Adding Muscle Is Hard To Do So Follow These Tried And Tested Rules For #Gains

1. Don’t Fall For The ‘Six-Pack In Six Weeks’ Plans

We all want a six-pack for our beach break, but we don’t necessarily want to work for it for very long, so we shell out for a premium #gains plan with weeks to spare – this is self-defeating thinking, says Max Bridger, founder of LDN Muscle. ‘A lot of people come in with the idea that they want to get a six-pack in six weeks. While that might be great for the sixth week on holiday to Ibiza with their other half, they might lose that six-pack as quickly as they gained it.’

By going in hard you have to make a massive, unsustainable effort and the gains won’t stick. ‘They’ve gone from 0-100, which is unfortunately what the fitness industry does a lot, so it keeps pulling you in and then churning you out – you get stuck in the cycle. The main thing is people putting too much in too soon and just making it really unsustainable. So set realistic goals.’

2. Realise That A ‘Realistic Goal’ Could Mean Six Months

‘Definitely six months rather than six weeks – if you're doing it in six weeks you're likely to gain a whole lot of fat and you're going to be pushed into the failure rep ranges a lot – everything will become more risky and more likely to fall off on the other end, so to speak,’ says Bridger. In terms of what you could achieve, he says if you were 80kg you’d add 3-5kg of muscle in six months, probably along with some fat, so your total weight gain would be around 5-7kg. ‘You'd hopefully maintain or only slightly increase your waist and hip measurements, gain around one to two inches on thighs, around probably one inch, 1.5 inches on arms, and then around two, three hopefully on chest.’ Bear in mind you need to hit each muscle group two or three times a week, with 60-80 reps per session, for a total of 180-240 reps per muscle group, per week.

3. Nutrition Is Not About ‘Clean’ Or ‘Dirty’ Bulking

When it comes to actually adding muscle there’s a lot of confusion about what, and how much to eat to create the conditions for growth. Bridger sees this in his clients too, and he says it’s a lot easier to stick to a diet you enjoy than some fiendishly complex plan: ‘A lot of people think you have to eat in one of two ways. You either have to do a clean bulk where you only have stereotypically healthy foods, which is quite hard to get the right calories from; or they get told that you have to do a dirty bulk where you try and eat everything and anything to gain as much calories as you can – but both are wrong.’

So, what is the answer? ‘You can consume quite a similar diet to before – you might need to make some tweaks to increase protein, or the balance of fats to carbs. You do have to consistently hit an amount of calories, rather than one day overshooting it and then the next two days coming below it.’ Bridger adds that an 80kg man would probably be looking at eating 3,000-3,500 calories a day to support a muscle-building lifting program. He also recommends his clients follow the 80-20 ratio of healthy, unprocessed foods to processed, less ‘clean’ options.

’Dirty bulking is bad because you're going well above the level of calories you actually need’

4. It’s Not ‘The More You Eat The More Muscle You Gain’

‘With the right routine you shouldn't be putting on loads of fat, but because you are in a calorie surplus, you will gain some fat,’ says Bridger. ‘That’s why dirty bulking is bad because you're going well above the level you actually need. It’s not the more you eat the more muscle you gain – if it's unnecessary you will store it as fat, so it's about having the right level of calories and again being consistent, not going wildly over or missing that level consistently if you find shovelling in the calories hard.’

5. High Reps Don’t Automatically Cut Fat And Keep Muscle

‘There's a common misconception when you're cutting that you have to go high reps – but you should really still be maintaining quite a lot of strength and hypertrophy work,’ says Bridger. ‘A lot of people go from heavy lifting and hypertrophy work into purely high rep work, and then you don't need as much muscle mass because you're not lifting as heavy so your body will get rid of that energy-expensive muscle tissue. Quite often when people go from a high calorie diet and cut really aggressively, they are going to lose a lot of muscle.’

