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How to Build Muscle Fast (More Gains In Just 30 Minutes)

by Jeremy Ethier - November 4, 2023

Is it possible to work out half as much as you are right now, do just a few 30-minute workouts per week, and get the same or potentially even more gains?

According to the latest science, you most definitely can build muscle fast, in as little as 20 to 30 minutes.

There are 3 time-saving strategies that have been shown to be most effective.

I’ll show you how to apply them to your workouts, and at the end, I’ll also give you some done-for-you time-saving workout plans you can start using right away to build muscle fast or, in other words, get more gains in less time

#1: Do The Least Number Of Sets Possible

The first strategy that'll help you build muscle fast in less time has to do with your workout volume.

During a workout, the initial couple sets you do for a muscle give the most gains. But as you do more and more sets, you get less growth relative to the additional effort you’re putting in. 

Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you don’t get any additional growth from doing more sets, and may even result in muscle loss if you take it way too far.

So to save time in the gym and build muscle fast, you want to do the least number of sets that still get you a solid return in gains

What's The Least Number Of Sets You Can Do To Build Muscle Fast?

And there are a few studies we can look at to find what that amount is.

One study from back in 2002 had trained subjects do just 1 set of bench press and 1 set of leg press three times a week for 12 weeks. 

Despite the extremely low volume, in this case, just 3 sets per muscle per week, they were still able to build a bit of muscle. 

Another study took a different approach.

They had subjects do 27 sets for their quads every week. After 4 months, they measured how much muscle they built and then split the subjects into one of three groups. One group dropped their volume to just 9 sets per week, another dropped to just 3 sets per week, and the final group didn’t lift at all.

After 8 months at their new volume, the:

  • No-lifting group’s muscles returned back to normal
  • 3 sets per week group maintained their new gains
  • 9 sets per group ended up gaining even more muscle

Now, the last study I want to look at before providing some recommendations for the least number of sets you can do to build muscle fast is a meta-analysis led by Brad Schoenfeld.

They compared 1-5, 5-9, and 10+ sets per muscle per week. 

Now what they discovered is a dose response between muscle growth and the number of sets performed, with 10+ sets per muscle per week resulting in the most growth. 

But what’s interesting is that the 5-9 set group still experienced about 80% of the max gains, and the 1-5 set group about 60% of it. 

This Is The Sweet Spot

So, based on the research we have so far, it seems likely that 3 sets per muscle per week are probably enough to:

  • Maintain your gains and
  • Maybe even build a little muscle

... depending on how inexperienced you are. 

But 4-7 sets per muscle per week is likely the sweet spot to get the most gains with the least amount of time and effort. 

As for what this would look like, at the end of the article, I’ll give you guys some free time-saving workout routines that take care of all the sets, reps, and exercises for you.

But for now, here's an example of what this could look like with a 3-day per week full body workout that would train each muscle with around 6 sets per week.

Assuming 2 minutes of rest between sets and 1 minute transition time between exercises, the whole workout could be completed and help you build muscle fast in as little as 30 minutes. 

Full Body Workout*

Full body workout to build muscle fast

*This workout is just used as an example. Don’t just follow this exact workout 3x/week, I’ll provide you with a more thought-out and well-designed weekly workout routine at the end of the article!

You can also just apply this to your current workout routine by cutting down the number of sets and/or exercises until you’re within the 4-7 sets per muscle per week range, or consider cutting down volume only when you’re busy or just not feeling it and need a quick workout.  

Get The Most Out Of Your Sets By Doing These 3 Things

However, if you are going to go with this minimal volume, there are 3 things you need to start applying to your workouts to continue making almost as much or possibly even more gains than you were before.

Push Close To Failure

First off, research has shown that the closer you train to failure, the more growth you’ll get but also the more fatigue you’ll create.

In your case, however, you don’t have that many sets to recover from.

So to get the most growth possible, you should be pushing at least 1-2 reps to failure and even going all the way to failure on exercises where it’s safe to do so every single set.

Pick Stretch-Focused Exercises (Where Possible)

Second, since you’re only doing a limited number of exercises, it’s crucial you pick the ones that are most likely to give the most gains.

And there’s a really exciting area of research called “long muscle length” training.

Basically, it seems like some muscles may respond better to exercises that challenge them the most when they’re in a stretched position.

I cover this research in more depth and explain exactly what exercises to do for what muscle groups in my past article on stretch-focused training here.

Dial In Your Form

And lastly, to really ensure you build muscle fast, you need to dial in your form.

Every single rep you do matters that much more. So don’t get sloppy, especially as you get close to failure. 

Now, some of you may be wondering, “What if I don’t want to do less? What if I still want to train at the optimal volume and use other ways to cut down my time?"

Or, what if I want to make my minimalist workout even more time efficient and take it from 30 minutes down to just 20 minutes?

This is where the next 2 time-saving strategies come in handy.

#2: Make Use Of Supersets

Want to build muscle fast? Then you've probably heard of supersets, where you do 2 exercises back to back with no rest.

While this CAN cut your workout time down in half, most people don’t do them properly and end up compromising their gains. 

The key is to use what’s known as antagonist supersets.

This involves doing an exercise that works one muscle and then almost immediately after doing an exercise that works the opposite muscle. This way, one muscle is resting while the other is working. 

But how long it takes you to catch your breath between the two exercises seems to be important.

One study showed that keeping the transition time as short as possible, no longer than a minute, led to a unique benefit where subjects could do more reps when compared to taking longer rests and even more reps than they normally could by not doing the exercises as supersets.

But that said, supersets will only work if you’re still pushing your muscles close to failure every set.

So take as long as you need to prevent your cardio from holding you back. 

Antagonist Superset Examples That'll Help You Build Muscle Fast

Now here’s a list of the best antagonist supersets that you can start applying to your routine to build muscle fast.

Antagonist supersets to build muscle fast

But don’t feel limited to just these.

You can basically superset any two exercises that don’t train the exact same muscles and wouldn’t be overly fatiguing when done back to back. Other great examples include:

  • Bench press with calf raises
  • Chest flyes with lateral raises
  • Leg extensions and leg curls or pretty much any nearby upper body exercises

So excluding warm-up times and assuming you were able to rest and recover with just 30 seconds rest between each superset, the full body workout I showed earlier could technically be completed in as little as 20 minutes. 

Sample Superset Workout Routine

Superset: 2 sets

Bench Press

Seated Cable Row

Superset: 2 sets

Overhead Press: 2 sets

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 2 sets

Superset: 2 sets

Back Squat: 2 sets

Calf Raises: 2 sets

But if there are any exercises you can’t end up super-setting or would just prefer not to and you'd still like to build muscle fast, this is where the next method can come in handy. 

#3: Make Use Of Drop Sets

Usually, you’d do a set of an exercise, rest, do another set, and repeat until you’ve completed your desired number of sets. 

But with strategy 3, you do your first set until you can’t do any more reps, decrease the weight, then immediately do as many reps as you can, and continue dropping the weight until you complete about 2 or 3 “drop sets” in total. 

Now before I share what exercises you should and should not apply this method to, I know what some of you may be thinking.

"I want to build muscle fast — but won't this reduce the amount of weight and reps I can do? Leading to less gains?"

While that is true, drop sets take advantage of what’s known as “effective reps”.

Let’s say you’re doing a set of 10 reps to failure.

The first few reps you do contribute very little to muscle growth. It’s only during the last few reps, when the muscles are being pushed to their absolute limit, that the most growth happens.

So even though you’re lightening the weight during each drop set, they’re already exhausted from your previous set to the point that every additional rep it does is now far more effective for growth. 

This is the likely mechanism behind why a handful of studies and a recent 2022 meta-analysis, which is basically a study of studies, have shown drop sets provide the same and, in some cases, even more growth despite cutting workouts down to a third of the time. 

Now as for what exercises to use this method with, keep in mind during every set you’re training to failure.

So you need to use exercises where it’s safe to do so and also really quick to decrease the weight for each drop set.

Great options include:

  • Lateral raises
  • Arms exercises
  • Dumbbell chest presses
  • Calf raises
  • ... and many machine exercises

I definitely wouldn’t apply this to squats and deadlifts, and only with bench presses if you have a good spotter.

Exercises you should and should not use with drop sets to build muscle fast

How To Implement Drop Sets And Build Muscle Fast

Now as for how many drop sets to do to build muscle fast, one study replaced 3 normal sets with 1 normal set followed by 2 drop sets.

Whereas another study replaced 3 normal sets with 1 normal set followed by 4 drop sets.

In both studies, the drop set group led to similar growth as the normal group. So I’d say try to at least match the total number of sets, including your drop sets, with how many normal sets you’d usually do. 

Lastly, as for how much to lower the weight during each drop set, the study protocols usually decreased it by 20% at a time.

So don’t drop by too much or too little if you want to build muscle fast.

You probably won’t be able to do as many reps as you could during the previous set, but you should definitely be able to get more than a few. 

Just make sure you’re still tracking how much weight and how many reps you’re doing, and try to progress this over time, just like you would with normal sets.

TL;DR

  • 4 to 7 sets per muscle weekly is likely the sweet spot that’ll help you build muscle fast with the least amount of time and effort.
  • Get the most out of that minimal workout volume by pushing close to failure, picking stretch-focused exercises where it makes sense, and dialing in your form.
  • Use antagonist supersets to potentially cut your workout time by half. Keep the transition time no longer than a minute.
  • The third time-saving strategy, drop sets, make use of what’s known as “effective reps”.
  • For drop sets: 1) use it with exercises where it’s safe to do so, 2) match the total number of sets with the number of sets you usually do, and lower the weight by 20% each time.

Grab Your Free Time-Saving Workout Routines

As promised, I’ve created 3 time-saving workout routines that'll help you build muscle fast that are 100% free to download.

There’s a 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day per week workout routine for you to pick from.

Each workout can be done in as little as 30 minutes. Now, I have designed these with the “optimal” volume, but within each PDF, I also explain how you could cut it down to the minimalist volume we talked about earlier if you wanted to save even more time.

Build muscle fast workout routines

You can download them all here:

Click the button below to grab your free workout routines:

That said, 1 thing we have yet to discuss re: how to build muscle fast is nutrition.

You can train far less than someone else but end up getting dramatically better results by simply dialing in your nutrition.

For a step-by-step customized plan that shows you both how to train and what to eat to build lean muscle and lose fat faster and with less effort, take our quiz below to find the best plan for you:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

Also, I highly recommend giving this article a read next to learn about a new training technique that you should start applying to all your workouts to build muscle even faster

Congrats, you now know how to build muscle fast! Thanks for sticking to the end, and I’ll see ya next time!

By the way, here’s the article summed up into a YouTube video:

How to Build Muscle In 30 Minutes (According To Science)

How to Build Muscle Fast (More Gains In Just 30 Minutes)

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