When you first step into a weight room you might find building muscle to be a simple process, just start lifting weights and be consistent.

There isn’t much thought required, you’re starting out with nothing so doubling your strength is relatively easy.

But as with most things in life there comes a time where your simple program isn’t enough to progress any more.

When this happens it is usually a good time to assess what it is that you actually know about building muscle. This way you can decide whether you need some guidance.

In this article we are going to go through five tips that you can use to build bigger and stronger muscles, if you have struggled to do so recently then it might be just what you need to get back on the muscle-building wagon.

Tip #1. Prioritize Free Weight Exercises

When you start out it is tempting to use the resistance machines as much as possible, they’re safe, easy to understand, and don’t require any coordination.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, please don’t feel that resistance machines are bad for you, they just aren’t quite as effective at building muscle as free weight exercises are.

A study in 2014 by Shaner et al found that free weight exercises worked more muscle fibres per rep and released more testosterone and growth hormone than the machine equivalent (squat versus leg press) [1].

This means that if you performed 3 sets of 10 reps on barbell squat you would build more muscle than you would with the same reps and sets (and intensity) on leg press.

This doesn’t make the leg press useless, and there are many situations where the leg press is more effective (particularly if you have coordination issues).

But if you could only perform one leg exercise to build maximum muscle it should be the free weight version.

Tip #2. Rest Properly Between Sets

One question that a lot of people don’t spend enough time debating is rest period between sets, a lot of lifters just wait a random amount of time and then start up again.

Ideal Rest Period

But science has shown us what time period is most effective. For both hypertrophy and strength a rest period of 3 minutes is ideal.

This gives your muscle enough time to recover from the previous set without you losing an edge [2].

Shorter rest periods mean that you cannot recover enough, which will affect the amount of weight you can lift, or the amount of reps that you can perform at that weight.


Try supplementing with intra-workout BCAA’s so that you can train just as hard for the last set as you did the first. Additionally, do this while timing your rest periods to see the benefits that this offers.

Tip #3. Eat to Fuel Growth

One mistake that many lifters make is to try to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, unless you are a completely new trainee then this approach will not work for you.

This is down to many complicated reasons, but simply you need to consume more calories so that you can build muscle. If you are not consuming enough calories then there isn’t anything left to build muscle from.


But you can’t just eat loads of rice and expect your muscles to grow (although carbohydrates do have their place), the main macronutrient that you require is protein.

The amino acids that make up protein are used in muscle protein synthesis to rebuild damaged muscle fibres which allows muscles to grow.

Post-workout Product

Furthermore, it’s important to consume a post-workout product with ingredients that will kick muscle-building synthesis into gear.

As an athlete (even if you don’t feel like one you are) your protein requirements will skyrocket. Look to consume a minimum of 1g of protein for every kg of body weight (amateur bodybuilders should be aiming for between 2 and 3g of protein per kg).

At times it can be hard, but there are many simple ways to increase your protein intake to hit the required amounts daily amounts.

Tip #4. Naturally Boost your Testosterone

It is difficult to overstate the importance of testosterone when it comes to building muscle (which incidentally is why women should not be afraid of building lots of muscle when they pick up a dumbbell). You need it for recovery from exercise, you need it to build muscle, and it allows you to train harder and for longer. Why do you think professional bodybuilders use large doses of it (illegally) to get bigger?

How To Increase Testosterone

Increase your dietary fat (from animal sources – dairy, meat etc), sleep more, take vitamin D supplements, lift free weights more, supplement with natural testosterone boosters, and try to eliminate stress (cortisol can attack testosterone).

Tip #5. Perform Cardio Separately

If you enjoy cardio then there is no reason to stop it just because you want to build some muscle, in fact there is a small amount of evidence that has found that cardio can improve muscle size (though this seems to be for people who haven’t lifted weights before).

One thing that many fitness experts agree on though is that you shouldn’t mix the two. While this is great for fat loss, it is terrible for muscle building. Keep them separate and you’ll get the benefits of both.

A great way to do this is to do your cardio session early in the morning and lift weights in the evening, or vice versa!

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[1] Shaner, A., Vingren, J., Hatfield, D., Budnar, R., Duplanty, A., Hill, D. 2014. The Acute Hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28(4): 1032-40

[2] Schoenfeld, B., Pope, Z., Benik, F., Hester, G., Sellers, J., Nooner, J., Just, B. 2015. Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 30(7): 1805-12

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