Often in the top 3 of questions a trainer will be asked is ‘how can I gain more muscle?’ Many are often blindsided by fitness magazines still promising the same nonsense the always have and now a new issue, info overload thanks to an over abundance of opinions and information on the internet.
Not to mention certain fitness websites that update almost daily with new and better ways to do things. The keys are there you just have to be able to disseminate that information, much of what we know about muscle building isn’t anything new. We do however understand more of the why those old school lifters were right and in a few cases what they got wrong.
Most people sort of know what to do, ‘liftweights and eat protein right’? Often it is their execution that is lacking.
Below are what I understand to be the keys to mass gain, based on a decade of coaching and science.
Building a base in the 1-5RM range enhances neuromscular adaptations that will allow us to lift more weight. More weight allows us to apply more mechanical tension. Tension which in turn stimulates muscular growth.
Time under tension, tension and speed of movement matter
Muscles can’t count but they do respond to tension, movements that require greater levels of tension are also ones that stimulate hypertrophy. Generally sets lasting 20s+ and up too 50s seem to work best for hypertrophy. These high levels of time under-tension are usually generated by controlling the tempo of movements. When I run an eccentric cycle most of my athletes notice changes in size. This is largely due to mechanical stress of eccentrics, which then kick starts greater muscular growth.
Concentrics (up part) should always performed quickly for athletes, but for those looking to gain size 1-3 seconds and even longer for eccentrics (down part 2-5s) seems to be appropriate.
Cumulative time under tension may matter also, this one is harder to prove but, recently while undertaking a bulgarian method cycle, I’ve gained at least 4kg. My quads and chest/shoulders are noticeably larger, just from benching and front squating to a near max everyday. This could be cumulative stress causing structural change or something hormonal. Answers on a postcard please.
Volume and Near concentric failure
Research now suggests somewhere between 6-12 reps per set with 60-90’s rest seems to be best. Total volume varies quite a lot, I’ve always found 30-50 total reps per workout seems about right for muscle gain. I’ve always thrived on 4-5 sets of 10 that’s quite a lot of time under tension also. We do see schemes of 8×8 and 10×10 but I often find these types of ranges burn out natural lifters and are the preserve of drugged lifters. Total volume seems to dictated somewhat by the individuals responsiveness and also their recovery capacity.
Protein – Particularly Leucine
Protein consumption enhances rates of muscle protein syntehsis. Increasing protein goes without saying, an entire industry has built up around the concept of selling protein for muscle growth. Leucine seems to be of particular importance as it kick starts mTOR expression a protein syntheis regulator. And what is full of Leucine you ask? Why Milk and Whey protein, which explains their role as staples in mass building.
How much should I take after training? The research by Phillips and Van loon suggests roughly 20-25g post training. As for how much to take each day? I’ve seen daily recommendations ranging from 0.8g to 1.8g per kg of BW and even intakes of 1.6-2.7g kg for optimising tissue balance while cutting carbohydrates or injured to maintain muscle mass.
Im now 30kg’s heavier than when I stopped my serious competitive sports career around 8years ago. I probably gained most of my new muscle in the first 3 years gaining around 6-8kg a year. At my heaviest I was 106kg and not all muscle. So I have had my fair share of personal experience with muscle gain. Key thing here was I was consistent. This absolutely crucial for naturals, the vast majority of recreational trainees that turn to drugs mainly because they have issues with committing to consistency.
Don’t believe the hype
Supplement industry thrives on a weird mixture of hype and insecurity despite good science backing some of their supplements. Ever watch a 15s video of your favourite ‘instafamous’ fitness idol mixing a shake, you are being marketed at every moment. A before picture from when you where a skinny teenager and now a full grown adult is not a ‘transformation’.
Muscle building should be simple, but selling, egos, drugs, misinformation and marketing have made what should be a straight forwards subject a very nebulous one. Not to sound like a contrived fitspo image, but workhard, work diligently, lift heavy, lift often, eat your protein and you’ll get there.