Mass Building Tips for each body part

by Jason Stallworth

November 11, 2020

There are no secrets or shortcuts to gaining muscle mass. It takes consistency, patience, and hard work.
Most people don’t want to hear that, but just by reading this means that you’re not most people!

But there are some tactics you can use to maximize your gains, naturally. In fact, oftentimes just one or two slight changes in the way you perform an exercise can make all the difference in faster muscle growth.

In this post, you’re going to learn tactics that will help you gain more muscle mass in a shorter period of time. And I’m even going to break this down by sharing specific methods for muscle growth for each body part.

Are you ready to make some serious mass gains? Keep reading!

PERSONAL NOTE: I’m giving you the things that I’ve learned over the past few decades of training, starting out as a skinny hardgainer. But I can’t take credit for everything…

Much of what I’ve learned came from what other generous bodybuilders and weightlifters have taught me. I want to pass this down to you to help you make faster gains and also avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made over the years.

Most of us gym rats, from recreational lifters like myself to pro bodybuilders, we’re pretty cool people and have a passion for helping others grow!

Principles for Building Muscle Mass

Before we get into specific muscle training tips, let’s cover the 3 core principles of gaining muscle mass:

  1. Progressive Muscle Overload: Muscle growth happens when you break the muscle down enough to where you can repair the muscle through rest and nutrition, allowing the muscle to grow larger.
  2. Adequate Training Volume: In layman’s terms, you need to do enough sets and reps for your muscles to grow. This is why the majority of successful bodybuilders stick to 3-4 sets o 8-12 reps for each exercise.
  3. Growth and Recovery: You don’t grow while you’re in the gym, you grow while you’re resting and getting the proper nutrition you need to help your muscles recover.

Some may say there are more principles than this but they will more than likely fall under one of the three I provided you above. And I like to keep things simple for you.

You can use different strategies and methods to gain size. But the principles do not change. If you stray from these, you may still make some progress but you won’t be maximizing your full potential for muscle growth.

IMPORTANT TIP: 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.

You’ll hear this reiterated below. Building muscle mass is 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. 

This means you have to force your muscles to work harder, and you’ll learn how to do that below.

Chest Mass-Building Tips

Cable Flyes chest squeeze

Building a massive chest requires a combination of lifting heavier weights and doing exercises with techniques that will give your chest muscles that pump. In other words, staying on the bench press for 30 minutes may increase your strength but it isn’t going to help gain as much mass.

Building true muscle mass in your chest requires a bit more dynamics in your training. So it’s essential to:

  • Incorporate both heavy compound chest exercises using a low to moderate rep range (increasing the weight of each set).
  • Doing a variety of other exercises that target different angles of your chest.
  • Increase your reps as you move further into your chest workout.

Remember, doing heavy compound exercises will indeed help you pack on size. However, there are other elements you need to factor in that are aligned with the mass-building principles I shared earlier.

We’re not powerlifting here, we’re building the muscle tissue. That’s why the isolation exercises should be included in your chest workouts.

Focus on Building and Defining Your Chest Muscles

For compound chest exercises, which are barbell exercises like flat, incline, and decline bench press:

  • Use explosive power to lift the weight off of your chest (need to get something off your chest?…lol).
  • But don’t let the weight just fall back towards your chest.
  • Control that weight on the eccentric, especially of those pressing exercises. This is where you’ll experience the most muscle damage, which leads to muscle growth.

For isolation chest exercises, which is practically any type of flye movement (dumbbell flyes, pec dec, cable flyes):

  • Focus on forcing your chest muscles to work extra hard.
  • This means going a bit lighter and making that 30 lbs. on cable flyes feel like 50.
  • Concentrate and focus on your chest muscles throughout the entire set, and flex your chest muscles at the peak of each rep.
  • On that final rep, hold that pose for about 5 seconds.

**For dumbbell presses, you can use a mixture of these strategies. You may want to treat the first two sets of dumbbell press as a compound exercise and then switch to the isolation strategies for the final sets.

Chest Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Incline Bench Press4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10
Cable Flyes4 x 10-12
Hammer Strength or Machine Press4 x 12

If you’d like to read more about shaping and defining your chest muscles, take a look at my post: How to Define and Shape Your Chest: Training Your Chest from All Angles

Back Mass-Building Tips

Building a massive back requires a mix of heavy compound exercises with a large variety of isolation exercises. You’re back is the largest upper body muscle so you need to give it a bit more attention and effort than you’re other upper body muscles.

