There's Only One Way to Build Muscle Fast

The Only Way to Build Muscle Fast

Virtually everyone lifting weights in a gym wants to build muscle fast. That’s the point of picking up a heavy weight. Weights are a poor way to build flexibility, they are a poor way to build cardio endurance, but they are great way to build muscle fast. For all the millions of words written on the subject, the simple truth is it is easy to build muscle fast, at least as fast as your body will allow. Growth does take time. Fingernails take time to grow. Hair takes time to grow. Muscle takes time to grow and there is no practical way to speed up any of those. But you can slow down muscle growth by making training mistakes.

The goal to build muscle fast is a game of mistakes. If you do everything perfectly you will get the fastest possible muscle growth. Make one mistake and it will take longer. Make two mistakes and it will take even more time. Really mess it up and you’ll get zero muscle growth. So if you want to build muscle fast, don’t make any mistakes.

Make Every Exercise Count

First of all you have to treat every individual exercise as a serious contest. It’s a contest of you this week against you last week. If your Power Factor on an exercise was 1,435 lbs/min last week you need to generate more this week. No exceptions and no excuses. Your body will not build any new muscle if it does not have to. So now you tell your brain it must build muscle fast because this week you need more power in your triceps than you needed last week.

It’s in the measly five seconds of a static hold or in small two minutes of a Power Factor set that this is absolutely decided. You either stimulate your body to build muscle fast or you do not. Pass or fail. That is your contest every time you do any exercise. Goof around with a light weight while you check out that girl’s butt on the stair stepper and you might as well have stayed on the sofa. In fact the sofa would be preferable because you’d be better rested for your next attempt. If you aren’t prepared to make every exercise count they you will not build muscle fast.

Your Peak Performance is a Moving Target

Your peak output is a function of weight lifted and the time it takes to lift. Obviously a 5-second static hold of 220 lbs is more intensity than a 5-second static hold of 190 lbs. That’s easy to see. Pass or fail. It’s right in front of you. Doing sets and reps it’s harder to see but still quite possible. The Power Factor measurement does that. Two minutes of lifting 1,800 lbs/minute is more intense than two minutes at 1,500 lbs/minute. Again, if you want to build muscle fast you have to hit your new goal.

We get a lot of questions from people who understand this and just want to know “How many reps should I do? How much weight should I add?” But the truth is it’s a moving target. We’d love to be able to tell people ‘always do 46 reps for your biceps’ and have that be the answer to how to build muscle fast. But even if that was the right number for today, it likely won’t be the right number next week. It’s weight multiplied by reps divided by time. One of those has to be different every time. Always. Usually it’s the weight or the reps and often both of them.

Your Optimum Training Frequency is Also a Moving Target

Here’s where it gets harder. The stronger you get the more demanding your workouts become. That means your body needs more time to recover. If you really want to build muscle fast you need to get back to the gym as soon as you are fully recovered. But if you return too soon you will be weaker (not fully recovered) and you will not improve on every exercise. You’ll fail. That sets you back because you have to rest again. You will have missed an opportunity to build muscle fast. Remember, this is a game of mistakes.

This is why you need to pay very close attention to recovery. If I have five exercises in my workout I return to the gym knowing exactly what I have to lift on each one. If I do two of them and come up short I quit right there and leave the gym. Gone. Full recovery is critical. If I’m not there yet I don’t want to dig a deeper hole. Personally I’d much prefer to err in the other direction. I might be fully recovered after nine days but if I wait twelve days before I go back to the gym I won’t fail on my lifts. That’s a win. In the gym one day early is a loss; one day late is a win. Try to err on the side of too much rest. It’s the better path to build muscle fast. It’s the only path.

Efficiency is the Way to Build Muscle Fast

When you understand these elements of training to build muscle fast you begin to understand the huge value of training efficiency. You press yourself to set a new record on every exercise during every workout. You save your energy so you can do that. You wait until you are fully recovered. Every rep of every exercise has a clear purpose. You train with precision. You rest with precision. In a game of mistakes you make as few as possible. That is the only way to build muscle fast.

Share this post: The Only Way to Build Muscle Fast

Want To Know What Works In The Gym?
Get Workout Variations Revealed - FREE!
1-Set? 2-Sets? 3-Sets? Strip sets? Pyramid sets? Fixed sets? Timed sets? What delivers the highest intensity?


  • John Varghese

    hey guys,,,,, any word on your static contraction machine?

  • Cardio does not even exist. Dr Doug McGuff shows in video why! BODY BY SCIENCE 3 (“CARDIO”) To get fast on a bicycle you must inherent the right body type. Your workout will give the right muscle development to use that body. The day will come when bicycle racers won’t abuse their body’s to train for racing. Fitness to race should be less than a hour a week.

