Sixteen tips for building serious muscle
Man with well-built chest

If you want impressive muscle, it’s time to hit the gym like you mean it – use our tips to get into top shape

01 Maintain your intensity

Resting between sets is necessary, but keep your body moving to encourage blood flow to your muscle groups, rather than your jaws flapping. The maximum rest should be two minutes for big exercises such as squats and 45-60 seconds for all those minor moves, such as bicep curls.

02 Hit the free weights

Machines might make exercise seem easier, but easy-does-it never earned anyone results. Rather, force your muscles to struggle against the instability that working with free weights brings. Your workout will be tougher, but the rewards will be worth it.

03 Don’t try to spot reduce fat

It doesn’t work, no matter how much effort you put in. Hundreds of sit-ups do not forge steel-cut abs. To reduce body fat, you need to pay attention to your diet and exercise your entire body intensively.

04 Work your biggest muscles first

Moves that target your biggest muscles are the most taxing on your body, so shoot for personal bests when you’re fresh rather than at the end of the workout when you’re tired.

05 Don’t repeat a routine for more than 8 weeks

Most athletes adapt to a new routine in six to eight weeks, but if you’re returning to lifting or starting out, you can make gains for a little longer. When your gains start to slow, your body has adapted and it needs a new challenge and a new workout.

06 Do set realistic goals

You want a milestone you can actually achieve, not to look like The Rock by next month. If you have unrealistic expectations you’re likely to become unmotivated when you’re not superseding your hopes. Give yourself the small victories, as they’ll spur you to more success.

07 Don’t hold your breath

Breathe in on the lowering phase of a lift and out on the working portion of a lift. This might vary from exercise to exercise, but as a whole the worst thing you can do is come away panting when you’ve only done five reps.

09 Eat protein with every meal

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle, the same applies: eat protein. Try to get about 1.4-1.8g of protein per kilo of body weight every day. For the best results vary your sources by eating fish, beef, poultry, legumes, nuts, eggs and dairy.

10 Don’t get hungry

Eating small meals every two to three hours stokes your metabolism and muscle growth. But fasting for long periods sends your body into panic mode, making it store food as fat. Flood your system with a steady supply of nutrients to help you burn fat and build muscle all day long.

11 Check out creatine

This is probably the most researched supplement on the market and is a very well-respected muscle builder. Don’t jump straight in, though – train for at least 12 weeks before you start to use it.

13 Drink green tea

Green tea is an excellent fat burner, but black tea is not without benefits. Research found it lowered cortisone levels, the hormone associated with stress and also responsible for cannibalising muscle and weight gain.

14 Blend your whey proteins

Go for protein powders with a mix of whey protein concentrate, isolate and casein as they all digest at different rates, which will make sure you’re getting a constant supply of muscle-building protein.

15 Do eat before bed when building muscle

This dietary no-go has had a reprieve. When you sleep, your body robs amino acids from your muscles (your fat burners) to fuel your brain. Eat slow digesting proteins like peanut butter, cottage cheese or a casein-based protein powder to keep your body nutrient-flushed and stoke your metabolism.

16 Hit the coffee shop

As well as giving your body and brain a boost, caffeine has been shown to help you burn fat faster as you exercise. Drink a cup of coffee or take a caffeine tablet 30 minutes before you exercise.

For more on building muscle, see Get a bigger chest in 15 minutes with this workout

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