Mass Gaining for Beginners

So you want to gain muscle. Great! You need to get started. The more time you spend thinking about getting started is the more time you’ve wasted. Perhaps you’re searching for the perfect routine and diet. If that’s the case, then listen. There is no perfect routine or diet. Quit trying to come up with one – you’re wasting your time. The perfect routine and diet is one that is constantly changing, just like your body is. You cannot adequately provide for your body’s changing needs by trying to come up with one routine and diet that will best serve you forever. It takes trial and error to really discover what works best for your body, but starting with the basics will get you well on your way. If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat more. You need to be eating 6-7 small-to-medium sized meals per day. Keep track of what you are eating, and keep slowly increasing it until you see a change in bodyweight (by no more than 500 calories per day). Eat protein with every meal (you need to be getting at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight every day – so a 160lbs person should eat roughly 160g of protein per day), and limit the amount of fat you are taking in, especially saturated fat. You don’t need to worry too much about macro-nutrient ratios when you are trying to gain mass – just make sure you are getting plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein at every meal, with sprinklings of healthy fats (nuts, extra virgin olive oil). Carbs are important – you aren’t going to get bigger without lots of them.

I’m going to walk you through a sample diet and several different sample training routines. Let’s get started…

DIET

Below is a sample diet that you might use for mass gaining. Depending on your current bodyweight, you may need to increase or decrease the portions accordingly.

Meal 1

1 Cup Oats
4 Egg Whites, 1 Yolk
1 Apple
Supplements: 1 Multi Vitamin (At Least) … Optionally: 1 Amino Acid Supplement, 1 Joint Supplement

Meal 2

1 Cup Brown Rice
1 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast or Flank Steak
28g almonds
1 Banana

Meal 3

2 Cups Pasta
1 Can Chunk Light Tuna
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Meal 4

1 Large Sweet Potato
1 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast or Flank Steak
Salad with Romaine Lettuce and Tons of Other Veggies

Meal 5

2 Slices Whole Grain Bread
32g Natural Peanut Butter
2 Glasses Skim Milk

Meal 6

Cheat Meal! (Or just repeat one of the above.)

Have at least one protein shake a day (with 5g of creatine), either after your workout or at meal 6. Have two if you feel like you worked out hard enough to need it, but don’t go overboard on the creatine. I usually take 5g a day – a relatively low amount – but I don’t really cycle off of it. Some people take a larger amount but go on off-cycles. Should you decide to take this route, see your creatine packaging – it probably has consumption instructions – or do a Google search. The amount of creatine you should be supplementing with really depends on your bodyweight.

Too Many Pills and Powders

Supplements are meant to do just what their name implies – to supplement an already good diet. You’re not going to get fit by eating nothing but whey and creatine. If you’re pinched for money, spend it on more real food (eggs, chicken, rice, veggies, fruit, bread, milk) instead of on supplements. I’m not saying that supplements don’t help – they do – but a good diet of natural foods comes first. If you can afford some supplements, start with merely a good multi-vitamin, some creatine, and whey (or a mass gainer).

Water, Water Everywhere

The typical human being is composed of 60-70% water. Be sure to include a lot of water in your diet – especially if you are taking a lot supplements. Water helps flush out toxins from your body – not to mention it keeps you hydrated and healthy. Drink some at every meal – unless you’re drinking milk – and drink plenty during exercise. For example, with roughly the above diet, I usually drink at least a gallon of water a day. You do not want to become dehydrated – not only is it unhealthy, but it will hinder your performance in sports and make you feel tired. If your urine is a dark yellow/brown, you are dehydrated. A surprising amount of Americans live in a moderately dehydrated state and do not even realize it.

TRAINING ROUTINES

The basics work best. If you are really out of shape, train 3 days a week for 1-4 weeks with a very basic full-body routine just to get used to practicing training fundamentals, such as proper breathing and controlled movement. You should use an initial load of 60-70 percent of your 1 Rep Max (Google it) that allows you to do 8-12 clean reps per set. Here is an example beginner training routine…

(Google the names of any of these exercises if you do not know what they are)

Weighted Back Squats
Flat Bench Press
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell Biceps Curls
Lying Triceps Extensions
Abdominal Crunches

For absolute beginners, start with 1 set of 8-12 reps for each of the above exercises. If you haven’t exercised for well over a year, this means you.

Of course, in order to continue seeing results you will need to continue altering your routine. For weeks 5-8, do 2 sets of all of the above exercises, and consider adding deadlifts immediately after squats. You could also add dumbbell side raises after the dumbbell rows. Then for weeks 9-12, do 3 sets for the most compound exercises (i.e., the ones that use multiple muscle groups, as opposed to isolation exercises – such as biceps curls or triceps extensions – which isolate and work only one muscle group), such as squats, deadlifts, and the bench press. You may also consider adding additional exercises, such as dumbbell fly’s and barbell upright rows.

Eventually, you are going to want to move on to a 3- or 4-day split routine. You could split your routine up like so:

Sample 3-Day Split Routine

Chest and Triceps

Flat Bench Press
Incline Bench Press
Incline Dumbbell Fly’s
Dips, Weighted or Unweighted (depending on conditioning level) OR Decline Bench Press
Lying Triceps Extensions
One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions (behind head)
Dumbbell Kickbacks
Regular Crunches (4 sets of 20 reps)

Back and Shoulders

Deadlifts
Bent-Over Rows
1-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Barbell Shrugs
Upright Rows
Compound Sets of Dumbbell Side Raises and Dumbbell Front Raises
Standing Overhead Front Barbell Presses
Pullups

Legs and Biceps

Back Squats
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
Supersets of Machine Leg Extensions and Seated Leg Curls
Compound Sets of Standing Barbell Calf Raises and Seated Calf Raises
Barbell Biceps Curls
Compound Sets of Dumbell Hammer Curls and Reverse Barbell Curls
Concentration Curls

If you are like me, you will find that this is a lot to do per day, so you can change the split to be more than 3 days by dividing it up further. Some people split their routine up into as many as 6 days. For example, here is a 4-day split routine: chest and triceps, back and traps, delts and biceps, and legs…

Sample 4-Day Split Routine

Chest and Triceps

Flat Bench Press
Incline Bench Press
Incline Dumbbell Fly’s
Dips, Weighted or Unweighted (depending on conditioning level) OR Decline Bench Press
Lying Triceps Extensions
One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions (behind head)
Dumbbell Kickbacks (also for triceps)
Regular Crunches (4 sets of 20 reps)

Back and Traps (Trapezius Muscles)

Deadlifts
Bent-Over Rows
1-Arm Dumbbell Rows (optional)
Barbell Shrugs
Upright Rows
Pullups (optional)

Deltoids and Biceps

Compound Sets of Dumbbell Side Raises and Dumbbell Front Raises
Standing Overhead Front Barbell Presses
Barbell Biceps Curls
Compound Sets of Dumbell Hammer Curls and Reverse Barbell Curls
Concentration Curls

Legs (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Calves)

Back Squats
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
Supersets of Machine Leg Extensions and Seated Leg Curls
Compound Sets of Standing Barbell Calf Raises and Seated Calf Raises

Now, you may have noticed that I did not explicitly indicate how many sets and reps you should be doing for the above split routines. That’s because your sets and reps are going to be different depending on your goals for the workout. More on that in the “Changing It Up” and “Sets, Reps, and Rest” sections, below…

Abdominals

As you may have noticed, for this routine the abs only get trained for one exercise, which occurs during the chest and triceps day. You might want to dedicate more to abs by including 4 sets of 20 reps for 2 or more exercises, such as regular crunches followed by reverse crunches and hanging leg raises (which are a great workout). You might decide to work out your abs twice a week or more. Play around with it and decide what works best for you. Just remember that deadlifts and squats residually work the abs a little bit, although it never hurts to hit them separately. Just don’t go overboard and use a lot of weighted ab isolation exercises – for most athletes, they are unnecessary and can even give your abs an unnatural, distended appearance.

