When it comes to gaining muscle, you can plan and structure your workouts in specific ways to maximize your results.
When you prioritize muscle growth (also known as hypertrophy), your workout plans might be a bit different than if your main objective is to maximize strength, improve conditioning, or to lose weight.
Of course, resistance training of any kind will promote lean muscle mass to some extent, but in this article, we will break down what we know about muscle hypertrophy specifically.
Things to consider
Before we jump into more of the specifics, here are a few things to consider when planning your weekly workouts to promote maximum muscle gain.
Your experience level
If you’re relatively new to lifting weights, or exercising in general, you’ll find that you’re gaining muscle mass and losing body fat regardless of what you’re doing, as long as you start strength training consistently.
As you progress and reach a certain level, you’ll have to plan your workouts a bit more carefully if you’re trying to optimize for one aspect of fitness, whether it is gaining size or strength.
But even if you’re a beginner, you can use the plan we’ll discuss below to supercharge your muscle gains from the get go.
At the gym or at home
Your access to weights, and how strong you currently are, will both play a role in the plan that would be best suited for you.
If you have access to heavy weights in the gym, then you can achieve a similar level of workload with lower sets and reps.
If you’re only working with your bodyweight at home, then you might have to increase the total reps to get to the required volume of work.
A middle ground solution might be for you to invest in some dumbbells for full body at home workouts.
With these considerations in mind, let’s delve into the key concept behind any type of gains in the gym (or at home) - volume.
Training volume and muscle gain
Here’s how to calculate your training volume.
You multiply the total sets, number of repetitions, and weight.
So, if you’re bench pressing 135 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps, then the total volume would be 3 X 10 X 135.
In the next section, we’ll look at what research tells us about the right training volume to gain muscle mass.
When you’re planning your workouts, you should target a specific training volume on a weekly basis.
So, if you have a target of 90 reps for your chest muscles for the week, make sure you’re planning 10-12 sets of chest workouts throughout the week (assuming you’re doing 8-10 reps per set).
You can adjust how many times a week you work one muscle group based on your preferences.
Whether you work a certain muscle group once per week, or three times, the total volume will remain the same. You’ll only adjust how many sets and reps you perform during each workout for a specific muscle group.
What science tells us
So, what’s the required weekly training volume to make some serious gains?
According to one 2018 study with 34 experienced lifters, the high volume group gained more mass when compared to low and moderate volume groups.
The lifters were categorized into three groups - low volume, medium volume, and high volume. All 3 groups trained 3 times per week on non-consecutive days, for 8 weeks.
After 8 week, all three groups were shown to have increased strength and endurance. But the high volume group had significantly more gains in size when compared to the other 2 groups.
The researchers concluded that muscle hypertrophy is dose-dependent. In other words, greater the training volume, it is more likely that you’ll see greater size increase.
For most people, 10-15 sets of 10 reps for a muscle group should be plenty during the week.
In practice, that could look something like this for the chest muscle.
You do incline and flat bench press twice a week, 3 sets of 10 each time. And on one of those workouts you add in the cable fly machine.
- Incline bench press - 3 sets * 10 reps * 2 times per week - 60 reps
- Decline bench press - 3 sets * 10 reps * 2 times per week - 60 reps
- Cable fly - 3 sets * 10 reps * 1 time per week - 30 reps
As you can see, that adds up to 150 reps over the week.
Please note that this is only an example of how to reach a certain number of reps during the week.
If you want to go a bit heavier, but only do 8 reps each, which results in 120 reps total, that’s fine also, as long as you hit your target volume.
Everyone is unique and responds differently to strength training. So, use this template as a starting point and then experiment with weights/reps to see what works best for you.
How heavy should you go?
The goal is to increase your volume over time, and the simplest way to do that is to increase your weights progressively.
In general, whether you’re doing 8 reps or 12 per each set, you should pick a weight that is challenging, but you can perform without compromising on form.
So, if you’re going to do 10 reps, then pick the heaviest weight that you can do 10 times with proper form. Ideally, it should be heavy enough so that the 10th rep is the last one you’re able to do with proper form.
A sample weekly workout split
So, what might all of this look like during a typical week? Let’s take a look at one example.
- Monday - Chest + Back
- Tuesday - Legs
- Wednesday - Rest
- Thursday - Chest + Back
- Friday - Legs
- Saturday - Shoulders + Arms
- Sunday - Rest
Don’t forget to warm up and add in mobility drills before and/or after your workouts. You can also include core and cardio once or twice a week.
Don’t neglect nutrition
Any conversation about muscle gain is incomplete without mentioning proper nutrition.
Exercise stimulates the recovery process. When you support that recovery with the right nutrition, you promote lean muscle mass.
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Creatine is also one of the most well-researched supplements known for improving exercise performance, muscle gain, and for a variety of other benefits.
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The most important thing to remember is that to gain muscle, increase strength, or improve muscle endurance, you want to increase your training volume over time.
Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of training. If you spend 8-10 weeks on doing 3 sets of 10, switch it up for 5 sets of 6 for a while (with heavier weights - 6 rep max) and see how it affects your results.
And finally, be sure to get adequate rest, eat a healthy diet, and support your workouts with the right post-workout nutrition and supplements.