In How to Build Muscle Part II we discussed why a caloric surplus is essential for building muscle, how to calculate your calorie maintenance level and how to create your ideal calorie surplus. In How to Build Muscle Part III we will discuss the requirements for a quality weight training program that’ll build muscle fast. Sound good? Here we go…
Your Quality Weight Training Program
As mentioned in How to Build Muscle Part I, progressive overload is the most important requirement when building muscle. Even with a less advanced weight training program, as long as you focus on progressing the weight you’re lifting as often as you can, you’ll still end up building muscle.
There are so many different weight training programs available, it can be difficult to pick one. Not only that, the majority of routines are simply laughable. So, rather than attempting a horrible routine that’ll get you nowhere, I’m going to list some of the most important principles of a quality weight training program. For the best possible muscle building results, your weight training program should…
Focus on progressive overload – Yes, it’s already been mentioned once or twice, but it’s that important I thought I’d mention it again.
Train the entire body – You’ll see some men doing nothing but training their chest and biceps. Others will train their entire upper body and ignore their legs or claim that they run/jog/walk/bike ride a lot, and that’s somehow good enough. Big mistake!
Train your entire body. That means your entire upper body (chest, back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps) and your entire lower body (quads, hamstrings, calves). There are lots of reasons why you should train your entire body. Here are a few of them…
- To avoid looking stupid – Having body parts that look muscular and others that look like they’ve never been used before is not a good look.
- To prevent imbalances that can lead to injuries – If you push (chest exercises) more than you can pull (back exercises) then injuries will happen.
- To ensure that you include some of the best exercises – Some of the best exercises for building muscle are the ones that many men end up missing out because their weight training program has them avoiding the body parts that these exercises are for. For example, squats, pulls ups, deadlifts etc. By not training certain parts of the body, you’ll miss out on adding the most muscle to your body.
- To improve your muscle building goals – If you train 100% of your body, you can add 100% muscle. If you train 50% of your body, you’re losing out on training a further 50% of muscle. Common sense really.
Focus on compound exercises – Although machines and isolation exercises all have there place, if you’re main aim is to build muscle fast, it’d be a big disadvantage if they made up the majority of your of your weight training program. Instead, the following are the types of exercises that should make up most of your routine:
- Chest – Bench press, incline bench press, decline, bench press (with barbells or dumbbells)
- Back – Deadlifts, bent over barbell/dumbbell rows, pull ups, seated cable rows, lat pull-down
- Quads – Squats, lunges, leg press
- Hamstrings – Good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, hyperextensions
- Shoulder – Overhead press (with barbell or dumbbells)
- Triceps – Dips, lying tricep extensions, close grip bench press
- Biceps – Barbell curls, dumbbell curls
- Calves – seated calf raises, calf press
This is a basic list of the best exercises for each muscle group that should make up most of your weight training program.
Use proper form – Your aim isn’t to just move a weight from point A to point B. Your goal is to contract a muscle against a resistance. Basically, don’t use stupid amounts of momentum to do an exercise and don’t go only half way down or half way up. This is usually a sign that the weight you’re lifting is too heavy for you. If you can’t use correct form for every rep, for every set and for every exercise – lower the weight. Progressive overload may be the main way to build muscle, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of poor form.
Use correct volume, frequency and intensity – Volume refers to the number of sets, reps and exercises. Frequency refers to the number of times you do something per week. Intensity refers to how heavy you’re lifting.
If there’s too much volume, too much frequency, and/or too much intensity, it will more than likely have a negative effect on your muscle building goals. It’s the same if there’s too little. You need to find a happy medium. I’ll now explain in further detail:
- Volume – As a rough guide, 8 – 12 sets per body part should be the total amount performed over the course of a week. For smaller muscles, especially muscles that are worked indirectly through compound exercises (biceps and triceps), really only need about half that, say 3 – 6 sets over the course of a week. As for exercises, 4 exercises per muscle, per week is probably the maximum that you’ll need to do.
It’s almost impossible to advise the exact amount of sets, reps for each body part, because each individual will have their own volume tolerance, work capacity and recovery ability. These are just recommendations that will probably be best for the average man. Some men may benefit from more, some from less. Listen to your body and work out what’s best for you.
- Frequency – An upper/lower body split (Upper body Monday and Thursday, lower body on Tuesday and Friday) where each body part is hit in some form twice per week is often the most recommended training split among fitness experts.