Changing It Up

When you start growing out of your routine, you can add or substitute other exercises as you see fit, such as machine isolation exercises for the same muscle groups. Just remember to include compound exercises at the beginning, and an appropriate amount of isolation exercises for specific muscle groups later in the workout. Also, start small and don’t add too many exercises too quickly.

If you hit a stale point where you feel like you’re not making much progress, try switching from a hypertrophy phase to more of a strength/power phase. This typically means simply changing your workout intensity and volume – in other words, the amount of weight that you are lifting, the number of reps you are aiming for, and the amount of rest you give yourself between sets.  By switching between hypertrophy phase to strength/power phase, you will give your body a needed change to help you toward further progress. You could try staying on your alternative phase for several days in order to stimulate growth. Some people divide up their workouts into microcycles that include both hypertrophy and strength/power workouts within the same week (or however long the microcycle is). For example, some people just have a full-body strength/power routine at the end of the week, preceded by several hypertrophy days in a split routine. Or you might alternate between phases each week, or go for several weeks before switching to the other. Find out works best for you.

Sets, Reps, and Rest

Here is a chart concerning typical intensities and volumes of training for different goals:

Hypertrophy Strength Strength/Power
Sets 3-5 3-5 3-5
Repetitions 8-12 6-8 4-6
Intensity (% of 1 Rep Max) 60-75% 80-85% 85-90%
Rest between sets (minutes) 1 (or less) 3-4 2-3

Quality over quantity! You think pumping out 50 sets on the bench is going to give you an edge over the other guys that are just doing 3-5 sets? Think again. Follow the above chart when deciding the number of sets, reps, and rest periods in your routine, and you should be fine.

Break It Down to Build It Up

Muscle growth happens while you are resting. If you are trying to gain mass, most people suggest a solid 8 hours of sleep per night. For the average person, most doctors seem to suggest 6-7 hours of sleep. I would not go under 6, and I would try not to go over 8 too often. Too much sleep can actually just make you feel more sleepy. I’m not going to bother citing scientific studies to support that, but try never working out and just sleeping all the time – you will feel like crap.

Working out sore muscle groups is just asking for failure. Soreness is actually tiny tears in your muscle – you need to let those tears heal, and you should also be doing plenty of stretching to make sure you don’t lose flexibility, because damaged muscle fibers grow back at a shorter length. (Do dynamic stretching in the morning, relaxed stretching throughout the day, and occasional isometric stretching after workouts.) You should wait until the soreness is gone in a particular muscle group before exercising it out again. However, this shouldn’t stop you from continuing your split routine and working out other parts of your body that are not sore.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Everyone knows cardio is important. When you are trying to gain a lot of mass, cardio can be your enemy, but if you want to stay healthy you cannot ignore it. Intense squat and deadlift sessions actually double as cardio, but you still need to do seperate cardio work. I have found that I enjoy doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio better than endurance cardio. For example, I enjoy doing sprints more than doing long, endurance runs. There has also been a lot of research done lately to suggest that HIIT cardio is better than endurance, but it is still debatable. Nevertheless, too much of anything can be bad. I suggest training both endurance and HIIT cardio, and simply focusing more on the one that you enjoy the most.

A lot of people do a little bit of cardio every day before doing their strength training. I might do a little just to help warm up (along with dynamic stretches), but I also try to dedicate at least one day a week to some kind of cardio. If you decide to do this as well, try to keep that day as far away from your leg weight training day(s) as is absolutely possible.

If sprinting and running aren’t up your alley, some great cardio alternatives are jumping rope and shadow boxing. You’d be surprised how intense they can be. Try doing four 1-minute rounds of intense jumping rope or a few 5-minute rounds of intense shadowboxing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *