How to increase muscle mass effectively

One of the most important reasons for many men to train is to increase their muscle mass and look more athletic. To achieve this goal many different training methods have been tried and much research has been done to determine what works and what is less effective or even counter productive. This article will give you best tips science can give you on how to increase muscle mass effectively.

Resistance exercise

Resistance exercise or strength training is paramount in increasing the size and strength of muscles. However there are quite a few variables you should be aware off to maximise the effectiveness of your workout.

Training intensity

Training intensity is one of the most important factors of a resistance training workout. It will largely determine the effect of your workout and the amount of repetitions you can perform before your muscles reach the point of failure. Resistance training intensity is often expressed in a percentage of the one repetition maximum or 1RM. However, to use this method you first have to determine your 1RM for every exercise in your training program and repeat this every few weeks when your strength has increased. Since exercise intensity determines the amount of repetitions you can perform, it can be expressed in a repetition range as well. To stimulate muscle growth, the more muscle fibers are trained during a workout, the more muscle fibers will start to grow. This would imply that sets of very few repetitions with large amounts of resistance are most effective for inducing hypertrophy. Although this method does increase maximum strength, it generally does not result in large increases in muscle mass. The reason is that although almost all muscle fibers are active during near maximal efforts, only the muscle fibers which can generate the largest amount of force are fatigued, while the smaller muscle fibers are not fatigued as a result of better endurance. (See also Muscle and Muscle Fiber Types) On the other hand, performing a large number of repetitions with a small amount of weight does not activate the larger muscle fibers, resulting in little to no effects on muscle mass. The most effective resistance training intensity is somewhere in between these two extremes. Scientific research has indicated that 6-12 repetitions with a corresponding resistance is optimal for increasing muscle mass in trained persons. For those just starting it is recommended to perform 12-15 repetitions with a corresponding resistance to prepare the muscles and tendons for heavier resistances later on.

Training Volume

Even with the optimal training intensity, muscles will not start growing if they are not stimulated often enough. The results of a training are largely dependant on the volume of training as well. Performing only one serie per exercise will only result in slight increases in muscle mass in beginners at best. Performing two to three series per exercise is generally recommended and results in increases in muscle mass. For more experienced athletes between six to eight series per muscle group results in optimal gains in muscle mass and circulating anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone. Performing more than this can be counter productive and can possibly lead to overtraining.

Training Frequency

Lack of time is an increasingly often the reason why people do not train enough to reach their goals. On the other hand, training too often can inhibit muscle growth and even lead to overtraining syndrome. When training at the right intensity, muscle fibers are damaged and need to recover. In addition stress hormone concentrations such as cortisol increase, which are helpfull in training adapation but when not allowed to decrease again they start to break down muscles. For beginners the optimal training frequency is two to three times a week, with at least 24 hours between workouts. This allows the body to recover and adapt to the training. For more advanced athletes, training three to six times a week has been shown to be effective. However, since muscles need to recover when properly exercised, this requires the training program to be split into different sessions exercising different muscle groups each session instead of all at once.

Rest intervals

The amount of rest between series not only affects the amount of time spent in the gym, but plays a large role in training effect as well. A large amount of rest allows for more repetitions and heavier weights, which increases strength. However this method will not exhaust the muscles as effectively as taking shorter rest, which will result in less muscle growth. Research has shown that shorter resting periods result in larger increases in hypertrophy and growth hormone and testosterone concentratrions. Between 60 seconds of rest for beginners and 30 seconds for more advanced athletes has been shown to be most effective.

Split or full body workouts

Generating much debate is the question whether it is more effective to train all muscles each training session or to train only a few muscle groups per workout so those muscles are trained more effectively, while alternating muscle groups between training sessions. There has been little research on the subject and differences in gender, age and training status can greatly influence training adaptation. Full body workouts seem to increase concentrations of growth hormone and testosterone levels more than split training. However when performing multiple exercises per muscle group, a muscle can be trained more effectively. Combined with the knowledge that performing multiple exercises for all muscle groups will stress the body too much and therefore is counter productive, a split workout can be a proper alternative. Since little research investigating split routines has been performed it is hard to say which muscle groups are best combined in one workout. Although here are a few guidelines which can help you. First, for optimal results each muscle group must be trained at least two times a week. Second, combining all large muscle groups (legs, chest and back) in one workout can be too stressing. Third, the arms and shoulders are often active as well during upper back and chest exercises so they might not need two split sessions per week. Make sure the muscles are allowed to recover sufficiently before their next workout. And finally, creating a split routine can be effective when training at least three times a week and is recommended when four or more training sessions are performed. In addition beginners are advised to start with a full body training two to three times a week.

Example when training four days a week:

Day 1: Chest, Back and Shoulders

Day 2: Biceps Triceps and Legs

Day 3: Chest, Back and Shoulders

Day 4: Biceps Triceps and Legs

Advice on how to increase muscle mass effectively

-Training Intensity: Beginners: 12-15 repetitions. Intermediate and advanced: 8-12 repetitions.

-Training Volume: Beginners: 2-3 series per exercise. Intermediate and advanced: 3-4 series per exercise (max 6-8 per muscle group).

-Training Frequency: Beginners: 2-3 times per week. Intermediate and advanced: 3-6 times a week.

-Rest Interval: Beginners: 60 seconds between series. Intermediate: 45 seconds between series. Advanced: 30 seconds between series.

-Training organisation: Beginners and intermediate: Full body training Advanced: Split training when training at least three times a week.


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-Baechle, T.R., Earle, W.R. (2008). Endocrine Responses to Resistance Exercise. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition. USA. Human Kinetics.

-Bushman, B. (2011). Complete Guide to Fitness & Health. USA. Human Kinetics.

-Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exericse 2004, 36, 4, 674-688.

-Ratamess, N.A., Alvar, B.A., Evetoch, T.K., Housh, T.J., Kibler, W.B., Kraemer, W.J., Triplett, N.T. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exericse 2009, 41, 3, 687-708.

-Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., Kenney, W.L. (2008). Principles of exercise training. Physiology of Sport and Exercise Fourth Edition. USA Human Kinetics.