Building muscle is a long-term process. It takes grit and dedication yet can be achieved by anyone who sets their mind to the task at hand.
It can be frustrating when you’re putting in the effort each week, working hard on your physique without seeing the results you crave.
The purpose of this guide is to help you stop feeling frustrated and start seeing real gains in your physique. Let’s look at the 5 core pillars of plant-based gains.
1. Strength training
2. Optimal Volume
3. Amino Acids (protein)
The key to crafting your best physique ever comes down to one of the core pillars used in every great physique. You must strength train in order to build muscle and get strong.
Even if your goal isn’t to get as strong as Patrick Bohemian, the ability to lift heavy things and be as strong as an ax immediately translates to more muscular gains.
Having more muscle is a benefit of being stronger. Being stronger is a benefit of having more muscle.
Both strength and muscle gains are closely connected.
So how do you optimize your strength training to craft more lean muscle tissue?
Focus on compound lifts.
While most people go into the gym without a gameplan and any idea of what they want to achieve, you’ll be going in fully focused on what you want to achieve.
Instead of starting off your training using ancillary exercises like dumbbell curls, face pulls, or dips, you’ll reverse engineer your training and focus on the biggest muscle groups first and then slowly go down the list into smaller muscle groups.
Here’s how you’re going to make each session as simple and effective as possible without living in the gym.
Focus on compound, total-body movements first and foremost, always and forever.
Because of the amount of fatigue that compound movements generate in your body, hitting these big guys first is crucial to maximizing your time in the gym and getting the best results.
Quick reminder: This template is based on a beginner 3-Day Split using total body movements each day. That being said if you feel ready to move onto a 4, 5, or 6-day split, modify this split and separate each workout using the same principles outlined here.
Also, the workout below is set up as a tri-set. This means that there are 3 exercises per set, done one after the other, with the rest coming at the end. Since this is based on a beginner template, you can keep the rest at a minimum between 60-90s to help maximize blood flow and keep your heart rate elevated.
B1) Lower Body Knee Dominant: Use movements like DB squats, DB lunges, DB step-ups, BB squat, BB lunges, DB Bulgarian squats to fit this category.
B2) Lower Body Hip Dominant: Use movements like DB deadlifts, DB glute bridges, BB deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, BB glute bridges, hip extensions to fit nicely into this category.
B3) Lower Body Accessory: This bonus feature allows you to add more specific body part movements like leg curls, leg extensions, hip thrusters, single-leg movements, hip abduction, and hip adduction. Use this slot to add in exercises where you would like to see a bit more work done and keep blazing forward.
C1) Upper Body Horizontal Push: Movements like DB bench presses, BB bench press, DB incline bench press, machine chest press, or DB decline bench press, slide perfectly into this category. Choose wisely and make sure to keep your training level in mind while pushing.
C2) Upper Body Horizontal Pull: Movements like DB single arm rows, cable rows, machine rows, T-bar rows, standing DB rows are appropriate options to work within this category.
C3) Upper Body Accessory: Similar to the lower body accessory, you’ll add in more specific upper body, body part movements which can add a bit more aesthetic or performance-based training into your session. DB curls, DB tricep extensions, dips, push-ups, BB curls could all work into this category.
D1) Lower Body Knee Dominant: same as the above, but fewer compound movements due to the fatigue accumulating near the end of the workout.
D2) Upper Body Vertical Pull: Being that the majority of human beings are living more and more sedentary lifestyles, you have to account for the extra sitting time in life.
Excessive sitting (especially at looking at screens) can lead to the dreaded upper cross syndrome where your head leans forward with shoulders slumped (mainly due to way too much sitting and craning your head at a computer).
The best way to fight back against this trend? Add more pulling movements to your program. Use movements like lat pulldowns, DB upright rows, close grip pulldowns, pull-ups, chin-ups, and wide grip pull-ups to work into this category.
D3) Lower Body Hip Dominant: same as above, but fewer compound movements due to the fatigue accumulating near the end of the workout.
E1) Upper Body Accessory: Add in more specific upper body, body part movements which can add a bit more aesthetic or performance-based training into your session. DB curls, DB tricep extensions, dips, push-ups, BB curls could all work into this category.
E2) Upper Body Accessory: Same as above
E3) Core: Contrary to popular belief, core work isn’t specifically necessary especially when you have a well-rounded program like the blueprint laid out above.
That being said, there will be a few overachievers here who won’t be convinced and will want to do direct ab work.
If you feel like your core lacks strength or want to add more core work just because, use movements like knee-ups, cable crunches, hanging leg swings, mountain climbers, decline spiderman pushups, or torso rotations to hit your core more effectively.
This leads directly into the second core pillar of muscle building: Optimal Volume.
Without the right amount of volume, or rather work done, for each specific muscle group, the road to plateauing will emerge much faster than desired. Simply put, in order to continuously stimulate new muscle growth, you need to hit each muscle group with a specific amount of intensity x work.
The question that arises next is how much volume should you be doing then?
Muscle growth takes a long time. For most trainees, the struggle often lies between lack of patience and lack of application.
In order to stimulate consistent muscle growth, there are a few key factors to be aware of.
Training often enough. Far too often what separates the novice trainee from the intermediate training is a lack of training consistency.
Once your consistency has reached a steady flow, you can begin to adapt your training volume to maximize your muscular potential.
The key here is using the right progressions schemes to make sure you progress steadily without overtraining.
