4 Simple Steps For Building More Muscle Mass
Get The Exact Workout My Client Bryan Used To Gain 8 lbs. Of Lean Muscle Mass, Drop 5.7% Body Fat, And Go From Ordinary To Extraordinary In Only 10-Weeks
So… you want to build some muscle mass?
Let me guess, you’ve tried…
- Workout programs from fitness magazines and Bodybuilding.com
- Tips, tricks, and routines from “fitness models” and bodybuilders on Instagram…
- Dropsets and supersets hammering on your muscles…
- And every expensive muscle building supplement under the sun…
Results like these are a clear example of how effective these principles are when applied correctly. If you want the exact Upper Body Workout my client Bryan used to add 8 lbs. of muscle in only 10-weeks… simply enter your name and email address below and I’ll send it to you for FREE:
Nothing seems to work and you feel completely stuck, frustrated, and powerless. You’re beginning to think it’s not you… maybe it’s your body type, your genetics, or even your age. Gasp!
I’m here to tell you it’s none of those things… it’s your strategy.
- The fitness magazines and websites are trying to sell you more supplements so they’re no help.
- Fitness models and bodybuilders are often taking “special” supplements if you know what I mean.
- When overused, dropsets and supersets ruin your central nervous system and cause overtraining.
- And supplements do just that… they supplement or accelerate your results, but they cannot compensate for poor strategy.
So, what’s the right strategy?
Well, people have written books and volumes on how to build muscle mass so instead of writing a 40,000 word piece I’ll simplify it down to 4 simple steps. These cover the most common mistakes I see guys make when trying to build muscle mass. Let’s dig in…
Step #1 – Work More Muscles
One of the most common mistakes I see with men in the gym is doing a typical “Bro Split.” This is your standard chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, arms on Thursday, and legs on Friday split.
This is the type of split most commonly associated with fitness models and other Instagram “fitness celebrities.” This split works really well if you’re on gear or you don’t have a career, family, or responsibilities. This split takes up a ton of time and requires an outrageous amount of food, rest, and recovery to do without overtraining.
Trust me, I’ve tried it… it’s a fucking grind mentally and physically. And it often ends up breaking your body down too much. This, in turn leads to lackluster results when it comes to building muscle. Instead, try hitting more muscles each day you train. There are two splits I’d recommend:
1. Full Body 3x Per Week
This is your standard Monday, Wednesday, Friday plan where you’ll hit your entire body. You don’t necessarily have to do the same workout all three days. For example, you can do 3 different full-body workouts:
- Monday: Full Body Workout #1
- Tuesday: OFF
- Wednesday: Full Body Workout #2
- Thursday: OFF
- Friday: Full Body Workout #3
- Sat & Sun: OFF
You can also break up into two different full-body workouts. For example: Push on Monday, Pull on Wednesday, Push on Friday, and back to Pull on Monday. Either way, you’re hitting your full body 3x per week. Lastly, you can do something like Upper Body Push on Monday, Legs on Wednesday, and Upper Body Pull on Friday:
- Monday: Upper Body Push
- Tuesday: OFF
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: OFF
- Friday: Upper Body Pull
- Sat & Sun: OFF
2. Upper & Lower Split 4x Per Week
With this routine you’d perform an Upper Body workout on Monday and then a Lower Body workout on Tuesday. Wednesday would be an off day then you’d come back and repeat the routine on Thursday and Friday:
- Monday: Upper Body
- Tuesday: Lower Body
- Wednesday: OFF
- Thursday: Upper Body
- Friday: Lower Body
- Sat & Sun: OFF
The idea here is that you’re working more muscle groups when you train. Stimulating more muscle more often is a good thing when it comes to building muscle.
This research study shows the hypertrophy benefits of a 3x per week program in comparison to a “bro split.” The study compared hypertrophy in men training full body 3x per week to a split routine where each body part targeted only 1x per week. I’ll save you the suspense, the total body 3x per week routine showed greater improvements in hypertrophy.
