Gaining muscle, especially without gaining fat is not an easy process. Especially if we’ve usually just focused on weight loss, it can require a very different focus for our training and fueling.
That’s why I wanted to share 9 tips to help you dial in your workout routine and diet to see the best muscle gains without doing a dirty bulk, causing you to ultimately gain a ton of fat you just have to lose later!
#1: Use All Three Drivers Of Muscle Growth
There are 3 drivers of muscle growth – muscle tissue damage, mechanical tension and metabolic stress. So often we try to rely just on muscle tissue damage, lifting heavy and seeking to be sore.
We even skip those silly looking pumper exercises with mini bands that have small ranges of motion and really burn.
But when we don’t use these different moves with different ranges of motion, different points where the muscle is under the most tension, we miss out on using all three drivers of muscle growth.
We have to remember that soreness not a great indicator of how hard we’ve worked, we also may constantly be beating ourselves down, instead of using all 3 drivers to allow for the best results as quickly as possible.
Don’t only just focus on those heavy compound lifts and heavy weights.
You don’t just want to use big range of motion movements that load the muscle most when stretched like squats and deadlifts. Also use moves like hip thrusters, where the muscle has the most resistance applied where it is strongest (mechanical tension). And even use moves that create that pump and burn to benefits from the hypertrophy created by metabolic stress. Think mini band moves and smaller ranges of motion where the muscle is constantly under tension!
#2: Don’t Fear Protein and BCAAs
Protein is the building block of muscle. We need to make sure that we’re giving our muscles what they need to repair and rebuild.
And especially as we get older, we become less able to utilize protein efficiently.
It’s why timing even more protein, and specifically amino acids, right around our workouts can be key to create that anabolic environment.
This is extra essential for any women in menopause. It’s why you may find it essential to supplement with BCAAs prior to, or during your workout, while following up your workout with a quick protein shake or lean protein meal.
With hard training sessions, and our changing hormone levels, we are actually at risk for catabolizing muscle mass if we don’t get sufficient fuel to support growth even while focusing on lifting.
So using this timing around workouts, and optimizing everything with a BCAA supplement can help us get better results faster by making sure you get your muscles the fuel they need to repair when they are primed to do so.
#3: Stop Cutting Down Your Rest Times
Too often we try to make our workouts harder by cutting out rest between moves. But the more we reduce rest, the less we recover which means we may be able to lift less each and every round.
When driving toward muscle growth, we want to avoid just turning our workouts into cardio by eliminating rest. We want to focus on making each round through moves or supersets or trisets as hard as possible through how much we lift and maximizing each rep so we NEED the rest to recover for the next round to keep maintaining, or even increasing the weight.
The heavier you lift, the more you should want and use that rest to recover between rounds.
So as you change from even weight loss as your focus to gaining muscle, consider increasing rest and upping those weights!
#4: Focus On A QUALITY Calorie Surplus
I know we see these bulks where people chow down on all sorts of crazy delicious foods, but these extreme calorie surpluses don’t lead to better results faster. And often they just lead to a ton of unwanted fat gain we have to deal with later.
Instead focusing on a moderate surplus of even 100-400 calories is enough. Starting smaller and increasing based on your results can even be a good way to go if you’ve been more focused on weight loss previously and haven’t maintained your current level of leanness for long.
It can also be key to keep the calorie surplus smaller, or even a very small deficit of just 100 calories, if you aren’t as lean as you’d like to optimize fat loss while gaining muscle. Just make sure that you’re focused on increasing that protein.
And of course, the more quality our fuel, the better our body will function. So while it’s super tempting to eat a ton more…well…not so whole, natural foods, remember to stick with your 80/20 balance.
We want to enjoy the foods we love, but also still make sure our body gets not only the macros, but micronutrients we need.
#5: Focus On Compound Lifts First
When lifting to gain muscle, you want to think about working in multiple rep ranges to not only create muscle hypertrophy or growth but also build strength. Let’s face it, the more you can lift, the better your muscle gains will be.
So when you’re freshest, start with your biggest, heaviest lifts. Focus on big compound moves for slightly lower reps with longer rest periods at the start of your workout.
You can even separate these lifts out to be done on their own before any supersets, trisets or circuits.
Think even about working in that maximal strength rep range of 1-5 reps for 3-5 sets. Consider rest periods of even 3-5 minutes.
If you aren’t as advanced a lifter or really don’t enjoy getting near those max attempts even 5-8 reps can really be a great way to go!
But use those heavy lifts to help you gain strength to then be able to lift more as you do other more accessory compound moves in the 6-12 rep range for 3-4 sets, with more like 1-3 minutes of rest.
Lifting heavy will NOT make you bulky but will cause your muscles to have to repair and grow!
#6: Cut Back On Cardio
If you’re an endurance athlete, I’m not asking you to stop your passion. BUT you do want to recognize that steady state endurance cardio can be catabolic to muscle tissue and make it harder to gain muscle.
So if you can reduce your mileage for a time, it may be key to making better muscle gains more quickly.
We also don’t simply want to turn our lifting sessions into cardio workouts. If you want to optimize your muscle growth, now is not the time for more metabolic strength workouts. It’s not the time for tons of high intensity interval training.
Now is the time for focused lifting and longer rest periods!
#7: Strategically Finish With Isolation Moves
After you’ve focused first on those heavy lifts, you can strategically use isolation moves to capitalize on all 3 drivers of muscle growth and really target those stubborn muscles to fully fatigue them.
If you’re short on time, compound moves should be your focus, but if you have a lagging muscle group or an especially stubborn area, isolation exercises that hone in and target this area are super key for better results faster.
When you include these moves, use them at the end to fully fatigue the muscle so you don’t compensate in earlier moves. Consider higher reps even for many of these movements (12-20) and just a couple of rounds 1-3 at the end. This will encourage more muscle fiber recruitment for better results.
And ladies, working to fatigue for muscles may actually be even more key for you to see the hypertrophy results you want!
#8: Don’t Fear Carbs
Especially when trying to lose weight, many will cut out carbs. But when we train hard, and our focus especially shifts to gaining muscle, we need those carbs to create that anabolic environment and serve as immediate fuel for our sessions.
While it can be hard if you’ve recently lost weight to see the scale slightly increase as you increase carbs, it is truly key to embrace the process.
To start even, you may not increase carb intake overall for the day, but simply time them more around your training sessions as you transition into a gaining muscle phase.
Some complex carbs prior to your training to make sure you have full glycogen stores followed by some simple carbs post workout to replenish depleted stores can really help you make sure you’re fueling growth!
But do not fear those carbs! They truly are key to optimize hormone levels and fuel that lean muscle growth which will increase our resting metabolic rate and even help us look leaner while being functional stronger!
#9: Increase Your Training Frequency
We see so many bodybuilding programs with body part splits, training areas even just once a week. But you may actually get better results by increasing your training frequency, especially for stubborn areas.
Consider designing your workouts progressions to work areas even 2-3 times a week. While this may mean not doing as much per session, this increase in training frequency can really pay off.
Hemisphere splits or upper/lower splits and even full body training sessions may be helpful, especially if you don’t have as many days to train.
But if you’ve got a lagging area, don’t fear working it multiple times a week as long as you’re working it in different ways and still giving the muscle time off to repair and rebuild!
While it can be tempting to try to train more to get results faster, there will be a point of diminishing returns. A point at which we are beating ourselves down and NOT rebuilding. We do NOT want to waste effort and hard work doing more than is needed, especially if it actually holds us back!
I know it can be hard to take a day off, but you’ll only see the results of your hard work in the gym if you give your body time to repair! Dialing in our recovery, from our fueling to making sure we get enough sleep, is so key if we want results as fast as possible.
Remember to design your workout progression so areas get rest over the week and you’re not constantly beating down your body!
Use these 9 tips to improve your muscle gains and see better results faster without the unwanted fat gain often associated with traditional bulks!
And if you’re looking for help and guidance to get the best results as fast as possible, check out my 1:1 Online Coaching!