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Athletes, weekend warriors, fitness fanatics, and those just trying to get in shape train for various reasons. Often time, goals can overlap amongst these different groups.

With advances in technology and our understanding of the human body, now more than ever, training to build mass has emerged at the forefront of fitness goals for people of all skill levels. Read below for 5 tips to train big.

1. Fuel

Intuitively, strength training seems to go hand-in-hand with building mass. What may be less clear, however, is what it takes to fuel your workout and optimize gains.

Ask yourself: “What do I eat? How much do I eat? When do I eat it?” If you do not know the answer to these questions, this is a great place to start prior to beginning a new training program.

Just as with any other meal plan, choosing the right foods is ideal. Since all calories are not created equal, it is best to choose single-ingredient foods like lean proteins (poultry, fish, etc.), healthy fats (nuts, oils, avocado), and complex carbs (oats, fruit, leafy vegetables).

There are 3500 calories in 1lb of body weight. This means that consuming an excess of 500 calories each day yields a 1lb weight gain each week. Adjust your meal plan to allow for no more than a 2lb weight gain each week.

Read “Calories Explained: How What You Eat Impacts What You Weigh”

Consuming more calories is best when spread throughout the course of the day. Rather than hoping to reach target intake with 2 or 3 large meals, plan for 4-6 smaller meals. Time meals so you can ingest healthy carbs, protein, and fat to fuel your workout, and immediately after to repair muscle and replace what you’ve burned.

Freshly prepared food is optimal, but protein supplements can be helpful. Be sure to check ingredient lists and watch out for products that are high in artificial preservatives and sugar.

2. Programming

Like your meal plan, your training regimen should be goal specific. Since the goal is to add mass in the form of muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), load and repetitions for each exercise should fall on the power/strength end of the spectrum.

Therefore, work sets should include loads at 80-100% of your 1 rep max (1RM), for 5-12 reps. Rest in between sets should also be optimized; plan 1-2 minutes to maximize hypertrophy, and 3-5 minutes to maximize strength.

Read the 4 “Steps To Developing A Killer Workout Plan”

Maximizing your gains isn’t all about knowing the numbers… you also need to choose the right exercises. Build your plan around core movements like bench press, squats, and deadlifts. Use variations of these activities to supplement your workout. Again, the goal is to build as much muscle as possible, so choose exercises that engage the most muscle groups.

With heavy training, splits that have 24-48 hours of rest between training the same muscle groups are ideal. Once you have identified a split that is right for you, target muscle groups with 3-6 multi-joint exercises, for 3-5 sets each. Overtraining can stifle gains; limit your sessions to about 1 hour.

Check out the “5 Signs You’re Overtraining”

3. Recovery

Heavy training is only part of the equation, albeit a very substantial one. Another key component is recovery.

Strength training is a catabolic process; appropriate rest is needed to rebuild the muscles that you have just broken down. This recovery comes in different forms, all of which are an important piece of the puzzle.

Rest in between sets, as stated previously, can be altered based on your fitness goals. In the case for gaining mass, rest is kept fairly short to maximize hypertrophy. This is extremely taxing, so the split must have built-in rest period for each muscle group you train.

For mass gains, a good night’s sleep is of the utmost importance! You spent an hour breaking muscles down; sleep is necessary as it is a period where the body’s anabolic hormones are active.

4. Monitor Progress

I am a big proponent of quantifying goals. If you aren’t tracking progress, what’s the point?

As mentioned previously, the quest for mass gains traverses people in multiple settings of varying skill levels.

If you want to build muscle for performance purposes, track any increases in load or repetitions performed to make sure you are on the right path.

If your goals are aesthetic in nature, make sure you are taking pictures regularly to monitor progress.

If your goal is to simply be the biggest version of you, than upper arm, chest, waist, buttock, hip, and calf measurements are key.

Quantifying goals can be beneficial in a number of ways; it allows for the direct visualization of progress, it reaffirms hard work, it provides motivation, etc.

5. Stay Safe

As always, safety should be considered. Nothing can set you back or limit your ability to obtain goals like an injury.

Prevent common injuries by utilizing a proper warm-up and cool-down.

Choosing the right exercises is one thing; knowing how to perform them is another. If you are unsure of the proper techniques, ask a professional!

Check out the “5 Minute Guide To Perfecting Your Form”

Training for gains requires moving some pretty hefty loads. Be sure to use a spotter when applicable. Bonus points for having a workout partner with similar goals.

Listen to your body. Know the difference between muscle soreness and joint pain.

For more on building mass, check out this great piece in T-Nation.

Take Home Points

  • Eat! Choose the right foods and make sure you have fuel for the workout, and replace what you burned afterwards. An extra 500 calories per day equates to an extra 1lb each week.
  • Your workout should match your goals. For hypertrophy lift 80-100% of your 1RM, for 5-12 reps, with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets.
  • Rest muscle groups for 24-48 hours prior to hitting them again. Sleep!
  • Track your progress. Make sure your goals are quantifiable. Checkpoint goals along the way to the major ones provide extra motivation.
  • Safety first. Utilize a good warm-up and cool-down, proper form, and a spotter.


Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S.


About Dr. Dugarte

Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S. is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has enjoyed success in sports, as well as academics. He accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend Kent State University and graduated, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. At Kent, Dr. Dugarte was a member of the Golden Flash Football Team and earned Academic All-American Honors as a defensive lineman.

He is currently the Research Fellow for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Dugarte has 8 years’ experience as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Keywords: mass; gains; strength; hypertrophy; fuel; safety; bench; squat; deadlift; build

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