With all of the information about building muscle on the internet, it’s very easy to become confused, and eventually overwhelmed due to information overload. Even after sifting through all the resources, there are so many viewpoints, opinions and ideas based around this subject that it’s hard to know exactly who’s right, and who’s wrong.
While the information out there may be beneficial and even useful, it’s easy to get caught up in the fine print and lost in the details. Ever heard the phrase “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”? It rings true in this situation as well. There’s typically some good information in just about every resource you find on this topic. There’s also a lot of misinformation, too.
If you’re interested in a RULE-FREE approach to building muscle, you mustn’t harbour any doubts about what is going to work and what isn’t. You simply need an easy, no-nonsense plan to follow.
Hypertrophy in a Nutshell
In order to experience muscle growth (hypertrophy), you must train in a fashion that produces a stimulus which warrants the accrual of new lean body tissue. After this stimulus has been created, your energy intake must be sufficient to build new muscle.
Without getting technical, the training involved must challenging and the load has to become greater over time. As the workload increases and the body proves more efficient when moving said loads, the magic begins to happen. You see, when one starts out performing a new movement such as a bench press, squat, powerclean, or something like hill sprints, even very light loads can seem difficult. However, over time and with much practice, they become easier.
This is called adaptation.
Now as one adapts to a given load, it will become lighter and the initial stimulus will no longer be sufficient; so one must do something to create the stimulus again. This comes in the form of adding weights, reps or both.
This is how a scrawny teen can start out only squatting the bar and eventually end up squatting twice his body weight – which can actually occur over a few years. Over such a timeframe, his nervous system and muscles become more efficient and thus find a way to continually move more and more weight.
As the body adapts, new muscle mass as well as increases in strength start to appear. This is assuming one is consuming enough calories.
Now we must discuss energy intake. Yes, all that food we enjoy so much can and will be used as the building blocks that fuel our muscle gains. The first and most important part of this equation is simple. In order to build muscle, ones energy intake must be greater than their expenditure. There’s no magic pill, and no genie in a lamp to grant your muscle-building wishes.
If building muscle is high on your list of priorities, ensure you’re eating enough.
Eating For Muscle Gain
This concept is often made very complicated, but today, I’d like to make it as simple as possible. If you’re dying to pack on the muscle and have tried everything known to man, I encourage you to rethink your approach. Perhaps, consider reverting back to something more simplistic and laid back.
The first thing you should do is establish your maintenance intake. For most, anywhere from 14-16 multiplied by your body weight in pounds is going to be fairly accurate. If you’re sedentary, it may even be 12-13 x body weight. If you’re on your feet all day and very active, it’s likely be a bit higher than 16 x body weight.
Once you establish your maintenance intake, you’ll need to determine the approach you want to take. If you’re not too worried about adding a little fat in the process, shoot for around 400-500 calories over your maintenance intake daily. If you’d like to keep fat gains minimal and allow for slower gains in body weight and muscle mass, merely add 400-500 calories over your maintenance intake on training days only. On your off days, simply consume maintenance calories.
Here are some simple guidelines for setting up the diet.
Protein: 1-1.2g per pound of body weight
Fat: 0.3-0.5g per pound of body weight
Carbs: fill in the rest of your intake to hit calorie goals
*If you do well on a lower-carb diet, use the high end of the fat recommendations and vice versa if you do well on a higher-carb diet.
For Women: Since women possess far less of the hormone known as testosterone than men, they can expect gains in muscle mass to be much slower and will never be able to add as much mass as a man will over their lifetime. With regards to this reality, it only make sense to cut these numbers in half. So instead of 400-500 calories over maintenance, I’d suggest about 200-300 extra calories on training days only. This could equate to consuming a shake with extra carbohydrate and protein on training days and omitting it on off days.
Plus, I don’t know of any female who’s interested in rapid weight gain anyhow.
Training For Muscle Gain
The general rule for hypertrophy is to continually get stronger and to support the muscle gains with an adequate caloric intake. However, depending on your experience, the way you train will vary. If you’re a rank beginner, I highly recommend getting started on a simple strength training program that includes the main lifts such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, chins and rows. Ideally, the beginner will be training 3 days per week with each session being a full-body workout. If they have more time, splitting up the training over 4 days in an upper/lower fashion is okay, too.
However, becoming proficient at the movements and strength should be of primary concern. Over time, as one becomes stronger, the muscle gains will follow. Just remember there will come a point in which the full-body training will become too taxing. At this point, one must explore alternate training methods.
This is where one becomes an intermediate. While full body training is doable as an intermediate, it’s crucial to vary the loads and volume from time to time. If you don’t want to mess with full-body training or need a change, one option is doing as I mentioned earlier in splitting up your training over 4 days.
On that note, I’d never, ever recommend someone do the often popular bodybuilding training in which you trash each muscle group once per week. This is hardly favourable in terms of recovery or efficiency, and very few individuals will experience the gains they are after on such a routine. While you may read about these training methods in the magazines, they’re not for the average population but for bodybuilders with years of experience and oftentimes access to lots of PED’s (performance enhancing drugs).
Sample 4-Day Split
Squat or leg press 3×6-8
RDL or Glute-ham raise 3×6-8
Leg extension 2×10-12
Leg Curl 2×10-12
Bicep movement 3×8-12
Tricep movement 3×8-12
First chest movement (bench press) 3×6-8
First back movement (rows) 3×6-8
Second chest movement (flyes, machine press) 2×10-12
Second back movement (chins, pulldowns) 2×10-12
Shoulder movement (vertical press) 3×8-12
Rear delts/trap movement (shrugs) 3×8-12
*Always start on the low end of the volume recommendations and then add a set or two as you adapt and work capacity improves.
**This routine could also be performed on 3 non-consecutive days and rotated in the upper/lower/upper/lower fashion every other day.
For Women: Despite what you’ve ever heard or read about how strength training might make you large and bulky like a man, I can assure you it’s false. There’s no reason why a female shouldn’t be training like a man in terms of routines and movements. The myth about women getting bulky is very misleading. What I’d like you to understand is that all the bodybuilding training in the world would never make you overly bulky simply because you lack the hormones of your counterparts. Yup, as I mentioned earlier, the lack of testosterone you possess is the reason you’ll never be as big as the guys.
So lift heavy, lift often and enjoy every minute of it.
What if I’m not a Bodybuilder?
So you’re interested in muscle gain but you don’t wish to be a mass monster? That’s just great. Many athletes can benefit from an increase in muscle mass as it can have a very positive effect on their performance.
One idea we must keep in mind is the training load you’re already under if you’re a triathlete, swimmer, sprinter, long distance person or involved in another sport that requires lots of training. Even if you’re merely a serious weekend warrior, I’d assume you are already training a fair amount and adding 4 days of intense lifting to your current routine would not only be impossible, but would only hinder, rather than further your progress.
In my opinion, the sweet spot is going to be 2-3 training sessions per week. Now, since your athletic training must come first, muscle gain and strength training will be a close second. If you’re in the offseason, I think 3 sessions per week are absolutely doable. It’s all going to vary depending on your athletic training and other stressors.
One way to approach this process is to lift on the days your regular training is somewhat lighter. Pick 4-5 movements that you’d like to progress on. An example might be to perform a movement of each: quad movement, hamstring movement, horizontal press, and a horizontal pull. The next session for the week would be similar but you would do a vertical press and pull instead of the horizontal movements.
As far as sets and rep ranges go, I personally like the 5×5 method, however you could do something along the lines of 3×10-12 or even 4×3 (extra heavy). Ideally, since you’re an athlete and under a lot of training stress, I’d like to see a periodized program spaced out over 8-12 weeks that starts in the higher rep ranges (10-12) and tapers down to the lower rep ranges (3-5).
An example workout would be as follows
Week 1-4 – 3×10-12 for all movements
Glute-ham Raise (GHR)
Squat (or deadlift)
GHR (or quad movement)
Chins or Lat pulldown
Week 5-8 – 5×5
Week 9-12 – 4×3
Now of course you could make exercise substitutions if you get bored, but I’d recommend keeping your movements fairly static to gauge progress.
Putting it all Together
The recipe for this equation is simple. Focus on building strength; then consume enough food to ensure recovery and muscle growth occurs. The process doesn’t happen overnight and some may believe it to be slow and arduous; however, it’s the consistency and hard work that pays off with this one.
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