Want to design your own muscle building workout? Or maybe you wish to make your current routine more challenging? We’ll show you exactly what it takes to create a kick-ass training program and get the most out of your gym time!
Contrary to popular belief, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to build mass. It all comes down to your genetics, body type, metabolism, and other factors that you may or may not be able to control. The only way to find a training program that works for you is to experiment.
However, there are some workout principles that apply to everyone. Progressive overload, for example, is the foundation of any bodybuilding and fitness plan. Certain lifting techniques, such as pyramid sets, drop sets, and partial reps, are a must for those looking to gain muscle and strength. Let’s get into it!
Factors That Influence Muscle Growth
First of all, it’s important to determine your potential. How much muscle you can build depends on a variety of factors, such as your genes and body type. Not everyone is genetically gifted with a six-pack or big quads. For this reason, you need to figure out what your weakest and strongest muscles are — and design your training plan accordingly.
The primary factors that influence muscle size and strength include:
- Body composition
- Muscle composition (fast-twitch vs. slow-twitch muscle fibers)
- Body type (ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph)
- Training program
- Fitness level
Let’s take gender, for instance. Men are naturally stronger than women due to testosterone. The male body produces about 10 to 14 times more testosterone compared to the female body.
However, men are only one or two percent stronger than ladies when strength is expressed per unit of muscle cross-sectional area. Additionally, they have more strength in the upper body, whereas women are stronger in their lower body.
Another factor that affects your ability to build mass is muscle composition. There are two major types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Runners and swimmers, for example, have more slow-twitch muscle fibers, which gives them greater endurance. Powerlifters and bodybuilders, on the other hand, have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which makes them stronger but prone to fatigue.
If your muscles consist mostly of slow-twitch fibers, you may have a hard time building mass and strength. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t grow beyond your genetic potential. Proper training and good nutrition can make a world of difference.
Now that you know what influences your muscle building abilities, identify your weakest muscle groups. Is it your back, chest, shoulders, legs, or abs? Are you stronger in your upper body or lower body area? What are your best muscle groups?
Let’s say your weakest muscles are the quads. If these muscles are poorly developed, your physique may look disproportionate. Furthermore, having weak quads can affect your exercise performance and increase injury risk.
To add size and strength to your quads, train these muscles twice a week. Focus on heavy lifts, such as the barbell squat, deadlift, walking lunges, stationary lunges, and leg press variations. Compound exercises should make up at least 80 percent of your muscle building workout. The remaining 20 percent may consist of isolation work. Leg extensions and dumbbell step-ups are just a few to mention.
The same goes for any muscle group, including your abs. Training your core muscles every single day is a recipe for failure. Yet, most gym goers make this mistake.
The more often you work a muscle group, the faster it adapts. This leads to plateaus. Additionally, overtraining leads to fatigue and poor recovery, which can impact your overall performance and put you at risk for injuries.
How to Structure Your Muscle Building Workout
Next, determine what your workout will look like. Most athletes use a body part split, meaning they work one or two muscle groups per session. Here is an example:
- Monday: Chest and biceps
- Tuesday: Back and abs
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Shoulders and traps
- Saturday: Abs and triceps/biceps
- Sunday: Rest
Another option is to split your workout into upper/lower body sessions, push-pull sessions, or full body circuits and cardio days. If your goal is to build mass, opt for body part splits or push-pull workouts.
Hit the gym at least four times a week and no more than six. Your muscles need time to recover from training, so take one or two rest days each week.
Full body circuits and upper/lower body sessions are suitable for overall conditioning. This approach is also suitable for beginners as it allows them to build an exercise habit and get in shape. If you’re serious about gaining size and strength, focus on one muscle group at a time. This way, you’ll get the most out of your workout and reach muscle fatigue.
Body part splits allow for greater exercise variation to target individual muscle groups. For instance, you may not be able to do more than one or two exercises for pecs when performing a full body circuit. But you can do three to five chest exercises when you dedicate an entire session to this muscle group.
Training Rules to Live By
Keep your routine varied to shock your body into growth. If you always start your workout with lunges, begin it with squats next time you hit the gym. Add more plates to the bar at least once every two weeks. Change the number of reps and sets once every few sessions. Experiment with new movements to keep your muscles guessing.
The whole idea is to induce metabolic stress and work your muscles to fatigue. Doing the same workouts over and over will stall your progress and result in plateaus.
As a rule of thumb, always begin your workouts with compound movements. These exercises involve multiple muscles and joints, so they require greater strength. If you begin with cardio or isolation work, you’ll have little energy left for what really matters.
Cardio should come after strength training, especially if you want to lose fat as well. Heavy lifting will deplete your glycogen stores. If you do cardio afterward, you’ll burn stored fat, not glycogen.
To build mass, keep cardio to a minimum. Try not to exceed 30-40 minutes per session. Better yet, replace it with high intensity interval training (HIIT) or tabata. These training methods take just a few minutes and burn the most fat.
A typical tabata workout, for example, lasts only four minutes but leaves you breathless. It not only increases fat burning but also boosts your metabolism and improves body composition.
Steady state cardio “eats” muscle and increases the stress hormone cortisol levels. The more cortisol your body produces, the lower your testosterone levels. Low testosterone leads to muscle loss, weight gain, and fatigue.
HIIT has none of these side effects. It actually helps build and preserve muscle while improving exercise performance.
When designing you muscle building workout, remember to plan your cardio sessions. Depending on your goals and schedule, you have several options:
- Do cardio after weight training
- Alternate cardio and strength training days
- Replace cardio with 10-15 minutes of HIIT after weight lifting
- Skip aerobic exercise altogether
Ectomorphs looking to gain size should either skip cardio or keep it to a minimum. Their small body frame and thin bones make it harder to build mass. Additionally, they have a fast metabolism, so they’re naturally slim. Cardio should only be done for overall conditioning. One or two weekly sessions are more than enough.
Mesomorphs, on the other hand, tend to gain weight easily. In their case, cardio can help. HIIT is even better. Endomorphs are somewhere in between. How much cardio they need depends on their current weight and body composition.
Consider your body type your planning your workout. If you’re not concerned about body fat, start bulking up. This means heavy weights, few reps, and no cardio. Your diet should be high in calories, with large amounts of protein and carbs. Once you achieve the desired shape, add cardio to your routine and cut back on calories. This will help you lose fat and preserve muscle.
For hypertrophy, it’s recommended to stick to the 8-12 rep range. High reps increase your endurance but affect muscle growth. To build mass, heavy lifting should come first on your list. The heavier you lift, the fewer reps you can perform. Later, when you’re cutting you can slightly increase the number of reps along with workout intensity.
To get faster results, experiment with drop sets, giant sets, super sets, paused reps, partials, negatives, and other lifting methods. These are particularly effective for overcoming plateaus and shocking your muscles.
Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Training too much or too heavy, especially when you’re a beginner, will lead to catabolism and serious injuries. Remember, adequate rest is crucial for muscle growth and repair. The harder you work out, the more rest you need.