Just like with pretty much any other fitness-related endeavor, building lean muscle mass — whether you’re looking to “bulk up big” or “lean-out” just a little — requires consistent dedication to a carefully crafted plan.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to gaining muscle than lifting heavy weights and eating lots of protein (although those two things will certainly support your pursuit). In addition to the right diet and exercise routine, there are several important habits you’ll need to commit to if you’re serious about building more muscle.
Below, Marc Perry, founder and CEO of BuiltLean and a top personal trainer and fitness expert in New York City explains everything you need to know about building muscle and the habits you’ll need to master if it’s part of your fitness goals.
“Ample sleep may be the single most important habit to help build muscle because it makes maintaining all other habits easier,” Perry said. “It also gives the body time to repair damaged muscle tissue from working out.”
Think of it this way: from a physiological perspective, Perry explained, when you’re working out (e.g. lifting weights) you’re actually breaking down your muscle tissue, not building it up.
“Proper rest is what is required to help your muscles repair and grow,” he said. “If you get plenty of sleep, which is 8 or more hours of sleep per day, you will have more energy for your workouts, be able to plan your meals more effectively and give your body the rest it needs.”
“Lack of sleep is also associated with muscle loss and impaired ability of damaged muscle to repair,” he said.
2. Track Your Workouts
“Tracking your workouts will allow you to focus on increasing the amount of weight you are lifting. When combined with ample food intake, sleep and exercise volume, your muscles will be forced to grow,” Perry explained. “If you do not track your workouts and how much weight you are lifting, it will be more difficult to ensure you are lifting more weight over time to create enough stimulus for your muscles to repair and get bigger and stronger.”
Perry said there are different methods of tracking workouts which include everything from writing them down in a small notebook you can bring to the gym to using an app or an excel spreadsheet.
“Whatever method you choose, just be sure to write down every exercise you do, along with reps, sets and the amount of weight you are lifting,” he added.
3. Follow a Meal Plan
“If you want to get big, you need to eat big. The most common reason most guys fail to build muscle is because they simply do not eat enough food to support their training and muscle-building needs,” Perry said. “How do you ensure you are eating enough calories and protein? Creating and following a meal plan is a smart idea so that you can ensure you are getting enough calories. A rough estimate of your calorie intake to build muscle is your bodyweight multiplied by 18.”
Protein intake to build muscle can vary, Perry explained, but if you eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight then you’re probably in a good range.
“While patience is considered a virtue, it's also a habit. A habit is defined as, ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.’” Perry explained. “Patience is the practice of tolerating that muscle-building is a slow process. While someone new to strength training may build up to 20 pounds of muscle in one year, in subsequent years the rate of muscle gain may fall to just one pound per month. As a lifter matures, gaining even 0.5 pounds of muscle in a month is considered a good pace of muscle gain.”
Additionally, Perry pointed out, patience is important because many people tend to become frustrated and give up just before they are about to make more progress.”
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“Building muscle is a marathon, not a sprint. While genetics are a factor, in general, the most persistent lifters are rewarded with the most gains,” Perry said. “Not only do you need to be patient with how slow the muscle-building process can be, but you also need to stay consistent with your workouts and following your meal plan.”
In other words, if building muscle were easy, most of us would look lean, muscular and strong. The reality is, most people aren’t willing to put in the daily effort it takes to get there, which ultimately, Perry said, “is a lifestyle, not just a simple plan you follow.”