3 Simple Rules to Build Muscle Mass

(Last Updated On: July 3, 2020)

Adding mass may seem like simple science, but there’s more to it than just working out mindlessly at the gym.

In fact, if you want to make the most of every session (who doesn’t?), you’ll need to be smart and by that, I mean following some basic rules and the right training program.

Yes, having a huge physique and impressive muscles can be yours if you know what you’re doing. Forget doing the math and coming up with convoluted diets and workouts- you just need to understand three basic rules, which are as follows:

Kevin Randleman


Rule Number 1: Aim For The Perfect Balance

We know for a fact that in order to quickly build muscle mass one must lift heavier weights at lower reps. But in reality, there’s only a special few who will be able to do 500-pound squats, 600-pound deadlifts, and 400-pound bench presses. For this reason, you will need to add reps to compensate.

Let me explain. Muscle growth is all about stimulating one’s muscles while it’s under tension. TUT, or time under tension directly affects tissue microdamage, which is what you need to build mass. Having a rep time of somewhere around 15 to 25 seconds won’t be enough to cause optimal muscle growth and strength.

So, what’s the magic number then? Aim for anywhere between 5 to 12 reps with weights that give your muscles enough tension and your reps should be done at a slower pace. 1 second on the way up, 1-second hold at the top and 2-3 seconds on the way down (eccentric) for more time under tension and muscle growth. Keep in mind that you should factor in and plan for nutrition and recovery as well, or this will prove to be difficult.

We talk about this in much greater detail in our Simple Guide to Periodization for Muscle Building.

Katie Hogan crossfit


Rule Number 2: Less Is Actually More!

It may be the ego talking, but those who are trying to gain muscle mass often make the mistake of thinking ‘more, more, more!’.

Sure, complicated bulking programs are nice to look at and can motivate you during the first few months, but that’s all they really are. The problem is, there’s just too much- exercise, volume, rest-pause methods, supersets and drop sets, among others.

Muscle building is at its best and most efficient when you focus on a few things at a time. You simply can’t try them all and expect consistent results. The trick is to choose one method and stick with it for 6 weeks. Recovery days are equally important too.

muscle building


Rule Number 3: Throw All Your Other Goals Out The Window

Building up muscle mass won’t synergize with any other fitness goals you may have. If you’re planning on torching fat in the process, forget it- the two simply do not mix.

Think about it. To get some mass going, you’re going to have to eat BIG, which definitely isn’t on the fat-burning menu. You can’t do this with junk food either, or you’ll suffer health consequences. The key is to consume high-quality calories to grow muscles and help with the recovery process. Last but definitely not least, squeeze in a protein recovery shake pre-, during and post-workout to maximize the anabolic window and to meet your caloric requirements.

Take your recovery days seriously. To preserve the mass you must not tire yourself or exert too much effort on other physical activities. This means saying no to cardio in any shape or form. If you absolutely must, e.g., the spouse demands it, or if you’re always out and about then it should be limited to twice a week and no more than half an hour each. Otherwise, you could be putting a serious damper in your mass gain efforts.

As with Rule # 2, keep it simple and commit to gaining mass and nothing else.


Related: Best Post Workout Supplements: Recover and Build Muscle


Mass Gaining Exercises

Building mass won’t require a ton of special equipment. All you’ll need is heavy iron, a single program and lots of motivation. A single barbell or dumbbell should suffice in more ways than one.

Here are my recommended mass-building exercises, tried and tested by yours truly.


Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell press is my go-to exercise if I want to gain more strength, but recently I discovered that it works particularly well for adding muscle mass to your frame too.

The good thing is that you can never have too much upper chest. In fact, most bodybuilders I’ve seen lack this kind of depth and thickness, to which the incline barbell bench press is the perfect answer. Do this enough and you’ll see noticeable chest gains from your clavicle to sternum.


Front Squats

Who doesn’t love the good old traditional back squat? I do them whenever I get the chance because it’s great for adding ‘meat’ to your thighs. Front squats build up your quads, abs and front deltoids, all of which are essential for muscle gain.

Front squat

Romanian Deadlifts

Leg curls are easy and they have unique benefits, but for those who are serious about adding mass in the soonest possible time should go with Romanian deadlifts. This movement works the most important parts of your physique, including the glutes, lower back, and hamstrings.



