How To Build Muscle: Workouts, Diet Plans & Supplements

The Muscle Building expert guide teaches you how to build muscle using an effective muscle building workout, eating plan and supplementation program.
  1. 1. Introduction
    1. 1.1. Definitions and Common Terms
    2. 1.2. Body Types and Bone Size Factors
    3. 1.3. Are You a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced Lifter?
  2. 2. Workout Diet and Nutrition
    1. 2.1. How Many Calories Do You Need?
    2. 2.2. How to Eat If You’re Overweight
    3. 2.3. How Much Protein Do You Need?
    4. 2.4. So, How Much Protein DO You Need?
    5. 2.5. Determining Fat Intake
    6. 2.6. Determining Carbohydrate Intake
    7. 2.7. Why Bulks Fail and Turn Into Fat Gain
    8. 2.8. Why Bulks Fail and Result in No Muscle Gain
    9. 2.9. A Note About Aggressive Bulks
    10. 2.10. Healthy Foods That Can Add Calories
    11. 2.11. Structuring a Meal Plan
    12. 2.12. Alternative Eating Approaches
    13. 2.13. Sample Quick and Easy Meals
  3. 3. Natural Muscle Building Expectations And Goals
  4. 4. Common Factors That Lead To Success
    1. 4.1. What Elite Physiques Teach Us
  5. 5. Build A Workout
    1. 5.1. A Look At Muscle Groups
    2. 5.2. Exercise Types
    3. 5.3. Common Workout Structures
    4. 5.4. How To Structure Fullbody Workouts And Training Splits
    5. 5.5. “Rules” to Help Structure a Training Split
    6. 5.6. Factors That Impact Training Frequency
    7. 5.7. Training Volume Considerations
    8. 5.8. Weekly Sets Per Bodypart
    9. 5.9. A Look at Rep Ranges
    10. 5.10. The Importance of Progression
    11. 5.11. Rest Between Sets
  6. 6. The Best Exercises by Bodypart
    1. 6.1. 5 Most Effective Chest Building Exercises
    2. 6.2. 5 Most Effective Back Building Exercises
    3. 6.3. 5 Most Effective Shoulder Building Exercises
    4. 6.4. 5 Most Effective Leg Building Exercises
    5. 6.5. 5 Most Effective Arm Building Exercises
    6. 6.6. Honorable Mention
  7. 7. Training Longevity – Remaining Injury Free
    1. 7.1. Listening To Your Body
    2. 7.2. The Role of The Central Nervous System
    3. 7.3. The Importance of Proper Form
    4. 7.4. What Is A Deload, and When to Deload
    5. 7.5. Should You Train While Sick?
    6. 7.6. How to Avoid Training Injuries
  8. 8. Muscle Building Supplements
    1. 8.1. Top Selling Muscle Building Supplements
    2. 8.2. How to Use Creatine For Maximum Results
    3. 8.3. Taking Creatine with Carbs/High Glycemic Carbs
    4. 8.4. When to take Creatine Supplements
    5. 8.5. What Can I Expect from a Pre-Workout Formula?
    6. 8.6. Pre, Intra and Post Workout Nutrition and Supplementation
  9. 9. Advanced Training Techniques and Principles
    1. 9.1. Common Advanced Training Techniques
    2. 9.2. When to Use Advanced Training Techniques
  10. 10. Popular Muscle Building Workouts on Muscle & Strength
    1. 10.1. Beginner Muscle Building Workouts
    2. 10.2. Muscle Building Workouts
  • How to build muscle quickly using the best exercises and workouts.
  • What the different body types are, and the unique challenges each face when building muscle.
  • How to determine if you're a beginning, intermediate or advanced lifter.
  • How many calories you need while bulking.
  • What to do if you are overweight and want to build muscle.
  • How to determine what amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats you need.
  • Why bulks fail and no muscle is built, and why some bulks result in only fat gains
  • How to structure a meal plan.
  • What natural muscle building expecations are, and what factors lead to success.
  • How to build a workout, choose exercises and optimize a split.
  • About the various types of exercises, and which should be a big priority when building muscle.
  • What amount or training volume, sets and reps to use per muscle group.
  • Which 5 exercises are the best muscle builders by body part.
  • How to train for longevity and remain injury free.
  • Which muscle building supplements are best sellers, and how to use them to maximize your gains.
  • About advanced training techniques, from drop sets to rest-pause training.


The following guide will provide you with all the tools you need to build muscle as quickly as possible. You will learn how to properly structure your weekly workouts, which exercises are the best choices, how to set up an eating plan so that you maximize your time in the gym, and much more.

If you need help or clarifications, please feel free to post a question or comment at the end of this guide. You may also post questions in the Muscle & Strength forum.

Definitions and Common Terms

The following is a list of common terms found in most muscle building articles and workouts, along with definitions.

  • Hypertrophy – Hypertrophy is the process of increasing the size of muscle cells through the use of resistance training. There are two different types of muscular hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.
  • Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy – Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy involves and increase in a cell’s sarcoplasmic fluid without an accompanying increase in strength.
  • Myofibrillar Hypertrophy -  Myofibrillar hypertrophy involves a cellular increase in the contractile proteins actin and myosin, which is accompanied by strength increases as well as small increases in muscle size. It should be stated that sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy rarely occur independently, meaning one without the other.
  • Split Workout – A split, or training split, is a workout that targets specific areas of the body rather than working the entire body in one training session. A split workout is usually constructed based on bodyparts, but can also be structured according to movement planes, or in an upper body/lower body type manner. Splits generally range anywhere from a 3 day push, pull, legs split to a 6 day bodypart split.
  • Fullbody Workout – A fullbody workout is a training approach that targets the entire body in each session. Fullbody training is generally performed 3 times per week with at least one day off in between sessions. Some fullbody workouts are performed only twice per week.
  • Progression – Progression is the act of making a workout more difficult over time via the addition of additional weight, volume, or through the inclusion of high intensity or advanced training techniques.
  • Rep – A rep, or repetition, is the act of performing an exercise a single time. Each repetition is comprised of two separate actions: a concentric and eccentric movement. The concentric portion of an exercise involves pulling, pushing or squatting a weight, while the eccentric movement involves lowering or raising the bar back to it’s initial point so that another repetition can be performed.
  • Set -  A set is a group or repetitions performed with limited rest in between reps, generally in a near continuous manner.

Body Types and Bone Size Factors

There are three primary bodytypes: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.

Ectomorph. An ectomorph is a typical skinny guy. Ecto’s have a light build with small joints and lean muscle. Usually ectomorph’s have long thin limbs with stringy muscles. Shoulders tend to be thin with little width. Typical traits of an ectomorph:

  • Small “delicate” frame and bone structure
  • Classic “hardgainer”
  • Flat chest
  • Small shoulders
  • Thin
  • Lean muscle mass
  • Finds it hard to gain weight
  • Fast metabolism

Mesosmorph. A mesomorph has a large bone structure, large muscles and a naturally athletic physique. Mesomorphs are the best body type for bodybuilding. They find it quite easy to gain and lose weight. They are naturally strong which is the perfect platform for building muscle. Typical traits on a Mesomorph:

  • Athletic
  • Hard body with well defined muscles
  • Rectangular shaped body
  • Strong
  • Gains muscle easily
  • Gains fat more easily than ectomorphs

Endomorph. The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft. Endomorphs gain fat very easily. Endo’s are usually of a shorter build with thick arms and legs. Muscles are strong, especially the upper legs. Endomorphs find they are naturally strong in leg exercises like the squat. Typical traits of an Endomorph:

  • Soft and round body
  • Gains muscle and fat very easily
  • Is generally short and “stocky”
  • Round physique
  • Finds it hard to lose fat
  • Slow metabolism

Bodytype Combinations. Bodytypes are not set in stone. Most of us are a combination of bodytypes with ectomorph/mesomorph or mesomorph/endomorph being fairly common.

Are You a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced Lifter?

The muscle building workouts on Muscle & Strength fall into 3 categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced workouts. Use the following guidelines when trying to decide which workouts are best for you.

Beginner. A beginner, or novice, has yet to make a substantial amount of muscle mass gains. They are still trying to figure out proper training and nutrition, or may simply be missing too many gym sessions to make any progress at all.

Intermediate. An intermediate has experienced "beginner gains", and has generally added a minimum of at least 10-15 pounds of muscle. Intermediate lifters know how to eat and train to maximize results in the gym.

Advanced. An advanced lifter has reached the point where yearly muscle gains have substantially diminished. They may require more creative training approaches and/or periodization. An advanced lifter looks muscular and impressive in a t-shirt. People will know upon seeing them that they “work out.”

Workout Diet and Nutrition

If you’re not eating properly, you won’t build much muscle. Many lifters focus all their attention on planning a workout split and training ferociously in the gym, but have no clue how many calories or grams of protein they are eating per day. This won’t cut it.

To build muscle you need to monitor your diet just as much, if not more so, than your training. It is not good enough to “just eat healthy.” While healthy eating is a good thing, a muscle building eating plan has specific requirements that must be met:

  1. Calories. You must be eating a consistent amount of daily calories. This intake should be substantial enough to allow the body to build muscle. Undereating is one of the major contributers to lack of gains.
  2. Protein. You must be monitoring your protein intake. Increasing your daily protein intake while on a resistance training program helps to increase lean muscle mass. The human body is in a constant state of “protein turnover.” Muscle tissue is continuously being repaired and replaced. To maximize this repair, you must maintain a protein positive nitrogen balance.
  3. Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates play two key roles in muscle building. The first is energy. Your body needs maximum energy to perform at maximum level. Second, insulin spike post workout. Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the human body and drives nutrients from the bloodstream into muscle cells. When you finish your workout your muscles are desperately trying to repair and rebuild and are crying out for energy and nutrients. This is the only time when simple carbohydrates will benefit you for muscle building.
  4. Healthy Fats. A low fat diet is not always a healthy diet. The body requires healthy fats for a myriad of reasons. Undereating healthy fats can compromise sleep, lower cardiovascular function, slow recovery and increase the likelihood of overtraining. You must be monitoring your fat intake to some degree so that you are certain it is at a productive level.

How Many Calories do You Need?

To help you determine your daily calorie requirement, you will first need to calculate your BMR, or basal metabolic rate. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is a excellent tool for working out how many calories your body needs on a daily basis depending on the amount and intensity of the exercise you do. This tool works on a proven formula and is very accurate. The calculator uses two formulas to calculate your body's daily calorie requirements.

Tight Bulk. A tight bulk is generally recommended for individuals who consider themselves to be at an average, or healthy weight. Use the following formula to determine your daily calorie needs for a tight bulk:

  • BMR + 300 calories

Aggressive Bulk. If you consider yourself underweight, or a hardgainer, it will be beneficial to eat more aggressively. Use the following formula to determine your daily calorie needs for an aggressive bulk:

  • BMR + 500 calories

Underweight individuals may need to add more than 500 calories to their BMR calculation if they find they are not gaining weight. If this is the case, add an additional 300 calories per day and monitor your weight for the next month.

Remember that all calculations are only starting points. If you are training hard and aren’t seeing results, add more calories to your daily eating plan. It is best to bump caloric intake by no more than 300 calories at a time.

For more great information on muscle building nutrition check out the following articles:

How to Eat if You’re Overweight

Building muscle while losing fat is very difficult. In fact, it can be near impossible for most individuals. If you are overweight, the reality is this:

Either way you will need to train hard and use a precise eating plan.

For most overweight individuals it is recommend that they focus on losing fat while following a muscle building workout. This will maximize the opportunity to build muscle while losing weight and reclaiming their health. If you are moderately overweight, a good place to start is:

  • BMR minus 500 calories

Set a goal to lose 1.5 to 2 pounds of fat per week. This rate is generally considered optimal for retaining, or possibly increasing muscle mass while losing weight.

If you are losing weight more rapidly than this, there is a good chance you might also be sacrificing muscle tissue. In this case, add 200-300 more calories to your daily eating plan and monitor the scale for several weeks.

If on the other hand you are not dropping any weight at all, drop calories by 300 per day and monitor the scale for several weeks.

How Much Protein do You Need?

Daily protein intake is a hotly debated topic. Ask exactly how much protein is required to build muscle and you will receive one of the following responses:

  • 150 grams. You never need more than 150 grams.
  • 1 gram/pound. You need one gram per pound of bodyweight.
  • 30/50/20. Your protein intake should always comprise 30% of your daily calories.

Which method is right? Let’s take a closer look.

150 grams per day. While eating 150 grams of protein per day is a sound approach, the major problem with setting 150 grams as a maximum limit is that it forces hardgainers with fast metabolisms into eating a disproportionately huge amount of carbohydrates.
For example, if you have need 4000 calories per day just to gain weight, using the 150 grams of protein standard you would be required to eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 grams of carbohydrates per day.

It goes without saying that limiting protein intake to a maximum of 150 grams per day can be somewhat unbalanced for individuals with fast metabolisms.

One gram per pound of bodyweight. Calculation methods like this are extremely popular, but can be highly flawed. Let's explain why by looking at 3 different individuals:

  • Lifter A – Weighs 135 pounds at a height of 5’10″.
  • Lifter B – Weighs 165 pounds at a height of 5’10″.
  • Lifter C – Weighs 260 pounds at a height of 5’10″.

Using this recommendation Lifter A, the skinniest member of the bunch, is advised to eat the smallest amount of protein – only 135 grams per day. In reality, this lifters probably requires the most daily protein because his body is underweight and has the potential to grow more rapidly as his weight normalizes.

Lifter B is advised to eat about 165 grams of protein per day, which is fairly reasonable. One caveat – if he is a beginner, Lifter B has the potential to gain muscle at an accelerated pace and it may be beneficial to eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 180-200+ grams of protein per day as an insurance policy.

Lastly, Lifter C is advised to eat 260 grams of protein per day. It goes without saying that Lifter C is overweight. He should be eating no more protein than Lifter B, yet we are asking him to over-consume protein.

30/50/20 Protein, Carb  And Fat Ratio. The use of protein, carb and fat ratios can fail in the same way that the gram per pound of bodyweight recommendations did. But before we explore why, let’s explain what this ratio means.

  • 30 – 30% of your daily calories from protein. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories.
  • 50 – 50% of your daily calories from carbs. Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.
  • 20 – 20% of your daily calories from fat. Each gram of at contains 9 calories.

The 30/50/20 ratio recommendation breaks down at the low and high end of the calorie spectrum. Here are 2 examples:

  • 1800 calories. In this example, our lifter either has a slow metabolism or is on a cutting diet. Using the 30% rule, he would be limited to 135 grams of protein per day. This is an extremely minimal amount of protein, especially for someone who is trying to hold on to muscle mass during a calorie deficit.
  • 4000 calories. This is a bulking scenario, most likely for a very young lifter with a fast metabolism. Using the suggested ratios he would be required to eat 300 grams of protein per day (not to mention 500 grams of carbs). This is a gut-stuffing amount of food. Our lifter would be better off relying slightly more heavily on fats, which are calorie dense but tend not to fill the stomach as much as carbs or protein.

So, How Much Protein DO You Need?

There are many other protein recommendations and formulas used in the muscle building realm. Instead of relying on ratios or on grams per pound of bodyweight, it is easier to use this simple guideline:

Eat 30 to 40 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours.

Using this method, the least amount of protein you would eat on a daily basis would be 150 grams, and the most 240 grams. In general, 180 to 200 grams is sufficient for most natural lifters – unless you are 6’6″ and pencil thin.

Please don’t panic at the site of 240 grams of protein. It is at the high end of the spectrum, and may only be required by hardgainers with a fast metabolism. But it is surely not needed for most of us.

Determining Fat Intake

Fat intake should comprise about 20-30% of your daily calories. The more daily calories you need, the closer this percentage should be to 30. Again, fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared to protein and carbohydrates which contain 4 calories per gram, making fats more calorie dense.

If you need more daily calories, the easiest way to eat more is by increasing your daily fat intake.

Determining Carbohydrate Intake

Determining daily carbohydrate intake is rather simple. Since you have already calculated your BMR, you only need to subtract the calories derived from fat and protein intake to arrive at how many calories you need from carbohydrates.

Divide this number by 4 to arrive at the number of carbohydrate grams you need per day. For example:

  • Step 1 – BMR. You calculate that your daily calorie requirement to build muscle is 3000 calories.
  • Step 2 – Protein. You structure an eating plan based around 180 grams of protein, which works out to a total of 720 calories.
  • Step 3 – Fat. You structure an eating plan with 25% of your daily calories coming from healthy fats. This is 750 calories, or 83.33 grams of fat.
  • Step 4 – Carbohydrates. Subtract the 750 calories from fat and 720 calories from protein to arrive at 1530 calories needed from carbohydrates. This works out to 382.5 grams per day.

Why Bulks Fail and Turn into Fat Gain

It is not uncommon to see lifters spending months on end bulking, only to find out that most of the weight gain was fat. What happened? There are 2 possible reasons:

  1. They did not train hard enough. Most individuals underestimate just how hard they are training. They rarely make progress on strength gains, nor make any attempt to push themselves as hard as possible on every set.
  2. They ate too much. You do not need to gain 30 pounds in 4 months while bulking. This is not necessary at all. Weight gain should be controlled and precise. A beginner (who is not underweight) should average no more than a 2 pound gain per month during their first year, and an intermediate lifter should average about a pound gain per month.

Why Bulks Fail and Result in No Muscle Gain

On the other end of the spectrum, it is quite common to see trainees working hard in the gym but not gaining any muscle (and bodyweight) at all. The reason for this is simple…they are not eating enough food.

Undereating can stem from a fear that a bulk will lead to an excessive amount of fat gain. This is rarely the case. Even an aggressive bulk will not add an unusual amount of fat if the lifter is training properly. Yes, some fat will be gained, but it will be pounds and not dozens of pounds.

A Note about Aggressive Bulks

Muscle building for the natural lifter is like a glass of water. The more you gain, or pour out of the glass, the less you have to gain in the future. Because of this, it makes more sense to bulk more aggressively as a novice, and to bulk less aggressively after you have already built a substantial amount of muscle mass.

An aggressive bulk for someone who already has a lot of quality muscle will only result in a substantial amount of fat gain. On the other hand, a very tight bulk for someone new to the muscle building process may slow gains.

Beginning lifters experience what is known as "beginner gains". If you are training correctly, you will add muscle very rapidly. Gains will continue to slow over time, but will generally follow this pattern if the lifter began the muscle building process at an average, or normalized weight:

  • Year 1 – 16 pounds of muscle.
  • Year 2 – 8 pounds of muscle.
  • Year 3 – 4 pounds of muscle.
  • Year 4 – 2 pounds of muscle.
  • Year 5 – 1 pound of muscle.

The above chart is not presented to create hard and fast limits on muscle gain, but rather to provide realistic muscle building expectations. It is obvious that if you have a limited potential to build muscle in a given year, aggressive bulks won’t make sense.

Healthy Foods that Can Add Calories

It can be hard for some to reach their daily calorie requirements while bulking. The following foods are healthy and calorie dense, allowing you to eat more without feeling as full.

  • Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Grain/Wheat Cereal
  • Whole Milk
  • Cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Almonds & Nuts
  • Natural Peanut & Almond Butter
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Beef
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Honey
  • Dark Chocolate

How to Structure a Meal Plan

A muscle building meal plan does not have to be complicated. The easiest way to approach daily eating is to structure your eating around breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, or later in the evening, you can add snacks. These snacks will allow you to intake more protein and nutrients, helping you to recover and grow. All meals and snacks should be based around proper protein intake, as detailed below.

An effective meal plan will look something like this:

  • Breakfast
  • Snack  
  • Lunch  
  • Snack  
  • Dinner  
  • Snack

Here are some “rules” to better help you structure your meal plan:

  • Frequent Protein – You want to eat a minimum of 30 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours. For snack meals, protein feedings can be as simple as a whey shake, string cheese, eggs or a tin of tuna.
  • Carbohydrate Timing – While it is ok to have carbs at every meal, focus on eating a larger amount of carbohydrates for breakfast, and during your post-workout meal.
  • Healthy Fats – Don’t forget your healthy fats. Milk, cheese, nuts, almonds, butter and olive oil are great choices.
  • Fruits & Veggies -  Eat your fruits and veggies. A banana or apple along with a protein shake makes for a very convenient snack. You can also increase your veggie intake with a nice spinach salad, adding in veggies of choice. (Peppers, onions and more!)
  • Variety -  Eat a variety of protein foods, grain-based carbs, fruits, veggies and foods containing healthy fats. Everything you eat has a different amino acid and vitamin and mineral profile, so eating a variety of foods will help you to cover all nutritional bases.

Post-Workout Nutrition. Your post-workout meal is your most important feeding of the day. After a heavy and intense weight training session, your body is depleted of many vital nutrients including protein, glycogen (sugars used for energy), amino acids, and important vitamins and minerals. It’s absolutely essential that you replace these nutrients as soon as possible to prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown) and promote anabolism (muscle repair and re-growth) and protein synthesis.

Additionally, to replace lost muscle glycogen and spike insulin, you can add fast digesting carbohydrates. Good examples of these are dextrose and waxy maize starch. Around 70g of carbohydrates is need for an adequate insulin spike.

Meals Per Day. How many meals per day is optimal for muscle growth? This can be a hotly debated topic. Here are some points to remember when structuring your meal plan:

  • Frequent feeding works. While eating more infrequently might work for you, eating every 2.5 to 3 hours has been a staple in the muscle building realm for decades, and for a good reason…it works and works well.
  • Less frequent feeding. If you are only able to eat 3 to 4 meals per day, space these meals apart as much as possible, and make sure you are reaching a calorie and macronutrient intake level that can help you add muscle. It may also be beneficial to supplement with BCAAs in between meals.

Addressing criticism of frequent feeding. Occasionally someone will claim that frequent meal feedings is not needed. It is important to note that very few of us eat only 2-3 times per day. Most of us graze in between meals – even critics of frequent feeding. In fact, it is rare to find anyone who doesn’t snack or graze a couple times per day.

The point is this – when you do snack in between meals (and if you’re like most of us you will), it is better to land on the side of caution and ingest only nutritious foods – including protein.

A Look at Alternative Eating Approaches

The following diet approaches are considered nonconventional. The term nonconventional is not used to imply ineffective, or that these eating approaches are fads. Each of these approaches have been embraced and used successfully by members of the fitness and body recomposition community.

It is highly recommended that you do further research before trying any of these approaches. Many of them are intended to be used as lifestyles, and not temporary solutions.

For more information on these eating approaches please read:

The Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet focuses on the consumption of foods that were prevalent prior to the first agricultural revolution - the Neolithic Revolution. It was during this time (approx. 10,000 years ago) that man moved from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a settlement-based agricultural lifestyle. The Paleo Diet emphasizes that for most of human history, man did not consume foods such as refined sugars and grains and high glycemic carbohydrates.

The Warrior Diet. The Warrior Diet involves eating only one major meal per day, and consuming the bulk of your food during a dinner window that lasts up until 2 hours before bedtime. The idea behind the Warrior Diet is that during the day, while fasting, your survival mechanisms will kick in and you will burn fat. During this period, you will also feel more alert and less sluggish, as your body is said to be in a heightened, animal on the prowl searching for a kill type state.

Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent Fasting and the Warrior Diet are very similar in nature. Intermittent Fasting calls for a 16 hour fasting window in which you eat nothing. During the 8 hours of "feasting", you consume your daily calories. This can include a pre-workout meal, and generally focuses on a very large post-workout meal.

Sample Quick and Easy Meals

The meals found in this section are quick and easy to make. They focus on ingredients that are tasty, and easy to find. The lunch/dinner meals can be prepared in about one hour on a Sunday afternoon. The breakfast meals should take less then 10 minutes to prepare. Also included are easy snack meals.

Quick and Easy Breakfast Meals

  • Meal 1 - Oatmeal, banana and protein powder. While you are heating your oatmeal or water, slice a banana. Add the sliced banana and a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal, and mix.
  • Meal 2 - Whole wheat bagel with natural peanut butter, large glass of milk and a piece of fruit.
  • Meal 3 - Whole grain cereal with milk and a scoop of protein powder, blueberries and a glass of orange juice.
  • Meal 4 - 3 egg omelet with spinach and cheese and a glass of cranberry juice. Purchase frozen, chopped spinach. Place a 1/2 cup spinach in a frying pan with 1/2 cup cheddar or pepper jack cheese.
  • Meal 5 - Chicken and egg burrito. Place 2 eggs in a frying pan, add in desired amount of canned chicken, cheese and green chiles. Scramble eggs, and place in 1-2 whole wheat tortillas. Top with salsa.
  • Meal 6 - Lumberjack breakfast - pancakes and sausage. On Sunday, spend an hour preparing 5-10 whole wheat pancakes, and some turkey bacon and/or sausage. Reheat for breakfast during the week. Top pancakes with natural apple sauce, and chase with a large glass of milk.
  • Meal 7 - Blender breakfast. Place 2 scoops of protein powder in a blender. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup oats, 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, ice and water. Blend, fill your shaker and go!

Quick And Easy Lunch & Dinner Meals. These meals can be prepared on a Sunday in one hour or less, and will make 5 total meals.

  • Meal 1 - Salsa chicken quinoa. Add 2 cups uncooked quinoa to 4 cups water. Boil and reduce heat until very little water remains. Pull off the stove and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Add 2 large cans of cooked chicken, and 2 cups salsa. Mix, and place in 5 Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 2 - Tuna and pasta. Boil your favorite healthy pasta. Drain, and add 4-5 cans of tuna in water. Next, add in low fat mayo, cheddar cheese and black pepper to taste, and one can of peas. Place in 5 Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 3 - Beef and potatoes. Cube 5 large potatoes or sweet potatoes. Lightly toss in olive oil and your favorite seasoning. Place on baking pan, and cook until tender. While potatoes are cooking, place 1-2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey) in a skillet, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook. Combine cubed potatoes and ground beef and place into 5 Tupperware bowls. Don't forget to season - add in salsa, sour cream or low cal gravy.
  • Meal 4 - Salmon burger and rice. Combine three 7.5 ounce cans of salmon in a mixing bowl with 5 egg whites. Form into patties, and cook in a frying pan (using non-stick spray). Please on a whole wheat bun, and top with onions. At the same time you start cooking your salmon burgers, cook 2-3 packages of boxed, flavored wild/brown rice mix. Add 2-3 cups frozen broccoli into rice as it cooks. Place both the salmon burger and rice into separate Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 5 - Peanut butter and banana sandwich. Spread natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread. Add banana slices, and cover with a second piece of bread forming a sandwich. Place sandwiches into sandwich bags. Eat along side a protein shake (or milk), and a container of Greek yogurt.

You can also easily add some canned veggies, or make a quick and healthy salad to being along with each of these meals.

Quick And Easy Snacks. The following snacks are pack and go, meaning they require very little preparation. Remember, snacks exist primarily to help you reach your daily protein intake goals. A snack without protein is a wasted snack. Protein is vital for muscle repair and rebuilding, and helps to fend off muscle loss while cutting fat.

  • Snack 1 - String cheese and a banana. Each piece of string cheese has approximately 6-7 grams of protein, and only 60 to 70 calories (low fat string cheese is often 60 calories).
  • Snack 2 - Protein bars, or meal replacements. Keep a stash of protein bars at work, in your car, or in your gym bag or purse. You never know when life will interrupt, and force you to eat on the go.
  • Snack 3 - Greek yogurt and almonds. Toss in your cooler, and go! One container of Greek yogurt contains 15 grams of protein, and one ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein.
  • Snack 4 - Call this snack the convenience store special. Grad a pack of beef jerky, and chase it with a can of fresh fruit or tomato juice.
  • Snack 5 - Cottage cheese and strawberries or blueberries. 4 ounces of cottage cheese has 13 grams of protein and only 111 calories. Combine 8 ounces of cottage cheese with a handful of strawberries or blueberries, and you have a high protein and low calorie snack.

Natural Muscle Building Expectations and Goals

Muscle building drugs like steroids have made it very difficult for the natural lifter to understand what results to expect. Fortunately, there have been several in-depth studies over the years that can provide the natural lifter with reasonable goals and expectations.

The most detailed of these studies was performed by Dr. Casey Butt. Dr. Butt studied the bodyweight and measurements of approximately 300 winning drug-free strength training athletes and bodybuilders from 1947-2007, and arrived at the following formula for determining potential bodyweight for a given bodyfat percentage:


  • H = Height in inches.
  • A = Ankle circumference at the smallest point.
  • W = Wrist circumference measured on the hand side of the styloid process. (The styloid process is the bony lump on the outside of your wrist.)
  • %bf = The body fat percentage at which you want to predict your maximum lean body mass.

Using the above formula, and inserting 7.5 wrist inches and 9.5 ankle inches (which would be considered large boned), we derive the following natural bodyweight potentials for 12% bodyfat percentage.

The reduced formula with wrist and ankle circumferences and a 6% bodyfat percentage is: H^1.5 (0.318194186).

  • Height, 66 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 193.8 pounds
  • Height, 67 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 198.3 pounds
  • Height, 68 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 202.8 pounds
  • Height, 69 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 207.2 pounds
  • Height, 70 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 211.8 pounds
  • Height, 71 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 216.3 pounds
  • Height, 72 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 220.9 pounds
  • Height, 73 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 225.5 pounds
  • Height, 74 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 230.2 pounds
  • Height, 75 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 234.9 pounds
  • Height, 76 inches = 12% bodyfat weight of 239.6 pounds

Muscle Maturity/Muscle Density. As a lifter matures they will gain the advantage of muscle maturity. A 23 year old bodybuilder will rarely look as dense as a seasoned 40 year old bodybuilder. Research indicates that muscle fibers have a tendency to become hard and tough due to repeated use. Also, over time collagen becomes tougher and more difficult to break down. Collagen is the substance that bundles muscle fibers together. These two factors combined can lead to a more impressive muscularity.

Muscle Measurement Expectations. From his study, Dr. Casey Butt was also able to provide a set of muscle measurement guidelines for the natural muscle builder. Insert your current height, ankle and/or wrist size in inches into the following equations to find reasonable muscle size goals:

  • Chest = 1.6817W + 1.3759A + 0.3314H
  • Biceps = 1.2033W + 0.1236H
  • Forearms = 0.9626W + 0.0989H
  • Neck = 1.1424W + 0.1236H
  • Thighs = 1.3868A + 0.1805H
  • Calves = 0.9298A + 0.1210H

Here are the procedures Dr. Butt recommends for each bodypart. “Measurement Procedure:

  • Chest - measured relaxed (not expanded), arms at sides, tape under armpits
  • Biceps - flexed, at largest point
  • Forearms - fist clenched, hand out straight, measured at largest point
  • Neck - below Adam's apple at smallest point
  • Thighs - standing relaxed, midway between hip and knee
  • Calves - standing relaxed, at largest point

For all measurements tape should be snug but not compressing the flesh.”

Building the ideal body. What are the ideal proportions for the male physique? Is there such thing as "ideal" proportions? Bodybuilding legend Steve "Hercules" Reeves thought so. In his book "Classic Physique", Steve wrote about his ideal muscle to bone ratios. These ratios were used to work out your ideal shape based on some of body measurements.

Muscle & Strength features a calculator based on these ideal proportions. Click here to use the calculator.

Working all Body Parts. The body prefers to grow as a whole unit. Training one part of the body can stimulate growth in other areas. For this reason it is so important to work the entire body. If you are seeking maximum size, or as is the case for many individuals maximum upper body size, it is important not to neglect leg training.

Common Factors that Lead to Success

The muscle building process often seems like a complicated puzzle that can only solved by a limited number of lucky individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are several common factors that lead to success.

Persistence. Persistence means getting to the gym week in and week out, year in and year out. You can’t make quality gains if you continue to miss workouts each week. If you aren’t persistent with your workouts, nothing else will matter.

Exercise Selection. To build the best body you will need to use the best tools. Exercises are your tools. The most effective exercises are compound and bodyweight movements.

Proper Nutrition. You can train like a beast but if you aren’t eating properly you won’t build muscle. Bodybuilding nutrition isn’t simply about “eating clean.” You must also be aware of how any calories, and grams of protein you are taking in each day.

Progression. If you don’t challenge yourself in the gym, your body has no reason to build muscle. You must find a way to push yourself to new levels. The easiest and most efficient way of doing this for the beginning to early intermediate lifter is through progression of weight. Progression is simply pushing yourself on every set for as many reps as possible (it is not necessary to train to failure), and adding weight to the bar when it makes sense.

The body responds to very specific demands, and is capable of adapting very quickly. If you continue to use the same reps/weight week in and week out, progress will grind to a halt very quickly.

Balance. To succeed you must balance your training. For example, if you overwork your chest but underwork your back, you create a muscular imbalance which can lead to injury. The same can be said for overworking the chest and underworking shoulders, or overworking the arms.

A good workout plan is balanced, and features a near-equal amount of work for opposing muscle groups and a reasonable amount of training volume. Over time training imbalances often create shoulder issues, elbow tendonitis and other common training injuries that force you to take time away from training. It goes without saying that missed workouts will slow your progress.

What We Can Learn from the Best Natural Physiques in the World

Muscle & Strength has amassed a huge collection of natural athlete profiles and interviews. If you take a detailed look at the collective training and diet information in these articles, you will find the following trends:

  1. Hard Work. To be successful you will need to work hard. There are no short cuts, and no easy paths. There are no magic workouts or magic diets.
  2. Perform Difficult Exercises. To be successful you must be willing to perform the most challenging exercises. Most natural bodybuilders list squats, deadlift and a bench press variation as their 3 top muscle building lifts.
  3. Learn Proper Form. To be successful you must take time and learn good exercise form. Form is a work in progress. As the weight gets heavier, it becomes more and more critical that you refine your exercise form.
  4. No Excuses. To be successful you must stop making excuses and get to the gym. Aches, pains and strains happen. Life happens. Those that succeed set aside excuses and do the work required to achieve their goals.
  5. Master Your Body. To be successful you must master your body. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t. This applies to both training and diet.
  6. Stop Jumping Around. To be successful you must learn that hard work and a good eating plan are the keys to progress. There are no magical programs. If you train hard and eat properly you should be able to build muscle on nearly any program.
  7. Know What You’re Eating. To be successful you must know what’s going into your body. This requires at least a minimal understanding of your daily calorie and protein intake. “Guessing” or “trying to eat healthy” are imprecise nutritional methods. Take control and develop an eating plan.
  8. Be Willing To Learn. To be successful you must be willing to keep an open mind. Read a new article each week, or take time to study the habits of those that are successful.

Build a Workout

This section will help you build a workout from the ground up. You will learn about:

  • The major muscle groups and how to combine them into an effective fullbody or split muscle building program.
  • The various types of exercises, including information on which are considered the most effective choices.
  • Common workout structures – fullbody workouts, upper/lower splits, bodypart splits and more.
  • Training volume: how many sets to use per bodypart, and how and when to add more volume over time.
  • Different rep ranges and how to use them to maximize hypertrophy.
  • Methods of progression: how and when to add weight to the bar, and when to use advanced training techniques such as supersets, etc.
  • How much rest you need between sets, and how to alter rest periods to assist the muscle building process.

A Look at Muscle Groups

Most muscle building workouts focus on the following 12 primary muscle groups:

  1. Abs
  2. Back
  3. Biceps
  4. Calves
  5. Chest
  6. Forearms
  7. Hamstrings
  8. Lower Back
  9. Quadriceps
  10. Shoulders
  11. Traps
  12. Triceps

Occasionally you will see a training program include exercises for the glutes, but direct glute work is generally considered the exception and not the norm.

Major Muscle Groups. Of the 12 primary muscle groups 4 are considered major, and most training approaches are structured around them. These 4 major muscle groups are:

  • Back, often includes lower back work.
  • Chest.
  • Shoulders, often including traps exercises.
  • Quads, often grouped together with hamstrings.

Antagonist muscle groups. Antagonist muscle groups are two muscle groups that work in opposition to one another. Major examples are:

  • Biceps and Triceps
  • Chest and Back
  • Quads and Hamstrings

Forearms, Traps and Lower Back. It is not uncommon to see workouts that do not include direct forearm, traps or lower back exercises.

Forearms. The forearms receive quite a bit on natural stimulation from the constant action of holding/gripping barbells, dumbbells and machine handles.

Traps. The traps, or trapezius muscles, receive quite a bit of stimulation from deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, overhead pressing and to a certain degree, rows.

Lower Back. A training program heavy in compound movements such as squats and deadlifts will do a good job of taxing the lower back. Because of this, direct lower back work might actually be counterproductive (overtraining). Much of this will depend on the lower back strength of the trainee.

Exercise Types

There are 2 types of exercise mechanics:

  • Compound Exercises. A compound exercise involves the movement of two joints more than one muscle group.
  • Isolation Exercises. Isolation exercises only involve one joint and one muscle group.

There are 7 primary exercise types:

In general, the most productive exercises are barbell and dumbbell compound lifts, but bodyweight and machine compound exercises can be very potent as well.

The most effective exercises. The following 7 lifts are arguably the best muscle building exercises.

  • Squats. Squats are the king of all muscle and strength building exercises. No workout should be without deep squats. They are performed with a barbell, generally in a squat rack. Squats not only build massive legs, but also stress most of the upper body. They are like hormonal gamma radiation – taxing the entire body, forcing it to get bigger and stronger with ever rep.
  • Deadlifts. Second only to squats in effectiveness (and a very close second at that), deadlifts are another manmaker that will pack on slabs of muscle mass while helping you become as strong as a bear. Like squats, deadlifts are a barbell only exercise.
  • Dips. Dips are often called the upper body squat, and for good reason. Dips work the shoulders, chest and triceps very hard, and are a great overall exercises for building a beefy upper body. Dips should be performed at a parallel bar dipping station.
  • Pull Ups. It seems that even the strongest and most fit lifters can barely squeak out more than a few pull ups. The pull up is an excellent exercise for building the back and biceps, and should be used instead of exercises such as the lat pull down when possible.
  • Bench Press. The bench press is an upper body staple. There are several highly effective variations including the flat bench barbell press, flat bench dumbbell bench press, incline bench barbell press and incline dumbbell bench press.
  • Overhead Press. As with the bench press, there are numerous quality variations of the overhead press that can be used. Nearly all seated and standing dumbbell and barbell overhead presses are solid choices. You may also use the Arnold dumbbell press, and behind the neck overhead presses. Another popular press variation is the standing push press.
  • Rows. Both barbell and dumbbell rows are tremendous upper back exercises. Old school barbell T-bar rows are also a solid choice. While cable and machine lifts are generally sub-par back exercises, seated cable rows can be very challenging and effective.

Training Planes. Exercises can also be viewed by antagonistic training planes. Examples include:

  • Horizontal Plane. Pushing away from the chest, pulling towards the chest.
  • Vertical Plane. Pressing overhead, or pulling down from overhead.

Common Workout Structures

There are 3 primary workout structures:

Fullbody Workouts. A fullbody workout is performed 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive training days and focuses on training the entire body through the use of complimentary movements.

Prior to the steroid era, fullbody workouts were the norm. They have been used successfully by many top bodybuilders over the years, from Steve Reeves to Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is a little known fact that Arnold build a good portion of his muscle mass using a Reg Park-inspired fullbody workout.

Upper/Lower Splits. Consider an upper lower split a happy middle ground between fullbody workouts and extensive bodybuilding splits. Upper lower splits are very popular in the realm of strength building, but when properly structured are excellent routines for muscle building.

Upper days focus on chest, shoulders, arms, and back, while lower days focus on legs, lower back, abs and often deadlift (and variations).
An upper lower split is generally performed 4 days per week, but can also be performed 3 days per week in an alternating A/B workout type fashion.

Bodypart Split Workout. Bodypart splits are the most common approach to training in the modern era. Splits are generally organized around one major bodypart, and can often also include several minor bodyparts. Split workouts can be as basic as a 3 day push/pull/legs split, to an extremely advanced 6 day double split.

With the advent of steroids, lifters found they were able to train longer and harder with more benefit, and that they were able to recover much more quickly. This paved the way to elaborate training splits. Bodypart splits certainly have merit for natural trainees, but they are better off starting with a modest 3-4 day training split and evolving their training based on needs, rather than utilizing a 5-6 day split when it isn’t necessarily needed.

How to Structure Fullbody Workouts and Training Splits

The section will provide some basic but effective templates that will allow you to properly structure workouts on your own. When it comes to workout structure, the possibilities are endless. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the basics before attempting to create more advanced workout approaches.

Structuring a Fullbody Workout. A fullbody workout should be performed 3 days per week, on nonconsecutive training days. The most common approach to fullbody training is to workout on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You may also choose to train fullbody 2 days per week, on a Monday and Thursday, for example. Twice a week training can be a very effective approach, and should not be ruled out by individuals with a limited amount of time each week to workout.

Many popular fullbody workouts are centered around 3 major lifts: squats, a pressing movement and a pulling movement.

When devising your own fullbody workout, the following template is a good place to start:

  • Squat compound movement. Squats, front squats, goblet squats, etc.
  • Press compound movement. Bench press, military press, or variations.
  • Pull compound movement. Deadlift, rows, power cleans, etc.
  • 1-2 assistance exercises. Dips, curls, abs, pull ups, calves, shrugs, etc.

Use a compound movement for the squat, press and pull. These lifts should be the most taxing of the program. Assistance work should be challenging, but can be isolation work based on needs.

Many fullbody workout approaches rotate intensity levels. The most common intensity approach is the HLM:

  • Heavy Day – The focus is on pushing yourself using the most effective squat, press and pull compound exercises.
  • Light Day – The focus is on using a little less weight, or a milder exercise for the squat, press and pull movements. For example, some programs will have you backing off of your heavy squat weight by 20%, while others call for exercises like goblet squats on a light day.
  • Medium Day – This will be a challenging training day, but just not quite as intense as your heavy day. You may opt for leg presses or front squats instead of squats, and Arnold presses or dumbbell bench presses instead of heavy bench presses.

A good approach for pressing days is to rotate between a bench press variation and an overhead variation. You can use dumbbells, barbells or even Hammer Strength if need be.

Structuring an Upper/Lower Split Workout. Upper lower splits generally require training 4 days per week. The following is an example of a common upper/lower training schedule:

  • Monday – Lower
  • Tuesday – Upper
  • Thursday – Lower
  • Friday - Upper

You may also train 3 days per week using an upper/lower split, as follows:

  • Week 1 – Upper, Lower, Upper
  • Week 2 – Lower, Upper, Lower

“Upper days” consist of the following 5 exercises:

  1. Chest exercise. Bench press, incline dumbbell bench press, etc.
  2. Back exercise. Barbell rows, pull-ups, etc.
  3. Shoulder exercise. Military press, seated Arnold press, etc.
  4. Tricep exercise. Close grip bench press, dips, etc.
  5. Bicep exercise. Barbell curl, dumbbell curl, etc.

“Lower days”, also known as posterior chain training, are comprised of the following 5 exercises:

  1. Squat/deadlift exercise. Back squats, deadlift variations, etc.
  2. Quad exercise. Leg Press, leg extension, etc.
  3. Hamstring exercise. Glute ham raise, still leg deadlift deadlift, etc.
  4. Abs exercise. Weighted sit ups, side bends, etc.
  5. Calves exercise. Seated calf raise, standing calf raise, etc.

Structuring a Bodypart Split Workout. Bodypart splits open the door to workout variation, and can be structured in nearly an endless number of ways. Some of the most popular variations are listed below.

Pull, Push, Legs. The pull, push, legs is a 3 day split that is structured as follows:

  • Day 1 – Pull. Back, biceps, forearms and traps.
  • Day 2 – Push. Chest, shoulders and triceps.
  • Day 3 – Legs. Quads, hamstrings, calves and abs.

3 Day Antagonistic Split. This 3 day split structures workouts based on antagonistic muscle groups.

  • Day 1 – Chest and back.
  • Day 2 – Legs.
  • Day 3 – Shoulders and arms.

4 Day Major Bodypart Split. This is a fairly common training split, usually featuring a chest, back, shoulders and legs training day. Because the chest and shoulder days utilize some of the same muscle groups (shoulders and triceps), it is best to separate them with several days of rest.

  • Day 1 – Chest and triceps.
  • Day 2 – Back and biceps.
  • Day 3 – Shoulders and traps.
  • Day 4 – Quads, hamstrings and calves.

It is important to know that in the context of a bodypart split workout each muscle group is trained only once per week. You will need to structure off days accordingly.

“Rules” to Help Structure a Training Split

  1. Chest and Triceps. Don't train chest the day after triceps, or vice versa. The triceps are heavily involved with pressing movements used to hit the chest. If you work triceps the day before chest, your triceps will be fatigued and could limit your chest workout productivity. If you work chest the day before triceps, your triceps will be fatigued and will receive a pounding two days in a row.
  2. Back and Biceps. Don't train back the day after biceps. The biceps are heavily involved with pulling/rowing movements used to blast the back. If you work biceps the day before back, your biceps will be fatigued and could limit your back workout productivity.
  3. Squats and Deadlifts. Don't train squats and deadlifts on back to back days. Both squats and deadlifts utilize many of the same muscle groups. These lifts are considered posterior chain movements, meaning they both target the lower back, spinae erectors, glutes, hamstrings, etc. It's best to have a few rest days in between these lifts.
  4. Traps. Don't obsess about direct traps work. The traps are worked hard when deadlifting, and also during overhead pressing and other shoulder exercises such as laterals. Do not assume that you need an excessive amount of direct traps work to build big traps. In fact, if you are deadlifting and using a form of the military press, you may not need much direct trap work at all.
  5. Forearms. Don't obsess about direct forearm work. As with traps, the forearms are worked hard by numerous other lifts. The mere act of gripping barbells and dumbbells day in and day out is often enough to stimulate quality forearm growth. Do not assume you need an excessive amount of direct forearm stimulation.
  6. Rear Delts. Don't overwork the rear delts. The rear delts are hit hard on back day, and during some shoulder exercises for front and side delts. If you look at the rowing/pulling motion of most back exercises, you will notice that they are in the same family tree as rear laterals (bent over reverse flys). Some rear delt work is good, but you do not need an abundance of rear delt exercises to have great looking rear delts.
  7. Front Delts. Don't overwork the front delts. The front delts are aggressively hammered when using pressing motions for chest and shoulders. These pressing movements should be the core of your front delt work. While it is a good idea to add in an additional isolation exercise (such as front laterals) for your front delts, you do not need an abundance of front delt exercises to have great looking front delts.
  8. Abs. Incorporate some form of a heavy ab exercise. Far too often the abs are worked the same way day in and day out, with no added resistance. Make sure you incorporate some form of progressive resistance into your ab routine to help build a thick, amazing looking six pack. These exercise include, but are not limited to: weighted situps, crunches and leg lifts, and cable crunches.
  9. Arm Work. Stop obsessing about direct arm work. Working your arms hard each week is good. Believing that you need to work your arms with 30 sets, three times per week is counter productive. Big arms are built with heavy rowing and pressing movements. Direct bicep and tricep work helps to build big arms (obviously), but you do not need to overkill the amount of sets you perform.
  10. Legs. Work your legs! Don't be a chicken-legged gym rat who avoids hard leg exercises. Not only do muscular legs look impressive, but strong legs will also improve athletic performance, helping you to jump higher, run faster, and explode out of the gate on sprints.
  11. Isolation Movements. Don't overuse isolation exercises. Isolation movements have their place in weight training. But with that said, it makes no sense to perform 5 sets of dumbbell flyes or tricep kickbacks if you are not working your chest and triceps hard with a battery of heavy pressing movements.
  12. Dips and Pull Ups. Don't discount the power of dips and pull ups. Though these exercises are bodyweight exercises, the dip is known as the upper body squat for it's overall muscle building effectiveness, and pull ups are an amazing back blaster. If these exercises get easy, use a weight belt and add resistance.
  13. Lower Back. Don't overwork the lower back with too much direct work. The lower back is taxed hard enough as it is. A few additional sets for lower back is good, but overworking your lower back can often result in muscle fatigue, weakness and strains which can lead to further injuries. Do enough lower back work to stay strong, but not so much that you aren't able to function for several days.

Factors that Impact Training Frequency

Muscle soreness, and a muscle's ability to recover, are not the only factors involved when trying to decide how often you should train a muscle group. You also have to consider the strain that frequent training places on your joints, connective tissue (ligaments and tendons), CNS (central nervous system), etc.

If you've never trained a muscle group more than once a week, and want to try a more frequent approach, don't rush into this approach with heavy weight. Take a few weeks to allow your body to adapt to the demands of this new training style.

Also, keep in mind that the heavier weight you lift, the longer it will take to increase your training frequency. Your body will need to condition itself to the unique demands of this style of training. In addition, many advanced lifters that do utilize a more frequent training approach often cycle their workout intensity. Some workouts may focus on heavy weight for low reps, and some on moderate or a relatively lighter weight for 10-15 (or more) reps.

Training Volume Considerations

Training a body part twice, or even three times a week is a viable option for many. Small muscle groups can often be trained more frequently. In fact, large muscle groups can be training twice or even three times a week if the daily volume of sets is kept in check.

One of the mistakes that many trainees make when working a muscle group multiple times per week is that they try to keep the volume high on each day. This is a misguided approach. Regardless of how often you train a muscle group, a good guideline is to use the same weekly amount of sets. Let's look at a few examples:

  • Twice a Week Training. If you are currently working your chest once a week for 12 sets and want to work your chest twice a week for extra stimulation, do NOT perform 2 weekly workouts of 12 sets each (a total of 24 sets). Instead, work your chest with only 6 sets per workout, for the SAME weekly total of 12 sets.
  • Training Three Times Per Week. If you are currently working your biceps once a week for 9 sets and want to instead work them three times a week for extra stimulation, do NOT perform 3 weekly workouts of 9 sets each (a total of 27 sets). Instead, work your biceps with only 3 sets per workout, for the SAME weekly total of 9 sets.

Weekly Sets Per Bodypart

As a general rule, stick with the following weekly sets per muscle group. When uncertain, always start with the lowest amount of sets, and only add sets if this approach is ineffective.

  • 9 to 15 weekly sets - Large Muscle Groups. These groups include chest, back, shoulders and quads.
  • 6 to 9 weekly sets - Small Muscle Groups. These groups include biceps, triceps, calves, abs and hamstrings.
  • 0 to 3 weekly sets - Minor Muscle Groups. These groups include lower back, forearms, rear delts and traps.

When training a bodypart twice a week, use the following number of sets per workout:

  • 4 to 8 working sets - Large Muscle Groups. These groups include chest, back, shoulders and quads.
  • 3 to 5 working sets - Small Muscle Groups. These groups include biceps, triceps, calves, abs and hamstrings.
  • 0 to 3 working sets - Minor Muscle Groups. These groups include lower back, forearms, rear delts and traps.

When training a bodypart three times a week, use the following number of sets per workout:

  • 3 to 5 working sets - Large Muscle Groups. These groups include chest, back, shoulders and quads.
  • 0 to 3 working sets - Small Muscle Groups. These groups include biceps, triceps, calves, abs and hamstrings.
  • 0 to 3 working sets - Minor Muscle Groups. These groups include lower back, forearms, rear delts and traps.

A Look at Rep Ranges

There are no magic rep ranges. Progression, or pushing for as many reps as possible on a set, is far more important than the rep range you choose. With that said, there are some rep range rules that can maximize your results.

  • Rep ranges for compound exercises. For most compound exercises it’s a good idea to stick between 5 to 12 reps per set.
  • Rep ranges for isolation exercises. For isolation exercises you are better off sticking with rep ranges between 10-15 per set. Any sets below this range generally involves a fairly heavy weight, and form can get sloppy rather quickly.
  • Rep ranges for leg training. Legs often respond better to set volume, and may be trained as high as 20 reps per set.

Calves and rep range. Calves are an anomaly. Many are born with naturally big calves and don’t need to train them at all. On the other hand, for those unfortunate enough to have been born with thin calves, nothing seems to help.

If you have stubborn calves it’s a good idea to experiment. If  the 12 to 20 rep range isn’t working don’t hesitate to try heavy weight and low reps sets, or limited rest between sets.

Rep range variety. To maximize hypertrophy, it’s a good idea to tax each muscle group on a weekly basis with a variety of rep ranges.

  • Heavy sets – Compound exercises performed in the 5-7 rep range.
  • Moderate sets – The bread and butter of muscle building, moderate sets involve training in the 8-12 rep range.
  • Light sets – Usually performed with isolation exercises in the 12-15 rep range.

Are High Reps for Cutting? This is a myth. A lifter should not resort to higher reps and lighter weight when trying to lose weight. By using lighter weight you are telling the body that it no longer has a reason to hold on to some of its existing muscle mass. When trying to cut fat continue to train just as hard and heavy as you would when trying to build muscle.

The Importance of Progression

The importance of progression can’t be overstated. Progression of weight is the magic that drives muscle building for beginner to intermediate lifters. Simply stated, progression requires you to push yourself on every set for as many reps as possible, and involves the addition of weight to a lift when you are able to perform the recommended number of reps for a set.

Always remember to stop a set when your exercise form becomes sloppy. There is also no need to train to failure. Push yourself until you feel like you might fail on the next rep, and then stop a set.

Rest Between Sets

Remember the point of being in the gym: to build muscle. There is no need to rush from set to set to set. While rest pause training, or limiting rest between sets, can be a viable training approach for the experienced lifter, it serves little value for those in the initial stages of muscle building.

Rest about 90 to 120 seconds between most sets, and up to 3-5 minutes between heavy, taxing sets of deadlifts, squats, etc. You may need to rest as little as 60 seconds for certain isolation exercises.

The key point to remember is this – rest until you feel ready to go again. This is of the utmost importance to novice lifters who still feel shaky under the bar.

The Best Exercises by Bodypart

5 Most Effective Chest Building Exercises

  • Bench Press. The king of all upper body muscle building movements. The bench press is so popular that it is often seen as having it's own training day - bench press Monday.
  • Incline Bench Press. The first choice of many top pro bodybuilders.
  • Dips. Once considered the upper body squat, dips are a great compliment to any bench press movement.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press. You will really be able to feel the chest work with this pressing variation.
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press. A solid alternative to the incline barbell press.

5 Most Effective Back Building Exercises

  • Deadlifts. Nothing builds beefy backs like the deadlift. The sheer act of holding a barbell with heavy weight places the lats under an incredible amount of stress.
  • Pull Ups. A far superior choice to lat pull downs. If you can do one, try for two. If you can do two, try for three! If you can't do them at all use rack chins.
  • Barbell Row. No back building workout should be without a heavy row, and barbell rows are at the top of the list.
  • Dumbbell Row. An excellent second choice to barbell rows, especially if you have a weak lower back.
  • Power Clean. The explosiveness of the power clean effectively works the back from traps down.

5 Most Effective Shoulder Building Exercises

  • Military Press. This exercise has been a staple of great workouts for decades on end.
  • Push Press. Very similar to the military press, but utilizing more of an Olympic lifting-style explosiveness.
  • Bench Press. Yes, you read that correctly. The bench press is an amazing front delt builder. In fact, if your chest day involves several pressing movements there's a good chance you won't need any direct front delt work on shoulder day.
  • Seated Behind The Neck Press. Go no deeper than arms perpendicular to the floor, and this is a rock solid choice.
  • Seated Dumbbell Press. A little easier on the shoulders for many because the dumbbells can be placed in a more natural position.

5 Most Effective Leg Building Exercises

  • Squats. The king of all muscle building lifts. 'Nuff said.
  • Front Squats. Another top choice of bodybuilding beef kings. Front squats can be tricky to learn, but you will be rewarded with big wheels.
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts. Beef up your hamstrings!
  • Leg Press. If you don't have access to a squat rack this is your next best bet.
  • Barbell Lunge. Lunges are another quality leg-building staple.

5 Most Effective Arm Building Exercises

  • Chin Ups. A shocker, but chin ups (performed with palms toward the face) are a beastly bicep builder, perhaps even better than straight bar curls.
  • Close Grip Bench Press. This exercise allows for a heavy amount of weight to be placed on the triceps.
  • Dips. Much better than most tricep isolation exercises.
  • Barbell Curls. A classic. Just don't curl in the squat rack.
  • Seated Two Arm Dumbbell Tricep Extension. Allows you to lift heavy weight and reach a deep stretch. You will need a good spotter.

Honorable Mention

  • Weighted Sit Ups. Why do volume when you can add weight and also build thickness.
  • Power Shrugs. Performed with an Olympic lift style explosiveness, power shrugs allow you to move a lot of weight and tax the traps into massive growth.
  • Cable Crunches. Forget floor crunches - add some weight and thicken your six pack!
  • Side Bends. Side bends not only help to build core stability, enhancing your performance on other compound exercises, but they also target the obliques, helping to build an impressive midsection.
  • Seated Calf Raises. The easiest way to isolate and blast the calves.

Training Longevity – Remaining Injury Free

How to warm up. The process of warming up before a weight training session involves 3 different phases:

  • Mild cardio – 5 to 10 minutes of non-taxing cardio.
  • Stretching – Several minutes of full body and workout specific stretching.
  • Working warm up sets – Prepare your body and mind for heavy lifting.

Step 1 – Mild cardio. It is not uncommon to feel stiff, tight, or sore when heading into a workout. The goal of this stage is to raise your body’s core temperature. You will get the blood flowing, and warm up your stiff joints and muscles.

Perform 5 to 10 minutes of very mild low impact cardio, such as walking on a treadmill. This warm up period should not tax your body in any way. Save your energy for the lifting session to come.

Step 2 – Mild stretching. Now that you have raised your core body temperature with mild cardio, take the time to stretch at minimum the muscle groups you are about to work out. No need to overdo it – 5 to 10 minutes of stretching is enough.

Step 3 – Working warm up sets. Most exercises require anywhere from a single working warm up set, to multiple warm up sets. Use the following guidelines when trying to determine how many warm up sets are required.

Heavy compound exercises. Heavy compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press place a great strain on the body. For these lifts it is recommended that you perform several working warm up sets.

Warm up sets should not tax the body or leave you feeling fatigued. The point of warm up sets is to prepare your mind, muscles, joints, tendons and central nervous system for the heavier sets to come.

If you fatigue a muscle during your warm up sets, you will handicap your performance during your working sets. This is not an effective method of muscle gains.

Sample warm up. What follows is a sample warm up session for the bench press. In this example, the first working set will be performed using 225 pounds.

  • Warm up set 1 – Bar x 10-15 reps.
  • Warm up set 2 – 135 pounds x 5-8 reps.
  • Warm up set 3 – 185 x 3-5 reps.
  • Warm up set 4 – 205 pounds x 1 reps.

Isolation exercises. Most isolation exercises require at most one warm up set. Some isolation exercises, such as weighted sit ups, can be performed without the use of any warm up sets.

Listening to Your Body

Always listen to your body. If you feel extremely stiff or tight, add a few more warm up sets.

In cases where the weight seems unusually heavy, use caution. When a weight feels heavy it is a sign that your central nervous system is not performing up to speed. You have two options at this time:

  1. Use a slightly lighter training weight for the day.
  2. Perform a few more single warm up sets in hopes that your CNS will “wake up.”

The Role of the Central Nervous System

The central nervous system, or CNS, plays an important role in the muscle building progress. During your warmup sets you are not only preparing your muscles and joints, but also your CNS.

When the CNS is properly stimulated, or engaged, a weight will feel lighter. This will allow you to train harder and maximize progress.

Ever notice that on some days a weight just feels heavier than normal? This is your CNS speaking to you, saying it’s not prepared or engaged. Smaller jumps in warmup weight will help to wake up your CNS, and allow you to recruit a maximum number of muscle fibers.

To maximize muscle fiber recruitment, do not skip warmup sets and do not make big jumps in warmup weight.

The Importance of Proper Form

There is a myth that exercise form can be mastered over the course of a couple of workouts. While this may be true for many isolation exercises, exercise form on heavy compound lifts will always remain a work in progress.

Heavy weight tends to expose form flaws. As a lifter gains more experience it becomes critical that they continue to work on exercise form. This will stave off injuries, allowing for more productive training time and less aches, pains and strains.

Never assume your form is perfect. Take time to video your form and have it critiqued by experienced lifters. It’s also a good idea to study articles and videos that teach proper form.

What is a Deload, and When to Deload

A deload is a lighter training day in which either the volume of training or the weight is decreased to allow for recovery from fatigue or minor injury. It is very common for inexperienced trainees to plan a deload day or deload week after experiencing a single sub-par workout. This should not be the case.

Bad workouts happen. A deload should only be scheduled after a period of several workouts in which a trainee feels like he is overreaching, or overtraining. During this deload period, a lifter’s fatigue will rescind while their fitness level remains strong, allowing them to productively return to training.

Should You Train While Sick?

While research indicates that working out while sick will not prolong an illness, there are still many reasons to avoid pushing yourself when sick. The biggest reason to avoid aggressive or intense training while feeling under the weather is due to impaired CNS function.

When your central nervous system isn’t 100% you will have a more difficult time recruiting muscle fibers. This diminished capacity will make a weight feel heavier, and can place an unusual amount of stress on muscles, joints and connective tissue. This, of course, can lead to injury.
If you do workout while sick, listen to your body. Use lighter than normal weights and stay hydrated.

How to Avoid Training Injuries

Most training injuries are caused by one of the following:

  1. Training too heavy, too often.
  2. Training too frequently.
  3. Training with poor exercise form.
  4. Not listening to your body.

Train too heavy. "Heavy training" is a relative term. Simply stated it means performing too many reps each week above 90% of your one rep max. Prilepin’s Table, which provides rep, set and volume guidelines based on what percentage of your one rep max you are working with, recommends no more than 4-10 reps on the 90%+ range.

For most natural lifters, performing over 4 reps at 90%+ of your one rep max on a given week is too much. If you continue to train in this range, using a high volume of reps at 90% plus, it’s only a matter of time before you pick up a major strain or injury that prevents you from performing at your peak.

Training too frequently. Frequent training can also lead to injury. As a general guideline it is recommend that you limit your weekly volume per bodypart to the following:

  • Major Bodyparts – 9 to 16 sets each week.
  • Minor Bodyparts – 3 to 9 sets each week.

Major bodyparts include chest, shoulders, back and quads. Minor bodyparts include biceps, triceps, traps, abs, hamstrings and calves.

These volume guidelines are independent of training split, meaning that whether you do a 4 day bodybuilding style split, or a fullbody workout, you will limit your total weekly sets as listed.

Poor exercise form. It goes without saying that the combination of poor exercise form and heavy weight is dangerous. Never assume your form is perfect. Make efforts to constantly refine your form, and seek out more experienced lifters to help you with pointers.

Listening to your body. Listen to your body. If you start to perform an exercise and your muscles or connective tissue feel “off”, don’t push yourself.

Muscle Building Supplements

It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the different products on the market. This section will cover the different types of muscle building supplements, what they do, and how you can use them to help you reach your goals faster.

While supplements are not essential to build muscle, they can help you achieve your goals more quickly. Intense training needs to be backed up with solid nutrition, and it's often just not practical to get the nutrition you need, when you need it, from food alone. To realize your full muscle building potential you need a good diet and supplement plan.

Top Selling Muscle Building Supplements

Protein. Protein is essential for building muscle. Without it, you simply will not grow. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of muscle tissue. Protein powders and protein bars are convenient and provide high quality protein.

There are two different types of protein powders available, whey protein and casein protein. Whey protein and casein protein should be used in different ways:

  • Whey protein. Whey protein is perfect for those looking to build muscle. It's very fast ingesting, has an awesome amino acid profile, is low in fat and has a very high boiavailability (BV) score. Whey protein is ideal for whenever you need to get quality protein into your body fast, like straight after your workout or when you wake up in the morning.
  • Casein protein. Casein protein is digested very slowly, between 2 and 7 hours. This means casein protein is used when you don't need protein right away. Casein is great to use before bed because the longest time your body goes without protein is during the night while you are sleeping. Casein is also an ingredient in many meal replacement products.

Creatine. Creatine is another awesome supplement for gaining muscle mass. It is naturally occurring in the body, and found in minute quantities in some foods like red meat. It's safe and very effective for anybody, especially if you've never used it before.

Creatine increases ATP (the main energy source muscles use for explosive power) availability so that you can perform more reps and sets and lift more weight, helping you to build muscle more quickly.

Weight Gainers. Weight gain products are great for helping you get the nutritional requirements and calories needed for muscle growth. To build muscle, you need to be consuming more calories that you expend every day. Some people need more calories than others. Some "hard gainers" need a huge amount of calories to grow.

Generally, weight gainers range from about 400 to 1,200 calories per serving. They're made up of whey protein, complex carbohydrates and fats. Many people who lead a busy lifestyle use weight gainers to drink between meals to keep their calorie count up.

Multivitamins. It may not seem like the most obvious muscle building supplement, but a good multi-vitamin play an important role in muscle growth and general health. If you are deficient in even one vitamin or mineral, your gains can really be hampered.

A good multi-vitamin is a must for the best gains in muscle mass, not to mention good health. People who are working out need more vitamins than the average person, so your supermarket brands won't cut it.

Glutamine. L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in muscle tissue. It helps prevent muscle wasting (catabolism) and improves recovery. The better and quicker you recovery, the sooner and harder you can hit it in the gym! Glutamine is also the primary fuel source for the immune system, so it can help prevent common illness. This means less chance you'll have to take time off your workout.

Glutamine is safe to take year-round. Glutamine should not be taken at the same time as creatine because they compete for receptors to be absorbed. Glutamine is often taken pre-workout and in your before bed protein shake.

Nitric Oxide Enhancer. Nitric Oxide is a free form gas that is produced in the body and is used by the body to communicate with other cells in the body. The fact that nitric oxide increases blood flow should make it of interest to bodybuilders, as increased blood flow will serve to deliver more nutrients to muscles, thus helping muscles become larger when subject to stress. People are noticing huge increases in muscle pumps while using this product.

Many top nitric oxide products are also blended with energy enhancers to form a complete pre-workout drink.

Natural testosterone Booster. As men age testosterone levels decrease. Raising your testosterone helps you to gain muscle, enhance your mood, maintain a healthy libido, and more. Testosterone boosters often include popular ingredients such as ZMA, Tribulus, and much more.

BCAAs & Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Bodybuilders can especially benefit from supplementing amino acids because they aid in repair, growth, and development of muscle tissue. Among the most beneficial and effective supplements in any sports nutrition program are branched chain amino acids. These are the essential aminos leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

How to Use Creatine for Maximum Results

On the average, the human body contains 120 grams of creatine. 95% of this creatine is stored in skeletal muscle. In general, muscle can hold an addition 30 to 40 grams of creatine, for a total of 150 to 160 grams. Of course, existing muscle mass is a huge factor in this equation.
There are two primary means of taking, or loading creatine. They are:

  • Rapid loading. Rapid loading involves taking 20 grams of creatine for 5 to 7 days, then taking 5 to 10 grams per day thereafter. Creatine is generally taken 5 grams at a time, in a non-acidic fruit juice, or with dextrose.
  • Slow loading. Slow loading, or gradual loading, is simply taking 5 to 10 grams of creatine a day without the rapid loading, 20 gram per day phase.

Both rapid loading and slow loading are effective. It is recommended that you experiment with both approaches, and determine which is best for you.

Taking Creatine with Carbs/High Glycemic Carbs

It is recommended that you take creatine in 5 gram servings along with a non-acidic fruit juice, preferably grape juice. Creatine can also be taken with the high glycemic carbohydrate dextrose. Taking creatine in this manner improves absorption. High glycemic carbs - such as dextrose - create an insulin spike, which dramatically increases creatine uptake. It is recommended that you take 70 grams of these carbs to get a quality insulin spike.

When to take Creatine Supplements

There is no evidence supporting a best time to take creatine. But taking it post workout is a logical and convenient time. Creatine stacks well with post-workout waxy maize and whey protein. There is evidence revealing that taking creatine with a 1 to 1 ratio of carbs to proteins can increase creatine absorption.

When rapid loading creatine, it is best to take creatine at the following times:

  • Morning – 5 grams with grape juice.
  • Pre-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize.
  • Post-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize and whey protein.
  • Evening – 5 grams of creatine with grape juice.

When slow loading creatine, it is best to take creatine at the following times:

  • Pre-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize.
  • Post-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize and whey protein.

What can I expect from a Pre-Workout Formula?

Pre-workout supplements give you the energy, drive and focus you need to power through an intense workout. If you’ve ever tried and reputable pre workout supplement you’ll know the difference between training with or without a pre-workout. Benefits include increased energy, total mental focus, added intensity, increased blood flow and increase workload.

A good pre-workout should contain at a minimum beta-alanine, arginine and stimulants. Beta-alanine acts as a lactic acid buffer and allows you to train harder. Arginine open sup blood vessels and allows for greater blood flow. And stimulants (like caffeine) drive your energy, focus and endurance.

Pre-workout supplements should be taken 15-30 minutes before training.

Pre, Intra and Post Workout Nutrition and Supplementation

The nutrients you consume before, during and after your workout have a huge impact on your energy levels, workout intensity and recovery. This section will explain how to use food and supplements correctly to make sure you get the most out of every workout.

Pre-workout meal. Think of your pre-workout meal as the “energy foundation” for your workout. This meal is going to provide your body with the sustained energy you need to make sure you can train at 100% for your entire workout.

For this meal you’re going to need protein, slow digesting carbohydrates, and fats. A well rounded, macronutrient rich meal. Ideally, protein would be from lean sources like fish, trimmed red meal or chicken. Good sources of carbohydrates include brown rice, potatoes, pasta, yams and oats. The carbohydrates are the most important aspect of this meal, because the slow release energy will be power your lifts. So make sure you’re getting 30-60g from a good carbohydrate source.

Eat about 1-3 hours before your workout, depending on your metabolism. Those with a higher metabolic rate may want to have their pre-workout meal 1 to 1.5 hours before training.

Intra-workout supplements. Amino acid supplementation during your workout is a must if you want to maximize your gains and limit muscle breakdown.  Consuming amino acids during training helps increase energy levels, reduce muscle breakdown (catabolism), and speed up recovery times.

A good BCAA product is recommended for use during training. Products like Scivation’s Xtend and VPX’s Power Shock are good examples of these.

Post-workout supplements. You could argue that post-workout nutrition is the most important meal of the day. After a heavy and intense weight training session, your body is depleted of many vital nutrients including protein, glycogen (sugars used for energy), amino acids, and important vitamins and minerals. It’s absolutely essential that replace these nutrients as soon as possible to prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown) and promote anabolism (muscle repair and regrowth) and protein synthesis.

At the very minimum you should consume a good whey protein powder with water. It’s important that you use whey protein post=workout as it’s the fastest digesting protein source. Consuming protein post-workout starts the muscle repair process and protein synthesis.

You can also take advantage of the additional nutrient uptake post-workout to consume other supplements, like creatine and glutamine. 5g of each can easily be added to your post-workout shake.

Additionally, to replace lost muscle glycogen and spike insulin, you can add fast digesting carbohydrates. Good examples of these are dextrose and waxy maize starch. Around 70g of carbohydrates is need for an adequate insulin spike.

To recap on post-workout nutrition, your ultimate shake would be 30-40g of whey protein, 70g of carbs, 5g of creatine and 5g of glutamine. But at a very minimum, 30-40g of whey protein with water.

Post-workout meal. You post-workout meal is the final stage in your workout nutrition. Like the pre-workout meal, this meal should be well rounded consisting of protein, carbohydrates and good fats. You should always get your protein from lean sources, and your carbohydrates from slow digesting sources (i.e., whole and brown foods).

Advanced Training Techniques and Principles

Drop sets. Time under tension. Rest pause training. We've all seem terms like this used in muscle building workouts, quite possibly without explanation as to what they specifically mean or require. If you feel confused by one of these advanced training techniques, you've come to the right place. This section will explain common advanced training techniques.

Common Advanced Training Techniques

Rep Tempo. Rep tempo is notated as a series of three numbers. The following are examples of how a recommended rep tempo might appear in a workout:

  • 2-1-2
  • 2-0-6
  • 4-1-6

These three numbers signify a time in seconds. The first number indicates how long it should take you to perform the rep, or concentric aspect of a lift. The second number advises you on how long to hold the weight at contraction. The final number tells you how long it should take for you to return the weight to it's starting position before beginning another rep. This is the eccentric aspect of a lift.

Pre-Exhaustion. Pre-exhaustion is the practice of performing an isolation exercise before moving on to a compound lift that targets the same muscle group. The goal of pre-exhaustion is to allow an isolation lift to pre-fatigue a muscle, so that when you perform a compound lift, that muscle will have to work harder. It is common, but not necessary, to use pre-exhaustion in combination with a superset.

Post-Exhaustion. Post-exhaustion is a superset variation. With post-exhaustion, you perform 2 exercises for a single muscle group back to back - first a compound lift, and secondly an isolation lift - with limited rest in between sets. The goal of post-exhaustion is to wear down a big muscle group with heavy weight, and then finish it off while it is fatigued with an isolation lift.

Supersets. A superset is the performing of 2 sets of 2 different exercises back to back with no rest in between these sets. A superset can combine isolation and compound lifts for the same muscle group, two compound lifts for the same muscle group, or antagonistic exercises for opposing muscle groups. Examples of antagonistic muscle groups include back and chest, quads and hamstrings and abs and lower back.

Trisets. A triset is the performing of 3 sets of 3 different exercises back to back with no rest in between these sets. It functions in the same manner as a superset, but instead with an additional exercise.

Drop Sets. A drop set is similar to a superset, in that you are performing multiple sets back to back with no rest between these sets. With a drop set you are using a single exercise. After you can no longer perform any reps, or at the point where you are fatigued with a given weight, you immediately drop the weight down and perform more reps. A drop set generally involves 3-4 total sets.

Drop sets work well with dumbbell or machine exercises, but can also work with barbell exercises if you have a spotter, or have arranged the plates before hand to be easily removed. In this case, several small plates are added to the bar, possibly 5's and 10's, instead of a 25 or 45 pound plates.

Giant Sets. A giant set is a sequence of 4 exercises performed back to back without any rest between sets. While a giant set is generally used to target a single muscle group, it can also be structured in an antagonistic manner, working two muscle groups alternatively. Because of the number of exercises involved, a giant set can combine isolation and compound exercises in a wide variety of ways.

Cluster Sets. A cluster set is a large group of sets (usually 5 to 10) performed with the same number of reps, and using the same weight. Cluster sets are often structured so that there is a limited and specific rest in between each of these sets. The goal of a cluster set is to wear down a muscle by the use of cumulative fatigue; you repeat the cycle or performing a small number of reps, followed by a relatively short rest period. With cluster set training the early sets often feel easy, and later sets become progressively more difficult.

Burn Sets. A burn set is a single exercise that is performed in a very high rep range, generally 20-30 reps or more. A burn set is often used as a finisher, and is used to pump up a muscle, deplete muscle glycogen and/or to build strength endurance. While not considered an effective stand alone muscle building technique, burn sets do work well in a limited fashion in combination with standard hypertrophy training.

Negative Reps. Negative reps, or negative training, is the use of a slow, controlled eccentric aspect of a lift to stimulate muscle growth, or to train/prepare the central nervous system (CNS) to handle heavier strength loads. The eccentric aspect of a lift is the returning of the weight to it's starting position, normally in preparation for another rep. But in the case of negative training, this returning of the weight, or eccentric focus, does not involves positive reps (it could involve forced reps).

Slow Negatives. Unlike negative reps, slow negatives are integrated into a set, and do not fall at the end of a set when reaching muscle failure. A set that utilizes slow negatives will have you performing a rep at normal speed, and then a slow negative eccentric motion in between each rep. This slow negative is usually performed over a period of 4 to 6 seconds.

Forced Reps. A forced rep falls at the end of a set, after reaching muscle failure (the point in which you can no longer perform any reps on your own), and involves the assistance of a spotter. Simply stated - you perform as many reps as possible, and have your spotter help you complete several more reps after you reach a sticking point in the lift where you can no longer move the weight under your own power.

Rest Pause Training. Rest pause training involves extended sets which involve performing as many reps as possible, followed by periods of short rest and then the performing of more reps. Unlike cluster sets, rest pause training encourages you to perform as many reps as possible before resting. In addition, the rest periods used in rest pause training are generally very brief, often no more than 15 to 30 seconds.

Doggcrapp training (DC training), a very popular and effective muscle building system, relies almost solely on rest pause sets.

When to Use Advanced Training Techniques

These techniques are labeled advanced because they should not be attempted until you have met the following criteria:

  1. Muscle Building - You have gained more than a few pounds of muscle mass, and are confident that you know how to train without advanced techniques to gain muscle.
  2. Nutrition and Diet - You are eating properly, meaning that you have an understanding of how to structure a muscle building diet and are aware of how much protein you are eating on a daily basis.
  3. Lifting Form - You have a decent working grasp of proper exercise form. If your workouts consist on bouncing weight off your chest while bench pressing, or performing 1/4 squats, it is best that you avoid any advanced training techniques until your form is squared away.
  4. Strength - You have been routinely gaining strength. While absolute strength is not the be all, end all indicator that you will gain muscle, it does signal if you have been pushing yourself in the gym. Muscle building requires a progression of resistance on some level. If you're not currently pushing yourself in some form or fashion, odds are that advanced techniques will have little benefit.
  5. Persistence - Missing a lot of workouts? If so, you need to work on your motivation and dedication before worrying about advanced training techniques. Persistence is the biggest indicator of muscle building success. If you can't find the motivation to hit the gym, no magic training technique will help.

Popular Muscle Building Workouts on Muscle & Strength

Muscle & Strength features a database filled with hundreds of effective workouts for every need and goal. The following muscle building workouts are the best of the best; the most popular, proven and effective workouts on the site:

Beginner Muscle Building Workouts

  • 3 Day Workout for Beginners - New to weight training? This workout is for you. Designed to hit each muscle group with the big compound exercises once per week. Each workout day has 3-5 exercises.
  • 12 Week Beginners Training Routine - Everyone has to start somewhere. If you have never trained with weights before, you need a routine to get your muscles prepared for more serious training. It's essential that you complete a full body routine (like the one in this article) for 12 weeks before starting a split routine.
  • The Ex-Hardgainer Workout And Eating Plan - Tired of being a hardgainer? This program contains a detailed workout and progression scheme, along with eating advice and a sample daily diet plan.
  • 2 Day Simple A/B Split - An effective 2 day per week fullbody routine that is perfect for building muscle and strength. If you don't have time to live in the gym, and want results, this is the routine for you.

Muscle Building Workouts

  • 4 Day Power Muscle Burn Split - The Power Muscle Burn training system will help you build muscle and strength by focusing on three different training approaches, all used in the same workout.
  • Power Muscle Burn 5 Day Powerbuilding Split - This 5 day split is for intermediate lifters who are hungry for rapid size and strength gains.
  • 10 Week Mass Building Program - 10 week mass building program. This workout is designed to increase your muscle mass as much as possible in 10 weeks. The program works each muscle group hard once per week using mostly heavy compound exercises.
  • Doug’s 4 Day Split Workout - A 4 day muscle building workout with a proven track record. This workout has been used by many M&S forum members to achieve top notch results.
  • HIML-4 Maximum Muscle Building Workout System - HIML-4 is a highly effective four week muscle building workout system that cycles between heavy days, intense workouts, and moderate to light weight training days.
  • Pyramid Volume Training - Are you stuck in a plateau? Do you want to increase your strength, size, and muscular definition? Send your body into an anabolic state.
  • Density And Strength 4 Day Split - This 4 day split is a powerbuilding system designed to propel intermediate lifters towards faster muscle mass and strength gains.
  • Scrutiny’s 4 Day Muscle Building Split - This 4 day split by Scrutiny from the Muscle & Strength forum is an effective muscle building workout that features an arm day sure to provide results.
  • Shaun’s 3 Day Muscle Building Split Workout - Shaun's 3 day split workout is a solid routine for those who are looking to pack on some pounds!
  • Doug’s Mass Building Routine For Ectomorphs - This routine although designed for a person who’s body type is described as Ectomorph; it can be also be used by all body types as a change their current routine.
  • Dumbbell Only Home Or Gym Fullbody Workout - Stuck in a rut with your home (or gym) workout? This dumbbell only routine will get you on the fast track to muscle mass gains.

96 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Mon, 07/27/2015 - 20:53

Thank you for providing this information! Very well layed out! It has given me all the motivation and knowledge that I need to start gym and meet my goals! Thank you

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Posted Thu, 11/27/2014 - 15:32

is there a printable pdf of this? Thx

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Posted Tue, 11/18/2014 - 13:55
garland hornbaker

I read alot of articles about weight training some good, some BS but this one was one of the best I have come across in a long time.I really enjoyed it keep up the good work.

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Posted Sun, 05/31/2015 - 15:28

yeah , agree with you

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Posted Thu, 07/10/2014 - 09:39

Hi.i joined gym a week coach is saying start taking protein i want to know after how time we should take supplement after joining the gym it compulsory to take these suplement....and he suggest me dymatize way proten or isopure are they god..or can u sugest me better..i am non vegitrian
2. My second ques is my height 160 cm 5.3ft 168 weight not to fat not to slim and I want very decent muscle not very bulky...what shold I do ..if nessary what are the best suplement for pls suggest me

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Posted Wed, 10/22/2014 - 20:33

Start with Muscle Milk. It's a good brand and it's basic and complete. Then start reading and learning and you will know what you need. Hope that gets you started. Good luck.

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Posted Sun, 06/22/2014 - 04:48

Hey steve!
You say that in the warmup the 2nd phase is streching. But many researches confirm that streching prior to workout may harm your preformence. Whats your thoughts?

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Posted Sat, 05/03/2014 - 15:49

hey guys,
my name is Samtak and i recently started experimenting with some supplements after about 4-6 months of working out. as of right now i have a protein shake once a day with gainers in the protein powder and am trying to figure out how to use beta alanine and creatine in combination with BCAA. Can anyone help me figure out how to set out a good plan for better effects from these supplements? my current weight is 60 kg and i am 16

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Posted Fri, 04/18/2014 - 12:42

So I worked out that I needed 3300 calories per day, and using the meal plan of: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack, would each meal be the same amount of calories? for example, 3300 divided by 6 is 550, so should every meal be 550?

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Posted Tue, 03/04/2014 - 09:48

Great post! I have been looking for it for ages!

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Posted Tue, 02/04/2014 - 19:01

The best how to article on bodybuilding I ever read in 10 years. I wish I had this printed out when I was 15, I would have been an IFBB pro by 19, really...

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Posted Sat, 01/18/2014 - 14:45
Cory Criado

I had some confusion about creatine and glutamine. The article said they should not be taken at the same time cuz they fought for receptors, but then it said you can take them both post workout. And I've seen them come pre mixed in some whey protein powders. Am I misunderstanding?

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Posted Sun, 12/29/2013 - 10:34

for how many weeks can i follow Pyramid Volume Training???

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Posted Sun, 12/29/2013 - 10:27

hey buddy i'm a Intermediator guy...but i have choose 10 week muscle build programe ,,,i know it's now issue is that am i going on right way or not ??? this helpful me ???please reply must...

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Posted Thu, 10/17/2013 - 17:20
turi ali

i have started gym last 2 months ago,i am 20 year old and i want to know that is masturbation could effect on my gym process.

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Posted Tue, 10/08/2013 - 15:54
Anurag bhatt

my question is that..i m so skinny so what should I take whey protein powder or weight gainer..?

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Posted Thu, 10/03/2013 - 19:28

Woww I'm sincerely amazed about that all advices , it's really fantastically clear , well explained, easy toto follow and above all we get very well informed how to do in any matter. Very well done , thank you very much , I get more as I could expected, Thank you .

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Posted Thu, 08/29/2013 - 04:43

hey Steve,
I am 20 years old with 176 cm height and 60 kgs weight. doing bodybuilding workout 5 days a week from 10-11 months. Can you suggest me supplements to increase my body mass and muscles as am new to use them........ am little skinny and underweight and not able to get enough proteins from daily meals.

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Posted Sat, 08/24/2013 - 09:56
hardeep kumar

build musle and monster mass gainning

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Posted Thu, 08/15/2013 - 05:20

I'm 6'1" 175 pounds 27 years old. I would like to increase my general muscle mass and reduce my stomach fat. I would consider myself and ectomorph (hard gainer) as I have never really developed much muscle while I've always been very active in sports and periodic weight training. Over the past year I lost about 30 pounds (nearly all fat) by reducing my caloric intake effectively and regular whole body exercises. I was on my way to my ideal body composition until I became a bike courier. I've been a bike messenger for 9 months and recently my stomach fat has started to return. I'm riding 50+ miles each weekday riding for 9 hours a day. How many calories should I be eating? I've tried everywhere between 2400-3,500 cal/day. Is it possible for me to be eating too few calories while still accumulating stomach fat? Is it realistic for me to be able to maintain or even build muscle mass in this scenario? Please help, thanks.

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Posted Sat, 08/10/2013 - 13:21

dis article is awesome..... being a beginner I can understand each and evry term used in body building and the do's and dont's in weight training. gr8 job. keep gng. I luv this site.

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Posted Wed, 06/12/2013 - 12:31

this guide contains a huge mistake
you don't have to add calories to your BMR but to your maintenance calories


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Posted Tue, 06/11/2013 - 00:47
Simon Gomes

very good article for you simon.

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Posted Mon, 06/10/2013 - 22:08
David Lindbom

This is the single most comprehensive guide I have found so far. Very nice work and thank you for the help!

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Posted Sat, 06/08/2013 - 05:02

Hi I am a 16 year old who has played waterpolo for 8 years 10 weeks ago I decided to do bulking since I only weigh 60kg, I have been eating 3500-4000 calories a day but for some reason there are still no signs of any results, what should I do in this situation ?

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Posted Wed, 05/22/2013 - 16:48

Hey great page, one question, when u talk about weekly sets per bodypart u mean the total sets including all exercises per muscle and/or group muscle, OR the total of sets per exercise per muscle/group muscle?

Weekly Sets Per Bodypart

9 to 15 weekly sets - Large Muscle Groups. These groups include chest, back, shoulders and quads.
6 to 9 weekly sets - Small Muscle Groups. These groups include biceps, triceps, calves, abs and hamstrings.
0 to 3 weekly sets - Minor Muscle Groups. These groups include lower back, forearms, rear delts and traps.

....So if I'm training a bodypart once a week on a 4 day basis (back/chest, legs, arms, shoulders), how many sets per exercise should I be doing?

Thanks in advance!

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Posted Sat, 05/18/2013 - 04:11

Hi Steve,
First i want you to thanks for great information on this M&S forum. This really help me in starting gym.
I am doing fullbody following workout just want you to know & comment if it is OK.
Seated Barbell Press: 5x12
Bench Press: 5x12
Lat Pull down: 5x12 (I cant do pull ups)
Sqaut: 5x12
Barbell Curl: 3x12
Skullcrusher: 3x12
Seated Dumbbell Press: 4x12
Inclined Dumbbell Bench Press: 4x12
One Arm Dumbbell Row: 4x12
Smith Machine Standing Calf raise: 4x12
Dumbbell Curls: 2x12
Seated Dumbbell Extension: 2x12
Military Press: 5x12
Bench Press: 5x12
Lat Pull down: 5x12 (I cant do pull ups)
Deadlift: 5x10
Barbell Curl: 3x12
Skullcrusher: 3x12

I am male, age 26 y 8m, height 5, 10, weight 152lbs.

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Posted Fri, 05/17/2013 - 11:05
Pedro Felipe Rugeles

Great guide! But, what about cardio? Im endomorph, 5'8, 150 pounds 11% bf with NO ABS. I need to build more muscle and shed belly fat.

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Posted Sat, 05/11/2013 - 11:44

i have no money to buy those costly supplements

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Posted Sun, 04/28/2013 - 12:53

What about eating sweet potatoes and brown rice?

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Posted Sat, 04/27/2013 - 06:11

suggest me some best supplement for build muscle ( for cut ups ) and fat loss . my weight is 75kg and i m 25 yrs old, recently i used to take creatine monohyd... from (ultimate nutrition ) but nothng has change i send 2hrs a day in gym :-( pls suggest me some best name

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Posted Mon, 04/15/2013 - 18:49

awesome post.....all the key facts in there
going to have another look at my calorie intake for sure!

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Posted Thu, 04/11/2013 - 19:52

Hey could someone help me out with this. BTW I don't have a gym access.
I,ve been working out using my backpack filled with books to do bicep/tricep excersises but for my chest i can only do push ups. Does anyone know how I ca build uup my chest fast without weights our know how I can make weights to excersise it? My chest is sort of underdeveloped compared to my arms.
Thank you so much for this amazing article!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted Wed, 04/03/2013 - 07:10

An excellent article.
Need help in building muscle and strength gain in 3 months. Please help with the workout chart.

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Posted Mon, 03/25/2013 - 05:57


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Posted Wed, 03/06/2013 - 19:53

Hello , I have been training for like a year now and added a few pounds of lean body mass , i am much stronger now and overall im satisfied , i have a decent meal plan and i take creatine after my workouts.

My question is about my workout plan :

Monday : Chest / Triceps
Tuesday : Back , shoulders and bis
Wednesday : Legs
Thursday : Chest / tris
Friday : Back , shoulders and bis
Sunday : I play soccer , so i only train legs once a week

What im wondering is if this rest time is good or if i should restructure my plan to improve my gains 48h aint bad , but probably a 72h rest period would be recomended? I keep all my workouts short and intense , usually 30 to 45 min .. Any recommendations would be apreciated ! Thanks

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Posted Sun, 03/03/2013 - 11:56

Really Very Usefull article....................................Tanx a lot for everyone who worked on it

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Posted Wed, 01/30/2013 - 20:29


I am looking at getting back into weights at the gym after a layoff of about 3 years, I have been looking at the Muscle Building, Strength and Weight Loss workout programs, can you advise which is best, as I don't want to get big but just lean muscle with defined abs, I probably have to lose about 4.5 kilos or less.

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Posted Sun, 01/20/2013 - 01:05

Hi. Great information. But can someone help me? Ive been working out for over a year hard and can only put size on my chest. Its fustrating because no matter what i try i can not put size on my arms can someone give me advice on what i should do or try

Joey's picture
Posted Mon, 01/21/2013 - 15:21

I would suggest that you post your routine in the forum. You'll get some great guidance there.

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Posted Sat, 01/05/2013 - 03:11
Sello M(SA)

you guys are the best i got everything i need and bonus

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Posted Sat, 12/15/2012 - 14:22
Alex H Personal...

Good stuff although I thought it was a bit hard to understand and I know the science behind it.

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Posted Fri, 12/14/2012 - 04:45

I like the information, but I'm trying to find a workout that can help me gain muscle. My problem is I only have 30 minutes a day any tips?

mnsjason's picture
Posted Thu, 12/20/2012 - 16:58

I found myself in a similar position, and I decided that working out in the morning (even though I'm very much NOT a morning person) was the best solution. I committed to waking up at a time that ensured I could get an hour in the gym before starting the rest of my day. I'm not aware of your circumstances, but this could be an option for you.

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Posted Wed, 12/12/2012 - 20:10

Couple of questions: This is my first time taking creatine, which way should I take it, slow or rapid? Take it on off days?

Same meal plan on off days?

Can you mix creatine with a pre-workout if it does not contain it? I take Puris Labs Condense. I like it a lot. Is mixing creatine with water okay post-workout?

mnsjason's picture
Posted Thu, 12/20/2012 - 16:53

Hey Robbie!

With creatine, there is typically a recommended "loading phase," in which you take multiple doses of creatine per day. The idea is to quickly build up stored creatine in your body. Usually this around 3-4 days. After the loading phase, you'd take a dose per day to maintain levels. I recommend that you take it on off days, as you want to keep creatine levels high for your next workout. Also, your meal plan can stay the same on off days. Creatine would be fine to mix with water or a preworkout such as Condense, but it's not vital that you take creatine right before or after your workout.

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Posted Sat, 12/08/2012 - 16:20

very nice guide. one of the best i have ever reade. any one with this will no longer have to complane about i don t know what to do .hi fro CYPRUS

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Posted Fri, 11/30/2012 - 11:24

great read , lots of info , and reseaarch to do , im 44yr old 220 lb (mid section challanged ) lifting gain to mass . i had hit a road block till ur artical(hopefully).i was on protein diet, and results was positve , then swicthed to carbs for mass ( something i read ) put weight on , not good , gonna change my routine thanks to artical, question s 4 ya.. i have used force factor & n.o xplod, but not at the same time , i switch them every 2 months. is this a good or bad , and can i take them at same time , i m now gonna get some creatine & use in my workouts , any help and or advice,

Joey's picture
Posted Fri, 11/30/2012 - 11:30

I wouldn't usually recommend mixing pre-workouts, but Force Factor doesn't contain any stimulants and should be fine taken with NO-Xplode. You might start with a lower dose of NO-Xplode and see how that treats you. Supplementing with creatine is a good idea. 3-5g per day will be plenty.

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Posted Thu, 11/22/2012 - 06:16

thank you. i need this information