There is a lot of information out there on the topic of gaining muscle. Even if you are a football or basketball player, you still need to gain considerable size on top of strength and endurance.
Lots of people have come up with unique “secrets” and want you to think that building muscle is complicated. That is why these so called experts have developed special hypertrophy routines and parameters, but the truth is you cannot actually train for hypertrophy. You can either train for strength or strength endurance. Strength means how much weight you can lift (usually for low reps) and strength endurance means how many times you can lift a relatively heavy weight. Therefore, hypertrophy comes as a by-product of getting stronger and progressing in the gym. Essentially, any type of lifting weights will lead to hypertrophy. That is why powerlifters are massive like bodybuilders. Same with Olympic lifters and strongman athletes. Any time you progress in the gym, you should expect muscle gains because muscle mass follows strength and strength endurance, especially for non-enhanced athletes. Stay tuned and we will cover how to achieve that progressive overload in order to gain maximum hypertrophy.
1. CONCENTRATE ON BASIC COMPOUND MOVEMENTS
Spend most of your time in the gym doing heavy compound movements. Best compound movements in no particular order are: the Deadlift, the Squat, the Bench Press, the Bent Over Row, the Dips, the Chin-ups, the Overhead Press and all their variations. If you don’t like barbell bench press and want to do close grip bench press or dumbbell incline press that is fine. The results will be similar or identical. Although the squat is great, if you can only do front squats you will not notice any difference in leg development.
2. SUPPLEMENT SMALLER ISOLATION-TYPE EXERCISES WHERE YOU SEE FIT
Isolation exercises are not useless by any means. But you should only use them in two instances. The first one is when you feel a body part is lagging after a year or two of serious training. If you notice your hamstrings are lagging, go ahead and add some glute/ham raises in your workout. If you notice your biceps are lagging, add some incline dumbbell curls to spice things up. You will not be able to progress much with isolation exercises in terms of weight or repetitions but their point is to just stimulate some extra muscle growth here and there. The second reason to use them is to prevent imbalances. Although the barbell bent over row is amazing, you might want to add some face pulls in the mix to keep your shoulders healthy.
3. TRAIN WITH FREQUENCY RATHER THAN VOLUME
Volume training is overrated. You do need to have some volume in your training meaning that you can’t build muscle mass if you only do 1 rep sets and leave the gym. But frequency plays a much more important role for non-enhanced athletes. Do those basic compound movements at least 2 times a week. 3 times a week will be optimal for the majority of the people reading this. Muscles get repaired within 24-48hours after your workouts. Do not mistake DOMS with muscle micro-tears. You might be sore for 5 days but that does not mean you are growing. The growth stops occurring after 48 hours at the max. With that in mind, if you want to stimulate growth the whole week and not just 2 days every week, you should train those basic movements 3 times a week.
4. STRUCTURE A WELL-DESIGNED PROGRAM
A good program consists of 4 basic parameters.
- What type of split should I use? The answer to this is simple. Just try to fit the exercises you want to progress with in this program in a way that you can perform them 2-3 times a week without interfering with one another. That means give a muscle group at least 48 hours before you train it again, to make sure your recovery process is completed. The easier way to do this is with full body workouts 3 times a week or upper body/lower body split. A push/pull/leg split can work too but make sure you are recovering completely.
- Which exercises should I use? In essence, you want to create a balance in your program. If you choose the barbell bench press, which is a pressing movement, you have to add a pulling-type movement like the barbell row and possibly a leg movement like the squat. You cannot just do the exercises that you love because this will create imbalances which often lead to serious injuries. If you cannot train, you cannot add muscle mass so try to avoid injuries by smart programming.
- How many repetitions should I do? This really does not matter. You can do 10 rep sets, 5 rep sets or 3 rep sets and everything in between and you will gain maximum hypertrophy if you focus on progressing with the exercise. If you choose to stay at a low rep range like 2-5 you will gain more strength in relation to 5-10 reps. But you will gain more strength endurance with 5-10 reps. The hypertrophy though will be almost identical. Also, keep in mind that you do not have to train only for the one or the other. If you increase your 10-rep max on the bench press, your 1-rep max automatically increases and vice versa.
- How many sets should I do for a muscle group? This is highly controversial but exercise science dictates that 1 set is enough for muscle growth if done with concentration, heavy load and max effort. The first set of your first exercise will be responsible for up to 80% of the muscle stimulation you are going to achieve in the workout. Preferably you should do 3-5 sets in total to make sure you are getting that 100%, meaning maximum hypertrophy. If a muscle group contains multiple heads or areas you can optionally add another exercise for the lagging area. For example, we know that as far as chest development goes, there the upper chest fibers and the lower chest fibers. Although, a standard barbell bench press will stimulate your whole chest, you can choose to add 2-3 more sets of an incline fly to make sure, your upper chest doesn’t get neglected. Another option here, when you create your program is this: Do the flat bench press on your first workout of the week and the incline bench press on the next one. That way you get the best of both worlds.
5. MAKE SURE YOU ARE ON A CALORIC SURPLUS EVERY DAY
You have to eat enough food if you want to add muscle mass at the fastest rate possible. In the best possible scenario you should be at 0-10% caloric surplus every day. That means, if your body needs 2.000 calories to maintain its weight, make sure you are eating 2000-2200 calories a day. Going further than +10% will possible result in considerable fat gains as well, and going less than 0% means you are on a caloric deficit and this is not optimal for muscle hypertrophy. It is not impossible to achieve fat loss and muscle gain at the same time but it is not advised because of the difficulty factor.
Total calories matter more than individual macro-nutrients. Having said that, carbs and protein should be your priority. You do not need massive amounts of protein to build maximum muscle mass. For someone that weighs 160lbs, 80-150 grams of protein are enough to build muscle according to nutrition science. If you want to sleep better at night, raise that up to 170. If you choose to go for higher amounts of protein (in the range of 250+), there is no considerable health risks but you have to understand that the majority of the excess protein gets converted to carbs by a series of metabolic reactions in your body. Essentially, you will be buying expensive carbs.
6. MAKE SURE YOU ARE GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
The muscle repair process mainly takes place when you are sleeping. While 6 hours can be enough, 8 hours are probably optimal.
7. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
There are a lot of variables when it comes to training but what you should grasp from all this, is that you have to make progress and train for it. Make short term and long term goals. If you are currently squatting 225lbs for 5 reps, set as a goal to be able to squat 315lbs for 5 reps in 6 months or to be able to squat 225lbs for 12 reps in 2 months. This is realistic goal planning for non-enhanced athletes.
Follow the principles explained above and you will be able to drastically boost your strength, strength endurance and muscle size in 2018. However, before you even consider setting your foot on the gym floor, close your eyes for a few seconds, eliminate all negative thoughts and just get your mind right.