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Muscle Up! 4 Muscle-Building Must-Dos

Gaining a lot of size leaves little margin for error. Build more muscle with these four tips to super-power your progress!

I started lifting weights for athletic improvement and to get attention from girls, and not necessarily in that order. In my teenage lizard brain, I had to get big and strong quickly because time was precious in high school. As a result, I did some stupid stuff in the name of self discovery. Sound familiar?

I want to spare you my headaches and embarrassment by sharing my tips for harvesting maximum mass from your muscle-building program. Follow these four mass must-dos to get bigger and stronger, guaranteed—whether you're in high school or not.

1 / Eat Until You're Stuffed. Then Eat More

If you try to get big on a calorie-restricted diet, you'll get tired fast and be left with smooth muscles and soft abs. For full muscles and noticeable gains, you must eat quality food as often as possible. That doesn't mean you should binge on Ben and Jerry's or pasta buffets. Splurging may work well for a teenager dripping in testosterone, but for people in their 30s or 40s, it means petty gains and regrettable digestion.

Say you eat 1,800-2,000 calories per day on a typical diet comprised of 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat. To see gains, you'd need to increase your caloric intake by 10-20 percent and eat 2,200-2,400 calories per day. If the scale is stuck, increase your calories by 10 percent per week until your weight goes up.

Check out these daily calorie estimates (right image) for people who want to add mass to a lean frame. If you're bigger with more muscle, increase the numbers by 100-200 calories for optimal results.

Your primary foods should come from relatively lean meats, vegetables, legumes, and beans. Don't mistakenly skimp on carbs while trying to gain size! Your muscles store carbs as glycogen, which adds volume to your muscles and energizes your mass-gaining training sessions.

2 / Track Your Progress

Recording every workout detail is more than OCD meathead accounting. It's how you judge progress in pursuit of your goals. Guessing doesn't work when you're hell bent on building mass.

Tracking doesn't have to be fancy, however. I get by with a small note pad and a chewed-on pencil. If you're beyond pen and paper, track your workouts on BodySpace and stay accountable to your goals simultaneously.

A simple layout to track your progress is to list exercises with sets, reps, weights, and relative effort needed to complete the given set on a scale from 1-10.

Example: Bent-Over Rows: 1 set of 15 reps with 135 pounds at 7.

When you do the same exercise later with similar variables and the difficulty feels like a 5, it's a good indicator to increase the weight. If the exercise feels like it went up to a 9 or 10 with the same variables, a deload may be in order.

3 / Lift Heavier

Ditch the 3-sets-of-10-reps model and lift heavier weights in the 3-5 rep range. It might seem like less work, but you can add more sets to increase the volume and develop your musculature with more challenging weights.

You accumulate the same number of reps on 6 sets of 5 reps as you do on 3 sets of 10 reps. The key is to increase the weight by 25 percent on 6 sets of 5 reps.

I used to work out for two hours and leave the gym exhausted. I couldn't recover before my next workout. I felt like crap and spun my wheels. Then I discovered powerlifting and Olympic lifting workouts, which brought great success. My lifts went up and I got thicker, denser muscles through my legs, back, and chest with considerably less time in the gym.

Muscles grow best when they exert more force, which means you should increase the load, velocity of the contraction, time under tension, or all three. Use compound exercises for a portion of your workout and watch serious gains appear!

Here's a sample program to reap benefits from heavier lifts in a three-day split routine:

Day 1: Press
Day 2: Pull
Day 3: Legs and Core

4 / Get a Coach

It's better to have someone provide an external frame of reference to make adjustments. I didn't have much coaching when I grew up. I found spotters, but nobody said to pack my shoulders back and down to bench press, take a wider squat stance, or that deadlifts shouldn't hurt my back.

A coach can be a training partner who helps to adjust weight on the bar or a highly qualified trainer who builds every aspect of your program. It helps to have someone take the guess work out of your programming.

Some things to consider when looking for a good coach:

  • How much time they spend to get an understanding of your goals versus trying to get you signed up for training.
  • How much they coach you to execute movements properly versus just getting you to move.
  • Whether they give you homework when you're not training with them. If they only provide workouts when you're training with them, it's to keep you coming back, which may not be feasible or affordable.
  • Whether they provide nutritional counseling, understand how to work around or through common injuries or posture problems, and know how to adjust a workout to your specific capabilities.

