The real trick to packing on muscle involves knowing the key rules to implement and then following those guidelines consistently for a year. I know there are tons of exercises and machines you can do so it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just feel like lifting isn’t for you. I’m here to simplify that. I want to make this article very straight forward by listing the bullet points, and then how to create a plan that guarantees muscle.
- Stick to compound movements like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press, and rows. These hit every muscle in your body, and allow you to maximize muscle growth but using the most weight possible. Bicep, tricep, and shoulder workout isn’t needed unless you find it’s a weak body part holding you back from growing.
- A beginner starting out only needs 8-10 weekly sets of each muscle. Forget those articles showing you high volume workouts to “faster” results. It’s junk volume. The research has shown 8-10 sets is best. Again, you would only need more if you were no longer growing off this many sets.
- Split those sets up over 2-3 days. You don’t need a “back” day. What matters is weekly volume. So long as the total weekly volume is the same, the results will come. The science also shows 4-6 sets per muscle is the optimal amount of sets to maximize this signal. So there is no reason to do all 10-15 sets of chest exercises in one day. This is why we aren’t doing a body part split.
Now that we have the 3 key points to start, let’s see what a program might look like.
Frequency: 2-3x a week (keep 1-2 days of rest in between to recover)
Length: 3 week cycle with one week deload
Sets & Reps: 2-3 sets with 5-10 reps per exercise (rest up to 3 minutes between sets). You can go for a slightly higher rep range if you are including smaller muscle group work as I find smaller muscles do better in those ranges.
Day 1 -
Barbell Squats 3x5-10
Bench Press 3x5-10
Weight/Assisted Pull-ups 3x5-10
Barbell Curls 2x10-15
EZ Bar Skullcrushers 2x10-15
Day 2 -
Overhead Press 3x5-10
Seated Row 3x5-10
Dumbbell Shrugs 3x5-10
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 2x10-15
Day 3 (only if you aren’t sore and are recovering from Day 2)-
Romanian Deadlifts 3x5-10
Incline Bench 3x5-10
One Arm Dumbbell Row 3x5-10
Lateral Raises 3x10-15
Preacher Curls 2x10-15
Tricep Pushdowns 2x10-15
How to Progress
The overall goal is to add either more weight, or more reps week to week. This should be relatively easy when you are new to lifting, but you will hit a plateau at some point. When adding weight week to week slows down significantly I recommend a double progression.
Double Progression - Take a set rep range for a given exercise, and each week try and increase the reps until all sets hit the upper limit. Allows for continued progress when you can’t continually up the weight by 5lbs every week of linear method.
Week 1 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (let's say you hit 12,11,10 reps for each set)
Week 2 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,11)
Week 3 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,12)
At this point since you’ve hit all sets for the upper end, you can now up to 140 and repeat the cycle till you hit all sets for 12 reps again.
Changing Rep Ranges
Ideally you want to be phasing your workouts. That is, you’d focus on a rep range of mostly 5-10 (like above) for 4-6 weeks and then deload. Then the next 4-6 weeks maybe you’ll try similar exercises in the 10-12 rep range and deload again. Different rep ranges stimulate the muscles differently, allowing for a stimulus that causes growth in all forms. Also, make sure to be choosing a weight that allows you to hit whatever rep range you choose leaving 2-3 reps shy of technical failure.
As you try to add more weight, or do more reps week to week, your body should start to accumulate more and more fatigue to where you hit a point that you can’t beat last week's performance. The deload week is when you do half as many sets, and half as many reps but with the same weight you used on your final week. It allows your body to catch up to the accumulated volume you’ve placed on it for 4-6 weeks.
I promise you, if you follow these guidelines in CONJUNCTION with eating in a caloric surplus, you will put on size. Make sure to be eating enough protein, carbs, and fats to fuel your workouts and ensure you are kept in an anabolic state. This is usually only 200 calories above whatever your maintenance caloric intake is.
Any skinny client I’ve had that hasn’t hit their goals either 1) wasn’t eating enough (you most likely need 3500-4000 calories MINIMUM to grow) or 2) They didn’t track their performance in the gym, and even though they thought they were increasing in weight, it was really just fluctuating up and down based on how they felt that week so they never actually progressed. What gets measured gets improved! Make sure to record each week's numbers!