Muscle mass building also called training for hypertrophy is a form of resistance training which purpose is to increase lean muscle mass in the human body.
As you know from muscle building basics, to make muscles grow you have to stimulate them. The best form of stimulation is lifting weights. However to maximize the results, achieve the fastest possible growth of muscle tissue, you have to follow special rules – they are called training principles.
1. Use free weights
If you want to build muscle mass you have to forget about the machines for minimum one or even two years.
Many beginners think than fancy machines are the most effective tools for building muscle however it’s completely opposite. Free weights – barbell and dumbbells are the best equipment you can find in a gym to get bigger.
To build muscle mass in the fastest and most effective way we want to recruit during single exercise as many muscle fibres of trained body part as possible.
For example: during machine shoulder press, the weight can go only up or down but when you do the same exercise with dumbbells or barbell you have to stabilize the weight to not fall in front of you or behind. Basically, more muscles are working.
2. Perform compound exercises
Compound exercises are the best for building muscle mass and strength. Compound means that they are multi-joint movements, which recruit more than one muscle group at the time. They increase the productions of anabolic hormones by our body:
Examples of compound exercises:
The ability of lifting heavy weight during these movements makes them the best choice of exercises whether we train for mass, strength or fat loss.
3. Train mostly in standing position
Probably you’ve seen many videos of bodybuilders training seated. There will be time for that, but at the moment you should train mostly in standing position, of course except exercises like bench press, etc.
Why? The same reason as in first two principles above – more muscles is involved. When standing, your legs and your core have to stabilize the whole body. More muscles recruited – bigger release of anabolic hormones and therefore bigger growth.
4. Training frequency
When you’ll past the beginning phase of bodybuilding where we train all our muscles in one session, we’ll divide them into few groups:
We will train each body part in different day (maybe two or three at the time). It’s called a split. For example:
- Monday – Chest and Back,
- Wednesday – Legs and Abs,
- Friday – Shoulders and Arms.
Each muscle group needs min. 48 hours to regenerate. So don’t train the same muscles every day. If they won’t regenerate, they won’t grow. That’s why ideal training frequency for each body part is once per week or at least every 3-5 days.
5. Amount of sets
Many bodybuilding magazines advise to do minimum 12 sets per body part or even up to 16. This is far too much. For the intermediate lifter the right number of sets is around 6-9 per muscle group. The truth is that it depends from an experience:
- Beginner – 3 sets is enough,
- Intermediate – 6-9 sets,
- Advanced lifters – between 12-16 sets.
This doesn’t mean that if you start to do 16 sets for each muscle group as a beginner, you will grow faster or bigger. It works opposite. Such a high volume at the start will damage muscle fibres too much what will stop the growth completely or even reverse it. Furthermore you’ll not be able to increase the volume later on, when you’ll need extra stimulation to keep muscles growing.
Very important aspect of muscle mass building (hypertrophy) is the tempo. We can divide each exercise on 3 parts:
- positive – when pressing barbell up during bench press for example,
- static – holding the barbell on fully extended hands above your chest,
- negative – bringing it back to your chest.
When pressing barbell up (positive phase), do it fast but under control, about 1 second up, try to use your chest muscles during this movement.
When you get to the top you have to pause for 1 second (static phase) and squeeze your chest as hard as you can.
Now, the most important part: the negative phase has the most impact on muscle growth. It must be done slower (2 seconds down) – bring barbell back to your chest keeping your muscles contracted.
It will be difficult for you or even not possible to tense or ‘feel’ your muscles during exercise if you are a beginner but be focus and keep trying. Imagine that you are tensing them. It’s called ‘mind – muscle connection’ and once you’ll master this technique your results will be much better.
7. Full range of motion
Always perform exercises with a full range of motion. It causes the recruitment of more muscle fibres, increases the amount of work you do and improves your flexibility.
If you do only the part of repetitions, you may develop only part of your muscle.
8. Proper technique
Every exercise has to be done with a proper technique. Otherwise you will injure yourself or stop the progress completely. If your form breaks down during the set, probably you are using too heavy weight. If you don’t know the right technique, ask somebody to show you or find the guide in our exercise section. Try to learn it with a very light weigh. Once you’ll get to know how to perform exercises correctly and can do recommended number of repetitions, start adding weight.
Don’t hold your breath during exercises. Keep breathing or you might faint; get a hernia or a massive sore head. Of course there is the proper way to do it.
During pressing exercises like bench press, military press, etc.: exhale when pressing barbell up, inhale when lowering the weight. With pulling exercises like row or pull-up is opposite: exhale when you pull the weight, inhale when you lower it. Generally inhale while lowering, exhale when pulling/pressing.
10. Rest between sets
For maximum hypertrophy rest between sets should be around 60 seconds – maximum 120. The heavier the weight, the more time you need to rest. I know that it might be difficult at the start but you will get used to it.
This principle is very important. Too long breaks between sets might cause workout to be ineffective. Don’t rest more than 2 minutes.
11. Repetition range
Generally in bodybuilding we train between 20-1 repetitions, however optimal repetition range to build muscles is from 12 – 6.
Usually you start with a weight that you can lift 12 times, then add more weight, lift about 10 times, add again and lift maybe 8 or six times. It’s called the pyramid scheme.
12. The intensity
To make muscles grow you have to use right weight. This is called the intensity. If the weight is too light or too heavy the workout will be ineffective.
