How To Build Muscle: The Definitive Guide to Building Muscle

If you would like to build muscle, then here is how I’ve gained 43lb of muscle in Belgium, and how you can gain as much muscle in America (or elsewhere).

The secret to gaining muscle is to get stronger.

The stronger you get, meaning the more weight your can lift in the gym, the more muscular you’ll be.

This is especially true if you’re a natural drug-free lifter with average or, worse, lousy genetics like I am. More strength is more muscle.

Before you continue reading how to build muscle, watch this free video in which I reveal the most effective way to gain muscle fast. Just click play to watch it…


Are You Making This Muscle Building Mistake?

Go to any gym and you’ll find most guys doing body-part split routines. They’ll train five to six times a week… one muscle a day… going to failure on every set in order to get pumped… and using at least ten isolation exercises per workout to hit each muscle from every angle. I’m sure this sounds familiar to you.

Many guys think they’ll build muscle with these body-part split routines because that’s what they read in some muscle magazine. Or because that’s how they saw some ripped dude in their gym train, and so they hope to get the same results if they train the exact same way – monkey see, monkey do.

In reality, most guys will never build muscle with body-part split routines. Worse, they’ll look EXACTLY the same five years later. The few who do gain muscle with split routines almost always belong to one of these groups:

  • Genetic Freaks ““ Some guys will build muscle DESPITE doing body-part split routines, NOT because of them. They’re genetically blessed. I’ve seen guys who were ripped and muscular before they even touched a weight. Not to sound rascist, but this is quite common with black people. Yet unless you were also born lucky with superman genetics, forget about building muscle with body-part split routines.
  • Steroid Users ““ Drugs are extremely common among lifters, yet few guys are honest about it. Before I got my home gym, I trained five years in a commercial gym and more than half the guys there were on drugs. That’s why they managed to build muscle REGARDLESS of doing bullshit split routines ““ it’s because they relied on the muscle building hormones they injected in their body to gain muscle NOT on their training. Drug-free lifters like us won’t get away with that, we play by different rules.
  • Advanced Lifters ““ Most top bodybuilders belong in this group. They used split routines to chisel their physique… AFTER first spending years building muscle mass by getting strong. Unfortunately most guys put the cart before the horse… and that’s like a sculptor trying to carve out a masterpiece from a tiny piece of clay ““ you just don’t have enough mass to work with. Similarly, split routines won’t work unless you’ve spent years building muscle mass. And that requires getting strong first..

Here’s what this all means: if you’re a drug-free lifter with average, or worse, lousy genetics like me, then building muscle boils down to this…

If You Are Not Lifting More Weight Today
Than You Did One Year Ago, Or Even One Month
Ago… Then You Are NOT Building Muscle!

And I don’t care how pumped or sore you get. You can dumbbell bench on a bosu ball with 30lb in each hand until you’re blue in the face… but the guy who benches 250lb will always have a bigger chest than you. And that’s because he’s lifting heavier weights. More strength is more muscle.

Think about it, why are the best-built guys that ever existed strong as hell? This isn’t a coincidence. They know that more strength is more muscle. They know that the stronger you get, the more muscular you’ll be.

As an example, consider Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 7x Mr Olympia winner. Few guys know this but Arnold did strength-based workouts for years. Heck, he even competed in powerlifting BEFORE becoming a bodybuilder. And in his latest auto-biography “Total Recall” the Governator reveals why:

“The truth is that not all bodybuilders are strong, especially those who have done most of their training with weight machines. But years of power lifting and working with free weights had given me massive biceps and shoulders and back muscles and thighs. I simply looked bigger and stronger than the rest”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall

Arnold Deadlifting 700lb - He's proof that more strength is more muscle

Arnold Deadlifting 700lb – He’s proof that more strength is more muscle

The above picture shows Arnold Deadlifting 616lb and 710lb in powerlifting competitions… several years before winning his first Mr Olympia title. His other best lifts include a 473lb Squat and 440lb Bench Press. Strong, period. And he’s not the only guy who knew that more strength is more muscle. Here are more examples of champion bodybuilders who were frigging strong…