To add, your back is arguably the body part where using proper form is imperative for building those muscles. We’ll talk more about that but first, here are the core concepts of back training that will help you build a thick, wide, and ripped bodybuilder back:

  • Focus more on form than the weight.
  • Train your back from different angles.
  • Use a full, complete range of motion on all back exercises.
  • Train your back with more volume than other upper body muscles.

Focusing on Contracting Your Back Muscles

For both compound and isolation back exercises, your main focus should be on contracting your back muscles throughout each rep. This helps ensure you’re actually working those muscles versus merely lifting the weight from point A to B.

Many have the tendency to just lift the weight, especially on exercises like barbell rows and dumbbell rows. It can be beneficial to go heavy on those exercises to overload the muscle. However, if you’re using momentum or jerking to move the weight, you’re not going to get the mass-building benefits.

For every back workout, remember this:

  • Go heavy on compound exercises like barbell rows, but make sure you get a full range of motion (if you can’t do that, then reduce the weight and do it right).
  • Contract your back muscles at the peak of each rep. This will help bring out more definition and muscle striations.
  • On cable and machine exercises like seated rows, lat pulldowns, and Hammer Strength rows, hold that last rep for a few seconds.
  • Increase the intensity of your back workouts by adding things like drop sets and rest-pause sets.

Remember, you need to train your back harder and with more volume than any other upper body muscle. Again, your back makes up the majority of upper body muscle mass.

More on Back Training Form and Range of Motion

With some muscle groups, you can stop just before locking out or you may not go all the way on the descent of some exercises. This is usually due to you want to work your muscles and save your joints.

However, you need to use a full range of motion for back exercises, especially at the peak of each rep. There’s indeed a place for partial reps. But for the most part, you want to force your back muscles to pull the weight all the way back (no pun intended) in order to fully contract those muscles. 

Proper form somewhat goes with the above (full range of motion). But I need to point out that performing back exercise with poor form can quickly lead to injury. An example of bad form is when I see people rounding their lower backs when doing rows or deadlift.

Start out light and make sure you have your form in check. You can gradually go up in weight from there.

Back Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows4 x 10, 8, 6, 6
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8-10
Seated Rows4 x 10-12
Lat Pulldowns4 x 12
Reverse Grip Pulldown

For more back workouts, be sure to check out my post: B7 Best Back Workouts for Mass

Legs Mass-Building Tips

Squats - parallel perfect squat

When people hear or see the word ‘massive’ they tend to think lower reps. Where as this is true with most body parts, your legs (especially quads) have more slow-twitch muscle fibers. For many this means that your quads and hams respond better to 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.

Here are some facts about basic leg training for mass gains:

  • Squats are the king of leg exercises (and many deem squats as king of all exercises).
  • The leg press is also another mass builder. It’s worth mentioning that you need to do full reps here, dropping down at least to parallel, perhaps a little lower. Don’t be one of those that load the leg press full of 45 lb plates only to come down a couple of inches. Those aren’t reps. 
  • With your isolation exercises such as leg extensions and the various types of legs curls, you want to make sure you get that squeeze. You can also pump out a lot of reps with these types of exercises. 

Volume is Crucial for Building Massive Legs

Your legs can handle a lot more than you may think. You just have to push yourself.

You can easily add more volume by simply adding an additional set to each leg exercise. You can also extend your leg workouts with techniques like drop sets and rest-pause sets.

Another tactic that some bodybuilders use for legs is extremely high rep sets. This is great to try on the leg press. Reduce the weight and go for 25-30 reps. You’ll feel the pump and the burn in your quads.

How to Get Massive Calves

Lastly, let’s chat about training calves. Let’s be real, some people are genetically gifted with a nice set of calves. And some aren’t. Actually, most aren’t.

For those of us who weren’t born with huge calves, it’s imperative to train your calves consistently and train them hard

Full range of motion should also take precedence when performing exercises for calves. You want that stretch at the bottom and full contraction at the top of the movement.

You also want to increase the volume and intensity, and possibly the frequency for calves. Try doing at least two exercises for 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps with only about 30 second rest periods between sets. Or just do 7-8 sets of one exercise for calves.

Leg Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
*Leg Extensions3 x 12
Squats5 x 10, 10, 8, 8, 6
Leg Press5 x 15
Stiff-leg Deadlifts4 x 10
Single-leg Leg Extensions4 x 15
Lying Leg Curls4 x 12
Standing Calve Raises7 x 15

I always start with a few sets of leg extensions to get the blood flowing before squats.

