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hardgainer workouts

Lifting Rep Range Rules for Building Muscle

If you struggle with building muscle and strength, this post is for you.

Let me tell you about a recent conversation between my buddy, Alex and I, after his workout.

We met for coffee when Alex walked in and said, “Man, this pump is insane. I think my muscles are already growing from that last set.”

Once a bro, always a bro.

As a backstory, Alex was new (again) to the gym.

He played sports in high school and lifted with his football team, but that’s about it. In college, he’d start training, mix in some yoga or a group exercise class, then stop.

He’d see progress, then get more interested in beer and chasing tail. Fair enough.

These days, Alex is 27, a few years into his career, and still primarily interested in beer and chasing tail. Again, I can’t blame the guy.

But now, he’s developed a bit of a gut. Long days at work and short nights have taken their toll and it’s starting to show. Alex has been lifting consistently now for six months, has lost a little fat and built muscle, but has since hit a plateau.

He’s losing motivation because he’s not seeing results and doesn’t know where to go for a new workout. So, he asked for a few pointers and knew how to get my help: by offering copious amounts of caffeine.

Alex’s workout (printed on the internet read)…
1. Barbell Bench Press 4×10 

2. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×12

3. Dumbbell Decline Bench Press 3×12
4. Cable Chest Flyes 3×15
5a. Triceps Push-down 3×10
5b. Assisted Dips 3×10

I took a drink of my coffee and dove in. 
Most muscle building advice for the average guy is flat out wrong. This was okay…but it could be much better.

Since Alex told me he wanted to be lean, but more muscular, kind of like an NFL linebacker I knew the look he was going for. 

I asked Alex, “is this what you’ve been doing for the last few months?”

Yes.

“Have you been able to get stronger on your bench press, or are your numbers staying the same?”

I made progress in the beginning, but not for a while.I haven’t been tracking them.

Alex was making two of the biggest problems in the book.

First, he wasn’t tracking his lifts. You must track your progress to lift heavier weights for more reps over time. Without pushing your body past what it’s currently able to do how can it grow bigger and stronger?

It can’t.

Second, Alex was only lifting in one rep range, the hypertrophy rep range. Now, it’s true the “best” rep range to build muscle is lifting moderately heavy weights for multiple sets of 8-12 reps. Still, this isn’t the whole picture. You need a variety of rep ranges to maximize lean muscular gains.

Save for advanced lifters who’ve been training consistently for years, building muscle a byproduct of getting stronger. This means you need to get stronger first and lift a bit heavier to maximize your progress.

The reason you’re not building size and strength isn’t due to a lack of effort. The reason is a lack of strength, not tracking workouts, and too little variety in rep ranges. Here’s what to do to fix it and get back to growing.


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How To Train For Maximum Muscle Growth

 

Strength First:
Mechanical tension, lifting a heavy load with a full range of motion, is a key component to muscle growth. In the example above, Alex wasn’t creating enough tension. If Alex were to add 50 pounds to his bench press, don’t you think he would be a stronger with more muscle? Of course. Strength and size are correlated.

If you’re like Alex, here’s how you fix it: Train heavier with low reps as the first exercise in your training. You don’t need to stomp around like a powerlifter; rather, pick one exercise each day and lift increasingly heavier weights for 3-8 reps.
Track your workouts in a notebook and add weight from week to week.

workout, muscle building rep range

Monday: Upper Body
Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds

Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week. 

Tuesday: Lower Body
Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week. 

Lifting heavy will help you recruit more muscle fibers, meaning you can fatigue them later on to grow. Equally as important, getting stronger allows you to lift heavier weights in the exercises coming up next. 

I can’t make it more clear: For most guys, the fastest way to get bigger is to get stronger. It’s as simple as picking a major movement like those listed above and getting stronger from week to week and month to month. 

 

Use The Bodybuilding Rep Range

The bodybuilding rep range, 8-15 reps with a moderate weight, is still an essential component of training to build muscle and should make up at least 50% of your training. These reps should be heavy, with 1-2 reps of failure, but not grinding reps.

This creates mechanical tension as well as keeps your muscles contracting for a longer time. This leads to another important muscle building component, metabolic stress.

Metabolic stress, also known as the “pump” occurs when muscles contract, yet blood can’t escape. This stressful environment triggers a number of muscle building factors. 

Here’s what you need to do you should do. Pick two or three compound exercises training your target muscles and lift 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps. 

Monday: Upper Body
1.Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds                                                                                                                                                           
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                   2a.Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                    2b.Dumbbell One Arm Row 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                                3. Dip 3×10-12, rest 60 seconds

Tuesday: Lower Body
1.Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                                       2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4×10, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                        3.Dumbbell Step Back Lunge 3×8/leg, rest 45 b/t legs                                                                                                                          4.Machine Leg Press 3×15, rest 60 seconds       

 

Mix In Higher Rep Training

To cap off your training, sprinkle in higher rep training. Do one exercise with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with short rest periods to maximize metabolic stress.

