In order to get the most out of your exercise program it is essential to choose workouts that will give you the “biggest bang for your buck”, so to speak. Being a hard gainer it makes sense to select workouts to build muscle mass. It can be very frustrating to go from machine to machine slaving away with exercise after exercise week after week seeing little gains in strength and muscle.
The best approach in terms of resistance training would be to use exercises that target multiple muscle groups at the same time such as compound exercises. Also, to use exercises that target a particular muscle group on a particular day using a method called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy style training focuses on building the diameter (size) of your muscle fibers.
Compound exercises “the big lifts”
Compound exercises are those which work several muscle groups at the same time giving you the greatest benefit in terms of:
- Gaining more muscle mass overall, as multiple muscle groups are worked
- Improving strength, as your body makes adaptations to the exercise more weight can be added to the bar
- Improving intramuscular coordination
Compound lifts also make it easier for you to do activities outside the gym. Squats can improve how high you jump and run, dead lifts can make it easier for you to lift objects of the floor. Lifting a heavy shopping bag, or carrying a heavy piece of furniture becomes a much easier task.
There are five main compound exercises and these are the squats, dead lifts, bench press, overhead press and bent over rows. It is important to include these in your workout program if your goal is to increase your overall strength and muscle size.
Muscle groups used in dead lifts are:
- Adductor Magnus (inner thigh)
What muscles do squats work?
- Gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius (buttocks)
- Quadriceps (the front of your thigh)
- Hamstrings (back of thigh)
- Adductor (groin)
Muscles used in a bench press:
- Pectoralis (chest)
- anterior deltoid (front of shoulders)
Muscles activated in a standing overhead press:
- All three heads of the shoulders (front, side and back)
- Upper chest
- Trapezius (upper back)
Muscles worked when performing bent over rows:
- Posterior shoulders
- latissimus dorsi (back)
- forearms and biceps
- Spinal erectors
- Hamstrings and glutes
Hypertrophy exercises ” the muscle pump”
The focus of hypertrophy exercises is to achieve optimal levels of muscular growth. High volume exercises with minimal rest periods. High volume simply means exercises with more reps and sets so that you achieve what is known as the burn or muscle pump. It’s like someone is blowing air into your muscles and you get that tight feeling. Arnold Swartznegger was quoted as saying, ” The greatest feeling you can get in the gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump”. I totally agree with this, it does make you feel great!
The exercise plan
OK first of all lets break it down into phases, the first phase will be the hypertrophy phase which you will commit to for about 4 weeks. The second phase will be maximal strength, you will spend 4 weeks on this phase as well. Before starting your workouts it is essential to do an adequate warm up to prepare your body for the exercise. Warm ups also reduce the chance of injury and minimize muscle soreness. After the session is finished it is vital to perform cool down stretches and some light cardiovascular work. Light cardio such as jumping jacks, treadmill or jogging on the spot can be used for both warm-ups and cool downs. OK so now without further ado I will go on to show you the workouts.
Week 1 – 4 Strength Hypertrophy
Monday: Chest, shoulders and triceps
- Bench press 1 x 10 (1 set 10 reps)
- Pec deck 1 x 10
- Press ups 1 x 15
Perform the above three exercises on the same muscle group back-to-back with no rest in between. This exercise method is known as a triset.
- Seated dumbbell press 2 x 10 (2 sets of 10 reps)
- Lateral raises 2 x 10
- Cable press down 1 x 12 (1 set of 12 reps)
- cable overhead extension 1 x 12
Do the above two exercises back-to-back with no rest between exercises, this is known as a super set.
Wednesday: Back, biceps and abs
- Seated cable rows 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4 (pyramid)
- Bent over rows 2 x 10
- lat pull downs 2 x 10
The seated cable rows should be performed as a pyramid set meaning start of with a weight you can do 10 reps with, then increase the weight on each set so that the number of reps you perform drops. This should be performed with no rest in between sets.
- Standing barbell curl 1 x 10
- Dumbbell hammer curls 1 x 10 each arm
Abdominal and core
- Plank 1 x 30 second hold
- Superman 1 x 30 secs hold
Perform the ab and core exercise without rest in between
Hamstrings, quads and calves
- Barbell back squat 3 x 10
- Hamstring curls 3 x 10
- Calf raises 3 sets of max repetitions
This routine is known as a three-day split, meaning three body parts are worked per workout three days a week. Have two days off from working out to give your body adequate recovery time. This is a method I have used being a hard gainer and have seen a difference in my muscle gains, however results vary depending on other factors such as sleep, nutrition and lifestyle which I will be covering later.
Now it’s the maximum strength phase. Exercises will be based on increasing the intensity (weight lifted) and the volume (the number of sets). Rest periods will be increased since you may need more time to recover as heavier loads will be lifted. All exercises will be based around compound lifts using the correct form to minimize the risk of injury, if you are not sure on how to perform these exercises correctly it is advised to seek help from an approved instructor.
Week 4 -8 Maximum strength
Take a two minute break in between all exercises in this phase as you will be lifting heavier loads.
- Squats 5 x 5
- Leg press 3 x 5
- Hamstrings curls 2 x 10
Wednesday: Chest and shoulders
- Bench press 5 x 5
- Standing overhead press 5 x 5
- Bent over rows 5 x 5
- Deadlifts 5 x 5
- Back extensions 3 x 10
- Single arm dumbbell rows 2 x 10
- Pull ups 2 x 10 (can use assisted pull up machine )
These compound lifts will ensure that your workouts are both efficient and also effective, as mentioned before they work many muscle groups simultaneously.
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Hopefully you now have an idea of workouts to gain muscle mass. The workouts are broken down into two phases each phase you will spend a minimum of 4 weeks, starting of with strength hypertrophy phase than in week 4 moving on to maximum strength. Hard gainers looking to build muscle size and strength should include both phases. Before starting your workouts it is essential to warm up, this will raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles. Warming up also reduces muscle soreness and minimizes your risk of injury. Cooling down after exercise is just as important as it allows for gradual recovery of pre exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Try to commit to this workout plan, let me know how you get on and if you have any suggestions or ideas put them in the comments below. We are all in this together and have the same goal of achieving a great physique we can be proud of. Anything worth doing is worth doing properly so try and stay focused and be consistent.