Who doesn’t want bigger arms? The feeling of stretching your sleeves out is worth every rep (and no it doesn’t count if you’re wearing t-shirts from the kid’s section). If you want to know how to get bigger arms fast, this article and program are definitely for you. So let’s let the gains begin!
Feel free to skip to the part you want, although I highly recommend just reading the whole thing. That is, of course, if having bigger arms is a priority for you. And it is, right?
Note: This article contains affiliate links to products I believe in. They come at no additional cost to you.
Principles of Building Bigger Arms
There are 5 main principles that thou must understand if thou seeketh to obtain big, powerful looking arms. Ignore them, and thy arms shall remain small and weak. The program is built on these principles.
There is no way around principle number one. If you ignore your foundation, your arms will never get big. Your body just isn’t designed that way, and besides… huge arms with a small back, chest and shoulders looks weird, and I don’t want you to look weird. I want you to look like a beast.
Big movements like Rows, Deadlifts, Chin ups, Bench and Overhead Presses will still be the staple of a big arms program. These movements alone can build your arms significantly.
This is because the big compound movements allow you to move heavier weight and use more total muscle mass, which will always result in a much bigger physiological response from your body. This means: more testosterone, more growth hormone, and greater protein synthesis. In short, these movements lead to bigger gains in lean muscle mass.
2. The Pump is Real
Getting a massive pump is crucial for muscle growth. Cellular swelling sends a strong signal to the body that can lead to hypertrophy.
The best way to get a pump is by creating metabolic stress in the muscle. Think about how it feels to do multiple sets of 20 rep bicep curls on 30 seconds of rest.
It burns, it hurts, your heart rate goes up. Lactate and other metabolic byproducts accumulate in the muscle. Blood and plasma flow into the muscle. That is metabolic stress, and it is one of the strongest stimulators of hypertrophy.
3. Blood Flow Restriction Bands Work, Use Them
Numerous studies have shown that Occlusion training with blood flow restriction bands (BFR Bands) leads to bigger (and faster) gains in muscle mass.
With BFR Bands, you can:
Use lighter weight and higher reps
Stimulate additional fast twitch muscle fibers
Add volume without the stress of using heavy weight (with the same benefits)
Stimulate cellular swelling (you will get a massive pump)
Studies also show that using BFR bands leads to growth of nearby muscles as well. So, using them for your arms can also carry over to additional growth in the chest and shoulders as well.
There is no reason (unless you have a medical condition), that someone looking to get bigger arms would not be using BFR bands. Just get them, and thank me later.
Remember, you do not build muscle while you work out. You build muscle and get bigger arms while you rest. Prioritize rest and recovery the same way your prioritize your workouts.
Get adequate protein and calories on rest days, and try to get solid sleep. The faster and more completely you recover from your workouts, the bigger your gains will be. That is a scientifically researched and proven fact. Recovery = adaptation, and adaptation = GAINZ.
5. Thou Must Eat!
Please do not be that guy that wants huge arms but wants to eat salads all day and get “toned.” You can’t have it both ways. If you want to get bigger arms, you have to eat more. Your body simply will not build muscle without a surplus of calories and adequate protein.
For protein, shoot for around 0.7 grams/pound of body weight. Studies show this is adequate, and more does not result in additional gains, unless you’re on anabolic steroids.
This is split up into 4 training days per week. With the amount of volume you’ll be doing, that should be adequate. Remember Principle number 4: Rest is your friend. Don’t ignore your friend.
Note: Exercises are often paired in combinations or, “Supersets.” These should always be performed by doing the first exercise, then immediately performing the second exercise, before resting. For example, 1A and 1B would be a superset.
Workout A: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
1. Warm Up: 3 Sets
*Start light, it’s the warm up.
1A – Floor Flyes x 12 Reps
1B -Single Arm Bench Press x 10 Reps (add weight each set)
Sets: 3 – Rest: 60 seconds
2. Superset: Chest/Triceps – 3 Sets
Hit 3 reps of explosive depth push ups, then go straight to the bench. Work up to the heaviest set of 7 reps you can on the close grip bench. Try to get there by your 4th set. Record your 7 rep max.
2A – Depth Push Ups x 3 reps
2B – Close Grip Bench Press x 7 reps
Sets: 3 Rest: 2 mins
3. Superset: Chest/Triceps/Shoulders – 3 Sets
3A – Dips: Max Reps (as many as you can get with good form)
3B – Plate Front Raise x 12-15 Reps (slow and controlled reps)
Sets: 3 – Rest: 60-90 Seconds
4. BFR Triceps: 10 Mins
Time to strap on your BFR bands. Your triceps will try to talk you out of it. Don’t let them. You must grow them by force. Go for 10 minutes, resting only when you have to.
4A – Banded Triceps Extensions x max reps (burn ’em out)
4B – Lateral Triceps Extensions x 15-25 Reps (burn ’em)
Sets: 10 Minutes, Keep Moving – Rest: As Little as Possible
Workout B: Back/Biceps
1. Warm Up: x 3 Sets
Reverse Shrugs x 10 Reps
Banded Good Mornings x 10 Reps
*Reverse Shrugs are a great movement for the middle and lower traps. Lower your body by bringing your shoulders up to your ears. Then, focus on using your upper back to pull your shoulders down, raising your body up.
