17 Powerful Tips to Boost Muscle Growth [Backed by Science]

If you’re scouting for science-backed ways to rev up muscle growth, then you’re going to LOVE this article!

In it, you’ll discover seventeen tried and true tips you can instantly use to instantly improve your workout routine, nutrition plan, and lifestyle, so you can grow more eye-catching muscle.

The best part?

I’ll show you how to gain mass without spending hour upon hour in the gym, bulking like a pig, or wasting time on ineffective “bro science.”

Let’s dive right in.

#1. Be in a Calorie Surplus

To maximize muscle growth, you must be in a calorie surplus, which means you consume more calories than you burn.

That’s important because a calorie surplus triggers physiological changes that aid muscle growth. For example, it raises testosterone and IGF-1 levels while lowering cortisol.[1-3]

As a result, muscle protein synthesis increases while muscle protein breakdown reduces. In other words, you stimulate muscle growth.[4]

In addition, a calorie surplus also boosts your workout performance by enhancing muscle glycogen stores.[5-6]

Here’s what to do:

While you can build muscle in a calorie deficit, you can’t do so optimally. That’s especially true if you’re already close to your genetic potential.

Instead, if you want to maximize muscle growth, you must consume more calories than you burn.

Now, before you start to load up on any food that crosses your path, remember that a larger calorie surplus doesn’t always equal more muscle gains.

For example, a 12-week study compared muscle and strength gains among resistance-trained athletes who either consumed a small and a moderate calorie deficit.[7]

While both approaches caused the same amount of strength and muscle gains, those who ate a small surplus packed on five times less fat than those who consumed an extra 600 calories.

In other words, you only need a small calorie surplus to optimize muscle growth. Anything above that only causes excessive fat gain.

To calculate how many calories you should eat each day to build muscle without risking excessive fat gain, here’s a four-step formulate:

Step 1: Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR)

Do so with the Harris-Benedict Equation (revised by Mifflin and St. Jeor in 1990) outlined below:

  • BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5

For example, if you’re 75 kg, 180 cm, and 30 years old, your calculation will look like this:

  • BMR = (10 x 75) + (6.25 x 180) – (5 x 30) + 5 = 1,730

Step 2: Adjust to your activity multiplier

Select the option below that best describes your current situation and apply the multiplier to the number from the previous step.

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise and a desk job) => BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light activity with light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week) => BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (somewhat active with moderate exercise or sports 3-4 days a week) => BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (highly active with hard exercise or sports 4-6 days a week) => BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely active (hard exercise and activity and physical work each day) => BMR x 1.9

For example, if your BMR is 1,730 and you qualify as “moderately active,” your calculation would be:

  • 1,730 x 1.55 = 2,682

Step 3: Adjust to your current situation

  • If you have less than one year of training experience on a well-designed workout routine, add 300 calories to your calculation.
  • If you have between one and three years of training experience on a well-designed workout routine, add 225 calories to your calculation.
  • If you have more than three years of training experience on a well-designed workout routine, add 150 calories to your calculation.

For example, if your number from the previous step was 2,682 and you have between one and three years of training experience on a well-designed workout routine, your math would look like this:

  • 2,682 + 225 = 2907

This represents the number of calories you should eat each day to maximize muscle growth while minimizing excessive fat gain.

#2. Focus on Getting Stronger

The most crucial weight training principle you must obey to spur muscle growth is exposing them to stimuli they’re unaccustomed to.

In other words, you have to gradually increase the stress you place on your muscles, something we call applying progressive overload.[8]

Why is that essential?

It’s because your muscles have a reason to develop if you apply progressive overload. If you fail to do that, however, there’s no such reason, which means your muscles won’t grow.

There are various ways to apply progressive overload.

For example, you can increase your training volume, reduce your rest intervals between sets, or increase the range of motion of an exercise.

In addition, you can also increase the amount of resistance you use. That is one of the – if not the – most practical and effective means to apply progressive overload.[9-11]

The reason it’s effective to focus on lifting heavier is that muscle size and strength tie together − the stronger you are, the more muscle you tend to carry.[12]

Want proof?

