So You Want to Build Muscle? Here’s How

CrossFit coach and physical therapist Genevieve Gyulavary explains how finding your weight-training sweet spot can help you build muscle and achieve your ideal body composition.

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Finding a training program is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. But whether your goal is to build muscle or burn fat, selecting a program you enjoy and are able to commit to is crucial. The best program for muscle growth is one you can stick to when motivation begins to wane.

Once you commit to a plan, you need to get really clear about your goals. Make them measurable. If you want to lose 10 pounds, break this down into smaller pieces to make it attainable. For example, “I want to lose 0.5 to 1 pound per week” or “I want to hit 10,000 steps five times per week.” Celebrating small victories will make your overarching goal feel less daunting. Setting daily, weekly and monthly goals ensures you can complete them with minimal stress.

CrossFit girl lifting weights

When it comes to building muscle, there are two clear components: Lift heavier weights, and eat in a caloric surplus. It is not possible to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. Choose a program that focuses on muscle building, such as a squat cycle or hypertrophy cycle, in addition to following a diet rich in lean proteins and vegetables and minimizing processed carbs.

These are the building blocks to changing your body composition. Nutrition cannot be devalued here. If you don’t know where to start or the idea of a caloric surplus sounds scary (it can be!), consider hiring a coach to guide you through the process.

Other important factors in building muscle occur not only inside the gym and the kitchen but also in your bedroom. That’s right: Sleep. Recovery is key when it comes to changing your body composition. If you haven’t slept at least seven hours, you have not earned the right to work out. Sorry, not sorry.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle fibers are injured or damaged. Hormones such as HGH (human growth hormone) allow muscles to recover and grow. Any guesses as to when HGH is most abundant? While you sleep, your bloodstream is flooded with it! Without prioritizing sleep, your efforts in the gym will not be as visible.

Stress management and recovery methods are equally important. Epson salt baths, bodywork and mobility sessions are great tools to use during training. Stress that is either internal (within mindset, environment or lifestyle) or external (from physically overtraining) can negatively influence recovery after exercise.

The most important take-away here is that regardless of the program, it’s the other 23 hours in the day that are going to make or break your success. Think about your overall plan. How much time do you want to spend training? What will your recovery look like? How will you make time for more sleep (ideally eight to nine hours per night)? What stress-management activities will you explore? What amounts and types of food will you need to support your training?

Attack each of these pieces to the larger puzzle as you would five sets of five back squats or a heavy single bench press. Significant body-composition changes take time. Enjoy the process.