5 Ways to Build Lean Muscle

Building lean muscle mass is one of the most important things you can do to achieve a lean and toned physique. Having toned arms, chiseled abs and shapely legs not only have aesthetic appeal but the additional strength also has functional benefits, increases your metabolism, protects against injuries and much more. However, when it comes to actually building the muscle, many people limit their progress by making a few simple mistakes. By following these steps, you will improve your stamina, rev up your metabolism and create the lean, robust body you want.

Plan a Balanced Muscle Building Program

When trying to build muscle, many people tend to hit the gym and start lifting weights without any plan in place. Without a proper plan in place, it can lead to uneven muscle development, overtraining injuries, as well as frustration and disappointment over unmet goals. So if you’re currently lifting weights or going to start soon but don’t have a plan in place, now is the time to make one.

To create a structured muscle building plan, start by choosing some exercises that work all your main muscle groups – Chest, back, shoulders, abs, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, arms, and calves. If you’re struggling, a personal trainer will be able to help you with this or you’ll be able to find plenty of suitable exercises online.

Once you have your list of exercises, you then need to decide how many days per week you can commit to strength training workouts and divide the muscle groups across these days. So if you can commit to two days per week, with a day of rest in between (e.g. Tuesday & Thursday), you’ll want to train your whole body on each day. If you choose three days per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday), you can target your upper body on Monday, your abs on Wednesday and then your lower body on Friday. As you get stronger, you can spread it out four days and maybe work your shoulders and triceps on day one, your back on day two, chest and biceps on day three, and then finish off with your legs on day four.

Then, all you need to do is stick with this plan, be consistent and you’ll enjoy maximum muscle growth.

Use Free Weights

Weight machines do have their benefits, and when you’re just getting started with strength training, they’re an ideal way to learn the exercises and target certain muscle groups without having to worry about balancing the weights. However, if you’re relying solely on weight machines to build muscle, then you’re going to limit your muscle growth.

Free weights require you to balance the weights as you lift and by doing this, they target additional muscles that weight machines cannot. Therefore, for maximum muscle growth, free weights need to be part of your strength training routine.

Compound & Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises and isolation exercises are both essential for muscle building and have their own unique benefits. Compound exercises work multiple joints and muscle groups and are great for building overall size and strength. Isolation exercises engage single joints and muscle groups and are ideal for focusing on specific muscles and strengthening weaker areas of your body.

Despite this, many people stick to just compound exercises or just isolation exercises and stunt their muscle growth. Therefore, if you want to get the most out of your strength training, make sure your routine includes a mixture of compound exercises (such as dumbbell chest presses and squats) and isolation exercises (such as bicep curls and tricep extensions).

Eat Protein with Every Meal

Protein is an essential nutrient that builds, maintains and repairs your muscles. Therefore, if you’re trying to build more muscle, you should consume protein-rich foods such as fish, beans, eggs and lean meats with every meal so that your body has the necessary fuel to build bigger, stronger muscles. The current recommendation is that 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein. Based on the standard 2,000-calorie diet, you should consume 200 to 700 calories, or 50 to 175 grams, of protein per day.

Get Enough Sleep Every Night

Sleep is very important when it comes to muscle growth. When you sleep, your body releases growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth and allows your muscles to recover and grow between workouts. However, getting less than six hours of quality sleep each night inhibits the release of growth hormone and prevents your muscles from recovering properly between workouts. So, if you’re serious about muscle growth but not currently getting at least six hours of sleep per night, start making some changes today to ensure that you get enough sleep going forward.



Pumping Iron Over 60

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If you’re over 60 and you’ve decided to start lifting weights, you’ll enjoy many health benefits, including stronger muscles and bones. You can strengthen your body using free weights, such as dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. Beginners, no matter your age, should start slowly with light weights and focus on proper form to reduce your risk of injury. You should seek instruction by a qualified fitness trainer if you decide not to use a gym. See your doctor for a complete checkup before you start any exercise program. Always warm-up before working out and cool-down afterward.

Beginners should design a workout routine that works all your muscle groups in 2 workouts each week. Don’t lift weights on consecutive days because your muscles need at least one day to rest and recover. Train a different muscle group at each workout to avoid overuse injuries. Work your upper body one day and your core and lower body at the next workout. Lift slowly and focus on your form. Improper form or lifting too quickly can cause injuries. Begin by doing 8 repetitions of each exercise followed by 1 minute of rest. Do another set of 8 repetitions after you rest. Increase the number of repetitions, the number of sets, or the amount of weight when you can do 3 sets without becoming fatigued.

