When it comes to building muscle over the long haul, there are a ton of tips and tricks out there to make this happen. It goes without saying, but to gain muscle for life, you have to be consistent.
If you’re a weekend warrior that rarely has a plan in the gym, you’re not going to make progress consistently. All of the tricks in the world won’t work if you don’t apply them constantly.
So let’s get into the article! Here are my top 25 tips and tricks to build muscle for life!
Here we go!
#1 Get Stronger
This is such an easy tip I had to put it first!
If you aren’t getting stronger, you’re not going to be building much muscle at all. This doesn’t mean only increasing your 1 Rep Max. It also includes adding sets, doing more reps at the same weight, and having better form over the long haul.
If you go from 3 sets of 8 @200 lbs on your Bench Press to 6 sets of 12 @220 lbs, I guarantee you not only got stronger but you built more muscle as well. This is the basic premise of training to build more muscle.
You have to get stronger to build muscle. This doesn’t mean heaving the weight around with tons of momentum though. You need to keep your form consistent from workout to workout.
As long as you do these two things, you will build muscle for life. Just stay the course and keep getting stronger.
#2 Use Barbells
The #1 most important thing I ever did for mine and my clients’ training was using barbell movements for the majority of our training sessions.
Barbells allow you to lift more weight than any other type of implement. Plus, the stability required to get stronger on barbell lifts is much greater than machines ever will be. This doesn’t mean machines don’t have their place but use the barbell for most of your work and see what happens.
I notice the biggest and stronger people in the world all train using barbell movements. Sure they incorporate isolation movements such as curls and lateral raises, but this is after years of hammering the barbell basics.
If it sounds too simple just know that it isn’t. If all you ever did was Bench Press, Overhead Press, Deadlifts, Squats, and Barbell Rows you would be bigger & stronger than most people ever will be.
They work more muscle groups synergistically and improve overall athleticism as well. If you are having trouble building muscle, do a program of mainly barbell movements and try to get stronger in the 6-15 rep range on them. I guarantee you will get stronger and build muscle doing this!
#3 Focus On Recovery
One thing I feel most people miss out on is focusing on proper recovery. Simple things like doing active recovery on your off days (aka not sitting on your ass), getting enough sleep, and consuming enough calories come to mind.
On top of this, not killing yourself in your workouts is definitely something many people don’t get right!
Think about it, every time you train you’re digging a hole. The fatigue you build-up has to diminish before you start seeing muscle gains. If you just keep digging a hole with more training that you aren’t recovering from, you’re essentially digging an early grave.
Not literally, just figuratively of course hehe.
Your goal is to train as you can RECOVER from. If you want to workout 6 days a week with thousands of sets but your performance is going down and your body feels like crap, that’s bad!
Focus on recovery and don’t overreach!
#4 Add Weight
This goes right along with getting stronger. If you see people working out at the gym with the same weights week after week without any noticeable progress to show for it, odds are they aren’t building muscle, unfortunately.
This is one of the main things I’ve had to work on with my clients. They think because we’re trying to build muscle that means all the sets are supposed to be lightweight for a ton of reps.
This is definitely not the case!
If you’re doing 3 sets of 15 on Bench Press with 200 lbs but each set is 5 reps away from failure, that’s basically just a warmup.
You want to get in the increased volume obviously, but increasing the weight so the intensity per set is reasonable is just as important!
Next up we learn why…
#5 Intensity Matters
I just went over why adding weight is important. Here’s the other reason why.
Your overall intensity matters as well. You can’t just do super high reps (30+) and continue to build muscle. If that was the case, cyclists and other long-distance athletes would have the biggest legs in the world!
Because of this, you need to push the intensity in the proper rep ranges to get the maximum growth response. Anything lighter than 4 reps in the tank is a waste of time.
To make sure you’re using the correct intensity, you can use RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to gauge how hard your sets are. This is also known as RIR (Reps In Reserve.)
The way this works is by assigning RPE or RIR for each of your exercises.
For example, say you’re on week 1 of your muscle-building program, RPE 7 would be a good start. This means that each set should be pushed around 3 reps away from failure. This is something you have to practice but it allows you to train smart instead of simply pushing to failure.
Then as the weeks go by you can increase the RPE scale to 8 (2 reps from failure) and 9 (1 rep from failure). This allows you to increase the weight and volume without mindlessly doing reps with no guidance.
As long as you stay anywhere between RPE 6-9 for the majority of your workouts, you’ll make the most progress possible.