- Intensity – As for reps, you want to stay in the 5 – 12 rep range. More than 12 is more endurance oriented and would mean that you’re lifting a bit too light and less than 5 is more strength oriented and would mean that you’re lifting a bit too heavy. You can still build muscle with these rep ranges, but to build muscle fast you ideally want to stay within the 5 – 12 rep range most of the time.
So, if you were doing 3 sets of 8 reps for an exercise, you’d be using a weight that is light enough for you to perform about 8 reps, but heavy enough so that you couldn’t keep going after the 8th rep or do any more than one or two reps at most.
- Failure – The above doesn’t mean that you have to keep going to failure. Failure is when you reach the point where you can’t complete a rep. Training till failure is advice that often crops up from time to time. Ignore this advice! It puts a lot of stress on the body and going to failure often will burn people out, mess up your recovery, have a negative impact on your results, and possibly cause injury.
Having said that, since progressive overload is essential when building muscle, it’s important to try and get to that next rep. So, when you feel you may be able to make that next rep, and you try it, and hit failure – that’s ok. It’s not ok when you know that you’re done, and you purposely attempt another rep (or more), just for the sake of reaching failure.
- Rest between sets – For building muscle, most fitness experts advise resting 1 – 3 minutes between sets. I’d recommend 2 – 3 minutes for bigger exercises such as bench press, squats, deadlifts etc. and 1 – 2 minutes for smaller exercises such as biceps and triceps exercises, leg curls, dumbbell flyes etc. Try to be consistent with your rest times with each exercise.
Sample Weight Training Program
Here is a sample weight training program that fits all of the above guidelines and, when combined with the other advice given in this six part series being met, it’ll definitely allow you to reach your goal of building muscle.
Monday: Upper Body # 1
- Barbell Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Bent Over Dumbbell Rows – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Standing Overhead Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets of 12 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
- Biceps Exercise – 3 sets of 8 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
- Triceps Exercise – 2 sets of 12 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
Tuesday: Lower Body # 2
- Squats – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Lunges – 3 sets of 10 reps (2 minutes rest between sets)
- Seated Leg Curls – 3 sets of 10 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Ab Exercises – 10 minutes
Thursday: Upper Body # 2
- Incline Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Pull Ups – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Seated Cable Rows – 3 sets of 10 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 12 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
- Triceps Exercise – 3 sets of 8 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
- Biceps Exercise – 2 sets of 12 reps (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
Friday: Lower Body # 2
- Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets of 8 reps (2 – 3 minutes rest between sets)
- Lying Leg Curls – 3 sets of 10 reps (2 minutes rest between sets)
- Leg Press – 3 sets of 12 reps – (2 minutes rest between sets)
- Seated Calf Raises – 3 sets of 12 reps – (1 – 2 minutes rest between sets)
- Ab Exercises – 10 minutes
Other Tips on Your Weight Training Program
- If you’d rather start your weight training program with lower body – that’s fine.
- If you’d rather workout on different days i.e. on the weekend, that’s fine as long as the upper/lower or lower/upper order remains, and the layout on, on, off, on, on, off, off, remains as well. The actual days you choose to workout and the days you rest makes no difference as long as the programs template stays the same.
- If you can only workout 3 days per week, follow this…
Monday: Upper Body #1
Wednesday: Lower Body #1
Friday: Upper Body #2
Monday: Lower Body #2
Wednesday: Upper Body #1
Friday: Lower Body #1
- For biceps and triceps exercises, I’m leaving the choice of exercises up to you. Most compound exercises such as barbell rows, pull-ups, bench press etc. work these muscles anyway. However some form of direct arm work is still important, so, pick a few exercises that suit you.
- The same goes for ab workouts. Crunches, hanging leg raises, twist crunches are all good exercises. Pick your favourite and keep it to about 10 minutes at the end of each lower body workout.
- The number of sets listed for each exercise doesn’t include warm up sets.
What to Look Forward to in Part IV
Next we’ll cover the requirements for a sufficient overall diet that’ll help you achieve your muscle building goals.
One More Thing
A quality training program is extremely important when building muscle. If you want to build muscle and lose body fat fast, we recommend that you read Mike Geary’s The Truth About Six Pack Abs. Using the same principles as above, it’s full of weight training programs (beginner – advanced) that’ll ensure that you achieve your muscle building goals