Get Growing ///

Training for size and strength gains takes more science than many understand. Treating it with the respect of a dutiful scientist requires you to recognize mistakes quickly and adjust efficiently to continue progressing. Start with the four tips above to build a solid foundation!


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About The Author

Dean Somerset is an exercise physiologist working through the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists.

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itsJustAROD

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itsJustAROD

Love it.

Jul 30, 2013 6:23pm | report
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

yep great info, I don't think im eating enough calories but im also trying to cut as much as possible and then I may try to bulk up after

Jul 30, 2013 6:51pm | report
redeemedtat2

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redeemedtat2

do you work all sets to failure, the last set of each exercise to failure, none of the sets to failure?
how much rest between sets?
can you recommend other effective leg workouts for a someone who has lower back issues?
thanks, i'm looking forward to this. I've been searching for a 3 day split workout program for a while.

Jul 30, 2013 7:01pm | report
marseneau

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marseneau

If you have lower back issues your best bet is to do these movements but use less weight to build up the strength and balance in your lower back. Always better to address a problem by using the muscles rather than to avoid certain movements out of fear of making the weakness worse.

I used to feel the same way with my knees as I've had chronic patellar tendinitis for the past few years, my knees actually feel the best when they're being used.

Jul 30, 2013 7:26pm | report
cgraham531

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cgraham531

A good indication of lower back pain lies within the manifestation of under exertion of the other parts of your body. Back pain is often confused with weakness, which is not always the case. You may have a very strong lower back, which is overcompensating for other underactivated parts of your body. You could have tightness in your hip flexors that results in improper activation of your glutes and hamstrings. You could also have issues with your lower back compensating for a weak core. Remember that as you flex your lumbar, your core is being stretched. I recommend getting into the habit of properly stretching and asking for advice on your form. Marseneau is right in that you should drop the amount of weight until you are able to execute with proper form.

Jul 30, 2013 7:44pm | report
redeemedtat2

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redeemedtat2

Thanks, but I have had 2 surgeries for ruptured discs. My last mri showed I have degeneration of my discs. It's hereditary. As I get older the walls of my discs get thinner which makes it easier for them to rupture under load. I do lots of core plus inversion multiple times a week to combat the compression.

Jul 30, 2013 7:56pm | report
vsniperviperv

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vsniperviperv

Hmm.. I have ankle issues and cant back squat.... The front Squat and Romanian deadlift are great for legs... Front squats take pressure off the lower back and place it on the quads while the RDL put emphasis on the glutes and hams(biceps femoris) Other than that, you can leg press(horizontal) using different feet placements etc, legs curls, glute ham raises, leg extensions, lunges/step ups. There are many things that can build big legs if you have pain. Just remember to research proper form if you don't know, or ask!

Jul 30, 2013 10:46pm | report
Bodhiflute

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Bodhiflute

Guys whenever we have conditions we should seek trained professionals advice, such as physicians and coaches/trainers.

I think it's the best way to avoid further injuries with improper form or exercises-techniques we should avoid.

bb.com and other resources are great for self-training but they start from a medical conditions scratch point and can't consider indivdual differences.

Just my opinion here ;)

Love & Light

Jul 31, 2013 12:35am | report
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  • ht: 14'8"
  • wt: 176.37 lbs
  • bf: 13.0%
cgraham531

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cgraham531

^^^ this. Sorry to hear about your condition, redeemedtat2

Jul 31, 2013 1:34am | report
redeemedtat2

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redeemedtat2

i have learned to realize my limitations. i will never be able to heavy squat or deadlift again, but that doesn't hinder me from being in the gym. bodhiflute has a good point here, the assumption was that i was using poor form and have a weak core.

Jul 31, 2013 7:35am | report
JJ45

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JJ45

I feel your pain. I used to squat/deadlift competively and now can't due to disc issues in my lower back. One leg exersize I've found that I can go fairly heavy on and not stress my lower back too much is dumbbell step-ups. I hold a dumbbell in each hand and then step up onto a bench or box. I started with like 40's and now can grab a set of 100's and do 8-10 each side. You don't have to bend at the waist like a squat so it doesn't hurt but still feels like I'm getting some "heavy" work on my legs. Wear a belt, watch your form, and be careful not to hyper-extend your knee stepping back down. Good luck and keep training!