  • Franco Columbo ““ Arnold’s trainingpartner was even stronger. Franco was a champion powerlifter from Italy who could Deadlift 755lb, Bench Press 525lb and Squat 655lb. He was so strong he could even pop a hot water bottle by inflating it orally. Arnold eventually convinced Franco to compete in bodybuilding, and he won the Mr Olympia twice. He too built muscle by getting strong first because more strength is more muscle.
  • Reg Park ““ Arnold got the idea to build muscle mass by getting strong, and then later chiseling it down with split routines, from his mentor. Reg Park could Deadlift 700lb, Bench 500lb, Squat 600lb and created the 5×5 workout. Park won the Mr Universe 3x and, unlike Arnold, he did this BEFORE steroids existed. This proves that building muscle by getting stronger also works for natural drug-free lifters like us.
  • Dr Layne Norton Phd ““ this pro-bodybuilder and lifetime natural drug-free lifter also happens to be an elite powerlifter… with a 617lb Squat, 386lb Bench and 700lb Deadlift. I interviewed Layne for my StrongLifts Inner Circle once, and he revealed that nothing ever worked to get rid of his chicken legs until he increased his Squat to 500lb. That took his thighs from 21″ to 28″. More proof that more strength is more muscle.
  • And many, many more… including Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr Olympia, who could Deadlift 800lb and once said “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder but nobody wants to lift heavy weights.” Or Sergio Oliva, the olympic lifter who could lift 300lb overhead and won the Mr Olympia 3x. Or Stan Efferding, the strongest pro-bodybuilder, owner of the world record in the Squat (854lb). The list of strong bodybuilders goes on and on.

Look, these bodybuilding champions wouldn’t have spent years increasing their strength unless they were convinced this was critical for building muscle. Why do you think they all continued to lift heavy weights even after they switched to split routines? It’s because they know that more strength is more muscle.

And You Don’t NEED To Be A
Frigging Bodybuilder!

That’s right. Most guys find this method of building muscle by getting stronger not only revolutionary, but also liberating. Because few of us are interested in getting oiled up on stage wearing thongs. Few of us desire to be bodybuilders. Very few of us want to be part of this emasculated narcissistic circus.

Instead, most guys are perfectly happy with building an athletic physique that not only looks strong but actually IS. Especially once you realize that you can achieve this by simply training three times a week for about an hour… without taking drugs or supplements, and without being anal about your diet.

Most guys simply don’t know that there is an alternative to bodybuilding. They don’t know you can build muscle without doing time-consuming, ineffective and boring body-part split routines. Yet you can. It’s called strength training.

Here’s how it works: each workout you try to lift more weight. Then, as you get stronger, as the weight on the bar increases, your body builds more muscle. It’s simple, easy, fun, most of all, it’s the fastest way to gain muscle without drugs.

More good news: you don’t need to Deadlift 700lb like Arnold did either. Heck I can’t do that. And yet, although I wasn’t born to be big and strong (and lack any athletic background) I still gained 43lb of muscle without using drugs. How? Simple: train for strength instead of pump. And if I can do it, if my thousands of Stronglifts Inner Circle Members can do it, so can you.

How To Build Muscle Fast:
The 9 Most Powerful Muscle Building Tips For
Drug-Free Lifters with Average Genetics

Let’s cut the bullshit. I have the worst genetics ever to gain muscle. In fact a lot of guys consider me a hardgainer because my thumb overlaps my middle finger when I grab my wrist. They call that skinny-ectomorph genetics…

Yet I still managed to gain 43lb of muscle drug-free. And after helping tens of thousands of guys from all over the planet gain as much muscle (or more…) here are the 8 most powerful tips to build muscle fast that I’ve found…


1. To Build Muscle, Get Stronger

In Ancient Greece, the wrestler Milo trained for the Olympics by carrying a new-born calf on his back every day. As the calf grew bigger and heavier, he had to carry more weight. This forced Milo’s body to get stronger and build muscle, and that’s how he became the strongest guy of his time, winning the Olympics 6x.

Milo carryied a new-born calf on his back daily. The heavier the calf got, the more strength and muscle Milo gained.

Milo carryied a new-born calf on his back daily. The heavier the calf got, the more strength and muscle Milo gained.

I’m sure this story is more legend than fact, but the moral is that to gain muscle you must get stronger by adding weight. This is the simplest, most powerful way to build muscle… and it means you can forget about all those painful and complicated methods from muscle magazines. I’m talking about…

  • Stop “Confusing” Your Muscles. You don’t need to change exercises every week to build muscle. Heck, that’s the worst way to know if you’re making progress because strength varies on each lift. Plus you’ll never master proper form. If you want to confuse your muscles, simply lift five pounds more than you did last workout. Now they’re confused.
  • Stop “Tearing” Your Muscles. You don’t need to hit failure on each set for your muscles to grow. That crap will only inflame and overtrain your muscles. That’s why the only thing failure training achieves is getting you sore and injured instead of strong and muscular. Plus it’s so painful it will drain you mentally. You’ll lose motivation and quit.
  • Stop “Pumping” Your Muscles. You need to build muscles BEFORE you can get them pumped. Even then, pumping your muscles merely bloats them with water, as soon as you’re out of the gym the pump is gone. All pump training does is build fake, puffy bogus muscles without any real strength. It’s bullshit stacked high and stinking strong.