Sets: 3 – Rest: 60 Seconds
2. Superset: Back/Biceps – 3 Sets
Hit a heavy set of 5 reps on the deadlift, then immediately bang out a max rep set of chin ups. Rest 2 minutes and repeat for 3 sets
2A – Deadlift x 5 Reps
2B – Chin Ups x Max Reps
Sets: 3 – Rest: 2 mins
3. Superset: Back – 3 Sets
3A – Dumbell Rows x 8-10 Reps (Go heavy or go home…)
3B – Seated Curls x 8-10 Reps
Sets: 3 – Rest: 90 Seconds
4. BFR: Biceps/Rear Delts – 10 Minutes
Strap your BFR bands on and get your mind right. Your biceps are going to be begging for mercy, but mercy is for the weak. Go for 10 Minutes, resting only when you have to. Then, take the bands off and marvel at the PUMP.
4A – Plate Curls x 15-25 Reps
4B – Rear Delt Raises x 15-20 Reps
4C – Reverse Curls w/empty barbell x 15-20 Reps
Workout C: Leg Day
I know you’re here for bigger arms, but it’s unholy to ignore your legs. Plus, I don’t want you to look ridiculous. Don’t be that guy, with a big upper body and pathetic looking legs. You’re better than that.
1. Warm Up
Get a good full body warm up. Do some light cardio, body squats, whatever you need to do to.
2. Squat: 3 x 5, + 1 x 20
Can squatting make your arms bigger? Yes. The big release of testosterone and growth hormone will affect the growth of all muscle tissue, not just your legs. Plus, your body’s smart. Bigger legs can support more upper body muscle.
Hit 3 heavy sets of 5 reps, then strip some weight off and hit a set 20. It will not be fun, but sets like this will have you needing new jeans in no time.
Sets: 3 x 5, 1 x 20 – Rest: 2 Mins
3. Hip Bridge: 4 x 10-12
Sets: 4 – Rest: 90 Seconds
BFR Legs: Walking Lunges; 3 x 30
Strap ’em on, and get ready for some suffering.
Sets: 3 – Rest: 90 Seconds
Workout D: Shoulders/Chest/Arms
1. Warm Up: 3 Sets
1A – Empty barbell overhead press x 10 reps
1B – Band Pull-aparts x 12-15 reps
Sets: 3 – Rest: 60 Sec
Standing Press: 3 sets, 5 reps
Hit 3 heavy sets of 5 on the Press. Reach the heaviest set of 5 that you can.
Sets: 3 – Rest: 2 mins
3. Superset: Shoulders/Chest x 3 sets
3A – Arnold Press x 12-15 Reps
3B – Deficit Push ups x max reps (if you have to stop to rest more than 1 second, end set)
Sets: 3 – Rest: 90 Seconds
4. Superset: Chest/Shoulders x 3 Sets
4A – Hex Press x 15 reps – squeeze the dumbells together the entire time
4B – Lateral Raise x 15
Sets: 3 – Rest: 90 Seconds
BFR Arms Circuit: 10 Minutes
Bring the pain. End your week by reminding your arms who they work for. This will be brutal, the pump will be real. You wanted to know how to get bigger arms… So get after it. Rest only when you have to.
5A – Plate Curls x 20 reps
5B – Overhead Triceps Ext. x 15-20
5C – Reverse Curls x 20
5D – Banded Triceps Ext. x 20-30
Time: 10 Mins – Rest: Only when you have to
Tips on How to Get Bigger Arms
1. Squeeze the antagonist muscle on each rep
The antagonist muscle is the opposing muscle to the one being worked. For example, when performing a bicep curl, squeeze the tricep at the bottom of the lift. This will fully extend the arm, and will create extra tension in both the biceps and triceps. Tension stimulates growth. See where I’m going with this?
2. Get Stronger
With regards to the big lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, etc..), aim to get stronger every week. Try to hit your sets of 5 with heavier weight. Getting stronger is going to lead to big gains in muscle mass.
3. Use Appropriate Resistance
When a program says “do 3 sets of 12,” that means you should be using a weight that is challenging for 12 reps. Not a weight you can easily knock out 12 reps with. If you can add weight and still get 12, then add weight. Force your body to grow.
4. Use BFR Bands
Don’t skip over this part of the program. BFR has been proven by research to work. During high rep sets, the slow twitch muscle fibers will not be able to keep up with limited blood supply. This will lead to the fast twitch fibers taking over. Normally this would only happen with heavy weight. You’ll also get a massive pump. There’s really no downside here.
5. Keep Rest Short
On everything but the big lifts/low rep sets, keep the rest short. Don’t spend 5 minutes on your phone between sets. Short rest between sets causes metabolic stress within the muscle. Metabolic stress (the burning you feel) is a huge precursor to muscle growth, and gives you a massive pump. Stick to the rest periods.
6. Use Resistance Bands
To really force your muscles to grow, you need a lot of volume. This can lead to a lot of wear and tear on your joints. Bands allow you to add a lot of additional volume, without that added stress.
