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When you're new to training, it may seem like pretty much everything works. As long as you simply work hard, you get stronger and bigger, almost like magic. Then one day, it stops working. When you can't train any harder, you need to train smarter. You need Project Mass.
This 14-week muscle-building trainer is what you've been doing, but better. It includes classic lifts programmed so you'll receive their maximum benefits, alongside game-changing new techniques that take advantage of your body's muscular growth mechanisms. It's lab science and bro-science, together at last.
Over the next 14 weeks, you'll become bigger, stronger, possibly even leaner, and wiser in the ways of muscle growth. You'll emerge a better lifter, one capable of guiding your own training for years to come. This is muscle and science, simplified.
Project Mass Training Overview
Watch The Video - 25:29
PROJECT MASS THE BACKGROUND
In some ways, I'm a typical college professor. I spent years with my head buried deep in books, journals, and research, while working toward my two master's degrees and my PhD. Now, I teach classes, oversee and perform research, and help the next generation of scholars in my field develop the knowledge they need to thrive in the lab and the classroom.
But the white-coat stereotype pretty much ends there. One of the key things to understand about me and all the guys in my lab at the University of Tampa is that we're not just scientists; we're lifters. We live, eat, and breathe bodybuilding, and we're in the field of human performance because it's our shared passion—plain and simple.
As enthusiasts, we know—just like you do— there are certain tried-and-true techniques that go all the way back to the golden age of bodybuilding. I'm talking about things like the mind-muscle connection, running the rack, lifting for a pump—I could go on and on. But up until recently, nobody had taken the time to study them in a laboratory setting. That's what our lab does.
And here's what we've discovered: You can't just say a training technique works and then use it every day. That's not going to cut it. You've actually got to program it into your split scientifically. That's why we focus on optimizing these classic muscle-building strategies.
You'll see a lot that you know and love in Project Mass, along with cutting-edge techniques that are new to you—some of which may feel a little weird. But trust me when I say that a few years down the road, these techniques will be the benchmarks of high-performance bodybuilding.
PROJECT MASS THE CONCEPT
When you look at massive bodybuilders, it's easy to believe that they made their muscular gains linearly. That is, it looks like they added little bit of muscle every single day, month, and year. But, in reality, research has shown that your body tends to make large gains, and then plateau—maybe for as long as a year. Then you have a breakthrough—perhaps by following a Bodybuilding.com trainer!—and make more gains. And then you plateau again.
What causes that plateau, and what causes you to break it? To answer this, it's best to turn to the work of one of the greatest scientists of all time, Hans Selye, who developed the model known as the "general adaptation syndrome." You may recall that I referred to this in my article, "How Do I Gain Muscle Like a Beginner Again?" Now we're going to go even deeper.
The general adaptation syndrome says that we go through three stages of adaptation. The first is the "alarm reaction stage." Say you go into the gym, and normally, you can bench press 315 for 10 reps. After six sets, you may only be able to manage 4 reps with that weight. Your performance has gone down. That's the first dip you see on the graph.
So what happens next? Your body says, "Oh no, I'm broken down. I have to adapt." So it progresses into what we call the "resistance stage." In this stage, your body will adapt to the specific demands you've placed on it. During this phase, your performance goes up and up and up in what we call "supercompensation." This is when you're actually gaining muscle.
If you don't change your training and just keep doing what you've been doing—which is what we call "linear training"—your results will plateau. Likewise, if you don't rest enough or recover enough, you will also hit a plateau. Selye called this stage the "exhaustion stage." It can be caused by either insufficient rest or insufficient variation. If you fail to change your training and rest enough, your abilities will actually slide into overreaching, and then what we call overtraining.
How do you avoid the plateau? First, you want to move back and forth as much as possible between the alarm reaction stage and the resistance stage. To do that, you need variation and programmed rest. That's what Project Mass is going to provide you. But it's going to do more than that. It's going to add a whole new path to Selye's model.
During this program, you perform a strategic overreach. I gave some details about what that means in my very first article for Bodybuilding.com. Basically, you can push your body incredibly hard with training for a week or two, after an appropriate build-up, then back off. Done properly, this can create a rebound effect that pushes you beyond your previous strength and size limits.
In Project Mass, you will push yourself closer to your genetic potential than anything you've ever done before.
PROJECT MASS THE STRUCTURE
The science of training variation is called periodization. Every type of athlete does it, but perhaps no other athletes bicker and obsess about it as much as bodybuilders do. Look around a bit, and you'll see that there are countless ways to tweak periodization for different goals and sports. For this reason, we find it helpful to split it into two basic approaches: traditional and nontraditional.
In traditional periodization, you only vary your training every couple of months. We've found in our lab that this works very well for novices, but by the time you get to an advanced level you need to vary your training much more frequently—every week, or even every day. This is nontraditional periodization.
