Let’s get straight into it.
Let’s say I shoved all the greatest muscle building minds into one room then locked the door and didn’t let them out – pope-style – ‘til the white smoke rose from the chimney to signal the creation of the world’s most effective, scientifically-backed muscle building program.
I could package it up, sell it to you as the Holy Grail of Gainz and be swimming in cash for the rest of eternity.
But if you didn’t actually follow the program then it wouldn’t fucking matter how good it is or who created it – you simply wouldn’t gain any muscle.
In short, your training program and perfectly designed excel spreadsheet are completely irrelevant if you don’t (or can’t) put it into action consistently.
This means that before you do anything else you need to do two things…
– Strap on your big-boy pants and get ready to put the work in consistently ‘cos muscle building takes time and effort.
– Choose to follow a training program that you can and will stick to. The latest 6 days-a-week, 2 sessions-a-day training split on T-Nation probably isn’t going to work for you.
2. The Nutrition: Energy Balance
When it comes to eating to gain muscle the most important thing is creating a positive energy balance.
In other words, you need to be eating more calories than you’re burning each day.
If you’re not doing that you simply won’t build muscle mass.
It doesn’t matter what your macro split is, what supplements you’re taking or what training you’re doing, your body will not increase in mass unless you’re in a calorie surplus.
So, before you do anything else you need to make an educated estimate as to how many calories you need to consume each day in order to build muscle mass.
A really simple starting point for this is to take your body weight in kilograms and multiply it by 36, this will give you an initial daily calorie target.
Next you need to work out what your macronutrient split is. By this I mean, how much protein, carbohydrates and fats you should eat each day.
An easy and effective way to do this is to aim to get one third of your calories from each macronutrient; one third of your daily calorie intake from protein, one third from fats and one third from carbohydrates.
Of course you’ll need to make sure you’re tracking what you eat each day using an app like MyFitnessPal to make sure you consistently hit these targets.
That means hitting them every single day, not four days or even five days a week. Seven days a week . . . for at least 4 weeks at a time.
Note: You don’t need to be spot on to the exact gram or decimal point but you should be in the right ball park every day (+/- 100 calories).
Doing this means you can see how successful those initial targets have been.
If you’ve been hitting those targets for 4 weeks and managed to increase your body weight by 0.5-1.5% then stick with those targets until your weight gain plateaus and whenever that happens simply increase your daily nutrition targets by around 5%.
3. The Training: Volume, Intensity, Frequency & Exercise Selection
The main aspects to consider when it comes to training are volume (how much work you do), intensity (how much weight you lift and in what rep ranges), frequency (how often you train) and exercise selection (what lifts you perform in your session).
Here are some simple, effective guidelines;
More volume is better than less volume when it comes to building muscle, this can be measured by simply tracking how many reps you perform per body part worked in a session – a good target to aim for 40-70 reps per body part.
Eric Helms’ extensive research into muscle building and strength training summarised that for optimal hypertrophy (muscle growth) you should spend 65-75% of your session working in the 6-12 rep range and the remaining 25-35% of your session working in the lower (1-6) and higher (12-15) rep ranges.
The number of training sessions you do each week can vary depending on your personal schedule, simply aim to train each body part 2-3 times a week regardless of how many sessions a week you perform.
For some people this may equal six 40 minute sessions per week, for others it will be three 75 minute sessions per week. Simply do what works for you.
It won’t really matter too much as long as you train each body part 2-3 times a week and hit the rough volume target of 40-70 reps for each body part trained in a session.
Perform 1-2 compound lifts and 1-3 isolation exercises per muscle group trained in a session.
Compound lifts use two or more joints at once; bench press (shoulder and elbow) or squat (knee and hip) for example. These types of lifts should be the staple of your program.
Isolation exercises focus on just one joint or muscle at a time like dumbbell curls (biceps) or lat raises (shoulders) for example.
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