1. Educate yourself.
Track your food to become aware of what you’re eating and to guide future decisions (use this app, this app, or by hand).
Learn proper lifting technique. This is an excellent resource written by a friend of mine.
Use this article and this article of mine to help you understand the basics of training program design.
Learn from experts who are credible (evidence-based + real-life experience), people-centric, and are genuine in their actions over time. I.e., they aren’t a dick.
Hire a coach to hold you accountable and mentor you. Or, use self-paced online learning like a workshop.
2. Find a training style that is fun, effective, and stick-withable.
Resistance training forces your muscle to hypertrophy. Contrary to popular belief, muscle building is more dependent on one’s training, not nutrition. You cannot eat your way to more muscle mass.
Use a training style that is “optimal” for you. I.e., bodybuilding-style workouts typically build the most muscle, but this won’t be true if you hate lifting that way. If this is the case, Crossfit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, or strongman training styles may match closer to your “optimal.”
Consistency is the backbone to making progress over time. A “perfect” plan is useless if you fail to adhere to it long-term. Uncoincidentally, the person with the most muscle in the gym is often the most consistent.
3. Injury prevention needs to be your highest priority.
You cannot lift if you are injured. You cannot gain muscle if you cannot lift.
Before lifting, raise your body temperature. AKA, “warm up.”
Manage fatigue by using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or Reps in Reserve (RIR) and deloads.
Avoid overtraining by limiting complete muscular failure during ~80% of your training. Save failure training for isolation exercises towards the end of your workouts to avoid tiring out too quickly and to reduce risk of injury.
Emphasize proper technique over all other variables.
4. Do more work over time via progressive overload.
Doing more volume (i.e., work) over time seems to be the main driver of muscle gain.
Multi-joint lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) and their variations (DB bench, goblet squat, Romanian Deadlift (RDL)) need to be 2/3 of your training.
While not always possible, aim to improve/increase sets, reps, weight load, and/or technique compared to what you did the previous week.
Be stronger than you were last year.
5. Create a caloric surplus.
While not a necessity, you should consume more calories than you expend by eating more and/or moving less (i.e., create a calorie surplus) for maximum muscle growth.
When in a hypercaloric state, consume 0.7-1.0g of protein per pound of bodyweight, erring towards the higher end for more growth.
Carbohydrates are extremely powerful tools to prevent muscle loss and enhance anabolism via insulin production and muscle glycogen usage during exercise. When in a hypercaloric state, consume a minimum of 1.0g of carbs per pound of bodyweight.
Fats are essential for vitamin absorption, hormone regulation, and critical for overall health. When in a hypercaloric state, consume a minimum of 0.3g per pound of bodyweight.
Do not fear gaining fat ⏤ spend extensive periods in a calorie surplus to reach your natural muscular potential.
6. Track your progress.
Weigh yourself at least 4 times a week (including one weekend day)—after you wake up and use the restroom, but before you eat—and take the average of those weights to find your “actual weight.”
Focus on weekly trends of averages, not day-to-day fluctuations. Aim for a weekly weight gain of 0.25-0.5% of your bodyweight (lbs). E.g., 180 lb x 0.5% = 0.9 lb average gain per week.
“I can’t gain weight no matter how hard I try.” ⏤ someone who isn’t eating enough on a daily basis.
Use your food log, weekly weight averages, waist measurements (2 fingers above your naval, at your navel, and 2 fingers below), and/or pictures every 4 weeks to determine if you’re heading in the right direction.
Track your weight, sets, and reps in the gym. Try to beat what you did last week by improving at least one of those indicators (more weight, more sets, or more reps).
7. Don’t be an asshole (to yourself or others).
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
Drink less alcohol and do less drugs.
Related: How to lose fat.