The world has a severe shortage of physically strong men. Most modern men are either obese or skinny fat weaklings, so much so that only a tiny minority of men are noticeably muscular.
Considering that almost all men would prefer a lean and muscular body over an obese or skinny fat body, why are most of them physically weak? Why do most of them never even attempt at building a strong physique and many of them waste their time with inferior types of exercise?
It’s mostly because they aren’t aware of the truths about building muscle.
I used to be one of these men so I should know.
I was very interested in building a muscular body starting from my early teenage years but I was neither aware of the truths about building muscle nor there was anyone around to teach me how.
My Failed Attempts At Building Muscle
When I went to college at the age of 18, I was excited that there was a weightlifting gym close to my dormitory room. I would go to the gym every day but since my haphazard workouts with useless machines and my pathetic bench pressing sessions with an empty Olympic bar (45 lbs) failed to deliver any results whatsoever, I gave up after a few months, convinced that I am not capable of building muscle.
It would be more than a decade later when I moved to a new house close to a giant commercial gym that I decided to give building muscle a second shot. This time I was working as a fairly well-paid software engineer and I could afford a personal trainer.
After a body composition check, my personal trainer wrote me a weightlifting program that I religiously followed for the next 6 months. I was not only not able to build even a measly pound of muscle but I also ended up gaining 10 pounds of fat because I ate a lot during this time hoping to convert my training efforts into muscular size.
I had no idea at the time but looking back with what I know now, it’s painfully easy to see why I wasn’t able to build muscle with that excuse of a “program”:
I used to “warm up” by walking for 30 minutes on a treadmill, then I would train on weightlifting machines with weights so light that a child could lift, then I would “cool down” by walking for another 30 minutes on a treadmill. This whole ordeal would take about 2 hours from start to finish which I would go through for 4 times a week.
I quit after 6 months due to an absolute lack of results; reluctantly and quietly coming to terms with my inability to build muscle.
By Pure Luck, I Finally Discover How To Build Muscle
About a year later, my destiny would change, completely unexpectedly.
One of my co-workers, who was also a close friend, announced one day that he started high-intensity bodyweight training. During lunchtime at work, he would excitedly talk about his short but intensive bodyweight training sessions. We had similar body shapes — chubby and flabby as it is common among software engineers.
Just a few weeks after he started high-intensity bodyweight training, his body started to visibly transform. His bigger arms and chest were immediately noticeable, garnering awe and compliments from both female and male co-workers.
I was intrigued. Since we were physically similar, I figured that if he could build muscle it meant I could build muscle too.
One day at work, I asked him to write down his training routine for me, which he did, and I embarked on my first bodyweight training session that evening after work. It was very difficult and intense but I felt great. The next day, my muscles were extremely sore but I reveled in the pain rather than complaining about it because I figured that soreness meant my muscles were growing, and grow they did.
Just like my friend, I quickly built noticeable muscle mass. My friends, family, and co-workers were impressed with my physical transformation and I felt like a million bucks. I wasn’t incapable of building muscle. I just didn’t know how.
Now that I knew, I wanted more. Although I was able to build a noticeable muscle mass, I wasn’t lean. My next goal would be to lose fat and get six-pack-abs-lean, which I achieved after combining an efficient dieting strategy with bodyweight training. I had managed to get six-pack abs for the first time in my life. I was proud of myself, especially for achieving this after the age of 37 but I didn’t stop there.
I had maximized my muscular gains with bodyweight training and built an excellent muscular foundation so I switched to lifting weights to add another 12 pounds of muscle to my frame. I think I got very close to my natural muscular limit so my goal for the last few years has been to maintain my physique, which proved to be a lot easier than building it.
If I Could Build Muscle, Any Man Can
Unfortunately, most men aren’t lucky enough to have a friend like mine to show them how to build muscle and how it’s entirely possible to do it in a very short time.
Hence, I decided to write this article to dispel the misconceptions about building muscle and tell all men the truth about building muscle so they too can experience the massive benefits that becoming lean and muscular brings with it instead of going through life overweight or out of shape.
While I can’t train or diet for anyone else’s stead, I can help you overcome the mental barriers to building muscle.
Considering that it’s these mental barriers rather than physical barriers which keep you from building muscle, by the time you finish reading this article you will have already surmounted the biggest hurdle that withholds you from building a body you can be proud of.
