When fitness training first piqued my interest as a teenager, the conventional narrative was to spend half of your time ‘bulking’ and the other half ‘cutting’. We really didn’t pay too much mind to the quality of mass gain we were putting on, so long as we were getting bigger. We gave ourselves a licence to eat thousands of calories and almost snarked at cardio, thinking that it would impede our ‘gains’.
Unfortunately this led to a lot of unwanted body fat being accumulated alongside the lean muscle we were working so hard for, which in turn meant really long cuts where we would lose some of that hard earned mass as we dropped body fat. It was a vicious circle.
Nowadays, we focus a lot more on clean eating and techniques that will allow us to be far more precise in the weight we gain, we’ve even reached the point where – if we’re willing to be dedicated enough – we can achieve ‘recomposition’ or gaining muscle at the same time as losing body fat. Back in the early nineties the understanding was that it just wasn’t possible to achieve this naturally, but with advancements in nutrition and sports science, this has all changed.
Let’s set out some hard and fast rules for gaining lean muscle mass:
Keep things simple
It’s easy to be dazzled with the vast array of different exercise selections and variations we see on Instagram and in health & fitness magazines, but remember they all have requirements to deliver content. Bodybuilders and athletes mostly incorporate the core lifts such as squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, which are time-tested and work well. Not only that, but you’ll only be able to track your progress if you can compare lifts on the same exercises.
In order to gain muscle mass you need to keep asking more of your body and strength levels than you have previously, as this demand continually sends signals to the body that you need to get stronger. This is termed ‘over-reaching.’ The aim with lean muscle building is to keep your body in a perpetual state of overreach.
Starting out of the block, I would suggest three total body workouts per week, using a rep range of about 10 reps per set. Continue to vary your training after each six-week training phase by varying your volume, exercise selection, rep ranges or rest times in order to keep offering your body a fresh stimulus.
In order to gain lean muscle mass I would suggest maintaining on average a 10% caloric surplus over the course of the week. To determine your required caloric intake the Harris-Benedict Equation is the most accurate for males. For females, the Cunningham Equation is most accurate.
Adequate protein intake
In order to build muscle you need approximately 1.6g to 2.2g of protein per 1 kg of body weight. You can find this from a combination of high quality animal and plant proteins.
It’s important to remember that resistance training and subsequent muscle growth is actually the process of creating microscopic tears in the muscle tissue and allowing for the recovery of these tissues to come back stronger and larger. This process takes its toll on your muscles and central nervous system, and your body requires adequate rest, so sleep and time between working the same muscle tissue is very important.
In the pursuit of your quest to gain lean muscle mass, remember that the process is not isolated to a particular workout regime, it must be considered a lifestyle which interacts with every area of your health. Even with the best training program and meal plan in the world, if you lack sleep or allow yourself to be compromised by stress your body just won’t respond as well as it could have done. It has to be a holistic process.