Some of the most frequent questions I get as a vegan trainer are about how to gain muscle. My first answers are always diet related, since as much as two thirds of any achievements you make in bodybuilding will always be diet related, but there are many tried and true training techniques used to help your body lay down more muscle as efficiently as possible as well.
When most trainers shift their focus to gaining muscle, they continue following their same split-style routine (such as chest/tris on day 1, back/bis on day 2, etc). Wanting to change things up in the past, I decided to try a total body training program like the one listed below during one of my mass gain phases to see what would happen. What started out as an experiment ended up being my go-to method of gaining muscle quickly. During my first attempt at such a routine my weight jumped 10 lbs in only three weeks! I saw similar results when I tried a total body mass gaining routine with clients, so I knew I was onto something.
Day 1: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row, Dumbbell Shrugs
Day 3: Clean, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Row, Romanian Deadlift
Day 5: Weighted Pull Ups, Decline Dumbbell Pullovers, Push Press, Deadlift
In Between: Arms, Calves, and Abs
Two days OFF per week
In reading into the physiology of muscle gain and looking over programs used by top body builders, the common denominator is always heavy compound barbell exercises. Robert Cheeke even devotes an entire chapter to these exercises in his book, Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness. Simply put, heavy compound barbell exercises like squats and deadlifts allow you to move more weight at once, stimulate more muscles at once, and produce more anabolic hormones as a result. All this leads to speeding up muscle gain, especially when supported by a healthy high calorie diet.
The change I made to your typical compound barbell exercise based routine was to scramble it, hitting each major muscle group (chest/back/shoulders/legs) every workout with one exercise rather than devoting a single workout per week to each muscle group. This meant I was stimulating each muscle group 3-4 times more often, and still from a variety of angles, but (hopefully) avoiding overtraining by limiting it to one exercise per workout. This also allowed me to go completely all-out on that one exercise, since it was the only one I’d be doing for that muscle group that day. Another benefit I considered in training this way was increased hormone release. If compound moves help you grow by stimulating more muscles during a workout and thereby releasing more hormones, why not take that concept one step further by hitting ALL the major muscle groups in a single session? I have no idea if this actually was responsible for the gains I’ve witnessed, but the logic seemed to fit.
The one downside I came across using this style of routine has been overtraining. The benefit I just mentioned above about being able to go all out on a muscle every session really leads to wear and tear over time. That is why I’ve learned the hard way that a program like this should only be followed for 4-6 weeks before taking a few days off and then returning to a normal split routine so your body can recover. This allows you time to shock your body with a out of its status quo enough to produce some impressive gains, while still being brief enough to avoid the accumulated damage you take from such consistent heavy duty training. If you’re looking to shake things up and want to try something that has help me and several of my clients gain muscle quickly, give this training concept a try!
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
T. Colin Campbell Foundation/Cornell University Certified in Plant Based Nutrition