If there’s a single upper body movement I’d recommend it would be the pull-up, hands down. Love seeing backs as wide as barn doors? Chances are, these people dedicate a large portion of their workouts to pull-ups. Plus, your forearms, abs and deltoids get some time as well.


One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Muscle mass training just isn’t right without an exercise that builds a massive back. In that regard, you won’t be able to get impressive back muscles unless you integrate a rowing variation in your routine.

The 1-arm dumbbell row is one of the simplest back exercises available and yet provides huge gains. Plus, you get the added bonus of balancing asymmetries, which can really help with the low and high rep ranges. Moreover, you’ll enjoy the extra range of motion, allowing you to work on your form and really dig into those muscle fibers.

Lawrence Ballenger Workout and diet


Standing Shoulder Press w/ Dumbbell

How does a standing shoulder press beat out the barbell shoulder press in muscle gain? Easy. The dumbbell offers several advantages over its bigger, more unwieldy cousin including being more accessible to everyone, less risk of shoulder injuries and muscle safety even in higher rep counts.

Also, you get a little unilateral work which everyone needs once in a while.


Dumbbell Hammer Curl

The dumbbell hammer curl should be a no-brainer for when you need bigger arms. It touches on all the important arm muscles, including the brachioradialis, brachialis and biceps. If you’re looking to add some forearm bulk as well, simply add fat grips on the dumbbell and voila! problem solved.


Farmer’s Carry

Also known as the farmer’s walk, the movement is considered by many experts to be the ultimate muscle mass finisher. Doing this will engage just about every muscle in your body, but that’s not all- make the load heavy enough and you get a nice mental challenge as well.

The farmer’s walk gives you much-needed thickness and conditions the body to be able to take on heavier work. This equals longer periods of intense training for maximum gains!

Farmers carry


Related: Build Muscle and Strength With Farmer’s Carries


The Muscle Mass Workouts

Lifting will be limited to just three times per week. Remember what I said about recovery and nutrition being as important as the actual training itself? Well, this is it. Instead of 20 to 30-minute sessions though, we’ll be stretching it out to an hour to 70 minutes.

You’re allowed rest for 90 seconds or more (as needed) between reps for movements like Romanian deadlifts and bicep curls, and around three to four minutes of rest for the heavier movements like squats and bench presses.

Keep in mind that rest periods are flexible, which means you can adjust it for longer but not too long that your body has cooled down. Utilize warm-up sets if necessary, and add more weights per progressive set.

Also, it’s better to do them in non-consecutive days, e.g., Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs/Sat, but you can tailor it according to your schedule.

Workout 1

Do the following exercises:

Standing Shoulder Press w/ Dumbbell – 3 sets of 10

Front Squats – 4 sets of 8

Romanian Deadlifts – 2 sets of 10

Pull-Ups for 25 reps and as many sets as you want. Add more weights if it becomes too easy.

Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 10

One-Arm DB Row – 5 sets of 5

Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 3 sets of 10

Farmer’s Walk- get the heaviest weight that allows you to walk a long distance.

Muscle building pre workout supplements

Workout 2

Do the following exercises:

Standing Shoulder Press w/ Dumbbell – 5 sets of 5

Front Squats – 2 sets of 8

Romanian Deadlifts at – 2 sets of 10

Pull-Ups for 15 reps and as many sets as you can. Add more weights if it becomes too easy.

Incline Barbell Bench Press – 5 sets of 5

One-Arm Dumbbell Row at – 2 sets of 10

Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 5 sets of 5

Farmer’s Carry- get the heaviest dumbbell that allows you to walk a long distance. Take a short rest before returning them to the rack.

Pull up girl



Workout 3

Do the following exercises:

Standing Shoulder Press w/ Dumbbell – 3 sets of 10

Front Squats – 5 sets of 5

Romanian Deadlift – 2 sets of 10

Pull-Ups for 20 reps and as many sets as you can. Add more weights if it becomes too easy.

Incline Barbell Bench Press at – 3 sets of 10

One-Arm DB Row – 3 sets of 10

Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 2 sets of 10 and 1 set of 5

Farmer’s Walk- Do the same as Workout #2 and go longer and heavier.


Put all of this together and you will be well on your way to building more muscle in less time. All you have to do is stay committed and be consistent.

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