Gaining muscle mass is a difficult process. It requires a lot of time and dedication to be successful. Most people will not have the patience or discipline to put in the work needed for long-term success.
The best routines for gaining muscle mass are those that can be done with little equipment, take up minimal space, and do not require too much training knowledge, or experience to perform effectively.
These types of routines are perfect for people who don’t want to invest heavily into their fitness endeavors but still want results from them! In this article, I’m going to go over some good routines for gaining muscle mass that you might find interesting if you’re looking into building your muscles without investing too much time or money into it!
Are 5×5 Routines Good For Gaining Muscle Mass?
5×5 routines are good for building muscle, but doing slightly more reps is even better. For instance, you could stimulate a similar amount of muscle growth by doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions as you would by doing 5 sets of 5, keeping your workouts shorter, or freeing up more time for other lifts.
5×5 routines are commonly used during the mass phases of strength training programs because they allow us to lift fairly heavy (over 80% of 1-rep max) while still getting in enough overall volume to build muscle mass. And they’re popular because they work. You can indeed build muscle with 5×5 workouts.
Now, most research shows that we build more muscle per set when doing at least 6–8 reps per set, and that may be true. But sets of five reps are right on the cusp of being ideal for gaining muscle. When we’re talking about small differences in rep ranges, the difference in muscle growth will likely be similarly small.
In the latest issue of Monthly Applications in Strength Sport, Greg Nuckols said that he suspects that sets of 3–5 reps aren’t as good at stimulating muscle growth as moderate-rep sets, but that they’re not that far off, either. We don’t necessarily need to do twice as many sets, but we might need to do a couple of extra sets.
For instance, instead of doing 3 sets of 12 reps (3×12), we might want to do 5 sets of 5 reps (5×5). This is the approach we see in 5×5 programs, such as StrongLifts 5×5, and it’s why people will often argue that it stimulates more muscle growth than lower-volume programs like Starting Strength, which uses 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5).
Now, does that mean that 5×5 workout programs are good for gaining muscle size? Not necessarily. Doing 5×5 on the bench press might stimulate the same amount of muscle growth as doing 3×12 on the bench press, yes, but we also need to consider that these lower-rep sets require longer rest times, that they can be harder on our joints, and that we need to do more total sets to get an equivalent benefit.
As a result, someone might spend half an hour doing their 5×5 on the squat, finish it already feeling a bit tired, and then have to grind through a 5×5 on the bench press and then row. The full workout takes 60-75 minutes, they’ve only done three lifts, and they feel like they’ve worked pretty hard.
The problem is, we’re spending so much energy on so few lifts that it becomes hard to work all of our muscles. For instance, let’s consider the bench press.
The bench press is great for stimulating growth in our chests and shoulders, but it’s not ideal for stimulating growth in our triceps (study). If we want to maximize the growth of our triceps, we also need triceps extensions. It’s certainly possible to do 5×5 on the bench press and then move on to triceps extensions afterwards, and then lateral raises, and so on. But you can imagine how those workouts could get quite long.
Plus, this is assuming that muscle growth is maximized with just three sets per muscle group per workout. If we look at the ideal training volume for gaining muscle size, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems that muscle growth is maximized by doing 4–8 sets per muscle group per workout.
That means that to maximize muscle growth, we wouldn’t be doing five sets of five, we’d be doing 6–10 sets of five. When volumes start climbing higher like that, it can pay to have an easier and more efficient way to stimulate muscle growth.
If we compare to how a bodybuilder trains, we can see the advantage of using moderate rep ranges. An intermediate bodybuilder might spend ten minutes doing 3×12 on the bench press and then another ten minutes doing 3×15 skull crushers.
Within that same 20-minute timeframe, they’ve stimulated the same amount of chest growth, they’ve doubled their triceps growth, and they’re probably still feeling fairly fresh. It’s an easier and more efficient way of building muscle.
So it’s not that we can’t build muscle with 5×5 strength training programs, it’s just that hypertrophy training (aka bodybuilding) programs help us gain muscle size faster and more efficiently.
The Best Exercise For Bigger Biceps
As with all muscles in the body, you need to create an appropriate training program to increase your biceps size. When your muscle is exposed to the same stimulus or weight, it will adapt over time, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). So, if you’re curling the same weight every time you train your biceps, your muscles will adapt and stay the same size — not the goal.
So, to achieve hypertrophy (muscle growth), you need to set up a progressive overload regime, according to NASM. This means that you need to gradually increase the resistance of your weights over time. (Feel free to lift fewer reps if it makes it easier for you to lift more weight.)
There are several exercises that isolate your biceps. You can try standard curls or hammer curls with dumbbells. To add variety, try curling a barbell or using a cable machine. No matter the curl variation, avoid rocking your body and using momentum to lift the dumbbell back up.
In order to increase blood flow and definition in your biceps, you can also implement drop sets in your workout routine, according to the American Council on Exercise. To perform a drop set, repeat an exercise to fatigue. Take a brief rest, decrease the weight and perform the exercise again until you can’t perform another rep.
Determine How Much Weight To Lift
To get the most out of your workout, aim to lift between 60 to 80 percent of your one-rep maximum, which is the most you can lift in a single repetition.