I also recommend adding a 2nd leg day 3-4 days after your initial leg workout. You can read about the benefits of adding that extra workout in this post: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs

Shoulders Mass-Building Tips

rear delt raises bent over raises

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. You do, however, need to make sure you’re working the different parts of your shoulder adequately (as you’ll see in the shoulder workout below).

Here are some ways to make your shoulders grow:

  • Keep it simple, sticking to basic movements.
  • Do slower, more controlled reps.
  • Focus 100% on your deltoids during each rep so that you’re forcing your muscles to do the work and not putting pressure on your joints.

Training Your Shoulders from Different Angles to Build Mass

You’ll typically start your shoulder workout with a pressing exercise (though I often do a few sets of lateral raises to warm up). And then you’ll move into the isolation exercises which target specific parts of your deltoids (front, side, and rear).

Compound and pressing exercises for shoulders should be done with strict form in order to make sure you’re using the muscles and not applying pressure to the wrong places like your joints, as I mentioned.

Also, take some extra time on the eccentric part of the rep, the negative. This will force you to go a little lighter but you’ll get more out of the exercise for building massive shoulders.

Isolation exercises for shoulders should also be performed with extreme focus and proper form. If you use momentum on exercises like lateral raises you’re asking for a shoulder injury. Slow the reps down and concentrate on forcing your muscles to do the work.

Shoulder Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Barbell Press4 x 8
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 12
Bent-over Raises3 x 12
Front Raises3 x 12

For more on shoulder training, check out my post: How to Build and Sculpt Your Shoulders

Arms Mass-Building Tips

Hammer curls dumbbell biceps exercise

The bulk (no pun) intended of your arm mass is going to come from your triceps. I see a lot of folks working biceps several times a week but do the bare minimum for their triceps. That’s not going to build huge arms

For that reason, I’m going to cover triceps training first…

Triceps Mass-Building Tips

The key to building big and ripped triceps is your range of motion and intensity. You also need extreme mental focus when you train triceps to get the full benefits.

**For extreme focus, take a look at what I take: Jason’s Recommended Pre-Workout.

Here are some ways to make your triceps grow:

  • Use full range of motion for triceps.
  • Be sure to flex your triceps to the fullest at the peak of each rep.
  • Hold that last rep for a good squeeze.
  • Don’t use your body weight when doing cable pressdowns (as you probably see many doing in the gym).
  • Don’t worry about the amount of weight you’re using; focus on forcing lighter weight to feel heavier.
  • Flex your triceps between sets.

Biceps Mass-Building 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. 

Here are some things to consider when training for big biceps:

  • Don’t use momentum to curl the weight.
  • Make sure you feel your biceps working harder throughout each rep.
  • Flex your biceps at the peak of the rep.
  • Use a weight that you can get a good 8-12 clean reps with. 

You can also flex your biceps between sets. This will really help you achieve that massive pump.

Arm Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Overhead Dumbbell Extensions4 x 10
Rope Pressdowns4 x 12
Cable Pressdowns3 x 12
EZ Bar Curls4 x 10
Dumbbell Hammer Curls4 x 12
Preacher Curls3 x 12

Many bodybuilders will train arms separately and with another muscle (ex: chest and biceps or shoulders and triceps). If that’s the case, you may only reduce your volume for arms.

It’s also a good idea to switch up your exercises for arms each time you train them. As you’re typically not doing as much volume with arms as with other muscles, and rightfully so, you still want to make sure you’re training your biceps and triceps from different angles.

I’ve got some more insight into building your arms in this post: How to Build Bigger Arms

Training for Size

There’s definitely an art of training for muscle mass. As you can see, it’s not just about throwing around heavy weights. It’s all about having a pure focus on the muscle you’re training.

You may also have noticed that there’s a common theme for each body part. And that is…

  • You’re not just lifting the weight from point A to B
  • Force your muscles to work harder (make the lighter weight feel heavier)
  • Focus 100% on the muscle throughout each rep
  • Use proper form so that you’re working the muscle, not your joints
  • Lighten the weight when you need to in order to do the exercise with proper form
  • Flex and contract your muscles at the peak of each rep
  • Use controlled reps and focus more on the eccentric (negative) part of each rep

For a complete workout using these mass-building principles and techniques in this post, be sure to read this post next: Bodybuilding Mass Workout Routine for Hypertrophy

Train with Passion,

Jason