How to build muscle

22-minute read


Have a motivating health goal. Mine is to have a strong, healthy, attractive body that will allow me to live a long, great life.


  • Don’t overtrain. Take 45 to 60 minutes per workout. Don’t lift for more than 2 hours a day.
  • You don’t need to feel your muscles burning to grow.
  • Pump (when your muscles look extra defined and veiny after exercising) doesn’t matter much either.
  • No need for drop sets, burnout sets, supersets, etc.
  • The most effective ones are compound exercises, which involve and activate multiple muscle groups. Isolation exercises are less effective. Some isolation exercises, however, are needed for smaller muscles like the shoulders, biceps, and triceps
  • You don’t need to constantly change your routine. Do the same types of exercises weekly.
  • Form is key. As long as you have good form, you won’t injure yourself
  • The vast majority of machines are inferior to dumbbell and barbell exercises. This includes the Smith machine.
  • Don’t use a weight belt.
  • You don’t have to go to absolute failure every set. Reach the point where you struggle to finish a rep and can’t get another without assistance (the rep before failure). If you want to, though, you can go for it.
  • Wear flat or weightlifting shoes.


Eat a protein like egg or casein 30 minutes before sleeping to improve muscle recovery.

high-protein diet is absolutely vital for building muscle and preserving it when you’re dieting for fat loss. A low-protein diet is absolutely good for nothing.

The easiest way to get stuck in a rut is to not pay attention to how much protein you eat

One gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight) daily is key.

Higher levels of protein intake, usually in the range of 1.2 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight (2.6 to 3.3 grams per kilogram of body weight) per day, are commonly recommended when dieting to lose fat

Use Whey Protein Powder for pre- and post-workout supplementation.

Mike Matthews uses Egg Protein Powder outside of pre- and post-workout supplementation.

Avoid soy.

If a product has any other ingredient listed before the protein powder itself, don’t buy it. That means protein powder isn’t the main ingredient.

If a scoop is 40 grams but there are only 22 grams of protein per serving, don’t buy it unless you know that the other 18 grams are made up of stuff you want

30-40 grams of protein is optimal, but you don’t need to limit it.

Michael Matthew’s:

  • Pre-workout: 30 grams of protein
  • Post-workout: 50 to 60 grams of protein
  • Lunch: 40 grams of protein
  • Afternoon snack: 30 to 40 grams of protein
  • Dinner: 30 to 40 grams of protein
  • Before bed: 30 grams of protein

For protein found in food, look at: beef, chicken, fish, plants, and the like.

your best choices are meat, dairy products, and eggs; second are certain plant sources like legumes, nuts, and high-protein vegetables such as peas, broccoli, and spinach. Fish, chicken, turkey, pork, buffalo, and so on all qualify as “meat” in this sense

In terms of how much carbohydrate to eat in your post-workout meal, a good rule of thumb is about 1 gram of per kilogram of body weight

If you need to perform well (sports, for instance), then including carbs in your pre-workout meal is a good idea as well.


Don’t drink soda.

Get the majority of your daily carbohydrates from nutritious, unprocessed foods.

Trans fat is very bad for you. Many cheap, packaged foods contain trans fat, such as microwavable popcorn, yogurt, and peanut butter. So do frozen foods such as pizza, packaged pastries, cakes, and the like, and fried foods are often cooked in trans fat

The best way to avoid trans fats is to shun the types of foods that commonly contain them, regardless of what the nutrition facts panel says.


Drink 1-2 gallons of filtered water daily.

Healthy foods

  • Avocados
  • Greens (chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and spinach)
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Mushrooms
  • Baked potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Berries
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower)
  • Beans (garbanzo, kidney, navy, and pinto)
  • Lentils and peas
  • Almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Whole grains (barley, oats, quinoa, and brown rice)
  • Salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, and tuna
  • Lean beef, lamb, and venison
  • Chicken and turkey


Don’t have more than 2,300g of sodium a day.

It’s easy to overconsume sodium. Just one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium

Consume sodium and potassium at a 1:2 ratio, with 4,700 milligrams per day as the adequate potassium intake.


Eat insoluble fiber, not soluble.

Eat enough fiber, and you’re more likely to live a long, healthy life. 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food eaten.

Choose whole-grain food over processed forms.

Eat raw vegetables as snacks instead of chips, crackers, or energy bars.

Include legumes in your diet (a tasty way to do this is to cook some international dishes that use a lot of whole grains and legumes, such as Indian or Middle Eastern food)


Vitamin D

Start with 2000 IU of Vitamin D a day. When you get blood tested, check your vitamin D levels. Increase Vitamin D intake by 100 IU to increase blood concentration by 1 milligram per milliliter. Aim for 50-80 mg/mm.

