Ask almost any bodybuilder, powerlifter, or other big, strong dude, and he'll tell you there's no one way to train for building muscle and strength. Even so, I constantly get guys asking me "what's the best workout routine to build muscle?" "What's the one way to train that will really get me the best results?"
Truth is, most of these guys aren't really looking to learn any valuable information or put in any serious work at the gym. They're looking for a magic bullet, that "secret" workout that will get them a big chest, strong arms, and washboard abs by yesterday. That's not going to happen!
But then again, you're not that kind of trainee, are you? You really do want to know exactly how to build muscle, and you're willing to put in the work to make it happen. You just want to know what the best workout routine to build muscle is so that you can maximize the time you put in at the gym! Truth be told, there is no single, best routine, but there are a few rules you MUST follow to make quick progress. Tailor your training to these principles, and you WILL get bigger and stronger faster than you ever thought possible …
1. Squatting for Size
Many an old-timer, washed-up meathead will tell you that squats are the king of all exercises. Don't ignore them just because they aren't in their prime – they're right! Squats are truly the best overall mass-building exercise you can do, but they have unfortunately gone by the wayside as companies have developed new and fancy leg press and hack squat machines. Those have their place too, but they will NEVER replace the good ol 'squat.
You can spend years perfecting your squat technique and routine, but here are a few tips that will put you head and shoulders above 99% of the other gym rats. First, take a medium-width stance, slightly wider than your shoulders. Don't buy into that "close stance to work the quads" crap, your quads will get bigger as long as you squat big weights.
Next, place the bar low on your upper back, pinching your shoulder blades back as tight as possible to create a "shelf" for the bar with your shoulders. Take the bar out of the rack in a controlled but firm manner, KNOWING you're going to dominate that weight. Once you've taken a couple steps back, fill your belly with air (not your chest!), And sit BACK and down into the squat.
That backwards motion with your hips is essential for bringing your hamstrings and glutes into the equation and allowing you to lift some serious weight. You'll never squat big if you just worry about your quads! Once the crease of your hip is at the same level as your knees (this is called parallel), explode back up to the starting position.
As far as actual routines go, there are tons of ways to train the squat. For a beginner or intermediate, I would recommend a routine where you've got one "lower body" or "legs" day where you focus on squatting as your primary exercise, working up to one or two heavy sets of 4-6 reps. You should strive to increase the weight on these sets week after week. Follow up your squatting with other leg exercises like lunges and leg presses, and you're good to go. Remember, your legs have as much or more muscle mass than your entire upper body, so get them big!
2. Strength? Size? It's all the Same!
If you read any conventional bodybuilding "wisdom" these days, you'll see most guys talking as if size and strength are two totally different goals, and that you have to focus on one or the other. What a bunch of crap! Stereotypes of the "all show and no go" bodybuilder aside, have you really ever seen someone who was massively muscular and NOT strong? No way!
The thing is, your muscles grow in response to certain stimuli. There are a number of ways to stimulate this growth, but the only one that can work in the long term is getting stronger. Think about it – if you increase your bench by 100 pounds, do you think you'll have bigger pecs? If you take your max on the squat and get strong enough to rep it 10 times, do you think your legs will be bigger? Of course!
I don't care what kind of workout routine to build muscle you end up doing. Traditional bodybuilding split, powerlifting workout, 5 x 5, it all works. The thing that really matters is that you get stronger! If you train your heart out but don't worry about actually getting stronger, I guarantee that you will be the same size as you are now, six months or a year from now. Now THAT is wasted time.
There are tons and tons of ways to go about getting stronger, but the main thing you should worry about is gradually adding weight to the bar, week after week, for sets of 4-6 reps. Fewer or more reps is alright if you really want to, but the important thing is to always focus on the weight. Don't get too eager, either. A five pound increase per week on the squat or bench may seem like next to nothing, but if you did that for a few months, you'd have made over a 100 pound increase in your strength!
3. Massive Food for Massive Gains
Hopefully you already know this, but just in case it's not drilled into your head yet, I'll say it again – nutrition is THE most important aspect of bodybuilding. You can have the perfect routine and stick to it like a champion, but at the end of the day, your body still needs enough nutrients to repair damage muscle tissue and build it bigger than it was before.
Proper bodybuilding nutrition is actually somewhat well-known these days, so I'll just give you the quick and dirty on how to eat for lean muscle gains. First, you want tons of protein. If you get one gram of protein per pound of your own bodyweight per day (not counting the incidental amounts in grains), then you're on the right track.
Second, you've got to get extra calories from fats and carbs to have the energy to train and grow. Don't bother getting out calculator or counting calories, though. Just make sure you eat most of your carbs before and after training and eat fats with your proteins during the rest of the day. For carbs, eat nutritious foods like oats, other grains, and potatoes. For fats, take in plenty of olive oil, nuts, avocados, and some red meat.