An article on how to build muscle mass? Have I gone mad? Well, not really. I think many people believe I’m against building muscle, which isn’t the case. I’m against “excessive” muscle mass. You know, getting so big that you can’t wear normal clothes. To be honest, many people need some size, especially when they are starting out. I have a basic routine that works really well. Even if you don’t want to gain a lot of muscle, this is a way to create a slightly fuller look without looking like a “bloated and puffy” gym rat.
[Hugh Jackman is a muscular guy who looks great. If you want to add a bit more size, he is a great role model…NOT the bodybuilders in the mainstream fitness magazines. He can still look “GQ”, even though he is big. One more thing…women love this guy!]
There Are Many Approaches to Building Muscle That Work
I am not saying that my approach to building muscle mass is the only approach that works. You can do the typical bodybuilder 3 day split routine with pyramids, etc. There are dozens of other approaches that work as well. It isn’t rocket science, but many of these routines fail in some ways. The biggest problem with a lot of the common routines is that they take a lot of time. Another problem is you have to be careful or you will end up with the “overly pumped” look…instead of the lean and angular look.
Full Muscles are Great as Long As This Isn’t Overdone
The last thing you want to become is a rounded mass of soft muscle. It is fine to get bigger, as long as you still have compact functional muscles. Hugh Jackman & Duane Johnson (The Rock) are great examples of a bigger guys who maintains the angular look. There is a fine line between “full muscles” and simply overdoing it. These guys have the right idea.
Rep Ranges Are a Big Factor in Muscle Size and Density
The 2-5 rep range is geared towards strength and muscle density without significantly increasing the size of the muscle. This is especially true if calories are kept under control and lifting is done a rep short of failure. Gaining strength without increasing the size of a muscle is a great way to get the hard angular look. The 6-12 rep range is very effective at building muscle mass. This is why most “mainstream” magazines recommend this range. The 15+ rep range is more of a way of doing cardio with weights. This is the main idea behind circuit training.
The Problem With the Typical 6-12 Rep Range
This rep range does work in building muscle, I just don’t think it creates the best look. What happens is that the muscles wind up getting ultra-pumped during the lifting. When I used to lift this way, my skin would get tight and I’d look like a different person while lifting. The problem with this is that the size is temporary. Another problem was that when my muscles weren’t pumped up…they looked decent, but soft. The fluctuation in muscle size was unpredictable as well. Some days I looked huge, some days I looked much smaller. Anyone who has lifted this way for a number of years knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The Problem With the 2-5 Rep Range
This is the rep range I recommend the most, since it is great in creating “permanent” muscle tone. Technically semi-permanent…but muscles look defined 24 hours a day as long as body fat levels are low enough. The issue behind this rep range is that it isn’t good for building mass. Well, that isn’t exactly true…since the routine I’m going to describe uses 5 reps…but done in a much different way than the typical routine I’ve outlined on this site.
Why 6-12 Reps Build Soft Muscles (technical explanation)
I rarely like to get technical here, but some people crave detailed explanations. If you are NOT one of those people, please skip this paragraph as well as the next one. High rep, pump training creates sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy. This is an increase in muscle size due to an increase in the volume of the muscle cell fluid. This fluid can account for up to 30% of the size of a muscle on a pumped up bodybuilder who trains with 6-12 reps. It is also why the size of the muscles can increase and decrease dramatically with this type of training. It is “fake” muscle growth to a certain extent.
“Real” Muscle Growth (technical explanation)
Again, I like to explain things in basic ways…but some people enjoy the scientific explanations. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy is an enlargement of the muscle fibers…muscle size gains from the actual growth of fibers in the muscle not the fluid within the muscles. This is real and permanent muscle growth and this creates the dense and angular look. This type of muscle growth leads to stronger and harder muscles. The way this is accomplished is by lifting lower reps, but in a different way than I typically recommend on this site.
Low Rep + High Volume = Larger Dense Muscles
Most of the time I recommend low rep and low volume which is a way to build muscle definition without increasing the size of the muscle. Since this is a mass building routine, the volume needs to be increased substantially. The strategy is to lift many many low rep sets, so you can still lift heavy to a certain extent, but have enough volume of lifting for a size increase.
The “Soviet Special Forces” Mass Building Routine
Former Soviet special forces trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline, came up with an ideal mass building routine. I have to give credit where credit is due. This was the routine he used for guys he trained that wanted a bit more mass. It is quite simply the best mass building routine in my opinion. It builds a bit more mass, but this is quality muscle that looks great!
The “Evil Russian’s” Mass Building Routine
1) Do one set of 5 reps with a heavy weight that you can do 6 times to failure
2) Reduce the weight to 80% of what you used for the first set and do it for 5 reps
3) Do as many sets as possible using the same weight with only 30-60 seconds rest in between
4) Stop when you can’t do 5 reps in good form. This may be 5 sets or it could be 20…every person is different.
Note: The “Evil Russian” is the nickname that Pavel gave himself. It is all in good fun!
I Would Recommend a Slight Change to His Routine
This routine was designed for just one exercise per body part. I like to do 2-3 exercises per body part. If that is the case with you, then you can’t do 20 total sets per exercise. I stop at 7-8 sets per exercise and do 3 exercises per body part when I do this routine. It works very well. If you are only doing two exercises then you can do more sets per exercise, etc.
A Great Routine to Use Every Once in A While!
I actually use this routine 2-3 months each year…normally in the summer months. I really don’t want to gain excessive mass, but this is a way to make my muscles look full without looking soft. If you are slim and have great muscle definition, but your muscles look slightly flat then you will love this routine. Another reason to do this during summer is that is takes a little longer to recover in between each workout. You can’t workout as often with this type of training. This is great because it means less days in the gym and more days in the sunshine!
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