"How many reps should you do and how much weight should you use to gain muscle?
i workout a lot.. but I dont seem to ever gain muscle... when im in the gym I do as many of the weight machines I can... but I only seem to be able to withstand more and more but it never shows in my muscles... help pls! :)"
From the HubPages Questions and Answers. I saw this question.
This looks to me like a common concern and I saw some good answers in the comment section and then started to put my 2 cents worth in when I realized I had a whole lot more to say so with out further to do...
My Thoughts on this in order of importance...
#1 - System Reset
Since you workout "a lot", there's a pretty good chance you're not giving your body the time it needs to fully recover. Muscle is build outside the gym, not in it. Take two weeks off, let your body fully recover and then get back at it.
You want to reset your system which is why I'm suggestion the two weeks off. Seems like too much time off? Don't worry, it doesn't mean you get to be a couch potato.
In these two weeks, be active. Go out and ride your bike. Nothing grueling, just a nice ride. Take long walks. Yes, be a personals add! Take a Tai Chi class and get a massage or two. Go swimming, shoot hoop, go kayak or hike.
Get the point? Be active, get moving, just not in the gym. Your body needs this. Anytime you feel your training coming to a halt, a good week or two away from the gym but active it always a good thing.
#2 You Get Out Of It What You Put Into It
Nutrition is key to muscle growth. Are you getting enough protein and complex low-glycemic carbohydrates in your diet? If not, it doesn't really matter how many reps you do, you'll never pack on any muscle.
You need protein to repair and carbohydrates for energy. Not enough of either one spells disaster for muscle growth.
Protein: Focus on getting at least 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. In English, that means if you weigh 150 pounds with 15% bodyfat, you'll want to consume 130 to 195 grams of protein daily. Try and split that up into 5-6 feedings per day.
Carbs: You want to focus on complex low-glycemic carbs that wont mess with your insulin levels too much. Beans, Brown Rice, Whole Wheat Pasta to mention a few. Apples, pears and Bananas are good fruits as they are packet with quality nutrients and fiber. You should be Even-Steven with your protein to carb ratio, so 1 to 1.5 grams for the carbs as well.
Note: Quality carbs are not going to make you fat. Especially if you're training hard and not eating junk.
Finally, make sure a quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement is in the picture.
#3 Compound Training
Kick the machines to the curb and put 100% of your attention on free weights, specifically basic compound exercises. Compound exercises utilize multi-joint movements such as deadlifts, squats and pressing. Dips and Pull Ups are also quite effective for upper body development.
Machines create Franken-bodies with limited mobility and range of motion.
Focus on big compound movements such as the ones mentioned above. That being said, also make sure you have a trainer show you proper lifting technique. Good form and function is critical to avoiding injury. Especially if you've been using a lot of machines.
Compound exercises with free weights will find you using muscle you didn't know you had and in a very short time, you'll start to see some serious positive change.
It is very important to learn correct movement patterns. Often you'll hear someone bash an exercise as "dangerous" or "bad for your [insert body part like knees or back]" and the reason for that it not because they are dangerous or bad but because someone did the movement wrong and did it wrong often and then got hurt.
#4 - Pump Up The Volume
Volume and Density.
Permission to disregard "repetitions" granted!
Your goal in each workout should be to finish stronger than last time. So for example:
If you took two compound exercises. Let's say Deadlifts and Pull Ups. For the Deadlift, find a weight you can do 6 reps with but no more than 8. For the pull ups, you'll use your body weight. Set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes. Now do 5 Deadlifts. Take whatever time you need to recover from that and then knock out 5 Pull Ups. Rest a little more and back to the Deadlift for another set of 5. Then Pull Ups again. Record the number of reps. When you feel like you wont hit the 5, do 4 or 3 or 2 or even 1.
The important things here are to work through the whole 15 to 20 minutes and add at least 1 rep to the next workout.
Also, never take a set to failure. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS leave 1 rep in the bank. This is how you avoid injury and comeback stronger.
So, here's what I'd suggest if you're looking to build some quality mass.
Monday: Deadlift and Pull Ups - 20 minutes. Followed by: Lunges and Push Ups - 15 minutes
Thursday: Squats and Dips - 20 minutes. Followed by Pullovers and Hanging Leg Raises - 15 minutes.
Saturday: Variety day: Do active recovery stuff like I suggested in #1.
"But it doesn't look like enough work!?!?"
Try it and get back to me...
So there you have it. Feel free to post any questions for clarity or if you think I missed something.
I tried to keep it simple and sweet.
Working out, putting on muscle and getting in shape doesn't have to be complicated. It should be fun, challenging and effective.
Hopefully you'll get something out of this and if so, please pass it on!
Thanks for reading!
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David from Birmingham, UK on March 13, 2012:
Good article with some important points. I like your method of density training. It's not the only way to go of course, but it's a good one.
And I agree entirely with avoiding machines and taking a week off every now and then (I'd say every 8 - 12 weeks for most people, but advanced people could do it more often still).
David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on November 10, 2011:
MosLadder, thanks for the feedback! I appreciate you chiming in!
Chris Montgomery from Irvine, CA on November 10, 2011:
Amen to the rest part David, and the compound exercise suggestion. I don't use machines, haven't for decades, but the idea that the use of them is responsible for decreasing flexibility is a bit random. On the other hand, clubs, kettlebells, and Olympic lifts are certainly conducive to increasing range of motion. Nice hub.
jstelletello on June 18, 2011:
Everyone should read this, putting rest as the number 1 is a phenomenally understated point. Over-training is worse then not training enough. Your point on machines decreasing flexibility is on point! Flexibility and mobility are probably the most neglected parts of traditional gym based workouts.