Some guys claim it’s possible to get strong without gaining a single pound of muscle. That strength is all neurological. They know someone who Squats 500lb but has chicken legs… Well I’m sure there’s a freak like that somewhere, but I’ve never met one. Why? Because these are urban legends! The stronger guy will always be more muscular because more strength is more muscle.

If you only take one thing away from this article, make it this ““ more strength is more muscle. Like Milo, you must try to increase the weight each workout. Don’t worry about pump. Simply add weight on the bar. As you get stronger, as you’re lifting more weight, you’ll automatically build muscle. It’s that simple.


2. To Build Muscle, Do Compound Exercises
I spent four years doing five variations of curls each Sunday for 45mins until my arms were sore. So when I found Reg Park’s 5×5 workout, which had no curls, I thought I’d lose muscle. It’s only when I tried 5×5 one year later and saw my arms grow bigger without doing isolation exercises that I finally understood.

You don’t need to train a muscle directly for it to grow. When you do a heavy compound exercise like a Bench Press, your arms are holding the bar. It’s not just your chest working, your triceps have to push the weight as well… and a much heavier weight than on isolation exercises like triceps kickbacks.

That’s why you’ll never meet a guy who can Deadlift 500lb but has skinny arms. Trees with strong, large trunks have big branches. Compound exercises work the muscles close to your trunk but ALSO your limbs. And that’s how thousands of StrongLifts Members built bigger arms without doing a single curl.

Bottom line: if you want to build muscle, stop doing isolation exercises and start doing heavy compound exercises. This means:

  • If you want bigger biceps, stop doing curls. Do Barbell Rows
  • If you want bigger chest, stop doing dumbbell flies. Bench Press
  • If you want bigger shoulders, stop doing front fraises. Overhead Press
  • if you want bigger back, stop doing lat pulldowns. Deadlift
  • If you want bigger legs, stop doing leg extensions. Squat

With compound exercises you’ll also achieve a much more balanced physique because you’re not favoring body-parts. And since they work several muscles at the same time, you’ll burn more calories and get a full body workout with three exercises. You’ll build more muscle and burn more fat while saving time.


3. To Build Muscle, Use Free Weights

First time I did Squats, in January 2000, it was on a smith machine ““ with the bar attached on rails. My mentor and I Squatted like that for months.

Then one day the smith was taken and we didn’t want to wait so we decided to use the Squat Rack that was gathering dust in the back of our gym.

My mentor tried to Squat his regular weight… and much to our surprise he couldn’t even Squat HALF the reps he’d otherwise do inside the Smith Machine!

This was a revelation to us: we didn’t know why the smith was harder than free weights. But common sense told us that if free weights were HARDER, they must be BETTER for building muscle.

And so from that day one, we never Squatted inside the smith machine again. We only used free weights. I still do.

Fast forward today, I know why free weights are more effective for building muscle drug-free than ANY machine, including the smith machine…

Machines like the smith balance the weights for you. On the other hand, with free weights you have to balance the weight YOURSELF.

This is why free weights build “real-world” strength you can use OUTSIDE the gym – they strengthen your stabilizing muscles. Machines don’t.

This is also why research has shown that overall muscle activation during a free weight Squats is 43% greater than during Smith Squats.

It’s because free weights force MORE of your muscles to WORK because you have to balance the weight yourself instead of a machine doing it all for you.

And unlike many guys think, free weights are SAFER than machines.

That’s right – you see, machines force your body into fixed, unnatural movement patterns that can cause injuries. However free weights allow for natural movements that won’t destroy your knees, shoulder and back.

If you’re afraid of the bar dropping on your face – just lift inside a Power Rack. Its safety pins will catch the weight if you fail a rep.

I’ve been Squatting and Benching inside my Power Rack for the past 9 years. In my home gym, many times all alone, without spotter. And I’ve never dropped the bar on my face. As usual, he things we fear rarely happen.

If you’re still intimidated by free weights, do like Milo did. He didn’t start with a heavy bull. He started with a calf and slowly worked his way up. Do the same thing: start LIGHT, and add a little bit of weight each workout.

