8 rules for optimal muscle growth (+4 nutritional tips)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  OCTOBER 26, 2021

Building muscle often feels like an overwhelming process. But things don’t seem that complex if you break it down. With that in mind, here are the eight training rules you need to follow:

1. Do between 10 and 20 weekly sets per muscle group. The exception here are smaller muscle groups (such as the biceps) that can grow with 6-10 weekly sets thanks to their involvement in compound movements (1).

2. Use a variety of weights and repetition ranges. Lift more weight on compound exercises and train with lighter loads on isolation movements. Most of your sets should be in the 6 to 25 repetition range (1).

3. Distribute your weekly training sets across two to three sessions. Doing so isn’t special, but it allows you to train in a more recovered state (2). For example, instead of cramming 15 sets for your chest on Monday, do eight on Monday and another seven on Thursday.

4. Spread your weekly sets for each muscle group across two to three unique exercises. For example, if you’re doing 12 weekly sets for your back, it could look like this:

  • Hip hinge - deadlift, rack pull, etc.
  • Vertical pull - pull-ups, pulldowns, etc.
  • Horizontal pull - barbell row, inverted row, seated cable row, etc.

5. Do compound exercises first, assistance exercises second, and isolation exercises third. An example would be:

Pull-ups ⇒ Seated cable rows ⇒ One-arm lat pullovers ⇒ Bicep curls and similar

6. Keep a workout log where you track the exercises, sets, reps, and loads. Aim to make some sort of progress each time you’re in the gym. If possible, progress on compound movements. If that can’t happen, do your best on assistance exercises. If you can’t, strive for small progress on isolation movements. Minor improvements add up.

7. Rest between 1.5 and 5 minutes between sets. Doing so gives you enough time to recover, so you can maintain your performance and accumulate more training volume (3).

  • 2-5 reps per set - 3 to 5 minutes of rest
  • 6-10 reps per set - 2 to 3 minutes of rest
  • 11-20 reps per set - 1.5 to 2 minutes of rest
  • 20+ reps per set - 1 to 1.5 minutes of rest

8. Give your muscles two days before training them again. For example, if you train chest on Monday, train it again on Wednesday at the earliest.

Four Nutritional Tips for Optimal Growth

1. Maintain a surplus of 200 to 300 calories. While not essential, a calorie surplus is necessary for optimizing muscle growth (4). As a rule of thumb, you should gain around 0.25 percent of your weight per week.

2. Consume around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 180 pounds, aim for 144 grams of protein daily. You can consume more, but it likely won’t deliver extra benefits (5). It’s also beneficial to split your total protein into three to four equal doses.

3. Aim for 0.3 to 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight. That would be a daily goal of 54 to 72 grams of fat for the same 180-pound person. You can go higher than that, but that might increase the risk of extra fat gain as you bulk.

4. Get your remaining calories from carbs. Also, have some carbs in the hours leading up to each workout and eat again after training. Timing your carbs isn’t essential, but it can help improve your performance and speed up recovery.

Until next week,


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