*Note: Always consult a physician before starting any exercise regimen. Opinions expressed in this article should not be considered medical advice
For many of us, including myself, this year has caused us to turn inward, leaning into routine, habit, and health. Regardless, if one of your goals during the winter months is to put on some quality muscle mass and strength, this is the program for you.
This program centers around a few basic principles.
First, it is built around heavy, compound movements that are known to build mass and strength quickly and efficiently. Second, it is assumed that on this program, you will be eating at or above maintenance level calories, as to truly add mass you need to be eating more calories than you use.
Training for Mass
As said before, the primary factor influencing the gains you make will be your nutrition. However, to get the most out of your off-season, you have to stimulate the body to grow.
Stick with the big, multi-joint compound movements that induce the maximum possible hormonal and growth response from your body.
Best Exercises for Mass:
The most important part of whatever training program you use, is simply that every day that you train, that you push yourself harder than you did yesterday. Add weight, rest less, do it blindfolded - the key to progress is to consistently challenge yourself.
Another very important factor in muscle growth is the “negative” or eccentric portion of the lift. It is a proven fact that you will build a significant amount more muscle by focusing on the “stretch” portion of the lift rather than the lift itself. What I do is go explosive on the way up, and stretch on the way down. Check the ego at the door and focus on time under tension, a hard contraction at the top, and a long steady stretch on the way down.
- Incline Bench Press - 4 x 6 (heavy)
- Flat Dumbell Bench - 4 x 12
- Forward Leaning Dip - 3 x 15
- Cable Fly 3 x 20
- Pushups - Bodyweight x 100 total reps
- Cable Fly 3 x 20
- Flat Barbell Bench 5 x 5 (heavy)
- Incline DB Bench 4 x 12
- Stretch Incline DB Flies 3 x 10
- Dips - BW x 50 Total Reps
- Deadlift 4 x 8 (heavy)
- Wide Grip Pull-Ups BW x 4 sets to failure
- Close Grip Seated Cable Rows 3 x 15
- Rope Straight Arm Press Downs 3 x 12
- Seated Dumbell Shrugs 3 x 12 (Light weight, talking 30 or 40lb dumbells and slow movements with a hard contraction at the top)
- Barbell Row 4 x 8 (heavy)
- Wide Grip Pull-Down 3 x 15
- Hammer Strength/Machine Row of Choice 3 x 12
- Rope Face Pulls 3 x 12
- Wide Grip Straight Arm Pressdowns 3 x 10
- Standing Overhead Press 3 x 10
- Seated Incline Lateral Raise 3 x 12
- Seated DB Press 3 x 15
- Javelin Press 3 x 10 each side
- 10lb Plate Lateral Raises 3 x Failure
- Seated DB Press 4 x 6 (heavy)
- DB Lateral Raise 3 x 8 (heavy)
- Hammer Strength Shoulder Press 3 x 12
- Seated Arnold Press 3 x 10
- Cable Lateral Raise 3 x 15
- Barbell Back Squat 5 x 5 (heavy)
- Straight Leg Deadlift 3 x 10
- Walking Lunges BW x 3 x 20
- Lying Leg Curl 3 x 12
- Leg Press 3 x 15
- Leg Press Calf Raises 3 x 12 (12 solid reps, with a 3 second negative and a 3 second hold at the top. After 12, do 30 seconds of partial reps. Don't count the reps, simply count to 30. Then, hold the stretch at the bottom for 30 seconds. That's one set. You will be sore as fuck.)
- Front Squat 3 x 8 (heavy)
- Hack Squat 3 x 15
- Goblet Squat 3 x 20
- Seated Leg Curl 3 x 12
- Leg Extension 3 x 20
- Seated Calf Raises 3 x 12 (12 solid reps, with a 3 second negative and a 3 second hold at the top. After 12, do 30 seconds of partial reps. Don't count the reps, simply count to 30. Then, hold the stretch at the bottom for 30 seconds. That's one set. You will be sore as fuck.)
- Close Grip Chin Ups 4 x Failure
- Close Grip Bench Press 4 x 6 (heavy)
- Seated Close Grip EZ Bar Curls 3 x 12 (These are done on the bench you would do seated shoulder presses on, or a high incline)
- Rope Tricep Pushdowns 3 x 12
- DB Hammer Curls (Across body) 3 x 12
- DB Triceps Overhead Press (One Arm) 3 x 12 (slow negative)
- DB Curl 4 x 6 (heavy)
- Skullcrushers 4 x 6 (heavy)
- Concentration Curl 3 x 12
- Tricep Dips 4 x Failure
- Preacher Curl 3 x 12
- One Arm Rope Pushdown 3 x 15
So, as you can see, each day has 2 workouts. Cycle through the workouts in any order you want, as long as you take 2 days off per week. They can be consecutive or not, the choice is yours. The idea is that we combine powerlifting and bodybuilding principles to both build neural connections that improve strength, as well as flood the muscle with blood.
All reps should be done in a controlled manner, with a slow negative, and explosive on the way up.