This way you can focus on proper form and avoid injuries. Then, as the weight gradually increases, so will your confidence with the weights grow.

Use free weights, not machines. They’re crucial for building muscle drug-free.


4. To Build Muscle, Lift Barbells

Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t get big with dumbbells. He sure used them, but as ASSISTANCE exercises. His main workout always had heavy Squats, Bench and Deadlifts. Using BARBELLS, not dumbbells.

Many guys believe you can get Arnold-like results using dumbbells only. To the guys who only want to do lazy workouts in front of their TV with a pair of powerblocks, that story is like cocaine ““ and it’s equally dangerous.

Truth is dumbbells don’t work for Squats - you’re wasting more energy getting the dumbbell on your shoulders and holding it there, than actually Squatting the weight. And Squats are crucial for building muscle.

Dumbbells don’t work for progressive loading either. You can easily add 5lb a workout for WEEKS using barbells. Not so with dumbbells. Even if you find smaller increments, you’ll still plateau sooner.

Sure, dumbbells work your stabilizing muscles more than barbells. But if not’s like barbells don’t work them.

Besides, the point here is to BUILD MUSCLE. For that you need to get stronger. And to gain strength you need to lift heavy weights. More strength is more muscle. You can use more weight with barbells than dumbbells.

Look, it’s easy to Squat 300lb with a barbell. But try to Squat that same 300lb with two dumbbells ““ getting two 150lb dumbbells on your shoulders and keeping them there is a workout by itself. You’re not Squatting.

Once you can Squat 300lb, Bench Press 225lb and Deadlift 400lb then you can use dumbbells to assist your main lifts. Not sooner. And never to substitute barbells all-together.

So drop the dumbbells and use barbells. No excuses.


5. To Build Muscle, Train Your Muscles More Frequently

And I don’t mean you have to train five times a week.

I mean start Benching and Squatting at least twice a week. Because the more frequently you train a muscle, the more it will grow.

And yet, I wasted five years on those bullshit bodybuilding split routines you’ll find in muscle magazines. You know, training one body-part a day, using a myriad of isolation exercises, with each set taken until failure.

So when I stumbled upon the 5×5 workout from Arnold’s mentor, Reg Park, I thought he was nuts. I mean, my legs were usually sore for a week. Yet this guy was talking about Squatting three times a week.

“That will never work,” I thought. “I will OVERTRAIN”

But I gave Reg Park’s 5×5 workout a try, and it turned out I was dead-wrong.

Because here’s the honest truth: if you can’t Squat three times a week, you’re NOT overtraining, You’re UNDERTRAINED.

Think about it – sprinters like Usain Bolt sprint several times a week. Swimmers like Michael Phelps swim several times a week. Millions of olympic lifters all around the world snatch and clean & jerk several times a week.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sport where they train a muscle only once a week to “avoid” overtraining.

Only in bodybuilding muscle magazines do they talk about this crap. All other sports: you have to train your muscles SEVERAL times a week. And if you can’t, it’s because you’re weak and out-of-shape. UNDERTRAINED.

The question you should ask yourself is this – how come athletes in pretty much ANY sport are able to train the same muscle SEVERAL times a week without overtraining but while GAINING strength, muscle and fitness?

Simple: it’s because they are NOT doing that dumb and painful failure training all the muscle magazines keep telling you to do.

Because when you’re dedicating each day to hammering one specific body-part, training it to failure until it’s pumped and sore, then you will indeed not be able to train that same muscle  again two days later.

On the other hand, if you stay away from failure – just like almost every single athlete in pretty much any sport does – then you can train that same muscle again within the same week – without OVERTRAINING.

So stop training each muscle only once a week. Stop training to failure. Instead start Squatting and Benching at least twice a week. And focus on adding weight, not getting pumped and sore. More strength is more muscle.


6. To Build Muscle, Take Days Off

I’m sure you’ve heard that muscle grow when you rest not when you train them. While this isn’t 100% correct technically, recovery is crucial for building muscle. And days off are part of that.

In fact, few guys will succeed at building muscle by training five or even six times a week. The guys who do are usually on drugs. Or they’re advanced lifters who spent years building towards that.

Most guys, especially natural lifters like me, will get much better muscle-building results by hitting the gym only three times a week. Doing full body workouts that consist of three free weight compound exercises like the Squat.

And yet the temptation is huge to go from one extreme to another. From a skinny, fat, weak and out-of-shape couch-potato who never did any sport (as I used to be lol)… to suddenly hitting the gym six or even seven times a week.

