Are you having a hard time to put on muscle? Chances are you're doing something wrong. You could eat enough calories, sleep well, going frequently to the gym and still wondering why you can't gain muscle mass fast. If that's the case, your workout plan could be the problem. Let's see 7 of the best things you could do to improve your results in the gym and to increase muscle mass.
1. Use compound exercises
What are compound exercises?
Compound exercises such as squat, deadlift, bench press, pull-ups (or rows) and overhead press are multi-joint movements. It works several muscles or muscle groups at one time. Squat for example, use quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back. If you noticed, all bodybuilders use that kind of exercises in their workout routine because it's the most effective way to get results. They are the real mass builder, they build the most muscle and increase strength faster.
However, like any other exercises, you have to perform these exercises correctly to see good results and avoid any injuries. Lifting heavy weights on squat and deadlift might not be the best option yet for beginners. Start lighter until you have the perfect form before going heavy. Ask someone or a trainer to check if there's any issue with your form while you perform your set.
2. Include isolation exercises for specific body parts
What are isolation exercises?
Isolation exercises such as biceps curl, triceps extension, side lateral raise and most of the machines work one muscle group rather than multiple muscles groups and joints as in compound movements. They might not the best exercises to put on muscle mass fast but they have some practicality to it.
They are useful for lagging body parts, injuries rehabilitation, for superset or after your compound exercises. Compound movements don't have the same loading of each muscle group compared to their demands in terms of stress (i.e. you can easily "overtrain" a muscle group and "undertrain" another). In this case, isolation exercises are a good way to work all your muscles equally.
Why choosing compound exercises over isolation exercises?
They allow you to use heavy weights and stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fibers thus making your muscles to grow faster. As for example, squat and leg extension, both of them work our quads. You are more likely to lift heavier with squat, work multiple muscles at the same time rather than legs extension where you work only the quads and use lighter weights.
In theory, you should gain muscle mass more easily. This doesn't mean you should neglect isolation exercises. A good rule of thumb is to start with compound movements while you have the best energy for heavyweights and finish with isolation movements.
Are there any other benefits?
There are many benefits to use compound exercises in your workout routine. They are wonderful for:
Increasing strength; Because they use two or more muscles at once combined with the movement along with two or more joints. Since the body adapts itself to this kind of stress, it results in greater strength gains than isolation movements. As you already know, more strength equals more muscle mass. These exercises are also useful in real life situations in everyday tasks, when you lifting heavy objects, in your sport, when you have a physical job and when you having fun strength test with your friends.
Increasing muscle Mass; It releases higher levels of growth hormone compared to isolation exercises. The reason why it releases more growth hormone is because these exercises put more stress on your body causing it to take better measures to adapt to the stimulus. High level of growth hormone can grow new muscle cells which mean you gain more lean muscle mass.
Develop stabilizer Muscles; Stabilizer muscles are used when you need your muscles to be stable to perform the lift. In other words, you need them while you do squat, deadlift, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell military press, etc... Strong stabilizers help you to perform your exercises correctly, without them you could not handle the weight. In fact, we can almost say that strong stabilizers may help to prevent injuries.
Increase testosterone production; Something that can boost your testosterone is by recruiting a lot of muscle fibers. In order to do that, you have to work more than one muscle group at once. It can be done only by doing compound movements and lifting heavy weights. Which in turn, it will also help in testosterone production.
Strengthen tendons; Tendon connects muscles to bones, a separation of the tendon from the bone would result in a severe injury. By training them with heavyweights, it would make them stronger and reduce the risk of injury.
Saving you time in the gym; It allows you to work more than one muscle at once so if you want to keep it short, focus only on these types of exercises.
Reduce the risk of muscle atrophy; Training with heavy weights will reduce the risk of muscle atrophy because it will make the muscle cell walls grow thicker and stronger.
Train your cardiovascular system; Exercises such as squats and deadlift use multiple muscle groups requiring more oxygen which in turn raises the heart rate which then results in burning more calories. A higher heart rate will not only burn more calories but will also increase your metabolism.
3. Add more weights to your exercises
To gain muscle mass, you have to add more weights to your exercises or do few more repetitions to get your muscles to grow bigger. Your muscles would have to rebuild these damaged tissues to become stronger and to be able to deal with such trauma in the future.
Lifting the same weight every time you go to the gym will only maintain your current muscle size but it won't make you bigger. Try to push harder every time you go to the gym, by doing 1-2 more reps or by adding weight. Be careful to keep a good form, if you added weight and your form suffer, then it means you're not ready to add weights yet.
When should I add weights to my exercises?
If you were training to build strength (6-8 reps) and aimed to do 8 repetitions on an exercise but ended up doing 1 to 2 more repetitions after your last repetition with good form, then you can add more weights. What I can tell you is never add too much weights too fast, add weights gradually because your ligaments and tendons don't build as fast as your muscles which risk to cause injuries.
4. Get the right number of repetitions and number of sets
Well it depends on your goals, how many months/years you've been working out to know if you are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced trainer. Also, the rep range can vary from people to people because we are all different, some can benefit more from low rep range and others from high rep range. Usually, we are using low rep range (6 to 8 reps) for strength & building muscle as well as for fat loss, that's what works for most of the people in general.
