Mass Gain Made Simple

It may take a lot of work in the gym and a lot of food on the plate, but building mass is a straightforward project, once you have the right plan for your body type.

By Jordana Brown | December 31, 2015

OK, gaining mass isn’t that simple. You need to know how to eat, and you definitely need to know what to take to supplement your diet and exercise program. And that means you need one of our straightforward mass-gain plans, outlined below.

The Easy-Gainer: Slow And Steady

Frankly, there’s no real reason to gain weight slowly. This technique isn’t for those who have all the patience in the world. Instead, the Slow and Steady method of mass gaining is for those who gain fat a little more easily: Guys who have aged out of the lightning-fast metabolism that the young bucks enjoy, those who are born endomorphs and have to be careful about their calorie intake, and anyone who is close enough to competition (or bathing-suit season) to want to put on pure mass without adding extra layers of flab.

Training

We assume you know that training for mass requires mixing things up so that your muscles are continually kept guessing. That process of systematically cycling your training is called periodization. One of the most common variables to cycle is the amount of weight you lift, and therefore the number of reps you can complete per set. Heavier weights yield lower numbers of reps; lighter weights, higher reps.

This training plan includes four phases:

PHASE 1: Choose a weight with which you can get 12 to 15 reps per set. 

PHASE 2: Choose a weight with which you can get 10 to 12 reps per set.

PHASE 3: Choose a weight with which you can get eight to 10 reps per set.

PHASE 4: Choose a weight with which you can get six to eight reps per set.

In each phase, remain within the prescribed rep range for all exercises, and spend about two weeks in each phase for a total of an eight-week training program.

Train each bodypart once per week, breaking it up into a four-day split where you target related bodyparts (like chest and triceps) on the same day. This allows you to hit your larger muscle groups hard and heavy at the outset with assistance from smaller muscle groups that get direct work later in the session. This adds both volume and intensity, which is part and parcel of any mass-gain program.

Ideally, you’ll want to do 12 to 16 total working sets for larger body parts such as chest, back, quads and hamstrings, while performing nine to 12 total sets for smaller body parts. Generally, this should be divided over two to four exercises so that you can hit each muscle from a variety of angles. And it should go without saying that if mass is your main concern, your focus should be on multijoint exercises that allow you to use the most weight for the target number of reps. In other words, 16 sets of cable flyes isn’t going to be as effective as, say, 12 sets of angled presses and dips followed by four sets of flyes.

As for cardio, we bet you were counting on us telling you that because this is a mass-gain plan, you don’t have to do any. Sorry! To ensure that you gain quality muscle and don’t put on fat, you should do a little bit of cardio, namely 15 to 20 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) three times per week.

Nutrition

Because this plan entails gaining mass at a more reasonable pace, there’s only a small bump in calories on the nutrition side. Aim to get between 18 and 20 calories per pound of bodyweight, which equates to between 3,240 and 3,600 calories per day for a 180-pound man (multiply calories by pounds, or 18 x 180).

Because you can’t build muscle without protein, take in 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.5 x 180 pounds = 270 grams per day). Carb intake should remain moderate, between 1.5 and 2 grams per pound of bodyweight, or 270 to 360 grams for the 180-pound man. Focus on slow-digesting, whole-grain carbs such as oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and brown rice, and limit your carb intake after dinner. Fat intake should stay low, at 0.5 gram per pound of bodyweight.

Most mass-seekers prefer to take in all these calories in five to seven feedings throughout the day, but studies show that three meals per day can be just as effective.

The right supplement plan is also key if you expect to pack on clean mass, as opposed to 20 pounds of mixed goo. For an all-day supplement schedule, turn to page 51.

The Hardgainer Plan: Fast and Furious

It’s not that you’re any more dedicated or in a bigger rush than those who are following the slower route to mass. In fact, your journey might actually be more difficult, filled with more hard work in the gym and more careful caloric calibration. That’s because guys who need to take this path to mass are most likely hardgainers, natural stick people (aka ectomorphs), young dudes with fast metabolisms who struggle to gain any weight, or those who plan to spend the next few months wrapped in sweaters and jackets and therefore don’t care about how defined their abs look.

Training

You gotta hit the gym, and you gotta hit it hard. Get ready for some intensity techniques. Here’s how. You’ll follow the same four-day split as the Slow and Steady crew, but instead of cycling weights you’ll pick a weight you can get eight to 12 reps with. Do one warm-up set per exercise, then go to muscle failure on every set except the last one or two. On those, really stress the muscle by doing either a drop set or the rest-pause technique. The same guidelines on total training volume apply, with larger bodyparts getting 12 to 16 total sets of work and smaller ones getting nine to 12.