I’ve tested this myself in the past. My clients that trained with a standard set and rep count made less progress than those that trained using RPE.
Here’s an example of the difference.
- Squat 5x10x300 lbs: the first 3 sets are easy and the last two sets might be a little difficult.
- Squat 5 Sets @300 RPE 7 (15, 14, 14, 13, 12): all of the sets are difficult but the relative intensity remains the same.
As you can see, the top example of doing an exact set and rep scheme won’t produce as much growth over time. This is because the overall intensity of the reps isn’t as effective as an RPE scale.
With the RPE example, every single set is pushed to the correct intensity. This results in more reps contributing to growth.
If you haven’t trained using RPE try it out and let me know how it works for you! I’ve found it to be an amazingly simple way to train that provides multiple advantages over typical reps and sets.
If anybody is confused with this section definitely feel free to ask questions below!
#6 Track Workouts & Switch Exercises When You Stop Progressing
A lot of times, people tend to go to the gym and do random workouts week after week. They see a cool new exercise and just throw it in their workout without any thought at all.
Even worse, they don’t track their progress over time and barely make any gains at all.
This is a recipe for disaster and I see it all the time. How can we fix this?
By tracking your workouts of course!
If you don’t track your sets and reps, how are you going to see what’s working and what’s not? Your training notebook is the single most important resource you can ever have as a lifter.
One of the main reasons for this is what it allows you to track. Namely, progression with your different exercises.
If you’re progressing and making awesome gains on a couple of exercises, changing that would be foolish don’t you think?
This is where tracking comes into play! Because you know what exercises you’re progressing on, you can keep those in and change out the ones that aren’t working.
I recommend giving an exercise between 3-6 weeks of progress before you decide if it’s for you or not.
If you’re adding sets every week on Barbell Curls, getting huge pumps in your biceps, and kicking ass overall, there’s no reason to change that exercise out!
When in doubt, keep the things that are useful in your training. Discard the rest!
#7 Eat More Protein!
This one is super basic but to build more muscle you need to consume more protein!
In general, you need more protein when losing weight to maintain muscle mass. This is due to the decreased calorie and carbohydrate intake.
When gaining, you have an increase in calories and carbs. Because they are muscle sparing, you don’t need to consume more than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to build muscle.
If you’re like me, you want to eat more carbs because they’re definitely tastier and cheaper than protein. So you can go as low as 0.8 grams of protein to build muscle in a calorie surplus. As long as you do these two things you’re set!
#8 Consume Protein Shakes In Milk To Increase Calorie Intake
If you’re having difficulty eating the required number of calories to gain muscle mass, try out this simple trick.
Eat your main meals during the day and then consume a protein shake in milk to increase your calorie, protein, and carbohydrate intake drastically. This is very easy to do and doesn’t require much effort at all.
The best part is, drinking liquid calories won’t fill you up as much as eating whole foods.
If you need a trick to get your calories up, try this one out and let me know how it goes!
#9 Increase Training Frequency
When it comes to overall training frequency, you have a certain range of minimum and maximum sessions you should be trying to hit.
1 session per week is no good and 7 per week is also a bad idea. This gives us a range of 2-6 training sessions per week.
The main thing to consider is how many days can you REALISTICALLY commit to. Just because you want to train 6 days a week, doesn’t mean you can actually do it.
You have to see how it works in your daily life. If you can consistently train 3 days per week, this is much better than trying to fit 6 sessions into your week.
The other thing to consider is your overall training volume. The recommended number of hard sets per body part per week is 10-20 sets. This means chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, quads, hamstrings, and calves comprising the majority of your work.
If you train 6 days per week with a PUSH/PULL/LEGS x2 training set up, you have 2 days per body part to split these sets.
Here’s an example:
|PUSH 1||PULL 1||LEGS 1|
|Bench Press |
|Barbell Row |
|Barbell Squat |
|Plate Raises |
|Tricep Pushdown |
|Barbell Curls |
|Standing Calf Raises |
|PUSH 2||PULL 2||LEGS 2|
|Military Press |
|Wide-Grip Pulldowns |
|Romanian Deadlift |
|Barbell Incline Bench |
|Dumbbell Row |
|Front Squat |
|Hammer Curls |
|Leg Press Calf Raises|
If you only train 3 days per week you can do a PUSH/PULL/LEGS split as well or a Full Body. If you can only train 2-3 days a week, I recommend removing the isolation movements and just using barbell/dumbbell compound movements.
|Bench Press 5 Sets||Pullups 5 Sets||Deadlift 5 Sets|
|Military Press 5 Sets||Barbell Rows 5 Sets||Barbell Squats 5 Sets|
|Dumbbell Incline Bench |
|Wide-Grip Pulldowns |
|Plate Raises 5 Sets||Dumbbell Rows 5 Sets||Front Squat 5 Sets|
As you can see, there’s much more work to be done on these 3 days just to break even with the 6 days per week training program.
