What’s your true training potential? How much muscle can you really build without living in the gym?
If you’ve reached a stall in your training and you’re wondering how much more muscle you can put on your physique, then keep reading.
Training hard and being consistent in your fitness habits is crucial to laying a strong foundation for your fitness.
However, there comes a point when you start to wonder if you’ve reached your full potential and doubt how much more muscle you can put on your frame.
There’s no need to feel stuck.
You’ve done most of the hard work already if you’ve reached a high level of consistency by putting in the work each week.
Instead, use this simple checklist to blast past training plateaus:
Q: Are you training 3-4 times each weekly consistently? If yes, how long are your sessions?
A: The reason why this question is important is because without the training frequency or volume each week, your body won’t be hit with the constant stimulus required to rebuild new muscle and start growing. Be realistic with yourself. Are you consistently training 3-4 times each week and have you for the past 6 months?
A: If you answered yes to the first part of the question, the second part is looking at your training session lengths. If you’re training 3 times a week for example, but each training session is a two and a half-hour sweat fest, you may be doing too much damage rather than good.
The key to finding the right amount of training length is to work within 60-90 minute time blocks. It’s short enough that you can cut it short if you have to dash for a meeting but long enough so you can stay a bit later and work on your biceps brachialis a bit more.
The goal is to create a training length that hits your physique frequently enough each week with the right amount of training per session without you feeling annihilated each time you leave.
Remember in order to craft muscle that gets double takes, you need to train hard consistently and not overdo it each time you train. This will allow you to recover better (which is when you build muscle) and train harder the next time around.
The ideal muscle building split? 3-4x weekly with 60-90 minute sessions.
Q: What training split are you currently using? Upper/Lower, Body Parts, Total Body, etc.
A: This is an often overlooked part of training because most people tend to grab cookie-cutter programs that fizzle out after the first 2-3 months of training. If you’re one of the rare 5% of people who use a custom strength training program then move to the next question. If not, keep reading.
Upper/lower splits are popular for splitting up workouts in 2 different formats: upper body and lower body.
This is a popular split for also adding upper/lower strength and upper/lower muscle days (hint: this is highly effective for long-term progress).
Total body splits are exactly like the name indicates – total body workouts designed to hit your body from head to toe.
That being said using the right split can be the difference between building jaw-dropping muscle gains or staying at the same body mass for years.
The key to choosing the right training split comes down to your training goal.
When you’re clear on the outcome of your training, choosing the right training split for your physique becomes much simpler.
For example, if your goal is to pack on solid slabs of muscle to your body, sticking to a 2-3 total body program won’t give the results you’re looking for.
Likewise, if your goal is to maintain and keep your gains minimum but performance consistent, using a 3-day total body program might be a good fit for your needs.
Clarify then execute.
Q: How much sleep are you getting each night?
A: One of the quickest ways to make sure you are NOT building muscle and crafting your best physique ever is to not get enough sleep every night.
Now you may be thinking, ‘I can perform well even off of 5-6 hours of sleep every night.’ Now while that may have been true in your college days when even 2-3 hours per night was a piece of cake, things are a bit different now.
Rebuilding new muscle tissues and other connective tissues along with recovering your central nervous system requires you to sleep a certain amount of hours each night. Less than that?
You won’t see the kind of physique changes you’re aspiring for.
So what’s the optimal sleep range?
7-10 hours per night has been proven in countless studies to give sufficient recovery for the human mind and body to regenerate.
The main thing to remember about sleep is the quality of your sleep will always trump the quantity. Human sleep cycles function in 90-minute time blocks.
Without getting too deep into the science of sleep, your REM sleep, the deepest period of sleep that you experience each night (usually between 1-3 am) is highly crucial to proper recovery.
Remember without proper regeneration, your body won’t adapt to the training stimulus from strength training and ultimately lead to slower or worse no gains.
Don’t sacrifice your sleep for more gains. Sleeping more can easily solve most people’s physique goals. Make this a priority.
You can also use this sleep calculator here to help guide you if you prefer to be more precise.
Q: Are you in a slight caloric surplus? If so, how long have you been in the surplus?
A: Without eating more, gaining more mass is unlikely to happen. The vast majority of muscle-building problems that are noticed every day in the gym come down to a simple energy principle which is often ignored.
You can’t build something from nothing.
Eating in a slight caloric surplus or a lean bulk is the key to crafting muscle consistently over the long term.
So what exactly does a lean bulk look like?
Well contrary to popular belief, bulking shouldn’t be about eating every food in sight and stuffing yourself with all kinds of entrees.
The goal of a lean bulk is to maximize the amount of lean muscle tissue while minimizing the amount of fat you put on.
While there are other methods of building muscle (and another time to discuss them), lean bulking has been proven to yield the highest results without living in the gym or giving up your lifestyle.
That being said, depending on your training age, experience, goals, genetics, gender, and activity level, a general recommendation for a lean bulk would be 200-300 caloric increase to your current intake.
