9 Secrets to Building Muscle Strength

Advice that actually gets you results.

By: Emily Freeman

Whether you love to run or take Pilates, we are proponents of physical activity in general. It’s about finding movement you love and making it work for your lifestyle and goals! But, we also know the importance of having a well-rounded fitness routine that includes cardiovascular, flexibility, mobility, AND strength training. So, if you’ve shied away from picking up a set of weights or have never felt motivated to gain strength, we’re here to tell you what you’ve been missing out on! How to build muscle strength is easier than you think. 

And before you ask — no, building muscle won’t make you bulky! In fact, getting stronger comes with a lot of benefits far beyond appearance! So, if you’re ready to uplevel your fitness routine and improve overall health, here’s everything you need to know about how to get stronger.

RELATED: No, Strength Training Won’t Make you Bulky 

Why Muscle Strength is Important

Building muscle strength does more than tone and sculpt a lean body. Getting stronger comes with a number of health benefits that are crucial to achieving optimal health. For starters, strength training improves bone density, helping to decrease the risk of age-related bone fractures and osteoporosis. And despite feeling sore after a strength workout, building muscle helps your joints stay more flexible, reduces joint pain, and can even minimize symptoms of arthritis. Plus, strength training also decreases your chance of injury during other daily activities and exercise. 

If you’re still not sold, here’s the best part. Building muscle increases your metabolism. So if you think hours on the treadmill is the quickest way to fat loss, think again. Muscle burns more calories than fat at rest. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn doing absolutely nothing. This is why building muscle is especially important if you’re over 30, the age when muscle mass starts to naturally decline. That’s why a lot of people complain about weight gain, “softness,” fatigue, stiffness, muscle pain, and random injuries after the age of 30. Make strength training your best friend and learn how to build muscle strength if you want to say “bye-bye” to these side effects of aging. 

Here’s How to Build Muscle Strength 

#1 Target Major Muscle Groups at Least Three Times Per Week 

Studies have shown that strength training at least three times per week is optimal for building muscle strength. To optimize the benefits, focus on targeting all major muscle groups in each workout, including your shoulders, back, chest, core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Just make sure you train on non-consecutive days and incorporate mobility training to ensure your muscles get enough time to repair and recover. 

If you have the capacity to strength train more than three times per week, you can create what’s called a “split.” This is where you focus on specific muscle groups each day. For example, you could focus on your upper body on Mondays and Wednesdays, lower body on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and your core on Fridays. As a reminder, always leave at least 48 hours between workouts on the same muscle groups. 

#2 Make Progressive Overload Your New Bestie

Your body was built to find the path of least resistance. This means if you continue to do the same workouts week after week, your body will adapt and your results will slow. How to build muscle means avoiding plateaus! So, you want to make sure you’re constantly switching up your workout load, intensity, frequency, duration, and/or type. 

To keep your body guessing, try these tips: 

Add more weight to your workouts every couple of weeks.

Increase the number of reps or sets.

Reduce the amount of rest between sets.

Switch up the strength exercises and incorporate new movements.

#3 Stay In The 6 To 12 Rep Range

Studies suggest the ideal hypertrophy, or muscle-building, rep range is between 6 to 12 reps. If you’re new to weight lifting and learning how to build muscle strength, it is best to start between 10 to 12 reps to reduce your chance of injury. Why? Because the lower the reps, the higher the weight has to be to get to fatigue. The goal is to choose a weight where the last two to three reps feel very challenging to perform. 

However, the most important part of the equation is form. Always prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to resistance training. If you start to break form, you’re most likely relying on momentum, risking injury, and not targeting the correct muscles. 

#4 Perform 3 To 6 Sets Of Each Exercise 

Unfortunately doing your 6 to 12 reps once through just isn’t going to cut it. When it comes to how to build muscle strength, performing between 3 to 6 sets of an exercise with about 60 seconds of rest between each one has proven to be most effective. 

Again, if you’re new to strength training, start at the lower end! If you try to do too much too soon, you may end up so sore that you end up skipping your next workout or, even worse, give up altogether. Aim to give your body enough challenge where you’re slightly sore for a day or two but not groaning every time you stand up from your chair or pick something off the ground. 

#5 Focus on Strength Training Before Cardio 

If you are focusing on building muscle strength, it’s important that you don’t tire yourself out with cardio before. Instead, either save cardio for after your workout or do it on days where you’re not strength training. Though studies have shown that aerobic exercise can improve muscle composition, it doesn’t result in the same amount of muscle growth. If strength is your goal, prioritize resistance training.

#7 Get Enough Lean Protein and Complex Carbohydrates

Every time you strength train, you are tearing and rebuilding your muscles. Not only is this taxing on your body, but it requires more energy and important nutrients in order to repair. Without proper nutrition, your body won’t be able to fully recover, meaning you won’t be able to optimize your strength gains. Plus, you could even put yourself at risk of injury. 

While it’s important to get enough lean protein and complex carbohydrates in your diet as a whole, one of the most important times is right after your workout. Not sure how much protein and carbohydrates to consume post-workout? We love these healthy and yummy post-workout meal ideas for optimal strength gains

#8 Make Sleep a Priority 

A study focused on the effects of sleep on strength revealed that getting less than six hours of sleep per night negatively affected muscular strength. However, it was only an hour or two more than made all the difference. Men in the study who slept for seven to eight hours had more muscular strength. But, there was no further increase in strength for men who slept for more than eight hours. 

The takeaway? When trying to build muscle strength, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. And if you need more, listen to your body. 

Need help getting started with a proper sleep routine? Read our ultimate sleep guide for all you need to know. 

#9 Drink Water All. Day. Long. 

Muscles are made of mostly water. Nutrients are transported to your cells by water, waste is transported out of the body by water. So, it should come as no surprise that getting enough water is critical to optimizing muscular strength and building muscle. 

If you don’t get enough water, you may also experience fatigue and muscle cramping, which can really hinder your workouts and reduce your results. The long-standing advice to drink eight glasses of water per day just won’t cut it for an active person trying to gain strength. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. 

If you’re having trouble getting in your water, make it fun! You can add berries or sliced apples, citrus, or cucumbers, to add a little flavor. And, don’t forget about water-rich foods like strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, cucumber, watermelon, and even broth. 

Consistency is Key  

At the end of the day, the most important advice is to listen to is your body. Some days you’ll feel stronger than others, or hungrier than others, and it’s important to adjust your workouts and nutrition as needed while staying in the recommended training ranges. Keeping your workouts and nutrition realistic for the long-term is the best way to ensure consistency, the #1 secret to building muscle strength!