Here are the 10 truths of building muscle that nobody wants to believe:
1. Your Genetics Is NOT The Reason You’re Not Muscular
Partly because only a tiny minority of men are noticeably muscular and partly because steroid-enhanced bodybuilders look freakishly big, most men believe they aren’t genetically suited for building muscle.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
The truth is that no man is genetically inclined to be muscular anyway. Evolutional pressures caused our species to evolve an aversion to getting too muscular because calories were scarce for the majority of human history and muscles created a survival disadvantage for they burn way too many calories.
Some historians argue that we outsurvived Neanderthals because they were more muscular than humans which caused them to die out during the extended periods of food shortage which was common in the Paleolithic Age.
Hence, muscular men are muscular not because of their genetics but despite their genetic aversion to building muscle.
After my failed attempts at building muscle, I too had thought I had bad genetics. In fact, I used to be so skinny when I was a kid that my father used to poke fun at me by calling me “scrawny Tarzan.” If I could go from being a bag of bones to noticeably muscular, anyone can.
After all, every one of us has human genetics. You are made of muscles, nerves, joints, and bones just like every other man. That you aren’t genetically cut for building muscle is a limiting belief that exists only in your mind.
2. You Don’t Need Steroids, Amino Acids, Protein Powder, Or Expensive Supplements To Build Muscle
A proof that most men would love to trade their current physiques with a lean and muscular body is the regular questions I receive about my muscles from random men when I go outside.
Many men are eager to be muscular but the questions they ask reveal the general population’s lack of knowledge about the subject which leaves no wonder about why most men aren’t muscular although they’d like to be.
The commonest question I get is what supplements or amino acids I used to build my muscles. 90% of building muscle is training but I rarely encounter a question about how I train.
The benefit of supplements or amino acids for building muscle is dubious at best, and they’ll certainly do nothing if you don’t train properly. I almost never used so-called “muscle-building” supplements or amino acids but nobody wants to believe it.
While I don’t get questions about steroids from men on the street, it’s rather because most men are socially adept enough to not accuse a stranger of using steroids. I get my fair share of comments on the Internet that I must have built my body with the help of steroids though.
That most men think the secret to building muscle is to know which supplements or steroids to use reveals that most men have no idea about the proper way to build muscle. They probably don’t bother even trying because “muscle building” supplements (such as protein powder, branched-chain amino acids) are too expensive and they either don’t want to use steroids or they don’t have access to them.
The truth is that amino acids, protein powder, or other expensive supplements aren’t required at all to build a noticeably muscular physique. You don’t need steroids either unless you want to be huge like professional bodybuilders.
Yes, you need to eat protein-rich foods for optimal muscle growth but high protein nutrition doesn’t have to be expensive. Eggs, canned tuna, and chicken are fairly inexpensive in most countries and it’s not impossible to build muscle without high protein foods either. After all, poorly fed prisoners get muscular all the time.
90% of building muscle is proper training. Nothing else comes even close. Train right (which can be as cheap as free) and the rest is easy to handle.
3. Building Muscle Doesn’t Necessitate Wasting Your Life Away In The Gym
While many men underestimate the value of training in building muscle, many others overestimate the time spent in the gym for achieving it. They regard lean, muscular, or athletic-looking people as gym rats who waste their lives away training in gyms. If being in such great shape comes with such a huge cost, the juice is not worth the squeeze, many people figure.
If you believe that building a lean, muscular body takes a lot of time, as many people do, you’ll avoid it due to not having enough time.
It also doesn’t help that regular exercise isn’t built into the normal flow of modern life. Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors who combined work and exercise when hunting wild animals, we have to go out of our way to integrate exercise into our daily schedules, which brings with it a binding time constraint.
While there’s no getting around the fact that you must make up time for exercise, the good news is that building muscle doesn’t consume as much time as you think. You can build a muscular body by training for only 3 hours a week.
People are often in disbelief when I tell them I trained for only 3 hours per week (on average) when building my physique. In fact, after I got good at doing bodyweight exercises, I was training for as little as under 2 hours per week. Granted, it was intensive, rigorous exercise but regardless, it didn’t take too much of my time.
Even better news is that building muscle doesn’t need to be a life-long pursuit. 2 years of training can set you for life. Here’s why:
Muscle growth follows a logarithmic growth curve. You’ll add the most muscle during your first year of training, then add some more in your second year although at a slower pace but still fast enough to make it worth the effort.
From the second year on, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and muscle growth rate creeps to a crawl.
You can still opt to pursue muscle growth beyond the second year but your gains will be marginal. In my opinion, 2 years of muscle growth is ideal for most men, which is enough to attain a noticeably muscular look.
Once you achieve a lean and noticeably muscular look, maintaining your physique is a cakewalk thanks to the magic of muscle memory. You’ll maintain your physique by training for less than 2 hours per week. Considering that working out regularly is a must for optimal living, maintaining your physique takes as much (if not less) time than what you would normally do to continue living optimally.
Moreover, once you attain your desired muscular size, it’s no big deal if life gets in the way and you are unable to train for a few months (or years for that matter) because once you get back to training, you’ll get your muscles back rather quickly thanks again to the magic of muscle memory.
4. You Can Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
In bodybuilding circles, building muscle and losing fat are regarded as separate, mutually exclusive realms. You are either building muscle or losing fat but not both at the same time.
The logic is that doing both at the same time delivers inferior results, hence bodybuilders build muscle during periods of “bulking” followed by a period of “cutting” where they aim to lose the extra fat they inevitably gain during the bulk.
The problem with this approach is that it’s an advanced strategy that doesn’t square well with people who never trained for strength (i.e. the majority of the population). Most people are under-muscled and overweight. If you’re to start building muscle by “bulking”, you must already be lean, which most people aren’t. If you aren’t already lean, the bulk-cut strategy implies that you must first lose the extra fat (which is a chore without strength training) before you start building muscle.
Luckily, there’s a better way. You can lose fat and build muscle at the same time, especially if you’re a newbie (thanks to newbie gains which always come faster). In fact, building muscle and losing fat at the same time is the best strategy for a newbie, unless you’re already lean.
I sure wasn’t lean when I started bodyweight training. I lost fat and built muscle at the same time until I reached my goal of six-pack abs while building an excellent muscular foundation in the process. It was only after that I switched to the advanced strategy of bulking and cutting to add more muscle mass over the foundation I built.
If you’re new to strength training and you have extra body fat to lose, start by aiming to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. Besides, building muscle makes it easier to lose fat so you’ll kill more than two birds with one stone.
5. 80% Of Your Muscle Gains Will Come From Mastering The Fundamental Exercises
Another aspect of building muscle that discourages people from getting started is the overwhelming variety of muscle-building machines and exercises.
There are literally thousands of muscle-building exercises that create a great deal of confusion for outsiders who might otherwise consider getting started with strength training.
As a result, many men never even attempt to build muscle, and the majority of those who do attempt end up singling out dumbbell curls hoping to build strong arms, unaware that they can’t build strong arms by only training their arms. Men who do endless dumbbell curls in the weight room are often ridiculed but these men crave simplicity more than they look for shortcuts. They aren’t dumb or lazy. They’re just misguided.
If people knew that there are only a handful of fundamental exercises that produce 80% of their gains, they would be more likely to start building muscle and those who do dumbbell curls would actually have a shot at achieving their goal of developing strong arms. Complexity always discourages outsiders and simplicity drives them in.
If you’re a newbie, you don’t need any complicated exercises in order to build muscle. In fact, you probably don’t need them ever. I certainly don’t.
Complex exercises are for advanced bodybuilders who’ve already built an enormous muscle mass and are looking to sculpt their bodies. A handful of fundamental exercises are more than enough for an overwhelming majority of men.
What are these fundamental exercises?
For bodyweight training:
Supplement these exercises with sit-ups, leg-raises, jumps, and lunges and you’ll build a fully muscular body with six-pack abs (provided that you implement a proper dieting strategy to get lean).
For weight training:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
Supplement these exercises with pull-ups, rows, farmer walks, and curls and you’ll add slabs of muscle all over your body.
These fundamental exercises are more than enough to build a noticeably muscular body. Leave the complicated exercises to professional bodybuilders who want to fine-tune their physique. You probably don’t need them unless you consider competing professionally.
I am noticeably muscular and I am yet to do any other exercise than the exercises I listed above other than the occasional dips and slight variations of some fundamental exercises.
