One of the primary cited goals fitness clients have is to build more muscle. After all, the benefits of resistance training and adding lean tissue are limitless and benefit us not only physically, but mentally. However, sometimes in the quest to lose weight and build muscle, our clients can unintentionally neglect some of the “must follow” rules to achieving that coveted “toned” appearance. Here are five rules to building muscle you can bear in mind and also teach your fitness clients.

1. Align Program With Goals. Make sure your client’s goals and his or her resistance training program align. If the goal is to add lean tissue, your client’s resistance training program must include specific parameters to facilitate muscle growth. A quality hypertrophy program generally favors a high training volume with relatively brief rest (about 60 seconds) in between sets of an exercise. The aim is to train each major muscle group twice a week to full fatigue. The general rep and set scheme should include a range of 6-12 reps for 4-6 sets of each body part, which may involve 3-4 different exercises (this will vary based on the source you read) at 70-80% intensity. One way to program for hypertrophy might include a standard split routine which targets pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps) on Monday and Thursdays; pulling muscles (back and biceps) on Tuesdays and Fridays; legs and core on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

2. Consistency. Building muscle takes time and the rate at which it occurs will vary for each individual. Further, muscle growth is influenced by a number of factors including age, hormonal profile, nutrient intake, hydration, genetics, etc. However, with the right program everyone can build strength and muscle. One key is consistency in training. It’s not enough to train two days a week at random. If the goal is to gain muscle mass, clients must be consistent in their frequency and duration of exercise as well as their adherence to the program itself.

3. Sleep. Sleep is not only necessary for clear cognitive function; the body needs it for physical recovery. When the body sleeps, the real work of repair and growth occurs. During an intense lifting session, “damage” is done to the lean tissue in the body. For muscle to repair and grow and, thus gain strength, rest is a required component of the formula. Clients should establish a healthy sleep fitness routine in order to facilitate protein synthesis and repair. Quality and quantity of sleep matters for all physiological functions of the body.

4. Nourishment. A common error many individuals make is severely cutting or restricting calories in hopes of losing weight and achieving an aesthetic-based goal. While caloric control is necessary for long-term weight management and a health body composition, restricting calories too much will be detrimental to achieving muscle growth. You can help your clients find the right balance of nutrient intake by teaching them how to fuel before and after their workouts as well as referring them to a registered dietitian to optimize their meal planning and timing. This also includes proper hydration and fluid replacement.

5. Re-Assess. In order to ensure a weight training regimen (or any exercise program) is leading towards progress, it’s important to schedule periodic assessments of body composition and circumference measurements. Not only will this data provide information about the efficacy of the workout program, it will also help you and your client avoid hitting a plateau and experiencing a detraining effect. Keep your client on track by scheduling assessments at a rate that is both reasonable and comfortable for your client.

Building muscle is no easy or swift task. There are rules to the muscle gain game. You can assist your client in achieving his or her optimal muscle-building potential by following these five basic rules.

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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at