Find a schedule you can stick to and train as much as you can commit to. Working out 1-2 days a week just doesn’t cover it from my experience.
If you have a choice between 2-6 days per week, sitting in the middle at 3,4, or 5 days per week would be best in my opinion.
#10 Train As Much As You Can Recover From
This is a very important point that needs to be made. Most people in the gym think they’re training hard but are actually severely undertraining.
I know this because of the major differences in results when my clients have trained themselves in the past. They always say that the workouts we do are much more difficult than anything they’ve done in the past.
And this isn’t because I am just training them hard to make them sore, I’m adding sets, reps, and weight that they can actually recover from.
If you aren’t recovering from your training, you’re not growing, unfortunately. With this thought in mind, you need to train as much as you possibly can to build the maximum amount of muscle possible.
This doesn’t mean 1,000 sets and workouts per week, however. For most people, 10-20 sets per major body part seem to be the sweet spot.
I’ve tested this extensively with myself and with my clients. The more you can train and recover from the better your progress is going to be.
When in doubt follow the guidelines I laid out above in Tip #9. Increase your training frequency as much as you can, and make sure you’re doing enough volume to grow in whatever frequency you’re able to do.
Speaking of which, to find out how much work you need to do, you need to find your maximum recoverable volume (MRV)!
#11 Find Your Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV)
For those that don’t know what MRV is, here is a quote from Chad Wesley Smith on jsstrength.com.
“Maximum Recoverable Volume or MRV as it will be referred to from now on is the most training that an athlete can effectively recover from and this could vary widely from lifter to lifter or for the same lifter at different times. Genetics, particularly muscle fiber type, will play a big role in MRV and somewhat counter-intuitively, the faster twitch athletes who are better suited for lifting, will tend to have lower MRVs because they will be able to cause more homeostatic disruption with a smaller amount of work.–Chad Wesley Smith, Snowflake Training
As an athlete improves over their career and continually build special work capacity for their sport, their MRV should be continually rising.
Other things to consider when assessing MRV is the athlete’s sport background (A CrossFitter will probably have a higher MRV then someone coming from Sprinting) .”
As you can see, MRV is essentially how much work you can recover from. Chad also details that depending on your sport, you could have a much higher MRV.
In general, this difference depends on many factors. Explosive sports such as sprinting and Olympic Weightlifting have the lowest MRV, strength training such as powerlifting will be right in the middle, while bodybuilding and CrossFit style training will have the highest MRV.
For our purposes, building muscle mass, 10-20 sets per week seems to be the sweet spot per muscle group per week. However, this is just a broad recommendation. The best way to build the most muscle possible is by finding your own MRV for each of your body parts.
Here’s how we can find our Maximum Recoverable Volume for our chest using the Bench Press.
- Week 1: 215 for 10,10,10
- Week 2: 220 for 10,10,10,10
- Week 3: 225 for 10,10,10,10,9
- Week 4: 230 for 10,10,10,9,8,8
- Week 5: 235 for 10,10,9,9,8,8,7
- Week 6 Deload: 215 for 5,5,5
We start at 3 sets @215 lb and progress through the weeks to 7 Sets @235. As you can see, our reps didn’t drop off much from week to week. This tells us that we definitely haven’t hit our MRV yet.
Also a quick note, this is just one of our chest exercises for the week. You would also use 1-2 other exercises with the same amount of sets. Ex: Day 1: Bench Press for 3 sets, Day 2: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press for 3 sets.
As the weeks progress you will also be adding sets to your other exercises as well. You’ll notice a correlation in progress in your different muscle groups as well.
Next, we deload to 6 sets for the week and work back up the following weeks starting at 5 sets per workout.
- Week 1: 220 for 10,10,10,10,10
- Week 2: 225 for 10,10,10,10,9,9
- Week 3: 230 for 10,10,10,9,9,8,8
- Week 4: 235 for 8,7,7,6,6,5,5,4
- Week 5: 240 for 5,5,4,4,3,3,3,2,1
- Week 6: 220 for 5,5,5
As you can see, we progressed a great deal until we hit week 4. This is where we noticed our sets started to drop back in performance. In week 5 we plummeted even quicker.