Project Mass uses a nontraditional periodization model, with numerous changes, peaks, and valleys along the way. Here's how it breaks down:
Level 1 Training Day
There are three different types of training days in this program: strength, hypertrophy, and hypertrophy shock, with some overlap between the last two. They're arranged in a leg/push/pull split.
For the first three days of each week, you train for strength. This is when you're fresh, and you need your nervous system to be fresh to lift heavy. You work in the classic 1-5 repetition range, with 3-5 minutes rest between sets, and rely entirely on compound movements. Don't worry about working to failure on these days. Focus on good form and achieving the goal of successfully lifting heavier weights.
After a day of rest, you'll devote your next three days to hypertrophy training. On these days, you'll lift in the 8- to 12-rep range, with shorter rest periods (typically 60-120 seconds). That maximizes three of the mechanisms we know are responsible for muscle growth: metabolic stress, cell swelling, and recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
If you want a primer in the anatomy of muscle growth, I recommend you check out the Mass Class videos I did earlier this year for Bodybuilding.com.
Level 2 Microcycle
In Project Mass, you utilize an 8-day "microcycle." This means your weekly training split doesn't line up predictably with the days of the week, so paying attention to the calendar will be more important than in some other trainers you may have tried. We definitely recommend using Bodybuilding.com's BodySpace app to help you follow the schedule.
Each microcycle in this program subtly builds off the last, even though the basic day-to-day structure doesn't change. For instance, the first microcycle of the program focuses slightly more on strength, whereas the second one focuses more on hypertrophy.
The third microcycle is where the grind really begins. This is when you will experience what are known as "shocking methods." These advanced training techniques emphasize just one or two of the body's hypertrophy mechanisms. So for instance, instead of resting for 60-120 seconds between sets, you'll perform a dropset, where you just lower the weight and keep going. That's going to emphasize cell swelling and metabolic stress.
By the end of the third microcycle, you're going to be wondering, "Man, can I make it through this?" That's when we bring you to Microcycle 4, where you back off, cut the volume in half, and finally have the space to recover.
Level 3 Mesocycle
A mesocycle (shortened to just "cycle" in the program calendar) is made up of 4-6 microcycles (see below). Most 12-week training programs utilize three 4-week microcycles. Project Mass, on the other hand, is made up of 14 microcycles arranged in 3 mesocycles:
During Cycle 1, you alternate between strength, hypertrophy, and hypertrophy with shock techniques, as discussed above. In Cycle 2, you change the exercises, but follow the same basic structure, with Microcycle 4 once again dialed back for recovery.
Cycle 3 is stretched out into six microcycles. Again, you start off heavy, then move to hypertrophy and hypertrophy with shock methods. But instead of just doing one overreaching microcycle where you have high volume and shocking methods, you do two.
These two weeks are what Project Mass is all about: struggling through two long weeks of extreme training, during which you go harder for longer. You will then take the last two microcycles of the program to recover. You'll be amazed by how much bigger and stronger you've become.
PROJECT MASS THE DETAILS
How heavy should you lift?
One of the most important variables in programming is exercise intensity. In simple terms, this is a percentage of the maximal amount of weight you can actually lift. Usually, people will use a percentage of their one-rep maximum (1RM) to determine it. If you could curl 100 pounds, then 80 pounds would be 80 percent of your one-rep max.
That's one way to structure your weights, but in this program, we're going to take a more flexible approach—what's known as rep-max (RM) loading. In RM loading, you will actually predict a certain load based on a specific rep range. So, for example, I might ask you how much you think you could bench press for 10 reps. If you said 225 pounds, that would be your 10RM load. Research shows that using RM loading is actually better than percentage of 1RM for making gains in hypertrophy.
The nice thing about RM loading is that you can customize it to how strong you are, and how strong you feel. For instance, if you're supposed to do 4 sets of 10 reps, start out using what you imagine to be your 10RM. If, after one set, you feel stronger than that, you can adjust upward for the next set. If you feel weaker than that, adjust downward. If you're right on, you'll stay right on that point.
This is known as autoregulatory training, and seems to be superior for skeletal muscle size and strength over strict percentage-based systems. However, it requires you to have enough experience in the weight room to gauge your abilities for a range of lifts.
If you don't have that yet, then you should consider trying another of Bodybuilding.com's trainers first, and then coming back to Project Mass when you're a little more advanced.
How fast should you lift?
Go into any gym in America, and what do you hear? "Slow the rep down!" But guess what? Our research has shown that slowing down every repetition isn't optimal for growth. In fact, faster repetitions have been shown to create more of an anabolic environment, increase muscle protein synthesis, and cause more overall growth.
Acute Workout Variables
- Exercise selection: What should I do? Compound or isolation?
- Exercise order: What should I do first?
- Intensity: How heavy should I lift?