For those looking to gain mass, a good rule of thumb is to multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 15-18 and then add 500 calories.
For example, if you weigh 200lbs, you can multiply this by 15 to get 3000 calories. Simply add 500 cals to this, and you have 3500 calories to start.
As far as macronutrient breakdown, generally the most effective amount of protein for building mass is between .5-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Personally, I am a fan of less total protein and more fats or carbs depending on the type of diet you follow. It is hard to quickly put on mass without carbohydrates, although I personally am a big fan of carnivore and keto style diets.
In the case of our 200lb person, they would be eating roughly 180-200g of protein per day, and around 400g of carbs, with the rest coming from fat. However, I personally like to keep fat higher and carbs lower. What's important with carbohydrates as well is timing - try to concentrate most of your carb intake to first thing in the morning and around your workout. This is when your body is most insulin sensitive and will make the most out of the carbs you give it.
First Things First - Diet
YES, lifting weights is an effective stimulus to trigger muscle growth. However, like a crew trying to build a house with no bricks, you have to supply the right building blocks to your body - then your training will dictate where those building blocks are “sent” to repair muscle damaged during weight lifting.
So, the single most important factor to your success in packing on the mass is your diet. Simply put, you need to eat more calories than your body burns. Furthermore, the quality, timing, and nutrient density of those calories will determine the quality of the progress you can make, as well as how fast you can make it.
Basal Metabolic Rate
This is a common question. A good way to start is to determine someone’s BMR or basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories this body burns in a sedentary state. Basically, how many calories would they burn sitting on their ass all day?
To find out, go here:
On the right, there is a chart corresponding to different activity levels. Depending on a person’s daily activity level, the basal metabolic rate will be higher or lower.
Now, this number is a “break even point”. If a person eats less calories than this, they will lose weight (assuming the quality of the calories being consumed is not complete trash). If they eat more calories than this, they will gain weight (again there are other factors, but the point is that there needs to be a caloric surplus for the body to have the energy and resources to build new muscle tissue).
A common strategy is to simply add 500 calories to this number. Lets say the BMR of a person was 3000 calories. They would simply add 500, to 3500, and start her for their daily caloric intake.
If It Fits Your What?
Bare with me here, we’re going to do some math.
For bodybuilders, there are many opinions on what the most “optimal” blend of macronutrients or “macros” is. For building muscle, a common breakdown is called “40/40/20”
This means that 40% of calories come from protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 20% from fat.
So, for our 3500 calories per day it would look like:
3500 * .40 = 1400 calories from Protein
3500 * .40 = 1400 calories from Carbohydrates
3500 * .20 = 700 calories from Fat
Remember, a calorie is simply the unit of measurement of the heat energy produced by the body in breaking down food.
1g of Protein = 4 Calories
1g of Carbohydrates = 4 Calories
1g of Fat = 9 Calories
So, that brings us to:
1400 calories / 4 = 350g Protein
1400 calories / 4 = 350g Carbs
700 calories / 9 = 78g Fat
Divide these numbers by the number of meals you eat each day, and you have the target goal for each meal.
What are the best foods for gaining muscle?
The less processed, the better.
Here are some of the best muscle gaining foods:
Hormone Free Chicken
Cage Free Eggs
Wild Caught Salmon
Whole Milk or Greek Yogurt
White Jasmine Rice
Grass Fed Butter
I enjoy finding meals that I can cook easily and enjoy eating, and eat them consistently. Experiment with what works for you and get into a groove.
Supplements for Mass Gain
There are a few supplements you can take that will give you an advantage in gaining muscle.
The first and most obvious are “mass gainers”.
Mass gainers are food supplements that provide extra nutrients to help you reach your daily calorie and macronutritional goals.
They are great for ectomorphic body types, or those who have a hard time gaining. For those who easily put on fat, powdered mass gainers are not recommended.
With mass gainers, nutrient timing is of utmost importance. The two best times to take mass gainer are when your body is most insulin sensitive and ready to SLAM nutrients into the muscle cell. These two times are first thing in the morning after you wake up, and directly after intense training.
If you are having trouble getting enough protein, we highly recommend Gold Standard Protein.
Stress and Rest
It is very important to get adequate rest while following this program. Also, do your best to manage external stress, as stress causes high levels of adrenaline which is catabolic - it can burn both muscle and fat. I suggest a supplement like Glaxon Serenity to help with stress levels. It contains adaptogens and mushroom extracts that lower cortisol and stress hormones and can optimize your results.
Practices like yoga and meditation are also highly effective in eliminating stress. They can also improve the rest of your life, by helping you become more present and self aware. When practiced, it will carry over into every area of your life and help with inner peace, stress, and emotional management. To get started meditating, simply sit still in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Focus on the coolness of the air going in as you breathe in, and it's warmth as you exhale. Stay on the 'edge' of the present moment as you follow the breath. One 'rep' is when you stray from your breathing and wander into thoughts, then return to the breath.
For more supplement recommendations, check out The Top Supplements for Gaining Muscle in 2021.