5 Little-Known Tricks to Building Size

Anyone who’s seriously tried to bulk knows that ratcheting up your size can be a pretty big challenge. Magazine articles and online forums tell you to bang out sets of 8–10 reps with heavy weights and, voila, instant muscle! But if you talk to guys who’ve been repping in that range for years without the gains to show for it, they’ll tell you it’s not that straightforward. And they’re right.

We’ve heard the obvious “get big” tips thrown around on the regular: lift heavy, eat lots of chicken, go light on the cardio, etc. Here are a few seldom-cited strategies for exploding your lean muscle gains and breaking through plateaus.

1. Isolate Each Muscle Group.

Most people understand that, when it comes to building muscle, the compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups are where the magic happens. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect isolation movements such as curls, leg presses, and cable rows. In fact, zeroing in on a given muscle often goes a long way in the size-building department. Bottom line: Make sure to include 2–3 isolation movements in each workout, along with your multi-joint exercises.

2. Go For Strength, Not Soreness.

As Lee Haney once said, you have to “stimulate, not annihilate” the muscles. It’s very easy to fall into the psychological trap of equating soreness with effectiveness. The reality is that not every workout should leave you feeling crippled for days afterwards. Gauge progress based on how your strength levels increase over time (i.e., through changes in weight volume, number of sets / reps you’re able to perform), not how sore you feel the next morning.

3. Stop Fearing the Fluff.

News flash: If you want to gain a decent amount of lean muscle, you’re going to have to deal with putting on some excess fat. Very few if any athletes are able to pack on 10–20 pounds of solid muscle without saying a temporary goodbye to their razor-sharp abs. Make peace with having a higher carb diet and putting food away even when you’re not hungry. (Just don’t go TOO overboard, lest you end up more Michelin man than muscleman at the end.)

4. Lift Light Every Now and Then.

Contrary to popular belief, getting bigger DOESN’T mean lifting heavy every single set. Particularly for isolation movements, high sets with a lighter weight can provoke an intense muscular response and lead to a massive pump.

5. Increase Frequency.

While I’m generally not a fan of training every single muscle group twice per week, hitting your weak area more than once can be incredibly beneficial. If you’re trying to build massive quads, train legs two days per week. By doing this, the SAID (specific adaptation to imposed demands) principle kicks in and your legs will respond by growing bigger and stronger to handle the beating. In fact, you may notice that your recovery time decreases.

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