  • Alex Blankenship

    i would wager that training frequency is bar-none the biggest mistake in the data pool of regular weight lifters. i’ve seen so many guys strain and make their veins pop out of their forehead because they didn’t take enough time off and are using every scrap of their energy to barely match their last workout. after a decade of logging all my data, i have my own training frequency down to a formula. every 60 seconds of hold time and/or 100 bls of weight adds one week away from the gym. as it stands, i only go in once every 6 weeks. i like that; the gym isn’t exactly a “home away from home” for me, nor do i want it to be.

  • Mark

    Hi Peter,

    I’ve been following your programs for the last few years, starting with the static hold till
    i maxed out, then moved on to the power factor program. My question is can I do P90x
    cardio workouts using their resistance bands in between my power factor workout, without delaying or impeding muscle growth?



  • I LOVE doing SC workouts (though I’ve maxed out the local college’s leg press). The one thing that I’m looking for is an exercise that better targets my glute/hams (I’m a sprinter). Neither the leg press or the deadlift really get them for me.


  • Steve

    Hi Pete,
    I love your programs, and after a lot of experimenting, I agree with most of what you say. I do have to disagree (politely) with your comment that weights are a poor way to increase cardio endurance.
    I have put together a circuit for mixed martial artists, boxers and wrestlers who want to build strength, endurance and cardio without gaining much weight because of their weight class limits. I use slightly larger movements than Power Factor training, but still in the strong ranges. The circuit includes deadlifts with a shrug at the top, bench presses, squats, wide grip weighted chins and heavy body bridges with no rest between exercises. After a warm up circuit, I adjust the weights up so that the lifter could get 8 to 10 reps on each lift when they are fresh. They only perform 5 reps (or less as they fatigue) of each exercise and move on. After 20 minutes of this, their average heart rates have been in the 75 to 85% of max range with their high heart rate at 90 to 98% of possible max. They are usually in their training range over 17 of the 20 minutes.
    I know that they are not gaining as much overall strength this way, but that isn’t their main concern. They are gaining strength, muscle endurance, and their cardio is great.
    Similar workouts should work well for all athletes and those of us who can’t stand to walk, jog or do other repetive aerobic training.
    I look forward to your insights.

  • charlie

    this is really good pete.
    i wonder about the reps vs. weight thing. i think there is a intensity factor that is not being accounted for. a higher weight is just more taxing plus there is no way to account for a half rep or a final effort poundage. i bet the amount left in the tank could be what weight they could push to keep racking up reps until only one pound imagine what would add in to the 2 min total weight if weight could peel off 10% per rep when the person gets unable to complete another rep at the full weight. imagine maybe cutting short the time to the moment of failed reps would increase the computation….in all i think we should use the higher weight get rested and shoot for more reps with the assumption that we are getting stronger over time and should get more reps with the heavier weight. although that weight at some point might only be 1% or less more than last time, ex.2000 lbs vs 2001lbs at 50 reps is a 50lb/time increase…but if that was your shrug numbers, you would be happy and or sore.

  • Yeah, once a guy walks into a gym in an un-recovered state nothing can save him. There is no training tactic that can overcome that. It’s why so many people get sucked into drug use – they “try everything” and then figure they need drugs to get real gains. Same with spending $400/mo on nutritional supplements. Every talking head on TV who says “lift weights three days a week” is guilty of making this problem worse.

  • Hi Mark!

    1. Rubber bands are a joke in terms on creating intense overload, so they won’t make any difference one way or the other.
    2. P90x is unsustainable for many (most?) people and you’ll likely dig a hole for yourself so any progress of any type will be very difficult.
    3. On the general topic of aerobics and strength training, this article might help you:

  • You could try stiff leg deadlifts or using a leg curl machine. Do you have a favorite ham exercise? The key is to limit the range of motion to your strongest range and use a much heavier weight.

  • Thanks, Pete.

    My favorite is the weighted hip thrust (for glutes). I don’t know why I didn’t think to do that is SC fashion.

    (Stiff-legged DLs kill my back before they get my hamstrings)

  • I understand. I think the future of ‘cardio’ training is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), probably doing very brief sprints that quickly max the heart rate. I have not done any study of this but I want to as it looks very promising. As to weightlifting, even when I did the Toyota leg press, at 10-15 reps it was not my cardio fitness that peaked, it was fatigue in my leg muscles. I had to quit because my muscles gave out, not my cardio capacity. For that reason I don’t think weight lifting will prove to be the ultimate HIIT method. By contrast, the very best runners in the world slow down between 200 and 400 meters, demonstrating that their peak cardio point is reached quickly by running. Stated another way, there is no weightlifting tactic I can do that takes my pulse to 190, but a sprint could.

  • Fractional reps and partial effort are an issue. This is why we need better instrumentation – to get better data. If weight machines were really in the 21st century every millisecond of effort would be recorded and processed. Alas, we wallow in the 19th century without a gram of silicon in the gym.

  • Chris

    i agree with this don, and have read a lot of Doug McGuff’s {MD} stuff,-both his book “Body by Science”, and his website of the same name.
    Any yes you can get in good shape, – heart wise with just the weights.
    I myself have a resting HR in the mid 40’s at 48 years old. All i do is heavy static exercise back to back, with a little bag work once in a while.

  • I’m not disputing that you can get in “good shape” with only weights. What I’m saying is that they don’t max your heart rate as efficiently as sprinting does. I mentioned the record-holders slowing between 200 and 400 meters. Most of us slow down between 50 and 150 meters. That occurs in very few seconds and that’s the goal of HIIT. I’m excited to see what the next 10 years yields in this area because I believe that true cardio training could be improved an order of magnitude in terms of efficiency.

  • Steve

    I understand what you are saying about the one set of Toyota leg press exhausting your legs and not your cardio, but imagine going from that immediately to a power factor bench and then dead lift, etc. repeating for twenty minutes. It’s like running mini sprints exhausting each muscle, but alternating upper and lower body movements so the other can recuperate a bit. The end result is a very high pulse. The workout is a monster, but when you’re finished, it feels great.

  • I know that is very demanding. The CNS Workout is even more so. I’m talking about the fastest way to hit your maximum pulse. I still think it’s running but I’d like to study it seriously at some future date.

  • Steve

    Yeah, Pete!
    I had forgotten that the CNS workout, especially the deadlift, shrug and toe raise combination, is what initially started me thinking about this training. I don’t have a leg press, so I use a squat or front squat.
    I missed out on the last workout experiment, but would love to have a chance to participate next time if you do anything like that again.

  • charlie

    220-29 = 191 when i was 29 i could get my pulse to 204, sprinting up a steep hill for about .5 miles. it took a few weeks to get to that intensity and years of slow reps to major fatigue with moderate weights to get used to that level of intensity. similar heart rates were achieved in research with SuperSlow from what i read years ago in military trials. 20 minute workouts will overtax likely leading to a plateau. it is a mental feat to generate that much exertion. highest pulse is achieved by creating maximum exertion in the most muscle tissue that you can stand to generate. this could get very dangerous without some reasoning on how to do it. why would someone want to have their heart beat at a maximal level for as long as it can? i think you could get there in 1 minute with uphill sprints with a weighted vest and 30-50lb dumbells in hand. or having multiple stations and multiple loads on muscles using isometrics for a couple minutes. like a leg press crunch benchpress for 20 sec followed by shrug curl back/hip extension with in 5 seconds of each other back and forth….

  • charlie

    try a pad behind your back to make the knees a little more bent, that will decrease your leverage and load more into the muscles of the hip and legs, 1 inch board with adequate padding.

  • charlie

    cardio is to fitness as sport is to auto trim packages….gimmickry

  • Bob


    I was wondering if the beta routine from the train smart e-book is somewhat considered a mix of PFT and SCT?
    Since you still hold the weight for 5 seconds,but hold it with 4 sets?(4 sets x 5 seconds).I am training with a modified version of the beta routine as in the train smart e-book.(Modified due to low back injuries that I have to work around.)Please let me know on this.Thanks again Pete,for your time.


  • My interest would be in getting to the max heart rate, not sustaining it. Sprinting up a steep hill should be a fast way to do it.

  • SCT Beta is still 100% static contraction. It’s a way to add more volume to an extremely low volume training method. (Power Factor is not static or isometric exercise.)

  • Bob

    Thanks Pete,I was just curious about that.I do like SCT,but like to add the little more volume at times and that works good for me..

  • Anonymous

    Have to agree sprinting is good particularly uphill, i did something similar a few years back where we had two large stairwells leading up to a flat my family lived in. I would sprint them about 8-10x when i got home from the gym. After a few weeks i was as fit as a butchers dog, but now i live in a house with only a small staircase, and no nearby hills. Experimented with VO2 max work on kettlebell snatches, and trust me, i got fitter on that then the sprints, but the repetative ballistic nature soon adds up, and the little injury niggles started to creep in. I then played around with “met con” Ellington Darden inspired workouts with the weights, bench, chin squat etc, – firstly dynamic, not to failure, then slowly graduating to static rep to failure workouts, and as i said before i have a 45bpm at 48 years old, which is not to shabby. Also my strength and muscle size has not suffered, and i feel healthy and strong enough to run through a wall [although i would not try it]

  • chris hutchins

    Pete, – Ive done the sprints, flat, uphill, stairs, weighted, unweighted, – worked great.
    Kettlebells snatches worked better, but the ballistic nature took its toil.
    Met con work with weights { ala Ellington Darden/Doug MCGuff}works just as well, with no muscle or strength loss, and a lower risk of injury if you train in the strongest range

  • Brian

    Hi Steven, I was catching up on some of the posts here and I noticed your inquiry about working the glutes and hams. I prefer the Romanian Deadlift as an alternative (I still do the partial deadlift though). It is similar to the stiff legged, but your legs stay bent and you lower the bar just above knee level. And, even higher if a person has tight hamstrings or lower back issues. If you are tight in the hamstrings or lower back or have a lower back problem, this would be a better option so you can keep the natural curve of your back. I do the weighted hip thrust too as a pre-hab exercise, and that partial range is a killer! Best of luck to you.

  • Jason Burgar

    I just purchased your Train Smart e-book. I train at home and was wondering if it is acceptable to do squats instead of leg presses. I have a power rack and pulley system so I can do all of the other exercises, just not leg presses or calf raises. Looking forward to getting started.

  • Strong range squats inside a power rack are a good substitute when you have no access to a leg press machine. Have fun!

  • Randal Gross

    I am not sure if you can make a suggestion, as you say the intensity is a moving target, but I’ll ask. I have been training with Static Contraction for seven workouts now, and making impressive gains. I add weight based on my previous poundages as a starting point for my next workouts, but doing the bench press yesterday, I upped the weight 4 times, holding it for 15 secs, before I finally failed. My question would be how soon should I stop an exercise before I add more weight because it isn’t enough? In your Static Contraction Training book it suggests to hold the weight for up to 15 secs. In these comments 5 sec holds are suggested.

  • You’re reading an old book, probably the old printed one which I don’t recommend anymore. (We are not dogmatic here, and when we have new, proven information we alter our training advice according to the evidence.) So as soon as you feel that the weight is too light put it down. Immediately. Add more and try again. Better to lift for 3 seconds than use a light weight for 15 seconds.

  • Jason Burgar

    When you say strong range squat, do you mean somewhere between parallel and full extension? I have heard of some people static holding in the parallel position, but I didn’t think that would be in the “strong range”.

  • It’s the range where you can work with the most weight. For most people this is a few inches below standing. BUT squats are inferior to leg presses so do those if you can.

  • Paul

    Hi Pete,
    I have been lifting weights in a traditional way with a personel trainer consistantly for just over 12 months. Even with the great effort that I put in, my results have been minimal. Static Contraction training does not seem to be something that trainers know too much about here in Australia. I have started SCT with 15 sec holds and within one month my strength has hit my highest ever and I am 41 years old. With those incouraging results I have purchased a couple of your E-Books and have just adjusted what I was doing to 5 second holds and increasing my recovery times. I was increasing my weights at a rate of 10 to 15 percent but was starting to really find my limits there. If that increase in weight is starting to feel too heavy is it ok to reduce that to say 5-10 percent or should I just increase the recovery time. I love your training methods as they just make sense and when the results are there you can’t ask for more than that. One of my mates is about to give it a try as well so I am keen to see how well we progress. Hopefully I can open my trainers eyes to a different way of thinking. He is being supportive so far.
    I look forward to any imput you can give me on the extra weight each time I train.
    Cheers Paul.

  • Thanks, Paul. Everyone get their best gains in the beginning. Later on you just can’t get 10-15% jumps in strength. Anything 2% or better is clear progress, just make sure it’s a weight you can hold for only 5 seconds. That’s the way to ensure you are using maximum effort. If you can hold a weight 8 or 10 or 13 seconds it’s too light. Once you are doing that it’s all a matter of adjusting your training frequency so you have enough time to recover and for new muscle to grow. When you hit a wall and can’t make progress add 50% to your recovery. (e.g. if you’ve been training every 8 days, make it every 12 days)

  • Paul

    Thats great thanks Pete. I have been reaching my limits but now I know that a small increase is still enough to stimulate the muscle I can work with that and increase my recovery time. It just all makes sense and like I said when the results are there you can not ask for more than that. I am totaly driven to give this my all.
    Thanks for your time Pete,