You can use dumbbells to work your upper and lower body. Dumbbell squats work your core, hips, quadriceps and calves. Shoulder shrugs work your arms, shoulders and upper back. Biceps curls are easy for beginners to perform and work your biceps and forearms. If you really want to focus on your upper body and chest, do dumbbell overhead press exercises. Simply holding a set of dumbbells when you do exercise, such as lunges and crunches, adds extra weight resistance.

Barbells are versatile free weights that train the most muscle tissue in the shortest amount of time. People over age 60 should start working with barbell weights slowly with light weights and focus intently on form. Never hold your breath when lifting weights because holding your breath can cause your blood pressure to increase rapidly. Squats, deadlifts and presses are functional lifts that mimic the movements you make when you reach, lift, bend over, sit down and stand up. You can easily add and remove weight to a barbell to suit your fitness and strength level.

Kettlebells are large, heavy weights with a handle. These weights can be used in a number of ways to help strengthen your entire body. Begin with the lightest kettlebells available and gradually work your way up to heavier weights. Kettlebells can be used to work your entire body. Exercises that beginners can do include the half Turkish get up, kettlebell squats, deadlifts, and two-arm swings. Do 8 repetitions of each exercise, rest for as long as you need to and repeat the set.


Is Weight Training For You?

Maybe you watch people at the gym, huffing, puffing, grunting and sweating at the weight machines or free weights and think, “No way I want to do that!” You’re not sure you would benefit from lifting weights, especially since you have no desire to look like a body builder.

Credit: LocalFitness.com.au

You can benefit from lifting weights even if you do it only a couple of times each week. Weight training can help improve your muscle tone, build lean muscle mass and help you lose weight. No matter how old or young you are, weight training is good for you.

As we age, we lose muscle mass. Lost muscle will be replaced by flabby fat if you don’t do something to rebuild lost muscle. Muscle tissue requires more energy to function than other tissues, therefore it uses more calories. Your metabolism will increase slightly as you gain muscle and burn fat. Increased muscle mass also means your endurance will improve. You will be able to work your muscles harder for a longer period of time. Weight training stresses your muscles causing them to adapt, which makes them grow stronger.

Start with a weight that you can lift, but tires your muscles after 10 to 12 repetitions. Beginners should start with one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of any lifting exercise. You should be barely able to lift the weight on the last repetition.  When you can do 12 repetitions without fatigue, increase the weight by adding 2 to 5 pounds.

Learn proper lifting technique before you grab the dumbbells. A fitness trainer can help you learn the correct way to lift so that you enjoy the benefits of weight training while reducing your risk of injury. Don’t forget to warm-up before lifting. Do some light exercise, such as brisk walking or calisthenics.

Rest one full day between weight training workouts. Your muscles need at least one full day to repair and recover. You can work your core, legs and thighs one day, and then your arms, chest, shoulders and upper back on the next day. Your workout can be as long as you feel comfortable exercising. You can exercise for 15 minutes, 20 minutes or longer. Adjust your workout to suit your strength, overall level of fitness and your time schedule.


Dumbbell Arm Exercises for Beginners

Photo Credit: Mauritsvink PD

Dumbbell triceps exercises focus on the triceps muscles on the back of the arms. Hold the a light weight, 2 to 5 pound dumbbell in your left hand with your palm toward your body. Spread your legs slightly with your right leg forward. Brace your body by placing your right hand on the thigh of your right leg. Keep your weight displaced evenly over both legs. Pull your shoulders down and back to straighten  your spine. Look at the floor in front of your right foot. Bend your elbow and raise your upper arm until it is close to your body. Keep your forearm vertical to the floor. Straighten your elbow and push your arm toward the wall behind you. Hold the position for a few seconds and return to the start position. Always keep your arm close to your body and avoid the urge to press your arm outward from your torso. Do 5 repetitions on each side. Increase the number of repetitions as you gain strength. 

Biceps curls work not only your biceps but also strengthen your rotator cuff. Sit on a weight bench or stand with the back of your arm resting on the bench support pad. Hold a dumbbell in your hand, arm extended,  with your palm pointing upward. Slowly curl your arm to bend your elbow using your biceps only. Avoid the urge to swing the weight upward toward your shoulder. Keep your wrist and forearm in a straight line and don’t bend  your wrist forward or backward. Slowly lower the dumbbell and your arm back to the start position. The key to successful biceps curls is slow, deliberate and controlled motion. Try to do 5 to 7 biceps curls using a 2 to 5 pound weight with each arm in the beginning. Increase the number of repetitions and increase the weight as your arms grow stronger.

