101 Best Muscle-Building Tips Ever
Use this comprehensive guide — covering training, nutrition and performance supplementation — to take the guesswork out of adding new mass.
As you progressed in school, you likely found that the required reading was becoming more and more cumbersome. More books, more pages, less time. In your search for some relief, you found Cliffs Notes — the almighty timesaving redeemer of many a student’s report card. These condensed reads offered a quicker way to get through the diffuse material of Melville, Hemingway and Shakespeare by highlighting the main points and trimming out the fat.
Think of this list in the same way, as a summation of the volumes of literature that have been written on muscle building over the years. The 101 tips, presented by section but not in any particular order of importance, encompass the broad spectrum of areas that require your attention for gaining mass: training, nutrition, supplements and equipment. No philosophical debate, no hidden meaning, no tidy denouement of narrative — here, you’ll just find the most authoritative, scientific and time-proven methods for packing on pounds of lean muscle, ready for you to put to use and ace your physique-transformation test.
SECTION NO. 1: TRAINING
1. Warm up properly. As you gain experience, your muscles, tendons and ligaments will be subjected to much more stress than when you first started. To reduce the chance of injury, increase your warm-up time proportionally. As you advance from beginner to intermediate status, three to four light and medium warm-up sets of your first weightlifting exercise of the day, after five to 10 minutes of a general warm-up on the bike or treadmill, can help adequately prepare muscles for the heavy lifting ahead.
2. Save abs for last. “Training abs before your major bodypart work can result in compromises to strength and put you at increased risk for injury,” says clinical exercise physiologist and celebrity fitness adviser Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS (jimmypena.net). Instead, train your abs last or alone in a separate workout. To save time, you can also insert ab exercises between exercises for other bodyparts as you near the midpoint to end of your workout.
3. Try the real stairs. Abandoning the gym for a real set of stairs can change your perspective, refresh your motivation and help spark new fat loss. The variety in the scenery may also help you workout longer, which means more calories burned.
4. Turn on the tunes. Research suggests that listening to your favorite music while lifting will help you complete more reps as compared to not listening to any music or music you don’t enjoy. Plus, your headphones are a good deterrent to workout-killing conversation.
5. Vary your rep ranges. You may think that lifting heavy all the time is the best way to build muscle, but going through phases of lighter work has its place, as well. Different weight loads and rep ranges emphasize different muscle-fiber types, helping you to achieve better overall muscle quality.
6. Partner up. A reliable training partner can spot you and assist with forced reps and partials to help you gain after you’ve hit failure. Is your partner stronger than you? Good. “You might also get a mental boost from observing your buddy’s lifting ability as your competitive juices kick in,” Peña says.
7. Switch the exercise order. Gym-goers are creatures of habit. A good way to keep gains coming, however, is to do your normal routine in the reverse order. After a good warm-up, start with what’s normally your last exercise — you’ll be stronger this time through because the muscle won’t be pre-fatigued, thus enabling you to handle slightly heavier weights for more reps. You’ll work the target muscle in a way it’s unaccustomed to, touching off new growth.
8. Focus on compound moves. If you’re looking to build serious muscle, make sure the majority of your moves in the gym are compound in nature. Compound exercises — which incorporate multiple muscle groups into a lift, such as chest, shoulders and triceps for bench presses, or the glutes, quads and hamstrings during a barbell squat — allow you to move more poundage and train more efficiently than isolation moves, which essentially target only one muscle group at a time.
9. Isolate in moderation. Isolation moves, which require movement at only one joint, are great for helping to shape muscle and have a place in any routine, but they should be used more sparingly than compound exercises. The best way to use them is near the end of a routine.
10. Use both feet. The trend of training bodyparts while standing on one leg has, inconceivably, taken hold in gyms across the country, but if you’re looking to maximize muscle, keep both feet on the ground. Bringing additional body balance into the equation when it’s not necessary detracts from the bodypart you’re focusing on.
11. Learn your set tolerance. Most mass-gaining guidelines recommend 12 to 16 sets for larger muscle groups like legs, back and chest and nine to 12 sets for smaller groups like arms, calves and shoulders. However, you have to learn how your body responds. Sticking to these guidelines may cause some to overtrain while keeping others under-stimulated in the gym.
12. Stand correctly. Standing exercises such as squats, overhead presses and straight-arm pulldowns require you to adopt an athletic stance. To do this, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward, knees slightly bent, torso erect, maintaining a slight arch in your low back, and your eyes forward.
13. Change grips. As you gain experience, your body will start to resist growth on familiar exercises. One way to keep things fresh is to experiment with different grips. On exercises such as bench presses, lat pulldowns, barbell rows, barbell curls and pressdowns, you can force your muscles to work in uncomfortable ways by flipping your grip or using close and wide grips, as well as neutral (hands facing each other) or mixed (one hand up, one hand down) grip positions.
14. Create the illusion of size. By accentuating your shoulders, upper chest and upper back through specific training, you can make your waist look smaller. Aesthetically, this V-taper look gives the appearance of greater overall size. And by bringing up your outer quads, you can complete the look with what’s called an X-frame physique.
15. Train instinctively. It’s good to have your workouts plotted for the next several weeks — that approach breeds accountability. But some days, your quads just may not be up for a heavy squat session or may still be reeling from the last workout. Or maybe your shoulders, still a few days from their next dedicated workout, feel fresh and are ready to train again. Listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to modify your approach according to what it tells you.
16. Select the optimal weight. “Gaining mass isn’t about maxing out every lifting session,” says Shane Domer, MS, CSCS*D, the strength-and-conditioning coach for the U.S. Speedskating team. “Although heavy loading has been reported to be effective for increasing size, research suggests using a six- to 12-rep loading range at 70 percent to 80 percent of your one-rep max (1RM) will provide the optimal combination of load and volume, which will result in an increase in size.”
17. Vary your workouts. “Research has consistently shown that systematically varying volume [repetitions], intensity [load], exercise selection and other variables is most effective for a continual increase in muscle mass,” Domer says. “The human body is very good at adaptation and must be shocked if continued progression is to be achieved.”
18. Mind your rest. “If you’re looking to build lean muscle mass, rest periods between sets and exercises must be strictly monitored,” Domer says. “Short rest intervals (one to two minutes) stimulate anabolic hormone production, local blood flow and result in significant lactate accumulation. All three of these byproducts contribute to an increase in protein synthesis (i.e., hypertrophy) within the muscle.”
19. Focus on progression. “Each workout, you must increase the demands placed on the muscles,” says Jim Ryno, CPT and owner of LIFT Studios in New Jersey (insidelift.com). “This is accomplished by either increasing the amount of weight lifted or by increasing the number of reps in the set.” Plot small goals, like adding 2.5-pound plates to each side of the bar each time you bench-press, squat or deadlift.
20. Get enough shut-eye. “Getting enough sleep is probably the most overlooked part of growing big muscles,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Eric Fleishman (ericthetrainer.com). “Sleep is when the body changes and grows, so embracing the time spent under the covers may have an amazing effect on the way you look.”
21. Keep a journal. Write down as much as you can about each workout — exercises, sets, reps, weight used, intensity techniques used, how you felt, how much you rested between sets, etc. — so that you can undertake a quick progress check from week to week.
22. Employ pyramid training. Starting a weight-training program, you’ll find that everything works — but nothing works forever. Try pyramiding the weight up using progressively heavier weights with each set of an exercise (as the number of reps necessarily drops, as well). The heavy sets are better to build strength, while the moderate-weight sets maximize muscle building, thus allowing you to gain size and strength in the same workout.
23. Try chains and bands for strength. Chains and bands add a different kind of resistance called LVRT, or linear variable resistance training. These implements add progressively greater tension as the range of motion increases in a movement. Using them is one way to overcome a sticking point, especially those that occur toward the bottom of the range of motion.