This tells us that our MRV for chest is around 14 sets per week. As soon as we hit 16-18 total sets for the week our performance dropped considerably. Now that we know what our MRV for chest is, we can start around 8 sets per week and slowly increase to 14-16 per week, increasing the weight and reps as we go.
If this sounds like a lot of unnecessary work it’s not. Learning what your MRV is for YOUR body is definitely something that’s not talked about enough!
This is the difference between every other program out there. While they give broad recommendations on what sets you should do, finding your own MRV will allow you to build the most muscle and strength that YOU can!
If you have any questions on this topic, definitely let me know in the comments below! It’s a lot of work but it’s absolutely worth it!
#12 The More Carbs You Eat The Better!
This is an important lesson many people need to learn. Everything else being equal, the more carbs you consume the greater your potential for muscle growth is.
Anabolism is in simple terms, the process of building muscle tissue in the body. A major player for this process is insulin. By consuming more carbs throughout the day, your insulin levels will be higher as well.
Higher insulin levels, combined with proper protein intake and weight training results in more muscle mass.
Another major benefit for increased carbs over fats, they don’t store as fat in the body as easily as dietary fat does. By consuming more carbs then fats in a calorie surplus, you’re less likely to store them and burn them for fuel instead.
Speaking of fuel, carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source. By eating more than the minimum requirements, you can guarantee that carb intake is not what limits your training performance.
Another cool benefit is an increase in the pump you get from training! The more carbed-up you are, the bigger your pump will be and the more muscle you’ll build as well!
The final benefit we get from a higher carb approach has to do with maintaining muscle mass. Carbs are incredibly good at preserving muscle tissue.
So great in fact that you don’t need as much protein if your carb intake is high enough!
The more carbs you consume, around training especially, the more likely you are to build more muscle mass and prevent muscle loss from hard training.
Next time you focus on building muscle mass, eat as many carbs as you can! We do this by incorporating the following nutritional guidelines.
- Consume 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight instead of 1 gram.
- Consume 0.3 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight for proper hormonal function.
- Consume the remainder of your calories from carbs!
By using these guidelines, we can ensure we’re consuming as many carbs as we can to build the most muscle possible!
Try it out and let me know if you can see a difference in your progress! I definitely think you will!
#13 Eat More Food!
As explained in my article on if you can gain muscle without eating a lot of food, the most important thing you need for muscle growth to occur is eating in a calorie surplus.
You can work hard every day for the rest of your life but if you don’t have the right building blocks, you’re not going to build much muscle.
You have to train hard sure, but eating enough calories every day is just as important.
So how many calories do you need to gain muscle?
Enough to gain no more than 0.5-1% of your bodyweight per week. For a 200 lb man, this is around 1-2 lbs per week.
By taking it slow and easy, you minimize fat gain and improve your chances of building lean muscle tissue. The other thing to consider is you can’t force-feed muscle growth.
You give it the signals to grow by training hard, consume just enough calories to build muscle and that’s it. Anything in excess will just result in increased fat gain.
It’s cool to say you built 20 lbs of muscle in 1 month but unless you’re a beginner on massive amounts of steroids, your body can’t possibly synthesize that much muscle tissue that quickly.
In an ideal world, you would still only be adding around 10 lbs of muscle from that 20 lb weight gain.
The best course of action is to increase calories by 5-10% and track how much weight you gain. If you’re under 0.5% add more calories, if you’re over 1% keep the calories the same. If you’re somewhere in the middle of this range you’re on the right track.
Take your time and you won’t have to waste time losing a bunch of excess fat down the road!
Slow and steady wins the race!
#14 Sleep As Much As You Can
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, you don’t grow in the gym, you grow when you sleep. And it’s absolutely true!
Sleep enhances muscle recovery through muscle protein synthesis and the release of human growth hormone.
Basically, the better your sleep is, the more muscle you’ll build and the leaner you’ll be. It also affects your workout intensity like crazy! I’ve trained people that didn’t sleep and their workout performance drops by 50% most of the time!
If you feel like you aren’t recovering between sessions and your water/food intake is dialed in, your lack of quality sleep might be the problem.
Here is a list of things you can try to improve your sleep quality.