My own experience and anecdotal evidence supports this conclusion. After training over a thousand men both in-person and online… I’m convinced single body part bro splits don’t work very well unless you’re taking “special supplements.”
This type of full-body or upper-body/lower-body program would work wonders for any beginner. And if you’re more of an intermediate or even advanced trainee — this can and will still work with you too. Especially if you’ve been doing single body part training for a while.
Step# 2 – Get Enough Rest, But Not Too Much
There are two types of rest I’m referring to here:
1. Intra-workout – This is the rest taken between sets during a workout.
2. Recovery Days – This is the rest taken between training days.
The goal of intra-workout rest is to allow your body to recover from a set so that you can do the next set with optimal intensity. That’s it, nothing more. Notice, I didn’t say the goal of intra-workout rest is to…
- Check your phone
- Find the “perfect” song for the next set
- Exercise your mouth talking to other bros
- Run game on the hottie on the bench next to you
- Check out the hot girls in yoga pants on the cardio equipment
Unfortunately, these activities seem to make up the majority of most people’s time in the gym. This leads to much-longer-than-necessary rest intervals between sets. And the next thing you know, your 60-min workout session is over and you only got about half as much as you could have done.
To be clear: these activities are a waste of time and they are wasting valuable time you could be (and should be) using to lift weights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are never resting at all between sets and you are lifting non-stop — you’ll burn yourself out. And burning yourself out means you’ll never be able to take the 100s for a ride on the Incline… because your muscles will always be too fatigued.
There is a fine line or balance that must be met between resting long enough to recover and not resting too long.
So, what’s ideal for intra-workout (between sets) rest?
Research shows that protocols high in volume using short rest intervals like Metabolic Resistance Training are best for increases in testosterone and growth hormone. Increases in testosterone and growth hormone are fantastic. Think of it as natural steroids without any of the negative side-effects including acne, mood swings, spending thousands of dollars, and early death.
But short rest periods don’t allow for enough central nervous system recovery. And not allowing for optimal CNS recovery means your strength will suffer. There have been too many studies to count including this one and this one that have proven rest intervals of 2-4 minutes are best to maximize strength gains.
Okay, so we know short rest intervals are best to maximize testosterone and growth hormone. But we also know adequate CNS recovery is necessary to lift heavy weights. Therefore, resting 2-4 minutes is best for strength gains.
So a balance must be met between optimizing for hormones and CNS recovery…
Non-Competing Muscle Groups
In order to strike this balance, my muscle building programs often consist of working non-competing muscle groups. Instead of doing 4 single sets of Incline Dumbbell Chest Press in row with rest in between… I’ll have my clients perform one set of Incline DB Chest Press followed by a short rest period of 60-75s. After the rest period, they will perform a set of Chin-ups (non-competing muscle group) followed by another short rest period of 60-75s.
Here is another example:
1A) Flat Dumbbell Chest Press 10-12 reps
1B) Single Arm Dumbbell Row 8-10 reps
Directions: Perform 1A and 1B sequentially resting 60-75s between sets and 75s after each round. Perform 4 total rounds.
If I had to break it down to general “catch-all” recommendations… I’d live by these 3 rules:
1. Generally, I have any client on a muscle building routine do about 60-75 seconds rest between sets and 75-90s between rounds. 60-seconds is on the shorter end and reserved rest between isolation movements. This is often later in the workout.
2. 90-seconds is on the higher end and reserved for BIG, heavy, multi-joint movements. This would typically occur early in the workout and include Squats and Deadlifts.
3. 75-seconds is the sweet spot for rest between most movements on both sets and rounds. This is especially true for most upper body exercises including Incline Dumbbell Press, Single Arm Dumbbell Row, Chin-ups, Shoulder Press, Incline Bicep Curl, etc.
This approach allows you to use short rest intervals between sets, which optimizes hormones and maximizes volume. But it also allows each muscle group to get the adequate rest of 2-4 minutes to maximize strength gains. Hell and yeah!
When training to gain muscle it’s necessary to stimulate your muscles and break them down. That’s how your body grows…
But it’s not necessary or even smart to beat your body into oblivion. Doing so will not allow your body to fully recover before your next training day. This is especially true for the central nervous system damage that occurs on heavy, taxing training days.
