How To Make An Exercise Program For Muscle Growth
Now it’s time to apply that information to real life.
In this post, we will talk about the specifics of an exercise program for muscle growth. How much weight do you need to lift? Is there a minimum number of sets and reps per exercise?
These are the strategies that I have used to add over 25 lbs of muscle to my frame, and almost triple my strength.
Welcome to the third installment of the WCT Muscle Building Series, where we teach you what you need to know to build muscle and gain control of your life.
In Part 1 , How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods we discuss the three things you need to do to build muscle. If you don’t do these three things, then you are simply wasting your time.
In Part 2, What's Your Body Type? [Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph]? we discuss the three different body types, and how each one builds muscle differently. We highly recommend that you determine which body type you are before you read this post.
Today’s post is going to cover
Common Misconceptions Regarding Training and Exercise
The Optimal Volume for Hypertrophy
The Optimal Volume for Strength
One Key Strategy To Include In Your Muscle Building Gym Workout Routine
We have a lot to cover so let’s get started right away.
Common Misconceptions Regarding Muscle Building Exercise Programs
Before we discuss the optimal training volumes for muscle growth, it is important to lay down some basic ground rules. Regardless of the body type, you may be, the principles of building muscle stay the same.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding the best ways to use resistance training to build muscle.
If muscle building is your goal, these are things you need to avoid:
Thinking That You Need To Train Each Muscle Individually
One of the most common misconceptions about building muscle is that each one of your muscle groups needs to be trained individually.
This is when you see people training Chest on Monday, Back on Tuesday, Arms on Wednesday, Legs on Friday etc.
As we discussed in 3 Essential Principles of Exercise Routines, isolation exercises are not the best way to build muscle mass.
You simply cannot stimulate your muscles enough when you train them one at a time.
We occasionally do isolation exercises, but they only constitute a minority of our exercise selection.
You can certainly get more for less if you stick to compound exercises: particularly the Big 6 movement patterns described in All Fitness Training Programs Need To Include These 3 Things
When performing compound movements, you don’t need to do a lot of exercises nor train your muscles until exhaustion.
This leads us to the next misconception...
Thinking That You Need To Spend Hours At The Gym To Get Results
If you train correctly, (using large compound exercises for most of your training) then you do not have to spend a long time exercising.
Compound exercises always give you the biggest bang for your buck.
They allow you to lift heavier weights then you could with isolation exercises, and stimulate your muscles a lot faster. As a result, you don't need to do endless sets and reps.
In short, we want to stimulate our muscles, not annihilate them.
Check out 9 Simple Ways to Shorten Your Workout and Spend Less Time in the Gym to learn other ways to maximize your training time.
And lastly, my favorite misconception...
Thinking That You Will Get Bulky Easily
Another common misconception is that lifting weights will get you bulky.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a woman (and some men) say that she doesn’t want to lift weights because she doesn’t want to get bulky, my student loans would be paid off.
Gaining any noticeable muscle mass is extremely difficult.
Most men will never get bulky, even if they tried. If all you had to do was lift weights to get really muscular, everyone would be jacked.
You generally don’t have high enough levels of testosterone to get large muscles. The women who are “bulky” lift for a living, and center most things in their lives around exercise.
Brittany can Squat >200 lbs and Deadlift > 300 lbs and she is not 'bulky'
Ok, so now that we have those out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.
The Optimal Volume for Muscle Hypertrophy
The first thing that you need to include in your exercise program is hypertrophy training.
Hypertrophy training refers to exercising specifically for muscular growth.
Don’t forget, this doesn’t mean getting bulky- all it means is that your muscles are becoming more developed!
Why Should you train for hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy causes your muscle fibers to grow in size.
More muscle size means more metabolically active tissue. More size means more fat burning potential. More size means more potential strength and athleticism.
How Often Should You Train For Hypertrophy?
I recommend that you train in the Hypertrophy range for most of your early training career. At least 2/3rds of your exercise programming should be dedicated to hypertrophy.
In All Fitness Training Programs Need To Include These 3 Things we discuss the optimal rep ranges for Hypertrophy training.
Performing 7-12 repetitions per set have been shown to be the most conducive to muscular growth.
When it comes to sets, 3 is generally a good place to start. 3 sets of 7-12 reps equate to a total of 21-36 repetitions per exercise per day.
Since we recommend that you train each major movement pattern twice a week, you’ll be doing 42-72 total reps, per muscle group, per week.
It is extremely important that you focus on movement patterns, rather than individual muscles. Movement patterns represent compound exercises, and these hit multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
For example, let’s say you:
Squat 3 sets of 8 repetitions once a week
Front Squat 3 sets of 10 repetitions later that week
And Reverse Lunges 3 sets of 12 repetitions once during that week
That is a total of 9 sets and 90 repetitions of Quadriceps Work per week, WITH the added bonus of hitting your glutes and your hamstrings for 9 sets indirectly as well.
It’s also important to note that different movement patterns may respond better to more or less volume what I have described above.
For me, my lower body responds better to higher volume in the form of a higher number of repetitions and multiple sets, whereas my upper body tends to respond better to a lower number of repetitions per set.
Everyone is different, therefore it is important to experiment and see which range works best for each of the Big 6 Movement Patterns.
