If you’re looking to get swole in a hurry, I’ve got you covered.
The best way to build muscle quickly is to follow a structured program with progressive overload (doing slightly more volume and/or intensity each workout).
If you combine that with getting adequate recovery between training sessions and supporting yourself with a calorie surplus coming from high-quality foods, you’ll have everything needed to build new muscle tissue.
To help you maximize your ability to build muscle in the next 30 days, I’ll explain how muscle growth happens, and what you can do to speed up the process.
I’ll also share a training template that you can start today.
- Building muscle and building strength are two different training adaptations but you may be able to achieve both at the same time.
- You can encourage your body to build muscle by training close to failure and by consuming more calories than you need to maintain weight (I’ll provide a simple calorie calculation below).
- The rate at which you’re able to build muscle in 30 days will depend on your training, diet, age, sex, and level of stress.
Understanding The Muscle-Building Process
When you embark on a muscle-building journey, it’s important to understand what muscle building actually is, how it happens, and how it’s not necessarily the same as building muscle strength.
Muscle hypertrophy is an increase in muscle size by building new muscle tissue, whereas muscle strength is increasing the strength of the muscle you already have.
In simple terms, muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis (creating new muscle tissue) exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown (destruction of muscle tissues through damage or when the body breaks down muscle tissue as a source of energy in the face of a calorie deficit.
So, how do you increase muscle protein synthesis to encourage growth?
One of the best ways to encourage muscle protein synthesis is by providing a training stimulus.
This training stimulus must be strenuous enough to signal to the body that it needs to adapt by building more muscle to keep up with the demands being placed upon it.
You’re probably wondering how to structure your training to encourage growth so your muscles can get bigger and not just stronger. Let’s dive into that.
Resistance Training Principles For Building Muscle In 30 Days
You may have heard that different rep ranges produce different training adaptations because for a long time, it was believed that lower rep ranges only built strength, moderate rep ranges hypertrophy, and higher rep ranges muscular endurance.
This led us to assume that if you trained outside that moderate rep range, that you would not build muscle (hypertrophy).
However, newer studies are showing that a variety of rep ranges and loads can produce similar adaptations, meaning hypertrophy can be achieved across a wide range of reps/loading.
It appears that the most important factor for encouraging muscle growth is your level of exertion, regardless of the rep range or load.
The highest level of effort you could achieve would be training to failure, but this would be very hard to recover from so training close to failure (1-3 reps left in the tank) more often than complete failure may be more practical for muscle growth.
If you’re training with light loads, you’ll need to do more reps to approach failure compared to training with heavier loads, but there is still an increased potential to trigger muscle protein synthesis and build muscle with light loads.
This is great news if you have limited access to equipment/weights.
This means that your limiting factor is more likely to be time – you’ll complete a workout more quickly doing 3 sets of 8 reps at a heavier weight compared to 3 sets of 20 reps at a lighter weight.
Let’s dive into other training considerations for building muscle:
Assuming you have access to a variety of weights, you’ll want to pick a load that is challenging but still allows you to complete at least 5-8 reps with good form for the exercise.
If you don’t have access to weight this heavy OR if you find that you experience discomfort in your joints, go with a lighter load.
You can also make a weight “feel” heavier by changing the tempo at which you lift it.
The longer you’re holding the weight (the slower the tempo), the more mechanical tension in the muscles and the more work is being done; this is called “time under tension”.
A controlled tempo is not only a great way to increase the work the muscle is doing, but it can also be safer than more explosive, dynamic movements.
This is especially true in the eccentric (lowering) phase of a lift as people are often so focused on the contraction (lifting the weight) that they hastily drop the weight, which can increase the risk of injury.
Tempo will be influenced by the load you have available to you (you might need a slower tempo if you only have access to light loads), but consider at least doing 2111.
Tempo notation is as follows: eccentric/pause/concentric/pause:
- The first number is the number of seconds for the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise, even if the exercise does not start with this phase.
- The second number is the number of seconds for the pause (if any) before transitioning to the concentric (lifting) portion of the exercise.
- The third number is the number of seconds for the concentric (lifting) portion of the exercise, even if this phase is at the start of the exercise (like the bicep curl).
Note: An explosive concentric (as fast as possible, which is relative to the load) is written with the letter “X”.
- The fourth number is the number of seconds for the pause (if any) before beginning the next concentric phase.
So 2111 tempo for an exercise that starts with an eccentric like a back squat would be 2 seconds to lower down to the bottom of the squat position, 1 second pause in the bottom position, 1 second to stand back up, and 1 second pause before lowering down for the next rep.
A tempo of 2111 for an exercise that starts with a concentric, like a pull-up, would be 1 second to pull up from hanging to chin over the bar, 1 second pause at the top, 2 seconds to lower back to the starting position, and 1 second pause before starting the next rep. Notice that the 2 seconds still applies to the eccentric phase, even though it does not happen first.
