Building muscle isn’t easy. It takes hard work. You know that. We tell you just how much hard work it will take for you to achieve muscle gains in the different muscle groups.
If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ve come to the right place. Many want to get their muscles peaking, strong and just plain looking good. We all know that lifting is hard work and building muscle takes time so you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of your time in the gym. There’ve been many studies, new and old, that show the best and fastest ways to build muscle naturally.
Strength training will get you there along with proper nutrition, but let’s find out exactly how it all works.
You Need To Eat Well
There’s a whole process that goes into building muscle. You can’t just lift some weights, eat poorly and expect to come out looking ripped. It all starts in the kitchen. It’s a fact.
Protein It Up!
Protein is definitely a must for building muscle. You should be consuming lots of it. A lot of lifters tend to think that you need crazy amounts in one setting (and maybe you do), but that all depends on the individual.
Many factors such as age, weight, the amount of muscle you already have, activity level and whether you are male or female will determine the right amount your body needs to start or to continue to make gains.
Carbs Are Vital
If you’re going for gains, carbs are a much-needed macronutrient. Good, healthy complex carbs will not only provide you with the energy you’ll require for a tough workout but being the body’s first source of energy, they’ll help prevent you from digging into your muscle stores.
Don’t Forget The Fat
I’m talking about healthy fats, of course. The kind you get from good oils, fish, fruits, etc. Fat doesn’t make you fat like some people may think. In fact, the right fats can help you lose fat.
You need an adequate amount to support skin health and the health of other body tissues, cell signaling, nutrient absorption, hormone production, metabolism, brain function and many other processes.
How Much Weight Should You Put On The Bar?
We know that building muscle goes hand in hand with a good diet so let’s get to the lifting part.
Studies show that lifting lighter weights to failure stimulates protein synthesis just the same as lifting heavy. One study was done with a three-set session of 30% of max load versus a three-set session with an 80% max load. The same results were achieved.
Now I’m not saying to pick up the three-pound pink dumbbells and go for it because that would be more like cardio. Just find your comfort zone and step outside of it a bit. You don’t have to kill yourself doing it.
What Is Volume Training?
Workout volume training refers to the amount of work you do. It is the total amount of reps and sets that you do during your workout session. If your training volume is too low, there will be no adaptation. If the volume is too high, you might risk over training.
Should One And All Have The Same Training Volume?
When it comes to volume, one size does not fit all. It’s not possible to make a recommendation that suits every person.
The reason is because differences like experience, genetics, tolerance, capacity and recovery capabilities vary in each person.
The best you can do is to follow a guideline. From there, you need to see what works for you. You can always make adjustments.
What About Optimal Range?
For most people, the optimal range for larger muscle groups is 60 to 120 total reps per week. The optimal range for smaller muscle groups is 30 to 60 total reps per week. These are tried and true ranges for most people, but, as stated, you may in fact, be different.
What Are The Small Muscle Groups? What Are The Large Ones?
Chest muscles (like the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and the serratus anterior) are among the larger muscle groups. Also included are the hamstrings (which run down the backs of the thighs). The quadriceps (muscles in the fronts of the thighs), and the entire set of back muscles are part of the large group as well.
There are a number of muscles included in the smaller groups like the biceps, triceps, shoulders, calves and abs.
Breaking Down Weekly Volume Into Sessions
As stated, the optimal range for large muscle groups is 60 to 120 reps per week and 30 to 60 for smaller muscle groups. How do you break it into sessions?
Well, if you’re only going to train each muscle group one time per week, leave it at that (I wouldn’t really recommend that one though). But, if you’re training each muscle group about two times per week, that’s 30 to 60 reps each large muscle group and 15 to 20 reps for each small muscle group and so on.
As for sets, do the amount that allows you to fall into the optimal range. There are a few ways you can go about this and all are ideal for building muscle. For example:
- 4 sets X 10 Reps with moderate to low intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing endurance.
- 4 sets X 6 reps with moderate to high intensity – The idea here is for gaining strength and building muscle.
- 3 sets X 8 reps with moderate intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing strength.
- 3 sets X 10 reps with moderate intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing endurance.
- 3 sets X 12 reps with moderate to low intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing endurance.
- 2 sets X 15 reps with low intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing endurance.
- 2 sets X 12 reps with moderate to low intensity – This is ideal for building muscle and increasing endurance
As you can see, there are quite a few ways to work it. All of these combos are effective in building muscle. It just depends on your preference.
Now Let’s Put These Proven Combos To Work
First, you’ll want to choose your frequency. Let’s say you want to train your chest (a large muscle group) twice per week.
Your ideal rep range is 5 to 12 per set. Your ideal volume is 30 to 60 reps. You could bench press for four sets of six reps and do two sets of 12 reps of dumbbell flyes. So the total volume for that session would have been 48 reps. That stays right in your range. You can do this for all muscle groups, mix and match and make sure to cut the rep range in half for the smaller muscle groups.
Pick Your Poison: Machines, Free Weights Or Bodyweight Exercises
I know a lot of people who despise machines and the same goes for free weights. I even know some that say bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, don’t work at all.
But, despite what anyone says, all three are effective in building muscle.
Choosing the one that’s right for you has to be based on your preferences and goals. If you’re going for muscle gains and strength, the sky is the limit with machines and free-weights.
Machine exercises work on a fixed path. The machine stabilizes these types of movements. Various types of machines include leg press, chest press, chest flye, and many others.
These Are The Pros
It is easier to learn – Everything is set up for you. All you have to do is choose your weight, grab the handles, or get into position and go for it. Machines are good for beginners because of this.
