The Ultimate Muscle Building Training Programme

Muscle building is an extremely difficult thing to achieve for most of us, especially after the first six months or so of weight training.  There is a huge variety of training programmes designed to stimulate muscle growth.  What works best is obviously different for each individual: the volume and intensity required for optimal results is strongly influenced by muscle fibre type, body type, training history, metabolic rate etc.  Despite this, it is safe to say that effective hypertrophy training for most of us must involve compound movements (squats, deadlifts, pullups), high volume, relatively high reps (8-15) and therefore a lot of time under tension, and relatively short rest periods (30-120 seconds).


After a lot of experimenting, with both myself and my clients, I have been able to put together a very effective (albeit brutally difficult) training programme.  It is time to stop moaning about being a “hard gainer” and get a barbell on your back!  The backbone of the programme comes from a method of training known as German Volume Training (recently popularised by the great Canadian strength coach, Charles Poliquin).  Essentially this training method requires you to perform 10 sets of 10 repetitions of one compound exercise for each muscle group, using approximately 60% of your 1RM.  This is a huge amount of volume and not something I would recommend for the novice gym user.  The strength and co-ordination required to effectively perform the primary lifts must already be in place in order to avoid injury and reap the rewards of this programme.  The idea of the programme is to repeatedly fatigue the same muscle fibres and induce the greatest release of anabolic hormones.


The way I have formulated this programme is to split it into two upper body sessions and two lower body sessions, with the goal of performing all four workouts in series each week (alternating between upper and lower sessions).  Each lower body session is based around one movement and the upper body sessions are based around one pushing movement and one pulling movement (one day is vertical pushing and pulling and the other is horizontal).  The programme ends up looking like this:

Monday: Back Squats

Tuesday: Bench Press + Bench Row

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Deadlifts

Friday: Pullups + Shoulder Press

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Rest

Perform 10 sets of 10 repetitions for each of these primary lifts, with 90 seconds rest between sets.  On upper body days the two lifts are performed as a superset.  Choose a weight that equates to approximately 60% (this will vary according to training history etc.) of your 1 rep max.  If you have chosen an appropriate weight you should be able to complete all 10 reps in the first sets then possibly only manage 8 or 9 in the final couple.  If you complete every rep of every set, increase the weight next workout.


As it stands that programme will work very well: extremely simple, brutally hard but very effective.  If you have the capacity to recover from that, add in a few sets of isolation work at the end of each workout (E.g. leg extensions after squats, flys and reverse flys after bench press and bench row).  If you are desperate for some direct arm training, ensure you keep it very low volume.  Biceps and triceps will get worked extremely hard by the pushing and pulling.


The only other work I strongly recommend is some remedial exercises to prevent injury.  For most people this will include extra scapula retraction work, lateral shoulder rotations, glute activation and some direct “core” work (some anterior core work can be useful to balance out the high volume of posterior chain work from the squats and deadlifts).  A good coach or physiotherapist can help you out with what you specifically need.


Putting it all together, here is an example of how it can look:


Monday: Squats

Exercise                            Sets         Reps          Tempo        Rest

A1 – Back Squat                  10             10               40X0             90 secs

B1 – Leg Extensions             3              15                2010             60 secs

C1 – Calf Raises                   3               12                2010             60 secs

D1 – Barbell Rollouts            3                10               4010             90 secs


Tuesday: Horizontal Push + Pull

Exercise                                          Sets       Reps       Tempo       Rest

A1 – Bench Press                             10             10              40X0           90 secs

A2 – Bench Row*                              10             10             40X0            90 secs

B1 – Cable Crossover                         3              12             2010             30 secs

B2 – Prone Flys                                3              15              2010            30 secs

C1 – Shoulder lateral rotation              3               10              2010            60 secs

*If your gym doesn’t have a bench row, substitute another row variation.


Wednesday: Rest


Thursday: Deadlifts

Exercise                                     Sets          Reps        Tempo         Rest

A1 – Deadlifts                               10                10             40X0             90 secs

B1 – Leg curls                               3                  8               20X0            60secs

C1 – Hanging leg raise                   3                   8              3010              90 secs


Friday: Vertical Push + Pull

Exercise                                      Sets         Reps       Tempo        Rest

A1 – Pullups**                              10              10             40X0             90 secs

A2 – DB Shoulder Press                10              10            40X0              90 secs

B1 – Lateral Raises                        3                20            2010              30 secs

B2 – DB Pullovers                          3                12             4010              30 secs

C1 – Cable Curls                            3                10             2010                 0

C2 – Tricep Pushdowns                  3                10             2010               45 secs

**If pullups are a challenge, try performing sets of 5.  If this is still too much, substitute for lat pulldowns.


Saturday: Rest


Sunday: Rest


This is an extremely taxing training programme.  Only attempt it if you are competent in the primary lifts and have no back or joint problems.  You must consume a lot of calories and plenty of protein to recover and see the results.  Rest days should be rest days (no cardio or sports).  I would also recommend you only try this out for a period of about six weeks and at a time you will be sleeping well and not experiencing a great deal of stress daily.  One last piece of advice – if climbing the stairs and sitting on the toilet are not a problem the day after your squats, you are doing them wrong…. Enjoy!