Ditch the idea that 8-12 reps is the sweet spot for hypertrophy, and do as many reps as needed at your chosen load and tempo to get within 1-2 reps of failure (inability to complete the rep with good form).
Three working sets are generally ideal for muscle building but you could increase to five sets over time, especially if you have limited weight to work with and need a way to progress.
Depending on the load chosen, you may also need 1-2 warm-up sets to build up to the “working weight”.
The goal is to take enough rest to allow you to perform a similar number of reps for each of the three sets. This will vary slightly based on loading, but should be no less than 30 seconds and no more than 3 minutes.
The goal isn’t to fail an exercise because your cardiovascular system can’t keep up, the goal is to come close to failure because your muscles have fully exerted themselves; so rest long enough to catch your breath.
Several important recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine determine the order of the exercises in your workout:
- Start with exercises that work large muscle groups first, and small muscle groups last. This allows you to put the most effort into the biggest, strongest muscles, giving you the highest results for your workout.
- Start with multiple-joint exercises before single-joint exercises. This allows you to perform more complex, coordinated movements before you are fatigued and at a higher risk of injury if you were to try them at the end of your workout.
- Start with higher-intensity before lower-intensity exercises. Maximum energy, effort, and concentration exercises should come first, allowing you to finish safely with lower-intensity exercises that require less energy, effort, and concentration.
Beyond rest between sets, you also need recovery time between workouts.
Your muscles don’t grow while you’re in the gym; they grow on the rest days in between when the body works to repair the damage done to muscle tissues during the workout from the demands placed on them.
“You need recovery to grow. Constantly training to the point of exhaustion will be counterproductive to the recovery you need for muscle growth.”– Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S, Fitness Director at Men’s Health.
The greater the demand, the greater the recovery needed. Considering that you should be pushing close to failure, as described, you’ll want at least one day off in between workouts, meaning you’ll train no more than 3-4 days per week (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
The Ultimate 30-Day Muscle-Building Plan
Follow this plan for 4 weeks, increasing the load (or reps and/or tempo if the load cannot be changed) as needed to complete a similar number of reps each week before failure.
You might be wondering why it’s the same three workouts for four weeks in a row, rather than an exciting, ever-changing regimen. Frankly, it’s because you need repeatability for results.
To progress, you need to expose your body to the same stimulus (e.g. the same exercise) with an increased demand (e.g. a higher load or more reps) to get the adaptations (bigger muscles) you are looking for.
Commit to giving your all to these five foundational exercises (+ two core accessories) in each workout for four weeks, and you’ll be amazed at the progress you’ll see in just one short month.
Day 1 – Lower Body
|Barbell back squat||3||5-8+||90-120s, as needed|
|Barbell Romanian deadlift||3||5-8+||90-120s, as needed|
|Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats||3||6-8 per leg||90-120s, as needed, no rest b/w legs|
|Seated calf raise||3||12-15||30-60s, as needed|
|Seated toe lifts||3||12-15||30-60s, as needed|
Day 2 – Chest & Back
|Barbell bench press||3||5-8+||90-120s, as needed|
|Pull-ups (weighted, if needed)||3||AMRAP (as many reps as possible)||90-120s, as needed|
|Seated lat pull-downs||3||8-10+||90-120s, as needed|
|Incline dumbbell press||3||8-10+||60s|
|Seated cable row||3||8-10+||60s|
Day 3 – Shoulders, Arms & Abs
|Dumbbell overhead press||3||6-8||90s|
|Seated dumbbell lateral raise||3||10-12||90s|
|Standing dumbbell front raise||3||10-12||90s|
|Seated preacher curls||3||8-10||90s|
|Lying barbell triceps extension||3||8-10||90s|
|Standard plank||3||To failure||60s|
|Bicycle crunches||3||10 reps per side (20 total reps)||30s|
|Week 1||Rest||Day 1||Rest||Day 2||Rest||Day 3||Rest|
|Week 2||Rest||Day 1||Rest||Day 2||Rest||Day 3||Rest|
|Week 3||Rest||Day 1||Rest||Day 2||Rest||Day 3||Rest|
|Week 4||Rest||Day 1||Rest||Day 2||Rest||Day 3||Rest|
Diet Considerations For Building Muscle Quickly
The foundation for any good muscle-building program is solid nutrition. This is because the food we eat provides us with the “building blocks” our bodies need to make new tissues, specifically muscle tissues in this case.
Coupled with a sufficient training stimulus, we need to give our body ample “raw materials” for building new tissue in the form of the macronutrients that make up the food we eat: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
You can’t build a house without building materials and similarly, you can’t build new muscle tissue if you’re not eating enough food.