- Don’t Consume Caffeine Late in the Day
- Exercise Regularly
- Check For Sleep Disorders
- Don’t Eat Right Before Bed
- Optimize Your Bedroom Environment & Temperature
- Relax and Clear Your Mind in the Evening
- Try To Have Consistent Sleeping & Waking Times
- Don’t Drink Alcohol
- Take a Bath or Shower Before Bed
- Don’t Consume Liquids Before Bed
There are also a host of supplements that can induce sleep and relaxation as well. Here’s a list with links to the following.
If you find you’re consistently unable to improve your sleep, getting a sleep study done is recommended.
Find ways to improve your sleep and you’ll find you build more muscle, lose more fat, and be much healthier than those that brag about how little sleep they get. It’s not healthy whatsoever and your life depends on it!
#15 Do Compound Movements
Just like barbell movements, compound movements are incredibly good at building muscle and strength.
For those that don’t know, compound movements are exercises that use multiple muscle groups in sync. Something like a Dumbbell Row or Pullups would be a good example.
Because these movements use more muscle groups, you can use more weight and build more muscle mass because of it!
If you set up your training sessions with mostly compound movements, you’ll have a lot of carryover volume to smaller body parts such as biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
This saves a ton of time and allows you to train more in the same time period.
Compound movements are big, bang for your buck exercises and should be done for the majority of your exercises. You can check out my favorite movements for building strength/muscle for life here.
#16 Do Some Cardio
A lot of times I hear that doing cardio kills your gains in the gym. And while this may have some truth to it, doing zero cardio is a great way to ensure your work capacity doesn’t improve!
Think of it like this, if you aren’t in good cardiovascular shape, you’re going to have issues with recovery and pushing yourself in the gym. The better your gas tank is (cardio), the more work you’re going to be able to push out and recover from.
A lot of times you’ll hear Powerlifters say anything over 5 reps is cardio. Joking that they’re in horrible shape and can’t do more than 5 reps without losing gains is silly, however.
The best rep ranges for muscle growth are in the 6-20 rep range which means you need to be in good enough shape to get the work done.
Building muscle is hard so staying in shape is absolutely necessary to make it a little easier.
3 sessions at 30 minutes of steady-state cardio is all you need in my experience. The people that can’t manage this all seem to have issues recovering, unfortunately.
If you have to rest several minutes between high rep sets, you need to get in better shape! Basic cardio will improve recovery, keep your heart healthy, and even reduce soreness.
Just be careful with doing excessive amounts of cardio, it does send the wrong signals to your body.
Let me know what you like to do for cardio in the comments below! My favorite is the Airdyne which I recommend here in my top ten pieces of gym equipment.
#17 Have Reasonable Expectations
This is an important lesson many people have to learn. Building muscle mass is a long and arduous process. You have to give your body the signals to grow through consistent weight training, focusing on doing more reps with more weight, all while eating enough to recover and fuel your workouts.
If you don’t do these things consistently for the long haul you’re not going to make progress, unfortunately. And even if you do, those dreams of building 25 lbs of muscle in a month just aren’t rational.
Your body can only synthesize so much muscle per week. You can’t force-feed it with 10,000 calories or do a million sets to grow it faster.
Here’s a general idea of how much muscle you can expect to build per year if you’re consistent.
Here’s how muscle gains will look for most people, these figures come from Jason Ferruggia at JasonFerruggia.com:
Year 1: 20-30 pounds (if you start between 15 and 22 years old)
Year 2: 10-12 pounds
Year 3: 5-8 pounds
Year 4 & 5: 3-6 pounds
The next 10-20 years: 3-10 pounds
Based on these numbers you can see how being patient, consistent, and realistic is incredibly important.
Most people can expect to add between 30-50 lbs of muscle mass over their lifetime assuming they do everything correctly.
Obviously, this number is much higher if you use Performance Enhancing Drugs.
Unless you choose to take that route, take your time, enjoy the process, and work on getting stronger for life. That is all you can do to maximize your muscular potential!
#18 Rest Longer Between Sets
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my years of training is to not turn all of my workouts into circuit training classes. And while these are good for general fitness, they’re horrible for building muscle and strength!
To put it simply, you aren’t resting long enough between sets. If you rest any less than 1 minute between sets, you aren’t able to keep your training intensity high enough!
The best way to pack on muscle is by increasing your total volume with more weight, sets, and reps. You can’t do this if you’re jumping around from exercise to exercise.
Sure, you might be grow doing this if you’re just starting out (everything works if you’re a beginner), for the long haul it’s a terrible way to train.