Resistance bands also offer ascending resistance. This means that as your stretch the band, the resistance increases. Since a lot of people are weakest at the end range of motion of most movements, this can be really beneficial.
7. Eat More
Your body needs additional resources to build muscle. There is no way around it. Not only protein, but carbs as well. If your goal is bigger arms, don’t be the guy (or girl) hopping on the latest fad diet trying to lose weight. Just eat.. a lot. High quality, whole foods, complete proteins. Shoot for around 0.7 grams per pound of body weight in protein.
8. Take Recovery Seriously
Your muscles don’t grow when you work out. They grow when you rest. Treat your rest/recovery days with the same level of priority as your training days. Get some solid calories and protein in both before and after you work out. Get good sleep. Learn how to relax. When the body is relaxed, it will repair and build muscle tissue.
The big lifts: Deadlift, Squat, Press, Bench Press, Pull up; are the foundation of any lifting program. Doing endless curls is not going to grow your arms nearly as effectively as a solid program incorporating the big lifts.
I’ll say it again:
10. Keep a Workout Journal
Keeping a log of your workouts is imperative. You need to be able to look back and see if you’re getting stronger. You need to be able to see how much volume you’ve been doing, so you can add more when growth starts to slow down.
Anyone who is serious about their training keeps some type of workout journal. It takes a few minutes per day and is very valuable. So, do it!
The path to bigger arms involves some suffering and sacrifice. If it didn’t, everyone would would walking around jacked. Who doesn’t want bigger, stronger looking arms?
I hope this article helped shed some light on how to get bigger arms, and a bigger stronger body overall.
Try this program out for 8 weeks, and let me know how it worked out!
As always, I hope this helps you get a little closer to that best version of you!
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
People use the internet to find answers. When it comes to information on how to build muscle, the web is full of misinformation.
My goal is to lay it all out so you have a full understanding of:
How the body builds muscle
Why the body builds muscle
Which exercises and workout methods build the most muscle
How to eat and what supplements to take to build muscle
Note: This article contains affiliate links. Only products we’ve deemed valuable are listed, and are at no additional cost to you.
How Does the Body Build Muscle?
There are about 650 skeletal muscles in the human body. Muscles are made up of tubular muscle cells called muscle fibers. These in turn are made up of myofibrils and sarcomeres. Filaments within the sarcomeres slide against each other, contracting the muscle and pulling our bones, which we would commonly call “movement.”
The body is believed to be able to build muscle 2 ways:
1. Muscle Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy is the increase in size of the muscle fibers. This can happen by increasing the diameter of the muscle fiber, or the length of the sarcomeres.
What Causes Muscle Hypertrophy?
Mechanical Tension: Lifting weights creates tension within the muscle tissue. This tension is detected by sensors within the muscle, triggering events that lead to increased protein synthesis.
Metabolic Stress: Think of the burning sensation you feel when you do a set of high reps. This is metabolic stress, caused by the accumulation of lactate and other metabolites in the muscle. The environment created by metabolic stress signals increased protein synthesis (and tends to give you a “pump.”)
Muscle Damage: It has not been conclusively shown that muscles grow due to damage incurred during a workout. In theory at least, muscle fibers damaged from an intense workout would signal increased protein synthesis. They would then be rebuilt bigger and stronger. Studies have not shown this to be true.
Hypertrophy is an increase in size of the muscle fibers you already have. It does not mean you’ve added new muscle fibers.
2. Muscle Hyperplasia
Hyperplasia means the addition of new muscle fibers. Whether or not this is even possible in humans is a subject of great debate. There are conflicting studies and no conclusive evidence that we can actually create new muscle fibers as a result of physical training. (without drugs).
Even if it is possible, it is not the primary way we build muscle from exercise and weight lifting. When we work out in a specific way, we trigger a series of events that lead to increased protein synthesis, causing hypertrophy of our muscle tissue.
Why Does the Body Build Muscle?
Our bodies do not build muscle so that we can look good at the beach. Bigger, stronger muscles are built gradually in response to repeated stress being placed on the body.
Bigger muscles are essentially an adaptation to stress. In order to continue building muscle, new and more challenging forms of stress (exercise) must continuously be applied. This can mean heavier weight, more reps or new exercises.
In short, our body will build muscle when it is forced to do so by the repeated demands placed on it, and when it has the extra resources to do so. It takes a lot of energy (calories) to maintain and especially to build new muscle. For this reason, a caloric surplus is necessary.
Now we need to get into more practical topics and how you can apply this knowledge to your own workouts to build muscle.
It’s important to understand that it is the environment within the muscle that signals increased protein synthesis (muscle growth). When we work out in a specific way, we purposefully create an intramuscular environment that will allow us to build that muscle.
Remember we said that muscle hypertrophy is caused by mechanical tension and/or metabolic stress. (we’re leaving out “muscle damage” as it is not clear that this actually causes hypertrophy.)
When we lift weights, we create tension within the muscle as it contracts and stretches. Think of a biceps curl. The biceps contracts, pulling the load up, then stretches as you lower the weight back to the starting position.