24. Train opposing bodyparts. Training opposing bodyparts superset style — such as chest with back, biceps with triceps or hamstrings with quads — gives one bodypart a chance to rest while the other is working. This can also add to the intensity of your workouts while limiting the time you need to spend in the gym to get the same benefits.
25. Step into the rack. To stop the barbell from crushing you on a hefty squat, use a power rack. Many squat racks have a set of pins that you can set just below your maximum squatting depth. If you fail on one of the reps, simply let the weight drop to the safety pins and walk away.
26. Go unilateral. By training only one side, you can generate more force and recruit more muscle fibers, which leads to more strength and size. Try single-arm overhead presses, single-leg presses, one-arm pulldowns and single-arm bench presses on a machine to start using this technique to your advantage.
27. Deadlift. “This exercise, along with the squat, is responsible for the greatest amount of hormone release, which is very crucial for your muscle growth,” Ryno says. The deadlift, which involves pulling a loaded barbell from the floor to a standing position, recruits almost all your major muscle groups and provides a great base of strength and size. Gains typically come quickly for first-time deadlifters, so if you master your technique, new size is sure to come.
28. Squat. Like the deadlift, the squat calls several muscle groups into play. It’s not just about your quads and glutes — your lower back, shoulders, calves, hamstrings and core are significantly taxed during this move. Learn how to perform the standard barbell squat with a good, deep range of motion for maximum gains.
29. Row. Most guys train what they can see in the mirror and, as a result, have well-developed chests and lagging backs. This one-dimensional look can be corrected by doing more barbell rows. The barbell allows you to maximize the amount of stress you place on the muscles of your middle back. Complement your barbell rows with dumbbell, cable and supported rows for best results.
30. Put your weight to work for you. Don’t overlook the importance of bodyweight exercises in your routine. Dips, push-ups, pull-ups, step-ups and lunges work significant amounts of muscle and can contribute greatly to your cumulative gains in muscle and strength.
31. Incorporate plyometric exercises. Training for power with plyometrics helps you better develop your growth-prone fast-twitch muscle fibers. Plyometrics, similar to ballistic-type moves, have a key element of acceleration. For example, with plyometric push-ups, you allow your hands to leave the floor, exploding as high as possible.
32. Stop and start. Try benching and squatting the same way you deadlift . . . from a dead stop. “Try movements like the squat and bench in the power rack, with the safety bars set at the point where the bar would be in the bottom of both moves,” Peña says. “The key is to allow the bar to settle on the safeties each rep. This removes elastic tension, helping you develop strength at your sticking point when you return to standard training techniques.”
33. Chest wisely. Occasionally using a little momentum or body English to get an extra rep or two at the end of a set is a good way to increase your workout volume. It’s important to use a strong and controlled rep speed when you begin a set, but generating an extra bit of momentum as you begin to fatigue can get you over a sticking point when correctly and judiciously applied.
34. End with a pump. A Japanese study concluded that you can increase strength and muscle-cell size slightly farther by flushing more blood and water into working muscles with a very high-rep set done after your normal working sets. Aim for a set of at least 20 reps and as many as 100 reps of a final isolation-type exercise following your heavy work.
35. Volumize. “One way to thoroughly bully a muscle into responding is by using German Volume Training, which calls for you to do 10 sets of 10 reps of only one exercise — ideally, a compound movement for maximum growth — which generates a muscle group,” Peña says. On top of the increase in muscle fibers you hit as a result of the constant stimulus, your workout will require less equipment, too.
36. Superset. By performing two exercises consecutively, without rest, you place a greater demand on working muscles. Typical supersets involve opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, but by performing a major compound exercise followed by an isolation move for a single muscle group, you can encourage growth, too.
37. Try tri-sets. As the name suggests, you group three exercises together and perform them in a row, sans rest. They are a great way to shock a muscle that has plateaued and needs a good wake-up call.
38. Occasionally use giant sets. Performing four or more exercises for a muscle group in succession (without rest) is referred to as a giant set. Try doing one or two giant sets for a muscle group to shock the muscle into new growth. For smaller muscles like the biceps and triceps, one giant set is more than enough for a complete workout.