The old school thought process for resting is as follows:
- Less than 30 seconds: endurance training
- 1-2 minutes: muscle/hypertrophy training
- 3-5 minutes: strength/power training
- 5-10 minutes: horribly out of shape…fix it.
And while this seems pretty cut and dry, if your goal is performance, the more you rest the better. To a point!
The new school thought process for resting between sets makes more sense for all training modalities:
- 1 minute: best for endurance, suboptimal for strength and muscle building
- 3+ minutes: best for strength, muscle building, and similar for endurance
This makes much more sense to me and just by looking at it you can see why!
For endurance training, high reps and low rest periods make the most sense for building more stamina in the body.
For strength and hypertrophy training, your whole goal is performance. The longer you rest, the more reps and sets you can do when building muscle is the goal. This allows you to increase the weight more as well.
For strength training, replenishing your ATP and PC energy systems is necessary to improve power output. This takes a minimum of 3 minutes to occur and allows you to lift the most weight possible.
You don’t want to be fatigued going into a heavy set of squats after all.
To put this all together simply for building muscle, pay attention to your reps per set. If they’re dropping off in a way that you’d expect (10,9,9,etc.) continue resting the same length.
If you notice your reps drop off quickly (10,8,5,etc.) increase your rest periods to ensure your performance stays steady.
If you have any questions on this subject definitely let me know in the comments below! The new school way of thinking makes much more sense from a practical point of view as well.
To learn more about how long you should be resting, check out this article by Brad Schoenfeld. He is one of the most well respected and educated authorities on all things body composition. Definitely listen to what he has to say and learn from one of the best in the world!
#19 Progress Slowly
This is a big one that most people have issues with applying. When you’re trying to build muscle, you want to consistently progress in load, sets, and reps.
This is how progressive overload works of course.
Doing this slowly allows you to recover properly, maintain solid form, and increase muscle tension through the long haul.
If you go from 10 sets of chest per week and immediately jump to 20 sets the following week, you’re going to be incredibly sore and have nowhere to progress from there!
It’s the same idea with adding weight, you wouldn’t add 20 lbs a week and expect your reps to drop off like crazy right? Going from 200 lbs on Bench Press for 5 sets to 220 lbs for 10 sets the following week is an insane jump in muscular fatigue and work!
This isn’t sustainable whatsoever and definitely needs to be taken into account if you want to continue making muscular gains over the long haul!
The best ways I’ve found to progress are as follows:
- Increase weight by 5-10 lbs per week. By increasing the weight slowly, you have more time to ramp up the reps and sets. If you increase the weights faster than this, you will plateau quicker. I’ve seen it too many times for it to be a coincidence.
- Add 1-2 sets per body part per week. Instead of jumping from 10-20 sets in one week, start at the low end and add 1-2 sets per body part per week. This allows you to slowly increase your volume and progressively build more muscle without killing your recovery. An example would be; Week 1: 10 sets, Week 2: 12 sets, Week 3: 14 sets, Week 4: 16 sets, Week 5: 18 sets, Week 6: 20 sets, Week 7: Deload at 5 sets.
- Train 1-3 Reps away from failure. Here is another important lesson most people need to learn! You don’t have to push to failure to build muscle mass. The best way to train is by leaving 1-3 reps in the tank on each of your sets. This allows you to get sufficient volume to maximize muscle gains, recover properly week to week, and prevent injuries. By leaving reps in the tank you can do more work and build more muscle over a lifetime. Training smart and consistently for 10+ years is much more important than giving 110% for a month and getting injured forever! More on that later…
As you can see, smart and consistent training is absolutely the most important factor for growing muscle for life. If you get injured from progressing too quickly your body will never be the same. Every injury is just another nail in the coffin.
Take your time and make this a lifelong venture. Small 5 lbs and 1 extra rep Personal Records done consistently are more important than 50 lb PR’s once in a blue moon!
#20 Increase Volume By Increasing Sets
As I just explained above, one of the best ways to increase your volume is by adding sets to your workouts.
It’s hard to add 1 rep sometimes from workout to workout. But adding 1 more set? That’s easy. It just takes a little more time but allows you to consistently increase how much work you’re doing.
Adding 1-2 sets per muscle group per week is all I recommend doing. Any more than that and you’re going to create massive muscular fatigue that is difficult to recover from.
Remember, the slower you progress the longer you progress. If you increase the sets too quickly, you’re going to plateau quickly and drop the intensity much quicker than if you take your time.