Additionally, you can use one exercise to failure. This exercise must be an isolation exercise, like a biceps curl or leg extension instead of a squat.  A recent study found when it comes to muscle growth, the same growth came from using 3 sets to failure with 30% max as 3 sets of 80%.

This means regardless of how heavy the weight is, training to failure maximizes muscle fiber recruitment and stimulates growth, even with lighter weight. This both saves your joints and preserves your nervous system while maximizing gains.

Applied to your training, you can train to failure but use isolation exercises. Keep the weight light and focus on technique. When your technique breaks down you’ve reached failure. Rest and repeat for 2-3 sets and call it a day.

 

Monday: Upper Body
1.Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds                                                                                                                                                            Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                  
2a.Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                     2b.Dumbbell One Arm Row 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                               3. Dip 3×10-12, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                                                 4.Triceps Pushdown 3×15, rest 30 seconds                                                                                                                                                         5. Cable Biceps Curl, 3xfailure, rest 30-60 seconds       

Tuesday: Lower Body
1.Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.   
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4×10, rest 60 seconds
3.Dumbbell Step Back Lunge 3×8/leg, rest 45 b/t legs
4.Machine Leg Press 3×15, rest 60 seconds
5. Leg Extension 2xfailure, rest 30-60
 seconds

 
Keep in mind, this works best only once you’ve gotten strong. Make strength your focus first. Spend the middle of your workout with moderate weight and reps. Then,  sprinkle in the high rep stuff at the end as the icing on the cake.
 

Wrap Up
If you’re like Alex and want to build a strong, muscular, and powerful body, you need to focus on a few keys to your training.

1. Build strength. Strength means tension, and greater tension in your muscles forces them to grow.  

2.Incorporate moderate rep, moderate load training as the “meat” of your workouts. This creates both tension and metabolic stress (the pump) to accelerate your gains.

3. Sprinkle in high-rep sets and failure work. This is the icing on the cake and can help you cap off your physique. 

4. Write down your workouts. It takes months to build muscle, not weeks with an occasional ” I’m taking time off” sprinkled in every month. Keep pushing to make consistent gains, track your workouts, and add weight to the bar. Do this and you’ll force your stubborn body to grown.

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Four Hardgainer Cardio Solutions

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Conditioning is the most overlooked aspect of building athletic muscle, especially for skinny dudes. After all, you need to do is eat, hoist huge weights, and eat some more and you’ll easily build muscle.

Or is it?

In today’s post, I’ll show you how to escape from hardgainer hell and improve your conditioning while simultaneously building high-performance muscle.

Building slabs of high-performance muscle isn’t just lifting and crushing your diet—you need specific conditioning for hardgainers for optimal muscular development, workout efficiency, and overall health.

What’s the point in being strong and jacked without the ability to use or sustain your athleticism?

conditioning for hardgainers

Yea, gaining mass is hard work, and along with the hard work comes a fear of over-conditioning and as a result, stalling muscle growth. Don’t fall for the belief that conditioning will zap your training to the detriment of your health and athletic performance.

When it’s all said and done the real badasses are strong and well-conditioned machines, not just muscular.

Don’t be like most scraggly hardgainers who avoid conditioning like it’s an Ebola-laced napkin. Your gains won’t hemorrhage out of all your orfices, far from it.

I’ve been around the block and spent my time as a hard-gainer. I’ve done moderate steady state cardio, kept volume super-low, and even skipped conditioning completely.

As a result, I’ve grown a smidge bigger, but I always lose athleticism, and gain a ton of fat.

Drop the “conditioning keeps me small” sob story—it’s time to maximize your training with well-planned and precisely executed conditioning. With these four conditioning methods you’ll build renewed athleticism and get jacked with minimal fat gain in your escape from hardgainer hell.

1) Low Volume Sprints

 Option One: Sprints Before Lifting: 

Sprinting before lifting is ideal for improving performance in athletes and potentiating the nervous system for heavy lifts and explosive training. This comes with a risk vs reward trade-off as sprinting done before training should be enough to spark the nervous system yet low enough in volume and intensity to not fatigue the body and hinder lifting ability.

Moreover, sprinting is a technical movement that needs practice. The most most nuerally demanding and explosive exercises need maximum focus and energy and thus, must done first in a workout.

That’s why jumps get scheduled before Olympic lifts or heavy strength work. The neural demands of sprints need full focus and energy for maximum performance at the beginning of your workout.

Perform low volume, short distance sprints before training rather than long-duration sprints when you’re already gassed and fatigued. Two days per week perform five sets of 10-20 yards with walk-back recovery and adding one sprint per week is ideal.