Then look at the graph below. It’s from a study that found chest size in close correlation with the one rep max strength on the bench press.[13]

Focus on Getting Stronger

Here’s what to do:

To build muscle, focus on getting stronger by gradually lifting heavier and heavier weights.

If you’re a beginner lifter, that’s easy to do. You should be able to increase the resistance on most exercises from workout to workout.

Once you advance, however, such quick gains won’t be possible anymore because progress slows once you near your genetic potential.[14]

Still, you should aim to lift more weight over time as an advanced trainee.

But instead of striving to do that on a workout-to-workout basis, shoot for progress on a week-to-week, month-to-month, or (if you’re within a whisker of your genetic potential) a year-to-year basis.

#3. Train through a Full Range of Motion

During dynamic exercises, you can train a muscle through either a full or a partial range of motion (ROM).

If you train a muscle through a full ROM, you move the joint connected to that muscle through its full flexion capacity. With a partial ROM, you do only one part of that span.

Here’s a visual of how that works:

Training through a Full Range of Motion

While you can build muscle with both full and partial reps, if you want to maximize your gains, research shows it’s best to do most of your sets through a full ROM. For example:

  • A leg workout routine involving squats causes more thigh muscle growth when full reps are done as opposed to partials.[15]
  • Subjects who do full ROM Scott curls increase arm size more than those who do partial reps.[16]
  • Full squats lead to more quadriceps growth than partial ones.[17]

There are various reasons full ROM exercises cause more muscle growth. One of them is that such movements produce higher levels of muscular activation.[18]

Besides, full ROM exercises are also superior because they:

  • are easier on your joints and central nervous system. That’s because full ROM exercises require less of a load.
  • stretch a muscle under load, which is a potent hypertrophy stimulus.[18-19] An example of this is what you experience during full ROM straight leg deadlifts.

Here’s what to do:

Instead of doing half reps to lift more weight – or maybe to impress the hottie on the StairMaster and tickle your own ego – do all your exercises using a full ROM.

You’ll get more gains, it’ll be less taxing on your joints, and it’ll improve recovery capacity.

Important: When you train through a full ROM, it’s crucial you maintain proper form. Never sacrifice technique to exercise through a larger ROM!

Take the squat, for example. Bad lifting technique aside, some people just can’t squat ass-to-the-grass without having their hips tuck under.

Their hip anatomy may not allow for a deep squat. Or maybe a particular muscle is too stiff to permit that depth. Or maybe it’s something else.

Whatever the reason, squat as deep as you can but don’t go past the point where your lower back starts to round or your technique breaks down in another way.

#4. Don’t Switch Exercises Too Often

Here’s a study that may change the way you work out forever.

Back in 1998, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario instructed young women to resistance-train twice a week. [20]

The 20-week workout plan involved exercises like the bench press, leg press, and bicep curl. And in the middle and at the end of the study, the researchers measured improvements in strength and hypertrophy.

The result?

While the women built a lot of arm strength and size halfway through the study, their trunk and leg gains were nonexistent.

But by the end of the study, muscle gains in the limbs and trunk finally became evident.

Why was there a delay in trunk and leg muscle growth but not in their arms?

That’s because initial strength gains on new exercises are mostly due to neuromuscular adaptations.[21]

That means you get stronger at a new movement because you become more effective at it, not necessarily because you gain muscle.

(This is especially true for complex exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.)

Once you master the movement, however, additional strength gains come mostly from muscular adaptations.[22] At that point, you’ll start to build actual muscle mass.

That’s why switching your exercises too often hurts your progress. You’ll never become skilled at a particular movement, which means you won’t grow muscle effectively.

Instead, you’re chasing neurological adaptations.[23]

Switching exercises too often hurts your progress
Source: Bompa, T., & Buzzichelli, C. (n.d.). PeriodizationTraining for Sports (3rd ed.). Human Kinetics.

Here’s what to do:

To build muscle instead of chasing neurological gains, stick to exercises for more extended periods.

That’s especially important for complex, compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, and overhead presses.

These exercises are technical movements, which means they need more time to become ingrained in your nervous system.

