Mass Building – Part 3 – Other Variables

Part 1 was about diet for mass building, in part 2 I wrote about training principles. Here I’m going to touch on a few other key variables that will make a difference in the level of success you’re likely to get from your mass building regime (provided you’ve covered most of the bases discussed in part 1 and part 2)

Genetics

Genetics make a huge difference. I want to be clear in my opinion of this – everyone can absolutely build muscle. How much you can build will 100% depend on your genetic predisposition. How much potential do you personally have? Well you’ll never know until you lift some heavy ass weights and eat. Genetic factors that can limit you include small thin muscle bellies, high insertion points, low levels of naturally produced testosterone and very light bone structures.

Rest

Getting adequate recovery between sessions is vital. Remember you’re stimulating the body to make a response in the gym (grow muscle), you must allow the body to actually do the growing. This happens outside of the gym. You’re simply not going to make as much progress if you train too much by destroying your muscles and CNS every day which will give it no time to adapt.

Sleep

Sleep is important for many reasons. You need deep REM sleep for hormone production and for the body to repair its cells. Think how tired you feel and how well you function on a bad nights sleep. It’s the same for recovery too; if you’re sleeping poorly you’re likely not recovering as well as you could.

Training partner

Some people benefit from having a training partner. Saying that some don’t, me included. The benefits of a good training partner can be:

  1. They push you to train hard in the gym.
  2. Make you more consistent. You might not feel like training but have agreed to meet your training partner at the gym so you go anyway as not to let them down.
  3. Provide friendly competition
  4. Spotting
  5. Form checking
  6. Share training ideas

If you struggle with motivation and find training with somebody fires you up for a session, then it’s probably a good idea to train with a partner.

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Mass Building – Part 2 – Training

In part one I discussed the dieting basics for building bigger muscles, here in part 2 I’ll talk about training to add size.

We’ve all seen such claims as ‘best routine for size’, ‘build bigger arms’ and other such outlandish claims on the front of magazines and in numerous articles across the internet. Many are there to suck you into reading dogmatic content and probably convince you to buy a supplement while you’re there. Let me clear this up before I begin- there is no best routine, no magic ‘best arms’ and no magic formula that will make you bigger all of a sudden.

With the above in mind however, there are set of principles you must follow to progress. As it happens you can apply these principles to your training to make positive improvements no matter what routine you follow. That means making it work for you. We all have strengths/weaknesses, we have varying time constraints, exercise likes/dislikes and access to different types of equipment. Here I will touch on the key factors that should help.

  1. Intensity
  2. Progressive over load
  3. Frequency of training
  4. Volume
  5. Exercise selection
  6. Consistency
  7. Routine
  8. Recording your training

Intensity

You must train with relatively high intensity in order to send the signal to your muscles that they’re under threat and need to produce an adaptive response (growth). There is literally no point in going to the gym and going through the motions with relative ease, this isn’t going to achieve the response you’re after. Better to go into the gym for 10-15 minutes and work very hard than spend 2 hours doing nothing.

Progressive Overload

You’re not going to get bigger and stronger if you use the same weights week in week out, your goal should be to add weight to the movement you’ve chosen at every opportunity. How many small guys have you seen in the gym that are lifting very heavy weights? The answer is none. If you’re increasing your lifts on a regular basis then there is a very good chance you’re getting bigger.

Strength does not always equal size and vice versa but my opinion is that 99% of the time strength and size are linear and closely related which means getting strong through progressive overload should be a top priority.

What does this means in real terms?

Well let’s say you perform a deadlift once a week, your goal each week should be to add weight to the bar (except deload weeks, which I’ll cover another time). An example- You have a chosen set/ rep range of 3 sets of 5 reps, the last set five reps should be very difficult. If you manage 3×5 then next week you add 5kg to the bar and so forth every time you hit your goal rep numbers.

This ensures you’re getting stronger and this will correlate to size over time. Sounds like a no brainer but so many people just go to the gym lifting on ‘feel’ or ‘instinct’ when they should be looking at progression.

Training Frequency

How often to train for optimal results is down to individual recovery ability. Some people can work out 4 days a week and make decent progress when others may need as much as 7-10 days to recover between working each muscle group. This will also be dependent on your routine and the overlap of work done each session. I personally feel training 2 or 3 times a week is optimal, any more and you’re going to get over trained (if you’re training hard like you should be).

Training 5-7 days a week is ridiculous in my opinion and completely unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary it’s sub optimal to progress and not something you’ll sustain long term without losing interest or getting injured. Think of the long game, you want to be consistent long term not burn out after 2 months and take a long layoff. You also need balance in your life and training every day pretty much means you have no life outside of the gym. If this is you then perhaps you need to get out there and live a little or re-evaluate your priorities in life (although this is a whole separate article!)

How much volume?

Age old question, how much weekly work ‘should’ you be doing in terms of total volume?  I would suggest keeping volume low but working very hard. There are varying extremes of volume, such as German volume training (10×10) and HIT on the other side of the fence (1 set to failure). I side with HIT and low volume. You can either workout for long durations with low intensity or short durations with high intensity. I know which I’d rather, get in the gym work very hard, provide the stimulus for muscular growth and then get out.

I would suggest between 1 and 4 exercises per body part with approximately 3-12 reps per set, do what suits your time constraints and what you enjoy. Also as I’ve stated put a routine together that allows for 2 or 3 training sessions per week. Training sessions should last no longer than 1 hour as a maximum.

Exercise selection

This is very simple, do what you enjoy and can do safely. Ensure you do one of the following

  • A multi joint leg movement (squat, deadlift variation, leg press etc.)
  • A vertical pull (Wide grip palms down chin, lat pull etc.)
  • A vertical push (an overhead pressing movement)
  • A horizontal pull (Rows)
  • A horizontal push (bench press etc.)

This will mean you’ve worked the entire musculature of the body. You can add accessory movements as you wish once you’ve covered the basics above.

Consistency

Self-explanatory really, make sure you stick to whatever you’re doing. Don’t chop and change routines and make sure you’re consistent with your training and diet. I’d suggest riding a routine out until it has stopped giving you the gains. How can you monitor what is working and what is not if you’re changing everything about your training around every 2 weeks or so?

Recording your sessions

How do you remember what numbers you’ve lifted so you know the weight to add to the bar next time? How do you know when things have gone right and you’ve got stronger? The answer is not by memory, record your sessions down in a training journal and take it with you to the gym.

Which routine?

As long as it’s well-structured and based on progressive overload then it doesn’t matter to an extent. In any case I’ll outline a couple of variations of a good starting point…..

Push/Pull (2 day split)

Push- Squats, bench press, overhead press, triceps cable extensions

Pull- Deadlifts, wide grip palms down chins, barbell rows, bicep curls

Push/Pull/Legs (3 day split)

Push- Bench press, overhead press, triceps cable extensions

Pull- Deadlifts, wide grip palms down chins, barbell rows, bicep curls

Legs- Squats, stiff leg deadlifts, calf raises

Full body (2/3 days per week)

Deadlifts, squats, bench, overhead press, wide grip palms down chins

That’s it in a nut shell. If you implement the above and combine this with a solid diet you will make as much progress as your genetics allow.

Part 3 I’ll look into other factors that should be taken into account when you’re trying to add mass.