mass building workout plan

by Jason Stallworth

October 13, 2019

There’s only one thing on your mind right now. And that’s gaining mass.

Like that Metallica song ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and then you add your part… ‘Except for Gaining Mass!’

Okay, so that was kind of cheesy, but you get it.

In this post, you’re going to get a complete mass building workout plan for beginners. But let me be 100% upfront with you…

This is NOT a ‘gain muscle fast’ program. That does NOT exist, so get it out of your head! This mass workout plan is going to be a butt-load of hard work and dedication on YOUR part!

Why this is the BEST Workout Plan for YOU (About)

I’ve had a passion for weight training for most of my life, and a deep appreciating for the physical, mental, and health benefits that come with it. And you can experience these benefits too!

Your goal is simple; to gain size and shape your muscles. However, this program isn’t about getting big or gaining weight as much as it is about gaining muscle. There’s a ‘huge’ difference (okay, the ‘huge’ pub was intended!)

In all seriousness, you want muscle gain – you DO NOT want to look like the Staypuff Marshmellow Man. If you gain a ton of weight but can’t see any muscle definition or striations, then you gained more fat than muscle.
**It’s easy to get caught up in this when you’re a beginner! Don’t!

This program is a collaboration of my experiences over the decades, learning from some of the most amazing mentors as well as my own trial and error.

And like I mentioned, there are no secret methods to ‘gain mass fast’ or any of that crap other people will try to sell you. The exercises and techniques that you will use in this program are ones that actually work, and I still use them today.

Are you ready to get started?

Your Mass Program at a Glance

deadlifts back day lower body day

You’re going to train 4 days a week and work each muscle once a week. Your new workout plan is based on the plan that old school bodybuilders built their massive physiques with, which look much better than the modern physiques.

***You need to follow this program for at least 8 weeks!

Here’s a glance at your new mass building workout split:

  • Monday: Back, Biceps, and Cardio
  • Tuesday: Chest, Triceps, and Cardio
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Legs and Cardio
  • Friday: Shoulders and Cardio
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Each workout will start with a compound exercise. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, barbell rows and bench press are required for building your foundation of muscle mass.

*If you’re new and want to become more familiar with compound exercises, read my post: Fundamentals of Weight Training.

That’s the perfect beginner’s guide to the core lifts and how to do them.

However, this is not a powerlifting program. Once you do your compound lift, you’re going to move into different exercises that target the specific muscle you’re working on.

And you’ll also incorporate some bodybuilding techniques to make these exercises more intense. This is where you truly build muscle mass and shape.

Bodybuilding Exercises for Building Mass

Now let’s explain the best exercises for building mass. They are basic and you are more than likely familiar with all of them. But I’ll go through in each one below…

Chest Exercises

Bench Press – Lie on the bench and plant your heels firmly on the floor. Lower the weight towards your chest with control and press the weight back up to the starting position. Keep your rear on the bench and don’t arch your back too much (a slight arch is ok).

Dumbbell Press (Inlcine) – Same concept with the bench press, only you’re using dumbbells and you’re on a standalone bench. Some like to bring the dumbbells together at the top of the movement to get a better contraction. Dumbbell presses can be performed at different angles on a flat, incline, or decline bench. 

Dumbbell Flyes – Lie on a standalone bench. Rather than pressing the weight, you’ll be lowering the weight away from your body with your palms facing each other. Think of this exercise as hugging a tree. Dumbbell flyes can be performed at different angles on a flat, incline, or decline bench.

Shoulder Exercises

Seated Overhead Press – This is a compound exercise for shoulders performed with the barbell. Starting from your chest, press the barbell up straight over your head. A special note: make sure you’re doing an overhead press, not a modified incline bench press. This is a typical mistake many make. You can also do this exercise standing, but don’t expect to be able to push as much weight standing. 

Lateral Raises – Holding dumbbells by your side, bring your arms up with a slight, yet secure bend in your elbows. Do not sway or jerk the weight up. You’ll also see bent over raises. This is the same concept but done bent-over in order to target your rear deltoids. 