Pounding on your body excessively for too many days in a row or with too much volume will lead to overtraining. Overtraining will also tax your joints, tendons, and ligaments leading to overuse injuries. Elbow pain anyone?
What’s the best training split to maximize recover?
If you do research on this, you’ll find many opinions by many people all backed with some type of research. The problem is that there are so many variables that determine training frequency it’s nearly impossible to create a valid study of the topic. Think about it… sleep, nutrition, genetics, stress, age, supplementation, etc. all help determine training frequency.
So I’ll give my recommendations based on my 15+ years of experience, the 1,000+ people I’ve worked with, and the hundreds of articles and research studies I’ve read on the topic:
For beginner to intermediate trainees or ectomorphs that struggle to add size… I recommend a 1-on, 1-off schedule. For example, train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Take Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend off.
This will provide adequate stimulation and it will also make sure your body fully recovers between training sessions. It also has the added benefit of not burning up too many calories so eating for size and strength gains won’t be too difficult for ectomorphs.
For more advanced trainees or those that have no trouble putting on weight… I recommend using a 2-on, 1-off cycle. This means for every 2 training days in a row you MUST take 1 day off to recover. For example, train on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Take Wednesday and the weekend off.
This will provide adequate stimulation while still provide just enough time for recovery. This schedule will also maximize caloric burn and boost your metabolism to prevent excessive fat gain.
These are the two approached I’ve found work best for people from beginner to advanced to maximize strength and size gains.
If you follow professional bodybuilders or fitness models, keep in mind many of them may be on “special supplements” that allow them to train hard 4+ days in a row while still being able to recover. They also have optimized nutrition and a schedule that includes a lot more sleep and rest time as well… which will help promote recovery. Training 4+ days in a row hard with weights will lead to overtraining for most men.
Step #3 – Time Under Tension
Time-under-tension (TUT) is one of the most important aspects of gaining muscle mass. It’s also one of the least understood and often overlooked by your average gym-goer trying to build muscle.
Time-under-tension is the actual amount of time your muscles spend under strain during a set. For example, if you complete a set of Incline Dumbbell Chest Press… how much time did it take you to complete the set? That’s the time under tension.
This study showed that performing leg extensions with a slow 6s up and 6s down pace produced greater increases in muscle mass over the more typical 1s up and 1s down approach used by most gym-goers. This is consistent with my experience and most other articles and studies I’ve read although 6s up and 6s down is a little extreme for most sets. What’s more important to focus on is TUT on a per set basis. Ideally, hitting 30-60 seconds of time-under-tension is optimal.
Opponents of time-under-tension believe lifting heavier weights is the only key to building muscle. Unfortunately, the human body can only lift so much weight. It’s not possible to continuously lift more and more weight forever.
Also, pushing the weights up and up too aggressively is a sure-fire way to get injured. I’ve seen it time and time again…
I’ll get a guy come in to see me who tried bulking on his own using a traditional “lift more weights forever” approach. After talking for a bit, the story is the same… started lifting heavy, started gaining size and strength, kept pushing the weights, and eventually got injured.
You cannot simply continue to push the weights up week-after-week, month-after-month. You need to modify your training intensity and vary the stimulus placed on your body to ensure recovery and continuous growth.
Plus, getting injured is the fastest way to sideline your size and strength gains. Instead of trying to push the weights up forever, try a different approach. Try maximizing time-under-tension.
How can you take advantage of time-under-tension?
There are two ways of doing this:
1. Slow the fuck down.
2. Focus on the eccentric portion of the rep.
Slow The Fuck Down
Most people lift rather haphazardly, moving the weight as fast as they can. It’s like they are in a hurry to finish the set and get back to looking at their phone or talking to their buddy.
Instead of trying to lift as fast as possible, try using a slow and controlled rep tempo. For example, a 3-0-1-0 rep tempo is pretty standard for most muscle building lifts.
What does this mean?
- Three (3) second eccentric or negative (lowering the weight).
