11 key considerations for building muscle mass
Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter
The process of gaining muscle mass isn’t as simple as just working out calorie requirements and loading up on large quantities of food. There are some key rules that must be followed if you are going to gain appreciable amounts of lean muscle mass. Many people gain weight but end up trying to lose it all again when they realise that it's actually fat that they've gained, and minimal amounts of muscle.
Science has moved on a lot since the old days of bulking up and stripping down, you can gain large amounts of muscle mass whilst getting leaner at the same time.
If you find yourself in this position, you may want to add these tips into your training plan.
The common mistakes we see and how to you overcome them:
1. You’re not eating enough protein.
You must be consuming enough quality protein daily to build lean muscle mass. There is still much controversy out there about the quantity you should eat each day, but I work on 2 grams per pound of lean body weight for muscle gain.
2. You’re not eating essential fats
Not only do healthy fats support your immune system (essential for muscle building), lower inflammation and help deliver vital nutrients around the body, but foods like avocado, oily fish, nuts and oils provide a nice 9 calories per gram. If you’re trying to add calories to your diet, you’re missing a trick if you’re not eating your fats. Fats should form at least 30% of your daily calorie requirements.
3. You’re not consuming enough calories
If someone is training 4 times per week I work on 18 – 20 calories per pound of body weight. So for a 200 lb male at 12% body fat, I would recommend 3168 – 3520 calories per day. If you’re nowhere near the calorie requirements you need to gain mass, don’t complain when you don’t see the results. Time to make eating a priority!
4. You’re body is resistant to the effects of carbohydrates
If you’re like 80% of the guys who come in to see you me, you’re body may not tolerate carbohydrate foods like rice, pasta and potatoes well. Does eating too many of them soon show up around your waistline? If this is you then you'll do best saving them to the time during your workout, or even until the 1 to 2 hour window after you finsh training. For more information on insulin sensitivity have a read of this article. I'm a huge fan or carbs for gaining mass and getting lean, but you must be smart about when you have them (read my section of peri workout nutrition below).
5. You’re spending way too much time in the gym
You really shouldn't need more than 1 hour of actual workout time in the gym. In many cases, guys spend half the time talking and the rest of the time pretending to train. Prepare your sessions ahead of time, get in to the gym, train hard, and then get out. A little over or under an hour is fine, but spening 2 hours training is a waster of time and energy.
6. You're not using enough time under tension to gain muscle mass
An area where I see so many people going wrong, is their inability to lift weight slower and for longer. This is important to make sure that the time frame being used is that which supports muscle hypertrophy. For this to happen effectiveley, you must make your set last a minium of 40 - 70 seconds. So for those of you who lift quickly and you're looking to gain mass, chances are you aren’t even lifting in a range that will help you to grow. 12 reps lifted very quickly could take between 15 and 25 seconds. You get a completley different results if you try the same12 reps with a 4 seconds lowering tempo, 1 seconds pause at the bottom position, 1 second on the way up and then repeat the lowering phase.
7. You're not contracting your muscles
All too often people tell me what weights they lift on certain exercises, only for me to take them through a session and then have to drastically lower their weights. To grow a muscle, you must learn to contract it, the best way to do this is to learn how to connect your mind with the muscle you're training. Just try this, sit up and flex your pecs. If you can't do it, you don't have very good muscle connection. If you want to try one harder, stand up and put one leg behind you. Then with your heel raised and toes pushing into the floor, try and contract your calves and hamstrings at the same time. This is tough for many people! So the next time you're training, slow down your reps for one workout and focus on the muscles you're training. Don't be scared to drop the weight, remember it's your body you're training, not the person next to you!! Drop the ego!
8. You’re not getting enough sleep
You must sleep at least 7 - 8 hours per night. Lack of sleep increases your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and high levels of the stress hormone lowers your testosterone level. If you don’t know this by now, you need testosterone to grow! Get some sleep and start growing!
9. You’re not utilising peri workout nutrition
Peri workout nutrition is the period before, during and after your training session. It also happens to be an ideal time to load extra calories in. I've noticed people train so much harder and they get so much stronger when they get this right.
Before each session, I never eat carbs. Too many people load up on carbs and end up crashing 10 minutes before they train. My pre workout meal is always meat, vegetables, and essential fats. Ideally coconut oil is the fat source, as the oil can be used quie quickly as energy (medium chain triglyceride). I also add a strong organic coffee with heavy cream and cinnamon.
The next step for me is my intra workout shake. This contains essential aminos in powder form, and carbs. For me it's usually between 75 and 100 grams depending on which body part I'm training. I always start drinking this 5 minutes before I start training. This shake has brought a whole new level to my training.
Intra workout is also the first place I add carbs back into someones diet (when they're ready). I start with 35 grams of vitargo or maltodextrin, and then add more every 2 weeks after assessing their body compositon. Remember, 35 grams of carbs yields an extra 140 calories. So gradually increasing workout carbs (depending on how you responds), is a great way of getting the fuel in.
The next step is post workout. Just like intra workout, it's best taken as a liquid form. It's absorbed by the body so much quicker. The three main benefits to nutrition right after your workout is that it replenishes your glycogen stores, it decreases protein breakdown and also increases protein synthesis. I use 50 - 100 grams of carbs post workout, again this depends on my training volume.
An optimal post workout drink for some one who is above 15% body fat, would be glutamine, glycine, and whey protein. In the case of leaner individuals (sub 12 - 14%) you should consume whey protein, high glycemic index carbohydrates in the form of maltodextrin or vitargo. Remember, start with 35 grams and work from there.
10. You’re repeating the same workout over and over again and expecting to get results
The programmes I write usually work on roughly 3 - 4 week cycles. If you have been doing your current programme for a lot longer, chances are your body has become accustomed to it and your gains will have ceased (the law of diminishing returns). A simple step could be to move from a program using a higher end hypertrophy rep range of 10 – 12, down to a lower end hypertrophy rep range of 8 – 10 rep. It's a simple change but enough to elicit a response.
11. You only use a very limited pool of exercises
To grow a muscle, you must expose it to as many variables as possible, one of those is exercise selection. When I ask some guys what exercises they use to train their legs, they just tell me that they squat. Some even tell me that they never train legs, can you belive it!! If you really want to grow you need to train your muscles from as many angles as possible. So to use legs as an example, here's a selection of exercises you could use:
Narrow feet back squats (cyclists squats), wide feet back squats, heels elevated back squats, safety bar squat, front squat, hack squat, back squat with chains, back squat using bands, leg press feet low, leg press feet high, leg extension toes out, leg extension toes in, lying leg curl(toes in toes out), kneeling leg curl, lying leg curl gironda style (sat up on your elbows), dumbbell and barbell split squats, all the various lunges, romanian deadlift off the platforma and off a deficit (hands hip width and snatch grip), Good morning, all deadlift variations.
This is just a selection, I could continue for a good while longer. You can see by using legs as an example, that there are many different exercises you could use, and all of them train muscles at different angles and ranges. So the next time you wonder why you're not changing, just ask yourself if you a) know enough exercises or b) if you've actually changed the exercises you're using recenlty.
Take some time to go through the points above and check where you maybe going wrong. Hopefully these tips will help you move forward on your journey to growing more muscle.
If you want to pick up some of our training programmes, you'll find them in the 8 Week Muscle ebook. Click the button below to find out more