I still refuse to invest my time and effort in complex exercises that have a marginal rate of return on my investment. Maybe I’ll do them when I retire and have a lot of time in my hands to fiddle with different exercises but as of now, I’ll keep sticking to the fundamentals to maintain my physique.
6. Strength Training Is The Best Exercise To Lose Fat
Conventional wisdom dictates that if you want to lose fat, cardio is the way to go.
Since the majority of the world population is overweight, cardio remains the most popular of all exercises. Hence, millions in gyms all around the world toil away on treadmills, and million others jog outside hoping to lose fat, day in day out.
Nevertheless, as often it is with conventional wisdom, that “you need cardio to lose fat” is false. There is a better way.
There are two problems with doing cardio for fat loss:
- Cardio doesn’t burn as many calories as to justify the effort and time expended. Walking or jogging on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns about a measly 200 calories (if that) which can easily be gained back by eating just a few Oreos or 1-2 bananas after training.
- Cardio burns calories only during training. The moment you stop training is the moment you stop burning calories.
Compare that with strength training where you can fit in an entire session into those 30 minutes and burn more calories in the process while building muscle mass which burns extra calories round the clock.
However, conventional wisdom is so ingrained in the minds of the population that when I got six-pack abs lean solely by strength training (supplemented with a proper diet), people around me had a hard time believing I never did any kind of conventional cardio or aerobic exercise whatsoever to lose fat.
As we’ve already talked about, an extra muscle mass used to be a liability for our ancestors because muscles burned way too many calories which created a survival disadvantage at a time when calories were scarce. However, in our time when calories are abundant and obesity is a lot more common than starvation, an extra muscle mass became an asset rather than a liability.
I had bought into conventional wisdom too. After graduating from college and getting a job I quickly gained fat and carried around a big fat belly for years. I tried long-distance running on and off for years to burn off the fat with little success to show for. It was only after I switched to strength training that I finally managed to get lean and I never looked back. I certainly had to take control of my diet too but that muscles burn calories round the clock makes a massive difference.
Strength training not only makes fat loss easier, but it also makes keeping the fat off easier as well. While I’m currently trying to squeeze in as much walking as I can into my daily lifestyle to help keep the fat off, strength training remains the staple of my exercise regimen that I primarily rely on to stay lean and my muscle mass keeps assisting me to burn extra calories that otherwise could convert to body fat.
7. You Can Build Muscle At Any Age
Since most people subconsciously equate building muscle to professional bodybuilding, it’s usually seen as a type of exercise in the realm of the youth. Considering the fact that even young people who build muscle are a rarity, it’s understandable that most older people never even think about strength training let alone actually doing it.
However, older people need strength training even MORE than young people do. Here’s why:
Unless they train for strength, humans start to slowly lose muscle by the age of 30 with an accelerating rate as they get older.
Most older people look frail and have mobility issues not necessarily because they’re old but because of age-related muscle loss which can be prevented by strength training. Older people who train for strength not only don’t look frail nor have mobility issues but they also have stronger bones since strength training strengthens the bones as well as the muscles.
I started building muscle at the age of 37. While 37 can be considered relatively young, remember that most professional athletes already retire by that age.
If 37 is not old enough for you, consider P.D. Mangan, whose awesome book entitled “Muscle Up” I had reviewed a few years ago when he was 61-years-old at the time. He’s now 65, still training for strength, and is in better shape than most men in their 20s. Check his Twitter account to see for yourself that he looks nothing like your average 65-year-old.
8. Building Muscle Is Healthy
Arnold Schwarzenegger writes in his bodybuilding biography that during the 1960s when he started to build muscle, bodybuilding was seen as a downright unhealthy sport.
Cardio (or aerobic exercise for that matter) was seen as the go-to exercise for health while bodybuilding was regarded as a sport that only freaks, misfits, or meatheads would engage in.
Although it’s not as bad today as it was in the 1960s, cardio remains the most popular type of exercise for health. Only a tiny minority of people relate muscle building to health, including most people who build muscle. I admit that I wasn’t aware of the health benefits of building muscle when I started strength training. I just wanted to get physically stronger and look better.