39. Be partial to growth. The advanced technique of partial reps was popularized by California bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda. As the name indicates, these decreased-range-of-motion reps, sometimes also referred to as “pulse reps,” are performed at the end of a regular set when you hit initial failure. Though you may not be able to do another full rep, going through a sequence of partials until reaching failure again places additional demand on the working muscles.
40. Do a double-split. If your schedule allows, you can use a pro-bodybuilder approach and break up your workouts into two sessions in one day. For instance, instead of training chest and back together every Monday, you can hit chest in the morning, then come back in the evening and give your back your full attention. The rest in between allows for more acute recovery and replenishment of your energy stores, so neither bodypart suffers from going second in a session.
41. Strip. Performing reps to failure, then reducing the weight 20 percent to 30 percent and continuing to failure again, can help you coax new growth out of stubborn muscles. Performed with a barbell, “stripping” simply requires a partner or partners to remove an equal amount of weight from each side after you hit initial failure. With cables, you reset the pin to a lighter weight. With dumbbells, grab a lighter pair. You can perform multiple drops in succession, as needed.
42. Time yourself. Most people focus on weight, reps and rest during their workouts but few, if any, consider total workout time. By trying to do the same number of sets and exercises in a shorter time or more sets and exercises in the same time, you get out of the gym faster and can increase the intensity of your workouts.
43. The buddy system. This challenging technique forces you and your training partner to push one another in a unique way. One of you completes a set of an exercise and then passes the bar or dumbbells to the other. There is no rest in between, except for the time you’re waiting for your partner to finish his or her set. Barbell curls are a great exercise to employ this technique on.
44. Stagger your sets. This is a great way to bring up smaller muscle groups, such as calves or forearms, which may be lagging. To use staggered sets, perform extra sets for these smaller groups while you are resting between sets of larger muscle group exercises. For example, you can do standing calf raises between sets on the bench press or behind-the-back barbell wrist curls between bouts on the leg-press machine.
45. Incorporate rest-pause. The rest-pause technique is based on the physiological fact that a muscle will usually regain 90 percent of its strength in as soon as 10 to 20 seconds. To do this correctly, select a heavy weight that brings about failure at a certain rep range — six to eight, for example — and stop a few reps short of that. Rest 10 to 20 seconds, then continue performing reps. Continue in this fashion until you’ve completed the total desired number of reps. This will add to the cumulative number of pounds you move in a workout, meaning more overall stimulation for the target muscle groups.
46. Pre-exhaust. Pre-exhaust is one way to get around limiting muscles with some exercises. For example, on rows, the smaller biceps may fatigue before your lats do. The fix? Perform an isolation exercise like straight-arm lat pulldowns, which place little stress on the biceps. This will “pre-exhaust” the lats. Because the back has already been engaged, by the time you do your rows, the biceps should no longer be the limiting strength factor that halts a set.
47. Press through your heels. When doing squats, leg presses, lunges or deadlifts, it’s important to “press through your heels.” This mental trick keeps the weight over your hips, where it should be, and allows you to press (or pull) more weight without jeopardizing the stability of your knees. If you feel like you are on the balls of your feet, your form is off and you need to readjust.
48. Train for better biceps. “Typically during a biceps curl, you don’t get the most out of the upper portion of the curl because you failed to move the bar past the parallel point,” Peña says. “However, the strongest portion of the curl is the top half, where the biceps brachii dominate, while the lower half of a curl is predominantly the brachioradialis. So why not spend some time up high where the biceps brachii can be fully activated? Practice seated barbell curls to maximize the upper portion of the biceps curl.”
49. Thicken your triceps. Cable pressdowns are great, but for real triceps mass, you need to focus on overhead movements. “By raising your arms overhead, you stretch the triceps long head, meaning it can contract more strongly than when your arms are fixed by your sides,” Peña says.
50. Fully engage your delts. Wider, thicker shoulders come as a result of well-developed middle deltoids. But you may not be getting the most out of your current training regimen. “Take your lateral raises above parallel,” Peña suggests. “The delts are highly engaged, even up to 130 degrees. Also, start your laterals a few inches from your hips to reduce early involvement from supporting muscles like the supraspinatus.”
51. Thump your upper chest. The upper chest is a weak area for most guys, but this issue has an easy fix. In addition to just adding more incline movements, you should pay attention to how you’re doing them. “During incline barbell bench presses, you’ll want to spread your grip wider than usual, allowing for greater range of motion in the bottom of each rep,” Peña explains. “The narrower your grip, the less able you are of bringing the bar to the very upper portion of your chest at your clavicle line.”
52. Mix your grip for your back. “Use a staggered, or mixed, grip for deadlifts and rack pulls for greater strength,” Peña says. “With an overhand grip, the bar can roll out of your hands, which becomes a problem with heavier weight. The staggered grip helps prevent this through the physics of reverse torsion. That means that the overhand grip is twisting the bar in one direction while the underhand grip is twisting the bar in the opposite direction, preventing the bar from rolling in your hands.”
53. Squat wisely. Lower the bar on your back, to a point more near the middle of your traps, during squats,” Peña instructs. “Doing so will shift the emphasis more toward your hips, glutes and hamstrings, allowing you to squat more weight.”
54. Walk off flagging forearms. To build bigger forearms, you can do hammer curls, wrist curls and reverse curls. But if total body gains are important, try adding farmer walks. Pick up a heavy pair of dumbbells and take long, slow steps — about 20 total, more if you can stand it — which overloads your forearms isometrically with max weight.
55. Deadlift Romanian style. Hamstring curls are the go-to for this muscle group, but they only require movement at one joint. Romanian deadlifts, on the other hand, allow you to use more weight and work across the full length of your muscle belly, getting up into your glute-ham tie in at the hamstring’s origin.
56. Experiment with your calves. Calves are traditionally a stubborn bodypart, reluctant to grow, but if you try a few different training approaches, you’ll likely find one that works well for you. First, try experimenting with heavier weight and lower reps, in the six to 10 range. If that doesn’t work, try super-high rep ranges of 15 to 25 or more, drop sets, single-leg variations, and even holding the peak contraction longer on each rep.
57. Challenge your core. “Core training” has also become a hot trend in gyms. To have a truly strong core, however, you need to do more than exercise-ball crunches and wobble-board balancing moves. One great option to introduce into your repertoire is the overhead barbell squat, a very difficult exercise that places heavy demand on your entire core musculature because of the position of the weight. Mastering this move will help you lift more on your other major exercises.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS
58. Get your protein. This is probably the most important aspect of muscle-building nutrition. And you, as a dedicated gym rat, need more of it than most. To build muscle, try to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, spaced out over the day. For a 180-pound person, that’s 180 grams of protein in a day.
59. Have protein early in the day. To ensure that your muscles aren’t being cannibalized for energy, make sure that you have 20 to 40 grams of fast-digesting whey protein first thing in the morning. This puts a halt to the muscle breakdown that occurs during your nighttime fast, when your body is seeking fuel for organs.
60. Have protein often. To meet the aforementioned protein requirement and to make sure that your recovering muscles are receiving the amino acids needed to repair and grow, try to include 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal each day. If you eat six meals, that nets the 180 grams mentioned in Tip No. 58.
61. Take protein preworkout. Drink 20 grams of whey protein immediately before your workouts to get a jump-start on muscle recovery and to reduce the chance that muscle would be used for fuel.
62. Take protein postworkout. This is the most crucial anabolic (or muscle-building) window in your 24-hour cycle. Right after a heavy lifting session, your muscles are starving for some protein to start the rebuilding process. Down a shake immediately — and after no longer than 60 minutes — that contains 20 to 30 grams of whey and 10 to 20 grams of casein powder. This combination has been shown to lead to greater gains than whey alone.
63. In addition to a protein shake, eat real food after your workouts. “Have a protein-packed small meal 30 to 60 minutes postworkout, when muscle cells are most sensitive to uptake protein,” says nutritional consultant Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC of Dana White Nutrition and Healthyeats.com. “ You’ll want some healthy carbs along with it — a grilled chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread will cover it.”
64. Protein late is great. Just because you’re sleeping doesn’t mean you can’t be building muscle. At night, growth-hormone levels peak, meaning your body is in a position to build muscle. To take advantage of this — and to reduce muscle catabolism — take a scoop of casein protein just before you hit the sheets every night. This slow-digesting protein provides a trickle of aminos to your muscles while you snooze.
65. Protein later is good, too. Though it’s not really advised for those looking to be strict with their calorie consumption, some elite bodybuilders set their alarms again for the dead of the night so that they can down yet another protein shake to continue bathing their muscles in amino acids.
66. Front-load your days. You’ll stoke your metabolism all day by consuming larger amounts of calories early in the day. This also helps to ensure that you don’t store excess calories as body fat. Just make sure to taper off your calorie intake by the end of the day, when your energy expenditure is typically ebbing.
67. Include fats in your diet. Fat is a great source of energy and helps your body to metabolize many vitamins and minerals. Consuming unsaturated fats like avocadoes, nuts, seeds and olive oil is a crucial part of helping you grow muscle, especially if you are on a low-carb diet and need to make up for lost calories. Stay away from saturated and trans fats, which have no real nutritional value. Try to get 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day, or 90 grams for the 180-pounder.
68. Clean out your pantry. If it’s not in the house, there’s less chance you’ll eat it. Junk foods not only can sabotage your midsection but also can reduce the amount of muscle you’re able to build. These empty calories should be kept out of your home altogether if you’re serious about gaining clean mass.
69. Don’t ignore carbs. Carbohydrates may be taboo to physique-minded individuals because they can affect body fat when consumed in excess or when the wrong types are eaten too often. But to gain mass, you have to train hard, and this is much tougher without enough muscle glycogen (which is carbs in stored form). To gain mass, aim for 2.5 to 3 grams of carbs — upward of 540 grams — per pound of bodyweight per day.
70. Ingest enough calories. You can’t really gain appreciable muscle without calories. A good target range for the 180-pound lifter is 22 to 25 calories per pound of bodyweight per day. That’s about 4,500 calories at the top end.
71. Use fast carbs. Though fast-digesting, high-glycemic carbs aren’t ideal for keeping lean, there are two times during the day when you should make sure you have them: first thing in the morning and postworkout. During these times, your body needs a quick spike in insulin to fill glycogen stores. (Actually, good postworkout carbs can be as simple as white bread or Gummi Bears.)
72. Try chocolate milk. A little bit of chocolate syrup mixed in with your low-fat or skim milk postworkout is as good, if not better, than refueling with a sports drink because of its ideal protein-to-carb ratio. The fast-digesting sugars in the syrup also helps to quickly pump glycogen stores back up to snuff.
73. Hydrate. No matter your goals, getting enough water is a vital part of athletic performance. Because every body function — including anabolism — requires water, you should aim to consume half of your bodyweight in ounces per day. A 180-pounder needs at least 90 ounces, especially if his workouts are intense. Your urine should be pretty close to clear; if it’s dark yellow or cloudy, you may be dehydrated.
74. Snack right. You may not be able to microwave a chicken breast every two to three hours at work or school, which is why you should keep healthy, muscle-friendly snacks handy. Almonds, jerky, protein powder, fruit and protein bars are easy-to-store items that can be accessed between meals.
75. Don’t skip breakfast. Eating a breakfast heavy in quality protein, carbs and fat is a good way to ensure that your day starts off on the right foot anabolically. This meal gets your body back into muscle-building mode after sleep and provides energy for the rest of the day.
76. Be creative. On a get-lean diet, people can go mad eating plate after plate of chicken and broccoli. Same can be said for those on a mass-gain plan — no one wants to eat egg whites and bell peppers every day. It gets boring. Instead, find new recipes that help satisfy your nutritional needs while also providing a welcome switch in the menu.
