1. Chalk up
More weight means more muscle, and using chalk means more weight. ‘Chalking up to improve your grip can add 10kg to some exercises instantly,’ says strength coach Sean McPhillips. If your gym doesn’t allow it, try the liquid variety – or change gyms.
2. Think big
Big, compound moves such as the squat, bench and deadlift should be the staples of your programme. There's evidence from several studies that shows these lifts cause surges in testosterone and growth hormone as well as employing huge numbers of muscle fibres – all essential for growth.
3. Add volume
Heavier weights and more volume will both work - but they’re better together. ‘Lift heavy at the start of each session, using sets of one to three reps,’ suggests strength coach Ben Coker. ‘Then, in your assistance moves, drop down to six to eight reps per set, with more focus on muscle damage and metabolic stress. The heavy lifting will recruit the fast-twitch fibres for the whole session.’ Try mixing heavy bench presses with lighter dumbbell benching for great results.
4. Get fired up
‘Post-activation potentiation’ sounds kind of complicated complicated. Thankfully it isn’t. ‘Do a heavy single at 90-95% of your one-rep max, then go straight into a working set,’ says Coker. ‘This will recruit more type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibres, which you’ll fatigue throughout the work set.’ Essentially that translates to muscle growth.
5. Cluster up
Cluster sets are a great way to add more volume. ‘Let’s say you can get four reps at 90% of your one-rep max weight,’ says Coker. ‘If you “cluster” those sets by taking ten seconds’ rest after each one, it’s likely you could manage six reps. Across several sets that’ll make a huge difference.’ This works better on moves with minimal set-up time - think deadlifts, not overhead squats.
Supercharge your warm-up
6. Wake up
A solid warm-up will allow you lift more weight later, meaning added muscle. ‘Remember, the point of your warm-up is to open joints, stretch ligaments, tendons, increase your muscle temperature and wake up your nervous system,’ says McPhillips. ‘If you’re doing a heavy session, start with basic bodyweight movements to get things firing.’
7. Unleash bell
Add kettlebell moves to your warm-up to prime your muscles. ‘Swings and presses will get everything in your body firing,’ says McPhillips. ‘It’ll mean you can move more weight for more reps later.’ It’ll also has the handy benefit of adding a bit of volume to your workout.
8. Ramp it up
Don’t just jump in at the heaviest weight you can lift. ‘Working up to a top set of three to five reps after seven sets of progressively lighter weights allows you to do speed work early on, and then go on to some heavy work too,’ says strength coach Joseph Lightfoot. ‘It also keeps the volume high.’ So make sure the bar’s moving fast when the weights are low.
If you want to build muscle this is a high effective technique. ‘Rest/pause training stimulates growth through high fatigue in the working muscles,’ says trainer Mike Campbell. ‘Pick a weight you can lift for ten reps and do eight reps. Rest for 20 seconds, then do as many reps as possible, then rest another 20 seconds and repeat.’ If your arms aren’t on fire at the end, you’re doing it wrong.
10. Squeezy does it
When you’re lifting for strength, you’ll often do reps without focusing on movement quality but that's a mistake if you want to build muscle. ‘At the top of each rep, pause and “squeeze” the target muscle,’ says personal trainer Adam Gethin. ‘This process, known as an isometric contraction, can help maximise muscle fibre recruitment.’
11. Start high, then drop
In drop sets, you go until failure, lower the weight, then get some more reps – so start high. ‘You’ll get the most muscle recruitment if you start heavy and aim for roughly six reps total,’ says Coker. ‘Start at 90-95% of your max, hit two reps, drop the weight, get two more reps, drop the weight and hit two more. You’ll recruit lots of muscle fibres.’
12. Go technical
Drop sets down just have to be about decreasing weight. Try a ‘technical’ drop set by making a move mechanically easier for your body. For instance, do a set of strict dumbbell curls, then switch to hammer curls when you hit failure. Finish with cheat curls to fry your biceps.
13. Embrace contrasts
‘In contrast training, a strength movement is followed by an explosive exercise – my preferences are jumps, throws or sprints,’ says trainer Jack Lovett. ‘So follow squats with jump squats or do bench presses followed by explosive press-ups. In order to get the best transfer effect, rest for ten to 20 seconds between exercises, and rest for three minutes between sets.’
Train by numbers
14. Grease the groove
To add volume without frying your muscles, try a training technique beloved of the Russian military: simply do lots of low-rep chin-ups or press-ups throughout the day. The numbers will quickly add up before you know it. Or just hit one max set in the morning, preferably before you get in the shower.
15. Try 2-3-5
‘Your rep schemes for muscle-building should be based on getting more reps and more weight while minimising fatigue,’ says Lightfoot. ‘Try the 2-3-5 system: two reps, then three, then five, then go back to two. Do four to six rounds. Even if you use a weight that’s heavy for five reps you’ll need minimal rest before the set of two, so you’ll get a lot of quality reps in very quickly.’
16. Climb the ladder
For chin-ups or dips, the "ladder" approach is very effective. ‘Do one rep, take a short rest, then do two,’ says Lightfoot. ‘Go all the way up to five or ten and you’ll hit high numbers of reps very quickly.’ For an extra challenge, go back down the ladder once you hit the top.
17. Revamp your rests
‘Small back? Weak arms? You should do more chin-ups and press-ups,’ says strength coach Zoran Dubaic. ‘I like to do anything up to 20 sets of five chin-ups on a medium-intensity day.’ For fast results, do a set of five between every ‘pushing’ move on bench day – that way you’ll get a lot of volume with minimal effort.
18. Ring the changes
There’s a reason gymnasts are all built like superheroes and it's not because of gamma radiation. ‘Ring work forces you to create huge amounts of tension - and a general theme for building muscle is maximising time under tension,’ says Lightfoot. ‘Start by making sure you can hold the top position of a press-up, then go for sets of 20-30 reps, keeping your body rigid.’
19. Think negative
‘Negatives can change up your training and cause increased trauma to your muscle fibres, forcing them to grow back bigger,’ says McPhillips. To do them, get a partner to help you lift a weight – or jump to the top of a move such as the chin-up – and then take five seconds to lower it.
Build action hero muscle
20. Bring the thunder
For his roles in Thor and Avengers Assemble, Chris Hemsworth warmed up with heavy Turkish get-ups. They teach your body to move as a unit, and force your stabiliser muscles to grow. Add them to your warm-up.
21. Carry on
During the filming of Warrior, Tom Hardy kept himself busy by hauling his personal trainer around the set, fireman’s carry-style. Team up with a partner and alternate 30m carries until one of you admits defeat.
22. Arm yourself
To get Sylvester Stallone the monumental forearms he has in both Expendables films, his trainer Gunnar Peterson added one simple trick. ‘He’d do deadlifts, then shrug the same weight for reps,’ says Peterson. ‘It works his glutes, calves, forearms, grip - everything.’
23. Get wild
For his role as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman constantly hit his muscles from different angles. ‘We’d go from a compound move to an isolation one,’ says trainer Mike Ryan. ‘A great example is going from dumbbell bench press straight into flyes or cable crossovers.’
Work each muscle group
24. Chest Ring flye
This is also possible with a TRX. Superset them with ring press-ups to supersize your pecs.
25. Triceps Weighted dip
Hold a weight between your ankles or invest in a belt.
26. Abs- Abs wheel rollout
Do five sets of ten at the end of your workout, and build up to the standing version.
27. Quads - Front squat
It takes practice, but it’s worth doing. If you're struggling with your technique then Bulgarian split squats are nearly as effective.
28. Hamstrings - Romanian deadlift
This is an easy choice. Do a few sets on deadlift day to strengthen yourself up for sprinting.
29. Bicep curls - Close-grip chin-up
Bringing your hands together makes your biceps do the lion’s share of the work. If you’ve got the space for it, rope-climbing is even better.
30. Calves - Calf raise
Do 100 reps at the end of your regular leg sessions if you want them to grow. Change your foot position for best results.
31. Glutes - Single-leg glute bridge
Not only will this make your glutes grow, it’ll help injury-proof your hamstrings for sprint sessions.
32. Back Deadlift
Other moves will let you hit your back muscles more directly, but none will let you shift as much weight as this classic move.
33. Challenge yourself
‘Exercises such as the tyre flip and log clean and press help train your muscles in a way that barbells and dumbbells can’t,’ says Lovett. ‘They hit multiple muscle groups simultaneously with an increased emphasis on core strength and stabilisation, making them tremendous for muscle mass.’ If you haven’t got the necessary kit, power cleans and overhead presses will give the same benefits, and make you look awesome in the gym.
