Do you feel like you never see the results you want no matter how hard you hit the gym? Has your fitness level plateaued? As a triathlete who works with a lot of athletes, I get it. The good news is, you may only need to do a bit of tweaking in order to achieve your goals. Here are my top ten exercises, tips, and techniques for building muscle mass.
1. Practice Pullups
Muscle & Fitness lists pullups as one of their favorite exercises for building back muscles as well as working your forearms and biceps. Most gyms have an assisted pullup machine to help you work up to this challenging exercise.
2. Don’t Overtrain
Pushing yourself is part of the process when trying to build muscle mass, but you risk injury when you overdo it. As I explain here, symptoms like extended soreness and/or frequent illness can indicate a need to pull back.
3. Experiment with Supplements
I have a lot of clinical and personal experience with products designed to enhance your performance. Here are a couple of my favorites. For a complete list, check out this post.
– Creatine: There’s plenty of research out there showing creatine improves strength, increases lean body mass, and enhances performance.
– Acetyl-L-Carnitine: Science suggests supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine can have a beneficial effect on athletic training, competition, and recovery.
4. Do Some Dips
The dip is another exercise recommended by Muscle & Fitness since it works your triceps when you keep your torso upright and targets your chest when you lean forward.
5. Eat The Right Kind of Protein
Your body needs protein to build muscle mass, but quality seems to be more important than quantity. For example, while red meat is an excellent source of protein, it’s also high in saturated fat and has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Healthy protein like the kind found in fish and plant sources, on the other hand, has been shown to lower disease risk. See my post here for a simple explanation of protein intake.
6. Squat Properly
Bodybuilding.com says squats are essential if you’re looking to build muscle in your legs. Technique is everything when it comes to this exercise, so click here for information about proper squatting form.
7. Consider Fasting
It’s an unfortunate fact that dieting often leads to muscle loss. Not so with intermittent fasting, according to Krista Varady, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As Dr. Varady told Men’s Journal, “When people lose weight, typically 75% is fat loss and 25% is muscle mass. But with fasting, the ratio actually changes so that 90% of weight loss is fat and 10% is muscle.” If you’re trying to lose weight but also want to build muscle mass, intermittent fasting could be right for you. See this post for more on the benefits of fasting.
8. Row It Out
Either barbell or dumbbell rows are an excellent way to build muscle mass in your upper back, according to Muscle & Strength.
9. Don’t Neglect Your Legs
As much as you may dread it, you should never skip leg day. Muscle & Performance explains that these lower body exercises release a “surge of growth-inducing hormones” that can help you build muscle mass. After all, your legs contain the gluteus maximus (your butt) which is the largest muscle in the body. Ignore it at your own peril.
10. Incorporate Cardio
According to bodybuilder and trainer Zach Even-Esh, Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended vigorous exercise like running, biking, and swimming after weight training workouts or on rest days. Make sure to push yourself in order to get your heart rate up—Even-Esh says if you can talk on your phone or read a magazine while doing cardio, it’s not cardio.
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.