When you're new to training, you should not begin to do 6 to 8 repetitions, you have to strengthen your ligaments/tendons in first. What I recommend for a beginner is always to start with a rep range of 10 to 12 repetitions and then lower the repetition when the trainer become more experienced. As for an intermediate, it would be 8 to 12 repetitions and for an advanced trainer, it would be 6 to 8 repetitions.
Some people wonder what should their workout volume looks like as well. They can check out the required volume here and learn about "overtraining" issue which is another factor that hinders people's progress.
How to know if I am a beginner, intermediate or advanced trainer?
The beginner phase usually takes a year before becoming an intermediate trainer. Someone with a good physique and excellent genetics may become an intermediate trainer in less time because of his ability to put on muscle mass faster than other people.
After a year, the trainer will go into the intermediate phase for about 1 to 3 years long. Again, it can vary depending on some factors such as genetics, dedication, and diet. It's during these years that the trainer will see the greatest changes in their body and even some of them will begin to compete towards the end of this phase.
Then, after the intermediate phase, the trainer becomes an advanced trainer. At this time, the trainer is ready to take it to the next level with hardcore diets, supplements schedules, and intense workouts. This phase is the longest one, there will be an early advanced, middle advanced and elite advanced bodybuilder in this phase. It can take years for going from one to the other. The keys to making constant progress are dedication and staying injury-free.
5. Use a good tempo & contraction while exercising
You might wonder why a tempo would affect your gains, well it's as important as your reps and sets. You could have the right reps/sets but without a good tempo, it would affect your gains. Lifting weights fast doesn't give the same results as lifting weights slowly. Good tempo helps you to have better control of the weight, keeps you with a better form, builds more muscles. It also decreases the chance of injury and burns more calories because of the higher intensity.
How does the tempo work?
The tempo is the speed at which you lift the weight. For example, when you lower the weight, pause at the bottom and lift the weight back to the top from each repetition. You've probably seen 3 to 4 numbers (ex; 3/1/3 or 4/2/4/2) in your workout routine plan aside each of your exercises but wonder what is it and how it works.
It's simple to read and understand these numbers (ex; 3/1/3), the first number means the time in eccentric motion, 1 mean the time of the pause at the bottom and the last number is the time in concentric motion.
If you are doing bench press, for example, you would lower the bar for 3 seconds, you would pause for 1 second at the bottom and you would raise the bar for 3 seconds. It's the same thing for the tempo with 4 numbers. Except for this time, the last number will indicate the pause's time at the top of the movement before you begin your other repetition.
Which tempo is the best to use?
Now which tempo is the best to use, let's begin to talk about fast tempo. This is something that I would not recommend and that shouldn't be used to build muscle. You don't break enough muscle tissue while performing fast repetitions which result in poor muscle gains. In this case, using a slow tempo would be a lot better for building muscle.
As for example, slow tempo on bench press would be like 3 to 4 seconds in eccentric motion,1 to 2 seconds pause at the bottom, 1 to 3 seconds in concentric motion. Another thing you must do is to contract your muscle for 1 to 2 seconds after each concentric motion on your exercises such as biceps curl, triceps pushdown, legs extension, bench press, dumbbell flyes, etc.
6. Allow yourself enough rest between sets
How much time should I rest between sets?
This depends on your goals and which exercises you are doing. If you're bulking (trying to gain weight) and lifting heavy weights, your rest time between sets & exercises for doing 6 to 8 repetitions would be 3 to 5 minutes on compound exercises. Then, on isolation exercises, it would be about 2 to 3 minutes. Usually, 2 to 3 minutes is enough for the majority of your exercises to properly recover.
7. Track your weights, sets & reps!
Why? This will immediately show you why you can't gain muscle mass
Last but not least, tracking your weights, sets and repetitions is critical for your success. Avoiding this may hinder your progress, it would be pretty much working out blindly. Nowadays, there's plenty of apps that allow you to enter your workout plan along with all your progress.
These apps are so useful to track your progress. It also allows you to know when you've just hit a plateau (staying at the same weights, reps for weeks). That way know when it's time to change your workout plan.
My best & favorite app that I use is WORKIT (available on Android here and on iPhone here), you can track everything on it, here are some of the features;
There are popular programs already included
You can create & fully customize your workout plan
There's 100's of exercises to choose from, you can even create your own
Know how to execute the exercises with animations
Track your weights, sets & reps (every time you workout, you can see your previous stats)
Visualize your gains of a graph
Visualize your volume/sets/reps breakdown
Track your body stats & more!
Your workout plan is just as important as your nutrition plan. In the beginner phase, you might not need to "understand it all". You could probably do anything and still see results. However, when you get to the intermediate level, things change. Having the right nutrition and choosing the right exercises/workout volume is a must. Especially if you still want to see good progress. You've been training for quite a while and still wonder how it works? Well, you can use some of the information on this website to make your own plans. Otherwise, getting a customized nutrition and workout plan from a certified trainer is always a good idea. That way, you'll get back on track really quickly.
What is one of your biggest mistake when it comes to weight training? Have you found the main reason why you can't gain muscle mass? Let me know in the comment section below.