A proper muscle building program should include 5 key elements:
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.
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!
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!
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 isolate 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.
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 such as tabata training is not only more effective then long, boring steady state cardio, but it also helps prevent muscle loss.