Programming for Lean Mass Gains

Jun 30th, 2015

Category: Training

Programming for Lean Mass Gains

Here is the Breakdown

-Achieving quality gains in lean muscle can be a daunting task for most of us. Just hitting the weights hard 3-5 days per week may not be enough to stimulate muscle growth.
-To achieve success with any goal you must have the proper plan to get you there. Your training program must cover the key components for increasing lean muscle.
-Variables that should be addressed in your training program to stimulate muscle growth are training frequency, set/repetition volume, intensity, time-under-tension, rest intervals, exercise selection, exercise grouping, and exercise order.
-Focusing on your training and hitting the gym hard is important, but focusing on your nutrition and recovery should be a priority as well.


Making Gains

When you first began training with weights, gains in strength and lean mass seem to happen regularly. But now you’ve hit a plateau and it seems like no matter how hard you work the gains just aren’t coming.  Gaining quality lean muscle isn’t as easy as most people think it is. After you’ve passed the newbie phase, just going to the gym with no plan and hitting with weights 3-5 days per week isn’t going to get the job done. Having a proper plan to follow is the key to achieving success with any goal, and continuing to make gains in the gym is not an exception. Below I will outline and discuss the variables you must address and cover in designing your training program to increase lean mass.


Results by Design

If you’re stuck in a training plateau and you’ve just been winging it in the gym up to this point, it’s time for you to add a little science to your training. Designing an effective training program can be simple, if you address the following variables in your program. For this article I will be discussing methods for increasing lean mass, but these variables can be manipulated to fit any training goal.


Training Frequency

Training frequency is the amount of times you train per week. It can be further broken down to how many times you train each muscle group.  Increasing your training frequency can be just the stimulus your body needs to start building more muscle. If you train full body 3 days per week try adding another training day, but breaking it up into 2 upper body days and 2 lower body days.


Set/Repetition Volume

Increased training volume is essential to cause muscular hypertrophy (growth).  In order for muscle growth to occur, you must train beyond the body’s current capabilities.  The easiest way to accomplish this is by having adjustments to your training volume programmed throughout your entire training program.  The main compound exercise should be between 3-6 sets with a of 6-12 reps. The emphasis should be to increase your total training volume for your main compound movement weekly.
To calculate training volume: 
·      Sets x (Weight x Reps)= Training Volume
I recommend that when you’re designing a training program for hypertrophy to increase the volume weekly for 2-3 weeks, and then de-load the training volume by 30-40% on the 3rd or 4th week.  A de-load week will give your muscles a chance to recover and not become accustomed to high volume training.



Intensity is based off your 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM). For gains in lean muscle mass your work sets should be performed at 65-85% of 1RM. If you have not tested your 1RM or for isolation type exercises, just use loads that will challenge you for 6-12 reps. I recommend gradually increasing your intensity for 2-3 weeks, and then de-load the intensity by 15-20% on the 3rd or 4th week.


Time Under Tension

Time under tension is the total amount of time it takes to perform one set of an exercise. Time under tension should be moderate to high when programming for lean muscle gains. Each set should last 30-45 seconds as general guideline for hypertrophy.  Increasing TUT past 45 sec. will shift the training emphasis to strength endurance, due to insufficient loads being used for the exercise. Programming TUT can be accomplished in two ways. The first is to calculate your repetition tempo by the number of reps your performing each set. So if you were lowering the bar for 2 seconds and lifting the bar for 2 seconds, you would need to perform 8-10 reps to have a TUT between 30-45 sec. The second way is to set a timer for 30-45 sec. and perform reps until the timer goes off.


Rest Intervals

A rest interval is amount of time taken in between exercise sets. To stimulate lean muscle gains rest intervals should be low to moderate 30 sec. to 2 minutes between sets for incomplete muscle recovery.  The reasoning for incomplete recovery is to fatigue and recruit as many muscle fibers as possible and stimulate larger amounts of muscle building hormones to be produce by your body.


Exercise Selection

Compound multi-joint exercises should take priority in program design. So presses, squats, deadlifts, lunges, rows, and pull-ups should be first and should make up the bulk of your programs.  Single joint isolation exercises should be saved till the end of the program. So triceps extensions, bicep curls, leg extensions, shoulder raises, etc. should be the finishers in your program to add in some extra volume.


Exercise Grouping

Supersets, tri sets, and giant sets should be utilized to increase total workout volume and time efficiency.  Pairing or grouping of the same muscle group is great for building lean muscle, but should be saved for the end of the program. Pairing or grouping of opposing muscle groups is great for time efficiency, because it requires less rest between sets and can be utilized throughout the entire program.


Exercise Order

Larger muscles should take priority in program design followed by smaller muscle groups.  Larger muscle groups have the greatest potential for adding pounds of lean mass to your frame. Focus on training your butt, thighs, chest and back first followed by your calves, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and core.



-If your stuck in a plateau and have just been winging it when you go to the gym, it’s time to get on a program.
-Designing an effective training program can be simple, if you address the following variables; training frequency, set/repetition volume, intensity, time-under-tension, rest intervals, exercise selection, exercise grouping, and exercise order.
-If you only train with weights 3 days per week try increasing your training frequency to 4-5 days per week, to stimulate new gains.
-Ramp up your training volume for 2-3 weeks and de-load on the week 3 or 4 to make consistent gains in the gym.
-If your training intensity doesn’t fall between 65-85% of your 1 RM or challenge you to complete 6-12 reps, you’re not lifting heavy enough to earn new gains.
-Adjust your repetition tempos or use a timer to make sure you’re in the hypertrophy zone (30-45 sec.) of TUT.
-Keep your breaks short between sets to push muscle fatigue and get a natural boost in muscle building hormone production.
-Hit big compound multi joint movements in the beginning of your program and save the isolation exercises for the end of your workout.
-Using supersets, tri-sets, and giant sets can help you increase training efficiency and total amount work you get done in each workout.
-Focus on training big muscle groups first and save your bicep curls and calf raises for the end of your workout.