34. Get heavy
The farmer’s walk will tax every muscle in your body – pair it with the bench press and you’ve got a potent combination. ‘Do three to five reps in the bench, rest for a minute, and do a 30m farmer’s walk,’ says Lightfoot. ‘Aim for five to six sets, ramping up to a weight you can lift sharply.’
35. Push it
Another strongman staple that taxes every muscle in your body is the truck pull. ‘It hits everything, creating the perfect hormonal environment for muscle growth,’ says Campbell. ‘If you haven’t got a car to push or pull, use a sled. Go for maximum distance at the end of your workout.’
36. Sprint to win
‘Sprinting will develop kick-ass hamstrings and glutes and help prime the body for heavy lifts too,’ says Dubaic, before adding a note of caution. ‘Sprinting puts your body through a ton of stress, so don’t overdo it. Keep it simple and build up gradually. Starting with four to six 15m sprints with as much recovery as you need.’
37. Hit the hill
If you’re in the mood for punishment, try hill sprints. ‘Find a good 30-50m hill and aim for five sprints up – you can walk back down,’ says Campbell. ‘It’ll force every muscle in your body to work, putting you in the perfect anabolic state.’ Bonus: it’ll also keep you burning fat for hours.
38. Be explosive
If you’re doing classic eight-to-12-rep workouts, blast your muscles into growth by adding an explosive move afterwards. ‘Standing broad jumps and medicine ball slams will shock your muscles into growth,’ says Campbell. ‘Do two or three after every set.’
39. Build your foundation
‘Finish your workout with a couple of max sets on a suspension trainer,’ suggests McPhillips. ‘Any move you do will engage your core muscles, working your abs and building your foundation for bigger moves.’
40. Row for success
‘Do a suspension drop set,’ says McPhillips. ‘This means doing as many ring/TRX rows as you can, then changing to a steeper angle when you hit failure and get a couple more reps. More microfibre tears mean more muscle gains.’
Step up to a new level
41. Go Deutsch
‘Try the advanced German body composition method,’ says Campbell. ‘Pick three exercises that hit the same muscle group, then do six of the first, 12 of the second and 25 of the third. Rest two minutes, then repeat. This’ll promote anabolic hormones and help you grow.’
42. Catch your breath
‘Breathe from your belly and brace your core as you lift,’ says Lovett. ‘It’ll strengthen your core, leading to improved strength – meaning more muscle gains. Incorrect breathing will result in poor posture and increased chance of injury.’
43. Change your timing
‘Vary your tempo to add to muscular recruitment,’ says Campbell. ‘A good scheme is 4110 – four seconds to lower, a one-second hold at the bottom, one second of contraction and zero hold at top. Try 2220, 2010 or 6010 for subsequent sets.’
44. Hit your grip
‘Get some FatGripz, handles that artificially thicken a bar, and put them on every dumbbell and barbell you use for your upper-body workouts,’ says Campbell. ‘The increased neural activation and motor unit recruitment will see your arms, shoulders, chest and back grow quickly.’
45. Up your reps
Ultra-high-rep training has been out of fashion, but it’s coming back. ‘Performed with intensity, high-rep training can unlock new growth thanks to total muscle fibre stimulation,’ says Gethin. Try one set of curls to near-failure with an empty barbell, aiming for 30 reps.
46. Use tri-sets
Hitting three moves in one massive set will force your muscles to adapt. Campbell suggests a classic. ‘To hit your chest and shoulders, try a 75° dumbbell press for six reps, follow by a 45° press for ten reps, then a flat press for 15 reps. Take ten seconds’ rest between each exercise and two minutes between sets.’
47. Finish strong
‘At the end of a leg day put 40% of your max on the bar and do as many reps as you can, resting at the top if you need to,’ says Campbell. ‘Aim for 50. The recruitment and lactate build-up will have a huge growth effect.’
Change your life
Too much stress will send you into a catabolic state. ‘Make sure you totally relax for at least 30 minutes a night,’ says Campbell. ‘No phone, no gadgets – just a book or a chat.’
49. Hit the sack
Bedtime is prime time for recovery. ‘Make sure you’re sleeping for eight hours a night,’ says Campbell. ‘And turn off all your electronic devices before you hit the pillow.’
50. Eat more
‘You need to overfeed your muscles to let them grow,’ says Campbell. Consuming 2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight every day is a good start. Read more about the best high-protein foods to support your training and build more muscle.
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