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Fast Muscle Growth: Physiology 101

A few weeks ago I published an article on how our body builds muscle. If you haven’t read it you should do so now as it provides a foundation for this article. Whether you’re an 18-year-old male wanting to join the ranks of the impressively buff, or a 70-year-old female who needs to add some muscle mass to fight aging, you’ll want to know how to add that mass in the shortest possible time. If you did read the previous article, you’ll understand that maximizing pump when training, combined with a healthy calorie-surplus diet is the path to fast muscle growth.

How Fast Do You Want Results?

Lifting heavy weights for 6 to 12 reps will result in muscle growth, assuming you’re eating enough. Period. But the training methods I see most people doing in the gym will result in very slow progress. This is why many people get discouraged and quit, or turn to steroids to get results. If you’re serious about gaining mass and strength, why take longer than necessary to reach your goal? There are definitely training methods that will speed your progress, in many cases substantially.

very muscular man doing curls

How Do We Maximize Pump?

So if maximum pump is the secret to fast muscle growth, what can we do when training to ensure we walk away from our workout with our muscles swollen like balloons and with as much micro-damage as possible? There are a number of methods you can use to maximize pump. I recommend you experiment with these to find what works best for you, however I will give you my personal fave at the end of this article.

If fast muscle growth is your goal, then the key is in maximizing pump. This, combined with a healthy calorie-surplus diet, will result in the fastest possible muscle growth.

General Guidelines

You should be doing a minimum of three sets for each muscle group, with no more than 4 days between working each muscle group (if you worked legs on Monday, you shouldn’t go beyond Thursday before doing so again). If lifting heavy, which you will be for most of the methods listed below, aim for between 6 and 12 reps with good form! If you can’t do at least six, it’s too heavy. If you can do more than 12, it’s too light. If you’re fairly new to mass and strength training, some experimentation will tell you where your optimum range is. Some people get excellent results from only 6 reps. For myself, I need to be in the ten to twelve rep range to get maximum pump. Note that these rules apply equally to men and women.

very muscular and tone woman

Ladies, you do not need to lower the weight and do more reps. This is a myth that will rob you of muscle growth. While you do have lower testosterone, physiologically your muscles are identical to those of men, and the exact same methods will work for you.

Always observe good form. This not only protects you from injury but you’ll get better results. You are always better off lowering the weight to do your reps with good form than lifting too heavy and doing cheaters.

Whether you want the impressive physique of this lady, or just want to gain a little mass and strength, the same methods will work for you as work for men. Physiologically, female and male muscles are identical.

Finally, no matter how many reps you’re doing, the last rep you do should always be the last rep you can do. It takes some discipline to push through the pain and discomfort, but you will get much better results by pushing your body to the absolute limit. Don’t quit when it hurts – quit when you find yourself absolutely physically incapable of squeezing out another rep.

Method 1: Low Rep/High Rep

For your first two sets lift heavy, doing no more than 12 reps. For your last set, lower the weight dramatically and shoot for 100 reps. Yes, you read that right. 100. And the goal is to find the weight where the 100th rep is the last one you can do. Obviously, we’re shooting for ballpark here. Whether your muscles fail at 90 or 110 doesn’t really matter. It’s the extremely high reps that will get you that maximum pump.

Method 2: Super Slows

Much like the above method, do your first two sets at max weight for up to 12 reps. On your last set, lower the weight to about 50% of your max and do your motion with perfect form, taking several seconds for each movement. For example, raise the weight over a ten count, then lower over a ten count. Repeat to failure. This method is for the masochists out there. It will give you extreme pump. The last couple of reps also hurt like hell.

muscular man doing cable crossovers.

Method 3: SuperSets

Supersets are a training method where you move directly from one exercise to the next without taking a break in between. Here’s an example leg workout:

  • Squats
  • Thigh Extensions
  • Hamstring Curls
  • Calf Raises

Cable crossovers are an excellent follow up to bench press when supersetting for upper body.

By hitting the same muscle groups in different ways, you’ll push yourself to failure through every possible permutation of muscle movement for that group. By not resting between sets you’ll expend your ATP quicker and more thoroughly, resulting in greater muscle fatigue and thus greater pump. Super setting is almost a whole discipline unto itself, and I’ll likely write an entire article dedicated to it in the near future.

Take a 4.5-minute rest between each superset. This is how long on average it takes for your muscles to replenish their ATP. Then do it again. A minimum of 3 supersets is recommended.

Method 4: Breakdowns

Unlike methods one and two, where you’ll start heavy and lower the weight for the last set, in breakdowns you’ll lower the weight during each set. Here’s an example set with dumbbell curls:

Start at the heaviest weight you can lift for 6 to 12 reps (as always, with excellent form). When you reach failure, set the weights down and pick up dumbbells at 50% of the weight you were just doing. Reps to failure again. Set those down and drop by 50% again. Reps to failure.

Sometimes you’ll be forced to take a few seconds between sets as you move plates. For example, if doing bench press or squats. Move as quickly as you can to remove those plates and get back into position for the next set.

This method will absolutely blast that muscle to total exhaustion and result in extreme pump. Of all the methods listed here, I personally have found this one to be the most effective.

My Fave Method

I like to combine supersets with breakdowns. I find this will exhaust my muscles and provide pump beyond what any other method is capable of. After an arm workout like this, I genuinely have trouble getting my shirt on as the sleeves barely fit over my biceps. Here’s an example workout for shoulders and arms (this is my day 4 workout):

  • Military/shoulder press for *12 reps. Immediately lower the weight and repeat.
  • Move directly to the dumbbell rack and do shoulder flys. 12 reps. Grab a lower weight and repeat.
  • Move directly to the curling bars. *12 curls, lower the weight to half and repeat.
  • Move directly to the lat pulldown machine. *12 reps, lower the weight and repeat. Then lower and repeat again. This blasts not only my lats but totally exhausts my already wasted biceps.
  • Rest 4.5 minutes and repeat twice more.

*or whatever the optimum range is for you, but always to failure

  • Finish up with crunches and situps to failure.

This workout doesn’t take very long but it will provide extreme pump and you will walk away from your workout with your muscles exhausted and shaking. Now, go eat. A lot! Your body will use the nutrients to build muscle.

A Warning!

These are all advanced methods. If you’re just starting out I don’t recommend trying these. You’ll end up very sore and may injure yourself. If you need a basic starter workout anyone can do, check out this article.

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Will Dove

Will is a lifelong fitness nut. He started exercising religiously at the age of 16. Now 52, he still works out 5 times per week and maintains a body fat percentage in the single digits. Will is passionate about helping others to achieve their fitness and body image goals, and believes that most people fail to achieve these goals, not through a lack of self-discipline, but through a simple lack of knowledge.