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Muscle Gain Program

The following muscle gain program is designed around some simple yet effective principles. Here they are…

Periodization: You must have heard of periodization before. Basically it is breaking your training into periods or cycles to avoid burn-out and continue gaining without plateaus.

Greasing the Neuromuscular Groove: This is simple, you need to be consistent and frequent in your training efforts. This creates a neuromuscular groove that causes your body to be able to exert more force. Higher force production means greater output, which translates to larger muscles.

Functionality: I don't like the term "functional" but it's one that people understand. The goal here overall is to build useful muscle. It’s not just gaining muscle for the sake of gaining muscle. This is NOT a bodybuilding program. So this muscle gain program focuses on functional movements and functional workloads. Optimally in bodybuilding circles you would aim for 10-12 reps per set and complete each set to failure or near failure. We’re not going to do this. Why? Because although it might be a great way to increase muscle size, it’s not going to increase functional strength along with it, which is the major goal (or should be). This program is about gaining muscle for the purposes of performance.

Being a muscle gain program based on functionality the idea is to build as much relative strength as possible along with the muscle mass. For this reason we will not push beyond 10 reps very often. There is a load of hogwash on the internet about periodization. A lot of it comes from bodybuilding mags. These mags are written by heavy steroid users. The guys are huge and no matter what training they do they will grow large muscles and recover quickly. Some of the popular stuff on periodization states that you need to work a muscle to fatigue to hit all the fibres. Or you may have heard that you need to alternate stimulation of slow twitch and fast muscle fibres. Forget all that you have heard in that regard.

Because this is about functional muscle gain, I believe that the training needs to reflect the athlete’s needs. Forget about trying to recruit all the fibres including slow twitch within each set. Forget alternating between really high reps and really low reps. Forget going to failure. Any athlete needing to gain muscle is obviously not involved in endurance sports. So it’s safe to say that along with muscle gain your needs are more geared towards strength, speed and power. This program will preserve that and enhance it. There is no need to focus on development of endurance muscles if they are not required functionality in your chosen endeavour.

There it is in black and white. 

This program will come in three phases, each phase should be cycled and repeated throughout the year, while occasionally varying the exercises used. The phases will each last eight weeks, so in total you will hit each phase twice per year.

Follow this program to the letter without comparing it to Flex magazine or what Jay Cutler is currently doing. I guarantee that you will see noticeable gains very quickly without hitting plateaus.

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is one thing I can’t stress enough. Unless you’re placing increasing demands on a muscle you will not be gaining strength or mass. You need to slowly, carefully and intelligently increase the load you are using for all exercises. This is a MUST!


So what kind of intensity are you going to use? In many programs you will operate on percentages of your one-rep max. This is difficult to calculate and keep calculating throughout  the program as it moves up. You will be doing things more simply. You will work on perception. Lets say you are doing 5 reps in a set. You're not going to complete failure, but you are training at a high intensity. You will choose a weight that you could probably only just squeeze out 7 reps with. Use a similar scale for all rep ranges. When it comes time to do a max lift for a single rep then you are lifting the absolute maximum amount you can lift.

Phase One

Phase one is governed exclusively by two goals: first of all skill acquisition. Do not skip the skills part, it will allow for greater gains down the track. Don’t be in a rush. Secondly maximum strength. In order to stress a muscle adequately to gain serious muscle mass you must have a high level of max strength. This will form the basis for later gains in mass.

One thing you need to understand is that phase one will not be a period of serious mass gain. You are simply setting up a foundation off which you will be able to launch yourself in radical mass gains. It’s all about using the body’s natural hormones and neuromuscular adaptation potential.

Workout One

Back Squat 5 x 5

Bench press 5 x 5

Overhead press 5 x 5

Rest two minutes between sets. It’s that simple. If you find yourself getting too close to muscular failure than back it off a little.

Workout Two

Dead-lift 5 x 5

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 5 x 5 (if you can't do more than 5 with just body weight then body weight is all you will use until you can)

Wide-grip bent over row 5 x 5

Rest two minutes between sets. 

There are only two workouts required. Follow a pattern of four days on and two days off continuously. Ensure you’re always fresh for a workout. If any of the muscles you intend to work are still too sore of fatigued then given them a rest day.

Phase Two

Phase two is a transitional period. Here you will gain muscle mass while still working on max strength. You will begin to see some decent mass gain while at the same time increasing maximum lifts. It is in phase three that you will focus entirely on mass gain. Be patient, this is an efficient way to gain serious muscle.

Workout One

Back squat 3 x 3  then 1 x 8

Bench press 3 x 3  then 1 x 8

Overhead press 4 x 6

Rest two minutes between sets. 

Workout Two

Dead-lift 3 x 3 then 1 x 8

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 3 x 3 then 1 x 8

Wide grip bent over row 4 x 6

Rest two minutes between sets. 

Do phase two of the program as prescribed above for four weeks. After week four do the following two workouts in the previously stated structure of four on and two off.

Workout One

Back squat 2 x 3 then 2 x 10

Bench press 2 x 3 then 2 x 8

Overhead press 4 x 8

Rest two minutes between sets. 

Workout Two

Dead-lift 2 x 3 then 2 x 10

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 2 x 3 then 2 x 10

Bent over row 4 x 8

Rest two minutes between sets. 

Phase Three

Phase three is reserved for serious mass. After completing the first two phases properly you are now well equipped to place the muscles under considerable enough load to gain a lot of new muscle.

Workout One

Back squat 3 x 10

Bench press 3 x 10

Overhead press 3 x 10

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets. 

Workout Two

Dead-lift 3 x 10

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 3 x 10

Bent over row 3 x 8

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets. 

Feel free to add a few extras, but only sparingly. Don't be tempted to do 40 sets of barbell curls and don't be tempted to throw in a bunch of extra volume. When I say add I mean small additions like a few sets of direct arm work or a small amount of isolation work to target areas that may be lagging.

You may occasionally want to swap a few exercises that slightly change the movement pattern. Instead of back squats you can do front squats or even single leg squats. Instead of dead-lifts you might occasionally want to alternate between high rack pulls and deficit dead-lifts. For bench maybe weighted push-ups. For overhead press you can use dumbells, kettlebells or do handstand push-ups instead. However keep it basic. Always revert back to the basic chosen movements.

Return to our home page from Muscle Gain Program.

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