77. Don’t miss meals. When you get busy, food and water always fall by the wayside. However, with each missed meal, you’re missing out on an opportunity to grow. Instead, prepare all your meals for the day in advance and pack them in individual containers. This makes them easy to access for meals every three hours, as is ideal, and prevents you from heading to the vending machine when four to five hours have elapsed since your last sit-down.
78. Nosh at night. Casein isn’t the only way to grow at night. “Eat a large amount of lean protein and some fish oil right before bed,” says Sean Waxman, CSCS, a former national-level Olympic weightlifter and president of Pure Strength. “The protein will give the body the amino acids it needs to grow, and the fish oil will slow the absorption to maintain positive nitrogen balance longer through the night.”
79. Feed your muscles with protein powder. As you read earlier, protein is a must for maximum muscle and powders are a quick and convenient way to make sure that you’re getting enough. Stock your cabinet with fast-digesting whey for morning, midday and preworkout protein, and add casein for your postworkout and nighttime shakes.
80. Increase your strength and size with creatine. Next from protein, creatine is the MVP in the mass game. Creatine adds strength and size — as much as 5 to 10 pounds in the first few weeks of supplementation — by helping you to get more reps with heavier weight. Take 3 to 5 grams preworkout and postworkout for best results. Creatine monohydrate, the simplest and cheapest form of the stuff, is perfectly effective at helping you gain muscle, but new studies are showing that creatine hydrochloride might be absorbed better by muscles, even in lower doses.
81. Man up with Tribulus terrestris. This testosterone-boosting supplement can boost muscle growth and cause acute improvements in muscle strength. Research shows you should take 250 to 750 milligrams twice a day, with one dose coming an hour before your workout. (If you buy a specific testosterone-boosting product, follow the label directions.)
82. Branch out. Branched-chain amino acids, often referred to as BCAAs, include leucine, isoleucine and valine. These aminos help manufacture and repair damaged muscle tissue, as well as provide energy during workouts. Leucine in particular has been shown to drastically increase protein synthesis. Take 3 to 5 grams with breakfast, preworkout and postworkout, and before hitting the sheets at night.
83. Try HMB. Just starting out? Try taking HMB, or beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. A metabolite of leucine (see above), HMB helps prevent muscle breakdown, particularly beginners who are exposing their bodies to new stress. Try 3 to 6 grams two to three times per day with food.
84. Pump up your workouts with arginine. Using arginine for size is becoming as much of a no-brainer as the use of creatine. This compound, which enhances your body’s nitric-oxide production, improves blood flow to working muscles, which means more nutrients, oxygen and hormones get where they need to go. It has also been shown to raise growth-hormone levels, which leads to greater strength and size over time. Try 3 to 5 grams before and after workouts, but make sure your postworkout dose is stimulant free if you train late.
85. Recover right with glutamine. Don’t skimp on this crucial amino acid, which can decrease muscle breakdown, delay time to fatigue and increase levels of leucine in muscle fibers. As a bonus, glutamine enhances immunity, which keeps you training at a high level year-round. Take 5 to 10 grams four times per day, including before and after workouts.
86. Top the tank with taurine. Taurine helps you produce more force during workouts and can help you improve your endurance and recovery. Take 1 to 3 grams of taurine preworkout and postworkout.
87. Make room for a multivitamin. If you’re not already taking a multivitamin, the question is, “Why?” Hard-training individuals can suffer from nutritional deficiencies, and a multivitamin helps to correct that. Pick a complete multivitamin and take daily as directed, with food.
88. Supplement with extra vitamin D3. This under-the-radar vitamin is being shown to help increase muscle growth and strength through its interaction with muscle fibers. It can be taken supplementally, but it can also be found in food. “Good sources include milk, salmon, tuna, eggs and fortified orange juice,” White says. In supplement form, aim for 1,000 IU, one to two times daily with food.