Start around 10 sets and work up to 20 sets over a set period of time. Finding your MRV, which I explained how to do in tip #11, is incredibly important for maximizing your overall muscular potential.
When in doubt, start too light and increase the sets slowly. I’ve done this myself and added around 25 lbs for more reps and sets on some major barbell movements.
Definitely try it out and let me know how you progress in the comments below!
#21 Use The Right Rep Ranges
Using the correct rep ranges might not matter as much as getting stronger, but it definitely helps a ton!
There was a study by Brad Schoenfeld on the effects of different volume equated programs. 17 young men were assigned either a powerlifting-type routine of 7 sets of 3 with 3 minute rest periods or a hypertrophy-type routine of 3 sets of 10 with 90-second rest periods.
What they found over the 8 week period was that there was no significant difference in muscle thickness. This tells us that as long as the volume is equated, there is no major difference in muscular size. However, for maximal strength, the powerlifting style training was far superior.
Based on the data this makes sense, but on second glance, does it?
Think of it like this, how long does it take to do 3 sets of 10 with 90-second rest? Probably less than 10 minutes right? On top of that, you’re most likely not going to have any issues recovering with those lighter weights.
Now let’s look at the powerlifting style training, 7 sets of 3 is actually fewer reps and more stimulating per rep, but that’s super heavy. This beats you up considerably more than 3 sets of 10 ever will. On top of that, with the 3 minute rest periods, it would take over 20 minutes to do the same amount of work.
This tells us that doing higher rep sets to get our volume it is much more time-effective, easier to recover from, and allows us to do even more volume than lower rep sets below 5 reps!
Imagine doing 5 sets of 15-20 reps on overhead press, that is a massive amount of work to do already! Now try flipping those sets and reps around to do the same amount of volume, 15-20 sets of 5 reps is absolutely insane and will beat you up like crazy!
Plus, because you have to use much heavier weights to grow the same amount of muscle with lower rep sets, your joints and connective tissue will be beat to shit! Excuse my FRENCH!
Based on all of this information, we can absolutely say that for hypertrophy purposes, the best rep ranges are in the 6-20 rep range. This has been beaten to death thousands of times but I promise at least 90% of the best gains you will get come from this rep range.
Anything lower than 5 reps will be harder to recover and adapt to for the purposes of muscle building. When in doubt, stick to the 6-20 rep range for the majority of your work.
If you have any questions regarding this subject definitely let me know in the comments below!
#22 GOMAD For Skinny Beginners!
What is GOMAD you ask? It has nothing to do with going mad although I like the sounds of that…
GOMAD has been popularized for decades by strength coaches such as Mark Rippetoe, inventor of Starting Strength (aka the best book on strength training for beginners period!)
The awesome acronym stands for Gallon Of Milk A Day. This basic diet “supplement” provides massive amounts of nutrients and calories for even the fastest metabolism!
A standard gallon of whole milk contains the following calories and macronutrients:
- Calories: 2400
- Fat: 128 grams
- Carbs: 192 grams
- Protein: 128 grams
- Vitamin D: 240% daily value
- Calcium: 400 % daily value
- Potassium: 128% daily value
- Vitamin A: 160% daily value
As you can see, there is a host of proteins, carbs, calories and important micronutrients as well! The biggest driver for muscle growth is carbohydrate and calorie intake. At 2400 calories and 192 grams of carbs per gallon, you can’t go wrong with whole milk!
If you’re a beginner struggling to put on weight, try out GOMAD and see how much weight you gain!
I would recommend starting with a quart at a time, however. This still gives you over 600 calories, 32 grams of fat, 48 grams of carbs, and 32 grams of protein. Plus, because they’re all liquid calories, downing milk in between meals is incredibly easy and requires no meal prep.
On top of all those benefits, milk is pretty cheap where I’m from! A standard gallon is around $2.50 so if you’re doing a full gallon a day this only comes out to $17.50 per week. Adding in eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, and rice gives you an awesome muscle-building meal plan that won’t break the bank.
If you find that gaining muscle through whole foods is incredibly tiresome, add some milk to your diet and watch how easy you can pack on the pounds!
#23 Leave Your Ego At The Door!
You hear variations of this all the time: “I give it 110% when I go to the gym!”, “pain is just weakness leaving the body!”, or some other nonsense that doesn’t hold up in the real world.
If you’re truly in pain at the gym beyond basic soreness or lactic acid buildup, you’re doing it wrong!
