When I first started training, every week I was excited to hit the gym and blow past my previous best lifts. I can still recall the excitement of getting that much closer to a 200 lb bench press as each week went by. I could literally see myself transforming in the mirror month after month going from a skinny guy to someone that actually looked somewhat manly. All in all, it pretty easy to stay motivated with rapid newbie gains.
But that didn’t last forever. Eventually progress stalled, and it felt like I was having to fight tooth and nail to just add a rep or two to a lift and get even a fraction of an inch bigger.
This can be one of the most frustrating issues a guy deals with when trying to pack on muscle. Slowed or non-existent gains can sap motivation if one doesn’t know what to do about it. Before I did the things I’m about to share with you, I felt like I was doomed to just slowly grind away for the rest of my life to get every last ounce of additional muscle.
But after I made a few simple tweaks, particularly when I saw what a friend was doing that was getting him incredible results, I’ve found that gaining muscle non-stop without plateauing is possible for just about anyone serious about their bodybuilding training. Keep reading to find out my top 5 tips on how to keep gaining muscle year after year.
If you want to grow, you’re going to need a lot of quality calories. The thing that can easily be overlooked however is that as you gain more muscle, you’re going to need to increase your calorie intake appropriately.
When I started out and went from 118lbs to 153lbs, I had to continually ramp up my calorie intake. Once I was in the 150s and wanted to get to the 170s, I couldn’t keep eating the same amount of calories that got me my initial muscle mass. I had to eat like a 170 pound person to become a 170 pound person.
While this may seem stupidly obvious, what isn’t so obvious is how many calories one may actually be eating vs. thinking they’re eating. If you’re not gaining any weight, be it fat or muscle, it may have less to do with what’s going on in the gym and more to do with what’s going on in the kitchen. The first place to turn to when your mass gains slow down is what’s on your place.
Focus On Exercise Form And Technique
The second area that I’ve seen countless guys in the gym screw up is their exercise form in the gym. As a beginner, a person can get away with crappy form and still get stronger and grow. But once someone gets more advanced, those weak links and sloppy habits will catch up with them.
“Proper” form though isn’t just about doing exercises with picture perfect technique. It’s also about learning how to create tension in the proper muscles. Here’s an example.
Do a pushup.
Now this time, focus on contracting your pecs, squeezing your hands together, and imagine pushing the ground away from you. Maintain tension in your pecs the entire time and go a bit slower up and down.
Notice a difference?
When it comes to building muscle, it’s not just about getting a weight from point A to point B. It’s about learning how to recruit the right muscles for the job. This can mean leaving the ego at the door, dropping the weights down, slowing the tempo a bit, and learning to really contract the proper muscles.
While lowering the weights you use and focusing on better form and muscle recruitment may seem like a step backwards, it’s actually setting you up for much better and more continuous gains down the road.
Specialization is a form of training where you do extra work for one or only a couple target muscle groups while doing less work (maintenance) for the rest of the body. This is not recommended for beginners, but it is absolutely perfect for those who’ve built a solid foundation and want to continue getting those “newbie” type of gains in certain muscles or lifts.
People have reported out of this world gains in certain lifts and muscle groups, even if they had many years of training already, by doing specialization programs.
For myself, my legs are a strong-point and responded well to training early on. The thing is, working the legs demands a lot of my body’s recovery abilities. So it makes sense for me as I advance to do less work for my legs and then bump up the work for something like my arms. This allows my body to take its limited recovery abilities and direct all that growth to my arms so they keep growing while my legs stay the same size and strength with relatively little work.
You can actually cycle specialization workout routines throughout the year (tip #5) to keep up your motivation and to keep growing constantly. For information on how to set up a specialization routine, check out this article.
Do A Different Style Of Training
I can still recall the shock of seeing how my friend had blown past me on many major lifts while I was away at college. I thought I knew everything there was to know about how to train to maximize muscle gains. What was his secret?
It turns out, he was doing everything wrong!
Or at least so I thought…
I believed at the time the best way to train was with body part splits where each muscle group was hit once per week. He was hitting each muscle group three times a week with total body workouts. As much as that didn’t fit my “dogma” of proper bodybuilding, I couldn’t argue with his results. I also couldn’t argue with my results either when I copied what he was doing and started getting similar gains.
So was there something wrong with my previous routine? No. It just turns out that there’s no one best way to train. Oftentimes the thing that your body will respond most to is something that it hasn’t adapted to yet.
That means switching up your routine to something different than what your current routine does.
Doing a high volume routine? Try a low volume higher intensity routine.
Doing once per week body part splits? Try 3 full body workouts each week.
Lifting heavy weights for low reps and long rest periods? Try lifting lighter weights with less rest.
The key thing is to recognize that whatever you’ve been doing for a while, it needs to be switched up to prevent the body from adapting. Just don’t keep switching it up every workout so your body never adapts to anything unless you have a set plan in place for how you’re going to progress.
(I should note, if you’re in a particular sport or Olympic lifting where building muscle is secondary to mastering a skill, this isn’t the best approach)
Periodization is a way of switching up the style of training throughout different periods of time to maximize performance and gains. There are different types of periodization, and it often takes the wisdom of a trainer to understand how to set up a training cycle to match an individual’s goals. But when done correctly, this is a powerful way to ensure you’re constantly making noticeable gains for the rest of your life.
If you’d like to learn more about how to implement one version of this advanced technique, I highly suggest this free article here.
If you’d like a proven program that already has a plan laid out for lasting gains for an entire year, fitness trainer JC Deen has a great one that I’ve checked out here.
I want to wrap up by making a note that it can be important to manage your expectations. If you’re still getting stronger each workout, even if it’s just adding a pound to a lift, that’s still progress!
If a person could add 5 pounds to every lift and a pound of body weight every week, then we’d all be 300 + pound monsters bench pressing 1000 pounds after a several years. Obviously, this doesn’t happen.
On the other hand, if you’ve been doing the same thing month after month and haven’t seen any gains, it may be time to reconsider your approach. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Leave a comment below to let me know how you plan on keeping your gains going strong.
By: Derek Doepker