Several of you have asked me for a good mass building program, so here it is. I’ve used this routine with many natural bodybuilders as well as professional football players looking to add some bulk in the offseason.
How Many Days per Week Should I Train?
I’ve seen the best results with natural bodybuilders in a bulking phase on 3 days a week, training each exercise once a week. I know almost every program in the magazines you guys read will say 4 days a week, training each muscle twice a week, but my experience with hundreds of guys is that guys that train 4 days a week never make the same gains as the ones that train 3 days a week.
If you train a muscle hard enough, you just can’t recover in less than 6-7 days. Just because the soreness is gone doesn’t mean that the muscle is recovered. 4 and 5 day splits are fine for cutting phases but not for bulking.
How Do I Split Things Up?
Push, pull, and legs seems to be the best split for most guys. Working shoulders with legs doesn’t yield good growth in the shoulders because they end up overtrained. On push shoulders get hammered, on pull shoulders get hammered, and even working legs shoulders get hit.
How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do?
Like I said before, if you want to gain mass you need to stay around 5-6 reps. 4×6 or 5×5 are both good combinations. In my experience the guys that make better gains on 8-12 reps are advanced bodybuilders or are on drugs. I don’t care if you feel a pump or a burn or whatever. That has nothing to do with size or strength, only momentarily pumping blood into a muscle.
How Often Should I Increase the Weight?
You need to add weights to the bar every workout if you can. Going up in 2 ½ or 5 pound increments is great. You won’t be able to add more weight each week, but that needs to be your mentality. Don’t think about anything else but adding weight.
How Long Do I Stay on a Routine?
My experience is that around 8-12 weeks is best. Some guys say that after 6-8 weeks they’ve hit a plateau and need to change their routine. That’s hogwash. Most of the time they’ve hit a plateau because they’re not training hard enough or because they’ve added in more exercises than what’s in my program and hinder their recovery.
DAY 1 – PULL
- Deadlifts or Power Cleans
- Barbell Rows, Dumbbell Rows, or Wide Grip Chins
- Barbell Curls, Close Grip Underhand Chins, or Hammer Curls
DAY 2 – PUSH
- Incline or Flat Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
- Barbell or Dumbbell Shoulder Presses
- Tricep Dips or Close Grip Bench Press
DAY 3 – LEGS
- Front or Back Squats
- Barbell or Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts
- Calf Raises (3×12) – only if a seriously lagging bodypart
- Weighted Crunches or Weighted Hanging Leg Raises (3×12)
When you say 5×5 do you mean the traditional 5×5 (5 sets of 5 reps using the same weight, when you get 5 on fifth set move the weight up) or, 5 sets of 5 reps to failure?
5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight.
Wouldn’t 10 sets for chest be a little much? I was thinking BB Bench 5×5, Military Press 5×5, Close Grip/Skulls 5×5.
10 sets for chest isn’t too much. I like to see a second movement added in like dumbbells or dips because for some guys benches make their chests grow and for others it’s less effective. But I would never skip benches all together. They’re too important for overall upper body strength and thickness.
Forget about close grips benches or skulls. I don’t know what you mean by “skulls”, but I assume they are for triceps. Heavy benches and overhead presses are all you need for huge triceps. After two chest movements and one shoulder movement, your triceps should be so wasted that you couldn’t do a triceps exercise even if you wanted to.
Although after 12 weeks what would you suggest?
After 12 weeks, take one week off. Continue doing cardio but don’t touch a weight. Your body needs the time to completely recuperate.
Then, begin your next 12 week cycle. If you did deadlifts in cycle 1, do powercleans in cycle 2. If you did flat barbell bench, do incline barbell bench. If you did back squats, do front squats. If you did barbell overhead presses, then do dumbbell overhead presses. The idea is to stick with heavy compounds. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE OR ADD IN ANY ISOLATION MOVEMENTS. DO NOT INCREASE REPS OR SETS.
Natural bodybuilders need to stay on a bulking program like this for about 4 or 5 years before they should even think about a cutting cycle or competing.
How much cardio would you recommend weekly during the bulking phase?
I would do cardio at least 2 times a week and up to 3 for 30-35 minutes. When you’re bulking, don’t be too concerned about your body fat percentage. Cardio is important just to make sure your heart is healthy.
When you say barbell rows, do you mean bent over rows, or upright rows?
Bent over rows for building thick lats. Upright rows are a complete waste of time.
If i wanted to do dips instead of one of the pressing movements for chest would I substitute them for the flat or the incline press?
Either way is fine. It won’t make much difference.
Is it ok to do this on consecutive days? like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday?
Definitely not! You need a day between each workout to recuperate. Sometimes you’ll even need to have 2 days off between workouts to recuperate. Plus you should be so sore that you couldn’t workout if you wanted to, even though you’d be working different muscles.
Would putting shrugs in on back day be okay? I know deadlifts do hit your traps but maybe not enough, if so what reps/sets? 5×5?
Shrugs? Remember we’re focusing on heavy compound movements and not wasting time and energy on isolation exercises for now. Your traps will get hit plenty hard with heavy deadlifts, trust me!
I think I will try this for at least a month and see what it does… If I enjoy it I’ll do a full 12 week cycle.
You need at least 3 months to evaluate any program. One month is too short to make an informed decision.
Any suggestions on incorporating forearm or grip work into this routine?
Deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, curls, rows, and if you do them, chins, should give you all the grip and forearm work you need for now.
I was wondering about cardio? I shouldn’t do too much cardio right? otherwise it would burn off some of what i’m gaining? or is that wrong?
You always need to do cardio, even when bulking. The heart is the most important muscle in the body. You also need some cardiovascular endurance for good squatting. Plus cardio helps keep unwanted fat off your body when you are bulking.
I’d recommend moderate cardio 3 times per week for 25-30 minutes. You can ride a bike, speed walk on a tread mill, play basketball, whatever. The only thing I wouldn’t do is run. Running really taxes the recovery of your legs.
I’ve been doing this routine for about 5 or 6 weeks now and my lifts have gone up every week. I’m hoping my progress will continue for the next few weeks but I realise I may hit the wall sooner or later on adding weight. What should I do when (or if) that happens?
Those are great results! Congratulations!
If you plateau on one core exercise (squat, deadlift, or bench) for a few weeks, don’t sweat it. That’s totally normal. If you plateau on two or more for more than 2 weeks, that’s a good sign that you need to take a week off. If you haven’t taken a week off by week 12, take one off completely. No weights and only moderate cardio. You need to give your legs a chance to fully recover after 12 consecutive weeks of heavy deadlifting and squatting.
Then begin a new 12 week cycle of 5×5. In the second cycle, you’ll probably need to take a week off a little sooner than with the first cycle. But maybe not. Just play it by ear. You can also mix up your exercises a little if you want. Front squats for back squats. Barbell incline bench for barbell flat bench. Dumbbell flat bench for dumbbell incline bench. Dumbbell overhead press for barbell overhead press. Power cleans for deadlifts. Etc.
Would it be okay to maybe swap the order on alternate weeks – such that chest was done first one week and shoulders the second? If not, my shoulders will never be lifting anywhere near what they could.
I would always do at least one chest movement to start your push workout and then the shoulder movement. Doing at least one chest movement first serves to properly warmup your shoulders and triceps before moving into direct shoulder work.
Also, don’t forget that bench work hits the shoulders hard, so you are working them when you do chest movements.
Even if you do two chest movements first and then your shoulder exercise, your shoulders will get big and strong. Don’t worry.