It was only after I already built muscle that I became aware of its health benefits. The benefits might not be obvious to those who never trained for strength but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only building muscle is healthy, but strength training is also the healthiest of all exercises. No other type of exercise comes close.
1) Building muscle helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease, two of the most common causes of death in the modern era.
2) As we’ve already covered, strength training is the best exercise for fat loss, which helps prevent diabetes and obesity that also are among the commonest causes of death.
3) Aging is the most common cause of death because we are guaranteed to die at some point in the future. This implies that we can live longer and better if we slow down aging, as aging often brings with it unwelcome illnesses.
Luckily, strength training slows down aging too. It prevents sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss, the underlying cause of many aging-related diseases), strengthens the bones to help prevent osteoporosis and hip fracture, and strengthens the brain to prevent dementia.
4) Strength training increases testosterone both for older and younger men. Since low testosterone is associated with low sex drive, muscular weakness, fatigue, insulin resistance, and depression; strength training helps a man to improve or protect his health and quality of life.
It’s a pity that most people are completely unaware of these health benefits of building muscle. If more people were aware of these benefits, more people would build muscle instead of toiling away with cardio.
9. Women Are Attracted To Muscular Men
I’ve already written extensively (here, here, and here) on why women are attracted to muscular men and provided copious proof of it including scientific research but I’ll briefly repeat the gist of it for the purposes of this article.
Ask women what type of men they’re attracted to and you’ll get a million different answers. As it is with most human behavior, a better strategy is to look at what they do instead of what they say.
To do that, let’s look at what kind of men women fantasize about. The audience for the popular genres of “erotica” and “romance” are overwhelmingly women. Take a quick look at Amazon’s Best Sellers in Romance and Erotica sections and you’ll see that the covers of these books are adorned by lean, muscular men.
Another example is that 96% of the audience for the movie series Magic Mike (which showcases muscular male strippers) was women. Women flocked to movie theaters in droves just to see naked, muscular men.
Also, research by UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) found that “muscular men have more flings, partners, affairs”, “women don’t just like men with muscles — they go for them”, and “women care about muscularity when they choose sex partners.”
Regardless of whether they admit it or not, attracting female attention is a deep-seated desire in all heterosexual men for no matter how much technology or society evolves, human behavior is still governed by the innate human urge to survive and reproduce.
If men knew how much of a difference muscularity makes in attracting women, more of them would be interested in building muscle.
10. You Can Build Muscle At Home
When I look at my personal history, I realize that my failed attempts at building muscle coincided with the times I lived close to a gym with weightlifting equipment. In other words, the belief that a weightlifting gym (or weightlifting equipment for that matter) is necessary to build muscle was one of my biggest limiting beliefs that withheld me from building muscle.
My first attempt at building muscle (while I was in college) happened because there was a weightlifting gym close to my dormitory room. It’s not a coincidence that I never re-attempted to build muscle until more than a decade later because I didn’t happen to live close to a gym in the meantime.
I built my muscular foundation and got six-pack abs after the age of 37 without stepping foot into a gym. If I knew earlier that it was possible to build muscle at home, I would probably have built my muscles before I was 18 and enjoyed the benefits of being muscular for a longer time.
I can’t bring back the time I lost but if you’re lucky enough to read this article when you’re still young, you can get the body you want at a much younger age than me and reap the benefits of it for a lifetime. Not all is lost if you’re older either as it’s never too late to right a wrong.
Fret not if you don’t have access to a gym, or a gym membership is too expensive for you, or you don’t own weightlifting equipment. None of these mean you can’t build muscle.
In fact, the best way to start building muscle is by doing bodyweight exercises. You have no business touching weights before you first master and outgrow bodyweight training. Even bodybuilding world champion of his time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recommends starting to build muscle by bodyweight exercises.
Anyone can start building muscle today without joining a gym or buying equipment maybe except a $5 pull-up bar. Start building your muscles with bodyweight exercises and you’ll never look back.
Be sure to read:
- Ripped with Bodyweight: 12-Week Program for Muscle Growth and Fat Loss, the ultimate bodyweight training program to get ripped fast.
- 10 Truths About Fitness That Nobody Wants To Believe
- Building Strength and Muscle: Bodyweight Training (Calisthenics) vs Weightlifting
- 13 Reasons Why Every Man Should Do Bodyweight Training
- How To Get Motivated To Work Out