Over the years I've experimented with what works for me, while trying to follow the literature, I would advise the same of anyone who wants to get big. One piece of advise I can give that I have fallen prey to is: don't get married to any program, as Poloquin is fond of saying everything works, not everything works forever. Or as Adam Bornstein writes:
Are you sick and tired of lifting the same weight, day after day, week after week? Then, do something about it. Most men create their own plateaus by not pushing themselves to work harder. They settle on using the same weight, doing the same number of sets and reps. Or, even worse, they stick to the same workout they’ve been doing for the last 10 years (emphasis added). Even Mel Gibson was popular 10 years ago. Times have changed, and so should your workout and your attitude. You need to progressively challenge your body to work harder. That might mean taking a step backwards, and learning how to do exercises correctly. For instance, if you squat and your upper thighs don’t at least reach parallel, you have some work to do. If you’re doing the bench press and only lower the weights 4 inches before pressing back up, well, that’s not really a bench press. Sometimes, the smallest changes can lead to the biggest results. That is, if you’re man enough to swallow your pride and focus on simply becoming better. In some way, you should improve each workout. That’s the goal. Keep that in mind, and you will make changes. Just be patient and realistic with yourself. You might not look like a MH cover model (or not yet, at least), but that’s not a reason to become frustrated and just go through the motions. (Bornstein 2010)Variation, volume and intensity are important factors in hypertrophy training, and the type of program you follow is dependant on your training age. What is that you ask? Well you may not be asking . .but it's my blog I can say what I want! Training age refers to how long you've been praying to the god made of iron (lifting weights), for beginners I would normally recommend some kind of full body program, that's what I put my clients on. Variation between microcycles (weekly) and mesocycles (monthly) will be alright as long as your macrocycle (yearly) plan is geared ultimately toward muscle gain. You can have weeks where you attack volume or intensity exclusively which will mix it up, keep you motivated and help produce muscle mass. Too much volume too soon can lead to some nasty contraindication such as rhabdomyolosis, those silly crossfit kids may think that's a good thing, but I'm here to tell you, as it's life threatening, it really isn't! A full body circuit style program has all compound movements, which allows for nervous system adaptation, creates a positive hormonal situation and is a nice "easy" way to move into the world of lifting heavy things.
After an initial 12 week phase of circuit training I would move the beginner onto something like superset style training, I personally prefer this style of muscle building training for almost anyone. I think, although the paradigm is shifting, that a lot of lifters are still largely influenced by powerlifting/old school bodybuilding training, what do I mean by this? Long rest breaks, no supersetting, 1 bodypart per day, things of this nature.
As Adam Bernstein states:
Want to crank up your metabolism? Then don’t become part of this trend: 94 percent of all men rest for more than 5 minutes between sets, while chatting with friends or watching SportsCenter, says researchers from Adam Bornstein’s School of the Brilliant.
You’d think I was kidding, but walk into any gym and the fake stat is fairly accurate. If you want to lose your gut, it takes hard work and a lot of sweat. That means shorter rest periods. How short? Anywhere from 10 seconds to 60 seconds, but no longer. Do more work in less time, and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll change your appearance (emphasis added). (Bornstein 2010)Nowadays, even traditional hypertrophy guys like Poloquin are still moving to superset training, Alwyn Cosgrove, Tom Venuto, Michael Boyle, a lot of people, and a lot of the research is moving toward a higher intensity apporach. What do I mean by higher intensity training? Short rest breaks, multiple exercises back to back, shorter workouts, more huffing and puffing. I like upper body/lower body splits broken up into agonist/antagonist pairings for building programs, for example, horizontal push/horizontal pull, vertical push/vertical pull, this allows both muscle groups some rest and allows you lift as much weight as possible, while creating a metabolic demand. I would suggest doing superset pairings based on movements as opposed to training purely by muscles, it may not be a necessarily entirely functional/perfect approach, but it works and I don't think it'll overload any motor patterns too much. Again as Adam Bernstein states:
Unless you’re a bodybuilder or, well, a bodybuilder, there’s really no reason to do a body part split (emphasis added). The most common complaint I hear from guys is, “I have no time to workout.” And that’s valid. You have a busy lifestyle, with work, friends, family, and your fantasy league. So if time is a premium, why are you focused on spending five days a week in the gym? Especially when those five days focusing on a different body part will accomplish less than what you could do in three days targeting your entire body. You can argue about the best training program all day. There’s no consensus. But if you’re strapped for time, you’ll have a hard time arguing splitting your workouts into body parts.
Here’s the bottom line: There are better ways to pack on muscle and lose fat. Or at the very least, much more efficient ways to see results. I’d recommend a total body workout. Or you can try splitting your workouts between upper and lower body. Other options exist, too, but whatever your choice, just start looking at your body as a group of interconnected muscles, and not individual parts that you can isolate (emphasis added). That means focusing on more multi-muscle exercises (think squats, deadlifts, and bench presses), instead of “spot training” a muscle (yeah, I’m talking about curls and calf raises). You’ll thank me later. Trust me. (Bornstein 2010)A major part of any program is diet, anyone who is looking to put on mass needs to ingest an excess of calories. The first law of thermodynamics states that you can't get something from nothing, for your body to create metabolically taxing, homeostasis breaking muscle it needs the energy and stimulus to adapt. If we accept that you should be having a significant amount of protein with every single meal, focus starchy carbs for breakfast, pre and post workout, fibrous carbs and protein (with some healthy fats) for every other meal for the day. You want to have high starchy carb days on your weight training days, high fibrous carb on your non training days. You need heavy weights within a typical 8-10 rep range to stimulate growth hormone/testosterone release as a base program, but make sure you program weeks that get out of this zone though, do some volume training with high reps and some density training with low reps. Like I said, don't be afraid to move away from what feels comfortable, sometimes a weight or intensity change can break plateaus.
Putting on muscle is not quantum mechanics, lift heavy weights, eat your time allotted meals (every 2-3hrs), get plenty of sleep, don't drink alcohol. It's really that simple, there's no magic supplement, no magic pill (other than steroids, which I do not recommend). My blog on supplements applies for muscle building too, you don't need costly supplements that are basically just sugar, protein and caffeine, just a routine that changes over time and keeps up the intensity coupled with some carbs and protein applied at the right times..
Bornstein A., (2010). 10 Rules of Weight Lifting. Retrieved 22/04/2011. http://blogs.menshealth.com/working-out-the-details/10-rules-of-gym/2010/12/18/