Muscle-building is an energetically costly metabolic process so we need to provide our bodies with enough fuel to undergo this process.
If you are serious about growing muscle FAST, you need to:
Eat A Caloric Surplus of 250-500 Each Day
To build muscle as efficiently as possible, you need to be in a calorie surplus (consuming more calories than your body needs to maintain weight).
To figure out how many calories you need to maintain your weight (maintenance calories), you need to know your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) because your TDEE is equivalent to your maintenance calories.
Once you know your maintenance calories, you can set a calorie target that exceeds your maintenance calories by roughly 250-500 calories so that the excess nutrients can go toward building muscle.
To calculate your TDEE, head over to our TDEE Calculator.
Eat The Right Mix of Macronutrients
Beyond consuming enough calories, you also need to pay attention to where these calories are coming from carbs, fats, and protein.
To ensure that you’re gaining more lean muscle mass than body fat, it’s important to get the right balance of nutrients.
This means getting enough protein to provide the amino acids (building blocks of lean muscle) for muscle protein synthesis AND enough carbohydrates and fat to meet the body’s energy needs so that the body doesn’t try to use precious protein for anything other than muscle-building.
I recommend 30% of total daily calories from protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fat.
- Related Article: Do Macros Matter for Bulking? (Yes, Here’s Why)
If you’re wondering, “how the heck do I even track these things”, don’t worry.
With the advancements of food tracking technology, it’s not as complex as you think.
I’ve put together a simple, step-by-step guide called How To Track Your Macros. Read it next.
Other Factors Influencing Muscle Growth
The other factors that influence muscle growth are:
As you age, you lose muscle.
Age-related decline in muscle mass and strength is called sarcopenia. Beginning around age 50-60, sarcopenia is characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass.
Older adults are more likely to face “anabolic resistance,” meaning that the same resistance training stimulus doesn’t create the same degree of muscle protein synthesis as it does in younger individuals.
This can make it harder (but not impossible) to build muscle mass later in life. The good news is that regular resistance training is one of the best ways to offset and even overcome the loss of muscle mass associated with age-related sarcopenia.
Your genetic sex also influences muscle growth, due to different hormonal profiles between the sexes.
Testosterone is the main hormone that affects muscle hypertrophy because this hormone can increase muscle protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.
This means that people with higher levels of testosterone (men) will have an easier time achieving muscle growth than those with lower testosterone levels (women).
- Related article: Does Bulking Increase Testosterone? What Science Says
Stress shows up in increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which breaks down muscle tissue.
Constantly elevated stress levels, either from a high-stress lifestyle like a demanding job or busy home life, or from high-volume training with insufficient recovery time, keep cortisol production high and makes it harder to build muscle.
To optimize muscle building, it’s important to manage stress both in terms of allowing sufficient recovery time between workouts and implementing lifestyle habits like good sleep practices, meditation, and journaling to reduce stress levels.
How Much Muscle Can You Expect To Build In 30 Days?
Muscle building is very hard work, and it’s a slow process; one that gets even slower when you already have a significant amount of muscle mass from years of training.
According to FeastGood’s Amanda Parker, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, here is how much muscle you can expect to build naturally in one month:
- Beginner (<2 years training experience): up to 1.5lbs to 2.5lbs (men) or 0.65lb to 1lb (women).
- Intermediate (2-5 years training experience): up to 0.75lb to 1.25lbs (men) or 0.33lb to 0.5lb (women).
- Advanced (5+ years training experience): up to 0.3lb to 0.6lb (men) or 0.1lb to 0.25lb (women).
Can You Lose Weight And Build Muscle At The Same Time?
Yes, you can lose weight (specifically body fat) and build muscle at the same time, but this is a much slower process than focusing exclusively on building muscle. It’s also much more common for beginners than for highly trained individuals.
Going back to the example of building a house, losing fat and building muscle at the same time is like taking the time to dismantle an existing shed, salvaging materials along the way, repurposing them, and then using those reclaimed materials to start building a new solid house in place of the shed.
This is much slower and less efficient than leaving the shed where it is, and getting all new materials to immediately put into building the new house.
In the same way, leaving body fat as it is, and focusing on getting sufficient raw materials (macronutrients) to build muscle is the fastest way to build muscle.
So, while you CAN lose body fat and build muscle at the same time if you are hyper-focused on your diet and training, the fastest way to build muscle is to make this your number one priority without trying to lose body fat at the same time.
What To Read Next
Here are some other guides to help you on your muscle-building journey:
- 20+ Foods For Bulking That Are Still Healthy
- Bodybuilding Meal Plan For Beginners: How To Start + Examples
- Struggling To Eat Enough Calories? 15 Tips That Actually Work
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.