Leg Exercises

Squats – With the barbell sitting across your lower traps, slowly and with total control squat towards the floor going just a little below parallel. You can use explosive power back to the starting-standing point. * Do not round your back.

Leg Press – Seated in the leg press machine, lower the weight towards your body in a controlled manner. Press the weight back up to the starting point. *Use your heels to press; this will help put the pressure on your quads and take pressure off of your knees. 

Leg Extensions – Seated on the leg extension machine, push the weight up using your quads and flex your quads at the peak of the movement. Control the weight as you lower it back down. 

Leg Curls – Think leg curls as bicep curls for your legs. You’re curling your legs towards your rear, in which your hamstrings act like your biceps do in this movement. There are different types of leg curl machines. The most common are standing, seated, and lying leg curls. 

Calve Raises – Think of calve raises as standing on your tiptoes but with extra resistance. There are several types of calve raises. Seated and standing are the most common. You can also do these on the leg press machine (keep the platform locked) or with a barbell on your shoulders as if you were doing squats. 

Back Exercises

Deadlifts – Start with the loaded barbell on the floor and grip the bar about shoulder width. Pull the weight up using your leg muscles and allow your back muscles to support the lift. Look straight ahead throughout the lift, keeping your shoulders back and DO NOT round your lower back. 

* You will notice I mentioned do not round your back on several exercises. You should NEVER round your back on any exercise. I placed emphasis on those specific exercises as you may be more prone to round your back on those. Rather, you should have a slight arch and force your muscles do the work, not your lower back. 

Seated Rows – On the seated row machine, pull the cable towards your stomach as far back as you can. Do not round your back. Control the weight on the way back to the way back to the starting position.

Barbell Rows – With the bar in front of you on a rack (about waist-high), grip the bar about shoulder-width and pick it up. Slowly get into a bent-over position (do not round your lower back). Looking straight ahead, pull the bar into your stomach and control the weight as you lower it. You can perform barbell rows with an overhand or underhand grip, depending on which back muscles you want to recruit more of.   

Dumbbell Rows – Place one knee on a bench and grip the dumbbell with the opposing hand. Pull the dumbbell up towards your side (the front of the dumbbell should touch your chest). Lower the dumbbell back down towards the floor. 

Lat Pulldowns – Grip the bar about shoulder-width on the lat pulldown machine and pull the bar down towards your chest. You can lean back a little but do not swing or jerk the bar down (aka no cheating). 

Arm Exercises

Overhead Dumbbell Extensions – The most common way to perform this exercise is seated. This is where you press a dumbbell over your head with both hands on one end of the dumbbell. Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head and press it back to the starting position. 

Cable Pressdowns – You can use a straight bar, cambered bar, or even the ropes for this exercise. Standing straight facing the weight stack with your arms close to your side, press the bar down towards the ground in front of you. Do not let your elbows flare out and keep your form strict.

Standing Barbell Curls – Standing straight up using the barbell or EZ bar (cambered bar), curl the bar up towards your torso without swaying or jerking the weight. If you sway or cheat, it means you need to reduce the amount of weight. Focus on making your biceps do the work. 

Dumbbell Hammer Curls – Holding the dumbbells by your side, curl them up in front of you one arm at a time. There are a couple of variations of dumbbell curls. The hammer movement means keep your palms facing your body. Alternate curls are where you start at the hammer position and twist your wrist out as you curl the weight up. You can also just do straight dumbbell curls with your wrists facing out throughout the movement.

Mass Building Workout Plan

working out at the gym bodybuilding

Are you ready for the good stuff? This is exactly what you’re going to be doing for the next 8 WEEKS!

It’s going to be a combination of the heavy compound lifts with exercises that isolate specific muscles that we talked about.

Before you start these workouts, I want you to get this into your head:

  • You WILL gain size and mass
  • You WILL pack on dense, quality muscle
  • NOTHING will stop you from reaching this goal!

Read this every day if you have to! Mike Bewley goes more in-depth with how your mindset impact building muscle in his article Building Lean Muscle, Part 1: Mindset, on the Volt Athletics blog.

Now let’s get to your workouts…

Mass Building Workout 1

You’ll start your workout week by training your largest upper body muscle. And your back is arguably the most important upper body muscle.

Back is ‘huge’ (yes, a huge back is your goal!) and it’s a complex muscle. Because you’re just starting with mass training, you’ll cover the basics. The good news is these basic exercises will hit most angles of your back, and these will help you pack on the most upper body muscle mass.

Back

ExerciseSets x Reps
Deadlifts4 x 8, 6, 3, 3
Barbell Rows4 x 8
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8
Lat Pulldowns3 x 10
Seated Rows3 x 12

Mass Building Workout 2

Chest and Biceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 8, 8, 6, 6
Incline Dumbbell Press4 x 10
Dumbbell Flyes4 x 12
Barbell Curls3 x 10
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3 x 12

The most common (uh-um…favorite) two muscles to train are chest and biceps. So it almost makes sense to put them in the same workout.

The real reason why you’re training chest with biceps is the contrast. There’s a fire that sparks when training agonist an antagonist muscles together (push > pull).

You can read more about this concept in this post (this is a more advanced workout plan for later): Push-Pull-Legs Program.

Mass Building Workout 3

Legs

Your legs need a day all to themselves. This is where many bodybuilders fall short, especially beginners.

Starting with heavy squats for mass and strength, you’ll move on to higher rep ranges after that. The types of muscle fibers in your quads tend to respond better to higher reps (you’ll do high reps for leg press and leg extensions).

Hamstrings are a little different. The 10-12 rep range works quite well for hams.

Greg Nuckols explains more about how to train the different muscle fibers in his article Training Based On Muscle Fiber Type: Are You Missing Out? on Stronger By Science blog.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats4 x 8, 8, 6, 6
Leg Press5 x 12
Leg Curls4 x 10
Leg Extensions4 x 15
Seated or Standing Calve Raises5 x 15

Mass Building Workout 4

Shoulders and Triceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Barbell Press4 x 8, 8, 6, 6
Lateral Raises4 x 10
Overhead Dumbbell Extensions4 x 12
Cable Pressdowns4 x 12

You’ll end your mass building workouts with shoulders and triceps. This is an awesome combination that I think you’ll really enjoy.

Shoulders do not require the same amount of volume as other main upper body muscles. Why? Because you hit shoulders when you train chest and back.

That said, you’ll focus a little more on triceps (than biceps) by doing more sets. This is because your triceps are a much larger muscle than your biceps. So they require more focus, and you will gain massive arms this way!

*I often train biceps and triceps with shoulders. You can read more about why in this post: Training Shoulders and Arms Together

Mass Building Tips

jason stallworth the muscle program

In this section, I’ll cover some helpful tips on how to get the most out of your workouts. I’ll break it down by body part but I also want you to be aware that there are some basic principles to follow when training for mass. 

Although I’m a firm believer in lifting heavy weights to gain size, I’ll also be the first to say it’s not so much how much you lift.

Rather, it’s how you lift. If you recall earlier, I stated that building muscle mass if far more than simply moving a bunch of weight from point A to point B. You need to feel the muscle working throughout the lift. 

Clay Hyght, DC has an awesome article on the T-Nation website called Feeling the Muscle VS. Moving the Weight that goes deeper into this for actually building your muscles.

Chest Mass Training Tips

Building muscle mass for chest requires a bit more dynamics in your training. So it’s essential to incorporate both heavy compound exercises for chest using a low to moderate rep range (increasing the weight each set) and end with hammering out more reps to increase flood flow to the muscle.

Remember, lifting heavy weights and compound exercises do indeed build muscle mass. However, there are other mass building elements as well.