This way, you’ll condition the body to high velocity, high impact movement without excess stress and training volume to interfere with your gains. 

hardgainer conditioning

Option Two: Sprints at the end of your workout:

I’m a huge fan of sprints, agility drills, and movement skills, but there’s a catch:

Performing any coordinative skill under excess fatigue runs the risk of engraining a poor movement pattern and subsequent injury.

In other words, sprinting while exhausted from your hardgainer training is a great pop yo’ hammies, especially if you haven’t sprinted in ages.

While sprints are obviously a great exercise, and not inherently “bad” or dangerous, they’re a skill that requires mechanics and practice before piling on tons of volume, a process to which most gym rats aren’t willing to dedicate time.

That said, sprints as a conditioning tool do them with sub-maximal speeds and on a hill or incline. Using an incline and submaximal speeds prevents over striding and most hamstring related injuries.

If you go with this option sprint two days per week on a treadmill or hill. Don’t worry about the specifics; work your ass off for 10 minutes with 5-10 second sprints and 30-60 second rests. Increase your speed before the jacking up the incline to technique.

            Do your Sprints:

As a performance coach first I prefer sprints before any lifting because of the neural demands mentioned above. Being strong is important, but being athletic is more about movement than just being strong in the gym.

Without a base of movement it doesn’t matter how strong you are, inefficiencies in movement will hold back your high performance training.

Sprints fire up fast-twitch fibers and potentiate your nervous system for greater muscular recruitment and strength to keep your strong and shredded as you escape hardgainer hell.

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 2) Conditioning Complexes

Before going any further there is a clear distinction between complex pairs and conditioning complexes.

Complex pairs use a heavy strength movement and an explosive lighter movement in sequence to improve explosive performance. Complex pairs are an advanced training method for elite sports performance, which I covered in depth here on elitefts.

When it comes to conditioning I’m referring to barbell complexes: A series of major movement patterns performed in-series without rest. Better yet, complexes only take 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout to keep you lean while you get big and jacked.

Regardless of strength levels I’d recommend starting with an empty barbell. Speed and full range of motion are more important than weight. Besides, adding too much weight will hinder your recovery and conflict with the rest of your intelligent programming. Move as fast as possible through each exercise (with good form, ahem) and without putting the bar down. Your heart will be pulsating through your t-shirt, your lunges will scream, but damn you will be glad you did these.

“Rookie”

  • deadlift 4×12 rest 0
  • hang clean 4×12 rest 0
  • Military press 4×12 rest 0
  • front squat 4×12 rest 60-90 sec
hardgainer conditioning
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaredpolin/4560294699/

“The Olympian” 

Hang Snatch 3×10 Rest 0

Push Press 3×10 Rest 0

Hang Clean 3×10 Rest 0

Front Squat 3×10 Rest 0

Front Squat Reverse Lunge 3×10 Rest 0

High Pull 3×10 rest 60-90 sec

**Note: If you don’t know how to properly perform these exercises avoid this sequence. Never perform exercises without proper training, but even more with overhead lifts such as the Olympic lifts.

“The Widow Maker”

Overhead Press 2×10 Rest 0

back squat 2×10 Rest 0

reverse lunge 2×10 Rest 0

hang clean 2×10 Rest 0

front squat 2×10 Rest 0

  • bent over row 2×10 Rest 0
  • Romanian deadlift 2×10 Rest 0
  • Front Squat lunge 2×10 Rest 0
  • biceps curl 2×10 Rest 0
  • front squat hold calf raise 2×10 Rest 90-120 sec

Complexes are an ideal conditioning tool for hard-gainers once per week because they’re of short duration and high-density. As a result, the conditioning affects span beyond the immediate workout because of exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). In other words, your heart rate stays jacked up for greater cardiovascular benefit to keep you leaner while your building muscle.

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3)Jumping Rope

Hardcore exercises like sled pushes and sprints get all the glory, but one old school tool doesn’t’ get the attention it lightly deserves: the jump rope.

Jumping rope is low impact and not-overly catabolic—two huge factors in recover for hardgainers. Beyond that, jumping rope is safer than most conditioning drills for two reasons.

First, jumping rope is a self-limiting exercise: to jump rope without failing you must stay in an aligned, joint stacked position while moving, forcing your trunk to stay engaged and resilient under the load of movement. If you miss mess up, welt your calves or triceps, or catch a toe, the exercise ends. All of this makes it extremely unlikely to over-do it; and, even better, nearly impossible to incur injury.

Second, jumping rope is a low-impact movement, despite a high number of foot strikes. Here’s why this is important for us formerly skinny guys: the lower impact does not create a hyper-catabolic environment that will erode your precious hypertrophy like other repetitive impact exercises. In other words, you will get shredded without about dropping lean body mass.