There are 2 important points to understand about tension as it relates to building muscle:
1. Greater tension results in more muscle growth
When we lift heavier weight, we lift it more slowly. This causes more high-threshold motor units (muscle fibers) to be recruited. The same phenomenon can be seen during the eccentric phase of a lift. Slowly lowering the weight in a biceps curl causes much greater tension in the muscle than the concentric portion of the lift.
This is why bodybuilders have always focused a lot on the eccentric portion of their lifts.
Practically, this means 2 things:
Lifting heavier weights, in the 1-5 rep range, will cause greater tension than lighter weights. You’ll recruit more high threshold motor units.
Focusing on the eccentric portion of the lift will cause more tension, again recruiting more muscle fibers. Take notethat this also causes a lot of additional stress to the body, and can quickly lead to overtraining and fatigue. It’s a tool, not something you have to do all the time. It’s also not necessary for growth. Again, just a tool.
2. Fatigue and muscle growth
When you perform multiple sets, the muscle will become fatigued. When the muscle is fatigued, the muscle fibers being recruited will not be able to keep up. As a result, additional muscle fibers will be used to continue lifting the weight.
For this reason, programs using schemes like 5 sets of 5 reps are very effective. They create a high amount of tension using relatively heavy weight, and also involve fatigue as you get to the 4th and 5th sets.
Imagine doing a set of high rep squats, let’s say 20 reps with moderately heavy weight. At the end of that set, your legs (and entire body) would be begging for mercy. That feeling is caused by metabolic stress.
Lactate and other metabolites have accumulated in the blood and within the muscle, causing an acidic environment and making muscular contractions more difficult.
You’d also likely have a pretty good “pump,” in your legs caused by blood and plasma being shuttled into the muscle and volumizing (expanding) cells.
This environment caused by metabolic stress sends a powerful signal for muscle growth, given the load being used is adequate, generally at least 60% of your 1 rep max or greater. Anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone are increased, as is protein synthesis.
Which Workout Methods are Best to Build Muscle?
We’ve already discussed that the type of workout you perform places specific stress on the body, forcing it to adapt by building muscle.
More specifically, we learned that the type of workout we do creates a specific environment within the body and muscle, which signals increased protein synthesis and muscle growth.
So what type of workout is optimal for building muscle?
High Reps (12-15)
Training with high reps (more than 12) has been shown to be less effective at building muscle than lower rep ranges.
This is probably because the lighter weight used simply cannot recruit the highest threshold (most powerful) motor units. Using less than 60% of your max does not create adequate tension in the muscle to signal growth.
Using these rep ranges will lead to muscle endurance and possibly a small amount of growth due to metabolic stress.
Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR)
An exception to this would be if you’re using occlusion training, which involves using bands around your arms or legs to restrict blood flow.
BFR training has been scientifically shown to increase muscle growth and strength when using high-rep/light weight training.
There’s no disputing that using a low rep/heavy weight strategy can build muscle. 5 x 5 and other similar programs have been used by some of the best bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reg Park.
Generally, lower reps and heavy weight lifting is optimal for gains in strength. By lifting heavy weights in the 1-5 rep range, you’re training the nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers, making you stronger.
What’s somewhat lacking in the lower rep ranges is the metabolic stress necessary for optimal muscle growth. With low reps, the body relies almost entirely on stored energy (phosphocreatine) to complete the lifts.
This causes you to need longer rest periods (2-5 minutes) in order for your body to replenish that energy, which results in less metabolic stress in the muscle. You cannot shorten your rest period without limiting your performance.
The Optimal Muscle Building Range
Research has shown that the 6-12 rep range with moderately heavy weights is the optimal style for building muscle.
Training in the 6-12 rep range forces the body to rely on anaerobic glycolysis for energy. This means the body must use glucose, which is then converted into lactate. This causes the buildup of lactate and other metabolites in the muscle. You’ll remember that we defined this as metabolic stress, which causes muscle hypertrophy.
The result of this increased metabolic stress is increased testosterone and growth hormone production and increased protein synthesis post-workout. Not to mention a huge pump, which is also thought to promote muscle growth.
Training in the 6-12 rep range with moderately heavy weight and relatively short rest (1-2 minutes) results in the most anabolicenvironment in the body. This means it will send the strongest signal to increase protein synthesis and build muscle.
Which Exercises are Best to Build Muscle?
It is widely accepted that for muscle growth, the big, compound exercises are superior for building muscle. While people still debate this, there is really no question about it.
Big, compound movements like the deadlift, squat and overhead press use several different muscle groups in unison. This results in:
Moving more weight
Using more total muscle
A greater anabolic response:
Greater testosterone and growth hormone production
Most bodybuilders and powerlifters would tell you that big, compound movements are superior for both size and strength. These lifts include:
Standing Overhead Press
Pull up/Chin up
Workouts should generally start with big lifts, and end with isolation type lifts. Prioritize the most important and beneficial exercises at the beginning, when you have the most strength and energy.
People often don’t prioritize getting stronger. The problem with that is that you’ll eventually plateau and your body will require heavier weight in order to grow. At that point, if you don’t get stronger, you’re probably not getting any bigger.