6. Lifting To Failure In Each Set Is Counter-Productive

Watch weightlifting in YouTube and you’re guaranteed to see some Hulk-type dude with sweat popping off the veins in his biceps, screaming and ‘going to failure’ on each set, where he can’t finish the last rep properly or with good form. But doing this all the time is a classic rookie error, says Bridger.

‘Those YouTube videos are lot more entertaining than somebody controlling their reps and going to near failure, and leaving some energy in a bank for their next set, because they've got one more exercise that's working their chest where they can then go to failure. That might be in isolation and that might be a lot safer to go to failure than every set of a complicated move, like a bench press. Abusing failure sets is a really big hindrance for a lot of people because you're unnecessarily wasting energy – you’re going to be reducing the total volume you can do in that workout.’

7. Cutting Rest Periods Isn’t The Way To Condense Workouts

You know how it goes – you’ve got a 60 minute workout to do but if you don’t finish in 45, all hell is going to break loose at work/home/wherever. So what do you do? Most of us try to fly through the workout, slashing rest periods and missing out heavier compound lifts, which require racks and benches. This is a mistake – Bridger says you should definitely be including the big compound builders, like the squat and bench press. ‘If I did a superset, or reduced the rest period for the compound lifts it would reduce the total volume or increase the risk of injury. I would keep your first two exercises as big compounds, and then I would combine the next two exercises on those muscle groups, as supersets, or you can use dropsets,’ he says.

‘You’re guaranteed to see some Hulk-type with sweat popping off the veins in his biceps, screaming and going to failure’

8. Warmups Don’t Have To Include Cardio

Bridger says you can use cardio if you want to, but he doesn’t because the function of a warmup is to get the blood flowing to the right areas, increase your heart rate, increase your mobility and your flexibility in the specific muscles you’re going to train. Cardio warms you up for more cardio, not necessarily lifting. ‘What I would do is put [the client] through dynamic stretches, so it'll be stuff like getting into the bottom of a lunge position, pushing forward so you open up the front of the body, so through the hip flexor, abs, shoulders, and then sitting back and stretching through the hamstrings and the glutes and repeating, you're just holding those positions for say a second each time. It doesn't feel like a big stretch.’ Longer static stretches may help you to avoid shortening muscles, but they should be done at the right time. ‘I would only put intensive stretching away from your workout – watching an episode on Netflix in front of the TV for example – because they do undoubtedly help.’

9. You Don’t Have To Train Muscle Size And Strength Separately

There’s a tendency for lifting websites and gyms to separate out lower-rep strength training and muscle-building, or hypertrophy training (of 8-12 reps) either into different periodised phases, or even different tribes. ‘You have the bodybuilders in there in tight little vests and some short shorts, and on the other side of the gym the guys with heavy metal music playing, big shirts and knee wraps, doing one rep every five minutes!’ says Bridger. ‘But if muscle gain is a priority you should be doing some strength coaching, especially for a more experienced lifter. When you come to trying to drop fat and keeping the weights high, it results in you maintaining more muscle.’ He recommends having a combination of the hypertrophy rep range of 8-15, and the strength range of 3-8, and then adding 20% of strength endurance at higher rep ranges to help you deal with lactic acid.

10. You Don’t Have To Make Your Life Fit The Programme

There’s no point taking on a really demanding plan if your lifestyle just doesn’t have room for it – you’re guaranteed to fail. We get a lot of questions saying: “Can I make progress? I can only go to the gym three times a week.” We say: “Well, if you can only go to the gym three times a week you are going to have to make progress in that form, your lifestyle isn't letting you go again, so this is how you do it; this is how you hit each body part twice a week to the right amount of volume, to progress.’

WHAT NEXT? Try this muscle-building LDN Muscle Meal Replacement Smoothie – just make sure you’re working out! ‘Perfect to have on the go, 90-120 minutes before your workout, when a proper meal is rarely possible or rushed’ says Bridger.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.