The world of training is ever growing more confusing by the day. Those that have been around the iron game for a while have the advantage of knowing what has worked for them over years of trial and error. The newbie, unfortunately, doesn't have the advantage of time on their hands and must rely on other's knowledge and know-how to get them on their feet.
Related: Gain Muscle Fast by Crushing Every Workout
I want to break down beginner training into a few simple steps. This will take you from ignorant to informed all the while enabling you to make the big decisions on your own and taking the reins of your own training destiny. Let's begin.
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How to Gain Muscle Fast
Step 1: Define the whyThe first step before you start anything new is to define why you are doing it in the first place. When it comes to weight training you have a few more avenues to choose from than you may think.
Do you want to get stronger, bigger, leaner or more powerful? Do you want to reshape your physique or just move heavy things from one place to another? Contrary to how everyone is training at your local gym the process of achieving any of these goals are extremely different.
Training for muscle mass will require a different program than training for pure strength, power or muscular endurance. I will assume you are reading this in hopes to gain some muscle mass, add a little strength and either get or stay lean. Most people reading here simply want to look and feel better - they want the six pack, V-taper torso and get as muscular as possible. To get there you will need to train mainly for hypertrophy (muscle size).
No other type of training will reshape your body faster. There are other carryover effects of hypertrophy. Yes, you'll get stronger, develop some power and burn some body fat, but hypertrophy will focus more on growing muscle tissue and constructing your muscle mass. I will move forward with this specific example for the remaining steps.
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Step 2: Structure your schedule (frequency)Next, you will want to structure your training schedule and figure out your frequency. Training frequency is one of the most overlooked aspects of training but has one of the most profound effects on progress.
Frequency can be divided into two main categories. One, it refers to the amount of times per week you are training overall. Two, it can also refer to the number of times each body part is trained per week.
For hypertrophy purposes you will want to train most days of the week. You will also want to pay particular attention to training frequency of each body part. The traditional or current practice is to train everything once per week. There is a more practical and effective way.
If training for hypertrophy is your goal then you will be fatiguing the muscle. This type of training requires less rest days than what is thought. Since you can, to an extent, train your body to recover faster or slower, training everything twice per week is ideal.
Look at it this way, if you were to have a frequency of once per week you would only give your body the stimulus to grow an average of 52 times per year. If you up that number to twice per week it jumps to 104 times per year. Who do you think will progress faster? Go with a schedule such as Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to start with Wednesday and the weekends as rest days.
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So, we have your why defined and your general weekly schedule planned. Now it's time to collect your tools for the work ahead. Many see bodybuilders in magazines and online training with countless isolation exercises hoping to etch detail into their physiques. This is a misconception for a few reasons.
One, professional bodybuilder have a few advantages that the average lifter doesn't have. They are able to train a bit differently than us. Secondly, isolation exercises have benefit, but as a beginner you will need to build a solid foundation of muscle first. The old adage of "you can't carve a pebble" applies here.
Stick with the big compound, multi-joint exercises for now and leave the isolation stuff for later when you've built some mass. Go with flat and incline bench barbell and dumbbell presses for chest, pull-ups, barbell and dumbbell rows for back, barbell and dumbbell shoulder presses and upright rows for shoulders, squats, leg presses, Romanian deadlifts for legs, standing and seated calf raises for calves and dips, close-grip bench presses and barbell and dumbbell curls for arms.
You can throw in a few more moves that suit you but this is a great list to start with that covers all your bases.
Step 4: Volume, load and restNow that you have your tools chosen it's time to determine how you will use them. Specifically you want to figure out how much weight to use, for how many reps, for how much total volume (sets) and how much rest to take between sets. This is where so many beginners get confused and fall off the proverbial wagon.
You will see lifters piling on plate after plate on the bar and attempt lifts they have no business even touching. They relate strength too much to gaining muscle mass. Yes, to get bigger muscles you will lift heavier and heavier weight but it's only a means to an end. In other words, use weight increases to gauge progress not to feed your ego. Use a weight that has you staying in the six to 12 reps range.
As far as number of sets per exercise is concerned, since you are a beginner it is best to stick with more sets per exercise but with fewer exercises. Go with four or five sets per exercise. For larger, multi-joint moves stick with two or three exercises per body part and for smaller, single-joint moves stick with one or two exercises. So, chest, back and thighs get two or three exercises at four to five sets a piece while arms, shoulders and calves get one or two exercises for four to five sets per exercise.
Rest is another forgotten rule of the iron game. Aside from frequency, no other factor has quite an impact as rest. For hypertrophy purposes shorter rest periods are required to properly fatigue muscle tissue.
To achieve proper fatigue (remember, you aren't trying to get exclusively strong) you will need rest periods between sets ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes depending on the type of lift. For an arm curl, for example, you can use a 30 second rest. For a set of heavy squats, on the other hand, you may need an entire two minutes to recover before your next set.
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Step 5: Execution and beyondYou now have all of the tools you need to start. Remember to start slow and be patient. Consistency is the king of progress so practice wisely. When starting any new plan you will find a great deal of success at the outset. You will be gaining strength rather quickly due to the neurological adaptations. In time muscle mass will follow along with even more gains in strength.
After some time has passed you may feel that your progress has slowed or stopped altogether. Have no fear. This is normal and doesn't mean you've tapped-out all of your natural potential. Your body has simply adapted and may need one or two shifts. One, you may need a short break from the weight room to give your body time to "catch up."
A few days to a week of active rest will help your body recover and repair for the next bout of training ahead. Two, you may simply need a shift in your training program. Switch up a few exercises from using barbells to dumbbells, reduce rest periods or change the order of exercises. Sometimes all you need are a few minor changes to get progressing again.
A sample beginner training programTry the following beginner program on for size. Follow it for six to eight weeks before making any changes but feel free to replace certain exercises if needed.
|Monday and Thursday|
|Flat bench barbell press - Warm up||2||12|
|Flat bench barbell press - 90 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Incline bench dumbbell press - 90 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Lat Pull Down - Warm up||2||12|
|Medium-grip pull-up - 90 seconds rest between sets||4||AMAP|
|Bent-over barbell row - 90 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Standing barbell shoulder press - Warm up||1||12|
|Standing barbell shoulder press - 90 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Dumbbell upright row - 60 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Hanging leg raise - 30 seconds rest between sets||3||10-20|
|Tuesday and Friday|
|Barbell biceps curl - Warm up||2||12|
|Barbell biceps curl - 60 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Close-grip triceps barbell bench press - Warm up||2||12|
|Close-grip triceps barbell bench press - 60 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Barbell back squat - Warm up||2||12|
|Barbell back squat - 120 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Leg press - 120 seconds rest between sets||4||10-12|
|Dumbbell Romanian deadlift - 60 seconds rest between sets||4||6-12|
|Standing calf raise - Warm up||1||12|
|Standing calf raise - 30 seconds rest between sets||4||10-12|
|Floor crunch - 30 seconds rest between sets||3||10-20|