Updated: Dec 29, 2020
I am a huge fan of simplifying concepts down into much simpler and smaller components. I find that many things are over complicated these days. The truth is, if you really understand something you should be able to simplify it as much as possible. This is what I wish to do here with the topic of building muscle mass.
I want to start with a huge disclaimer that your potential to build muscle mass will be largely affected by your genetics. I simply won’t be able to build as much muscle mass as Arnold. Even if I took all the steroids him and the other yoked monsters used during his day, it wouldn’t happen. Many of us can work as hard as possible and still not see absurd muscle gains as some of our muscle-bound idols. On the plus side, however, is that most of us don’t ever come close to seeing the peak of our muscle mass potential. I think we lack the understanding of the best route to get there and increasing a lot of muscle mass can require a lot more effort than most people think.
With the increase in popularity of various new training methods across the years I think we’ve lost the way as to the simplest route to increase muscle mass. Should we not use machines? Are barbells best? Unilateral training vs. bilateral training? Do I need to back squat? What are the best rep ranges? Due to our current circumstance of quarantine most of us have had to change our normal training regimen, and I think this situation has brought more shining light on gaining muscle mass. I think a lot of people might be starting to realize their body weight hypertrophy program isn’t yielding much hypertrophy and some may even be compromising hypertrophy.
The simple truth is that increasing muscle mass is all about promoting fatigue in the muscle. If you don’t fatigue the muscle enough, you will not see the hypertrophy gains you want. I think the bigger problem people face isn’t what rep ranges and exercises to choose, but that they actually don’t know how to induce fatigue. People may think they are fatiguing their muscle because they probably actually feel like they are working hard but aren’t truly reaching a fatigued state. A study in 2017 showed that when people were asked to perform a max reps set on bench press with a weight they thought they could max for ten reps, they ended up performing far more than ten reps. The obvious result: people aren’t actually going to fatigue.
On the practical side, what exercise you choose can be somewhat important. It should be quite obvious that a bench press is going to induce more fatigue than push-ups. This is where using a barbell, dumbbells, and machines (OMG he said machines!), can be the best use of your time. This equipment is going to allow you to increase the load on movements and therefore drive more fatigue and more hypertrophic gains.
The sets and reps you use don’t matter quite as much as if you actually get to a truly fatigued state on your sets. An easy guideline is to perform 3-5 working sets while working to a point of 3 reps left in the tank on each set and using the last set to get within the point of only 1-2 reps left in the tank. If you can truly work to the point of only 3 reps left in the tank this is enough to drive the proper amount of fatigue, but also not killing you so you can consistently train throughout the week. Best to stick with weight that keeps you anywhere within 6-20 reps on each set. If you can pick 3-4 exercises each training session with this guideline in mind you will be well on your way to gain city.
As for the nutrition component to fuel increase in muscle mass, that is for another article, but as most people know, protein is going to be your go-to. If you don’t know where to start, start by trying to eat your bodyweight in grams of protein each day. You will probably find this hard, but it will keep you eating the macronutrient that matters the most and will most likely keep you eating healthy foods in the process, because quality foods are going to yield the largest amounts of protein. Think all of your basic meats.
It is my hope that this is the simplest format you have seen regarding building muscle while also being super informative. I hope this keeps you distracted from a lot of the misinformation out there and realize you probably had most of the answers all along. Most things aren’t as complicated as they seem. If you find yourself confused amongst the complexity, ask yourself if the situation can be made simpler and start asking questions to lead you in that direction. This can be said of any topic.
APA Barbosa-Netto, Sebastião; d'Acelino-e-Porto, Obanshe S.; Almeida, Marcos B. Self-Selected Resistance Exercise Load, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 01, 2017 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue -