15 methods to gain more muscle mass

by Jason Stallworth

December 1, 2020

You’re on a mission to achieve one simple goal – you want to build more muscle mass.

You’re consistent in the gym and hungry to get to that next level. But the problem is you’re just not making the gains you expect.

That’s okay because you’re going to find some actionable solutions in this post. In fact, you’re going to get 15 ways to pack on more quality size and muscle.

Now, you may be familiar with some of these methods at a glance. But I’m going to dive deeper into each one and show you exactly how to use them to make more gains.

Oh, and you may want to go mix up your pre-workout drink because you’re going to want to hit the gym after reading this!

1 – Always Start with a Compound Exercises

Stiff Leg Deadlifts back and hamstrings workout

There are certain exercises that give you more bang for your buck, so to speak. And those are compound exercises.

Compound exercises are known for building strength, and lifting heavy will also help build bone density. Both are crucial because this is what will support your bodybuilding efforts.

Doing heavy compound lifts also develops your foundation of how much muscle mass you can carry later in years to come. If you take a look at the early career of many professional IFBB champions, they started out with powerlifting.

This doesn’t mean you have to become a powerlifter. But it’s important to start your workouts with a compound exercise.

Here are the 5 key compound lifts:

  • Squats – lower body/full body
  • Deadlifts – lower body/full body
  • Bench Press – upper body/mainly chest
  • Barbell Rows – upper body/mainly back
  • Overhead Barbell Press – upper body/mainly shoulders

If you’re just getting started, be sure to read my post: Fundamentals of Weight Training

2 – Force Your Muscles to Work Harder

Building muscle mass is more than just lifting heavy weights. It’s not about just moving the weight from point A to B (you’ll hear me say that in many of my posts on this site!).

Building muscle requires you to force your muscles to do the work by making them work harder. In other words, if you’re lifting 100 lbs you want to make that 100 lbs feel like 200.

One of the ways you can do this is by focusing on the eccentric part of the movement, often called the negative. This means you’re controlling the weight, which forces more stress on the muscle.

You also want to contract the muscle at the peak of each rep. This will help bring out more muscularity and shape to your muscles. And in essence, you’re forcing your muscles to do more work.

So when you’re training, remember this:

  • Take a little more time on the eccentric part of the part (the negative)
  • Control the weight as you lift, forcing your muscles to work harder and making that weight feel heavier than what it is
  • Contract your muscles at the peak of each rep

3 – Don’t Stay in the Gym Too Long (or Too Often)

Overtraining can be a ‘huge’ problem that can hinder your ability to gain muscle size. I know that doesn’t sound hardcore but…

The fact is that your muscles do not grow in the gym while you’re training. They grow as a result of proper rest and recovery.

“If you really want to put on mass, try to train each bodypart only once per week. At first, when you reduce your workout frequency you’ll probably feel that you’re not doing enough, but remember while you rest is the only time you grow. You don’t grow in the gym. You grow when you’re home, with your ass on the couch, drinking a protein shake and watching something stupid on TV.”

Quote from IFF Pro Dennis James in ‘How to Get Mass-ve: Train Less and Grow More, muscleandfitness.com

Now, there are some that will argue that overtraining is a myth. And it is true that many don’t under-train as much as they under-eat – we’ll get to nutrition later in this post.

Even so, once you break down that muscle, any further work could do more harm than good. Training 4-5 days a week for about an hour each session should do the trick for gaining mass.

4 – Use Techniques to Make Your Workouts More Intense

Cable Flyes chest squeeze

At certain points during your workouts, you want to make them more intense. The purpose of intensity is to break down the muscle to the point that it can grow bigger (assuming you’re getting proper rest and recovery).

This goes along with what we just talked about in the 3rd method. You want to train as less but that means you’ve got to make every workout count.

Here are some techniques you can use to ramp up your training intensity:

  • Rest-pause sets: This is often done towards the end of your workout and on the final set. You perform a set, rest for a short amount of time, like 15-20 seconds, and perform another set using the same weight. It’s as brutal as it sounds!
  • Drop sets: Another technique usually performed towards the end of your workout. Perform a set then immediately reduce the weight by about 30% and perform another set.
  • Negatives: This is taking longer on the eccentric part of the rep, forcing your muscles to work harder (we’ll talk more about that later!)

You can read about more ways to increase your training intensity in this post: 7 Weight Training Techniques to Increase Intensity

5 – Leave Your Ego at the Door

If your chest workout consists of maxing out on the bench press every time you step foot in the gym, you’re going to be disappointed in how your physique looks.

On that note, how many times have you seen someone load up the leg press only to see that they have skinny legs?

Many want to look like a bodybuilder and they get that confused with being a strong as they possibly can.

Back to the beginning, yes, you want to be strong and lift heavy at the beginning of your workout. But you don’t want to go to the extreme to where you’re struggling to lift a weight with bad form and that you can only do for 1-2 reps. You also don’t want that one lift to be the focus of your entire workout.

This is a trap that’s easy to fall into, especially if you’re young or new to weight training. The problem is this is only feeding your ego. It’s not going to help you build size or defined muscle mass.

If you’re new to bodybuilding, I strongly encourage you to read this post: Bodybuilding for Beginners: Complete Workout and Guide to Getting Started with Weight Training

6 – Don’t Get Overwhelmed or Overthink Muscle-Building

Just as you’re reading this blog post on the internet (and thank you!), there’s an overload of information out there. Especially in the fitness and muscle-building arena.

That said, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. And overwhelm typically leads to paralysis by over-analysis.

Overthinking can cause you to freeze and will often put a screeching half on productivity. This goes far beyond the gym; this is true with most things in life.

Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, always revert back to the basics…

  • Start with a heavy compound movement
  • Force your muscles to work hard
  • Rest and recover (we’ll get more into that later)

7 – Write Down Your Goals and Document Your Progress

If you’re serious about building mass, you need to be able to measure your goals (and have goals, in the first place).

It’s not a bad idea to go the old school route and write down your goals on a piece of paper. Or if you prefer to do this in a spreadsheet, that’s fine, too.

Also, make sure your goals are specific. Sure, you want to gain muscle mass, but…

  • But how much mass do you want to pack on?
  • How big do you want your quads to be?
  • What’s the ideal body fat you want to get to?
  • Do you have goals for certain lifts?

Write all of that kind of stuff down.

In addition, make sure you’re measuring your progress along the way. You can use the good ole pen and paper or a spreadsheet for this (I recommend using the same as you use for your goals and keeping that all together).

8 – Have a Plan and Stick to It

There’s an old saying that people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.

If you’re just showing up to the gym without a plan you’re greatly limiting your potential for gaining muscle mass.

You may not need to write out every detail of your workouts, though that’s not a bad idea. But you should at least know ahead of time what muscle you’re training that day and have a good idea of the exercises, sets, and reps you’re going to do.

You should also have a workout schedule that you’re sticking to. Here’s an example of a simple 4-day a week training split:

  • Monday: Chest and biceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: rest
  • Thursday: Back
  • Friday: Shoulders and triceps
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

I encourage you to check out my elite training programs. And you’ll find programs that cater to your specific goals: Get Started

9 – Know When to Change Your Workouts

When it comes to training and workout programs, most everything works. But it will only work for so long.

Your muscles will eventually adapt to the exact same workouts. This is when you hit that inevitable plateau and stop making gains.

That means it’s time to make some changes to your workout program. And these don’t always have to be a drastic change. It could be that you make subtle changes, enough to shock your muscles into growth.

Here are some ways you make changes to your weight training routine:

  • Change the order of some of the exercises
  • Switch up your training days for each muscle
  • Add new techniques to increase your intensity
  • Change the rep ranges for certain exercises
  • Increase (or reduce) your overall training volume
  • Change the time of day you train (ex: go from evenings to early mornings)

These are just a few things you can try to change up your workouts.

Also, my elite programs having you make subtle changes throughout the program (this is a big part of why my programs produce results). Check out my elite programs here.

10 – Do a Variety of Exercises

hammer strength iso-lateral row - back exercise

As I mentioned in the first method, you should never neglect the basic compound exercises. However, you also need to expand beyond that.

Building muscle mass isn’t about being the strongest person in the gym. It’s about building muscle size and developing symmetry. What’s the point if you have muscle but can’t see it?

One way to bring out those striations is to build the different parts of each muscle. And you do this by training the muscle from different angles.

Here’s an example of a chest workout implementing this method:

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 6
Incline Dumbbell Press3 x 8
Decline Bench Press3 x 10
Cable Flyes3 x 12

As you can see, you’re targeting different areas of your chest muscles. This gives you the balance you need and also helps you attain that bodybuilder look you’re going for.

If you’d like to read more about building and developing your chest, check out this post: How to Define and Shape Your Chest: Hitting Chest from All Angles Workout

11 – Use Both Low and High Rep Ranges

The standard bodybuilding rep range is between 8-12 reps. There’s a good reason for that.

This allows you to lift heavy enough weights to challenge and overload the muscle. And it also ensures you’re pumping enough blood into the muscle. Both aspects are needed for muscle growth.

But you don’t want to stick to just 8 reps or just 12 reps. And sometimes you may want to go a little heavier and only do about 6 reps while other times you may go for 15-20 reps for specific exercises.

And you don’t want to just do one or the other. The best way is to have a balance of rep ranges in your workouts. This will help you work all of the different muscle fibers.

Here’s an example of a back workout (similar to the chest workout you read about in the last method, #10):

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows4 x 6-8
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8
Seated Rows3 x 10
Lat Pulldowns3 x 12
Cable Pullovers3 x 15

To read more about developing that V-taper for back, check out my post: Train Back Twice A Week to Build Ripped Muscle Mass (Full Workout Routine)

12 – Listen to Your Body

We talked about overtraining earlier. But sometimes your body is simply telling you to back off a little, or maybe even take a short break away from the gym.

It’s easy to become intimidated by those you preach going all-out, all the time, and not training half-assed. There’s some truth to that, but there can also be a dangerous and unintelligent side to that.

Let’s say you have a particular muscle that’s sore and to the point where it’s causing you pain. Let’s say that muscle is one or both of your quads. Today is leg day and there’s no way you’d miss leg day…that’s an unforgivable sin!

Here’s the problem. If you ignore that soreness or pain and train your legs anyway, you could damage that muscle (or joints) to the point where it puts you out of commission for several days, if not weeks.

That’s just one example of many. The bottom line here is to listen to your body.

In regards to training heavy and injury, be sure to read my post: How to Lift Heavy Without Injury – 5 Methods

13 – Don’t Overdo Cardio

Cardio is good. In fact, most everyone needs to do some type of cardiovascular exercises 3-4 times a week.

But when your goal is to pack on muscle mass, you don’t wan to overdo your cardio. And you also don’t want cardio to get in the way of your muscle gains.

Here are some practical ways you can get big while still keeping some cardio in your regimen, and without it eating into your muscle gains:

  • Do your cardio on your non-weight training days (if you’re training 4 days a week, this would give you 3 days a week of cardio)
  • Do your cardio separate from your weight training workouts
  • If you must do cardio at the same time as your weight training sessions, do your cardio last and make sure to drink some branched-chain amino acids during cardio

14 – Eat Protein, Carbs, and Fats (Say NO to Fad and Trendy Diets)

Mexican food for mass

Nutrition is the most important role when it comes to building muscle mass. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to go to the gym and train hard. That’s not where most people have the issue. Most have issues with food.

That said, don’t fall into the latest trendy diet. For building muscle mass, you need to be eating all macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats.

To optimize your body and potential to pack on quality size, you need a balanced diet. I know that sounds outdated and boring, but it’s really that simple. So, as mentioned in method #6, don’t overthink your diet.

Mike O’Hearn breaks down basic bodybuilding nutrition in this video. He also shares with you the importance and purpose of each macronutrient. To paraphrase…

  • Protein is for building muscle
  • Carbs are for energy
  • Fats are for health

If you need help with planning your meals and what to eat, be sure to read my post: Bodybuilding Meals and Recipes: Anabolic Cooking Review

15 – Sleep Deep

Right up there with nutrition, getting restful sleep is crucial for gaining muscle mass.

If you’re training hard but staying up late partying and only getting a few hours of sleep, you’re not going to grow. Or at least, not to your full potential.

Or, if you’re going to bed at a decent time but not getting deep, quality sleep, you’re still hindering your potential for gains.

Your muscles recover and grow while you’re sleeping. Just as well, this is the time when your hormones (testosterone and growth hormone) are being optimized.
**You can learn more about boosting your testosterone in this post: How to Gain Ripped Muscle Mass with TestoFIERCE

Here are some practical things you can do to ensure you’re getting restful sleep so that your muscles can recover and grow:

  • Most importantly, relax your mind an hour or more before bedtime
  • On the above note, don’t watch or read anything that’s going to get your emotions ramped up
  • In addition, don’t allow yourself to get involved with any type of negativity or anything that you would be tempted to dwell on before bed
  • Read or watch something relaxing and ‘light’ before bed
  • Do a deep stretching or Yoga session a couple of hours before bed
  • Drink a cup of decaffeinated green tea like Sleepy Time Tea
  • Consider taking an herbal supplement like melatonin or ZMA before bed

Gain More Quality Size and Muscle Mass

Packing on more muscle mass isn’t just about getting bigger. It’s about gaining quality size.

In other words, you don’t want to just fill out a medium (or a ‘s-medium’) t-shirt.

You want to have big and visible muscles. And these 15 methods will help you achieve that!

Train with Passion,

Jason