- To build muscle, you should develop a consistent strength training routine and eat a healthy diet with lots of protein.
- Building and maintaining muscle mass can have many health benefits — it can reduce your risk for heart disease, help you lose weight, and may even allow you to live longer.
- You don’t even need to go to the gym to build muscle, as home workout exercises like push-ups, squats, and planks are safe, effective ways to improve strength.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Even if you’re not planning on becoming a bodybuilder, it’s important to engage in muscle-strengthening activities throughout your life.
“We lose muscle as we age,” says Allison Jackson, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)-certified personal trainer based in New Jersey. “Building muscle prevents injury, ensures we don’t become frail and immobile as we age, and is important for everyday functional movements such as yard work or lifting a suitcase into an overhead bin.”
Building and maintaining muscle mass can also improve your mental health, increase your confidence, and help you perform many daily activities with less stress, whether it’s climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
To build muscle effectively, you will have to stick to a strength training routine, give your body ample time to rest and recover, and eat a healthy diet with lots of protein. Here’s how to do it.
1. Choose your workouts
At first, it might seem like there are millions of different workout plans to choose from. That’s why it’s important to think about what you want to get out of building muscle.
“Are you building muscle to compete, to prevent injury, or for your own personal goal? Outlining your ‘why’ will keep you moving toward your goal,” says Jackson.
It’s also wise to choose a workout plan that you know you have the time for. “Consistency is everything in fitness,” says Alex Robles, MD, a physician and NASM-certified personal trainer. “Find a program that you can realistically commit to.”
Start your workouts at a low intensity, says Linda S. Pescatello, PhD, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut. It can be helpful to consult a doctor or personal trainer, especially if you have any chronic medical conditions, to develop an individualized workout plan.
But otherwise, there are many simple exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home to build muscle safely and effectively.
Upper body workout
Building your arm, chest, and back muscle is important because you use them for everyday movements — like pulling, pushing, lifting, and reaching.
“Workers will find fewer issues with being hunched over a desk all day when their back muscles are engaged,” Jackson says.
The following exercises can help you build your upper body muscles:
Lower body workout
Make sure you don’t skip leg day. It’s just as important to build your lower body muscles, especially if you sit for most of the day, Jackson says.
Strengthening your leg muscles will improve your balance and agility. It will maintain your ability to squat and safely do things like picking up objects from the floor, Robles says.
These are some of the exercises that can help build your lower body muscles:
Here are four basic ways to do squats, courtesy of Navaretta.
Having strong abs “is the foundation to everything,” Robles says. “It is what keeps you upright when walking, carrying groceries, and your toddlers. It also helps you get up from a seated or lying position.”
When working on your abs, Jackson advises focusing on quality rather than quantity. These are some of the exercises that can help build your abs:
Here are three ways to do a plank, courtesy of Navaretta.
Home workouts to build muscle
If you want a home workout that builds all the muscles in your body, Jackson recommends the following exercise routine:
- Squats (10 reps)
- Push-ups (10 reps)
- Wall sit (30 to 45 seconds)
- Plank (30 to 45 seconds)
- Walking lunge (10 reps)
- Dips off a couch or chair (10 reps)
- Crunches (10 reps)
You should repeat this entire circuit two to three times, and if you need a bigger challenge, you can slowly increase the number of reps over time. If you’re really trying to see gains, it may be helpful to push yourself to failure, doing as many reps as you can each time without hurting yourself.
In total, you can do this workout two to three days per week – just make sure you aren’t doing it two days in a row.
2. Give yourself time to rest and recover
It’s essential to take rest days to give your muscles time to repair and recover. Exercising causes tiny tears in your muscle tissue. When you rest, these tears are repaired by cells called fibroblasts that help your muscles grow and become stronger.
“Rest days are actually when your muscles are ‘building,'” Jackson says. She recommends resting at least 24 to 48 hours per body area. So if you hit your arm muscles today, work your leg muscles tomorrow.
Muscle soreness is a common side effect of exercising. But it isn’t necessary, and there are a few ways to relieve your pain. “You don’t have to feel the burn to get benefits,” Pescatello says.
To help prevent sore muscles, try the following:
- Warming up properly before your workout and stretching afterward can help loosen up your muscles, Jackson says.
