Who doesn’t want to have more lean muscle? Seriously I think if you quizzed almost any powerlifter, bodybuilder, crossfitter or olympic lifter and asked them if they would like to be able to add another five, ten or fifteen kilograms of LEAN muscle they would ALL unanimously say “YES PLEASE.” The benefits of having more muscle mass are undisputed, among them we have:
– Increased resting metabolic rate (eat more food, stay less fat)
– Increased potential for strength/power output. 9 times out of 10, a larger muscle is a stronger one.
– Decreased risk of injury – bigger, stronger muscles protect joints, ligaments and the rest of you.
– You will look way, way better naked.

So now it’s been settled that we want to train to build lean, useful tissue how do we go about it? While it is true that there are many way to skin a cat, outlined below is some straight up information that we have found helps both us and our clients in the pursuit of muscle.

  1. FOOD – firstly and put simply you NEED to eat to put on muscle. If you aren’t getting enough calories (predominantly protein and carbohydrates) then you are going to find it near impossible to add quality mass to your frame. There are numerous guides on structuring a diet for growth, my recommendations is to set protein at 1g/pound of bodyweight, fats at 0.5g/pound and eat as many carbohydrates as your calorie limit allows. Aiming for a 250-500 calorie surplus PER DAY is usually best. The current research doesn’t show a whole lot of benefit to particular food types, meal timing or frequency so our recommendation is to find what works, and NAIL YOUR CALORIES, PROTEIN AND CARBS DAILY.
  2. The training split (for the natural athlete) – Muscle responds best to high volumes, in other words you should be doing as much training as possible in order to maximise muscle growth. We spend the majority of our time working in the 65-85% of 1rm range and predominantly stick to sets of 8 to 12 reps. In saying that there is definitely a huge benefit to periodising and including sets of 4 to 8 reps from time to time as well as some higher rep sets of 15 to 30 reps. This will not only help to keep things mentally engaging, but also avoid overtraining and stagnation.

    We also typically recommend a 4 to 5 day training split for the natural athlete utilising an upper/lower body split. A standard example would be:
    Monday – Lower body
    Tuesday – Upper body
    Wednesday – OFF
    Thursday – Lower body
    Friday – Upper body
    Saturday – assistance (core, delts, movement quality, recovery)
    Sunday – OFF.

    Progression should still be a strong focus of any program. GETTING STRONGER = GROWING MUSCLES. Seriously guys, I see so many strong guys that are jacked as hell, and very few Jacked guys that AREN’T noticeably stronger than their (puny) peers. If over time you aren’t adding weight to the bar, then you’re probably not growing.

  3. Lower body sessions should be built around the Squat, deadlift and lunge. There are countless variations but free weights work best. A sample session might look like the following:

    Barbell back squat (high bar, slow eccentric) 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
    Romanian Deadlift (pause at maximum stretch) 4 sets of 12 reps
    Barbell front squat 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
    Rear foot elevated (bulgarian) split squat 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps each leg
    Barbell hip thrust 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps, squeeze at top.

    Of importance is building balance between quadriceps, hamstring and glute focused movements in order to best suit your goals. Avoiding too much deadlifting from the floor can also help with recovery aspects. This is just one sample session without accounting for any individual strengths/weaknesses or goals. Remember that everyone is different and the “ideal” program for any one person will always be unique to them and their current situation.

  4. Upper body sessions are focused on barbell pressing, heavy rowing and bodyweight movements. A typical upper body mass building session could be as follows:

    Bench press with slow eccentric and pause on chest 4 sets of 8 reps
    Chinups 4 sets of 8 reps (performed as super set with bench)
    Incline Dumbbell press 4 sets of 12 reps
    Bentover barbell row 4 sets of 12 reps
    half kneeling landmine press 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
    kroc row 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps
    lateral raise 3 sets of 15 reps
    bicep curl 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
    tricep cable pushdown 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

As we can see there are many factors involved in building muscle. But for the most part the simple stuff wins out. Eat lots, lift heavy, recover well.