How to Gain Muscle Mass

Whether you are a bodybuilder, a football player or just a guy looking to shape up for beach season, gaining muscle can be very beneficial. Sometimes called bulking, gaining muscle doesn't mean you need to acquire bulky fat as well. In fact, gaining a lot of fat along the way is unhealthy, can hurt your appearance and your sporting performance, and can make gaining muscle harder than it needs to be. A typical trainee should be able to gain 1 or 2 pounds of muscle per month. And while this might not sound like a lot, over several years this adds up to significant changes in your strength and how you look.

Training and diet are vital ingredients for muscle gain.
Training and diet are vital ingredients for muscle gain. (Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)
Focus on Compound Exercises

Compound exercises work multiple muscles at the same time and should be the cornerstone of any effective muscle-building routine. Compound exercises allow you to lift the greatest amount of weight, which ensures your muscles are exposed to sufficient stimulus to grow. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, pull-ups, pull downs and rows. While isolation or single-joint exercises have a part to play in a well-rounded strength-training routine, they should be viewed as supplementary when the aim is building muscle mass.

Follow the Correct Set and Rep Scheme

Doing 20 or more reps with a light weight can make your muscles bigger. But this growth is only temporary and is the result of the muscle becoming engorged with blood -- something bodybuilders called the pump. True muscle growth, where muscles fibers become thicker and stronger, is properly called hypertrophy and is commonly associated with multiple sets of 6 to 12 repetitions. Use weights that are between 80 to 85 percent of your one-repetition maximum so that you achieve muscular fatigue within the specified rep range. To maximize growth, limit rests between sets to 30 to 60 seconds and perform three to six sets of each exercise.

Follow a Program

You can organize your muscle-building training in several different ways. Bodybuilders favor split routines, where different muscles are trained on different days. For example, legs on Monday, chest and triceps on Tuesday, back and biceps on Thursday, and shoulders and abs on Friday. Such an approach ensures that you have plenty of time to do multiple sets of a variety of exercises per muscles group.

In contrast. full-body workouts are generally repeated three times per week, and each workout involves exercises for all major muscle groups.

Both types of workout can work, although full-body workouts are often recommended for beginners, while split routines are recommended for more advanced exercisers.

Whichever approach you choose, stick with your program for four to six weeks to give it chance to work and then change it before your progress stalls.

Progressive Overload

Muscles grow because of the stress placed on them -- the stress is commonly referred to as overload. Because muscles quickly adapt to the exercises you perform and the weights you lift, it is important that you make your workouts more intense to ensure muscle growth continues over time. You can achieve this by increasing the weights you are using, doing more repetitions, reducing your rest intervals between sets, performing more complex and demanding exercises, relying on overload systems such as drop sets or super sets, or otherwise changing your workout program. Changes should be gradual, logical and progressive to ensure that you maintain progress for as long as possible.

Eat for Muscle Growth

Building muscle requires energy and nutrients, so your diet will strongly influence your rate of muscle growth. Adequate carbohydrate provides the energy to exercise, while protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Dietary fats are necessary for the manufacture of anabolic hormones, including testosterone.

To gain muscle mass, trainees should eat 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight, including 1 to 1.4 grams of protein, and 20 to 25 percent fat, with the caloric balance made up from carbohydrate, notes Jordan Syatt, a strength training and nutritional consultant and world record powerlifter.

For a 175-pound male, this means eating around 3,000 calories, 350 grams of carbohydrate, 245 grams of protein and 66 grams of fat.

Foods should be healthy and nutritious because, in addition to the major food groups and calories, vitamins and minerals are also essential for muscle growth.

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