Weight Training Programs
That Build Muscle
|by JP CLIFFORD
- The Two Dominant Weight Training Philosophies
- Weight Training Exercises That Induce Big Muscle Gains
--> The Eight "Get Big" Exercises
- The Best Sets and Reps
- Progressive Overload: The Key To Gains
- Rest, Rest, and More Rest
- Putting The Muscle Building Weight Training Program Together
- More Factors...
--> Training Methods
--> Cardio and Abs?
Solid weight training programs are critical to accomplishing the build muscle and gain weight fast goal. It isn't enough to just walk into a gym and throw around some weights, not if you want to be successful in short order.
You must instead have a weight lifting program that is tailored to accomplishing your specific goal - to build muscle mass.
On this page, we will work through the many components that go into the design and implementation of weight training programs that demand muscle growth. It will be your attention and dedication to making each of these components strong that will allow them to come together and produce the muscle building results you are after.
As important as weight training programs are to success, it is also important to remember they are not the only important factor. There are three factors that contribute to building muscle mass - diet, training AND rest. All are equally critical to success. Fail to account for one factor and you will fail to maximize your muscle building capability.
When a solid weight gain diet is combined with a well-planned weight training program and sufficient rest, it can be a powerful force.
Without your diet supplying the raw materials your body needs to build muscle, all the hard work you do in the gym will be wasted. If you don't provide the body enough rest time with which to repair and rebuild muscle, all your weight training will be wasted.
The most common mistake beginner and intermediate trainers make in their mass gain approach is an over-emphasis on their weight training and an under-emphasis on their eating and rest.
A lot is made over weight training philosophies and you will not need to venture far in the bodybuilding world before encountering someone willing to argue to the death that the philosophy his or her weight training program is based on is the end-all, supreme, hands down best way to work out all the time with absolutely no exceptions.
When you meet this person, save yourself a lot of grief, smile politely, and walk away.
There are two dominant basic weight training philosophies:
- HIT - HIT is an acronym for High Intensity Training. HIT calls for the trainer to workout 1-3 times a week with full body single-set routines. These are to be short but very intense workouts. The basic prescription is 8-12 reps per set always done to failure. Each and every workout is expected to produce an increase in strength so that when performing your next workout you should either look to perform more reps with the same weight or the same number of reps with a greater weight.
- Periodization - Weight training programs based on this philosophy approach progressive overload in a different way. In a periodization program you may do light training for three weeks, followed by medium training for a few weeks and then do heavy training for the final cycle. Emphasis is not placed on achieving gains in every workout but rather on the cumulative gains after all phases. The basic idea is to change intensity and volume levels to prevent overtraining.
The above descriptions are brief and, in being brief, necessarily unfair to each philosophy. Each philosophy has much more to offer. In practice, they are much less strict then their presentation here. HIT, for example, in practice does indeed incorporate some variety in reps and sets which is essentially a form of periodization. The basic difference is that HIT recommends always doing high intensity workouts while periodization advocates cycling your intensity.
The most commonly employed mass gain weight training strategy used today is what is sometimes referred to as hardgainer training. In a sense, this is a hybrid of all the main philosophies. This site focuses on weight training programs using a version of hardgainer training that utilizes low volume, training splits and maximum intensity in an effort to build muscle fast.
The most common training regimen and the one most hardgainers (most people) seem to find the most productive for mass gain is a 3-day split training routine with each muscle group being worked just once per week. This is an excellent place to start.
For a look at the major muscle groups and the best weight lifting exercises to get them growing, complete with illustrations, basic descriptions, variations and tips to performing the exercises correctly, check the following page…
From the above pages we know that weight training programs designed to gain weight fast must focus on the compound weight lifting exercises. Compound exercises allow you to stimulate the most muscle fibers in the least amount of time. In other words, they give you the biggest bang for your buck. Performed correctly and at challenging resistance, the two most important compound weight lifting exercises are the squat for the legs and the bench press for the upper body.
|Eight "GET BIG" Exercises|
Calf Raises (Legs)
Bench Press (Chest)
Pull Ups (Back)
|Bench Dips (Arms)
Bicep Curls (Arms)
Military Press (Shoulders)
There are no fancy, complicated exercises requiring complicated or cool-looking gadgetry in the above table. Nothing above requires an advanced degree in exercise science to figure out. Muscle mass is built with the basics. It isn't built wasting time trying to hit each and every muscle with its own special exercise.
If you were forced onto a deserted island and could take only eight exercises, the weight lifting exercises above would be excellent choices. And when designing weight training programs, these are excellent choices (these or suitable alternatives) to include in all your weight training routines.
For the purposes of this site, I will divide the amount of reps done per weight lifting set into three categories: heavy, medium and light.
|# of Reps||Primary Objective|
|Heavy||1 - 6||Strength|
|Medium||7 - 12||Muscle Building (Bodybuilding)|
The numbers in the above table are general ranges. They are based on going to fatigue or failure (i.e. for an 8 rep set, the weight used results in the physical inability to perform a ninth rep due to muscle exhaustion).
For bodybuilding goals (muscle size), weight training programs should concentrate on medium sets where maximum hypertrophy (muscle growth) will occur. While this should be the emphasis, it isn't necessarily wise to use these rep ranges exclusively.
Working heavy and light set routines into your weight training program can be an effective technique to keep your muscles responsive and growing. These routines can provide a change-of-pace that will make follow-up medium set routines more effective (a periodization technique).
In addition, keep in mind that different muscle groups will sometimes respond better to different rep ranges. For example, the calves and abdominals often respond best to higher repetitions. Changing your rep range emphasis, whether making it heavier or lighter, can often help you break past stubborn plateaus.
Progressive overload is a simple concept, simply meaning that with each successive workout you increase the demands placed on the muscles. You do this by increasing the amount of weight lifted or by increasing the number of reps in the set.
You have to convince the body that it NEEDS to build muscle. To do this, you have to continuously push the envelope.
Doing 25 push-ups a day for a year is NOT encouraging the body to build muscle. It is instead encouraging the body to condition the muscle it already has in place. To get muscle growth you have to progressively increase resistance.
In order for weight training programs to help you gain muscle mass, they MUST utilize progressive overload in some manner. To learn more about progressive overload, hitting the right muscle fiber types and forcing your muscles to grow, check the Building Muscles article.
What a lot of beginner and even more advanced trainers have trouble grasping is the important role rest plays in building mass.
"Muscles Grow At Rest, Not In The Gym"
You will hear the above saying tossed about a lot in weight training circles. Learn what that means and PAY ATTENTION to what it is telling you.
|Trainer planning to build muscle
|Trainer actually building muscle
When you lift weights you are not actually building muscle, you are breaking muscle down. In the gym, you are essentially planning to build muscle. You are delivering the blueprints to the builder.
But the build isn't going to get done unless and until you've given the builder the appropriate time to complete the project.
Your body builds muscle while you are resting - while you are sleeping and while you are sprawled out on the couch watching DVDs. It is only when the body is not busy with keeping you functioning in some way that it will find the time to work on rebuilding the muscle tissue your training broke down.
If you want to build muscle, you must give the body the opportunity to do the building that your weight training programs encourage. Give the body insufficient rest time and you will get less than optimal results.
How much rest is sufficient will vary by individual but below are some guidelines that all but the most genetically gifted or chemically enhanced would be wise to adhere to....
- Muscle groups should be worked a MAXIMUM of twice a week if using splits and three times if using full-body routines. The more you work your muscles, the more you should look out for overtraining.
- Each workout should last a MAXIMUM of one hour, 50 minutes being preferable.
- There should be a MAXIMUM of 5 workouts per week.
- After a MAXIMUM of 8-12 weeks of continuous training, take a 1-2 week vacation from weight lifting.
The above are not optimal suggestions, just maximums that most trainers will be best served not to exceed. The trainer that works five days a week will not necessarily gain more muscle than the one who trains two.
If you are spending a maximum of 5 hours a week in the gym, what do you do for the other 163 hours of the week? You concentrate on eating and getting your rest. Again, quality dieting and quality rest will prove as important to your mass building goals as your weight training programs.
If you intend to become the guy with the impressive physique, you will have to learn to appreciate the importance of rest to the muscle building equation. For more on the value of rest and sleep, check the long-titled article, Adequate Rest to Avoid Overtraining & Increase Muscle Growth.
With an appreciation of what makes for good muscle building routines, a good idea of what you want to accomplish and how to accomplish it, the next step is deciding on your weight training routines. There are many bodybuilding routines available to you, on the net and in books. You can use them as they are, modify them to your capabilities and needs or design your own from scratch.
You are NOT trying to find a routine that will last you a lifetime but rather multiple routines that will work off of each other within your weight training programs. With time and the information gleaned from your tracking program you will get an idea of the weight training routines that are most effective for you.
Don't place undue emphasis on the routines. Your success at building muscle and gaining weight fast will be dependent on many factors of which the routines you use are just one. Along those lines, check out this...
Use the above bodybuilding tips as a tool to evaluate your weight training programs. It can help identify the areas where your program may be weak and therefore limiting your gains.
The more proven bodybuilding techniques you learn and apply, the bigger and better results you can expect. The basics to the successful mass building weight training program are above, but there is much more that can help you gain muscle below...
- Intensity - Maximum intensity is simply giving everything you have. It is complete focus, complete confidence. It is putting every ounce of effort into each lift and putting a weight down only when you have nothing left to give. It is holding nothing back, saving nothing for later. It is always pushing for more.
To build muscle you must workout with intensity. Your goal is to convince your body that it NEEDS to add muscle mass. You can kid yourself but you can't fool your body. Your body knows exactly what you have left in the tank and if you consistently leave a set with more muscle to give, it isn't going to see a need to build more muscle for you to waste.
Intensity isn't about how loud you grunt. The only quantifiable measurement of it comes in the results you attain. It can be a dramatic difference-maker. It is the difference between minimum and maximum gains. It is the reason that the gym's socialites look the same month after month, year after year. And it is the reason that once skinny guy who ignored everyone blew up so quickly.
You should never take intensity for granted. No trainer ever masters intensity, there is always room for improvement.
When your progress slows, take a look at increasing the intensity of your weight training programs. For some tips, check the Mental Bodybuilding Techniques article.
- Weight Training Routine Methods - Methods are the way you attack your muscles. Everything from a single-set routine to more advanced intensity building methods. Check the following page...
Muscle Building Methods for Workout Routines
On the above page, single-set, multiple-set, pyramid, superset and some more advanced weight training methods are discussed. All these methods can be very effective in putting more weight and muscle on your body.
The most important thing to remember is to not fall in love with one weight training routine. If you're looking for love, fall in love with the squat but just date weight training routines for four to eight weeks (or until your progress slows) and then move on. After a while, you can go back to your favorite.
Forward pyramid or reverse pyramid weight training may be the methods you are using when your tracking program shows the greatest results but if you fail to adequately keep the body from acclimating by using a variety of methods within your weight training programs, you will fail to maximize your gains.
- Split Weight Training Routines - Splitting the body's muscles up into different groups and then working each group on a different day is a time-tested bodybuilding technique.
Utilized correctly in weight training programs, splits allow for more exercises to be performed for each muscle group and therefore the targeted muscle groups can be stressed greater. This is done while keeping the while keeping the bodybuilding workouts short and effective.
Take a look at this page for more on splits including some samples...
Split Weight Training Routines
There are many possibilities when deciding on splits. Changing the way you split your routines from time to time will benefit your bodybuilding as different splits will stress the body in different ways.
