Updated: Apr 22
Building muscles does not have to be complicated. With all of the information available on the web, filtering out the good from the bad, the applicable form inapplicable, can be hard and frustrating. This writing focuses on making the process less frustrating for you by providing easily understandable tips for how to build 10-20 pounds of muscle.
Have reasonable expectations You may want to build muscle fast, but you have to give the process time. This applies whether you want to build arm muscle, leg muscle, or any muscle. You cannot expect to build five pounds of muscle per month. This means you would add 60 pounds of muscle per year, which is illogical and not supported by anything we or other professionals in the industry have seen occur. Sure, you can add 60 pounds of weight in a year, but at least half of that will be fat. This opinion piece covers a few weight gain models that are popular in the industry. We have thoughts on each model and creator discussed, but will leave you to form your own opinions. The point of reading the piece is to expose you to some ideas in the industry about how much muscle a person can gain. From there, we suggest you look deeper. We have and the general consensus among the industry, as well as what we see possible with clients, is 1-2 pounds of muscle gain per month is possible with the right training and nutrition mix. You also cannot expect to build muscle if you are not putting in the work. Working out sporadically or occasionally eating a caloric surplus will yield few results, if any. If you do not put in the work, you will not see results.
Be in a caloric surplus You have to follow the right diet to build muscle. A calorie surplus is needed. No amount of supplements, muscle building training programs, or so-called hacks will circumvent this. You must consume excess calories to gain weight of any kind, including muscle. The calorie surplus should be reflective of what you need. For example, someone who has a maintain caloric intake of 1500 will likely need a smaller calorie surplus than someone with a 3000 calorie maintaining weight. If we consider 10 percent as a recommended increase for calories, which is common, then 150 calories would be 10 percent of 1500 while 300 calories would be 10 percent of 3000. If you are not sure where to begin, determine your current calorie expenditure, add 10 percent to it, and then maintain that for at least three weeks before adding more. To help you, here is an article that briefly covers weight change, provides a calculator to help you determine your target caloric intake, and provide links to additional resources, such as macronutrient calculator and educational courses. Remember, this is only one calculator with many others available online and all are starting points for determining calorie intake. You may need to adjust the numbers. As you add, track composition. Once you see muscle mass increasing, you may be able to stop adding calories until gains slow or stop. If you see too much fat gaining, you may need to lower your calorie intake. Also consider macro balance. Many people think nutrition for building muscle is all about protein, and while you do need protein to build muscle, your overall macro balance is important. The exact balance depends on your need. Your need will be based on your level of activity, your type or activity, you body composition, and possibly other factors, such as metabolism. If you are unsure of what macros balance to use, begin with 25 percent of your calories from protein, 25 percent from fat, and 50 percent from carbohydrates.
Engage in sufficient resistance training
Resistance training builds muscle. Without it, added weight is generally just fat. If you want to build muscle, you must workout and part of your training program should be resistance training. Sufficient resistance training simply means you must engage in enough resistance based exercise to stimulate muscle growth. Without it, you may not put in muscle or will put on only small amounts of muscle. What is sufficient depends on the person. Some people will only need three workouts per week with 45 minutes per session. Other individuals will need 6 workouts per week with an hour per session. This will take time to determine.
There are no specific muscle building exercises. Any resistance exercise has the ability to add muscle to your body. Chin-ups, squats, and biceps curls are examples of a calisthenic exercise, a compound lifting exercise, and an isolation exercise, each of which can build muscle. A compound exercise puts more of the body under stress and can lead to greater muscle growth due to this. However, if you want to target specific body parts, isolation exercises are often helpful. The exact mix of exercises you use to build muscle will depend on your goals. You must also consider difficulty. If you always engage in easy workouts—that is, workouts that do not challenge you—you will not build muscle or will only build small amounts. Your workouts should be moderate to hard relative to what you complete. That means, what is hard for you may be impossible for someone else and easy for still someone else. If you are unsure where to start, begin with three workouts per week for 45 minutes per session. This should include your warm-up, workout, and cool down. The working sets should be moderate to hard. Center your resistance training around compound lifts such as the back squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, pull-up, and dip. Adjust based on the results.
Target 1-2 pounds per month Aim to build 1-2 pounds of muscle per month. These amounts have proven to be achievable when considering feedback from various coaches, and in our experience. At the same time, expect to put on small amounts of fat. For example, if you add .75 pounds of fat for every two pounds of muscle, you are increasing at a good pace. In four mounts you will add eight pounds of mass but only three pounds of fat. Understand progress will not be linear. The rate will change from month to month based on your caloric surplus, effort, resistance training, and other factors, such as if you are assessing property and adjusting based on the assessment.
Assess progress You must assess your body composition changes, nutrition, and resistance training over time. This is an important area that many people do not want to focus on. Failing to give this area proper focus will lead to fewer results. The reason for this is if you are not assessing, you do not know what is working or what is not working and will not be able to adjust. Every week, assess how hard your workout week was overall. Keep a workout log to help with this, as the data contained therein will allow to look at individual days for trends, but also to look over weeks and months for trends. Apply the same idea to nutrition. Log what you eat, or at least your macros, and assess weekly as well as monthly. You may also need to assess daily. Track body composition. Your goal is to build muscle mass and you cannot asses progress with this goal if you are not measuring muscle change. To do this, track weight and body fat percent. From these two number you can assess lean mass and fat mass. Logging this over time will allow you to see trends.
Get to it There you have—a few simple guidelines to help you add 10-20 pounds of muscle this year. These recommendations are universal, simple to understand, and easy to implement. The process will take time, but as long as you put in an honest effort, you will see progress. Put in work to reach your goals.
Before you go, you read this far, which likely means you could use some help reaching your weight gain goals. Our Strength Program can help you do just that. We have helped clients add up to 45 pounds of mass to their body. Learn more here.
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.