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Anyone with experience in the mass-gain department—and we mean muscle mass, not the lumpy kind that accumulates around your midsection—knows the biggest obstacle to getting big isn’t always in the gym. No one is saying heaving heavy weights is easy, but what’s even harder is making sure all that work isn’t for naught. That means eating, then eating the same thing again, day after day.

Many mass-gain meal plan—sor any diet, for that matter—seem to drag on with no end in sight as you cut into another chicken breast, masticate the last spoonful of your 47th bowl of oatmeal and chug yet another protein shake on the 60th day of your 12-week get-big sentence.

Our strategy, on the other hand, gives you options and changes things up in Month 2 and again in Month 3, depending on your progress, which is the key to this plan. Because nothing beats an eternally drab diet like seeing bona fide results.

Truth No. 1: Muscles Grow With Big Lifts In The 8 to 12 Rep Range

Some people like to take a high-volume approach to muscle growth, insisting that challenging, high-rep sets flush the muscles with blood and trigger new growth. Other lifters are monogamous to big-weight lifts, clinging to the fact that to-the-brink sets will build the most muscle, even with very few reps. The middle ground, however, works for everyone — if it’s done right.

Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS, a Los Angeles–based fitness expert, insists that the greatest gains in muscle come to those who stick to the most proven rep range for muscle growth — eight to 12 reps. “This is the range that is most known, physiologically and anecdotally, to elicit muscle growth,” he says.

Amazingly, there are still debates in fitness circles about which exercises should be used to build mass. Some argue that the greater the variety of exercises, the greater the stress placed on your musculature, the greater your growth in the long run.

“That’s ridiculous,” Peña says. “You can always add variety with single-joint moves, but if gaining mass is your primary goal, you need to stick to bread-and-butter, compound exercises like the bench press, squat and deadlift. Forcing multiple muscle groups to work in concert against progressively heavier resistance is the way to go, period.”

Applied Truth: In this program, you won’t ever perform a set with less than eight or more than 12 reps. Because this is the optimum rep range for hypertrophy — your main goal these 12 weeks — it makes no sense to deviate from it for novelty’s sake. Also, single-joint movements will be a rare find. Major lifts comprise the bulk of the exercises here.

2. Add Little Weight Increments

This is one of the biggest mistakes that gym novices make, adding too much weight, too soon. Adding too much weight to what you can lift before your muscles have had enough time to develop and grow stronger, will only increase the risk for injury.

Making small weight increments to your lifts (or even isolation movements) will allow your body to grow and adapt to progressive overload. This is one of the most basic ways to grow stronger and bigger.

Truth No. 3: Training To Failure (And Beyond) Is Required

One of the most misguided gym practices is stopping a set at a certain number when you clearly had more in the tank. Almost every time you see a prescribed rep range, in this magazine or elsewhere, the goal is to hit failure at that number. Failure is the point at which you can no longer perform reps with good form on your own. So if you bang out 12 reps when you could have done 15 or 16, you’re missing out on a slew of anabolic benefits.

“The key for any set that is based on a particular rep or rep range is to select a weight that causes you to fail at that particular rep,” Peña says. “Weight selection is of paramount importance to this program and just about any other. Hitting failure at these rep ranges triggers the pathways in your body where growth occurs. Going with a weight where you can complete more than 12 reps will instead move you more into the endurance-building zone.”

You can also get additional hormonal benefits by adding key intensity techniques to your sets. Extending sets by lowering the weight and continuing to perform reps after initial muscle failure, also known as drop setting, is one easy way to squeeze even more growth-inducing intensity into your workouts. Another way to build mass fast is by taking short, calculated breaks to take advantage of your body’s rapidly replenishing, explosive-energy stores so you can continue for a few more reps. This is known as rest-pause training. Variations on both techniques will be used in this program.

Training to failure, and beyond, causes additional damage within the muscle bellies which, when paired with proper nutrition, is the ideal environment for exponential growth.

3 Month Muscle Building Workout Training Split

    Monday – Chest and Triceps
    Tuesday – Back and Biceps
    Wednesday – OFF
    Thursday – Shoulders, Traps and Forearms
    Friday – Quads, Hamstrings and Calves
    Saturday – OFF
    Sunday – OFF

Chest and Triceps Workout

    Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-10 reps
    Incline Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-10 reps
    Weighted Dips – 3 sets of 6-10 reps
    Dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets of 8 to 15 reps
    Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Standing Tricep Cable Pushdowns – 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Seated Two Arm Dumbbell Extension – 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps

Back and Biceps Workout

    Deadlifts – 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps
    Pull ups/Weighted Pull Ups – 3 sets of 6 to 15 reps
    Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets of 6 to 15 reps
    Seated Cable Rows – 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Concentration Curls – 3 sets of  8 to 15 reps

Shoulders, Traps and Forearms Workout

    Military Press – 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Seated Arnold Press – 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Power Side Laterals – 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps
    Reverse laterals – 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps
    Power Shrugs – 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps
    Wrist  Curl Over Bench – 2 sets of 10 to 20 reps
    Static Barbell Hold – 2 sets for maximum time

Quads, Hamstrings and Calves

    Squats – 4 sets of 6 to 15 reps
    Leg Extensions – 3 sets of 8 to 20 reps
    Leg Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps
    Romanian Deadlifts – 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps
    Seated or Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets of 6 to 20 reps