Usually we use moderate weigh – between 65% and 85% of maximum weight we can lift once or simply the load which allows us to do at least 6 repetitions and no more than 12.
The most important factor in successful, permanent growth of muscle tissue is constant progress. In other words – to keep muscles growing we have to continuously increase the load. So once you are able to perform recommended numbers of repetitions with a proper technique, try to add more weight to the bar on your next session.
If you train with the same load for the whole year you’ll not grow. It’s a waste of time. If you simply can’t add more weight in a prolonged period of time change your program into strength training routine like GetStrong workout. You’ll become so strong that after 12 weeks you’ll be doing speed work or a warm-up with a weight you’ve trained before.
14. Workout time
Bodybuilding workouts should be short and intense. Testosterone’s level is dropping after about 45-50 minutes of weight training. That’s why I would strongly advise you to not lift weights for longer than that. Besides, if you train hard, take proper resting time between sets and don’t talk too much during session, you will be out of the gym in an hour.
15. Shock your muscles
Our muscles adapt to the same routines, exercises and loads very quickly. Once they’ll adapt they stop to grow and we are not getting any bigger or stronger. That’s why you should shock them from time to time by using different exercises, reversing their order and increasing the load as often as you can.
- descending sets
- forced repetitions
- cheated repetitions
- reverse pyramiding, etc.
16. Major body parts before small
Always start your workout from the biggest muscle group that you are going to train this day. For example: if you train chest and biceps in the same day start from chest first, which is bigger muscle and then do the smaller one after – biceps.
17. Exercise order
The same rule applies to exercise order: compound exercises first – like squat – and then some isolated – like leg extensions or leg curls. The reason: you want to lift the heaviest possible weight at the beginning of your training, when you are the strongest. More weight = more muscles.
Never ever skip a warm-up. You can injure yourself and not be able to train for a months. Anyway, cold muscles won’t lift as heavy weight as warm so you won’t be training at your full capacity. That’s it. For a warm-up do about 10 minutes of moderate cardio like stationary bike, treadmill, maybe skipping rope, punch bag or whatever you like. The choice is up to you as long as you will start to sweat. After that, do some dynamic stretching and 1-2 sets with a light weight for muscles you will train this day.
You must stretch your muscles to achieve optimal growth, besides longer muscles are bigger. You might not know but most of professional body builders are very flexible. Mariusz Pudzianowski – the 5 times World Strongest Man can do a split. Think about Jean Claude Van Damme, how flexible and well-built he was.
I would apply some stretching after finishing certain muscle group or at the end of the workout, as a ‘cool down‘. Let’s say you were training back and triceps the same day, stretch this muscles straight after you’ll finish the last set (around 5 minutes, no longer).
20. Don’t neglect the cardio
Cardiovascular training – so called cardio – is very important during hypertrophy cycle. It doesn’t serve us only to burn fat but also develops our cardiovascular system (heart, veins and capillaries) which pumps blood to the muscles and also transport nutrients and remove toxins from them.
Many people perform cardio on a stationary bike, treadmill or other equipment at the gym after weight training. Some prefer to do cardio on a separate day in a form of jogging. I think the best option is to simply play basketball, football or other sport of choice once a week with your friends. It’s more entertaining and healthier to exercise outside.
So here is once again the list of the main muscle building training principles:
- Use free weights most of the time – barbells and dumbbells.
- Focus on compound exercises – squat, deadlift, press, etc.
- Train mostly in standing position.
- Each body part once a week.
- Perform around 9 sets for main muscle groups.
- Remember about the tempo – slow down when lowering the weight.
- Always go through full range of motion.
- Use correct technique for the proper development and to avoid injury.
- Breathe throughout exercise.
- Rest around 60 seconds between sets (no more than 2 min.).
- Do around 12-6 repetitions in each set.
- Use moderate weight – ~65%-85% of 1RM.
- Increase the weight over time – your muscles won’t grow otherwise.
- Don’t train longer than 1 hour at the time.
- Shock your muscles sometimes by changing workouts, exercises, etc.
- Start workout from the biggest muscle groups, than train smaller.
- The heaviest, compound exercises first. Easier, isolation ones after.
- Don’t skip the warm-up.
- Stretch your muscles after each training session.
- Do some cardio like jogging or playing sports once a week.
Hypertrophy Cycle is only the part of bodybuilding training, however the most important one. This is when we notice the biggest growth of the muscle tissue but we won’t always train this way.
To make muscles grow throughout longer period of time we have to focus also on strength training or strength cycle where we train a little bit different. Besides becoming stronger, this form of weight training highly contributes to muscle growth itself.
Once we develop satisfactory amount of muscle mass and strength we may want to burn some fat to ‘uncover’ our musculature. To do this we should start fat burning cycle (cutting).
Don’t try to memorize all these rules. Each of our workouts contains the guide about the way of training so you can’t really go wrong.
There will be a time in bodybuilding, when we’ll be breaking all these rules, well maybe except the warm-up. We’ll do partial repetitions, reverse an exercise order and train in different repetition range. However it will be done sporadically and only by advanced lifters.
For now, if you want to successfully build muscle mass and hope for the long term results without injuries and the frustrating lack of progress, stick to above training principles. You’ll become bigger, stronger and more confident. With a right nutrition you’ll develop musculature beyond the level you’ve ever imagined, impress others and save loads of time and money on learning from your own mistakes.
Make sure also to subscribe so you will never miss any important information about building muscle, new workouts or different training methods.