Building muscle size—also known as hypertrophy—is generally considered to be a slow process. It takes 6 to 8 weeks before your body is able to grow and build muscle.
It's generally thought that the strength increases beginners achieve within the first few weeks of a weight-training program are due to neural adaptations. In other words, their brains learn how to engage their muscles as they progress through the early stages of the program.
However, research is beginning to challenge this belief.
A 2007 study featured in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that "changes in muscle size are detectable after only three weeks of resistance training." And a 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found significant skeletal muscle hypertrophy within the first 3-4 weeks of training.
According to Brad Schoenfeld, 2011 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year and author of The MAX Muscle Plan, "The general body of literature indicates that neural mechanisms are primarily responsible for increased strength in the early phases of training, although it does seem hypertrophy (i.e. increases in muscle size) plays at least some role in the process."
So then, what is the best means for building muscle early on in your training? We present the Build Muscle Fast Workout.
This six-week workout plan is designed to help beginners safely build muscle fast—within 3 to 4 weeks—and continue that muscle growth through the duration of their training program.
The program is inspired by and uses a weekly split and set/rep scheme similar to the protocols used in the University of Oklahoma study, which prescribed a weight-training program consisting of the Leg Press, Leg Extension and Bench Press lifts.
The workout plan below is more well-rounded and less monotonous than the routine used in the study, because it alternates between two different workouts and incorporates a wider variety of exercises to engage more muscle groups. The result is a total-body workout that won't cause burnout.
Muscle-Building Workout A
- 1a. Reverse Lunges (Bodyweight or Dumbbells)
- 1b. Neutral Grip Lat Pull Down (palms facing one another)
- 2a. Goblet Squat (Dumbbell or Kettlebell)
- 2b. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- 3a. Cable Tight Rotations
- 3b. Rope Tricep Extensions
Muscle-Building Workout B
- 1a. Romanian Deadlift (Dumbbells or Barbell)
- 1b. Incline Dumbbell Press
- 2a. Physioball Leg Curl With Hip Bridge
- 2b. Push-Ups
- 3a. Physioball Knee Tucks
- 3b. Alternate-Arm Dumbbell Bicep Curl + Shoulder Press
- Perform the exercises in paired sets (e.g. "1a" & "1b") with 30-45 seconds rest between sets
- Two exercises ("a" + "b") = 1 superset. Complete all sets of the first pair of exercises before moving on to the second, and so on.
- Complete this workout on three nonconsecutive days per week for six weeks and alternate workouts ("A" & "B") each week
Six-Week Set/Rep Progression
Follow these general set/rep parameters to ensure your safety and constant progress:
- Week 1: 2 sets x 8-10 reps of each exercise; rest 45 seconds between sets
- Week 2: 2 sets x 10-12 reps of each exercise; rest 45 seconds between sets
- Week 3: 3 sets x 8-10 reps of each exercise; rest 45 seconds between sets
- Week 4: 3 sets x 10-12 reps of each exercise; rest 45 seconds between sets
- Week 5: 3 sets x 12,10,8* reps of each exercise; rest 30 seconds between sets
- Week 6: 3 sets x 10,12,14* reps of each exercise; rest 30 seconds between sets
*Perform Set #1 for 12 reps, Set #2 for 10 reps, Set #3 for 8 reps
*Perform Set #1 for 10 reps, Set #2 for 12 reps, Set #3 for 14 reps