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How to Set Up a Mass Building Workout

How to Set Up a Mass Building Workout

When first starting out with a mass building workout routine, people often get lost in the deluge of information out there. Despite what most marketing pitches in the fitness industry will tell you, like most things in life, there is no single program or solution to get the body of your dreams. Instead, there are optimal strategies depending on your goals, experience level, genetics, age and time commitment. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this information is nonsense or bro-science and can be impossible for a beginner to sift through. I could write an entire book breaking down what is optimal for each individual situation, but if you have a general understanding of the principles involved, you can tweak a routine for yourself and avoid detrimental mistakes. So, with this article, I am going to try to provide a good starting point for how to set up a mass building workout that is functional and effective. However, keep in mind that if your diet is not aligned with your fitness goals, you will make no progress, so I highly suggest you start by reading How to Set Up a Mass Building Diet.


Body Part Split (Frequency)

Deciding on your body part split (the days you will work out each muscle group) is the most basic and most frequently screwed up part of a mass building workout. A lot of the bodybuilding routines you will find are ineffective unless you have amazing genetics or are using steroids. The concept you need to think about is frequency, which refers to how often you work out each muscle group. Many typical routines advise low frequency workouts, such as the extremely common one muscle group a day workout. This is the absolute worst way to work for the majority of lifters–especially beginners. If you are only working out each muscle group once a week, this is the first thing you should change.

So what split should you use? Well, this depends on your experience level and time you can dedicate to the gym. As an absolute beginner or someone with little time to commit, I suggest using a full-body split three times a week as this will allow you to progress the fastest. If you are a little more experienced, a frequency of two per week is even better. These routines will usually be 4-5 day splits like Upper body/Lower body or Push/Pull/Legs. As long as you have the right overall frequency and change your routine once in awhile, the actual split you pick comes down more to personal preference and available time.


Sets/Reps (Volume)

The next important concept to consider when designing mass building workouts is volume, or the number of sets and reps that will be performed each day. Many typical bodybuilding programs focus only on high volume (3-5 sets of 8-12 reps) structures and “feeling the burn.” Muscle soreness and burn has no relationship with your progress and many beginners fall into the trap of overtraining, which significantly stalls progress. Instead of thinking you have to hit a certain total for every lift, it is better to think about weekly volume. In general, you should target between 60 and 120 reps for each week for large muscle groups and around half of that for small muscle groups.

The number of reps performed each set depends on your overall fitness goal. Generally, reps in the 1-6 range target strength, reps in the 6-12 range target muscle size and growth or hypertrophy, and reps in the 13+ range target muscular endurance. Although you will progress in both size and strength using any rep range, the ones provided are the most optimal for targeting a specific goal. Most of the readers of this site are looking to get bigger, and are eating an appropriate diet for this, so if this is your goal, I suggest working larger muscle groups in the 6-8 range and smaller muscle groups in the 10-12 range.


Specific Lifts

In general, a mass building workout to focus the vast majority of time and effort on compound lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, pullups, etc.) instead of isolation exercises (bicep curls, flyes, lateral raises, etc.) You don’t have to completely eliminate isolation exercises from your routine, but start with the heavy compound lifts and spend most of your time and effort on these. These lifts work more muscle fibers and will be responsible for most of the progress in your strength and size. I’ve provided some suggestions for the most effective lifts to include in your routine under the Muscle Group Workouts for Mass category.


Tracking For Success (Progressive Overload)

By far the most important concept to making progress on any mass building workout is progressive overload. This means consistently increasing the stress on the muscles during training. The easiest way to assure that you are consistently increasing weight and/or volume is to track your workouts each week. Every time you move up in your selected rep range, increase the weight you are lifting and start over at the bottom of the rep range. By pushing yourself to improve every time and making sure that you actually are by writing it down, you will stimulate hypertrophy and progress as quickly as possible.

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