Remember why the body builds muscle. It’s an adaptation to stress. You have to continue increasing that stress over time in order to continue growing.
If you increase your bench press by 30 pounds, you can then perform every rep of your workout with heavier weight. This would result in additional (new) stress on the muscle, which would result in growth.
Periodizing Your Training
Since strength is so important, it is critical that you switch up your training periodically to focus on getting stronger. Just because the 6-12 rep range is optimal for building muscle, that doesn’t mean you should work out ONLY in that range.
It’d be far more productive to do something like this:
10 Weeks Hypertrophy focus
6 Weeks Strength Focus
6-12 rep range High volume
5 x 5 (or similar)
Periodizing your training doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon gaining muscle in order to get stronger. You simply need to shift your focus a bit to keep the body responding and adapting. 6 weeks of strength training can allow you to come back into another hypertrophy cycle stronger.
Your nutrition strategy is paramount when trying to build muscle. One of the most basic tenets of building mass is that you must maintain a positive energy balance. This means eating calories in excess of what you need to maintain your current size.
Without extra resources, your body cannot and will not build muscle. Building and maintaining muscle requires a lot of resources, and our bodies will place those resources elsewhere unless we maintain a surplus.
How Many Calories Do You Need To Build Muscle?
This varies from person to person. It’s helpful to know your body, and you will in time by trial and error. A simple equation to get a rough idea of how many calories/day you’ll need to build muscle and gain size is:
Multiply your weight in pounds by 18.1
Multiply your weight in kg by 40
So, if I weigh 220 pounds, I’d need around 4,000 calories/day to gain weight.
How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle?
If you’re working out and creating an anabolic environment in the body, it’s crucial to have enough protein available throughout the day to allow your body to build muscle.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, unless you’re taking anabolic steroids. Multiple studies have found no additional benefit to consuming more than 0.7 grams/pound of body weight. Several studies showed that even less than this is adequate to build muscle.
It’s also a myth that the body can only digest 30g of protein from each meal. When eaten along with other macronutrients like carbs and fats, it can take a lot longer to digest protein. Therefore, more than 30g can be utilized over several hours from a big meal.
Generally, as long as you’re getting an adequate amount each day spread out over 4-6 meals, you should be fine.
Pre Workout Nutrition
Eating a meal high in carbohydrate and protein 60-90 minutes before your workout can have a positive impact on muscle growth and workout recovery. Studies have shown that pre-workout consumption of protein can have the same effect on muscle growth as post workout consumption.
Consuming carbohydrate and protein before a workout can result in faster glycogen replenishing and increased protein synthesis, speeding up recovery and helping to build muscle.
While supplements can definitely help build muscle, the majority of them are nothing more than placebo-pills. There are a handful of supplements that have been shown to have measurable effects on muscle building:
Creatine: Creatine is basically stored energy in your cells used for high intensity effort like a heavy lift or a short sprint. Supplementing creatine saturates the muscle, potentially allowing you to get extra reps with heavy weight.
L-Citrulline: Converts to nitric oxide in the body. Increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Increases “pump.” 6 grams is necessary for the full benefit.
L-Carnitine: Controversial fat-loss benefits, can also increase androgen receptors, which bind to testosterone.. helping build muscle.
BCAA’s: If your pre and post workout nutrition are on point, you have no need to use BCAA supplements. In the absence of a pre- workout meal, use 5-10 grams of BCAA’s during your workout.
Getting Calories From the Blender
It can be hard to get enough calories to build muscle every day from your diet. For this reason, the blender can be your best friend. Using whey protein, fruit, peanut butter and whatever else you like, you can get a huge amount of calories and protein quickly.
Here’s one smoothie I’ve used for years:
Prioritizing recovery is just as important as any training or diet consideration. We don’t build muscles while we’re at the gym, we build them when we’re resting and sleeping.
Muscle growth occurs when we’re not training. That means on days away from the gym. Spending too much time at the gym or doing too much high intensity training can flood your body with catabolic stress hormones like cortisol. This results in many undesirable effects, including muscle wasting.
Make sure to prioritize days away from the gym. Getting a massage has been shown by research to speed up recovery. Other activities like playing a video game, watching a movie, or anything relaxing can also have a beneficial impact on allowing your body to recover and regenerate (and build more muscle).
Limit Conditioning and Cardio
Too many people out there are trying to achieve multiple goals at the same time. They want to get bigger, get stronger, lose weight, get leaner, get faster… I digress.
Attempting to build muscle, then going and performing an hour of intense cardio will cause interference. You’re giving your body mixed signals based on the the environment you’re creating in your body.
In order to build muscle, you must maintain a caloric surplus and create the most anabolic environment possible. Excessive cardio will pull energy away from building muscle, spending it instead on your cardio sessions and especially on recovering from them.
Will that 5 mile run hurt your muscle gains? Yes. Is it worth it? That’s really up to you and your priorities.
In short, don’t ignore your cardiovascular training and health. Just don’t overdo it. If your priority is building muscle, then focus on building muscle. You can’t do it all at the same time. The human body just isn’t designed that way and you’ll only hurt your gains.
Better Cardio Options For Muscle Building
There are some forms of cardio that are complimentary for those trying to get bigger and stronger. Here are a few examples below. You want to limit activities with a strong eccentric component. This will make them easier to recover from. Here are some activities you can hit fast and hard.
Sled push/pull: Push a prowler/sled. Rest. Repeat.
Hill Sprints. Sprint 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds. Repeat desired reps. Go home with tail between legs.
Assault bike intervals. Max effort for 15 seconds, slow effort for 45 seconds. Repeat for 10-20 minutes.
It’s important to include some cardio in your weekly split. Aerobic fitness can help you recover faster, and has too many health benefits for me to list here. In short, do some cardio, but stick to methods that are complimentary to your primary goals, and keep it fast and furious.
Building muscle can be a lot of work. But if it was easy, everyone would do it!
To build muscle, you need to maintain a caloric surplus and apply stress to the body that increases over time (progressive overload). To maximize muscle gain, we should use compound movements to elicit the greatest anabolic response from the body.
We should aim for the 6-12 rep range using moderately heavy weight, which gives us the most balance between mechanical tension and metabolic stress, creating the best possible environment for muscle growth.
You should always have en eye on getting stronger, and should make sure you’re getting adequate calories and protein to keep the body building muscle all day long.
Lastly, we have to make sure we prioritize recovery. Muscle is built while we’re resting. Relax, play some video games. Watch some netflix.
I hope this article was helpful, and as always, I hope it helped in some way to get you a little closer to that best version of you!
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Since I’ve been in the game a long time, and have used myself as a guinea pig for more than my fair share of programs, I thought I’d reflect on the 3 best workout programs I’ve ever done.
Specifically, the ones that gave me the biggest gains in size AND strength.
Before You Start…
Before you even think about getting serious about a new program, answer these 3 questions.
Do you have a general idea of how you’re going to eat along with the program to reach your goals?
Do you have actual goals? If you don’t, please fix that by setting one now. Visual goals are ok (but harder to measure). Visualize exactly what you want to look like.
Are you OK with having to buy bigger clothes, and having small children and animals stop to gaze at you?
If you answered yes to all 3, then you’re ready to start one of these programs. You’re welcome.
Eat Eat Eat
I won’t spend a lot of time on this right now, because I’ve been down this road with so many people and I’ve found that no matter what I say, some people just don’t get it.
You have to EAT like an animal to get huge.
You have to eat meals between meals. It’s a law of nature. I didn’t make the law, but I have submitted to it in the past and have literally gained 20 pounds in a 3-month period. (No, not all muscle, but solid gainz nonetheless).
Your metabolism isn’t “just too high to gain weight.”
You just aren’t eating enough. I’m not being negative, just had to add this because without eating in a surplus, you literally can’t put on size.
Supplements for size and strength
Using the right supplements can make a big difference when you’re trying to put on size and strength.
It shouldn’t be complicated. There are only a few that you really need and that have proven benefits.
These are my top 3 recommendations that should accompany any program geared towards putting on size and getting stronger:
Creatine: For increases in strength and power, faster muscle gains and enhanced recovery. Don’t spend too much. Basic creatine monohydrate is fine. 5-10g/day
Whey protein: If you aren’t getting enough protein from food to ensure maximum gains and recovery from your training, you have to use a protein supplement.
Citrulline: L-Citrulline increases nitric oxide in the body, improving blood flow and giving you a bigger “pump.” If you take a pre-workout, it probably contains Citrulline. Just make sure you’re getting at least 6 grams per serving (the clinically relevant dose).
I also highly recommend Bulk Supplements, as you’ll get more for less, and the ingredients are pure.
The Best 4 Workout Programs for Size AND Strength
Without Further Ado, here are 4 programs that gave me really great gains in size AND strength, with a link to each if you want to check it out further.
I’ve personally done all of these over the years and have used concepts from them in my personal training as well as in my own programming (Swole Town).
#1 DoggCrapp Training by Dante Trudel
Just seeing the name of this one probably raises some eyebrows.
But I assure you, this is one of the hardest hitting, effective training programs out there.
What is DoggCrapp Training?
DoggCrapp is a training method created by Dante Trudel, who was a high-level bodybuilder for many years and continues to have a large following.
This program is the essence of a high-intensity-training program (HIT).
Training Split with DoggCrapp Training
DoggCrapp is typically broken down into a 3-day split.
There are two rotating days, with an A and a B version of each. For example:
CHEST INCLINE BENCH
CHEST DB BENCH PRESS
DELTS DB PRESS
QUADS LEG PRESS
DELTS UPRIGHT ROW
TRICEPS CABLE EXT
BICEPS INCLINE CURLS
TRICEPS DB EXTENSIONS
BI’S BARBELL CURL
BACK WIDTH PULLDOWN
FOREARMS HAMMER CURL
BACK WIDTH PULL UP
BACK THICKNESS DEADLIFT
CALVES CALF RAISE
BACK THICKNESS ROW
CALVES CALF RAISES
Week 1: You would perform Upper A, Lower A, Upper B (mon/wed/fri)
Week 2: Lower B, Upper A, Lower A
Week 3: Upper B, Lower B, Upper A
How to Perform Properly
With DoggCrapp, everything besides squatting and deadlifting is done for 3 sets of MAX REPS with the same weight.
That means you take the sets to absolute failure in a rest/pause style.
So, with Lat Pulldowns, for example, you would:
Perform a set to failure at 170lbs.
Take 15 deep breaths
Repeat, 170lbs to failure
15 breaths, and one last time, take it to failure.
The Key: Progressive Overload
The key to this program is progressive overload.
For every movement, you MUST record the total reps completed across all 3 sets.
That means you need to keep a workout log/journal (you should be doing that already).
Your goal next time that session comes up in the rotation is to CRUSH that number.
You should set a rep goal of somewhere between 12 and 24 reps. When you beat it, you EARN the right to add weight.
Why This Program Works for Size and Strength
DoggCrapp works so well because it focuses on the most important elements:
Effort/Intensity: Everything pushes your body very hard.
Progressive Overload: You’re constantly trying to improve
Big movements: The focus is on big, compound movements. NO fluff.
Measurable: It’s easy to gauge progress, the same 4 sessions repeat.
Recoverable: On 3 training days, you can go very hard and still recover (grow).
After 6-12 weeks, you can rotate some new movements in and continue to grind.
Swole Town is my (biased) favorite, as I created it based on all of my experience and much trial and error.
This program is a hard-hitting blend of high intensity lifting, pulling from elements of bodybuilding, strongman and powerlifting, blended into a comprehensive training system.
This is a team program where hundreds have achieved serious results.
The huge benefit is that Swole Town is delivered through TrainHeroic, an amazing (free) app.
Every movement has a demo video, full instructions, and you also have access to the coach (me), if you have any issues at all.
Rather than following a spreadsheet, this is the optimal way to execute a program and the results speak for themselves. Beasts are built here.
#2 HCT-12 Size and Strength Program
HCT-12 is short for “Hypertrophy Cluster Training – 12.”
The 12 refers to the total amount of reps you complete on the final set of each exercise, but not in the traditional way.
In this Program, you choose a compound movement like the bench press, overhead press, or any other movement you want to choose. You then:
Start with a light, warm up amount of weight and perform 6 reps.
Add a little weight, and do another set of 6 reps.
Continue this process, adding weight and hitting 6 reps, resting up to 2 minutes between each set.
Reach a final set where you can get 6, but not more than 6. A “6 rep-max” for the lift you’re using.
After hitting that final set of 6 reps, rest 20-30 seconds, then perform 2 reps with the same weight.
Repeat this 3 times, resting 20-30 seconds and hitting 2 reps, for 6 total cluster reps. (12 total at the 6RM weight).
The final 3 sets of 2 reps are called a Cluster. The 6-rep max plus the 6 reps in the cluster = 12 reps.
Hence the name, Hypertrophy Cluster Training
Your goal is to constantly be trying to reach a higher weight for the final set of 12 with each workout.
Program Specifics and Details:
Exercise selection in HCT 12 is broken down in a specific way, and if you’re interested, I highly suggest clicking the link to see full details of the program.
Basically, you choose one exercise from each category to focus on.
Sit ups/Ab wheel
You wouldn’t do all of these in one workout. You’d split it up depending on how many days per week you’re going to train.
I wouldn’t recommend more than a 3-4 day weekly split with this level of intensity.
You can rotate an A and a B session, monday, wednesday, Friday: (THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE).
WEEK 1: A-B-A
WEEK 2: B-A-B
Why it works:
HCT-12 is great because at the 6-rep range, you get both strength and size gains.
The cluster sets on short rest are a powerful stimulus for growth, and you get more time under tension at a relatively heavy weight.
I gained about 10 pounds on this program many years ago and got stronger on every lift.
I use cluster training in some capacity in much of my programming, as it is such a powerful tool.
Clusters are one of the most powerful training tools for getting stronger very quickly when integrated in an intelligent manner.
The link to this program doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately. It’s a long-lost gem that I’m happy to help keep alive!
#3 Strength Circuits – Christian Thibaudeau
This program comes as close as you’re going to get to maximizing both strength and size gains in a single program. It is a bit on the advanced side.
It was also one of the most fun training programs I’ve ever done, and it really is different than anything else I’ve ever tried.
It’s a unique and very intelligent program, and I wouldn’t expect any less from one of the world’s best coaches, Christian Thibaudeau, who I’ve learned a tremendous amount from.
Strength Circuits work like this:
Choose 5 exercises, preferably big lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press and power clean.
Perform a set of 5 reps of each movement in a circuit-like fashion, moving from one to the next.
Start back with the first movement and now perform 4 reps of each
Continue this process, doing a set of 3, then 2, then 1 rep of each movement, adding weight each set.
Do the same workout 4-5 days/week.
This lifting program probably immediately raises some eyebrows. You’re doing the same lifts day after day. But the program is deceivingly brilliant. In his own words, Thibaudeau states:
“Performing strength circuits using a 5/4/3/2/1 rep scheme — each round decreasing the reps and increasing the weights on all exercises — provide the perfect mix of load, density, and volume for maximizing strength and hypertrophy, as well as shredding up.”
