Where do I begin if I’ve never strength trained before?
Hire a personal trainer at your gym, join Gyroscope Coach, or simply refer to this guide in combination with one of our beginner strength training programs. YouTube also has a variety of videos that can guide you on common exercises. Watch those in the beginning to learn proper form.
It is never too late to start, and everyone started from the beginning.
Can I build muscle training just once or twice a week?
Maybe, if various factors are extremely well accounted for and intensity is adequate. For optimal growth, we recommend at least 3 strength training workouts a week, with at least 48 hours rest for a muscle group.
How many days a week should I train to build muscle?
3 workouts a week is enough for most people, but 4, 5 or 6 days a week is possible. However, the more days you strength train, the more intricate the program needs to be in order to facilitate adequate rest for muscle groups.
Can I strength train 7 days a week?
Not recommended for most people. Consistency in training just 4 or 5 days a week for an entire year will be much better than overcommiting to every single day, but burning out after a few weeks. However, with smart programming and a heavy emphasis on low intensity days and mobility, it is possible to do 7 days a week if you really enjoy it or want to keep the habit going.
What is the best training program for me?
The best training program, first and foremost, is the one that you can stick to. If you can only allow 3 days a week for training, don’t start a program that asks for 5 days a week. Frequency and consistency is key to results.
Once you have chosen a program that you can adhere to, it is a case of training. You cannot simply find the perfect workout and do it repeatedly. As your body adjusts, your workouts also need to adapt. This means you should be constantly applying progressive overload to your workouts.
What is Progressive Overload?
Progressive Overload is the continuous increase in stress upon the CNS and musculoskeletal system, through gradually increased training.
Each workout, try to best your previous performance or intensity in some way. This could be an extra rep or two, a bit more weight, less rest, faster or slower movements, anything that pushes the intensity in some way. It is important to keep some ‘gas in the tank’ and not work to failure on every set and workout, to always allow more room to grow and increase progressive overload for your next workout.
Are rest days really important?
Yes! You actually get stronger when you are resting, as this is when your CNS and muscles can “assess” what happened during your workout and then work to rebuild from the “stress” and make you stronger. Then, the next time you do the same workout you can handle more. Failure to allow time for this process can lead to reduced gains or increased chance of injury.
Is diet important?
Yes! You must eat enough, because building muscle is a calorie-intensive process. Getting adequate protein is especially essential for growth and repair post-workout, and numerous sources of data also highlight the importance of carbohydrates for muscle protein synthesis. The total amount of calories also means you should be in a slight surplus, which is a different strategy than habits you may have had for weight loss.
All the while, focus on eating mainly whole foods, lean and complete proteins, complex, fibrous carbs, polyunsaturated fats and plenty of vegetables, in order to promote actual muscle gain rather than simply gaining bodyfat.
Can I just work out harder to burn calories?
Exercise should not be thought of as a way to burn calories and eat anything you want afterwards. Unfortunately, you will always need to be aware of the nutrients in your food. About 110% of your daily calorie expenditure is ideal, but it is important to not go far beyond that. There is no scenario where you can just eat a bunch of pizzas and work it off at the gym and get the desired results.
Can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
It can be possible, especially for beginners, but it is not as optimal as doing one at a time. It tends to be more possible for beginners, however you must still understand that building muscle is an anabolic process that is maximized with a slight (about 10%) calorie surplus, while burning fat is a catabolic process than absolutely requires a calorie deficit.
If you keep protein high, training intensity high, and the calorie deficit small, you may still see increases in lean muscle mass along with the loss of fat tissue. However, for optimal progress we recommend prioritizing your focus and switching between bulking and cutting phases every few months.
Even while trying to lose bodyfat, you should minimize muscle loss by continuing a high protein diet, a moderate calorie deficit and still consistently strength training. Many of the same habits will be useful in both scenarios, like eating a high protein diet, practicing resistance training, sleeping well, etc. The difference will come from intensity of training, and total energy intake (about 90% of TDEE for losing bodyfat, while increasing to 110% of TDEE for growing muscle). In neither scenario should you start eating unhealthily, or stop exercising altogether.
How much protein should I eat for optimal muscle growth?
Ideally, every day you should eat at least 1.6-2 grams per kg of body weight (0.8-1 gram per pound of weight) of protein. Increasing up to to 2 or 2.2 grams per kg of body weight (1-1.2 grams per pound) will help maximize muscle protein synthesis. More than this is not harmful, but can see diminishing returns for muscle. Too much protein could cause bloating and gas.
That means if you are about 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you should be eating about 150 grams of protein per day!
