Build Muscle Mass
Building muscle mass can be a time-consuming and labourious process – especially if you go about it the wrong way! Not eating enough, ignoring the importance of rest and recovery and choosing the wrong exercises can all undermine your progress. However, when diet, rest, and exercise are all properly aligned, the magic starts to happen!
Diet and rest are very important topics but the focus of this article is proper exercise selection.
The best exercises for building mass are the ones that allow you to lift the most weight and therefore place lots of stress on your muscles. Stress is often seen as something negative that you should avoid but, in exercise, stress is the trigger for muscle growth.
When you expose your muscles to sufficient stress, they respond by getting bigger and stronger. This is a protective mechanism – survival of the fittest. In short, after being exposed to a stress (e.g. 20 kg dumbbells) your muscles change and grow so that the next time they encounter that same stress, they are better able to cope with it. That’s why you should endeavour to increase your weights every couple of weeks or so.
Some exercises are definitely better than others for building muscle so here is a body part by body part guide to the best mass builders around!
Your legs make up around 50 percent of your total muscle mass and yet probably only receive 25-30 percent of your weekly training time and effort. You can go a long way to fixing this imbalance by making squats and deadlifts your main leg exercises. Squats and deadlifts are the kings of leg building and should definitely be part of your workout routine. Five sets of five reps with heavy weights will add mass to your legs faster than almost any other exercise system around.
The barbell bench press is often seen as being the best chest builder around but switching to dumbbells will help build your chest faster. The combination of increased range of motion plus the added demand of having to control two weights at the same time mean that bench press with dumbbells will build your chest better than the same exercise done with a barbell. Do flat, incline and decline dumbbell presses for best chest-building results.
If you want your back to grow, you have got to row! The best row for your back is the single arm dumbbell row. Why? Because you can use your opposite hand to support your spine, you are free to focus on working your back and free from the worries of injury. Keep your back flat, your neck neutral, concentrate on leading with your elbow and keep your wrists straight for best results.
In the good old days of strength training, a man’s lifting prowess was measured by the amount of weight he could press overhead from a standing position. This didn’t just test strength, though, it developed big, powerful shoulders too.
The standing overhead barbell press might have gone the way of the dinosaurs but if you want big, strong boulder-like shoulders, this is the exercise for you.
Hold a barbell with an overhand, shoulder-width grip at shoulder-height. Lift your chest, flare your lats and tuck your chin in. Keeping your legs straight, press the bar directly up and overhead. Thrust your head forward as the bar passes the top of your noggin to put a final finish to your rep. Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
Do not use your legs to push the weight up – that’s an entirely different exercise. However, if you feel yourself grinding to a halt and are unable to finish your last rep, a strategic dip and drive with the knees is acceptable. Make sure you lower the bar slowly though!
The limiting factor in most biceps exercises is not how much weight you can lift but how much weight you can support with your back. If you look at someone curling a lot of weight, inevitably their arm action is accompanied by a whole lot of swinging and swaying.
You can get around this problem by replacing curls with underhand grip chin-ups. While chin-ups are definitely an upper back exercise they are also a superior arm mass builder. If you examine this exercise a little more closely, you’ll see that you are actually curling your shoulders up to the bar rather than curling the bar up to your shoulders.
This means you don’t need to worry about being pulled off balance with a heavy weight and are free to focus on blasting your biceps. Once you can do more than ten reps per set, add some weight by tying a dumbbell around your waist, wearing a weighted vest, or using a chin/dip belt.
When it comes to building the triceps, many people rely on exercises like triceps pushdowns and triceps kickbacks. The trouble is, because of disadvantageous joint angles and lever lengths, you cannot lift much weight with these exercises. This means less stress on the target muscle and generally poor results.
Parallel dips are the best way to add mass to your triceps and provide a great workout for your chest too.
To keep the emphasis more on your triceps, keep your body as upright as possible and bend your arms until your elbows are bent to at least 90 degrees. If you can do more than ten reps per set, add some weight by tying a dumbbell around your waist, wearing a weighted vest, or using a chin/dip belt.
Bonus: Mass Building Supplements
If you are serious about building mass fast, there are several supplements that may be beneficial. You’ll still need to train hard and eat right but these supplements can help deliver the results you want even faster.
- All-in-one supplements – high in protein, creatine, branch chain amino acids, carbs and calories, all-in-one supplements contain plenty of what you need to build muscle mass. If you only take one supplement, this is the one to choose.
- ZMA – testosterone, growth hormone, and sleep; the holy trinity of mass builders! ZMA naturally boosts testosterone and growth hormone levels, two vital hormones, and naturally enhances sleep for better recovery.
- Intra-workout supplements – the best mass building exercises are also the most tiring. That’s what makes them so great! However, being tiring means that you may well start to flag and flounder midway through your workout – especially if you are training hard and heavy. Avoid this problem by using an energising intra-workout supplement that will help you to train longer and harder.
- Weight gainers – if you are underweight, you need more food to gain mass. This is not always easy as cooking and eating extra food can be impractical or inconvenient. Get around this problem by using a quality weight gainer which will help you increase muscle mass faster. If you want to get big you have to eat big!
Building mass is rarely easy, but it’s certainly not so hard if you choose the right exercises. Isolation exercises are fine for finishing your workout but the bulk of your time and energy should be spent on big, compound exercises that work large chunks of your body at the same time. These exercises have been adding mass to men and women for hundreds of years and will continue to do so long into the future. Leg extensions and triceps kickbacks? Not so much!