Why is muscle building so hard? Why are we still caught up on how many sets and reps to perform? Which exercises are the best? How many supplements we need to take to build bigger biceps?
It’s because there are too many options. Too many options confuse people, which is why I prefer simplicity.
Here’s the best piece of advice you’ll ever get on muscle building: start from somewhere.
Start somewhere, even if it’s in the wrong place. Who cares. You’ll learn from your mistakes.
“Oh, but I don’t want to waste time.”
You’ll waste more time sitting there trying to figure out what to do. So instead, go do something, write it down, analyze it, and then take the necessary steps to fix it. If you’re getting results from what you’re doing, then don’t change anything.
But if you need a place to start, then start from 3. 3 seems to be the magic number in most muscle building routines. Do 3 sets of a movement, then move onto a different movement.
1 – How many Reps?
Reps are where things get tricky, because the optimal rep range for building muscle is 6 to 15 repetitions. Yup. So you can go heavy or moderate weight.
Your best bet is to choose a weight and stick to that weight until you can perform 15 repetitions. Once you hit 15 repetitions, move onto a heavier weight and stick to it until you get stronger.
This way, you get stronger AND bigger.
2 – 10-Minute Muscle
I recently wrote about the 10-minute muscle building technique. The technique is a great way to do a whole bunch of sets without worrying about sets. Because sometimes you need more then 3 sets.
However, the 10-minute technique should only be used for one major movement within a workout. I’ll go even as far as saying that you should only use it for one movement per training program.
So you can specialize. For the first month, use it for squats. For the second month, use it for the bench press, etc. The idea is to choose one major lift per month and focus on doing as many sets for that lift within the 10 minute period.
3 – Super Sets
Super sets tend to work really well for muscle building. I’ve actually started to use super sets when trying to build muscle mass, and circuit training when focusing on fat loss. This simple change works really well.
The best way to perform super sets is to alternate between opposing muscle groups. So you can pair your exercises in the following manner:
- Upper Body/Lower Body
4 – Muscle Building Complex
A muscle building complex is where you string together a bunch of movements that flow well together and perform them for a few repetitions. There are complexes that involves performing just 1 repetition per movement, and others that involve doing 6 repetitions per movement.
Complexes take your workout to a whole different level. You’re able to train a lot of muscles in a very short period of time, making them an amazing muscle building technique. A technique that very few muscle building programs include.
You can do complexes with Kettlebell, Barbells, or Dumbbells. I love Kettlebell training, so here’s a great Kettlebell complex:
- Kettlebell Clean x 6 reps
- Kettlebell Front Squat x 6 reps
- Kettlebell Press x 6 reps
- Kettlebel Row x 6 reps
- Kettlebell Swing x 6 reps
- Rest 1 minute, and repeat 2 more times
You can also do this same complex with dumbbells. To do it with a Barbell, replace the swing with a romanian deadlift.
Use a weight that you can use for your weakest lift, but that is still challenging.
To make the workout more challenging, try and complete more rounds.
5 – Use Free Weights
Hands down, free weights are the best way to build massive amounts of muscle and strength. With free weights, you actually feel like you’re working out. Bodyweight is great too, however they may not be the QUICKEST way to build lean muscle mass.
Machines are just too awkward and do not teach your body to move in a natural and full range of motion. I’m usually too short for most machines. The only “machine” I recommend is cables, which allow you to move through a natural range of motion, and allow for quick adjustments in weight.
Free weights add in an element of balance and control, forcing your entire body to be engaged behind a single lift. Hence, you could be training more muscle then you know, while performing movements such as squats and lunges.
In addition, free weights are relatively inexpensive. You can do hundreds of movements with just a barbell or pair of dumbbells. Most machines are only made for one or two movements. Cables are usually too expensive for home gyms.
6 – Train your Legs
It’s amazing how many people just train their upper body. First of all, you’ll look funny if you have a huge torso with skinny legs. Most guys who focus only on arms and chest are shaped like this.
Second, you’re missing a huge muscle-building component here! Two of the most important hormones for muscle building are Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone (HGH). These two are released when training the maximum amount of muscle.
And whats the biggest muscle group in your body? Your legs. So every time your squat and deadlift, you’re increasing the muscle building percentage of your body. Any muscle building program that places more emphasis on your biceps then your legs is useless!
7 – Compound Movements
So if working your legs releases a lot of Testosterone and HGH, then it’s quite obvious that all compound movements will as well, right? True. And there are many more reasons why compound movements are superior for muscle building than isolation movements.
One other key reason is because you’ll save time! Instead of training using 10-12 exercise to train your entire body, you can get the job done with just 4 movements! Then you can go and get on with the rest of your day!
8 -Full Body Workouts
Speaking of training your body with just a few movements, full body workouts are superior to split body workouts for exactly the same reason we mentioned earlier: hormone release.
Move more muscle, release more Testosterone and HGH, and build more muscle. It’s not EXACTLY as simple as that, but that is a huge reason why I prefer full body workouts.
One other reason is because most guys need to add overall mass before they can start to isolation muscle groups. If you have no base of strength and muscle, then what are you isolating? There’s nothing on your arms to begin with!
Isolation movements should be used only if you’ve included all the other major compound movements in your program already.
9 – Limit Cardio
If you’re a skinny dude who’s doing cardio during a mass gaining phase because he’s afraid of gaining fat, then you need to get your priorities straight. Excessive cardio is counteractive to your muscle building goals.
I do, however, recommend interval cardio, if it’s absolutely necessary. Interval cardio is not only more effective then long, boring steady state cardio, but it also helps prevent muscle loss.
10 – Is it Challenging?
If your current program does not challenge you, then it sucks. Pretty simple. However, how do you know if something is challenging or not? Some times, you keep doing something and you THINK it’s challenging, but it might not really challenge you the way you need it to challenge you.
Ok, I know you’re confused. So lets put it this way: if you keep a training log (and you should) and if you’ve been doing the same exercises, reps, and sets in the same exact manner for more then 4 weeks, it’s pretty much time to change things up.
And it doesn’t take a whole lot to make the switch. I personally like to start with the movements. For example, if I’m doing Decline Pushups, lets now do Pushups with my feet on a stability ball. If that’s too easy, then I’ll grab a back pack, put some weight in it, and do weight pushups with my feet on a stability ball.
11 – Is it Exciting?
Motivation is a key factor in exercise. If you’re not motivated, you won’t train – another simple concept. However, people will spend years doing something they don’t particularly like – such as jogging – because people say it’s good for them.
Well, I don’t like jogging. I’ll do other forms of cardio. I’d rather run sprints than jog. It just doesn’t excite me. Something with certain lifts. I just don’t like them. My body wasn’t built for them, so I’m not going to do them.
I enjoy natural bodyweight movements, so I use a lot of bodyweight training into my workouts. The workouts I create actually motivate me. I wake up in the morning and look forward to the challenge in store for me.
So, two questions you need to ask yourself about your bodyweight mass building program – is it challenging and is it exciting? Because if it’s not exciting, you won’t do it. And if you don’t workout, then you won’t get results.
Additionally, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you’ll go no where. You’ll get bored, stop working out, and hence no results. If you feel this way, then it’s definitely time for you to get a new program.
Speaking of getting bored with workouts, it’s pretty hard to switch up your plan dramatically every 4 weeks. Even muscle magazines pretty much have the same programs each month. Sure they’ll disguise the workouts under a new name, but it’s pretty much the same thing.
If you’re looking for some great muscle building workouts that are dramatically different then what you’ve seen in muscle mags, then I recommend checking out Craig Ballantyne’s Meatheads Muscle Package.