The Optimal Volume for Strength Development
The second thing your gym workout routine needs to include is strength.
It’s important to note that size and strength are not the same thing. One person can have large muscles and be moderately strong, whereas someone else can have medium sized muscles and be very strong. It all depends on how you decide to train.
Strength training is different from hypertrophy in that it requires you to lift heavier weights.
Why Should You train for Strength?
Strength is one of those characteristics that is useful for anyone in any situation. When you train for strength, you actually train your central nervous system to recruit more neural motor units to lift more weight. This is why strength is different from size.
Stronger muscles will also let you break through plateaus you may experience during hypertrophy training, which inevitably happens if you only train in the 7-12 rep range.
Lastly, you never know when you may have to save someone who is pinned under a car.
How To Train For Strength In Your Exercise Program
In All Fitness Training Programs Need To Include These 3 Things, we discuss that the optimal rep range for strength is 4-6 repetitions per set.
Because the load on the bar increases, the repetitions per set decreases. However, the total volume should only be slightly less when compared to Hypertrophy training.
This means that strength training often requires more sets than hypertrophy training.
Either way, the weight needs to be challenging.
How heavy should the weight be?
The weights should be at least 80% of your one rep max.
Your one rep max is the most weight that you can lift for one repetition with good technique. For example, let’s say you can squat 200 lbs for one max rep. In order to be at 80%, most of your volume should be done with weights of 160 lbs or more for sets of 4-6 repetitions.
It’s not always possible to know what your one rep max is (especially if you are relatively new to lifting). For experienced lifters, it is Ok to use estimations.
Other important considerations...
It is important to note that the really heavy weights should be reserved for experienced lifters who have developed great technique on the various lifts.
Use your judgment. If you cannot maintain good form when performing the exercise, it’s probably a good idea to decrease the weight.
In total, you should perform around 12-24 repetitions per exercise, per day when training for strength.
Again, each major movement pattern should be trained ~twice a week, totaling 24-48 total reps per week.
The weight must be at least 80% of your 1 Rep Max
If you aren’t an experienced lifter (at least 2-3 years of consistent exercising), you should spend no more than 1/3rd of your training on strength. The more experienced you are, the more strength training you can and should do.
In addition, I must emphasize that you should always listen to your body. Never train through pain, and do not ignore aches and pains that do not go away with conservative treatment. These guidelines are especially true for ectomorphs.
How strong should you be? Check out our realistic strength standards for the everyday person.
The Number One Strategy To Keep Building Muscle And Making Progress For Years
Now that you have an idea for the appropriate amount of training volume you need for muscular size and strength, let’s talk about long-term progress.
As we discussed in Part 1, the training stimulus must be progressive or increasing over time. The easiest way to do this is to increase the weight you are lifting over time, or to increase the repetitions you are doing at a particular weight over time.
In short, you must do a little bit more than you did before.
Obviously, this cannot go on forever. If you try to do this continuously, your body will plateau, or you will get injured.
So how do we bypass this?
The easiest way to circumvent this problem is to keep rotating the exercises that you are performing.
That is why we are such strong advocates of having many different variations of the same exercises in your tool belt. Constantly doing the same exercise over and over with increasing weights or increasing reps will lead to overuse injuries and pain.
Focus only on 1-2 variations of an exercise at a time, and then switch them every 8-12 weeks.
Week 1-8: Bench Press and Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Week 9-19: Close Grip Bench Press and Wide Grip Push-ups
Week 20-28: Incline Bench Press and Dumbbell Bench Press
Week 29-36: Weighted Push-ups and 3-count paused Bench Press
Week: 37: Restart
And for the Squat Pattern
Week 1-12: Squat and Reverse Lunges
Week 13-20: Box Squats and Leg Press
Week: 21-32: Front Squat and Step Ups
Week: 33-40: Paused Back Squat and Goblet Squats
Week 41: Restart
By rotating the exercises, you are training your muscles in different ways and forcing them to adapt to new stimuli every 2-3 months. You build better overall strength and keep your training fun and engaging.
Keep track of your progress for every exercise in a journal or electronic notepad.
Every time you return to a variation you have previously done, compare your new levels of strength to where you were before.
Get stronger in every variation possible. Keep the long-term picture in mind.
The Bottom Line On Creating The Ideal Exercise Program
Any health and fitness professional would agree that improving your lean muscle mass percentage is extremely beneficial for just about everyone. In order to reap the maximum benefit of your exercise program, it is ideal to increase your muscular size and your muscular strength.
Both can be obtained by using the right number of sets and reps in your exercise program.
Lastly, do not forget the importance of being well rounded. Rotate the exercises you include in your training every 2-3 months while still improving all 6 movement patterns.
So there you have it. You are now armed with the most powerful strategies to build muscle as we understand it. This information has taken us years to discover through research, experimentation, trial, and error.
Don’t make any more excuses, carve out 35 minutes out of your day to exercise and build one of the best organs in your body.
Now we turn it over to you:
Have you used these strategies to gain muscle in the past?
Have you primarily trained for hypertrophy or strength?
Do you rotate your exercises or always keep them the same?
Comment below and let us know.
In the next post, we discuss the optimal strategies to recover from your workouts and from your busy lifestyle. Find it at How To Boost Your Post Exercise Recovery [& Relieve Your Sore Muscles].
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