If you’re dating someone and want to take your relationship to the next level, there comes a time when you decide to make a commitment. Likewise, if you were passed over for a promotion at work, perhaps you decided to buckle down and take on extra responsibilities at the office. If you go to a gym, you’ve likely considered a similar strategy that’s predicated on finally getting serious about making some real improvements. While you may have no aspirations to compete, you’d like to see how far you can progress by following a dedicated 60-day program.
Getting serious about your gym efforts could entail an approach in which you simply do more of everything: more weight, more exercises, more sets, and even more workouts. While that may be one way to pack on muscle, it’s not always the smartest approach.
For one, some exercises are better than others, especially if your goal is to build size. And some are better done earlier in your workout than others. Some set-and-rep combinations build muscle faster than others. Some body part groupings make better sense than others. And while pushing yourself hard in the gym is important, doing too many sets past failure can actually be counterproductive.
In that sense, there truly are faster and better ways to make gains and speed muscle growth. If you’ve been thinking of seriously stepping up your training, these eight essential tips—and the following two-month program that puts them into practice—will help optimize your size and allow you to make substantial gains.
Exercises are classified as either single-joint (isolation) or multijoint (compound). With the latter, two sets of joints work at once—think about the bench press, squat, bent-over row, or shoulder press—which that means more muscle groups are called into action.
Because these types of exercises involve multiple muscle groups and more than one pair of joints, you’re typically able to lift much more weight. Hence, they’re the best choices to do early in your workout when you’re fresh. Save single-joint exercises like the chest fly or leg extension for the end of your workout.
Choosing the right exercises and doing them in the right order are the first steps to maximizing muscle growth, but there’s more. You must also do a sufficient number of exercises and sets. Fortunately, research weighs in on what’s optimal, and for individuals above the beginner level who are seeking muscle gains, it’s been shown that high-volume workouts work well for hypertrophy.
High-volume workouts help build muscle size in part by initiating the release of critical anabolic hormones responsible for muscle growth.
Training volume is a lot like the volume in your milk jug: It’s a combination of all the exercises, sets, and reps you do for a particular muscle group. If you add too much milk to the container then it spills over; too much exercise volume can be counterproductive and make a mess of your progress. The workouts below include 3-5 exercises for each major body part; larger muscle groups like legs, chest, and back are on the higher end. In addition to warm-ups, you typically include three working sets of each exercise.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT WEIGHT
The ideal number of reps-per-set to maximize muscle growth is 8-12. That range isn’t arbitrary—it’s been proven effective through multiple scientific studies, with the caveat being that you reach muscle failure within that rep range. But rather than simply having you perform every set for 8-12 reps, the approach used here requires that you go heavy early in your workout when your strength levels are high.
Do a few lower-rep sets early in your workout with multijoint exercises. Perform as few as six reps on some sets to prime your body for size and stimulate strength gains. As you fatigue, choose relatively higher-rep sets so that—over the course of your workout—you’ll work the target muscle with a variety of muscle-building rep targets. The rep scheme used here is arranged in what’s called pyramid fashion: You start with light weights for higher reps and progress to heavier weights for lower reps.