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10 Muscle Building Tips to Increase Muscle Tone

woman doing back double biceps poseBuilding muscle is not as easy as most people think. It takes hard work, planning, and an awareness of what stimulates muscle growth. The following 10 tips will help you take your fitness program to the next level.

Eat Your Protein

If you want to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and increase protein synthesis, you must get in enough protein. The FDA only recommends 0.8 grams/kg for protein intake, yet study after study shows the benefits and lack of side effects from an intake of 1 gram/lb of body weight [1] [2].

Given the importance of protein in everything from building muscle, to neurotransmitter production, to being a structural component to every cell in your body, it only makes sense to ensure you aren’t too low on this essential macronutrient.

Use Compound Movements

Doing curls can build you some biceps, but heavy rowing movements like barbell rows and pullups/chinups will really make your arms pop. If you want a better butt and legs, you could go station to station doing hip abductor, leg extensions, leg curls, and other butt isolation exercises, or you could get under the bar and squat. If the exercise you’re doing only moves one joint, you are limiting your muscle building potential. Stick to compound exercises.

Emphasize Your Post-Workout Meal

No other meal will have as big of an impact on your muscle building than your post-workout meal. At no other time are your cells more receptive to receiving glucose.

This is a very anabolic time, and a meal containing carbohydrates and protein will ensure maximum protein and glycogen synthesis [3] [4]. Try to get your post-workout meal in within 2 hours after your workout for improved protein synthesis [5].

Prioritize Your Goal

What is your goal? Are you trying to add muscle, lose weight, and improve your agility all while training for a marathon? We would all love to be the most well rounded athlete, being the strongest, leanest, and fastest person in the world.

However, that’s just not going to happen. Certain goals need specific training and nutrition. Building muscle is no exception.

If you’re trying to lose weight and add muscle at the same time, it’s certainly doable, but it’s going to be much more difficult than if you were to focus on one goal at a time. It is much easier to add muscle when at maintenance calories or above, than it is to do so in a calorie deficit.

Don’t Negate the Eccentric Phase

When we work out, we typical perform two different movements – the concentric and eccentric phase. The concentric phase is when your muscles shorten when generating force. This phase is usually what most people think about when lifting weights. It’s when you press the bar up, or the “up” portion of a squat.

On the other hand, the eccentric phase is when the muscle gets longer under loads. Most people think of this phase as the lowering of the weight before you press it back up. Most people only focus on the concentric phase; however, the eccentric phase has been shown to provide the most hypertrophy [6] [7]. Try lowering the bar in a more controlled fashion.

Get the Workout Frequency Right

There are all kinds of training philosophies out there, and all of them hold merit. They do all have something in common though – they leave enough time between working the same muscle groups to ensure proper recovery.

Intense exercise can take 48 hours or longer to recover from. If you’re hitting the same muscle consistently on back to back days, you could be working against yourself. Try backing off on the frequency and increasing the intensity of the workouts you do complete. Quality over quantity.

Eat Enough Calories

Nothing will inhibit muscle growth more than a lack of calories. Building muscle is a highly energy intensive task. For many people, they undergo the goal of building muscle at the same time as they are trying to lose weight.

If you are trying to accomplish these two goals at one time, you might want to consider cycling your calories so that you are eating more food on training days, and less on others. Doing so will ensure you’re getting the extra energy intake when it matters most for muscle growth.

Optimize Your Sleep

You stimulate muscle growth when you work out, but you build your muscle when you rest. A good night’s sleep provides a favorable metabolic and hormonal profile that is conducive towards building muscle.

Growth hormone is released throughout the night. This powerful hormone is anabolic to muscle tissue and catabolic to adipose tissue. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night at about the same time will ensure proper glucose regulation, cortisol control, and hormone production [8] [9].

Have Some Patience

Putting on muscle is not as easy as it seems. Women in particular are fearful of weights because they’re afraid of bulking up. Here’s the thing though, you would be lucky to add even 1 pound of muscle in a week’s time, and that is if everything is perfect and you’re eating a surplus of calories to support muscle growth.