A simple way to check if you have enough training volume is to review your sets x reps x volume averages. Muscle growth is stimulated by a certain amount of work to volume ratio.
Ideally, you’ll need to be averaging a range of 10-20 sets for each muscle group in order to properly stimulate muscle growth consistently.
This is where training volume comes into play.
If you find that you’re lacking muscle growth in a specific area of growth, adding more sets without increasing the intensity can effectively add more growth to your physique without adding more exercises or added intensity.
However, you need to keep the principle of progressive overload at the top of your mind, keeping in mind that increasing the number of sets compounds the amount of volume (sets x reps).
Now some of you may take this out of context and assume more sets equals more growth. While set volume is important, progressive overload should be the overlying principle.
Remember the stronger you are, the more muscle you get as a benefit. Alternate heavy strength days with hypertrophy (muscle) days and you’ll find an equal range of benefits for your physique.
Muscle growth can be broken down into several stages. There’s the novice, intermediate, and advanced trainee levels. By understanding the training level that you currently reside within, you can begin to understand the optimal volume for your body.
When you’re calculating the amount of volume that you need to stimulate new muscle growth, you’ll need to factor in several components.
Training level is one but there’s also training frequency, training duration, training goal, gender, age, weight, and a few others I cut out for simplicity.
The main key is you want to have as much data as possible about yourself in order to make accurate progressions and precise calculations.
I want to stress this point again.
Without substantial data regarding your body, health, and fitness you won’t craft the physique that you’re working hard towards.
Make the time to get all as much data about yourself as possible, using body measurements, nutrition tracking, and workout tracking to give yourself the best possible chances of succeeding in your muscle-building journey.
Back to volume, once you have all this data available it becomes a lot easier to see how much more volume you can add to your training without overdoing it.
A simple framework you can use is the range of 10-20 sets.
Now some of you may take this to mean MORE sets means more muscle growth. While initially, that may be the case, this doesn’t necessarily translate to real-life application.
More is not always better. Instead take the route of moderation and slowly add in more sets as you progress each week while keeping in mind as you increase the amount of sets, the amount of intensity may NOT increase simultaneously.
Then again, it may. It’ll come down to how well your body responds to the training, recovers, and maintains consistency.
Which moves right into the next topic of amino acids. Commonly known as protein, amino acids form the building blocks of lean muscular tissue.
Rather use the research to help guide your thinking and make the right choices based on logic and science.
According to the latest research on protein the optimal intake range lies between 0.7 to 1.5 grams of protein per bodyweight. While that seems like a broad range, it can be broken down into a specific target for each goal.
Muscle building goals or maintenance can be simplified to 1 gram of protein per bodyweight. While there’s various studies that point towards having a bit more or a bit less protein per body weight, aiming for 1 gram per body weight simplifies things.
Which makes training simpler.
That being said if you’re on a strict cut and shredding fat consistently, then aiming for a higher protein intake may be useful. In that case, having as high as 1.5 grams of protein per body weight would be optimal and in most cases recommended due to the high satiety and thermal effect that protein induces.
Picking one of the two ranges above will cover you for the three main fitness goals (muscle growth, maintenance, fat loss) while ensuring that you’re able to continually progress towards your targets.
One of the main reasons why muscle growth tends to slow down or even stop is due to a lack of sleep. While most people are under the impression that muscle gains happens in the gym, the truth is hypertrophy occurs the moment you stop lifting and your body begins to adapt to the stimulus that was imposed on it during training.
The majority of these adaptations occur during your REM sleep, the deepest part of your sleep, and it’s during this time period that deep restful sleep is necessary in order to ensure that your physique keeps progressing.
The amount of sleep you get is also crucial in order to recover properly and begin to grow. It’s a rule that most busy vegans tend to forget, especially since time is a valuable asset to them.
Sacrificing your sleep will lead to losses in your physique.
Maintaining a consistent caloric surplus is crucial in order to rebuild muscles, connective tissues, and craft your best vegan physique ever. That being said, it can be easy to get disheartened and lose momentum in your surplus, if you aren’t being precise.
Precision is secret behind consistent progress.
It comes down to your ability to commit to the task at hand. The laser-like precision that you exercise by tracking your surplus, maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, and training intensely will enable you to stimulate more new muscle growth and keep making gains.
There are several ways of increasing your surplus however, the main one we’ll look at is a method called lean bulking.
While there’s the 2 extremes of bulking way too much (which leaves you putting on too much fat to muscle ratio) or bulking too small (which is only useful if you’re a high-level physique competitor), the most effective method to use is the lean bulk method.
What this means is you’ll increase your calories slightly in order to fuel new muscle growth and provide a steady stream of energy into your physique. Most people tend to screw this up by adding way too many calories or not enough calories.
The key to lean bulking is to be precise.
Adding an extra 200-300 calories a day with maintaining a sufficient amount of protein, carbs, and fat is more than enough to help craft new muscle tissue while keeping fat gain to a minimum.
This also needs to be accepted as a truth while lean bulking: you will gain fat when you start to gain muscle.
That being said using the protocols laid out here can help you minimize fat gain while also leaving you in a strong position to shred the fat a lot more quickly once the warmer months approach.
Another note is as a plant-based athlete, it can be easy to think that you can’t get enough protein by using a plant-based diet. This is merely misinformation and there are countless studies that prove that eating meat is NOT necessary in order to build new muscle tissue.
Focus on using the principles laid out here and crafting your best plant-based physique won’t be that far away.
Interested in more evidence-based articles like this? Head over here.
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