An innocent young stud of 16 years old walks timidly into the heaving sweat-box, known to locals as the Iron Paradise. He only wants to look a bit more muscular in hope of giving his love life a boost.
Ever since that first time he lay down on the sweat-stained bench press and pushed up the empty barbell for a gruelling set of 10, he was hooked.
9 years later, 4 workouts a week, one hour sessions.
Roughly 1872 hours.
That young lad is me, and I guess it's safe to say I've spent a lot of time in the gym. Not to mention being a personal trainer for the last 5 years, living and breathing all things fitness.
I've probably wasted about 90% of that time doing fluff work. In saying that, I have no regrets. Through my experience, I now know what works and what doesn't. You can save those 1872 hours and get on your way to growing impressive amounts of muscle.
Here are the top 5 tips I can give you.
1. Expand Your Rep Ranges to Expand Your Size
Here's something you may not realise. Your muscles can grow from reps anywhere between 1 and 25. There's a lot of potential there, and sticking in the 8-12 range is alike to shooting yourself in the foot at the start line of a marathon.
Wait! Before you start throwing up sets of 25, there is a ‘best’ range where muscle growth is stimulated most.
6 to 15 reps is known as the ultimate mass range.
Remember, you can still gain mass outside that range, but 75% of your training should be right here. Still, 6-15 gives you a lot to play with as a heavy set of 6 feels very different to a grinding set of 15 and will give you different types of growth. Either way, you're going to grow.
2. Hit All the Lines for 3D
There are certain 'lines' or direction a muscle can contract in. Think of these as the different functions of a muscle and where you can move it in space.
For example, your pecs can press horizontally. They can also press on an incline or on a decline. They even move the arm straight across your body (like in a flye). These would be all of the 'lines' of the chest movements.
If you wanted to build the biggest building, you wouldn't only go for height. You'd want to grow outwards in all directions possible, so why would you treat a body part you wish to grow any differently?
3. Use High-Intensity Techniques to Force Growth
Skin-splitting pumps that grow hairs on your chest. That's what comes to mind when I think about high-intensity techniques. You know that point of pure failure when you can't possibly do another rep? Yeah, that's what you want!
These techniques include the likes of drop-sets, tri-sets, eccentric overloading and post-fatigue sets. I've written about all of those before here.
Right now, let's look at my top two.
My best friend and greatest nemesis, rest-pause sets are the thing I use most when I need to up the ante.
To do these, you pick a weight you can do 8-10 reps with, then rep it out. After the first set, you take 15 deep breaths, then go again on the same exercise, aiming for another 6-8. Then, 15 more deep breaths and you go once more, aiming for 4-6 final reps.
They hurt. They also work.
These work incredibly for pushing exercises, but they can be used everywhere. You know how in a certain movement, you are stronger in one direction, like pressing straight in front of you, and weaker in another, like pressing overhead. You can use that to your advantage.
Here's an example of to grow a god-like upper chest.
60 degree incline press x6-8 reps
10 second rest (to adjust bench)
45 degree incline press x6-8 reps
10 second rest (adjust)
30 degree incline press x6-8 reps
Now, rest 3 minutes and repeat twice more. Then curse and thank me at the same time.
Both of these techniques all work by stimulating the maximum amounts of motor units in your target muscle, so every single fibre works to its top-end capacity. That complete stimulation is exactly how you grow massive slabs of muscle.
P.S. Don't do these all the time, as they are hard to recover from. Instead, sprinkle them in for a few weeks at a time. You will find yourself taking second glances in the mirror to check out the new and improved rig.
4. Time Under Tension...
TUT, TUT, TUT!
You've seen that guy who does his one-arm rows like he is starting up a lawnmower. Or the dude who looks like a salmon out of water, flipping back and forth on the lat pulldown. They are both breaking an important law of muscle growth: Time Under Tension.
Your muscles don't know reps, they don't even care about reps. The only thing they know is the amount of time a set lasts.
Research has shown that a set needs to last at least 20-70 seconds to maximise muscle growth. Some people even say 40-70 seconds as being ideal. Either way, if you rep out too fast there won't be enough strain put on the muscle to stimulate any growth. And you already know, a muscle won't grow unless you force it to!
The best way to get more time under tension is to control the eccentric part of the movement (the lowering part where your muscles are lengthening). This part has been proven to cause more muscle growth, as it causes more damage to your muscle than the concentric (the contracting) action.
Thus, aim for 3-4 seconds down on every single rep.
Charles Poliquin, in his book 'The Poliquin Principles', states a single session should have around 24 minutes of time under tension. Are you hitting that, or rushing things and leaving gains on the table?
5. Make Getting Stronger Your One True Love.
You know how those crazy-strong powerlifters are also insanely muscular? I'd bet if they stripped down their body fat they would have some pretty aesthetic physiques.
When you are stronger, you can lift more weight. Being able to lift more weight means you can put more stress on a muscle. More stress equals more growth. Simple!
Take a bit of time to increase your top-end strength in the 1-5 rep range. This will lead you to be stronger when you get back to higher rep stuff.
To the point of maximising muscle growth, building hefty chunks of mass requires you to get stronger in the specific rep range of 6-15 reps.
Getting stronger in the lower reps will help this, but focusing on getting damn strong on big compound movements and moving a metric tonne of weight in the medium to high rep range is the fastest possible route to more muscle mass.
What did 1872 hours teach me?
To maximise your muscle growth:
Do these 5 things in the gym consistently and don't be surprised if you have to change your wardrobe soon... for all the right reasons.
If you're looking for specific programs to use, which follow these 5 guidelines of maximal muscle growth, scroll back to the top of this page and get the 'Simplify Your Fitness' course for FREE. In there, I send out stuff like that every day!