Aug 4, 2013 1:34am | report
redeemedtat2

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redeemedtat2

Thanks jj45, I will definitely incorporate that into my leg day.

Aug 4, 2013 10:23am | report
HealthyButhcher

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HealthyButhcher

Thanks.. Just starting back after 14 years of slacking..I need all the tips

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Jul 30, 2013 7:04pm | report
djconnexion

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djconnexion

All the best.

Jul 30, 2013 11:13pm | report
hieusername

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hieusername

Good stuff! Thanks for the info

Jul 30, 2013 7:17pm | report
bsalkeld

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bsalkeld

Great article. Thanks!

Jul 30, 2013 7:23pm | report
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  • ht: 15'3"
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  • bf: 10.0%
Jfwatson

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Jfwatson

Nice short, simple, and to the point article. I dig it.

Jul 30, 2013 7:59pm | report
TastyTrev

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TastyTrev

Smart info!

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Jul 30, 2013 9:39pm | report
kyron123

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kyron123

What if you are 6'7"

Jul 30, 2013 10:21pm | report
mc335e

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mc335e

Height doesn't matter all that much. Your levers are a little longer, so you'll move the weight further and technically do more "Work" (Force*Distance = Work). I'm 6'5", so I'm in a similar boat to you.

That said, an easier way to calc your calories is to take your bodyweight, multiply by 10, and then add between 20 and 40% based on your activity level (ie - desk job would be 20%, janitor or other high-activity job would be 40%). Then, if you're looking to cut weight, shoot to cut 1-2% of your body weight per week (the correct amount to lose while minimizing muscle loss). If you're looking to gain weight, .5-1% of your body weight is a more realistic goal.

So, quick example. You're 315. Let's assume you work a desk job. Take your body weight, multiply by 10 and you get 3150 calories. Then, since a desk job is pretty sedentary, multiply by 1.2 (20%), and you'll get 3780. That's the total number of calories that you'd need to eat in a day in order to maintain weight. Now, let's assume you want to cut weight. Let's assume you're looking to cut weight. The first thing you'll need to do is establish the right calorie deficit for you to eat at in order to lose 1-2% of your body weight per week(we'll assume 1% here). Again, if you're 315, 1% would be 3.15lb per week. Since we know that 3500 calories is equivalent to 1 pound, we'll multiply 3500*3.15 and come up with a weekly caloric deficit of 11025 calories per week. Next, break that down per day... 16625/7 = 1575 calorie deficit per day... which would put you at a daily calorie target of 3780 - 1575 = 2205 calories per day in order to lose ~3lb per week.

Not a perfect science... but weight loss isn't. The best thing you can do is track your calories and exercise and see where you stand after 2-4 weeks. You'll figure it out over time :)

Jul 30, 2013 11:57pm | report
djconnexion

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djconnexion

Nice article with good tips.

Article Rated:
Jul 30, 2013 11:13pm | report
mc335e

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mc335e

Uh, you're recommending supersetting on lifts @ 85% 1RM? Pass that herb and make sure you add #5: get a great chiropractor.

Article Rated:
Jul 30, 2013 11:28pm | report
mc335e

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mc335e

Additionally... if "size" is the only goal, which is the implication in this article, then at least mention that high-volume training will maximize hypertrophy.

For those of you reading this, if size AND strength are your goals, highly recommend Wendler's 5/3/1 w/ one of his accessory programs (strstd.com) or Layne Norton's PHAT training (Google it... good article on Simply Shredded).

Jul 30, 2013 11:44pm | report
solarphoenix

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solarphoenix

MC335C I agree with you on that. Because when we get to over stressing the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones with such exertion it gives the body heavy damage. A great stretching routine is best to be implemented always. Joint care supplements are also highly recommended. Another program I strongly recommend is "Deadstop Training" which Noah Siegel does a great job in breaking it down.

Jul 31, 2013 11:01am | report
Esnar

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Esnar

very useful info, I use ...

Jul 30, 2013 11:50pm | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 19'1"
  • wt: 229.28 lbs
  • bf: 18.0%
Showing 1 - 25 of 66 Comments

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