Going 110% also doesn’t make much sense either. If you go 110% that implies you’re not recovering over the long haul and most likely leading yourself to many future injuries.
You also hear other statements from people concerning why “x exercise is bad for you.”
“Squats are bad for your knees, Bench Press is bad for your shoulders, Deadlift is bad for your back.” The list goes on and on! I guarantee they had less than stellar form that formed this useless “opinion.”
The main thing these statements tell me is that these people had the same attitude about lifting. Go 110% and do more work than is necessary to get bigger and stronger.
The only problem is, whenever you push your body this hard, your recovery can’t keep up. Think of it like this, every time you train you’re digging a hole. When you recover, you’re filling this hole back up so you can train again in the future with more strength, muscle and work capacity.
Here’s where it gets interesting, say you keep digging past your current recovery abilities, you only fill part of the hole with dirt and have a dip in performance because of it. Next time you train, you dig an even deeper hole.
Over and over again this occurs until finally, your progress comes to a screaming halt. Because you haven’t been recovering properly from overdoing it in the gym, you can’t progress and the only option people use is to work even harder.
When this happens you’re going to get injured. Whether it’s a muscle tear or something worse, you’re going to have to take time off to recover from it. When injuries like muscle tears occur they’re never the same again.
Instead of trying to push above and beyond your current recovery abilities, you should try your best to keep reps in the tank, add volume slowly, and track your progress over time.
By doing this, you can safely make progress rather than injure yourself and regret it forever. Take your time, let your body recover when it needs to, and don’t be an idiot in the gym.
Leave your ego at the door!
#24 Find Exercises That Work For You!
I have a general idea of what the best exercises are that work for me and my clients. I’ve gone over them many times in my top exercise series.
There are tons of exercise suggestions people have out there and they’re all great for the most part! (If you’re advocating for Bosu ball squats or anything similar nobody can help you lol.)
You can take these suggestions and use them to form a solid training plan for yourself. You need to track your progress using these exercises and see if they’re giving you the results you should be expecting.
If you use the Bench Press for building up the chest and you constantly feel a pump, notice you’re getting stronger in the 6-15 rep range and your chest is getting bigger, odds are that’s a solid exercise that works for you!
Take another exercise such as the Barbell Row. It’s a fantastic strength and muscle-builder for the back, or at least it should be. If you find you aren’t getting a pump from it, building muscle in your back, or not progressing in sets, reps, and weight; chances are you can find better options to fit the bill instead.
Training is all about finding the right exercises that work for you to give you your best physique. If you neglect this part of training and never think for yourself, you won’t gain as much muscle, unfortunately.
Your goal should be to find 2-3 exercises per muscle group that consistently deliver good results. Always use one of these exercises to ensure you’re progressing but sprinkle in new movements every couple months to spur new growth.
By doing this, you’ll get better results over a lifetime instead of using a bunch of movements that aren’t delivering.
What are the best exercises you’ve found for yourself through your training journey? Let me know in the comments below!
#25 Stay Consistent
This is the final tip for the day but out of all of these, it’s the most important.
You’ve probably seen it before, people come to the gym every year after New Years to FINALLY start their fitness journeys! They bust ass for a couple of weeks, diet hard, do their cardio, and then when February comes along, the majority of them vanish!
This is the sad state of affairs for the majority of the population. They want to see results and see them now! But for whatever reason, they give up before any of the results start showing themselves.
This is something that plagues the entire world of strength, bodybuilding, and fitness. To make progress consistently for life, you have to be just that, consistent.
I could give you every tip in the world but if you refuse to apply them consistently, none of them matter. You cannot get angry about the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do. Nobody is going to feel bad for you.
You have to want it bad enough to make it a lifestyle. If you don’t you’re just going to end up regretting it for life. Every day you look in the mirror you’re going to wish you put in the work and kept doing it. Until you get older, looking back on would have, should have, could have.
Don’t live in regret. Start working today, not next Monday, not next New Years for god’s sake, start right now! The only way to make this happen is by doing it today, tomorrow and the day after that. Consistently and forever. It never ends or gets easier. You just get stronger.
And with that, I leave you this, when was the last time you really put in the effort on something you wanted to accomplish? Was it studying for an important test? Or working on your relationship with your significant other?
Regardless of what it was, how did you feel about it? Did you regret working hard to make it happen? I doubt it. Odds are, you feel pretty great about what you’ve accomplished and want to continue getting better forever.
Thanks for reading and of course, have a wonderful weekend my friends!
Until next time,