89. Fortify your health. In addition to a daily multi and extra vitamin D, it’s recommended that you supplement with essential fatty acids, calcium and probiotics. All three have demonstrated numerous health benefits in clinical studies. Essential fatty acids support the cardiovascular, immune and nervous system. Calcium helps bone strength and is involved in muscle contraction, and probiotics augment the digestive system.
90. Believe the buzz on caffeine. Caffeine is gaining a reputation as a perfect preworkout addition to your usual supplement stack. Taken as caffeine anhydrous in a dose of 200 to 500 milligrams, 30 to 60 minutes before your workout, caffeine can help delay your time to fatigue and cause an immediate increase in strength. One study showed that lifters gained an immediate 5 pounds on their bench press when supplementing with caffeine.
91. Go green. Often found in weight-loss formulas, green-tea extract is a great supplement for general health, too. The active constituents in green tea have strong antioxidant properties, most notably epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG for short. Green tea has been shown to stabilize cell membranes in the body, lower LDL cholesterol (i.e., the “bad” type of cholesterol), help prevent inflammation, and has positive effects in the battle against cancer growth.
92. Stay abreast of the latest supplement research. Every day, scientists and researchers are hard at work in labs nationwide looking for new compounds and ingredient combinations that can help bodybuilders build muscle and athletes get bigger, stronger and faster. Take advantage of this continually growing wealth of information by keeping on top of it, through this magazine and other reputable outlets. Then put that knowledge to use by shopping at The Vitamin Shoppe.
93. Master the barbell. The barbell has always been — and will always be — the primary implement in the gym for building strength and mass. Perfect your technique on exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, incline bench press, overhead press, upright row and bent-over row, and you’ll be well on your way to new muscle.
94. Master dumbbells. While barbells reign supreme as the No. 1 mass builder in the gym, dumbbells are a very close second, and major muscle makers in their own right. Dumbbells call smaller stabilizer muscles into action because each side of your body is forced to work independent of the other. This greater demand on muscles triggers new growth, not just in the muscle you’re targeting but in the supporting muscles and tissues, as well.
95. Use machines. Machines should never be the main player in your mass-gain plan, but they have their place. Machines allow you to safely overload muscles, even though it’s through a predetermined range of motion, without you needing to worry so much about balance or weights dropping on you.
96. Use cables. Cables are mainly used to “shape” existing muscle but actually provide great muscle-building benefits because of constant tension. Unlike barbells or dumbbells, which usually have an “easy” portion of an exercise, cables keep your muscles working hard from point A to point B. Choose challenging resistance, and cables become a reliable way to gain muscle.
97. Get to know the Smith machine. The Smith machine, which has a barbell contained in a straight, smooth-running vertical track, allows you to perform your heavy barbell work without necessarily having a spotter around. The safety hooks allow you to rack the weight with a flick of the wrist whenever you hit a sticking point. You don’t want to become over-reliant on the Smith, but it’s good to augment an otherwise free-weight-centric mass routine.
98. Strap up. When your grip begins to fail during your back workout, throw on a set of pulling straps. Don’t worry about the effect on your grip or forearm development; worry about your back first. (Back first, grip later.) If your forearm development is a concern, it’s better to add in specific work for them at the end of the workout than compromise the weight you can handle on your back exercises.
99. If you have access to them, try kettlebells. Kettlebell exercises, such as swings and snatches, are a great way to break up the monotony of typical gym training and can help you build more power and strength.
100. Limit belt use. Weight belts help, if you use them sparingly. Wearing a belt at all times never allows the lower-back muscles to strengthen. We suggest that you use one only if you really need it on your heaviest sets including squats, deadlifts, barbell rows and standing overhead presses, in which you require lower-back protection. Skip the belt on other sets so your lower back has to work and can therefore grow stronger.
101. Increase your intensity on bodyweight moves. Dips and pull-ups are two of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for getting bigger and stronger. But when you can manage 10 to 12 good reps on your own, it’s time to add weight. To do this, you can either hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear a dipping belt, which allows you to really pile on the poundage.