- Using a foam roller can also help you recover quickly after a workout because it helps hydrate your muscles, according to the American Council on Exercising.
- Being consistent is the most important factor, Robles says. If you continue exercising regularly, the soreness will decrease.
3. Eat right
Eating a healthy diet is instrumental in helping you build muscle. Protein is especially important because it’s composed of amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of the proteins in your muscles, says Nancy Rodriguez, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut.
To increase muscle mass if you’re regularly lifting weights, your daily protein intake should be 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. This chart can help you determine how much protein you should eat:
What to eat before a muscle-building workout
Robles recommends eating quick-digesting carbohydrates about an hour before your workout, as they will give you an energy boost without weighing you down.
The best foods to eat before a workout include:
What to eat after a muscle-building workout
After working out, Rodriguez recommends eating foods that are high in protein to help your muscles recover. You should eat within an hour after working out, Robles says.
The best foods to eat after a workout include:
- Protein shakes
4. Try muscle-building supplements
There are many different supplements, like creatine or whey protein powder, that can help you build muscle on top of a strong exercise regimen and nutritional plan.
“Anyone who struggles to get a sufficient amount of protein on a daily basis would benefit from protein powder,” Robles says.
In addition, research has found that creatine, a substance that’s found naturally in muscle cells, can safely be taken before or after your workouts to help improve your performance and muscular health.
Jackson suggests doing some research to find reputable muscle-building supplements, or talking with a fitness expert to try supplements that might be good for you. “I recommend getting samples and seeing how your body reacts,” she says.
5. Stay consistent and stick to a plan
Having a plan is essential for effectively building muscle. “You must present your body with a proper stimulus that progresses over time,” Robles says. “Not having a plan to do so will lead to mediocre results.”
If you stick to your plan, you may begin to see results after just six weeks of resistance training, Robles says. To help stay consistent and hold yourself accountable, Jackson and Robles offer the following tips:
- Start small. “A 20-minute workout is better than nothing,” Robles says. “Start slow and make it easy to work out. The more you do it, the stranger it will feel when you don’t exercise.”
- Keep track of what you’re eating to ensure they’re the right foods in the proper amounts for your goals, Jackson says.
- Always remember why you’re building your muscles and attach it to an emotional reason rather than a logical one, Robles says. “The more concrete you make your reasoning, the more likely you will stick to it.”
What the research says
Research has found that building and maintaining muscle can have many health benefits:
- It can reduce your risk for chronic illness. A large 2019 study of adults aged 45 and older found a correlation between lower muscle mass and increased risk of heart disease, especially for men. Based on the participants’ medical information over a 10-year period, the researchers found that the men with the highest muscle tissue volume had an 81% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- It fights back against the muscle loss that comes with aging. A small 2013 study of people between the ages of 88 and 96 years old found that those who performed strength-training exercises for two days a week over a 12-week period showed improvements in balance and a lower incidence of falls when compared to those who didn’t exercise. “It’s safe and important for older people to include strength training,” Jackson says. “Even simple bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and dips can help with strength and muscle building.”
- It prevents insulin resistance. Building your muscles may help prevent insulin resistance, a condition that often leads to type 2 diabetes. A large 2011 study found that those with higher muscle mass relative to their body size had better insulin sensitivity. “Muscle tissue can also help regulate blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with diabetes,” Robles says.
- It can help you lose weight. Building muscle increases your resting metabolism, which helps you lose weight even when you’re inactive. A small 2014 study found that after healthy middle-aged men and women did 96 resistance-training workouts over a nine-month period, their resting metabolism rate increased by about 5%. “Muscle at rest burns calories, but fat at rest does not,” Jackson says. “That means you are improving your metabolism by adding muscle to your body.” This helps you burn more calories overall and prevents weight gain.
- It may help you live longer. People with low muscle strength are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with more muscle mass, according to a large 2018 study. The study found that a lower normalized grip strength — a common measure of muscular weakness — was associated with a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and physical disabilities among US and Chinese adults.
“Everyone can benefit from having more lean muscle tissue,” Robles says. “It can improve your metabolic health, your aesthetics, your mental health, and your confidence.”
If you’re looking to build muscle, Jackson says patience and consistency are critical. “If you truly want to transform your body, take control of your nutrition and start weight training,” she says. “You’ll be amazed at the results.”