The ExRx.net one-repetition max predictor online (see Resources) can help you determine your one-rep strength. Of course, the best option, once cleared by your doctor, is to seek the advice of a personal trainer or certified fitness professional, who can help determine the right amount for you.
The Perfect Combination
So if high reps promote hypertrophy and low reps facilitate strength increases, then in theory, the marriage of both rep schemes will bring forth muscular and strength development worthy of the Greek gods.
You need to spend dedicated periods of time in both the high-rep and low-rep ranges to maximize your development. High reps build muscle and connective tissue strength, and give your body respite from the grind of low-rep sets, too. Similarly, low-rep sets build neuromuscular and CNS efficiency. When you become more efficient and then go back to your big lifts, you can use even more weight than before, because you’re just that much more efficient and effective.
As an example of what I often do with physique-focused clients, I break down their set-rep schemes into one of two categories:
- High rep: 8-12 repetitions per set
- Low rep: 4-8 repetitions per set
These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. There may be times when even higher reps (15-20) could be used. On the flipside, there are other times when you may want to push the weight and work in the 1-5 rep range.
The biggest benefit from switching between these two ranges is that you’ll constantly coerce (there’s that word again) your body to adapt, to grow, and to improve.
Is There A Hypertrophy Rep Range?
Sets of 1–5 stimulate less muscle growth than sets of 6+ reps, making them less efficient. And sets of 20+ reps are more painful, making it difficult to push ourselves hard enough to stimulate growth. That’s why 6–20 reps is often dubbed the “hypertrophy rep range.”
According to experts like Greg Nuckols, MA, sets of 4–40 reps are ideal for gaining muscle mass. According to others, such as Mike Israetel, Ph.D., sets of 5–30 reps are best for building muscle. We also have researchers like James Krieger, MS, favouring sets of 8+ reps. Still, all these hypertrophy rep ranges are essentially the same, and they become even more similar once we start putting them into the context of a good bodybuilding/hypertrophy program.
When we’re doing sets of 1–5, the sets tend to be harder on our joints and connective tissues, they can have higher rates of injury, and they can take longer to recover from. There are problems with doing sets of 20–40 reps, too.
First, we need to take them closer to muscular failure to reliably provoke muscle growth. Second, taking high-rep sets to failure is so painful that it can make people vomit, give up, or hate training. And third, higher-rep sets can cause a tremendous amount of muscle damage, making our workouts harder to recover from.
Finally, we have a new systematic review from Dr. Brad Schoenfeld concluding that any load over 30% of our 1-rep max can be heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth, provided that we bring our sets close enough to failure.
However, he notes that low-rep sets stimulate less muscle growth per set while inflicting greater stress on our joints, whereas higher-rep sets take longer and are quite a bit more painful. As a result, he recommends defaulting to moderate rep ranges when training for muscle growth.
So although sets of 4–40 can be good for stimulating muscle growth, it’s often easier to build muscle if we spend more of our time lifting in the 6–20 rep range. And even within that shrinking rep range, different lifts respond better to different rep ranges, narrowing it further still.
Your Final Reps Are Easy
If your program calls for 10 reps of an exercise, but if you get to the end of the set and feel like you can bust out more reps, you’re in need of a weight upgrade. A good rule of thumb is that the last two reps of each set should be hard and feel a bit shaky (but still with good form), according to Holly Perkins, CSCS, author of Lift to Get Lean.
Keep in mind, though, that you’ll likely need to decrease the total number of reps with each set, she says. Decreasing your reps allows your muscles to adjust to the weight change. So if you usually perform three and six sets of 12 to 15 reps, you’ll want to start out with three sets of 8 to 10 and see how that feels.
Can’t I Just Train Everything At Once?
I know some people really like undulating periodization, in which you hit different set-rep schemes on different days of the week.
If this is you, perhaps your training looks something like this:
- Monday: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Wednesday: 5 sets of 5 reps
- Friday: 10 sets of 3 reps
With this weekly program, you hit everything in one training week, thinking it’s smart, efficient training. This is true if you’re newer to lifting or have never tried a protocol like this before. However, as you get more and more advanced, this type of scenario won’t work nearly as well since you’re sending multiple mixed messages to your body.
Monday’s workout would tell your body it’s time to get big, but then Wednesday’s workout will kick your body into a bit of strength mode. Finally, Friday’s workout will run counter to Monday’s and place the emphasis on raw strength. What is a confused body to do?! As you become more proficient, you have to dial up the focus and be the orchestrator to your symphony of muscles (and thus, training).
It’s kind of why an elite level sprinter can’t simply wake up one day, decide to run a marathon, and hope to be awesome at both distances.
While I’m saying that you need to spend time on both ends of the neural-metabolic continuum, you need to have some patience and zero-in your efforts on one at a time. The general rule is to spend at least 4-6 weeks focusing on one end before you even think about heading to the other.
The Final Step: Autoregulation
Hopefully, you’re now alternating between periods of high-rep and low-rep training—awesome! The next step is to alternate the level of intensity over the course of the training cycle. Think of the following quote: “A peak is surrounded by two valleys.” You can’t expect to go at 110 percent intensity every time you train. You’ll only burn yourself out. Layer-in days of high intensity combined with days of low intensity.
The astute reader (you!) might inquire about whether simply wavering between high and low rep ranges might already serve this purpose. It does in a rather unrefined way.