Take supplements on your off days too.

Take a multivitamin.


Creatine is very healthy. It’s only dangerous when you take too much. I highly recommend creatine.

Creatine monohydrate is the best bang for your buck.

When you start taking creatine, take 20g daily for six days, then 5g forever after that. There’s no need to cycle off creatine.

Take creatine with a good-sized meal to maximize its effects.

Take creatine after exercising. It’s more effective.

Don’t take creatine with caffeine.


Taking glutamine reduces the negative effects of prolonged exercise.

Take 150 mg / kg of body weight daily.

Fish oil

Take 1.3 to 2.7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Don’t take more than 6.5 grams daily.

Pay a bit more for a high-quality fish oil product

Note that I said grams of omega 3 fatty acids, not grams of fish oil


If you want to lose fat and not muscle, you need to have good nutrition.

You can lose weight without exercising, but exercising is very beneficial.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you must also do some form of resistance training to preserve muscle.

For men, under 10 percent body fat is the ideal look. To get below 10% fat, you’ll need cardio.

Don’t restrict your calories for too long. This has negative side effects. Luckily, the side effects will heal themselves if you slowly increase food intake over time.

Your goal while cutting is to preserve muscle, not gain it.

Cutting diet:

  • 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  • 1 gram of carbs per pound of body weight
  • 0.2 grams of fat per pound of body weight

If you’re over 25 percent body fat, your formula is slightly different

  • 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  • 0.6 grams of carbs per pound of body weight
  • 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight

Stick to lean protein.

You should never feel starved and running on empty when cutting.

It’s normal to lose a few reps when cutting, but if your strength drops considerably, you’re undereating and need to increase your food intake

If your heart beats quickly at night and you’re anxious, tossing and turning in bed, and if you wake up more often at night, you might be overtraining or undereating.

“hidden calories” throughout the day:

  • Olive oil used to cook your dinner (240 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise in your homemade chicken salad (200 calories)
  • 3 cubes of feta cheese on your salad (140 calories)
  • 3 tablespoons of cream in your coffee (80 calories)
  • 2 pats of butter with your toast (70 calories)

When cutting, eat the same amount of calories every day, even when you don’t exercise that day.

Every week when cutting, have a single cheat meal. This is healthier for you. Make it high-protein, high-carbohydrate, low-fat, and alcohol-free.


Bulking involves eating slightly more energy than you’re burning.

If you’re over 15% body fat, cut. If you’re at or below 10% body fat, bulk.

Get a fat caliper so you can tell your body fat percentage.

If you’re gaining strength but not size, you’re not eating enough.

In terms of weight gain while bulking, you want to see your weight going up at a rate of 0.5 to 1 pound per week.

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day,
  • 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day, and
  • 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day.

It’s better to be over your target than under.

If your weight hasn’t gone up after seven to ten days despite pushing yourself hard in your workouts, you’re just not eating enough. Increase your daily intake by 100 calories (by adding more carbs, preferably)

Maintenance refers to eating more or less how much energy you burn on a daily or weekly basis

Switch to maintenance if you want to stay lean through a certain time period like summer

Cheap food


  • Eggs
  • Chicken breast
  • Almonds
  • Protein powder
  • Avocado


  • Oats
  • Black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Fructose
  • Sweet potato

Money-Saving Tips

  • Buying frozen veggies
  • Buy in bulk
  • Paying attention to sales and what's in and out of season

End goal

until you reach a point where you’re absolutely satisfied with your overall size at 10 percent, and then cut below this point. In fact, many guys find that they need to reach a point where they feel they’re too big at 10 percent to have the look they want at 7 percent

The formula

Train one or two muscle groups per workout.

Rest 3-4 minutes between sets. Sufficient recovery time allows you to recover. The longer rest times are going to feel weird.

Train for 45-60 minutes.

Train each muscles group 1-2 times every 5-7 days.

Every 9 weeks, do a “deload.” Reduce the intensity of your training. This helps your body recover and is beneficial in staying healthy. If you’re bulking, you can reduce your calories to a maintenance level, and if you’re cutting, you don’t have to change anything. For each exercise, do two sets for each exercise instead of three. If the exercise is 4-6 reps, do 2 reps. If the exercise is 6-8, do 4 reps.


Do 4-6 reps for most exercises. (otherwise 6-8) This is the best range to be in. This means that you want to be at failure at rep 4, 5, or 6.

This means that you’ll be using weights that allow for at least 4 reps but no more than 6 reps (if you can’t get 4 reps, it’s too heavy; if you can get 6 or more, it’s too light).