For hardgainer conditioning Double-Unders and the Runnin’ Man are my two go-to conditioning drills with each being performed twice per week with at least 48 hours between workouts.
So, if I did double-unders as my focus on Monday I would wait until Wednesday or Thursday until my next jump-rope conditioning session.

Double Unders:

Exactly like it sounds—whip the jump rope two times in a row with one singular jump. Work up to sets of 10 and use a lighter rope, like the Cross Rope Burn set. Rests 30-60 seconds and continue on for 10-15 minutes or until your lungs and calves explode, your choice.

Runnin’ Man:

No, you don’t need the Running Man outfit Arnold wore in the movie, but that will increase your anabolism 400%. Fact. Seriously, I’m kidding. But, seriously.

Run in place while skipping the rope. Not only will this improve your coordination, it’s a deceptively tough conditioning workout. Go for time and work up to 10-15 minutes of continuous “running.” The impact is far less than your traditional steady state cardio or plodding along on the treadmill.

 

As it stands, the jump rope is the ultimate low impact tool for accelerated fat loss, conditioning, and improved athleticism for hard gainers.

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4) Sled Work

I’m a huge proponent of sled-work as a conditioning tool. Hardgainers are terrified of conditioning exercises overloading their recoverability and zapping their hypertrophy.

Besides building muscle, sled work gets better: 

Sleds have no eccentric stress—the stress incurred on the “negative” of resistance training exercises that causes the most muscle damage. For this reason, the volume accumulated with sleds won’t hinder recover to the same extent as other training methods.

Once the force applied to the sled exceeds that needed to overcome friction all muscular actions are concentric, resulting in increased total training volume and thus, increased protein synthesis for muscle building. For this reason, sled work is great to improve conditioning and muscle building without stressing the body past its recoverability.

In other words, sleds are a top tool to help you minimize fat gain and improve conditioning—especially if you’re a hustlin’ hardgainer with muscle building ambitions.

Hardgainer Cardio Solutions

It’s important to prioritize weight training as it’s the driving force for muscle building. Regardless, well planned conditioning is imperative to improve work capacity, improve athleticism, and keep you lean while you’re bulking. Conditioning one to three times per week, but absolutely no more.

Sample Conditioning Routine

Monday: Upper Body Training
Tuesday: Lower Body Training+ Sprint work

Wednesday: Off or Jump Rope

Thursday: Upper Body Training

Friday: Total Body Training + Sled Work
Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off 

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Wrap Up:

The hard to swallow fact is you still need some conditioning even if you’re looking to gain mass. Hypertrophy training is no reason to get fat and out of-shape—it’s a cop out for laziness and poor planning even for the locked in hard-gainer.

Train with these four conditioning methods you’ll build renewed athleticism and get seriously jacked with minimal fat gain in your escape from hardgainer hell.

 

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[A variation of this article was published on T-Nation]

The Best Cardio for Skinny guys

What you Need to Know:

  • Neglecting conditioning might help you you grow a smidge bigger, but at the cost of poor athleticism, and gaining enough marbeling around your abs to make a T-Bone steak cringe.
  • Sprinting before lifting is ideal for improving performance in athletes and potentiating the nervous system for heavy lifts and explosive training.
  • Complexes use major movement patterns in succession to challenge the cardiovascular system and muscles under fatigue in ten short minutes.
  • Jumping rope is a low impact exercise to preserve muscle mass while improving footwork and conditioning.
  • Sleds provide additional training volume without undue eccentric stress, preserving your recoverability.

All you need to do is eat, hoist huge weights, and eat some more and you’ll build muscle and become a jacked and diesel beast, right?

No.

As simple as it sounds escaping from hardgainer hell isn’t easy, especially if you want a body that’s athletic and shredded at the end.

Steady state cardio, endless exercises classes, and skipping cardio altogether aren’t options—they’ll just lead to skinnier with less muscle, and in the case of skipping cardio altogether, skinny fat and un-athletic and getting crossed over by 50 year old men at the local YMCA.

cardio for skinny guys

Contrary to popular media, your muscles won’t rot off at the mere sight of a treadmill. Your strength won’t erode and leave you crumbling under a barbell. Don’t be like most scraggly hardgainers who avoid conditioning like it’s an Ebola-laced napkin.

Conditioning is still vital to optimize athleticism, workout efficiency, and overall health.

In my latest article on T-Nation I cover the Best Cardio for Skinny guys to improve your conditioning, athleticism, and preserve your precious muscle.

 Continue Reading Here

P.S. Are you a Skinny Guy Looking to Gain Muscle? Here are Five Ways to for Skinny Guys to add Muscle

P.P.S. And here’s exactly How to Eat to Build Muscle: Escape From Hardgainer Hell Nutrition Guide

 

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