Building muscle is hard work and takes time. Expect a year’s worth of weight training to really start seeing dramatic changes in your physique.

Focus on Getting Stronger

Can you get stronger without getting bigger? Yes. Can you get bigger without getting stronger? That is much less likely to happen. Strength gains are mostly made through motor neuron adaptations.

This is basically the idea of teaching your muscles to work together to perform a particular exercise. Your muscles learn the movement, and in return, they are stimulated up and beyond prior loads – resulting in muscle hypertrophy. As long as you place an emphasis on continually getting stronger, and you have the caloric environment to support muscle growth, new muscle will be synthesized.

  • Jeannette Laframboise

    I actually have a question related to building muscle tone after surgery.My husband had severe carpal tunnel that advanced to the point of requiring surgery on the entire arm. He has a small scar on his wrist but on the back side of his arm is a 10 inch scar. He was unable to use his arm before surgery due to pain for the past 6 months and he literally has lost ALL the muscle tone in his arm. My bicep muscle is 70% firmer or more than his. He is now 5 weeks post-op and is so VERY frustrated with his weakness. Do you know of a safe but quicker method to help him re-build his muscle. It is hard to believe but atrophy seems to occur way too quickly. He is going to physiotherapy but so far all they have done is massage his arm and use ultrasound waves on it. He is chomping at the bit to get his muscle back and any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  • Linda

    I usually workout an hour or two before I go to bed, so I don’t normally eat after a workout. Since reading a lot of your articles, I have noticed you encourage a meal after workouts. Would a small glass of skim milk be sufficient or would you recommend something else. I am an amateur exerciser so my goal is just to look better and be healthier.

  • candice

    I usually run in the am, before breakfast, so eating a meal after is no problem, but my weight routines are usually done in the evening after my kids are in bed. It’s probably around9 or 9:30 by the time I finish at the gym, and I’m in bed not too long afterwards…I realize that a post workout meal is important. What do you suggest for after working out in the evening if i’m in bed soon there after?

    • Coach Calorie

      Just have a typical meal – even a meal with carbohydrates will be just fine. Your insulin sensitivity is very high, so any storage would be minimal. Just stay away from the high-glycemic sugars.

  • Adam

    Use Casein (Milk Protein) This is a much slower digesting protein, You could use this for post workout with a little whey and prior to bed cottage cheese or cruchy peanut butter

  • dawn sylvester

    These tips are so great! I have posted many articles myself about this topic. I really hope that women realize that the “treadmill” is NOT going to get them to their goals, but a program that incorporates strength training, eating the right ratio of protein and carbs, and interval, and/or cardio for fat burning!

  • Rosaria

    I wore my polar heart rate monitor watch for 24 hours over the weekend which are my rest days from the gym and I burnt about 1300 calories just sleeping and not doing much at all. ( stayed at home) whilst I know these watches are not 100% accurate, it does give you a good idea of your general calorie burn. So, my goal is to build muscle. (26yr female,5″4,usually between 114-116lbs) how many calories and what macro split would you recommend? I hired an online trainer and he thinks my usual calorie intake of 1800 cals is way too much and that I should be on 1300 calories on training days and even less on non training days. I’m worried that I won’t make any gains if I drop down to 1300 not to mention the risk of causing metabolic damage. Whilst Eating 1800 calories I do feel a little fluffy in the mid section but I am finally starting to see some muscle gains. Should Drop my cals that far and listen to the trainer or not? Hope you can sure you’re opinion on this?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Rosaria, I would not eat below your BMR. Use this formula:

      lean body mass (in kg) * 21.6 + 370

      Whatever that number is, don’t go below it.

      Set your protein to 1 gram/lb of lean body mass.

      Eat 20-30% fat.

      Set your calories to between 10-12 calories/lb of body weight.

      Fill the rest of your calories with carbs.

  • Tony Schober

    Hi Paula, if your maintenance calories are 2200, I wouldn’t start by eating 1600. Start with a 15% calorie deficit and go from there. Then if you want to cycle your calories you could do something like 2000 on workout days and 1700 on cardio days. If you aren’t getting results, then you can cut 50 calories from each and repeat the process.