Why it Works for size and strength gains:
This program is intelligently designed, and it really shows how amazing of a strength coach Thibaudeau is.
The program uses the same big lifts every day, but the volume is not high enough to induce overtraining in the recommended 6 week time frame.
The constant repetition of low rep lifting will improve neuromuscular efficiency (you’ll get better at those lifts.) The daily volume adding up will also force some serious growth of your fast twitch muscle fibers, and you should expect to get a hell of a lot stronger on all the lifts.
The only drawback to using this program is that it can be difficult to perform in a normal gym setting. Trying to go back and forth between 5 different exercises can be a serious challenge.
I was able to circumvent this in 2 ways. One, I have a home gym so that helps. And 2, before I had the home gym, I would go to the gym very early when not many people were there.
My training is one of my highest priorities, and if you feel the same way you can always find a way to get it done.
This one also is definitely not for beginner lifters. You should have a solid training background before diving into this one.
This movement is hands down the number one most effective way to build your upper back and traps quickly.
The trap muscles are busy all day being utilized in a support capacity, and then we normally work them by shrugging… a slow movement done usually for medium to high reps.
Maybe it’s time to ditch the shrugs.
The High Pull is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The explosive nature of the movement targets and stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers of the upper back, which are far more capable of explosive growth.
I have witnessed growth in the traps and upper back after just a handful of sessions, and that’s no BS!
Highly recommend Bulk Supplements. You get more, pay less, and the ingredients are pure.
How To Perform
I first learned this movement by reading an article on T-Nation.com by Christian Thibaudeau many years ago. I’ll post a link to that article at the bottom of this post.
My goal is to help you, the reader… not make myself out to be some sort of guru.
The article is fantastic, and worth reading after this one if you’re serious about taking your back training to the next level.
I normally prefer to perform the movement from a standing position (hang position), as I am looking to target the upper back/Traps and not necessarily accrue the fatigue from pulling from the floor.
Be sure to really focus on the explosive pull of the traps, and keep the bar close to your body, elbows high (higher than the wrists).
When your traps are sorer than you thought possible the following day, you will know I wasn’t kidding!
Try 3 sets of 5-7 reps to start. Use straps, and use a weight where you can be explosive with proper form, yet still challenged.
The bar should reach at least to your lower chest on each pull.
When you’re pulling some decent weight in the high pull, you will be amazed at the results. It’s a game changer.
There are plenty of other ways to build up the traps and upper back, but I like this movement so much and I’ve seen such great results from it that it is definitely number one on the list of Trap Builders.
#2 – Hise Shrug
Ok, ok… I know I said ditch the shrugs.
But this is not the typical shrug most people are performing in the gym.
Hise shrugs put the weight on top of the Traps.
This can be accomplished with a barbell on your back, or by using the calf raise machine.
How To Perform
Put a barbell on your back, right on top of the traps.
Brace your trunk and Flex the Glutes for stability..
Shrug up, hold, and back down nice and slow.
In my opinion, it is better to do these with the calf raise machine. It’s far more comfortable.
Why are They So Good?
Hise Shrugs load the Traps and Upper back directly, and in a unique way that they are likely not used to.
The feeling of fatigue in the Traps from performing these is much different than traditional shrugs.
The new stimulus these can provide can be a solid way to induce some additional growth.
#3 – Farmer Carries
Farmer carries are one of the absolute best, and least utilized builders of the Traps and Back.
The key word here again is TENSION.
Holding onto heavy implements and walking for an extended period of time (20-60 seconds) puts tremendous tension on the Traps, Back, Arms and Trunk.
That tension will lead to muscle growth, improved grip strength, improved Core strength and stability, and for sure some thick ass Traps.
How to Perform
To perform Farmer Carries, simply grab 2 heavy implements (Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Farmer Carry handles, etc..) and walk.
Be sure to:
Keep the chest up and stay upright. Do not hunch forward. If you can’t keep your posture in line, the weight is too heavy.
Challenge yourself. Like any other lift, you want to use progressive overload on these. Always look to get stronger and challenge the body by increasing weight, reps, distance, or all of the above.
Take small, choppy steps. Taking long strides will increase the risk of injury by putting one limb at a time under a heavy load.
Sample Workout For a Big Back and Huge Traps.
*Using this style of training, I would typically hit Back twice in the training week. This session would be one, and the other would be more traditional back training, comprised of Rows, Chin ups, etc.
SG High Pull
40yd (30 sec)
Rear Delt Partials
*See video below for Rear Delt Partials if you aren’t familiar.
There’s a lot more to building up that YOKE than just shrugging yourself to death.
Shrugs can be effective, but you need a lot more variety than that to really build an impressive upper back and to really make your Traps look scary big.
The three movements I’ve listed here are the ones I believe to be the absolute best bang for your buck when it comes to building thick, strong Traps. I hope you’ll give them a try.
As always, I hope this article helps get you one step closer to your best self. Keep pushing!
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