Building muscle is a slow process, but consistent effort leads to results even if you do short workouts. (gradyreese/Getty Images)
- Getting fit doesn’t have to take hours of hard training, according to top trainers and coaches.
- You can build muscle in a few gym sessions a week with short, intense workouts.
- For best results, focus on compound movements and eccentric exercises to increase muscle tension.
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You don’t need to spend long hours in the gym to see results.
You can reap the health benefits of exercise, such as more energy, a better mood, and a lower risk of disease, in just 5 minutes a day, according to new research.
Building muscle, and keeping it, requires a little more strategy, but it can still be done in a few hours a week, according to personal trainers and strength coaches.
To get the most in the shortest amount of time, focus on the right volume (number of repetitions), intensity, and movement for your goals.
Cut “trash volume”
More exercise doesn’t necessarily mean more results – in fact, it can backfire. “Waste volume” refers to the exercise you do in the gym that exceeds what you need to develop muscle and strength.
A 2017 study found that the majority of strength gains occur in about four sets per week, per body part.
To build muscle size, a good goal is two days a week in the gym, with about three sets of 10 reps per muscle group per session, strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle previously told Insider.
“If someone is lifting for more than an hour, they’re probably doing more than they need to,” he said.
Even for beginners, a 45-minute session is enough, elite powerlifter Chris Duffin previously told Insider.
Doing more can cause your muscles to recover and can slow your progress if you’re overtraining.
Doing less makes it easier to gradually increase intensity in order to make gains, a basic fitness concept known as progressive overload.
Choose the right exercise
Exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions are popular for building muscle because they isolate a single muscle group to focus on gains in one area.
But to get the most bang for your buck, personal trainers recommend compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once.
Examples of compound exercises for building muscle include deadlifts, pull-ups, shoulder presses, and squats.
Prioritize eccentric sports
Eccentric exercise, where the muscles contract while lengthening, is ideal for gaining because it creates a lot of muscle tension, the stimulus needed for growth.
To pump eccentric work into your routine, take a page from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s gym sessions.
Strength and conditioning coach Dave Rienzi swears by techniques like negative repetitions (focusing on the lower part of the movement) or increasing tempo (slowing down the movement) to pack on the muscles.
Consider the 2×2 rule
If you want more time away from the gym but don’t want to lose the benefits, functional bodybuilder Marcus Filly recommends doing only two sets of two exercises per workout, which he calls the “2×2 rule.”
The technique results in “maximum results” with “minimum time,” Filly says on her YouTube channel.
The bottom line is that you need to push the intensity to see gains in the short term, approaching muscle failure (the point where you can’t do another rep with good form).
Don’t skimp on protein or sleep
One of the biggest mistakes people make trying to build muscle is not resting or eating enough, a personal trainer and sports nutritionist previously told Insider.
Exercise breaks down muscle, and without enough rest and calories to rebuild it bigger and stronger, you’ll just be wasting your time in the gym.
You should also eat enough protein, a special macronutrient that helps repair and grow tissues, including muscles: about 0.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, research suggests.