Simple, isolation exercises like bicep curls, calf raises, and tricep pushdowns, however, are less technical and have a shorter neurological learning time.

Still, it’s best to choose one variation and use it for multiple ensuing workouts, even for the less technical movements.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”To build muscle instead of chasing neurological gains, stick to exercises for more extended periods. #buildmuscle” quote=”To build muscle instead of chasing neurological gains, stick to exercises for more extended periods. “]

Here’s what I recommend you to do:

Choose a handful of “cornerstone exercises” that form the basis of your workout routine. Those are your big, compound exercises. Select those by choosing a variation of each of the following movements:

  • a squat (i.e., back squat), deadlift (i.e., conventional deadlift), horizontal press (i.e., bench press), vertical press (i.e., barbell overhead press), horizontal row (i.e., dumbbell row), and a vertical row (i.e., chin up).
  • Stick to each variation for at least 20 weeks. While this may sound like a long time, it ensures maximum muscle growth.
  • For your assistance compound exercises, stick to the same movement for at least 12 weeks. More time would be even better.
  • You can make changes more often with your isolation exercises because they’re less technical. That said, it’s still best to stick to a specific variation for at least six weeks.

If you check out the biggest and strongest lifters in the world and evaluate their workouts, you’ll notice they don’t switch exercises very often.

Instead, they stick to a handful of core movements and supplement these motions with assistance exercises.

Plus, most of their workout variations are not done by changing exercises but instead by altering variables such as sets, reps, rest intervals, exercise order, and lifting speed.

#5. Train Each Muscle at Least Twice a Week

Many bodybuilders train each muscle group only once a week with a “bro split.”

By working out like this, they can cram a lot of volume for a particular muscle in one session, which causes a severe pump and immense soreness the next day.

But is it really a good idea to train each muscle only once a week?

According to a study by Brad Schoenfeld and his colleagues, the answer is no.[24]

These researchers measured muscle growth between training a muscle once or thrice a week.

Total training volume was matched, which means that no matter how often the subjects would work out, they would all do the same amount of sets and reps.

The result?

Those who worked out three times a week had superior gains to those who worked out less frequently.

This wasn’t the only study to come to this conclusion, by the way. Similar results were also found in research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.[25]

In this study, trainees either did all their weekly exercise volume in one big full-body workout or they spread it out over three smaller full-body sessions.

Once again, those who trained more often had superior results compared to those who did not.

While the once-a-week athletes increased lean body mass by a mere 1%, those who trained three times per week added 8%. That’s eight times as much muscle growth!

But why does training each muscle group only once a week lead to suboptimal gains?

One reason is that protein synthesis (muscle growth) only stays at elevated levels for up to 72 hours after a workout.[26]

Protein synthesis (muscle growth) only stays at elevated levels for up to 72 hours after a workout.

That means that if you train a muscle once every seven days, you’ll only trigger growth for up to 72 hours that week. (Maybe even less, depending on your workout and situation.)

During the other 96 hours of the week, you’ll miss out on potential gains.

Here’s what to do:

To optimize muscle growth, train each muscle at least twice a week. (Three or more times a week might be even better.)

Here are some examples of workout routines you can use to train each muscle group two or three times per week.

Full body (you’ll train each muscle twice per week)

  • Monday: Full body workout 1
  • Tuesday: –
  • Wednesday: –
  • Thursday: Full body workout 2
  • Friday: –
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

Full body (you’ll train each muscle three times per week)

  • Monday: Full body workout 1
  • Tuesday: –
  • Wednesday: Full body workout 2
  • Thursday: –
  • Friday: Full body workout 3
  • Saturday: –
  • Sunday: –

Standard upper-lower split (you’ll train each muscle twice per week)

  • Monday: Upper body workout 1
  • Tuesday: Lower body workout 1
  • Wednesday: –
  • Thursday: Upper body workout 2
  • Friday: Lower body workout 2
  • Saturday: –
  • Sunday: –

High-volume upper-lower body split (you’ll train each muscle three times per week).*

  • Monday: Upper body workout 1
  • Tuesday: Lower body workout 1
  • Wednesday: Upper body workout 2
  • Thursday: Lower body workout 2
  • Friday: Upper body workout 3
  • Saturday: Lower body workout 3
  • Sunday: –

* This routine is only recommended for advanced trainees who need a high training volume to keep making progress.

* This routine is only recommended for advanced trainees who need a high training volume to keep making progress.

Modified push-pull-legs routine (you’ll train each muscle twice per week)**

  • Monday: Push muscles workout 1
  • Tuesday: Pull muscles workout 1
  • Wednesday: Leg muscles workout 1
  • Thursday: Push muscles workout 2
  • Friday: Pull muscles workout 2
  • Saturday: Leg muscles workout 2
  • Sunday: –

** Push muscles are chest, front delts, and triceps (optionally side delts, as well). Pull muscles are back, rear delts, and biceps (optionally side delts, as well). Leg muscles are glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves (optionally abs, as well).

** Push muscles are chest, front delts, and triceps (optionally side delts, as well). Pull muscles are back, rear delts, and biceps (optionally side delts, as well). Leg muscles are glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves (optionally abs, as well).

Recommended reading: Best Training Frequency For Muscle Growth & Hypertrophy

#6. Supplement with Creatine

Creatine is one of the safest and best-researched supplements to aid muscle growth. Here’s some of the available data on the compound:

  • One meta-analysis compared 250 different supplements and found that creatine supplementation had the most pronounced impact on muscle mass.[27]
  • According to the Center for Human Nutrition, trainees who use creatine supplements for up to three months gain between 2 and 6.5 pounds more lean body mass on average than those who don’t.[28]
  • One placebo-controlled study found that healthy males who followed a six-week strength training regime gained 2 kg more lean mass on average when they used creatine supplements.[29]

There are the five main ways creatine aids muscle and strength gains:

  • Creatine supplementation raises your body’s phosphocreatine stores, which assists ATP (energy) production during high-intensity exercise.As a result, you’ll be stronger and better resistant to exercise-induced fatigue, which means you can overload your muscles with more intensity in the gym.[30-33]
  • Creatine supplementation increases muscle cellular hydration.[34] (That’s why most trainees gain between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds after a creatine-loading phase.)
    This is great because increased cellular hydration raises the pressure on cytoskeletons and cell membranes. Your muscle cells perceive this as a threat, which leads to enhanced anabolic signaling and protein synthesis.[35]
  • Creatine supplementation speeds up recovery after intense training. This means you can handle a higher training volume and thus make better progress.[36-37]
  • Creatine supplementation raises testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels in males.[38-39]

Here’s what to do:

Supplement with creatine monohydrate. This is the cheapest, most extensively studied, and most effective form of creatine.[40-41]

If you’re new to using creatine, start with a five-day loading phase and supplement with 20 to 25 grams of creatine monohydrate a day.

This saturates your muscle creatine stores, which leads to an acute boost in strength, power, and body weight (in a good way).

Then, after the five-day loading phase, decrease your use and take 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate a day.

This “maintenance phase” ensures your muscle creatine stores stay saturated and you keep experiencing the benefits that come along with it.

Note: A loading phase is not mandatory to reap benefits from creatine. You’ll reach the same saturation point if you supplement with a smaller dose like 3 to 5 grams a day over an extended period.

However, it’ll take a longer time to reach these saturation levels without a loading phase, which means you’ll need more time to experience all the benefits you can get from creatine.

Recommended reading: Not Another Boring Creatine Guide: Answers to FAQs and Lesser-Known Benefits by Eric Trexler from Stronger by Science.

#7. Train at the Right Time

If you’re like most lifters, you’ve never thought about what time is best to work out. But if you want to optimize your gains, it’s something you need to take into account.

Consider this:

A 2016 study compared the effectiveness of a 24-week workout program done in the morning between 6:30-10:00 or in the evening between 16:30-20:00.[42]

The results? Those who trained in the evening gained a lot more muscle.

What’s more, Tim Scheett (a researcher from the University of Southern Mississippi) found similar results in his study.[43]

Train at the Right Time to Build More Muscle

He compared the progress of 16 bodybuilders who either trained before 10 am or after 6 pm and noted that those who exercised in the evening gained much more muscle than the early birds.

