If success in anything were as easy as following a single path in life, everyone would be doing it, and achieving the same level of brilliance.
That’s a nice fantasy, but that’s all it is.
Blame being human. And, variables: Age, genetics, program, resources, motivation, diet. There’s a whole lot to consider when carving out a plan to reach a lofty goal - particularly when it involves trying to get the human body to do as it’s told.
Here’s why mass gains are so elusive for us all: Anyone stepping into a gym for the first time will easily pack on mass within a first year or two in a gym. Going from not training at all to regular lifting is like pointing a shotgun at a flock of 10,000 ducks flying overhead. Point it any direction and you’re bound to get something.
A couple years later, different story.
Why? Because now there are just 10 ducks in the sky and you actually have to be a good shot to hit a target.
So is that it? Not by a long shot!
Of Course You Can Work In - I’m Not Currently Trying to Gain Size - Go Ahead!
To call some period a “mass phase” is kind of a misnomer. After all, who among us has a non-mass phase? Do you honestly ever hear this:
But while we don’t ever go into the gym with the idea that we are going to “hold the status quo” for awhile, there are mass phases and then there are CRAZY, BIG, SHOCKING mass-building phases.
And all we’re saying is: There are rules to be followed for that kind.
THREE COMPONENTS OF MASS GAIN SUCCESS
Which is more important?
You can ask 10 people to rank the five components of mass gain success in order of importance, and you’ll probably find rankings all over the map:
‘Diet is most important - you gotta eat!’ says one.
‘No, it’s the kind of mass program you follow, how heavy you lift’ says another.
‘I know one thing, you definitely won’t gain mass without at least 10 hours of sleep per night’ adds another.
All three of these components rely upon the other as a team - a mass-gaining team. One without the other can only net moderate gains - not SHOCKING, eye-popping gains!
Quite simply, shocking gains are the Holy Grail of lifting. Here’s how to grab that cup:
With all of the many programs out there - Wendler 5/3/1, 5x5, 1RM, Slingshot Training System, Circuit Training, S61XL, P90X...Crossfit...Powerlifting.
Four weeks of this....5 weeks of that....”Don’t take more than a minute rest!!!!”
it’s literally enough to boggle the mind and put it on overload.
Oh, did we say overload? DING. DING. DING!
Overload is always the right answer when it comes to making big mass gains. Progress depends upon seeking out new and more difficult challenges. Fail to challenge muscles and they won’t become stronger. Fail to come up with new ways to do that every few weeks, and muscles adapt rapidly.
Pushing yourself into new rep ranges with more challenging weights - whether that means going to failure with your current heaviest, to adding more weight to the bar for fewer, but more intense, repetitions - or changing up the type of exercises you do to stimulate the most tissue at a deep level. The point is to always be changing your workout to keep one step ahead. And that means overwhelming muscles at all times.
Keep the body guessing and reaching toward the challenges you set in front of it - just out of reach - and it will move toward adaptation, but will never actually adapt.
That constant reaching is where growth endures and sustains itself over and over again.
Lifting heavy, keeping the body guessing, and other factors all play into mass gains, but changing things up - from workout type, to number of days rest between training sessions, to rest times between sets - are key because it addresses the body’s different fiber types. Fast- and slow-twitch fibers dictate how muscles adapts, grows, looks, etc. And it’s that balance between going progressively heavier with weights, and finding that magic rep range during a workout, that must be found.
Pay attention to how your fiber responds. Keep logs, note training intensity, time between sets and recuperation times that net the best success.
Intensity is key to building muscle too, however, and to ignore that fact by simply training with a heavy weight, is ignorance. Certainly, training with a heavy weight is a form of intensity in and of itself. However, training intensely WITH that heavy weight is what separates a simply hard workout, from one that is effective in building mass. In fact, you could build more muscle employing intensity principles across fewer days, than doing a lot of low-grade, low-intensity training. Muscle growth comes from surprisingly few sets if each of those sets is done to failure, for example.
Take sets to failure - often. It’s one of the best things you can do toward making rapid mass gains.
But there’s also something to be said for keeping it simple. And in the book of big gains, keeping it simple means sticking mostly to compound exercises. Think about it: You have this complex routine, where you are assessing your 1 rep max (1RM), then calculating what 75 percent of that is for one lift, then 80 percent of that for another, your head is spinning and taking it away from the focus you need.
Does it pay to complicate anything else? Probably not.
Do yourself a favor: Stick to compound exercises - the ‘big baddy basics’, like squat, bench, deadlift, rows.
They are central to your success with mass gains, and will always be at the heart of deep muscle stimulation. Isolation-based exercises will never be able to do as much.
But there may also be some wisdom in keeping it even simpler than that, frankly, and that’s in a sane rep range that doesn’t require a calculator next to the squat rack!
The optimum number of repetitions per set has been shown in study after study to be in the area of six total per set.
Use as heavy a weight as you can, for six reps per set, in a compound exercise, and it can’t get any simpler. The devil, as they say, may be found in the details. Too many details, and you may end up with fewer gains.
This is always the most difficult section for anyone to grasp when it comes to building really serious muscle. Opinions and experiences are all over the map here. One person will tell you:
“Eat with abandon - devour a picnic table of food everyday like a brown bear raiding a campsite.”
Another will say:
“The food in the diet should stay relatively healthy and clean, and the extra calories should come from some form of weight gainer supplement.”
And none of this is wrong.
So though it is a calorie game, what it really comes down to is this: Strategy.
It’s getting the extra calories, but it’s truly about feeding your body’s needs at that moment. Training poses one need, and recuperation poses another. Figure out what those needs are, specifically, and you will figure out your diet.
Think of it this way:
Training requires quick, easily accessible calories - mostly carbohydrates - while recuperation needs sustained, slow-release energy.
When training, think of using pre-workout drinks to help with focus, energy, quick-burst intensity. Post-workout nutrition is also important.
Ideally, on training days, the focus should be on what you put into your body two hours before and two hours after.
If your workout is an hour, that means that you should be most concerned with that five-hour period of time.
On days off, the focus should be much different:
When recuperating, it should be a commitment to eating throughout the day - not moving as much.
Keep meals balanced with adequate protein, carbohydrates and fats, frequent meals, and complex, low-glycemic carbohydrates that will release in the bloodstream slowly.
Failing to feed your body in the correct manner can seriously thwart your best training efforts. In fact, you could be the gym superstar when it comes to lifting heavy, intense, and with perfect form. You might even find that golden rep range where it should pave the way to big gains. But if you can’t figure out how to feed your body, those gains will slip through your fingers like grains of sand.
It is often said that growth happens in the hours outside the gym. And that is incredibly true. Carving out time for adequate rest is a very important component of any intense training routine where big mass gains are sought.
In fact, you can’t make gains without carving out that time.
It is in the repair phase, in the days that follow a workout, on a day or weekend off, that both building - and rebuilding - occurs.
Exertion in the gym is one thing, but exertion to the nth degree as a result of seeking super mass gains means that the body is very susceptible to overtraining and becoming fatigued to the point of exhaustion. That kind of fatigue can alter sex hormone secretion, compromise of the immune system, and open the body to injury.
Taxing the muscles without paying it back on the other end will mean ZERO in the way of gains.
But it’s not just the quality of your rest days, your sleep, and time off your feet, and keeping stress levels in your life lower, it’s also keeping workouts to a number that allow the largest output of intensity and strength in the gym, and the most amount of time off to rebuild.
Find that balance between coming in strong on training days, while allowing the most time to rebuild in order to make monster gains!