What are the best supplements for building muscle?
First, you must optimize the basics: frequency and consistency of training, progressive overload, diet and sleep. This is vital to focus on first before even thinking about supplements.
Then, some supplements can be helpful. Protein powder can be a convenient way to increase protein intake, if you are unable to reach these targets with just food. Creatine is also an extremely proven supplement that can help with strength and power, although it will only work for around 7 out of 10 people.
Beyond this, the gains from supplements become more negligible, but some benefits may be seen through the use of Citrulline Malate / L-Citrulline, HMB and Beta-Alanine, however the data is mixed.
How long should a bulking phase be?
The length of a building phase really depends on two main factors...
1. How much weight you want to gain
2. How long you have been strength training.
The more experienced you are, the longer it takes to build new muscle, unfortunately.
A good rule of thumb for most people is at least 8-12 weeks spent bulking. Then, switch back to maintenance mode or into a slight deficit to reduce bodyfat.
How can I bulk without putting on too much body fat?
This is known as a “lean bulk” and is generally our recommended approach, as it puts more of an emphasis on food quality while limiting excessive fat gain.
- Eat slightly more calories than you burn (around 110% of our TDEE) on a daily basis
- Eat at least 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day (around 20-40% of daily calories)
- Eat 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight every day to keep glycogen levels up (around 40-60% of daily calories)
- Eat foods you enjoy, but avoid “cheat days”
- Focus your training primarily on big, compound lifts
- Pay special attention to progressive overload
- Get plenty of sleep and make your rest days count
How long should a cutting phase be?
A good rule of thumb for people with a moderate to low body fat % (men 10-15% and women 20-25%) is to use a bulk-to-cut ratio of 3:1. For example, if you bulk for 12 weeks, cut for 4. However, if you have more body fat to lose, you would want to spend more time cutting before focusing on building muscle.
How do I avoid losing muscle in a cut?
Keep your deficit conservative (10-15%, or around 300-500 calories max), protein high (0.8-1 gram per kg of body weight) and keep up progressive overload. Even when you are not focused on muscle building, you should be continuing some resistance training to preserve that muscle mass you spent so much time and energy getting.
How long would it take to go from an average body to looking like a superhero? How is that done?
In most cases, you will see noticeable changes after 2-3 months of consistent training. More significant changes in 4-6 months. After about a year, some incredible physical transformations can have taken place. This is all based on being consistent with training and diet. The people who do this for Hollywood movies or bodybuilding competitions are professionals that have coaches or entire teams for planning their workouts and meals, as well as multiple hours a day devoted to this.
For a “superhero” level physique, be aware that achieving it is not even the hardest part. Maintaining it will be the real challenge. While it is doable, it requires a lot of focus and sacrifice which may or may not suit your long term lifestyle.
In general we recommend you focus more on learning to enjoy the process of building muscle, developing strength and losing body fat, while constantly celebrating small and big wins. Take photos every 4-6 weeks; notice how your clothes starts to fit differently; how your posture and confidence improves; how running up flights of stairs becomes easier; work on cool movements like pull-ups or muscle-ups; see how far you can take your squats and deadlifts; explore your untapped potential and looking like a superhero just becomes a by-product of your lifestyle.
How much should my calorie surplus be to build muscle?
To build muscle without putting on too much fat, aim for around 110% of your TDEE. If your TDEE is 2500 calories, this would be 2750 cals in total. However, you could push this up to even 120% of your TDEE. Just ensure protein and training intensity remains high. After a while there are some diminishing returns though, so don’t think its a simple case of more calories = more muscle! If your training decreases, food should also be adjusted to match.
What if I am vegetarian or vegan?
If you’re a vegetarian and not lactose intolerant then the majority of your protein will probably come from dairy products. Whey protein can be a good supplement as well for getting easily digestible protein with complete amino acids. If you eat eggs, those are a good source of protein too and could become a new staple of your diet.
If you are vegan, then certain foods like quinoa provide complete amino acids, while other food combinations like rice+beans can add up to provide the complete set.
How quickly can I expect to gain muscle?
Beginners can expect to build a fair bit of muscle within the first 4-6 months if consistent with training and diet. Around 2-3 lbs of muscle per month can be achieved. You shouldn’t expect to see dramatic changes in one or two weeks, so patience and long-term thinking is necessary.
Once you’ve been training for around 6 months, this will probably drop to around 1-2 lbs per month. After a year? An experienced trainer would be lucky to hit half a pound a month.
Myths & Misconceptions to reset
Before we move onto the plan for what to do, let’s review what not to do. There are many widespread myths and misunderstandings about muscle that you should clear from your memory.
“Muscle is all about genetics” — Wrong!
As mentioned above, your amount of Type 2 muscle fibers are partly determined by genetics. Some people may start with more or find it slightly easier to add muscle. However, if you put the work in and control the right variables, genetics will not hold you back and you are guaranteed to add muscle.
If you have had a hard time gaining muscle in the past, it is much more likely caused by not fulfilling all the steps in the Muscle Pyramid, rather than a limitation of your genetics making it impossible.
“Lifting heavy weights can make you too bulky” — Wrong!
This is a particularly common concern for women, but many men also avoid strength training for this reason. Or, they strength train at a lower intensity due to a misconception that lighter weights (often combined with higher reps) will burn more fat and “tone” while heavier weights will cause you to veritably explode in size.
In reality, people spend years and years trying to get “big” as seen on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. It won’t happen to you overnight after lifting a few weights. It simply takes so much time and work to develop the physique that causes these fears that no one need worry about this. The amount of calories, protein, supplements, training, sacrifices and time that building significant size requires is beyond what most people will want to apply to their training. Even if you did somehow tick all these boxes, you would have plenty of time to slow it down as you started to notice it happening.
Lifting weights at a suitably heavy intensity (around 0-3 reps away from failure), while following a well structured program, will build lean muscle and is optimal. When combined with fat loss, this will give most people the often sought after “toned” look. From there, you could train for additional size if you like, but it’s a choice you get plenty of time to make. The only time significantly light weights really have a place is when de-loading, rehabbing, warming up or training for muscular endurance.
“Lifting weights will stunt or inhibit growth” — Wrong!
The are no studies and no evidence to support this. These days more and more children and young people are taking up weight lifting. In fact, studies such as this one show various benefits to children or young people lifting, such as:
• Increasing strength and bone strength index (BSI)
• Decreasing fracture risk and rates of sports-related injury
The concern likely comes from the theory that too much weight could maybe cause damage to growth plates in immature bones. If this happens, it is down to bad form, too much load or bad programming rather than an issue with resistance training itself. It’s also worth bearing in mind that ALL sports have a relatively high risk of injury. Around 15-30% of all childhood fractures involve the growth plates.
“Lifting weights is bad for your back” — Wrong!
Lifting weights can be good for you back, when done with proper form. Movements like the deadlift can develop a strong posterior chain unlike anything else. Your posterior chain is comprised of all the muscles from top to bottom along your back. The stronger this muscle group is, the more supported you are throughout your life.
Lifting weights incorrectly, however, can be bad for your back and should be avoided at all costs.
“Squats are bad for your knees” — Wrong!
Squats can be good for your knees, unless you already have knee issues. Squatting badly, or using weights that are too heavy will be bad for your knees and should be avoided.<.p>
You should never attempt any weighted movement if you cannot perform the bodyweight-only version for many reps first, pain free. Once you can do that, then progressively overload with more weights at a sensible pace and you will be fine. This applies for squats, and also all other exercises.
“When you squat, your knees must stay behind your toes” — Wrong!
To squat to a certain depth, your knees need to go over your toe line. When you walk up stairs, your knees probably go over your toes. When you do certain lunge variations, or sissy squats, same thing. The idea that its bad for you knees when performing a squat most likely came about from the misinterpretation of one study, in which knees behind toes, with the tibia in a vertical position, showed a marked decrease in shear forces on the knees. However, the stress has to go somewhere and further investigation has shown an increase in stress around the hips and lower back, which comes with its own problems!
The more knees go over your toes, the more stress on your knees, and the knees are a sensitive joint system, so it is important that you can handle the stress before you push yourself. But the whole point of strength training is to apply some stress, rest, and get stronger over time from doing so. While caution and careful progression is needed, your knees can generally go over the toe line without cause for concern.
“You can’t do resistance training two days in a row” — Wrong!
You could resistance train every day, if you like. But you should try to rest muscle groups 48-72 hours or more between training sessions. This means you could work one group Monday, one group Tuesday, another on Wednesday, and so on. If you are training 5 or more days in a week, varying intensity is a good idea too, so you’re not maxing out every day. Planning these variations in muscle groups correctly is why creating a proper program is important.
“Training to failure every time will stimulate extra growth” — Wrong!
While training to failure does stimulate the most response from your muscles, it also allows little room to grow. It is extremely taxing on the nervous system. Staying within 1-3 reps to failure and gradually increasing things a little each workout or each week, will be more effective in avoiding plateaus, fatigue and injuries.
“If you eat more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting, your body can’t absorb it” — Wrong!
Almost everything you eat will be absorbed, and the digestive system is quite efficient at extracting all available macronutrients and storing or using them.
Putting aside the fact that protein is responsible for a lot more than just muscle growth, this myth likey came from a few reasons.
For one, we know that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) after a meal doesn’t increase beyond a certain amount of protein intake. This is around 30-40 grams for most people, or 0.4 grams/kg of body weight/meal. Secondly, some studies found that after consuming more than 30 grams of protein, the nitrogen content of test subject’s urine increased significantly, and protein is the only macronutrient that contains nitrogen. However, along with nitrogen (which contains no calories), protein also contributes carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other elements to your body which can be used in protein synthesis eventually.
A simple plan
We’ve covered the why, the training, the nutrition, the recovery. Now we bring it all together with a simple plan and roadmap to help you get started.
Set your “Why” and clarify your Goals. Mindset and goalsetting should always be at the beginning of any changes, otherwise you have no direction and will easily give up when things get tough.
- Long term, what do you want to achieve?
- Where would you like to be next year? Why is that non-negotiable for you?
- Short term, what mini goals do you have? What can you do in a few weeks?
- Why do you want to do all this? Which benefits are most important?
- And why is that benefit important to you? Keep going deeper...
Read the free “Finding your Why” guide in the Academy section of the app for more guidance on finding your why and avoiding common mistakes. You can write down your answers in your notes, in your daily Gyroscope Journal or store them permanently in the Goals page in app.
Set up your new workout program.
- How many days do you have to train a week? Be realistic!
- What is the absolute minimum time you could commit to?
- Do you have equipment to use, a gym, or bodyweight only?
Add the details to your calendar and make sure to prioritize that time so you always get your planned workout in. Even if you don’t have a gym, enough can be done with just your own bodyweight. Even if you are a busy person, anyone can spend 10-15 minutes exercising. Lack of equipment or time is not an excuse!
Choose from our selection of workouts in the app — we have something for almost every situation, equipment type or experience level. There are also hundreds of other apps that you can use which will provide various types of workouts. If you use these, you can export your workout into Apple Health to have it appear in Gyroscope automatically.
Calculate your macros and make a rough nutrition plan.
- Write down some staple meals that you can eat regularly or batch cook. Optimize for nutrient and protein density, avoiding processed foods or sugar
- Figure out how you will be able to hit your protein and calorie targets on a daily basis
- Go shopping and try to always be prepared for at least a week in advance
Use the formulas from Chapter 3 to come up with your own targets. You can write those down somewhere for future reference, or enter them into the Metabolic Coach of the app to set goals within Gyroscope. If you live with other people, get everyone involved. Without their help and support, it will be hard to reach your goals and easy to end up eating whatever everyone else is having.
If you don’t know enough about nutrition to do these calculations, or plan your meals yourself, we recommend Gyroscope Coach to have an expert do this for you.
Set a start date. Take frequent photos and measurements of everything you want to improve!
- Take some before photos: front, side and back wearing minimal clothing with good lighting
- Take your weight and body measurements, if this is something you want to do
- Make sure your latest metrics are in Gyroscope so you can monitor your data as you go
- Set up your Health Score to keep your sleep, activity, productivity & other parts monitored
Tracking your progress is one of the best ways to make sure you stay on track and stay motivated along the long journey. As you start to plateau, adjustments in your workout routine to increase progressive overload, or continuing to optimize your diet may be necessary to keep making progress. The trends in Gyroscope should help you understand what parts need more attention and help you keep everything balanced.
Beyond this, just get going! Have fun along the way, think big picture and just remember...
So long as Progressive Overload and Reps in Reserve is being optimized for your workouts, you will make progress. These principles work regardless of equipment or specific exercises, whether you are at a big gym or just exercising at home.
Consistency and patience is KEY.
Eat clean 80-90% of the time and prioritize protein, whole foods and total calories.
You will have days you don’t want to train. Refer to your “Why” and try to always at least give it 5 minutes.
If you ever miss a workout, don’t panic! Just make the next one and carry on.
If you EVER need ANY help, reach out to us via the chat in app!
We’re always here to help you succeed!
Once you’re ready to start, just install the Gyroscope app (just search “Gyroscope” in the App Store) and set muscle building as your goal. From there, instead of memorizing this entire guide, you’ll be able to follow along in the Health Academy to take this process one step at a time.
You can do it on your own using the automated tools, or select a Gyroscope Coach to have a human guide to answer all your questions and to keep you accountable.