REST-PAUSE: Rest-pause simply means you terminate a set a few reps shy of momentary muscular failure, rest 15 to 25 seconds, then continue the set again using the same weight. This process is repeated multiple times for a fragmented set with a higher rep total. For example, instead of performing three sets of eight reps on the bench press with 225 pounds, you might perform five reps, rest 20 seconds, then repeat this process four more times before taking a two- to three-minute break. By the end of this rest-pause set, you’ll have completed 25 total reps instead of your originally targeted eight. Of course, total reps will vary depending on overall strength and conditioning. This system takes advantage of your body’s explosive energy system (phosphagen), which replenishes fairly quickly — although not completely — between bouts of work.

DROP SET: On a drop set, go to failure with the original weight you’ve been using to get eight to 12 reps. Then immediately drop 20 to 30 percent of the weight and go to failure again. You can perform multiple drops, but two to three is generally sufficient to create the stimulus you’re looking for. This process allows you to train your muscles beyond failure, creating more microtrauma to the fibers, which paves the way for more muscle gain during recovery.

Nutrition

The overarching goal of this nutrition plan is to bump insulin levels and keep them high. Sound scary? The truth is, hardgainers don’t have a problem with their insulin levels, and because it’s an anabolic hormone, we’re going to put it to work for you with fast carbs and an insulin booster.

But first, the calories. You’ve got to eat more to gain, so Fast and Furious trackers get to consume between 21 and 23 calories per pound of bodyweight. Let’s say our typical hardgainer tops out at 150 pounds. Multiply that weight by 21 and you get 3,150 calories; multiply it by 23 and you get 3,450. Protein intake remains critical, so we recommend you eat between 1.5 and 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (between 225 and 300 grams per day). Carb intake is also increased, to between 2.5 and 3 grams per day. Fat remains low, at 0.5 gram per pound. (Those grams should be primarily of the healthy, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated variety).

As with the easy-gainers, you can go the traditional “three squares” route, or you can divide your calories and macros up over five to seven meals and snacks throughout the day.

The Easy-Gainer Calories + Macros Plan: Split To Grow

Day 1: Chest + Triceps + Abs

Day 2: Quads + Hams + Calves

Day 3: REST

Day 4: Shoulders + Traps + Abs

Day 5: Back + Biceps + Forearms

Days 6 & 7: REST

The Hardgainer Calories + Macros Plan

PROTEIN: 1.5-2 grams per pound of bodyweight

CARBOHYDRATES: 2.5-3 grams per pound of bodyweight per day

FAT: 0.5 gram per pound of bodyweight per day

CALORIES: 21-23 calories per pound of bodyweight per day

The Mass List

Don’t overcomplicate things. Follow the guidelines outlined in this article and adhere to these simple, proven principles of packing on size.

1. Stay Compound: Focus on multijoint movements such as presses, rows, squats, pull-ups, dips and deadlifts. These exercises not only build greater strength but also target more muscle, burn more calories and trigger a greater release of testosterone and growth hormone, which contribute to greater muscle gain.

2. Go Big First: Single-joint, or isolation, exercises such as flyes, extensions and curls have their place in a mass-gain program but should be done after your heavier, multijoint moves.

3. Insist on Progress: You should always strive to handle the most weight you can for the prescribed rep ranges. Even if you’re on a two-week cycle, you may find that you can increase weight each week, which is ideal for improving strength and size.

4. Check Your Volume: Some rare athletes may be able to get away with doing 25 to 30 sets per body part, but this is simply not advisable for most individuals. For most, the ideal volume is 12 to 16 total sets, divided over multiple exercises, for larger muscle groups such as chest, back and legs. Smaller body parts can be sufficiently stimulated with nine to 12 sets. You grow while you recover, not while you train.

5. Rest: On the days where rest is outlined, you should do exactly that. There’s little benefit derived from tacking on an additional session for a lagging bodypart as this will, again, impede overall recovery and hinder gains.

6. Supplement Right: Our comprehensive supplement plan will educate you on which supplements to take and when, while also providing the most effective dose. Supplements fill in gaps as you strive to reach your daily caloric and macronutrient goals and provide welcome jumps in performance and hormones that facilitate hypertrophy.

7. Be Strict: Of course, you should be strict with your diet and only feed your muscles nutrients it can use for growth, but you should be equally strict with your form in the gym. When gaining mass, there’s a temptation to overdo it with weight loads, which leads to poor form and invites injury. Better to maximize muscle stimulation by using the heaviest weights that you can control at a given rep range than to sideline yourself with a catastrophic injury.



About the Author

Jordana Brown