I must reiterate here that you’re not powerlifting; you’re building the muscle tissue. That’s why the isolation exercises should be included in your chest workouts. Remember, you need to make the muscle work; don’t just go through the motions.

One last note on chest training is you need to find a trusted spotter. And this person needs to be honest with you. I’ve seen a lot of people lift the weight up for their training partner; this is not a true spot. It’s obviously ok to help with those last few reps but your spotter should be making you work for it. Get a good spotter and be a good spotter.

Back Mass Training Tips

Beginners often make the mistake of neglecting their back muscles. They’re not as visible as say, chest, and biceps.

But the truth is you need to train your back harder than any other upper body muscle group as back makes up the majority of upper body muscle mass. Also, I personally like to add a little more volume to my back workouts than with other upper body muscle groups.

With back, you also need to make sure you’re getting a full range of motion. Remember, your back is more complex than other upper body muscles. So it needed to be treated differently, with more attention to detail.

In other words, make every rep count! Do not use bad form or half reps when training back if you’re serious about gaining mass.

Leg Mass Training Tips

When people see the word ‘massive’ they tend to think lower reps. Whereas this is true with most body parts, your legs (especially quads) have more slow-twitch muscle fibers. For many, this means you’ll experience more mass gains from higher reps.

Don’t get this confused with going light. Obviously you’re not using weights that you can only get for a few reps. But don’t lighten the load too much as you will be surprised how much you can push yourself to the next level with leg training.

The one exception is squats. I’m personally a firm believer in doing heavy squats. But for every exercise after, such as leg press and leg extensions, you should pump out those reps.

DO NOT be one of those people that loads up the leg press with as many 45 pound plates that can fit and only goes down 2 inches. That’s not a rep! Train your legs, not your ego!

**I also recommend throwing in a second leg workout each week. Why spend 3 days on your upper body and only 1 day on legs? It just doesn’t make sense. After you finish this article, read my post: Training Legs Twice a Week: Build Huge Legs

Shoulder Mass Training Tips

Your shoulders are one muscle group that gets worked a little with almost every upper body exercise.  However, if you want massive shoulders you also need to hit them directly on their own day.

You should train shoulders with just as much intensity, but you may find that you don’t have to do as much volume. 

I like to keep my shoulder workouts simple. Heavy presses followed by lateral movements are an excellent way to build big shoulders. 

Triceps Training Tips

The ‘bulk’ (ah, another bodybuilder pun!) of your arm mass is going to come from your triceps. I see a lot of bodybuilders working biceps several times a week but do the bare minimum for their triceps. That’s not going to build huge arms. 

If you want massive arms -busting arms you’ve got to train for triceps hard, heavy, and intense. Proper form and using full range of motion are going to be what separates your triceps from the norm. 

An article on the Simply Shredded website gives you the common mistakes NOT to make when training triceps here: Top 5 Common Triceps Mistake and How to Correct Them.

Biceps Training Tips

Biceps, like chest, tend to be a favorite body part to train among many. This is one of those muscles that are extremely visible and it can be self-inspiring to see your arms pumping up during a set of curls. 

The best tip I can give you here is to make sure you perform the exercises for biceps correctly. In other words, don’t try to go so heavy that you’re swinging the weight up. Use a weight that you can get a good 8-12 clean reps with. 

Start Building Mass Today

Are you going to start this mass building workout plan today? Tomorrow? This week?

Don’t just read this and think ‘This sounds cool!’ but then not do anything with you.

You have a complete mass building workout plan with all the information you need, so I strongly urge you to start ASAP!

Here are some additional resources for you (these are all posts within my site, The Muscle Program):

Complete Bodybuilding for Beginners Guide
Jason’s Simple Bodybuilding Meal Plan
Fundementls of Weight Training

**If you’re ready to take your gains to the next level, then check out my premium program for mass gains:

Hardcore Muscle Building Program (Complete 12 Week Plan)

Train with Passion,

Jason

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