Strength Training for Older People

Photo Credit: NIH Public Domain
How many times each month do you lift a basket of laundry, load the car with heavy bags from the market, pick up a small child or move furniture to clean underneath? Daily activities like these require strength and endurance. The old adage “if you don’t use it you lose it” definitely holds true for muscle mass and strength. As we age, we can lose muscle mass if we become or remain inactive. Inactivity combined with aging can result in increased body fat, small, weak muscles and a loss of bone density. Even if you have already experienced some muscle mass loss and decreased bone density, exercise and strength training can help restore some of your lost muscle and bone. Regular exercise that includes strength training can also help reduce the risk and symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, obesity and chronic back pain. If you have been inactive for several months or if you have never practiced a regular exercise and strength training regime, see your doctor for a complete physical and advice about the best strength training program for you. 
You don’t need to join a gym or use expensive exercise equipment to start a strength training program. Push-ups, crunches, squats and lunges are all exercises that you can do using only the weight of your own body for resistance. Warm up and prepare your muscles for strength training exercises by stretching. Start out slowly and perform only a few body weight resistance exercises. Try to complete 5 repetitions of each exercise for the first few days. Gradually increase the number of repetitions until you can perform 15 repetitions without becoming exhausted. You can continue to increase repetitions or increase the amount of time devoted to each exercise. Perform each exercise for 3 minutes every other day for the first week. Don’t focus on the number of repetitions, but each exercise continuously for a full 3 minutes. Add one minute to each exercise each week until you can exercise for a full 30 minutes without becoming exhausted.
Try some free weights like dumbbells or add some resistance band exercises after your begin to see results. Resistance bands are rubber tubes that stretch and offer resistance when you pull on them. You can stand on a resistance band and pull it upward with your arms for triceps, biceps and upper body strength training. Free weights can also help increase arm and upper body strength. 
Begin any new strength training program slowly and carefully. Always take a full 24 hours of rest between strength training exercises to allow your muscles to recover and repair. The goal in strength training is to gradually increase your strength and endurance. Stop exercising immediately if you feel any pain in your muscles or joints. Pain is an indication that you are over-exerting your body. You may feel a bit sore after the first few days, which is normal as your muscles and joints are not accustomed to the extra work. See a doctor immediately if pain persists or if there is swelling. 

For more information about strength training, see:
Centers for Disease Control, Why Strength Training?

5 Exercises for Toned Arms

You can tone and strengthen weak and flabby arms by performing some easy arm exercises. You will need a pair of 5 pound dumbbells and about 25 minutes. Perform these exercises every other day and in about two to three weeks you should begin to see firmer, more toned arms.
To avoid injury, warm up for a few minutes by doing some arm circles. Stand up straight and stretch your arms out so that your body forms a “T” shape. Move your arms in small circles toward the front 20 to 25 times. Reverse and move your arms in small circles toward your back for another 20 to 25 repetitions. This will help strengthen and tone your arms as well as stretch muscles.
Push-ups is one of the most effective exercises to strengthen and tone the arms, shoulders and chest. Start push-ups by placing your hands on the floor at shoulder width with your fingers spread out and pointed straight out in front of you. Rest on your knees and toes. Tuck in your abdominal muscles and lift yourself up until your body weight is resting on your toes and on your hands. Slowly lower your body a few inches and then push your body back up to the starting position. Keep your head parallel with the floor and try to maintain a straight body during the exercise. Don’t count the number of repetitions, just do as many push-ups as you can for 5 minutes. 
© Glenn Francis
You will need a couple of 5 pound dumbbell weights to perform biceps curls. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand with your palms facing upward. Breathe out and pull the weight upward toward your shoulder. Breathe in as your lower the weight. Don’t completely relax your arm when lowering the weight, but hold some tension on the weight. Perform the exercise with both arms simultaneously or alternate lifting right and then left. When alternating arms, lift the weight with one arm as you lower the weight in the other hand.
Stretch and tone your triceps muscles by performing some stretches with dumbbells. Lie down on your back with a 5 pound dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms toward the ceiling with the palms facing. Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells to either side of your head and then raise your arms again. Remember to breath in when lower the weights and breathe out when lifting them. 

Turn the dumbbells over so that your palms are facing the floor and you are holding the weights in an overhand position. Take a deep breath and then lift both of your arms straight out in front of you by bringing your arms straight up from your thighs. Breathe out as you lift the weights. Lift the weights until your arms are parallel to the floor and straight out from the shoulder. Hold for a couple of seconds and the slowly lower the weights as you inhale. Do this exercise for 5 minutes. 

Finish the last 5 minutes of your arm work out by performing some triceps pushes. Stand up straight with your feet apart about shoulder width. Hold a 5 pound dumbbell in each hand so that  your palms are facing downward. Keep your arms straight and lift your arms backward. Return your arms to your sides and then repeat the exercise. 

For more arm exercises and information, see: