Body Conquest Articles | Mass Building Season
Mass Building SeasonWhether you are a competitive bodybuilder or are purely training for your own personal reasons with no view of getting up on stage, gaining muscle mass is surely the single main focus of your training. (I mean who goes to the gym to "get smaller")? Gaining size is not merely about lifting heavier weights every time you train at the gym, there is a multitude of variables that need to be taken into account when trying to pack on the pounds. So read on and make sure that you are taking heed of these tips to help you grow like a unit.
For those of you who compete, here in Australia most of the competitions have finished by mid October so the "mass-building season" would be considered to be from late October through until the beginning of March. If you are a non-competitive bodybuilder, then your mass-building season is whenever you decide it to be. My definition of "mass-building season" is the period of time where you work damned hard at building new muscle mass, but also, to work at fixing weaknesses and attaining a higher level of development than before. Notice that I refer to this period of time as mass-building not the "off-season" as the later insinuates a certain lack of activity and exercise, which is far, far from the truth.
So how exactly do you bring on the bulk? Well obviously everyone responds to their nutrition and training differently and there is no exceptional program to be found anywhere that is guaranteed to work for you. Once you understand that and end your futile search for the perfect training program you can then begin to experiment a little and see what does and doesn't work for you.
If you are familiar with my previous articles you will know what I am about to say before you have even finished reading this sentence. Yep, heavy compound movements are the key. It is imperative that you get your choices of exercises right or otherwise you are going to be wasting a lot of time, and I don't know too many people who have time to waste. The best exercises for mass development are compound, multi-joint movements that work a variety of muscle groups simultaneously. Prime examples of a compound movement would be chin-ups, squats and the bench press. But let me play the devils advocate and adopt the view of an advocate of isolation exercises and machines. They will claim that the above movements don't maximally recruit the prime mover because the smaller muscle groups involved fatigue first. So in the bench press for example, the pecs don't get as fatigued as they should because the delts and the triceps give out first. I cannot agree that isolation movements are of more value than compound ones, but I do think they can play a role in a mass building program.
With this approach I think you get the best of both worlds. The program is primarily reliant on heavy-duty compound movements.
But, these exercises are then followed by an isolation type exercise to ensure maximal fibre recruitment and fatigue of the larger muscles. This approach is superior to any program revolving around machines, cables and isolation exercises and also tops the training principle of "pre-exhausting" a muscle with isolation work in that it doesn't affect the poundages that you use doing your big, mass promoting movements.
My program is based on a five day split for a number of reasons. Firstly this will allow you to train in short, intense sessions and I really encourage you to train this way as time in the gym is not a reflection of how big your muscles are going to grow. Get in, get the job done and then get out. You should then stay fresh and eager for your next workout. Cardio is really the antitheses of anabolic growth so I have not included any cardio at all. Thus, with the five days of intense activity this will help keep your metabolism running nice and high to minimise fat gain. The program is also designed to ensure adequate recovery time between muscle groups.
Select a load that approximates your 12 RM (repetition maximum) for all exercises. Perform 4 working sets (excluding warm-up sets) for each exercise with a one to two minute rest between each set. Whilst you will start the first set with 12 reps this will decline with each subsequent set due to neuromuscular fatigue. Therefore, let your level of fatigue determine your exact rest time but don't fall below 6 reps. You are training for hypertrophy (size) not power.
Monday: Chest and BicepsFor chest I am going to suggest the 30 degree incline dumbbell presses as the staple movement due to a better range of motion than the bench press. Set adjustable bench one or two notches above parallel. This is all that is needed to greatly increase the recruitment of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major. Then go to the dipping bar and complete your four sets of dips with a slight lean forward to ensure more chest than triceps work. Then it's your choice of either 30 degree dumbbell flyes or flat bench flyes as your isolation movement. Make sure that you get a good stretch at the bottom position.
Most trainees' use the barbell standing curl as a staple biceps mass building exercise. Perhaps make a change to make a change! Try starting with incline dumbbell curls. Take a seat on the incline bench at about a 45 degree angle. Keep your glutes and abs tight and flex only at the elbow; your torso should not budge. When you get to the top of the movement flex your biceps as if you are trying to crack a walnut between your forearm and upper arm.
Then, onto alternate hammer curls. On using a semi-pronated hammer grip curl your dumbbell up towards your shoulder and slowly lower whilst keeping your elbows glued to your sides during the movement. Repeat with the opposite arm.
Tuesday: Quads and TrapsFirst up for quads are moderate-stance squats. Use a shoulder width stance and squat down to slightly below parallel. Try to maintain an upright trunk throughout the lift. Both of the aforementioned will contribute to quad emphasis as opposed to hamstring. If your upper body tends to lean forward too much you can place a pair of one-inch plates under your heels.
Then it's off to the 45 degree leg press. Make sure that you lower the weight slowly and that you don't lock out at the top of the movement, as injured knees means no training. Then, for your isolation movement finish quads off with leg extensions. Set the ankle support and seatback at the approximate positions and use a slow, controlled movement during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift to really make then scream blue murder.
Upright rows are the mainstay of your traps workout for the duration of this program. Keep your glutes and abs tight and pull the bar to chest level. Place your thumbs together and separate a further inch for grip placement with either a straight or an ez bar. Don't shrug with your shoulders. I suggest that you pause for three seconds at the top of the movement and use straps. Stay tight and shrug your right shoulder to your right ear. Don't pull with your arm; concentrate on using your traps. Pause for three seconds in the contracted position. After the desired number of reps switch hands and repeat.
Wednesday: Back and TricepsBack is a huge body part and in a mass program such as this, I would like to see lat pull downs, reverse grip pull downs and even the seated row banished! You have gotta chin the bar and you gotta row heavy for your back to spread its wings. So, walk to the chinning bar first when you train back. If you have access to chinning grips space them apart about 8 to 12 inches apart. Keep a tightly arched back throughout the movement and pull up until your wrists come into contact with your chest.
Then move on to the barbell row. I like the barbell bent –over row, however if your gym has a t-bar row you may wish to choose to use instead. Complete your 4 sets as heavy as possible ensuring good form throughout. To finish with do some straight-arm pull downs. They aren't an especially common exercise but nevertheless effective. Attach a lat bar to a high pulley; your grip should be shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows locked and pull the bar down to your upper thighs in an arch-like motion.
Thursday: Hamstrings and CalvesDead lifts are a great way to start your hamstring workout. It is a movement that is isometric with respect to your hamstrings and dynamic to your back. I am specifically referring to the stiff-legged dead lift and in particular I like John Parillo's style of executing this lift. As you stand erect with the barbell at arm's length, jut your glutes out to the rear, arch your back and bend over. Keep your eyes and your face up through the movement. You should only be able to get the bar down to about mid-shin level at most but your hamstrings will be doing all the work. This style is also less injurious for your lower back.
Good mornings are the second choice of exercise. Rest a bar on your traps as you would when squatting for power. Keeping your back tightly arched, bend at the hips by pushing your butt back towards the wall and slowly lowering your torso. Keep your knees slightly soft as opposed to completely locked out. To nail them move over to the lying leg curl machine. Adjust the ankle support to the appropriate position and really concentrate on lowering the weight slowly to get a great rip in the hammies.
For calves start off with calf presses on the 45 degree leg press. The only difference here is the rep range, which, with a straight leg, research seems to support that due to the fibre type in the calf muscle, they will respond better to lower reps, so train in reps of 10, 8 6 and 6. Get a good stretch in the lower position. You will be able to move a lot of poundage on this exercise but just make sure that you don't go so heavy that you sacrifice range of motion for weight.
Then on to the seated calf raise where you will employ a pause for 2 seconds in the contracted position. Because the knee is bent it really targets the soleus which is actually the muscle under the main calf muscle, the gastrocnemius. Use a good range of motion and again make sure you feel a really good stretch.
Friday: ShouldersBegin with Arnold Presses. This is very similar to seated dumbbell shoulder presses, but with a few tweaks it can be even more effectual. Take a seat on the flat bench and grab two dumbbells. Start with your palms facing towards you as if you have just completed a seated dumbbell biceps curl. Now begin to rotate your wrists whilst lifting your elbows to the standard military press position. Without stopping continue to press the dumbbells above your head to the centre as you would with a press. Slowly lower the weight and when your upper arms become parallel to the floor rotate your wrists and bring your elbows back to the low starting position. Be sure to keep your abs and back tight during the entire lift. Think of the exercise as drawing one large circle with the dumbbells.
Then onto lateral dumbbell raises. Even though this is an isolation exercise don't think that it cannot add mass. Keep your shoulders pressed down with your lats and imagine spreading the walls apart as you lift the dumbbells to parallel.
Ok, now that you have a new program to follow lets briefly address the nutritional side of things. This is a whole new article in itself however I would be bereft not to make some suggestions here and now. I think one of the biggest mistakes that trainee's make in a mass-building program is to put on too much blubber as well as muscle. This period of time is not a licence to eat Macca's and fish and chips under the guise that you "need to eat lots to grow". Whilst that adage may be true, you need quality food to motor your engine. As a guide you will need to eat at least 750 calories above your maintenance levels. Aim to ingest at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight and between 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories from good sources of fat. The remaining calories will come from worthy carbohydrate sources such as oats, sweet potato and rice as well as all your fibrous vegetables. Limiting calories and fat on this program is a big mistake and you will have nothing to show for your hard training if you do this, which is why it is a mass-building program, not a fat burning program.
No training program is going to work well unless you commit to it and do it properly. Don't add exercises to this routine needlessly. Some routines I have suggested in the past may not work for you; this one may or may not. It's up to you through trial and error, to find the one's that does, but don't make it a fruitless search by mucking up prescribed routines with a lot of half-baked theories. This program is aimed at the generic, typical bodybuilder who is drug-free. The top achievers can never understand what it is like to have genetically typical AND drug free bodies, so they are the least qualified people to advise typical people. Neither I nor anyone else can prevent you from making mistakes, but make sure that they are your mistakes and not someone else's. Stick to the program and train hard.