Simple method of progression: once you hit 6 reps for one set, you add weight for your next set. The standard increase is a total of 10 pounds: 5 pounds added to either side of the barbell, or a 5-pound increase in each dumbbell

Rep timing refers to the speed at which you lower and raise the weights Do either the “2–1–2” or “2–1–1” timing

The first part of the rep should take about 2 seconds, then a 1-second (or shorter) pause, then the final portion of the rep between 1 and 2 seconds.

example, if we apply this to the bench press, it means we are to lower the bar to our chest in 2 seconds, pause for 1 second or less, and raise it in 1 or 2 seconds.

Don’t do heavy half-reps. This puts strain on body. Always use full range of motion


Make cardio a regular part of your routine.

Do recumbent cycling two to four times per week.

Keeping your cardio sessions short is important. Too long and your muscles may lose strength. Don’t do more than 45 to 60 minutes of steady-state cardio in one session

Separate your weightlifting and cardio sessions by at least a few hours if at all possible. Try to do cardio after.

HIIT exercising is great. It preserves muscular size and improves performance as well

This is how Mike Matthews does HIIT:

  • Start with 2 minutes of low-intensity warm-up on lowest resistance.
  • Increase resistance (not too much).
  • Pedal as fast as possible for 45 seconds.
  • Reduce resistance to lowest. Pedal at moderate pace for 60 seconds.
  • Repeat the last two steps for 25 minutes (pedal fast, then rest).
  • 3-minute cool down at low intensity.

Read while you pedal.

When bulking do two HIIT sessions weekly. When cutting, do four. When maintaining, do three.

Don’t do more than five cardio sessions a week.


Be as close to upright as possible. Hold your breath. Gaze straight ahead.

The most common error is doing partial reps by not lowering the body until the hips drop lower than the knees.


Set the safety bar/pin six inches below the height of the bar at the bottom of the rep.

Position the bar on the rack, so it is across the upper half of your chest. This might seem low, but that’s better.

Face the bar so you can walk it out backward. Never walk the bar out forward.

Get under the bar and place heels shoulder-width apart, with toes rotated out by 20 to 25 degrees (1 and 11 o'clock).

When ready to unrack, bring your shoulder blades together, your chest up, and straighten your lower back. Put the bar below the bone at the top of your shoulder blades. Do not put the bar on your neck.

Use a narrow grip, which helps you maintain upper-back tightness. The weight should be on your back, not your hands. Place hands on top of the bar.


Take one or two steps back and get in position. Pick a spot on the floor 6 feet away and stare at it the entire time.

Shift the hips back and sit the butt straight down while keeping the chest up and the entire back straight.

Don’t push your knees too far past your toes. They should go further than the toes a bit, but that’s all.

The forward motion of the knees should occur in the first third of the descent. Then it’s simple: drop the hips down and back up.

The bottom of the squat is where your hips are back and slightly lower than your kneecaps. The back is straight. The bar should be over the middle of the foot.

Once you’ve reached the bottom, drive your butt straight up, not forward, and raise your shoulders at the same pace. Keep the same back angle.


Make sure your descent is controlled to prevent injury.

Breathe in at the top.

Don’t squat on a Smith machine. It’s less effective.



Bench press

Lie down on the bench and “screw” your shoulder blades in by retracting them in toward each other and down toward your waist. Create an arch in your lower back that’s big enough to fit a fist between it and the bench. Your chest should be raised as if you’re going to show it to someone, and you’ll want to keep it “up” like this for the entire lift.

Your grip should be a few inches wider than shoulder-width (about 22 to 28 inches, depending on your build

Don’t use a “thumbless” or “suicide” grip

Put the bar in the palm of your hand, not in your fingers, because this leads to wrist pains.

Grip the bar hard. Try to crush it.

Place your feet directly beneath your knees, which should be angled outward. Your legs should be at 90 degrees with the ground.

Unrack the bar by locking your elbows out to move the bar off the hooks, and move the bar into position with your elbows still locked. Don’t try to bring the weight straight from the hooks to your chest, and don’t drop your chest and loosen your shoulder blades when unracking, because it will make you shrug the bar off with your shoulders.

a 45-degree angle relative to your torso and using a medium grip are the best ways to protect your shoulders while performing the bench press.

bench press movement is a controlled lowering of the bar all the way down to the bottom of your chest (over your nipples), followed by an explosive drive upward. The bar should move in a straight line up and down.

Make the bar touch your chest.

Don’t watch the bar as it moves, as this will likely cause you to vary its angles of descent and ascent. Instead, pick a spot on the ceiling to look at during the exercise and see the bar going down and up in relation to it. The goal is to bring it up to the same spot for each rep

Keep your elbows “tucked” in the starting position the entire time, paying special attention during the ascension (as this is when people usually flare them out to gain leverage

Keep your chest up, elbows tucked, and shoulder blades pinched and retracted

Use your legs to drive against the floor. This transfers force up through the hips and back, which helps maintain proper form

Keep your upper back and butt on the bench.

Don’t force your head down, this strains your neck.

Make sure to finish your last rep before trying to rack the weight. Many guys make the mistake of moving the bar toward their faces on the way up during their last rep. What if they miss the rep and it starts coming down or misses the hooks? It’s not pretty.

Instead, press the weight straight up as a usual, lock your elbows out, move the bar back to the rack until it hits the uprights, and then lower it to the hooks.

Variations of benchpress


the angle of incline in the bench should be 30 to 45 degrees. the bar should pass by the chin and touch just below the collarbones to allow for a vertical bar path

Close grip

your grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width and no closer. You’ll see many guys place their hands just a few inches apart, and this is a bad idea


The ultimate full-body workout.

Don’t round your lower back during the lift.


Always start with the bar on the floor, not on the safety pins or the rack.

Stance should be narrower than shoulder width, toes slightly out.

Stand with the bar above the middle of your feet.

Stand tall with your chest out, brace your abs like you’re about to get punched.

Bend through your knees until your shins touch the bar and your knees are slightly past it. Then, lift your chest until your back is in a neutral position. Don’t over-arch your back, and don’t squeeze shoulder blades together. Just push your chest up and your shoulders down.

Don’t bring your hips too low like your squatting. Instead, half-squat.

Your arms should be completely straight, locked, and outside your legs — leaving enough room for your thumbs to clear your thighs.

Grip the bar in the middle of your palms, not your fingers. You can also do mixed grip (one facing in, one out) to lift heavier.


Drive your body upward and slightly back as quickly as you can. Keep back arched somewhat.

Hips and shoulders should move up simultaneously.

The bar should move up your skin, over your knees and thighs, and then you’ll stand. At the top, your chest should be out. Don’t lean back, shrug, or roll your shoulders.

Lower it in a controlled manner. Begin by pushing your hips back first and letting the bar descend in a straight line until it reaches your knees. Bend your knees and lower it down your shins. This should take 1-2 seconds.

To transition into your next rep, tap the floor and go back up. Although, you can let go for a second if you’re going heavy.

Keep elbows straight the entire lift.

Use an overhand grip for grip strengthening.

Crush the bar with your grip. If your knuckles aren’t white, squeeze harder.

Make sure you get your hips low enough (but not too low) for the starting position.

Explode the bar up from the floor as fast as you can.

Don’t bend your knees until the bar reaches them.

Keep your head in a neutral position in line with your spine.



Military press

Do seated military press.

If your gym doesn’t have a military press station, rig one using a power rack and utility bench. If you can’t do that, do the standing variation.

Place your feet flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart with your toes and knees slightly turned out. Press your heels into the ground to keep your upper back and butt rooted in place against the back of the bench.

Grip the bar like you would during the bench press: about shoulder-width and the bar over your wrists, not in your fingers. Your back should be in a neutral position

Begin the descent, take a deep breath, tighten your abs and glutes, and press your chest up. Bring the bar straight down toward your clavicle, and keep your elbows tucked like you would during the bench press (don’t force them to stay right at your sides and don’t let them slide too far behind you

Tilt your head back to allow the bar to pass your nose and chin and look forward, not straight up. (This is why a full bench doesn’t work for the military press: you can’t tilt your head back to get it out of the way and are forced to lower the weight lower down your chest, which is incorrect.

There should be a slight arch in your lower back at the bottom of the lift, but don’t overdo this as it can cause injury

Once the bar has reached your clavicle, raise it straight up along the path of descent, and once it passes your forehead, shift your torso a little forward and squeeze your glutes. Keep raising the bar until your elbows are locked: your shoulders, traps, and back should be tight and squeezed

Exercise list

These are the lists of exercises listed from most important to least.


  • Incline Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Flat Barbell Bench Press
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Dip (Chest Variation)


  • Barbell Deadlift (by far the best)
  • Barbell Row
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Pull-Up
  • Lat Pulldown (Front and Close-Grip)
  • T-Bar Row
  • Seated Cable Row (Wide- and Close-Grip)
  • Chin-Up
  • Barbell Shrug


  • Seated Barbell Military Press or Standing Barbell Military Press
  • Seated Dumbbell Press or Arnold Dumbbell Press
  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise or One-Arm Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise
  • Rear Delt Raise (Bent-Over or Seated)
  • Face Pull
  • Barbell Rear Delt Row
  • Dumbbell Front Raise


  • Barbell Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Hack Squat (sled, not barbell)
  • Leg Press
  • Barbell Lunge (Walking or In Place)
  • Dumbbell Lunge
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Leg Curl (Lying or Seated)
  • Calf Raise (Donkey, Standing or Seated)
  • Calf Press on the Leg Press


  • Barbell Curl
  • E-Z Bar Curl
  • Dumbbell Curl
  • Hammer Curl
  • Chin-up


  • Close-Grip Bench Press
  • Seated Triceps Press
  • Dip (Triceps Variation)
  • Lying Triceps Extension (“Skullcrusher”)
  • Triceps Pushdown


  • Cable Crunch
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Captain’s Chair Leg Raise
  • Ab Roller
  • Air Bicycles
  • Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise
  • Decline Crunch

Do ab exercises with weight. Do 10-12 reps. Do two different exercises to failure. Then rest for 2:30. Do 3 to 6 of these circuits two or three times per week.

In terms of developing the rest of your core muscles, heavy compound weightlifting exercises like the deadlift, squat, and military press get the job done better than special “core exercises

The routine

Lift 5 times a week.

use the following training template:

Push day

  1. Barbell bench press
    1. Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  2. Incline bench press
    1. 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  3. Dumbbell press
    1. 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  4. triceps pushdown
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps

Pull day

  1. Deadlift
    1. Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  2. Seated cable rows (wide grip)
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  3. Lat pull down (medium grip)
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  4. Alternating dumbbell curl
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps (12-16)

Upper A

  1. Military press seated or overhead press
    1. Warm up then 3 hard sets of 4-6
  2. Dumbbell side lateral raises
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  3. Dumbbell rear lateral raise
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  4. Seated tricep press
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps


  1. Barbell squat
    1. Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  2. Leg curl
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  3. Leg press
    1. 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  4. Dumbbell lunge
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps

Upper B

  1. Close grip bench press
    1. Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  2. Chin up
    1. 3 hard sets of 4–6 reps
  3. Seated cable row (close grip)
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps
  4. Barbell curl
    1. 3 hard sets of 6–8 reps

How to do workouts

You want to do the exercises one at a time, in the order given

So you start with the first exercise and do your warm-up sets, followed by your 3 heavy sets (with the proper rest in between each, of course), and then move on to the next exercise on the list, and so forth, like this:

Exercise 1: Set 1


Exercise 1: Set 2


Exercise 1: Set 3


Exercise 2: Set 1


And so on.

Warming up

First Set:

  • 12 reps with 50% of your heavy, 4- to 6-rep set.
  • 1-minute rest.
  • Same weight, 10 faster reps.
  • 1-minute rest.
  • 4 reps with 70% of heavy weight.
  • 1 rep with 90% of heavy weight
  • Rest 3 minutes.
  • Start normal sets.

You only need to warm up for the first exercise you do for the day.

How to spot

Let the person do as many reps as possible without your assistance.

If he gets bogged down on a rep, place your hands under the bar, but don’t take any weight off yet.

If he’s still stuck, take about 10 percent of the load off.

If he’s still stuck, take another 10 to 15 percent of the load off.

If he’s still stuck, he’s toast—take as much of the load off as you can so he can finish the rep

if the person you’re spotting is moving the weight up, even if slowly, you don’t touch it

Spot the bar, not the person.

Tracking progress

Weigh yourself once per seven days, on the same day each week, in the morning in the nude, after going to the bathroom, and on an empty stomach.

How to prevent injury

if you can’t get full reps, you’re using too much weight, and you’re increasing your risk of injury. Simply lighten the load, do full reps, improve your strength, and only move up in weight when you can keep it fully under control.

If you feel a sharp pain, drop the weight and check your form. If your form is fine, stop the exercise for a couple weeks.

If the injury’s serious, see the doctor.

Home workout

If you’re unable to make it to a gym while you’re out of town, you can always do a bodyweight routine

  • Push-ups to failure (one-handed if possible)
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Pull-Ups to failure
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Squats for 30 seconds (one-legged if possible)
  • Burpees for 30 seconds
  • Mountain climbers to failure
  • Rest 90 seconds
  • Crunches to failure
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Start over with push-ups. Do this for 25 minutes.

Training when sick

When you’re sick, don’t do weight training. Do cardio.

  • Bigger Leaner Stronger - Michael Matthews
  • Other unlisted sources

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All guides are researched and created by me, Levi Hanlen.