Besides, data presented at the 7th International Conference on Strength Training also found that training in the evening produces a lot more muscle growth.

Interesting, right?

The following three factors may explain why evening workouts lead to superior gains:

  • Muscle anabolic signaling post-workout is higher in the afternoon than in the morning.[44-45]
  • Testosterone production is higher at night while cortisol levels are lower.[46-47]
  • Your core temperature peaks in the evening, which enhances muscle activation, nervous system efficiency, energy metabolism, and muscular blood flow.[48-50]

And if workout performance is higher, you can apply more overload to your muscles and thus stimulate more growth.

Here’s what to do:

Work out in the evening if you can. This produces the best workout performance and leads to the most muscle growth.

If you can’t train later in the day, try at least to plan your exercises in such a way that you work out at the same time each workout.

Your circadian rhythm will adapt to your routine if you remain consistent with the timing of your workouts, which can increase your performance in that time-frame.[51]

Important: this advice is for people who have a normal circadian rhythm. That means people who go to bed somewhere around 23:00 and wake up around 7:00.

If you have an altered sleep-wake schedule (for example, you do shift work), wait at least six hours after you wake up to work out.

Side-note: Shout-out to Menno Henselmans, whose work formed the foundation for this tip.

#8. Focus on Compound Exercises

In broad terms, we can categorize exercises into two groups: compound and isolation exercises.

  • Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups. Examples are squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups, and rows.
  • Isolation exercises involve only one joint and target one primary muscle group. Examples are bicep curls, leg extensions, tricep pushdowns, and lateral raises.

Now, if you want to optimize muscle growth, you should focus on compound exercises. That’s because:

  1. Compound exercises stimulate a more substantial amount of muscle mass. During a squat, for example, you activate over 200 muscles.[52] To train the same amount of mass with isolation exercises, you’d need to perform many different movements.
  2. Compound exercises cause a more significant anabolic hormone secretion than isolation ones. In fact, hormone release (including hormones like HGH and testosterone) ties in closely to how much muscle mass an exercise involves.[53-54]
  3. Compound exercises stimulate your stabilizer muscles with more intensity. This aids joint health and therefore reduces your risk of injury. (And remember, if you’re injured, you can’t train and can’t make any more gains.)
  4. Compound exercises let your body spread the external force over multiple joints, which benefits muscular strength and joint health.

Here’s what to do:

When you work out, use primarily compound exercises. While there’s no optimal ratio to aim for, a good guideline is to use compound exercises for at least 70% of your sets.

#9. Supplement with Isolation Exercises

While compound exercises should form the foundation of your workout program, isolation movements do have their own unique benefits.

One of these benefits is that you can put a creator focus on an under-developed muscle group by using specific isolation exercises.

Besides, you can’t effectively stimulate particular muscles with compound exercises. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some isolation movements in your routine.

An example of a muscle that can’t be stimulated effectively by compound exercises is the short head of your biceps femoris, which is a part of your hamstring.

Contrary to the other muscle heads of the hamstring, this muscle head doesn’t extend your hip. That means you can’t effectively train this hamstring muscle head with compound exercises like stiff leg deadlifts.

Instead, you should do knee flexion exercises like the lying hamstring curl for optimal development of this muscle.

Another example of a muscle group that needs to be isolated for optimal development is your side delt, which isn’t activated effectively during (overhead) pressing movements.[55-56]

Instead, to maximize side delt development, you’ll have to do upright rows (which few people do) or do side raises (for example, with a dumbbell or cable).

Here’s what to do:

Big compounds movements are enough for optimal growth when it comes to most muscles. That’s especially true if you’re a beginner lifter.

Some muscles, however, require isolation movement for maximum growth.

