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10 Essential Tips for Building Muscle and Getting in Great Shape

David is a writer and an avid fitness enthusiast who gained a muscular physique through resistance training.

Building a moderate amount of muscle mass requires a tremendous amount of effort, consistency, and determination. Adequate rest and nutrition are just as important as following proper training protocols. The process of building muscle is not linear. Most individuals will probably build most of their muscle in the first 1-3 years of exercise, assuming they were consistent and got stronger through progressive resistance.

Once a foundation is built, building muscle slows down dramatically. Don't expect to build 10 pounds of muscle every year. You'll inexorably experience diminished returns because there are physiological limits, but don't let that deter you from exercise, as it is normal. Additionally, encountering plateaus is common because weak links will become apparent as you become more experienced. Beginners generally gain more muscle faster than intermediates and advanced fitness enthusiasts.

This article will cover 10 essential tips for those looking to build muscle, strength, and get in better shape. Many misconceptions exist within the fitness community. A lot of false information is spread due to ignorance or because someone is trying to sell you supplements. I was underweight as a teenager, but I was able to build a fairly muscular physique by lifting weights over the years. It's important to have realistic expectations instead of expecting to make significant progress overnight.


1. Avoid Consuming Too Much Protein

Consuming an excessive amount of protein is unnecessary and can cause fat gain. While protein is important for building muscle mass and strength, the quantity required is often less than what many people believe. Consuming 500 grams of protein on a daily basis is not required. Pro bodybuilders may consume insane amounts of protein per day, but the average man or woman does not need that much. In fact, those huge bodybuilders don't even need that much. The extra protein simply provides extra calories and satiety.

In general, about 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean mass should be sufficient to maintain or build muscle mass. Mayo Clinic recommends up to 1.7 per kilogram of body weight for people who lift weights. Worrying over the precise amount of protein is not necessary. Make adjustments as needed. Genetics, age, activity level, and total muscle mass play a role in daily protein requirements.

2. Use Proper Range of Motion

Utilizing full range of motion or a range of motion that is most effective is paramount for building muscle and preventing injuries. Constantly performing exercises with a significantly reduced range of motion inhibits muscle hypertrophy and can potentially cause injuries. If you cannot lift a weight with the full range of motion, then use a lighter weight or address the mobility issue.

Many people, especially younger lifters, don't use good range of motion because they can usually lift heavier with a partial range of motion. It is dangerous to use a weight that is beyond your physical capabilities. Tearing a muscle is entirely possible when lifting very heavy with poor range of motion. Effective range of motion will increase your mobility and decrease the risk of injury while building more muscle mass in the process.

For example, quarter squats will not effectively build the glutes, quads, or hamstrings. In general, one should squat to parallel or lower for maximum results. Never limit your range of motion just to lift heavier to impress others or feed your ego.

Barbell Squat

Barbell Squat

3. Do Compound Exercises

In order to maximum your muscle building results and get in better shape, focus on compound exercises. Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that involve multiple muscle groups simultaneously. They are the best bang for your buck.

A compound exercise involves a primary muscle, along with secondary muscles and dynamic stabilizers. For instance, the pectoral muscles are involved in the bench press, but the triceps and shoulders (anterior deltoids specifically) also help to lift the weight. For the barbell squat, the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core are all worked at once.

Not only will compound movements build a lot of muscle, but many of them can improve athletic performance. Pull ups, squats, and deadlifts can translate into some sports that require speed, power, and explosiveness. High repetitions with a lighter weight can improve endurance and work capacity as well.

4. Don't Train Muscles to Failure Too Much

Some schools of thought advocate training your muscles to failure on every exercise to maximize results. While training your muscles to failure can be a useful tool, it is not necessary to always do so. In fact, training your muscles to failure on every single set is taxing on the body. It is possible to get injured, fry your central nervous system, or exceed your maximum recoverable volume. Burning out can decrease your motivation and make you more vulnerable to illness.

Ideally, you'll want to avoid constantly going to failure. Of course, it depends on the type of exercise you're doing. Going to failure on push ups or lateral raises is not as stressful as going to failure on a heavy deadlift or bench press.

Save some reps in the tank to conserve your energy. It will help prevent form degradation. Your form is more likely to breakdown when your muscles are overly fatigued.

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5. Apply Progressive Overload

One of the most important aspects in fitness is the progressive overload principle. In order to continue to make muscle and strength gains long term, you must add more resistance or perform more consecutive repetitions. Adding more weight to a barbell, machine, or bodyweight exercise should be done slowly over time. Micro plates are an indispensable tool because they add a small amount of resistance to a barbell or dumbbell. For bodyweight exercises, weighted dip belts, ankle weights, or weighted backpacks can be utilized to apply progressive overload.

Resistance should not be added every time you workout. Your body needs to adapt to a new stimulus for a while. When you can perform more repetitions with good form, then it might be time to add additional weight. Patience is fundamental. Some fitness enthusiasts add weight too quickly and get injured or plateau. Try to enjoy the process instead of focusing on the end goal.

6. Always Warm Up

Warming up your muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons is fundamental no matter how advanced you get. It primes the central nervous system for an intense workout. Warming up can also decrease the risk of injury and prepare you mentally.

A general warm up can be completed by walking on a treadmill or doing a few stretches for several minutes. For a specific exercise, use a light weight and perform several repetitions with good technique. Gradually add weight until you reach your normal weight.

Warming up should not fatigue you. Performing too many repetitions is counter-productive.

7. Avoid Momentum

One of the biggest mistakes people make in their fitness journey is using momentum in weightlifting or calisthenics. Using a controlled tempo when exercising is safer and more effective. Lifting a weight with momentum can cause injuries or limit muscle gains. Control the weight with good technique and range of motion. Too much speed without control is reckless and a recipe for disaster. Strength potential will be limited when momentum is used.

8. Understand Caloric Intake

While it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, it's very difficult unless you're a complete beginner or on performance enhancing drugs. Gaining significant muscle usually requires a small caloric surplus. Adding too many calories will add more fat than muscle to your frame.

Your maintenance caloric intake is how many calories you need to maintain your bodyweight. It is possible to build muscle while eating at maintenance, but the process will be slower.

Losing weight requires a mild caloric deficit. Protein intake should be increased to maintain muscle mass while losing fat. Losing some muscle and strength is inevitable if a diet is prolonged or body fat levels are very low.

Adjust your calories based on your goals. A higher activity level burns more calories. Your metabolism plays a role to an extent.


9. Get Proper Rest

Adequate sleep is important for everyone, but perhaps even more important for highly active individuals. Without proper rest, your energy levels will plummet. Additionally, sleep deprivation can cause cortisol levels to rise, creating more stress and anxiety. Personally, I lack focus and energy when I fail to get 7-8 hours of sleep.

Besides sleep, make sure to rest enough between sets. Getting in better shape will be difficult if you're not resting enough between sets. Rest until you catch your breath and regain your strength from the previous set. The amount of time you need will vary, but aim for 2-5 minutes between each working set.

10. Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough liquids may seem obvious, but it's more important for active individuals who are trying to get in shape. Drink water before, during, and after your workout. If you're exercising in high heat and humidity, then increase your water intake even more. Not drinking enough can cause dehydration or heat exhaustion.

Sports drinks can help you stay hydrated, but some of them have a lot of sugar. If you don't want the extra sugar, then stick with water or zero calorie drinks. Sugar is not inherently bad, but excessive amounts can be.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 David Patrick

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