This is unfortunately also how a lot of guys fall off the bandwagon and end up quitting all-together. Because hitting the weights six times a week is just too much when you have a job, a family, and other obligations.

Much better to build the habit of hitting the weights three times a week consistently, no matter what. Much more effective for building muscle as well, because your muscles have more time to recover and grow.

More isn’t better. Stop training five times a week. Three times is plenty.


7. To Build Muscle, Eat Like A Horse
Your muscles need food for energy and to recover from your hard workouts. If you want to build muscle, you need to eat like a horse. Your foundation:

  • Eat whole, unprocesssed foods. Anything your grandpa wouldn’t eat, don’t eat it either. Drop the junk, soda, frozen foods and all that processed crap. Instead eat lots of natural foods like steaks, chicken breast, veggies, fruits, whole grains, etc. .
  • Get 200g of protein a day. You don’t need whey protein supplements, just eat a whole source of protein with each meal. Eggs at breakfast, meat at lunch, poultry at dinner, cottage cheese for snack. This will get you the recommended 1g of protein per lb of body-weight a day to build muscle. Or 200g if you’re 200lb.
  • Drink a gallon of water a day. Heavy lifting will make you sweat and thus lose water. But your muscles need water for hydration and recovery. Headaches are the first sign you’re dehydrated. So drink up, gallon a day. Don’t worry about water intoxication – if you eat whole foods and don’t drink a gallon in 30mins, you’ll be safe.

Remember what you do OUTSIDE the gym is equally important.


8. To Build Muscle, Be Consistent

Arnold Schwarzenegger started lifting weights when he was 15. Seven years later, in 1969, he participated to his first Mr Olympia.

But he lost against Sergio Olivia.

However Arnold was BACK one year later. And this time, he won the Mr Olympia title. So it only took him 8 years…

Meanwhile some guys THINK they can build an Arnold-body in 8 weeks…

They think they can gain 30lb of muscle in 30 days because that’s what they’ve read in some muscle magazine.

The truth? Most guys will never gain more than 2lb of raw muscle a month.

The guys who did gain more are on drugs, genetic freaks, or had “muscle memory” with them (regained muscle they lost previously).

Because if you’re a beginner lifter, with average genetics, training naturally – then two pounds of raw, lean muscle gain a month is really, REALLY, good!

As an example: I’ve gained about 25lb of raw muscle my first year of training. Second year I gained about 12lb. Then the year after 6lb.

That’s 43lb of almost all lean muscle gained, without ever using drugs, and regardless of my skinny-ecto “hardgainer” genetics.

Look, I don’t want to demotivate you by telling you that 2lb of lean muscle a month is the best you can hope for.

I actually want to MOTIVATE you.

Here’s how: I want to shift your mindset from “get-ripped-in-6-weeks” to “how can I finally get the body I always wanted, year-through, once and for all”

Because if you think you can gain 10lb, 20lb or 30lb of muscle in just a month, I guarantee you – you’re going to end up REALLY frustrated (and quit).

Natural, drug-free muscle gains take longer. Much longer.

The good news is, they also last much longer!

But only if you’re consistent first – you got to hit the weights three times a week no matter what. Week after week. Month after month.

That’s the only way you’ll gain that 2lb of lean muscle in a month, which will total for 24lb of lean muscle by this time next year.

And I guarantee you, from my experience, if you gain 24lb of lean muscle in a year – people WILL notice. They’ll ask questions.

But you got think long-term and be consistent first. You got to hit the weights three times a week no matter what. No excuses.

Don’t Waste Your Time Reinventing The Wheel!
Try My FREE StrongLifts 5×5 Workout

I’ve long noticed how the guys who build most muscle focus all their efforts on lifting the weights. Not on putting together the perfect plan.

Many guys will spend a lot of time planning, feeling they accomplish something with that, but ending up with little to no results to show for.

Don’t be that guy. Put bluntly, if you’d knew what you were doing, you wouldn’t be searching the Internet for information on how to build muscle.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, start a program proven to work. One that includes the above 8 keys to building muscle fast and naturally.

I’ve got one for you ““ it’s called StrongLifts 5×5. And it’s the simplest and most powerful training program to build muscle and strength while burning fat, without using drugs and training only three times a week.

Best of all: since you’re probably skeptical, StrongLifts 5×5 is 100% free. That means you can try it risk-free, with nothing to lose.

To get started with StrongLifts 5×5, just go here.