- Weight Training Tempo - Tempo is the speed at which you perform your lifts. Different tempos will stress the body in different ways and prevent it from adapting. For more on weight training tempo as well as information on rest intervals and breathing, go to the following page:
Weight Training: The Importance of Tempo
To build muscle, it is important to concentrate on the eccentric (lowering) portion of your exercises. This portion of an exercise creates the most small tears in the muscle fibers which have to be rebuilt by the body. The tears are rebuilt to be stronger in order to withstand the newfound stresses you are placing on them. The more tears, the more rebuilding, the more muscle.
- Change - Whether you call it cycling, periodization or just different stuff, your weight training should radically change every four to eight weeks or as needed. Your body will acclimate itself to the stress you put on it and once acclimated, progress will slow or stop completely. Remember, the body sees no need for the extra muscle you want to put on it.
If the body becomes familiar and comfortable with the bodybuilding workouts you put it through, regardless of how intense they may be, it will not take them seriously. It will not see them as reasons to continue growing because it has already conditioned itself to handle the same workout. Your muscles react best to unusual stress and it is up to you to keep subjecting them to new challenges.
For a chart of what changes and when to make them within weight training programs, go here: Changing Up Weight Training Routines Chart.
- Warming Up and Stretching - If you want to maximize your bodybuilding workouts, maximize the potential of your weight training programs, it is essential that you don't neglect warming up and stretching.
What does warming-up and stretching do for you?
- Gets the blood flowing, the body temperature up = allows the body to perform better.
- Gets fluids to the joints = prevents injury
- Opens capillaries to the muscles = provides essential nutrients to muscles
- Increases flexibility = better range of motion for more muscle recruitment
- Stretches connective tissue = creates space for muscles to grow into
- Reduces post-workout soreness = allows you to come back and hit muscles again sooner
Before a workout, do the following in order:
- Five minutes of a light aerobic exercise. This can be stationary bike riding, jumping rope or jogging in place. Anything to just raise the body temperature a bit (you don't want to make this a workout all to itself).
- Stretch. Do your stretching after warming up - the muscles will stretch better when warm.
- What About Cardio and Abs? Cardiovascular training is vitally important to your health. It is also in direct conflict to your goal to gain weight and build muscle mass. Cardio work eats up the calories you need to build muscle. Weight training programs are most effective with defined and narrow goals (for more on this, check out The Weight Gain Plan (Pt. 2)).
Weight training programs designed to gain weight fast should put cardio training on the back-burner as much as possible. Gaining mass isn't a lifetime project (or, at least, it won't be if done right). As you gain mass and close in on your goals or your genetic potential, you will change your focus to cutting and maintenance training. For this training, cardio work will play a major role.
Abs conflict with weight training programs designed to gain mass in a different way. Ab training should not be ignored or limited like cardio work while trying to gain mass. Instead it should be hit hard. Abs are an important muscle group and strong abs will aid in your quest to build a bigger body.
However, you aren't likely to see the eye-pleasing results (the legendary six-pack) for all your hard work while on a weight training program designed to gain mass. In these programs your goal is to build muscle and your diet is designed to provide the increased nutrition which will allow you to do this, not to get your body fat levels down to the levels where your abs will ripple (see Eating to Gain Weight: Concerns About Body Fat).
The results of your ab work will start to show when you get your body fat levels below 10%. This will come when you design your weight training programs to lower your body fat levels.
Again (and again and again), do not try to multi-task your physique-changing goals. Bodybuilding will not lend itself well to this method. Do one thing at a time and you will get where you want to go much faster.
Sound like a lot to absorb?
For experienced trainers, the basics of weight training programs to build mass become second nature. For beginners and intermediates, however, understanding and correctly applying all there is to solid muscle building strategy can be a daunting task.
There are an infinite number of ways to stray off course and end up limiting your gains. That's why I recommend that the beginner as well as the more experienced but frustrated trainer seek some guidance, either from a qualified personal trainer or through one of the top online muscle building programs.
Doing things the right way doesn't take any more time than doing them the wrong way but it produces measurably better results.
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