- Zero (0) second pause after the eccentric at the bottom of the rep.
- One (1) second concentric or positive (pressing the weight up).
- Zero (0) second pause after the concentric at the top of the rep.
For example, on a chest press this means you take 3-seconds to lower the weight, zero seconds pause at the bottom, 1-second to press the weight up, and a zero second pause at the top. On a Chin-up this means you’ll take 3-seconds to lower your body, zero second rest at the bottom, 1-second to pull yourself up to the bar, and a zero second pause at the top.
This will ensure you control the weight you’re lifting. This will also ensure you’re maximizing time-under-tension and subsequently maximizing muscle growth.
Focus On The Eccentric Portion Of The Rep
Research shows the eccentric portion of the rep (negative) is more important than the concentric (positive) portion of the rep when it comes to building muscle mass.
For example, if trying to build a bigger chest… slowly lowering of the weight is more important than pressing the weight up. Conversely, if trying to build a bigger back… slowly lowering yourself on a Chin-up is more important than raising yourself up to the bar.
This is because more tension is created on the eccentric (negative) portion of the rep. More tension means more muscle damage. More muscle damage means more muscle growth.
Step #4 – Track Progress
Most people don’t track ANYTHING with regard to their fitness. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada. This is classic rookie mistake and is one of the reasons why so many people flame out when trying to build muscle.
For example, guy starts a muscle building program… he’s all excited and hits it hard for a few weeks. After a few weeks, he doesn’t see any progress and he begins to get frustrated. As frustration builds he starts skipping days and cheating on his diet. Next thing you know, flame out.
Tracking your progress is important for three reasons:
3. Progressive Overload
I recommend tracking two different things:
1. Body measurements
2. Sets, Reps, and Weight
First, tracking your body measurements is the only way to know for sure if your body is changing. Looking at yourself in the mirror day after day isn’t going to tell you if your chest increased by a half inch. You won’t be able to see or notice it with the naked eye unless you measure it…
But knowing your chest is up a half inch will be a HUGE motivator. It will get you excited. It will keep you engaged. And it will make you happy.
You’re far more likely to continue your program knowing you’re actually making progress. If you want to stick to a program and succeed then track your body measurements.
I’ve seen dozens of guys go from pissed off and frustrated to focused and happy after a measurements session… finding out your chest measurements has gone up a full inch can do wonders to boost your confidence, focus, intensity, and happiness. Here are the measurements I recommend you take:
Taking your measurements regular is a must for anyone serious about making progress. I recommend taking them once every 4-6 weeks.
Finding out you’re making progress will help build positive momentum and increase happiness. Finding out you’re not making progress will give you critical and necessary feedback. Look at it as an opportunity to assess what’s not working and change it before wasting any more time.
- Maybe you’re not eating enough calories…
- Maybe you’re not lifting often enough…
- Maybe you’re lifting too often…
- Maybe you’re not sleeping enough…
Tracking Sets, Reps, and Weight
Progressive overload refers to increasing tension levels in the muscle fibers over time. The simplest and most effective way to do this is to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting over time. Another form of progressive overload is increasing the number of reps for a given weight.
Both of these strategies increase the total volume lifted which a very good thing. More volume means more muscle growth.
The problem most men have is that they never actually track the weights they lift or the number of reps. They go off memory or more likely — they lift the same weight for the same number of reps over and over again. Definition of insanity: do the same thing expecting a different result.
How many of you reading this right now are guilty of lifting the same weight for the same number of reps while expecting to build strength and size?
Reality check… it’s not going to happen. You MUST increase the weight, reps, or both.
Total volume must go up to stimulate your body and build muscle mass. By tracking your sets, reps, and weight you can guarantee that you’ll increase total volume from one workout to the next.
Tracking your sets, reps, and weight shouldn’t be a complicated endeavor. As I often say, it’s not exactly algorithm analysis.
For those of you that took that awful class in college… I feel your pain. Why the hell do we have to write our own Bubble Sort function? There are already plenty of sorting functions provided in every framework and library. Anyway.
There are three ways to track your sets, reps, and weights:
- Leverage technology with an app. Strong Workout Tracker app is widely considered one of the best.
- Old school with paper and pen. If you’re a bit older or you’re one of those rare dudes that still enjoy writing with old school paper and pen… use a traditional workout journal like The Workout Log. You can also use a plain journal as well.
- Hybrid mix of old school and technology. You can also use a technique I often use where you log your sets, reps, and weights in the Notes app on your phone.
The Hybrid Mix is a combination of the technology and old school methods. It’s also a great way to follow along with your workout without having to carry a printout piece of paper. Here is an example:
Circuit #1 x 4
1. Goblet Squat 10-12 @ 70-12 / 75-11 / 75-10 / 75-10
2. Incline Chest Press 10-12 @ 45-12 / 50-11 / 50-11 / 50-10
3. Single Arm DB Row 8-10 @ 70-9 / 70-9 / 70-8 / 70-8
4. DB Romanian DL 12-15 @ 70-15 / 70-15 / 75-15 / 75-13
5. Up/Down Plank 30s @ 35 / 37 / 34 / 31
Notice, for the tracking I use a style where I record the weight first then the reps. That’s because it allows me to jump ahead and log the weight before the set. So it is written, so it shall be done. You can follow my lead or switch them… it doesn’t really matter.
The next time you perform the same workout simply update your numbers. If you want a history of your workouts, use a method like this one which I use for tracking week-to-week:
Circuit #1 x 4
1. Goblet Squat 10-12
2. Incline Chest Press 10-12
3. Single Arm DB Row 8-10
4. DB Romanian DL 12-15
5. Up/Down Plank 30s
Week-1: 70-12 / 75-11 / 75-10 / 75-10
Week-1: 45-12 / 50-11 / 50-11 / 50-10
The downside is that you don’t get fancy graphs or a comprehensive history, but this method is still extremely effective with minimal effort and setup time.
So there you have it, 4 simple steps for building more muscle mass. The key is not reading about them or even knowing about them, the key is your ability to execute on them.
Knowing what you know now, how are you going to execute leveraging this information?
Here’s your plan of action:
Action Steps For Your Success
1. Assess your current workout protocol
What type of split are you doing? If you’re doing single body parts each day, move to one of the previously suggested splits (i.e. upper body/lower body). If you’re already doing a split routine, move to full-body 3x per week. And if you’re already doing a full-body routine move to a split routine.
2. Assess your current intra-workout rest intervals between sets
Are you resting long enough or too long between sets. Adjust your workout accordingly to fit into the 60-90s rest period range between sets.
3. Assess your current ratio of workout days vs. rest days
Are you working out 3, 4, or even 5+ days in a row? If so, move to a 2-on, 1-off approach or even an every other day schedule to facilitate recovery. If you’re only working out every other day and you want to switch it up, again — move to a 2-on, 1-off approach.
4. Assess your current time-under-tension while in the gym
Are you rushing through your sets trying to get them over as fast as possible? If so, slow the fuck down and start using a 3-0-1-0 tempo for most exercises.
Start enjoying the burn and the pain of ripping up your muscle fibers. The more time your muscles spend under tension, the more muscle you will build. Become a muscle builder, not a weight lifter.
Inline with this thinking should be an increased awareness and focus on the eccentric or negative portion of the rep. That’s the part that counts the most when it comes to building muscle.
5. Start tracking your body measurements
You can outsource this to a professional like Fit 3D or DexaFit if you don’t want to do it yourself. Otherwise, get a tape measure and get to work. This will give you a continuous feedback loop on your progress every few weeks so you can keep doing things that are working and stop doing things that are not. It will also help you build momentum, stay focused, and contribute to elevated feelings of happiness. According to Tony Robbins, “Progress equals happiness.”
6. Start tracking your sets, reps
This will ensure progressive overload, help build momentum, and contribute to elevated feelings of happiness. You can use an app like Strong Workout, an old-school journal, or even the Notes app on your phone like I do.
What have you found works or doesn’t work when trying to build muscle? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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