How to Gain Muscle Mass: 5 Must-Have Training Principles

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No, this isn’t another one of those lists that has a catchy title and after skimming through you chalk it up to another bit of your precious time wasted. These five principles are the nuts and bolts that your training should follow if your goal is to grow larger muscle once and for all.

You’ve most likely toiled away enough in the gym to get to a frustrating plateau or you wouldn’t be reading this. Gains in muscle mass and strength used to come easy when you started but now they’ve slowed or stalled completely. Reasons can be from lifestyle changes (work schedules, raising a family) to simply losing your way with training effectively.

Related: How to Gain Muscle Mass Fast

It’s time to pause for a minute and shed some light back on the practices that got you those initial gains to begin with – those simple fundamental parts of training that have possibly been forgotten. I challenge you to read through each of these carefully and completely and determine your current state of training as it relates to each one. You might be surprised that you have been neglecting some of the obvious things.

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How to Gain Muscle Mass

Principle #1 – Rest Periods are king

Do you keep track of rest periods? Do you know how long to rest between sets?

Manipulating rest periods is the single, most influential thing you can instantly put into practice right now. No preplanning, no high level of thought or research needed. Here’s the problem: Most will claim they rest only a minute or so between sets but if you were to step outside of yourself and truly observe how you spend your time between sets what would you see?

Is your face in your phone most of the time? How are you keeping track of your time spent? So, is your answer correct about resting for only a minute?

Rest periods are paramount regarding how quickly you’ll progress in the gym. All that time and effort shouldn’t go to waste.

What to do: Resting several minutes between sets is great for increases in strength but if your goal is to grow muscle size then you will need a new perspective. Muscle size (hypertrophy) is achieved by fatiguing the muscle fibers. Muscle fatigue requires lots of reps, sets and relatively short rest periods.

How short?

Depending on the individual exercise (not body part) anywhere from 30 seconds to 90 seconds or possibly two minutes is ideal. For smaller, single joint moves such as curls, flys and calf raises shoot for 30 to 60 seconds. For larger, multi-joint moves like bench presses and rows go for 60 to 90 seconds unless you’re gutting out some heavy squats then go for up to two minutes.

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Principle #2 – Frequency is queen

Frequency is another major factor when it comes to building muscle. As a close second to rest periods during training, frequency has evolved over the years. Within the golden era of bodybuilding of the sixties and seventies it wasn’t uncommon for most bodybuilders to train each body part twice or even three times per week.

As the sport changed and time went on frequencies changed as well. It soon became practice to train each body part only once per week giving them an entire seven days to recover. Now with the advent of functional training it has increases once again.

But where does that leave those who are still after muscle growth. Sure, it’s awesome to become functional but you want to get bigger.

What to do: The once-per-week mentality sounds good in theory but you may be taking one step forward and one step back. Seven days of recovery may actually be too much for most gym-goers. Going twice per week will instantly give you an advantage.

How?

Once per week trainers stimulate muscle growth in a certain area 52 times per year, for example. If you simply increased that to twice per week you will have increased the opportunity to stimulate 104 times per year.

Which will enable you to grow faster? Now, this doesn’t mean you can perform the same number of sets per body part – you may have to decrease your volume a bit, but the outcome just makes more sense.

Principle #3 – You must progress

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How much do you bench? What about a year ago? Do you have the same answer for both questions? Progression is a must whether you’re training for muscle size, strength, speed, power or any other physical goal you may have.

If you haven’t gotten bigger, stronger, faster or more powerful then you’re simply spinning your wheels in hopes that one day the gains fairy will touch her wand to your forehead and, poof, instant muscle. Progression, as I’ve stated, has many forms and we all have different goals but one thing is for certain: We all will need to progress.

What to do: The first rule to progression is to have some sort of system in place. It’s impossible to know how far you’ve gotten without some sort of measuring tool. For some, who are keen on personal goals, may use the mirror when it comes to increases in muscle size.

I, however, refuse to believe that we all have that ability.

Your best bet is to utilize a notebook or a simple app to keep track of sets, reps, weight, diet changes, etc. You can also take circumference measurements of areas such as upper arms, thighs, calves, waist and chest/back. If you have access, it’s also a good idea to get your body fat checked once per month as well. Once you have a system in place you will quickly see that your workouts will become more about progression than just going through the motions.

Principle #4 – What overthinking will do

Since you are trying to figure out this whole gain muscle the fastest way possible thing you most-likely scour the internet, read everything you can and ask your fair share of questions to the local muscular gym rat. The more knowledge you possess the better right? This can quickly become a double-edged sword.

On one hand you are trying to fill your head with as much education as possible. On the other you can easily become a victim of analysis paralysis – you gain too much information and end up putting none of it to use due to the fact that you’ve become completely indecisive.

What to do: The best of what life has to offer is usually simple in nature. Those success stories we often read about or see are normally summarized quite easily. Those people we idolize often have singular stories of discipline, hard work and an unstoppable will.

They never mention endless hours researching the internet for the latest and greatest system or “secret.” They don’t talk about the tiny minutia of details they stayed up at night over; instead they always have their sights on the big picture, try new things, keep what works and throw out the rest.

Yes, do your homework but be sure to get on with it. Put things into practice and try them for weeks not days. Building muscle isn’t rocket science. Don’t overthink things. Usually the simpler the training program the more results it’ll produce.

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Principle #5 – The problem with consistency

Consistency is a big problem. Why? Because no one seems to use much of it. Not only that, but they also don’t use it correctly. The old saying practice makes perfect is flawed. It should read: Perfect practice makes perfect.

What if you were practicing the wrong way the entire time? The same goes for consistency. Many can easily say they go to the gym on a consistent basis. But how are you spending that time? Are you simply showing up and going through the motions or are you getting at it?

What to do: Consistency in training, diet, recovery, rest and managing stress must be carried out optimally. No more lackluster training sessions only to lift the exact same amounts for the exact number of reps and sets. Once you have a plan for optimal training, you will need to carry out those sessions on a regular basis if you want any shred of progress.

Optimal consistency wins out every time. Don’t settle for mediocre, telling yourself that you’ll hit it hard next time. Screw the soreness, the lack of sleep or other things going on in your life. The time in the gym is yours; use it to the absolute best of your ability day-in and day-out.

With patience and over time you will have built your ideal physique the only realistic way possible.

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Name: Brad Borland

Bio: Starting out as a scrawny 125 pound kid at 6’ 2” I took up weight training at the tender age of 14 and ended up a 220 pound competitive drug-free, natural bodybuilder several years later. Now armed with both knowledge and muscle I have helped countless individuals domestically and abroad.