While the muscles that need isolation vary among individuals, the following muscle groups are often under-developed and thus tend to benefit from isolation movements:

  • Calves: For most people, compound exercises aren’t enough to get good calf gains. The solution is to do calf raises – seated or standing (or even better, both).
  • Short head of the biceps femoris (hamstrings): You can only train this muscle head effectively with knee flexion exercises like lying hamstring curls.
  • Abs: Contrary to popular belief, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are not effective ab builders. To train your abs well, you must isolate them.[57-58]
  • Side delts: The upright row is the only compound exercise that’s effective at training the side delts. But because most people don’t do this movement, it’s best to add lateral raises to your workout plan,

Besides, most trainees need isolation exercises for their biceps and triceps to achieve optimal growth. Plus, isolation exercises for the rear delts and rhomboid are usually beneficial for postural reasons.

#10. Don’t Overdo Cardio

Your body is bad at serving two masters.

If you train for hypertrophy and endurance at the same time, your body can’t adapt optimally to both, which leads to impaired gains in both areas.[59-62]

In the evidence-based fitness space, we call this the “concurrent training effect” or the “interference effect.”

Cardio hinders muscle growth because it forces your body to adapt in two opposite directions.

It does so in many ways, such as by interfering with cellular pathway signaling, gene activation, and enzyme concentrations.[63]

At the molecular level, cardio increases the activation of AMPK (an enzyme that plays a vital role in cellular energy regulation).

While such adaptations are beneficial if you want to enhance your endurance, they hurt muscle growth. That’s because AMPK inhibits Akt/mTOR, a crucial muscle-building pathway.[64-67]

Besides, cardio also causes local changes in muscle fiber type composition, curbs muscle activation speed, reduces muscle glycogen stores, and decreases recovery capacity – and all of these things impede muscle growth.[63,68]

Here’s what to do:

You can only maximize muscle growth if you avoid cardio and make hypertrophy a priority.

That said, if you want to do cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is your best bet.

HIIT is a form of cardio during which you alternate between bouts of (nearly) all-out effort on a speed-based movement and periods of (active) recovery.

An example of such training is switch between sprinting and slow pedaling on an exercise bike, doing both for 30 seconds spurts for 20 minutes in total.

HIIT is better for your muscle mass than steady-state cardio because this exercise style stimulates more identical adaptations, to those encouraged during resistance training.[69]

#11. Do Enough Volume

Training volume refers to the amount of exercise you do over a given period. This is often expressed as the number of reps you do in a workout (sets x reps).

(Training load is often also considered for calculating training volume, but we’ll keep things simple and ignore that factor for now.)

So, if you would work out your biceps and you do 70 total reps in one session, your total volume during that workout for that muscle is 70.

Now, if you want to stimulate muscle growth through resistance training, workout volume is a crucial factor because there’s a clear dose-response relationship between training volume and muscle growth. The more volume you do, the more you grow.[70]

For example, a meta-analysis by James Krieger and his colleagues found 40% more muscle growth in their subjects if they did multiple sets of an exercise instead of only one.[71]

Expect more muscle growth with multiple sets

Also, one comprehensive, long-term study compared upper body muscle growth in men after forty-eight subjects with no weight training experience followed a three days a week resistance training plan for six months.[70]

Group one did only one set per exercise. Group two did three sets. And group three did five sets.

The results?

The five-set group gained much more muscle than those who did only one or three sets.

Increased training volume causes superior muscle growth

Now, it’s important to note that increased training volume only causes superior muscle growth up to a certain point.

If you move past that volume threshold, you won’t reap additional strength and hypertrophy gains. You’ll either plateau or your progress may even decline.[72]

Choose optimal training volume
Source: Schoenfeld, B. (2016). Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Vol. 1). Human Kinetics.

Here’s what to do:

Doing the right amount of training volume can be hard.

On the one hand, you want to do enough volume to ensure progress. But on the other hand, you don’t want to do so much volume that you over-train and set yourself up for injuries.

So, what should you do?

As a general rule of thumb, do this:

  • If you recover well between workouts but aren’t making gains, slightly increase your training volume.
  • If you don’t make gains and don’t recover well between workouts, either take a deload or reduce your total training volume.
  • If you make good progress and recover well between workouts, maintain your current training volume and then slightly increase it over time.

#12. Take Enough Rest between Sets

Many people claim short rest intervals are superior for muscle growth.

This argument is often backed by the fact that shorter rest periods cause more metabolic stress and trigger a more significant secretion of anabolic hormones like testosterone and HGH.

And while the latter is true, does that actually mean shorter rest intervals are superior for muscle growth?

The answer is no, as shown by a randomized volume-controlled trial done by Brad Schoenfeld and his colleagues.

In this study, the researchers compared muscle growth among trainees who rested for either one or three minutes between sets.[73]

The results were remarkable!

While metabolic stress was higher in the one-minute group, those who rested for three minutes between bouts gained more muscle.[74]

The reason longer rest intervals were superior for muscle growth is that they allow you to do more reps or use more weight on each set (maybe even both).

So, if you rest long enough between sets, you can place higher amounts of mechanical tension on your muscles, which leads to more gains.

Here’s what to do:

There’s no “optimal” rest period for everyone because various factors influence your needs. Examples of different factors are your recovery rate, time schedule, and what type of exercise plan you follow.

That said, here are the general guidelines I recommend:

  • On large, compound exercises like squats and bench presses, rest for three to five minutes between sets. This provides enough of a break to perform at or near peak performance on each set.
  • For smaller compound exercises such as cable rows, hip thrusts, and face pulls, rest for two to three minutes.
  • For isolation movements like dumbbell curls, lateral raises, and calf raises, rest for one to two minutes.

You don’t need to rest as long between sets of smaller exercises because you recover faster from these movements.

#13. Eat At Least Four Meals per Day

Traditional bro wisdom says you should eat every few hours to keep your muscles supplied with building blocks.

Hence, some old-school bodybuilders have set alarms to wake up in the middle of the night and gulp down a protein shake to “remain anabolic.”

But with the rise of IIFYM and intermittent fasting, these beliefs have been spurned in modern society, and many trainees claim meal frequency doesn’t matter at all.

What’s actually true?

Here’s what Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon, two leading scientists in the field of resistance training and nutrition, concluded in a recent review:

“… to maximize anabolism one should consume protein at a target intake of 0.4 g/kg/meal across a minimum of four meals […]”.[75]

You want to eat this often to keep your amino acid levels elevated, which ensures your body always has access to muscle-building material.

Here’s what to do:

While there are counter-arguments, I generally best to eat at least four meals a day – this ensures you’re playing it safe when it comes to promoting maximum muscle growth.

Also, spread your meals out in a balanced way – for example, every four hours – and consume at least 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight with each meal.

So, if you weigh 75 kilos, that’s at least 30 grams of protein at each sitting.

#14. Don’t Follow a Low-Carb Diet

Do you follow a low-carb diet?

If so, you could be sabotaging your gains.

In one study, scientists looked at how low- and high-carb intake influence strength recovery, exercise-induced muscle damage, and whole body protein metabolism after an intensive workout.

Those who followed a low-carb diet recovered more slowly, lost more strength, and had lower protein synthesis levels than those on a higher-carb diet.[76]

(For the purposes of this study, the people on the low-carb diet consumed 226 grams of carbs a day, which still is a decent amount of carbs.)

What’s more, another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reported similar results.[77]

The researchers had their subjects perform daily leg workouts on either a high- or low-carb diet.

As a result, those who followed a low-carb diet had lower protein synthesis rates and higher protein breakdown rates. This led them to grow less muscle than the subjects on a high-carb diet.

But why do low-carb diets blunt muscle growth?

There are two main reasons:

  1. Low muscle glycogen levels, a consequence of low-carb dieting, reduce resistance training performance. This means you can’t overload your muscles optimally.[78-80]
  2. Low glycogen levels post-workout reduce testosterone levels and muscle growth-related signaling while raising the “stress hormone” cortisol. You probably already know how this is a bad thing. [76,81]

Here’s what to do:

While the ideal macronutrient intake varies among individuals due to different factors, here’s a guideline you can use to set up your macronutrient intake effectively:

(If you don’t know your daily calorie target yet, go back to section one and use the formula to calculate your needs.)

  • Protein: 0.8-1.0 grams per pound (1.8-2.3 g/ kg) of body weight
  • Fat: 20%-30% of total calories per day
  • Carbs: get the rest of your calories from them

#15. Optimize Your Male Hormones

Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, is a key player when it comes to muscle growth.[82-84] It directly enhances gains by increasing protein synthesis and preventing protein breakdown.[85]

Besides, testosterone also indirectly aids hypertrophy by enhancing the release of other muscle-building hormones like growth hormone and IGF-1.[86]

The problem with this is testosterone levels are in decline. The average testosterone levels of men have dropped by 17% just over the last 20 years.[87]

Not only does a reduction like this reduce sex drive, harm sperm production, raise body fat, and impair other psychological and physiological functions, but it also hurts muscle growth.[88]

Here’s what to do:

There’s a lot you can do to improve your testosterone levels. These include the following:

  • Achieve and maintain a low body fat percentage (8% to 14%) since excess fat sinks T levels.[89] That’s because body fat stimulates the conversion of testosterone into estrogen?[90]
  • Get enough sleep because sleep deprivation reduces testosterone levels.[91]
  • Limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors like BPA, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.
  • Avoid chronic stress; it suppresses testosterone levels.[92]
  • Avoid nutrient deficiencies because most vitamins and minerals are involved in testosterone production.

#16. Consume Enough Protein

Protein is vital for muscle growth. That’s because of the amino acids found in protein function as the building blocks of your muscles.

To be more specific, hypertrophy occurs when your body adds more amino acids to muscles than what gets broken down.[93-94]

The thing is, your body needs to have access to enough amino acids to stimulate such a “positive amino acid turnover rate.” You ensure such sufficiency by eating enough protein.

Here’s what to do:

Get at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to optimize muscle growth.

So, if you’re 80 kilos (176 pounds), consume at least 128 grams of protein per day.

You’ll then experience all the muscle-building benefits of protein, as concluded by a 2018 meta-analysis published in British Journal of Sports Medicine.[95]

You can eat more protein than you need to, but it won’t speed up muscle growth.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”You can eat more protein than you need to, but it won’t speed up muscle growth! #protein #musclegrowth @anabolicbodies” quote=”You can eat more protein than you need to, but it won’t speed up muscle growth.”]

Side note: To learn more about how much protein you should eat to optimize muscle growth, check out this article by muscle metabolism scientist Jorn Trommelen.

#17. Consume Enough Cholesterol

While dietary cholesterol has been demonized for decades, today we know that consumption of it doesn’t increase blood cholesterol levels and heart disease risk in most circumstances.[96-97]

What limiting cholesterol can do, however, is blunt muscle growth, as discovered by researchers from Texas A&M University.[98]

In their study, 49 seniors followed a 12-week strength training routine with nutritional guidelines.

After the scientists evaluated the subjects’ eating habits, they found a linear, dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and lean body mass growth.

Relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and lean body mass growth

But that’s not all.

Research published in The FASEB Journal had young, healthy adults eat either a low- or a high cholesterol diet.[99]

As a result, the protein synthesis rate of the high-cholesterol dieters was almost three times as high 22 hours after an intense resistance training workout compared to those who went low-cholesterol.

Furthermore, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study also found that high cholesterol intake benefited muscle growth and strength development.[100]

In short, to maximize muscle growth, consume enough cholesterol.

But why does cholesterol enhance your gains?

That’s because this molecule aids membrane viscosity, muscle repair, lipid raft formation, and the production of anabolic hormones like testosterone.[101]

Here’s what to do:

While you shouldn’t start gorging on raw eggs daily because there’s no quality research available on the safety of very high cholesterol intakes), so you’ll have to be careful, make sure you add a few servings of cholesterol-rich foods into your diet. That’ll help maximize muscle growth.

A few good choices are eggs, dairy, coconut, and meat.

Side-note: Shout-out to Menno Henselmans, whose work formed the foundation for this tip.


It’s true.

You can go from scrawny to brawny without having to live in the gym or bulk like a pig.

After reading this article, you now have seventeen proven ways to boost your muscle growth.

So make sure your camera is charged for a nice progress pic because you’re off to the races!

And if you truly want to get off to a flying start…


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