It is a little safer when it comes to injury – Don’t get me wrong, there is still chance of injury no matter what type of exercise you do. But, when it comes to machines as compared to free weights, you’ll have less of a chance of injury, especially while lifting heavy. Doing a machine press doesn’t allow for a 300-pound loaded bar to come crashing down onto your chest because of a mistake.
These Are The Cons
The movement path seems a bit unnatural – When you are on a fixed movement path as with machines, this may force you into a position that doesn’t seem right for your body. This can make it uncomfortable and hard to progress.
It’s not very functional – Most machine exercises, as compared to bodyweight and free-weight exercises, don’t consist of natural movements that you would do in everyday life. An example of this is the hamstring curl machine.
It’s not ideal for home use – If you’re not a gym-goer but want to use machines in your house, you better have a pretty big house.
These machines are bulky and take up a lot of space. Though they do have all in ones for home use, they can still use up a lot of space in your home.
These Are The Pros
It allows for natural movement – Nothing is restricted in bodyweight exercises and they allow for full range of motion.
It engages more muscles – When you are in full control of the movements, not like with machines, you will recruit your stabilizer muscles as well.
It’s functional – Bodyweight exercises allow you to copy natural everyday movement that you do in everyday life so you’re completely in control.
It allows your workout to be done anywhere – There is no equipment needed with most bodyweight exercises, (the exceptions are pull-up bars, captains chair exercise, etc.) so you can do them just about anywhere.
These Are The Cons
Bodyweight exercises can be very hard – This is especially the case for beginners or those who may be overweight. The act of doing just a pull-up or push-up takes a lot of strength. The good thing is that you can modify these exercises until you’re strong enough to perform them fully. For example, push-ups can be done from your knees. Pull-ups can be done as you’re standing on a chair.
These exercises include the use of all free weights including barbells and dumbbells. Some of the exercises performed with these weights are biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, weighted squats, and deadlifts.
These Are The Pros
It includes natural movements – Exercises performed with free weights will let you to move with your full range of motion in the most natural way your body will allow for.
It engages more muscles – Just like with bodyweight exercises, free weight exercises cause you to use more stabilizing muscles as you do them.
They’re functional – These exercises also allow you to copy movements that you would do in everyday life.
They’re great for home use – A set of dumbbells, a barbell, some kettlebells and any other type of weighted object will allow you to do multiple exercises from home without taking up too much space.
These Are The Cons
It can be harder to learn at first – Using free weights takes good form and technique to get the full benefits. It’s definitely not impossible to learn. It just takes a bit of practice and common sense.
There’s a higher risk of injury – With free weights, it’s more common to injure yourself because of the free movement. Machines keep you stabilized and make up for where you could be lacking. But, performing a movement such as a bar squat with too much weight and/or bad form is potential for disaster.
How Many Sets Per Muscle Group: Here Is The Schedule
Choosing a workout schedule and sticking to it is key for making gains. Keep in mind that our bodies become accustomed pretty quickly to the same routines, so it’s a good idea to continue advancing often by adding a bit more weight. You can also switch up your exercises. For instance, if you are doing triceps with free weights and usually do overhead extensions, try doing kickbacks the next time.
Make sure that your workout schedule is realistic and will fit into your daily life. You likely don’t want to plan three hours at the gym after working a 12-hour shift. Set attainable goals and a realistic schedule.
Here’s A Few Ways To Work It
Whether you’re looking to put in five days per week, three days per week or just the weekend, it’s possible to get the full benefits and there are many ways you can do this.
This Is The 3 Day Full Body Split
This schedule is great if you want to knock it all out at once. You would do full body on non-consecutive days such as Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
This Is The 4 Day Upper And Lower Body Split
You would be alternating upper and lower body exercises on different days. For instance, Monday would be for the upper body and Tuesday for the lower body. Wednesday would be for rest. Thursday would be for upper body and Friday lower body. Saturdays and Sundays would also be rest days.
This Is The 3 Day Upper And Lower Body Split
This schedule would be switched every week. The first week you would do Monday lower body, Tuesday upper body and Friday lower body again. The second week you would do Monday upper body, Tuesday lower body and Friday upper body.
This Is The Mixed Workout
You can also do a mix such as chest, shoulder, and triceps on Mondays, back, and biceps on Tuesdays, rest on Wednesdays, legs and abs on Thursdays, Fridays rest, then chest, shoulders, and triceps on Saturdays and Sundays back and biceps.
As you can see, there are many ways to work it, so do what your schedule will allow. Below is an example of a weekly workout you might want to try.
Day 1 Upper Body
Bench press 4 Sets X 6-8 reps
Bent over barbell row 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Seated dumbbell press 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Dumbbell biceps curl 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Triceps extension 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Day 2 Lower Body
Front barbell squat 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Barbell deadlift 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Dumbbell lunge 3 sets X 6-8 reps
Seated leg curl 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Standing calf raise 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Day 3 Rest or Do Cardio
Day 4 Upper Body
Barbell incline bench press 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Wide-grip lat pulldown 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Standing military press 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Front dumbbell raise 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Bench dip 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Day 5 Lower Body
Barbell squat 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Stiff leg barbell deadlift 4 sets X 6-8 reps
Single leg press 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Seated leg press 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Seated calf raise 3 sets X 10-12 reps
Day 6 and Day 7 Rest or Do Cardio
There you have it, a good plan to start with. Make sure you get a sufficient amount of sleep, stay hydrated and eat well. Once you get into the swing of things, it will become second nature. Remember whether you’re seasoned or a beginner, making gains is an achievable goal that takes hard work and dedication. So give it everything you’ve got and don’t give up.
By Heather Neff, CPT