What You Need to Know About Gaining Muscle Mass

To accomplish your strength goals, use set-and-rep schemes that allow you to lift heavy weights for long periods of time.

Gaining muscle mass does not involve eating mounds of sugary deliciousness for the sole purpose of gaining weight. Nor does it involve getting ripped, cut, etc. Neither is it about getting a bodybuilder's definition. Rather, it's all about gaining muscle that will be used later for increasing strength.

The more muscle mass you have, the stronger you'll be when you go back to strength training.

So where do you start if you want to gain muscle mass? That depends on your training experience. If you are new to training, you must first work on your form and get your strength baseline up. Once you have a solid strength base, you can look to add size according to the amount of weight you can lift and time under tension.

Time under tension is the length of time your body holds a weight. For example, if I did Squats for five reps at two seconds per rep, my body would be under tension for 10 seconds. If I did 10 reps, my time under tension would be 20 seconds.

The stronger you are, the more weight you can lift for longer duration. That's why a good strength base is important when you try to build size.

To accomplish your strength goals, use set-and-rep schemes that allow you to lift heavy weight for long periods of time. The three methods I like are High Rep Sets, Complexes, and Cluster Sets.

RELATED: How to Safely Increase Muscle Mass

High Rep Sets

One of the easiest ways to gain size is to lift a heavy weight for a lot of reps, in as few sets as possible. You can use this strategy for exercises like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses and Rows.

When selecting a weight, use your body weight as a baseline. For lower-body movements like the Squat and Deadlift, subtract 10 to 20 pounds from your baseline and use that as your weight.

Learn more about how many sets and reps you should really do.


Complexes are a great way to lift heavy weights while keeping your body under constant tension. A complex is a group of exercises in which one exercise flows into the next. Usually, a complex consists of at least three exercises, all done without putting down the weight. Check out the video playlist above for examples of complexes.

You can use kettlebells, dumbbells, or barbells for these complexes:

  • A1. Barbell Hang Clean
  • A2. Barbell Front Squat
  • A3. Barbell Push Press


  • A1. Barbell Bent Over Row
  • A2. Barbell Hang Clean
  • A3. Barbell Front Squat
  • A4. Barbell Push Press
  • A5. Barbell Back Squat
  • A6. Barbell Good Morning

With complexes, there is one big limiting factor: your weakest lift. For most people, that is the Barbell Push Press. Choose the weight for all the exercises based on what you can realistically do for your weakest.

Recommended sets and reps: 3x8, 5x5 and 6x3.

RELATED: Use Complex Training to Increase Your Strength and Power

Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are sets within sets. For example: 3x(4x3) or 3x(2-3-5).

Yes, I know, this looks like Algebra 101. The first part is three total sets of four cluster sets of 3 reps. You would do three reps, rest 8 to 12 seconds and then do three more reps. Repeat this two more times, and that would equal one cluster set.

In the second example, you would do two reps, rest, three reps, rest, and then five reps; that would be one cluster set.

Important: while you are resting, you are still holding the weight.

Cluster sets allow you to lift a heavier weight for more reps than you would normally be able to do, while still keeping the tension.

In the first example, you do 12 total reps. You would use your eight- to 10-rep weight, but you would lift it 12 times. Same with the second example. You would use your six- or eight-rep weight but for 10 reps total.

Rest and Fuel

Make sure to get enough rest and nutritious food to recover from a hard workout. Include a recovery day between workouts and get ample sleep (8 to 9 hours). Eat quality food often and drink plenty of water. Carry around a gallon jug of water and eat a healthy snack every two hours A good between-meal snack is the old standby, PB&J.

Learn how you can make the most out of your rest days.

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