- Volume: How many sets should I do?
- Rest: How long should I rest?
- Density: How much work should I do in a given time?
- Repetition speed: How fast should I lift?
- Attentional focus: What should I think about?
Am I telling you to lift as quickly as possible, without thinking about it? Of course not. We use a term known as "maximal intended velocity." Lift as fast as you can, as long as it's controlled, and let the speed be dictated by the amount of weight you use.
You will be able to lift 50 percent of your one-rep max more quickly than 90 percent of your one-rep max.
What can you do to get the most out of each workout?
Simply put, go to the gym in the right mindset. Here's how.
In 1980, Dr. William Kraemer, the preeminent scientist in the field of exercise physiology, surveyed all the existing strength and conditioning studies to date, and created a list of seven acute variables that can define any workout. More than 30 years later, the list is as valid now as ever.
However, we like to add an eighth final variable: "attentional focus." This has been mainly researched by Dr. Wolff, who has found that where you place your attention makes a big difference on performance.
If you focus externally, Wolff has found, you'll lift more weight. So what does this mean? You'll be thinking and orienting your body in the space around it. For instance, if I tell you to press the bar through the ceiling, that's an external cue.
On strength days in this program, you should use an external focus, to make yourself stronger.
Examples of external cues for major compound lifts
Touch your butt to the wall behind you. Show the logo on your shirt. Hold an orange under your chin. Spread the floor with your feet.
Jump through the roof. Drive your heels into the ground. Spread the floor with your feet. Launch the bar through the ceiling.
- Bench Press
Press through the ceiling. Drive your heels into the ground. Melt/bend the bar with your hands. Rip the bar apart.
- Overhead Press
Press yourself down into the ground. Get your whole body under the bar. Move your body around the bar.
Conversely, in our laboratory, we've found that using an internal focus actually causes greater muscle-fiber recruitment when you're targeting a specific muscle group. For example, if you perform the bench press with the goal of growing muscle, focus on your chest. When doing curls, put all your attention on the biceps. While your total performance will be lower, you'll feel the movement much more in the muscle.
So when bodybuilders talk about the "mind-muscle connection," what they're really referring to is using an internal focus. Make the most of this old-school technique on your hypertrophy and hypertrophy shock days, and you'll see a real difference in both your pumps and your overall muscle growth.
What about blood flow restriction training and other cool advanced techniques?
I'm a huge believer in the merits of blood flow restriction training, also known as occlusion training, and you'd better believe it's part of Project Mass! You'll utilize this game-changing technique along with other advanced muscle-growth tools like intraset stretching, stripsets, supersets, giant sets, and forced eccentric training.
You can read about all of these advanced techniques on this page . When you get to the days in the program that utilize these techniques, you'll find more links to the instructional videos.
What about cardio?
Cardio is an important component of this program, because it helps you gain mass while staying lean. The days of the bodybuilder who swells and shrinks with the seasons are over!
One of the biggest fears bodybuilders have is that cardio will make them small. We've actually found in our lab that they're right—at least when it comes to traditional cardio. The longer you perform traditional steady-state cardio, the more it hurts your gains. But there's another way to approach cardio: Focus on sprinting and other all-out activities.
Sprinting, it turns out, doesn't actually interfere with muscle growth. It makes you leaner, and in some cases may actually stimulate muscle growth, particularly in the quads. Another benefit is that it can actually enhance your performance on hypertrophy days. So instead of performing 9 reps, maybe you can hit 12, just because you have greater strength endurance. That will lead to a greater training stimulus and overall muscle size.
You will utilize cardio in this program by performing short all-out sprints of 10-30 seconds, with 2-4 minutes between rounds. The total number of rounds you'll perform is between 4 and 10. But there's something I have to emphasize, since some of you are probably saying, "Oh, 10 seconds? I can handle that." You have to perform these sprints with total intensity, what is known as "undistributed effort."
If you're asking yourself, "Am I pacing myself?" you're doing it wrong. You can't leave anything in the tank. In fact, after 30 seconds, you might actually be close to failure. That's why you need the 2-4 minutes of rest between sets.
The cardio during this program is anything but boring, and you'll have a lot of variety. Examples include:
You'll find the cardio listed as "optional" on your two weekly rest days on this program, but don't take this to mean that cardio itself is completely optional. You don't have to do cardio on both days, but you should do it on at least one of the two days.
Just as your weight training progresses throughout the program, your cardio will progress throughout the program. The sprints won't get longer time-wise, but the intensity and the distance you cover per sprint should grow.
GROWTH STARTS NOW!
I know we've covered a lot of information in this video and article, so I recommend bookmarking this page and checking back to rewatch any parts of the video that need reinforcing. Before you begin Day 1 of this program, you also need to watch the program overview, nutrition overview, and the supplementation overview. Now get ready for results!