dirty bulking and clean bulking is the type of activities you do, the frequency of workouts, your personal goals, and your diet itself.

While it is an effective way to build muscle, it also can lead to accumulation of fat. Dirty bulking does have its advantages. It also misses out on the opportunity to cleanly build lean muscle. When compared, dirty bulking vs. clean bulking each have their uses.

buff guy on elliptical machine

Dirty bulking is for those that want something easy to stick to that doesn't require a lot of discipline but shows fast results while boosting general muscle strength. On the flip side, a clean or lean bulk is the result of eating a balanced diet with a thoroughly controlled weight exercise regimen.

A clean or lean bulk is based on discipline. Usually, for a lean bulk or lean muscle building, program, the exerciser focuses on a diet that is dominant in white-breasted chicken, beans, turkey or other lean meats that don't have a lot of fat. The reason is that these have the lowest caloric amount that can be converted into fat.

At the same time, they have an extremely high protein value. This means that after hard workouts, that protein can be converted into muscle/used to repair muscles. That way, you are getting the benefits of high protein minus all of the negatives that would come from eating meat that has a higher fat content so that progress isn't inhibited.

To simplify, you're spending more time on recovery and building muscle and less worrying about needing to cut later on.

Choosing the right supplements such as melatonin, creatine, and protein powder can help dirty or clean bulks become more productive with your diet. Supplements are meant to act as an additive, not as the basis of your diet. Building your diet with supplements in mind can help keep it balanced.

guy bodybuilder measuring waist with tape measure

Pre-workout is excellent for energizing and keeping your workouts explosive. Protein powder is good for those that have trouble meeting their daily protein needs through natural means, but it is not intended to be a substitute.

Ultimately, supplements are meant to give a much-needed edge to make workouts more efficient. They aren't a requirement, but they are a good cheat code. Any supplement that helps with the process of rebuilding your muscle through providing the necessary amino acids or aiding in the resting process will be helpful.


Muscle building can be as complex or simple as you make it. Keeping the most important points in mind, there are a variety of factors to consider before you begin, but you have to start small. The process of building your body up is meant to be gradual.

guy with six pack abs

Balancing a solid diet, with great supplement additions, adequate rest, and regular well-planned exercise is the key to fast and efficient muscle building. The aspects of improvement are going to depend on your physiology, your background, and your goals you have set for yourself.

Beyond all of the obvious points, the most important trait to have, even more so than focus, is the patience to reach your goal.

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