Last Updated: Jan 23, 2018
In this introduction we take a look at the basic things you need to know if you want to gain muscle mass and actually get great, life-changing results as a skinny newbie as opposed to spending the next few months or even years spinning your wheels and getting average results because you didn't implement the right knowledge and strategies.
Keep in mind that this is just a brief overview of the muscle building process, and that the rest of our website will cover all these points and everything else you need to know in more detail. If you're just starting out then this will get you going on the right track.
We will divide this introduction of how to gain muscle mass in two halves, weight training and nutrition. To build muscle you must have both, proper weight training and a solid nutrition plan too. You can't expect to see any decent results by just doing weight training for instance, and forgetting about your diet. You need both pieces of the puzzle.
The following four pieces of advice are a good starting place to learn how to perform proper workouts that will stimulate muscle gains:
1. Focus on Compounds
For the best muscle-building results in the gym it's critical you focus most if not all your energy on the big compound exercises instead of more targeted exercises.
Compound exercises are the tougher lifts that stimulate multiple muscle groups at the same time and include squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench and shoulder presses, chin/pull ups, rows, dips, etc.
These exercises are best to gain muscle mass as they place your body under the most stress, stimulate the most growth hormones, and allow you to use the heaviest weights. The more stress your body is put under, the stronger you'll become and the bigger your muscle gains will be.
Performing less intensive, targeted exercises (think bicep curls, flyes, calf raises, etc etc) do have their place but they should always be second to the big lifts if you're serious about results and you also want to build a functional, well-balanced body.
2. Focus on Lifting Slightly Heavier Over Time
Your body will only pack on new muscle mass if you put it under more and more stress over a period of time. If you used the same amount of weight and did the same number of reps every week, then your body would adjust to this and your muscles would stay the same size.
If you want to build the most muscle that you can, and as fast and effectively as you can, each and every session you should aim to slightly improve on either the weight you lifted or the amount of reps you performed.
Do this and you are bound to see gains in strength and muscle mass in no time assuming you have your diet down right. This basic principle of progression, technically called progressive overload in the fitness industry, is EVERYTHING when it comes to building muscle.
No progress in your lifts? No gains.
3. Avoid Overtraining & Rest Properly
One of the biggest mistakes made in the gym is overtraining your muscles. Some people believe "more is better" when it comes to weight lifting, and that spending all day every day in the gym is going to guarantee amazing results, but that is far from the truth.
Your muscles actually grow when you're eating and resting, not when you're in the gym. You need to give your body enough time to rest so that they can recover and become larger and stronger. To build your dream physique you only really need to really train 2-3 times a week if you design your program well - going everyday is a waste of time for building muscle and strength.
4. Push Yourself
The difference between those who build a little bit of muscle and those who pack on huge amounts is how hard they train. To gain substantial muscle mass you absolutely must train to your limit, and push yourself that little bit further.
Training to what is called 'muscular failure' is not required, but recommended to really push your body and stimulate the maximum growth (or at least get close). This means that when you're doing a particular exercise, you keep performing reps until you simply cannot move the weight another inch with proper form.
See the Muscle Building Workouts section of the site for tons more specific information on all aspects of intelligent weight training for muscle gain.
Now let's take a brief look at what you need to focus on with your nutrition plan to gain muscle mass:
1. Eat Enough (Quality) Protein
Protein is without a doubt the most important nutrient in the role of building muscle. It's function in the body is to build and repair body tissue. Without eating protein it will simply be physically impossible for your body to build muscle.
You need to focus on eating at least 0.8 to 1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight that you have, otherwise you're not providing enough building blocks for your body to actually repair your muscles and make them bigger and stronger after your workouts.
So, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 150 grams protein per day if you're looking to fuel maximum muscle growth. Some people say you need even more such as 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight, however it's been proven that you don't NEED such a huge amount to stimulate good muscle gains. 0.8 to 1 gram per pound has worked well for many.
The majority of your protein should ideally come from high quality sources that include a good amino acid profile such as whey protein, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts and cottage cheese.
2. Drinks Lots of Water
Drinking plenty of water everyday plays an important part in general health and in your muscle building endeavors. Water helps your muscles appear fuller and more vascular. You should aim to consume 0.6 ounces of water for every pound of bodyweight each and every day of the week for the best results.
3. Eat Quality Carbs and Fats
Protein is the most important for gaining muscle mass, but carbohydrates and fats are important too if you wish to put some meat on your bones and ditch your skinny weak frame for good.
See the Muscle Building Diet Guide for way more specific information on all aspects of eating for effective muscle gain.
All the points we have covered above are very important and should not be overlooked. The rest of our site covers all these topics in more detail, and everything else that you need to know about gaining significant muscle mass in a relatively short amount of time (ie weeks or months, not years).
Always remember though, consistency is everything. Putting these strategies to use is one thing, but consistently doing it over and over again to reach that powerful and muscular physique is another thing. At the end of the day, consistency will decide whether or not you achieve what it is you're setting out to achieve, so be in this for the long run..keep showing up..and the results are guaranteed to come eventually.