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You're not likely to hear the average person on the street tell you that they want to gain some weight, however amongst the gym-going crowd this is a common expression.

Don't be misled though, the majority of these people aren't just talking about weight in general, they are talking about adding pounds of lean muscle tissue. And it's not just men who make this their goal either...

More and more women are realizing the importance of packing on lean muscle to their frame to help them offset the chances of osteoporosis later on in life , help them function more easily in their day to day activities, and help to create a nice tight appearance.

So whether your goal is to one day compete in a bodybuilding, fitness, or figure competition or you are simply looking to increase your strength and generate a better physique, here are some things to keep in mind.

The Workout Routine

The first component of increasing your mass is your workout routine. This is not the time for endurance cardio sessions. Instead you want to focus on putting more of your energy into lifting heavy enough weights that you create small microtears in the muscle tissue so that when given rest they will rebuild themselves back up stronger and bigger (in a process called hypertrophy).

This is not to say that you should be spending every waking hour in the gym trying to lift more and more weights each session. Notice in the previous sentence how I explained that muscles grow back bigger and stronger with rest? That is a key point.

If you do not give your muscles enough rest between workouts you will actually only further tear them down with each succeeding workout, thus actually causing a decrease in strength and size.

This is definitely not what you want. So the main thing to remember is that you will need to create a fine balance between spending enough time in the gym to progressively overload your muscles, then back off and allowing them a chance to heal.

A Split Routine

When designing your workout, your best bet will be to incorporate some sort of split routine. Some people find they see the best results lifting on a one-to-two part per day schedule, whereas others do better on an upper/lower or push/pull schedule where each part is worked twice a weak.

Normally, the more advanced of a lifter you are, the more your body will be able to tolerate before your begin crossing the line between overreaching and overtraining.

So, if you are just starting out and looking to increase your mass, you may want to chose a full body program done 3 days a week or a 2 day split program done twice a week (so 4 total days of strength training). If you are more advanced, then you can further break your workouts up and concentrate more specifically on certain muscle groups. For example,

  • One day for Chest and Triceps
  • One day for Legs
  • One day for Shoulders and Traps
  • One day for Back and Biceps

When using this routine keep in mind that many of the compound lifts you are performing are working other muscle groups at the same time so you will want to ensure you are training both of those groups together on the same day so they will still get sufficient rest between sessions.

Example: Doing a chest press will work your chest muscles but will also call your triceps into play

Dedicating The Time

Finally, one other point to mention is that when considering how much time you are going to dedicate to your lifting, you will want to take into account your general lifestyle.

If you are a student or have a sedentary desk job, you are likely not taxing your body very much throughout the rest of the day so you will be able to recover quite quickly between sessions.

If you have a laborious job or also participate in other sports such as football, hockey or soccer, you won't see recovery happening nearly as quickly and will want to allow slightly more time between your sessions.

Reps & Sets

When looking to put on muscle mass, you will want to be within the 8-12 rep range, performing between 2 and 5 sets per exercise. Once again, the more advanced you are, generally the more sets you will be able to perform.

It should be noted that in order to keep growing you must change your workout routine periodically. The body has a miraculous way of adapting to the stresses we place on it and without a constant change of stimulation you will find yourself coming to an abrupt halt in your progress.

That said, if you have currently been using a higher set range, you might want to try using fewer sets and maybe adding in some new exercises to your program. Or you could also turn to more advanced principles such as drop sets, compound sets or supersets to shock your body into growth once again.

Rest Breaks

You also don't want to make your rest breaks too generous when you are trying to put on size. Far too many people make the mistake of going over to get a drink of water and then getting caught up in conversation with someone you just happened to run into.

Physiologically, longer rest periods are more typical of a purely power training program and moderate rest periods characterize hypertrophy.

You will want to keep your rest periods between 60 and 90 seconds. This will give your muscles enough time to recover so that you can push them hard once again and will enhance the release of testosterone in your body (which is one of the key anabolic hormones).

Cardio & Nutrition

There are two major ways that you can approach gaining muscle mass. You can go all out and bulk like you have never bulked before, accepting that you will most likely gain some fat mass along the way or you can take a slightly more moderate approach and bulk slower, while trying to remain relatively lean. The big different in these two methods is the cardio and nutrition components.


Performing cardio will slow down your bulking process, although this depends on the intensity/duration of the cardio performed.

High Intensity Interval Training

Performing cardio will slow down your bulking process, although this depends on the intensity/duration of the cardio performed.

If you are choosing to include cardio in your training program, your best bet is to perform one to three HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions.

This type of cardio is not of long duration so it won't give your body mixed messages as to which type of muscle fibers you are hoping to train, as resistance and sprint training calls upon fast twitch fibers whereas endurance training calls upon slow twitch fibers.

When someone performs a great deal of aerobic work, such as hour long runs, the body wants to adapt in order to suit this type of exercise, thus promoting slow twitch fibers (giving you a long stringy type of look) over the fast twitch fibers. Since it is the fast twitch muscle fibers you are after, you will want to avoid endurance cardio sessions and keep them short and sweet.

Performing HIIT also has another advantage. Since it is so intense, you actually create a similar anabolic environment in your body that a strength training session would.

This type of training is much more encouraging to muscle growth rather than muscle breakdown as endurance does. Additionally, when you push your body this hard, you will keep your metabolism revved up, thus reducing your chances of putting on bodyfat while eating a caloric surplus.

Smart cardio training is also a good idea on a bulk because it will help bring nutrients to your growing muscles since you will really get your blood flowing. This will help with the recovery and growth processes.

Also, by performing HIIT sessions, you will not lose your cardiovascular conditioning so you will still be able to walk up the stairs without feeling like you need a ventilator. It should be noted however that you do need to ensure you are still allowing yourself enough recovery.

If you are lifting 5 days a week and are doing 3 sessions of HIIT a week, this may be too much for your body to handle and you will begin to feel more worn down than anything. When deciding what cardio sessions you want to add in, make sure you take a good look at your total training program and work the sessions in to compliment it.

Calorie Needs

The one downside to performing cardio sessions, which is one reason why people sometimes chose the first method of bulking stated above, is that they burn precious calories that you could have been using for muscle growth.

This means that you are going to need even more calories above what is needed to maintain your daily activities and add muscle.

For some people with large amounts of muscle mass, they already require so many calories that it becomes a challenge to continue packing on mass. The stomach is only so big after all.

Luckily, if you perform your cardio in the method I suggested, you will only be going for 15-20 minutes at a time and won't be burning massive amounts of energy. This should easily be able to be replaced in your diet.


That is the training component to gaining lean muscle mass. You have to push hard in order to see results. If you just go into the gym and give half your effort, your body is not going to see a need to adapt, or become stronger and grow; you will remain how you are.

On the other hand, if you train with great intensity every time you are there, followed by giving yourself enough rest to recover, you will unlock the key to a new body that you've been dreaming of.

That said, this is only half the story. Building muscle is an energy consuming process and unless you are supplying it with enough and the right kind of building blocks, you won't see many results either.

So be sure to catch the next part of this article where I will discuss what changes you need to make in your diet to ensure all this hard work in the gym doesn't get wasted.

Part 1 | Part 2

About the Author

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark is a freelance health and fitness writer located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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