For example, if your maintenance level is at 2,600 calories each day, then your lean bulk would mean increasing the calories to 2,800-2,900 each day.
The second part of this question is regarding the duration of your lean bulk.
Most people tend to be inconsistent with their tracking, progress, and goal setting.
Don’t make these same amateur mistakes.
Ideally, your lean bulk should extend for at least 4 months. A good ratio to use is 4:1 which leaves you lean bulking for 4 months and a 1-month cut.
While most people may gain consistently for a month or two, the thing to remember is building muscle takes time.
It doesn’t happen overnight, over a couple of weeks, or over even a couple of months.
Be consistent and start gaining.
Q: When was the last time you increased your training volume? If so, how did you do it?
A: One of the best questions is to look at your training. If you’ve mastered the foundations of your nutrition, recovery, and mind, looking at the training stimulus which is designed to help create new muscle gains is a good place to start.
In an ideal world, you should be progressing each week and month. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pushing more weight.
However, it can mean that you’re adding more reps, sets, and intensity to each session.
Talking about sets, this is a highly effective way to increase your training volume without adding 10 new exercises or lifting heavier weights each session (which won’t happen every session if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter).
Training volume is dictated by the amount of work you do (sets x reps) within a given exercise.
For example, if you currently bench press 3 x 10 x 165, your training volume would be 4950. Now without adding more weight to the bar (which will happen regardless due to strength adaptations), adding 1-2 more sets will increase your poundage (volume) substantially without adding more weight.
Now instead of 3 sets, we increase it to 4 x 10 x 165, your new training volume would be 6600. You’ve increased the amount of work you do by adding an additional 1650 pounds of volume into your training without increasing the amount you lift.
More volume can lead to more muscle growth if used correctly and intelligently. Use this principle to help guide you towards more gains consistently.
Q: How do you organize your training phases? Do you use periodization schemes, intensification, or accumulation protocols in your training?
A: The way you train dictates the results you see in your physique. This question is for the intermediate or advanced trainee who has stopped seeing gains in their physique and is ready to start blasting past training plateaus.
A simple way to organize your training is to breakdown every phase into cycles.
For the average person who trains, the majority of their workouts consist of randomly placed sessions throughout the week, month, and year.
Similar to a business that divides its years into quarters, or a sports team which uses seasons, a strength training program should be designed into macro, meso, and micro (yearly, monthly, and weekly) training cycles.
By designing your training using the same principles that the strongest and fittest athletes use on the planet (not mention the best sports teams), you’ll begin to see trends in your fitness that you may not have noticed before.
But how exactly do you organize your training cycles without feeling overwhelmed?
The key to brilliance is simplicity.
Focus on your training goal. For example, if your goal is to pack on 15-20 pounds of hard, dense, eye-catching muscle, you’ll need plenty of time to account for muscle growth, recovery, and even mini-cuts.
So taking the info from this article, we can begin to formulate a blueprint for the next 9 months.
Using the 4:1 ratio of 4 months lean bulking and 1-month mini-cutting, you can begin to organize your programming by using 4 months to build up the volume in your training while eating more and 1 month to shred the fat.
Looking even closer at the blueprint, you can breakdown each month into individual mesocycles (monthly) which allows you to examine the week and progress slowly by adding more volume, intensity, or reps into each microcycle (weekly).
The goal is to increase progression in some way using progressive overload as the main theme.
Master each individual movement first and then begin to add more weight.
Finally, you can look at the microcycles and breakdown of each individual session by looking at the focus of each workout and how you’ll train each day. This will allow you to choose the right training split, correct workout intensity, and duration of each session while keeping the focus on your overall training goal.
Organizing your programming like this puts you easily in the top 5% of the world population and will maximize the gains you see in your training and physique.
Q: How eager are you to train? What’s your enthusiasm level?
A: An often-overlooked part of training is the amount of pleasure you take from each session. One of the easiest ways to see if you’re missing out on further gains is to look at how much you’re enjoying your training.
If you’re dreading going to train every time you think of the gym, you may need to simply reduce training volume/intensity for the next few days or even a week to help you regain your enthusiasm and drive for training again.
Although not common, there’s over the risk of overtraining and falling victim to too much fatigue accumulation. It’s highly unlikely due to most humans being aware of pushing themselves too far but it needs to be mentioned especially since most high performers tend to go the extra mile (myself included).
Also, there’s the effect of training on your mind. As much as training takes a physical toll on our bodies, your mind needs to be taken care of equally. Mental fatigue and stress cannot be discounted especially if you’re busy juggling dozen of projects, leading a team, or running a high-level organization.
Look at your thoughts and listen to what you’re thinking and feeling.
If the majority of what you’re thinking isn’t positive and even more on the negative side, taking the time to sit down for 10 minutes in silence every morning could be the difference between burning out rapidly or maintaining consistent progress in your physique month after month.
Don’t discount this.
Take the time to go through each question and be honest with your answers. You are the only one who can truly know whether you’re meeting your standards in your life, fitness, and physique.
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