I remember it vividly.
I was probably around 6 or 7 years old watching The Terminator on TV (remember that opening scene? Of course you do). And then I saw Arnold for the first time. I was shocked. I couldn’t wrap my head around the size of this man’s body. Huge pecs and arms so big you’d think he walked straight out of a comic book. But no. This guy was the real thing.
Arnold opened my eyes to what was humanly possible. As fascinated as I was, that was never the type of physique I wanted. I never wanted to be a bodybuilder. From a very young age, however, I aspired to have a lean, muscular body. So I plunged into this fitness universe looking for answers.
Having played around with every training program you can think of for the last 15+ years, I now know what works and what doesn’t. With that said, nothing works unless you do.
You need to be willing to work hard if you ever want to be above average. You need to embrace discomfort and battle past pain and fatigue. Hard work alone won’t cut it though. If your goal is to build as much muscle as possible (without resorting to steroids), you need to start training smarter.
1. Make compound movements the foundation of your routine
Focus on movements that simultaneously hit multiple muscle groups, like the bench press, push and pull ups, horizontal pulls (my favorite back builder), squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, shoulder presses, handstand push-ups, you get the point. Multi-joint exercises will always be superior to single joint isolation work (i.e. biceps curls) for stimulating growth.
2. Progressively overload your muscles
Maximize the mechanical stress on your muscle by incrementally increasing the weight and/or the number of repetitions you perform. If you use the same weight, or the same number of reps session after session, you’re not giving your body a reason to adapt, to grow bigger and stronger. Strive to increase the load you use every time you train. To build muscle you must get stronger. There’s no way around it.
3. Do not limit yourself to heavy resistance training
Heavy resistance training is the way to go if you want to build muscle fast. The pure strength focus of popular powerlifting routines, however, is suboptimal for triggering muscular hypertrophy (=growth).
Do not restrict yourself to one form of training, or one particular rep scheme. Use all the tools at your disposal. I grew like a Belgian Blue adding high rep work (15-25 rep sets) to my training. The heavy strength training I had been focusing on for years was insufficient for stimulating maximum growth.
If you do decide to increase the number of repetitions, don’t just go through the motions.
4. Make those reps count
Focus on contracting the muscle, not on moving the weight during your sets. Contract and squeeze the muscle with every rep.
“But high rep training only works for enhanced athletes.”
Wrong. For maximum musle growth you need to combine heavy resistance training in the low to moderate rep ranges with higher rep “pump” work.
Set up your workouts around heavy multi-joint movements and add a few exercises of high rep work. Make sure you add a little resistance or that one extra rep every time you set foot inside the gym, your garage, the park or wherever you train. 1-2 heavy compound movements and 2-4 high rep exercises per session is what I recommend. Aim for 4-6 exercises per session.
5. Don’t train every day
“How often should I train to build as much muscle as possible?”
This is highly individual. Some of you will get away with 5 workouts a week, others might be burning out with more than 3 intense sessions. I wouldn’t recommend hitting the gym more than 4 times a week. Making sure your recovery is on point, is critical for optimum growth.
Don’t hit the gym 7 days a week if maximum size is your main objective. Your body needs time to rebuild damaged fibers and synthesize new tissue. This happens at rest, not during exercise.
Give yourself at least 2-3 days of down time during the week. You’ll be stronger when you hit the gym and your body will have more reserves to adequately respond to the training stimulus. Learn to tell the difference between a bad day at the gym and your body calling for a time out (read this).
6. Train. Hard.
Challenge yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough. Training at some point must be uncomfortable, painful even.
Since you won’t be training every day, I want you to go hard when you do step inside the gym. If you’re unwilling to leave your comfort zone and put in the necessary work, you might as well forget about building muscle. Find a new hobby.
Bonus round: Track your workouts for steady progress
You now know how to train for maximum growth. But how do you make sure you keep improving over the weeks, months and years to come?
Enter the log book.
I strongly recommend you use a training log to track your workouts and progress (or lack thereof). This will give you an idea of the efficiency of your routine. Weights and reps going up steadily? You’re on your way. Stuck at a bench press plateau for weeks? Time to reassess your routine.
Always strive to beat your former best. But don’t lose your mind if it can’t be done every time you hit the gym (I keep telling myself this). Try to learn from subpar training experiences and make the necessary adjustments.
Ultimately, you need to introduce a muscle-building stimulus of sufficient magnitude. There’s no way around it. If you want to keep building muscle, especially as an advanced lifter, your training must signal the body the need for growth and adaptation.
Training for maximum muscle growth:
• Focus on compound movements
• Progressively overload the muscle
• Incorporate hypertrophy (“pump”) work
• Maximize intensity
• Don’t overtrain
Training is only one piece of the puzzle. Read on to learn how to eat for muscle and strength. I’ll talk to you soon.
Thank you for reading