What's the best way to get stronger and develop just-in-time-for-summer ripped muscles? Hopefully, you're not thinking anabolic steroids or cosmetic surgery. Instead, try these tips on how to build muscle, with long-term safety and wellness in mind.

Any muscle-building regimen requires these three components:

  • Resistance Training
  • Nutrition
  • Rest
To build muscle, you need to stimulate and challenge your musculoskeletal system with resistance training. For some people that have been struggling for years with being overweight, resistance training conjures up an intimidating image of massive bodybuilders pumping iron at the local gym.

PushupsBut resistance training doesn't have to be a meat-headed, sweaty, earth-shattering-barbell-drop-to-the-floor affair; your own body weight is more than enough to encourage muscle growth.

Even if you don't have the strength to do a single military-style pushup, doing a modified version on your knees can greatly increase strength and encourage muscle growth.

Start with knees under hips, hands shoulder-width and elbows pointed straight back and close to the ribs. Rock your bodyweight slightly forward on the lowering phase and exhale as you push back up. Perform at least 3 sets to near failure, even if you can manage just a few repetitions.

Other bodyweight exercises like bench dips and squats can build muscle.

I'm fine with going to the gym. What should I do to build muscle?
Trainers love to debate the merits of free weights versus machines. But to build muscle, it really doesn't matter what equipment you use.

WeightsCertainly, you've heard the term "atrophy." Perhaps you've broken a bone in the past and your doctor explains how the inactive muscle around the bone will become atrophied. The opposite of atrophy is "hypertrophy" and no matter the resistance training method you choose, be it barbells, dumbbells, machines, your own bodyweight or a combination, make sure you are training for hypertrophy.

Theoretically, hypertrophy occurs at the 8-12 repetitions mark. This means that, say you’re doing some biceps curls, you would want to lift a weight that is light enough for you to be able to do at least 8 reps but heavy enough that you would reach failure at no more than 12-15 reps.

Perform three to four sets of each exercise and target large muscles like the glutes, thighs and back. You can even build muscles in your abdominals by doing weighted crunches. (This is better than wasting your time with 100 crunches.)

Am I building muscle if I do more than 15 reps?
Picking a weight that allows you to do 15+ reps encourages muscular endurance, which is an important element of overall health. For resistance training beginners, it's a good idea to first concentrate on muscular endurance before training for hypertrophy. After three months or so of regular resistance training (3-6 days per week), reduce your repetitions to the 8-12 range to build muscle.

What foods should I eat to build muscle?
We know that anabolic steroids build muscle, albeit with potentially harmful consequences. But to encourage muscle growth, you need to eat anabolic foods. After food is digested, it will either have an anabolic or catabolic chemical reaction.

Catabolic foods encourage the wasting away of muscle tissue; anabolic foods encourage muscle-tissue growth.

Anabolic foods include:

  • Lean, antibiotic-free, all-natural animal protein
  • Eggs
  • Whey protein powder
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Healthy natural fats
EggsFor most people, the majority of carbohydrates that comprise the typical Western diet are catabolic. To build muscle, the only carbs you should eat are lots of vegetables and moderate servings of fruit and whole grains.

Is it really important to eat after a workout?
The most important time to "feed your muscles" with anabolic foods is within one hour after a resistance training workout. Lifting weights causes micro tears in muscle tissue. Make sure you encourage tissue repair and growth within the hour, if possible.

What else can I do to build muscle?
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Your muscles don't repair and grow at the gym; they do so at night, while you're sleeping. Also make sure you are drinking at least 8-10 cups of water a day to help saturate your muscle tissues and hydrate the joints around them.

Judd Handler is an Encinitas, Calif.-based fitness trainer and weight-loss coach.

Photos:  alexa627/Flickr; Håkan Dahlström/Flickr; cursedthing/Flickr