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Mass Gain: How Often To Train? How Many Sets And Reps?

A conditioning specialist in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in Exercise Science. His articles will help you!

By: Josh Henkin

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Mass Gain: How Often To Train? How Many Sets And Reps?

I am writing to seek your advice regarding mass gaining and a sound routine. It appears to me that many people advocate working each body part one time per week. Is this sufficient and effective? If so, how many exercises and reps do you recommend per body part for optimal growth? Also, when should a person use drop sets and how often? I have lifted weights for many years for sports... so I am familiar with most exercises. Now I would like to train harder. I am 35 years old, 6'4" tall, and weigh 200 lbs. I am currently taking 1-1/2 weeks off from lifting in preparation for a new program. I am considering the following split:

Mon: Chest, Shoulders
Wed: Legs, Abs
Fri: Back, Bi's, Tri's

I would really appreciate any advice you can offer.

The very answer to your question is one you may not like. The simple truth is that there is not way I, or anyone else can predict how a program will work for you. Sometimes what works for one individual does not for another. The best bet is to design a program that is based upon some sound scientific principles.

Yes, in bodybuilding it is common to train each bodypart once a week. This is often the case because larger muscle groups take longer to recover than smaller muscle groups. Therefore, you could train your biceps more often than your chest. Except, what most people forget is that the arms are not only trained during curling and extension movements, but also on all pushing and pulling movements. This should show you that the smaller muscle groups are often trained twice a week because they assist with the compound movements.

There is no perfect way of determining the ideal number of sets and reps. It is very common for bodybuilders to spend most of their time training with reps of 8-15 and sets of 3-5. However, I like the ideas of Charles Staley and Pavel Tsatsouline much more. Their basic philosophy is to perform fewer reps and more sets, but to do more work every workout. This is commonly known as density training. Charles Staley's "8 Weeks to Massive Arms" is a great book to pick up because it expands on this subject in greater detail. The other benefit besides muscle mass is that this method improves functional strength.

One of the common mistakes I think most bodybuilders can avoid is a simple one of combining muscle groups. I always try to avoid incorporating the muscle groups that are involved in other exercises being trained in the same day. In other words, I don't like training chest with shoulders or triceps because the shoulders are fatigued with the pushing exercises. One of my favorite splits is one I have adopted from Australian Strength Coach, Ian King. It would appear as the following.

Day 1: Hamstrings, Trunk Flexion, Calves
Day 2: Upper Back, Triceps
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Quads, Rotational Abs, Calves
Day 5: Chest, Biceps
Day 6 and 7: Off

You will notice there isn't much shoulder work. I believe most of shoulder isolation exercises can be avoided because of the great deal of pushing and pulling we all perform. However, I do like incorporating overhead work and typically this is done instead of a chest movement.

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Mass Gain: How Often To Train? How Many Sets And Reps?
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