By Nick Nilsson
Author of Time-Volume Training
I got into weight training to gain mass and put on weight so believe me when I tell you, when it comes to wanting to build mass I know EXACTLY where you're coming from.
Because when I started training, I weighed 145 lbs soaking wet. Today, I'm a fairly lean 210 lbs (at a height of 5'10")!
I've got four "no fail" principles that I recommend to people who are trying to build muscle mass and gain some weight.
And I'll tell you right up front - these principles are NOT rocket science…these are the basic things you SHOULD be doing if you want to gain mass, yet I see plenty of people only doing one or two of them and wondering why they can't put on any mass.
Combining these four principles consistently will definitely get the job done.
1. Train Heavy and Just SHORT of Muscular Failure
In order to gain muscle mass, you need to give your muscles a REASON to grow. Training with heavy weights (relatively speaking, of course - what's heavy for one person may be light for another) to just short of muscular failure is the stimulus that starts the process.
And by muscular failure, I mean the point where you physically can't perform another rep WITH GOOD FORM - reps done with terrible form don't count.
The best rep range to train for muscle growth, in my experience, is between 6 to 10 repetitions per set. Training in the range below that (1 to 5 reps) will primarily lead to strength gains rather than muscle gains.
Training in the higher rep ranges (for the most part, unless you're using specialized high-rep techniques) will primarily work on muscular endurance with minimal effects on muscle mass.
Training to just short muscular failure is VERY important for muscle gain. The reason we want to stay just short of total failure is that this is very hard on the nervous system. By keeping that do-or-die rep in you, you still get the benefits of the heavy training but without the nervous system burnout.
Muscles will not grow unless they are pushed beyond what they're used to. Doing your sets only up to a certain number of reps and stopping on that number regardless of whether the muscle has been worked or not is a very common mistake made by both men and women alike. Counting reps and stopping on an arbitrary number will NOT work the muscles fully and will hamper weight gain.
Even though you're not pushing to total failure, you still want to be pushing HARD!
So to train for optimum muscle gain, select a weight that will cause you to reach just short of muscular failure in the 6 to 10 rep range.
2. Utilize Basic Exercises for Most of Your Training
Dumbbell tricep kick-backs will NOT help you gain weight. The Pec Deck will NOT help you gain weight. Leg extensions will NOT help you gain weight.
These exercises are not bad exercises; they're just NOT the exercises that are going to give you the results you want. In fact, doing exercises like these at the expense of the basic exercises can actually detract from weight gain, especially if you have a hard time gaining weight. They will use up your valuable time and energy!
Basic exercises are the exercises that use the most muscle mass. They are the HARDEST exercises…the ones you either love or hate. This "make or break" challenge is what makes them the most productive for building muscle.
Basic exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, barbell curls, barbell bent-over rows, dips, chin-ups, lunges, and calf raises. This is not a comprehensive list but it will give you an idea of what a basic exercise is. Essentially, a basic exercise is an exercise that you can use a lot of weight on and that requires the most effort.
Use these basic exercises consistently for the majority of your sets and you WILL gain muscle.
3. Eat Good Quality Nutrition in Sufficient Quantities
Now that you've stimulated your muscles with hard, heavy training, it's time to feed them. Gaining weight, a.k.a. building muscle, requires a caloric intake in excess of what it takes to maintain your current bodyweight.
Basically, you need to eat more.
The amount of calories you require to gain weight will vary greatly depending on several factors, primarily your current amount of muscle mass, your daily activity level and your metabolic rate.
The more muscle you already have and the more active you are, the more calories you're going to need to eat in order to gain weight. If you are already thin, you probably have a fast metabolism (i.e. you lose weight quickly and gain it slowly), and you're going to need to eat even MORE.
In order to keep your muscles supplied with nutrients, you're going to need to eat frequently throughout the day. It's best if you can manage to eat 5 or 6 meals over the course of the day. Naturally, these meals will be smaller than your regular meals if you currently eat 3 per day.
The idea is to keep feeding your muscles so that they always have nutrients available to grow. If you go without food for long periods of time, your body will turn on its own resources (e.g. your muscles) to provide needed nutrients for repair and recovery.
And whatever you do, if you want to gain weight, DO NOT skip breakfast! It's an important meal for increasing your overall caloric load for the day, which is critical for increasing muscle mass.
Besides sufficient caloric intake, protein is also critical for muscle gain. Protein is the structural nutrient that your muscles are made of. You must feed your body protein in order to help your muscles rebuild.
Good protein sources include fish, poultry, dairy, meats, soy, legumes (beans), eggs, and whey. A typical recommended protein intake for a person looking to gain muscle would be around 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, as a 136-pound person, this would have you eating 109 to 136 grams of protein per day.
Supplements can also be extremely useful for weight gain. Whey protein, creatine monohydrate, and the amino acid glutamine are among the most effective supplements.
And I'll tell you right now, there's no need to get crazy with your supplement purchases… manufacturers will often prey upon your strong desire to gain mass and try and sell you a TON of supplements you really don't need.
Keep it simple and get your training and eating in order. THAT is what builds an impressive body - not a boatload of bizarre supplements.
So to sum it up: eat a lot, eat frequently and eat plenty of protein.
4. Get Enough Rest
Your muscles don't grow while you're training. Your muscles actually grow AFTER your training session is done. One of the best things you can do to help you reach your goal of gaining weight is to learn to relax. This is especially important both after a workout and at night.
Immediately following a workout, your body is in an emergency situation. You've just put a lot of stress on your body and your body needs time to recover from it.
If you immediately have to rush off to do errands or some other stressful chore, you're not going to get optimal recovery and that means you're not going to get optimal muscle growth. If you can manage it, try to schedule your workouts for when you have a little time to relax after. Heck, take a nap about an hour or so later if you can!
Getting some good, solid sleep at night is also very important. A large part of your growth process occurs at night. If you don't get enough sleep or your sleep is restless, your body will not be able to take full advantage of the growth you've stimulated with your training.
If you want to gain mass, you HAVE to do the basic things right…train hard with heavy, basic exercises, eat well and get plenty of rest. As I mentioned above, this isn't rocket science, yet you'd be surprised at how many people miss more than one of these items.
Don't stop yourself before you even get started - make sure you're got these four "no fail" principles down pat.
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