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I'm a rather skinny guy (1m88 for 74 kg). My goal is to gain muscle mass, with a focus on my upper body. I work out 2 times a week (sometimes 3). I also do 1 hour of badminton each week (but usually no cardio when I work out). I've been doing this for approximately 6 months now.

I'm giving more details below but in short my question is this: I was advised by a trainer at my gym to work out less than I currently do. Is this sensible advice ?

My current workout

I have followed internet advice (including from here), and my intuition in order to create my workout, which usually takes from 1 hour to 1:45 depending on my motivation. I usually do

  • ~ 8 exercises, 4 sets per exercise
  • 10 repetitions
  • 45 seconds break between sets.

This has given me results I'm happy with so far. I have only gained about 3 kg in 6 months. But my musculature is clearly more defined and my muscles are bigger. I have no idea if I could've had much better results than this.

Advice I got from a trainer

Today as part of my gym membership I had a trainer create a workout program with me. I basically just told her what I have written in my first paragraph above (focus on gaining volume in the upper body). She proposed a workout based on

  • 10 exercises, only 1 set per exercise
  • Aim for 6 to 9 repetitions in each exercise
  • Doing the exercises slowly (4 seconds extension, 2 seconds pause, 4 seconds contraction)
    • This is slower than I usually do, and probably the most useful part of what she told me
  • She didn't suggest taking breaks between exercises

Doing this takes me only about 45 minutes. I thought this was not a lot, and asked her if she suggested doing the routine twice when I felt like it, and she said it wasn't necessary. To compare roughly, her proposed routine is around 100 reps in total, whereas mine is about 3 times more (although easier ones).

So to summarize: my gut feeling is that what she proposed will not give me better results than what I'm currently doing, as it's just so much less effort. Is there a good reason to do less ? Or should I go ahead and keep doing what I was doing before (or maybe double up on what she proposed) ?

Edit: answer from the trainer

After asking here, I went back to the gym and did the suggested new routine. As I was dissatisfied at the end (feeling like I had it in me to do more) I went and asked another trainer what he thought of this. I'm adding his answer here too.

Basically he said that the single serie I had to do in each exercise had to be so hard that I wouldn't be able to do even one more rep for the rest of the whole session. This means that if I still have energy like I do, I'm not pushing myself hard enough on that single serie.

He also said the goal with this program was to improve form and "learn" to use my muscles properly. Something that is easier to learn by doing 10 reps well than 40 bad reps.

Also one thing that I hadn't been explained properly is that this program is only for the first 6 to 8 weeks, and that it would change afterwards.

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Which exercises do you do? –  FredrikD Mar 29 at 11:07
    
Why focus on the upper body? If you want to gain muscle mass, you should focus on your(potentially) biggest muscles. Many of these happen to be in your lower body. It you want to gain muscle mass, your focus should be on the muscles that could add the most mass. –  Pibara Mar 29 at 23:24
    
@Pibara my final goal is to improve my appearance, and I care much more about the look of my torso than that of my legs. But yeah once I get more muscular I will keep everything balanced :) –  ARRG Mar 30 at 10:02
    
@ARRG Check my updated answer to your updated question. :) –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Mar 30 at 19:58
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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

While I do agree with the trainer that your plan is very convoluted, I do not agree with her idea of a better plan. Also, what Kneel-Before-ZOD said is quite right, but I feel like I could add something worthwhile. Now brace yourself, this got much lengthier than I first intended.


First off, what you're doing is volume training. 32 sets per workout is much. Very much. Taking into account that you're a beginner, and a very light one at that, it makes absolutely no sense to train that much. I know it's counterintuitive, and training half as long is not very fulfilling psychologically, but adjusting your plan will probably benefit you.

With that said, scrap your plan. It probably has too many isolation exercises (curls, leg press, lat pulldown), that won't benefit you much. The problem with these exercises is, that they use very few muscles at once, which in turn only stimulates growth in very few of them. This is cool to work on weak points, but as a beginner your whole body is a weak point.
That's why I'd suggest doing compound exercises, which use many muscles throughout the whole body. Every single one of those muscles will have to do it's share of the work. This stimulates growth in all of them, at once. It's basically like doing 3-4 isolation exercises at the same time. Compounds also have the added benefit of your body learning to coordinate the majority of your muscles in a natural movement.

To conclude this point, you can - and should imho - reduce your workout time, not by reducing sets, but by changing up your exercises in a smart way. Using compound exercises, you can workout much more efficiently, without losing any training effect. I actually do believe, that switching to compounds will actually be more effective than doing 32 sets of isolation movements.

I'll give you an example programm which is often used to great effect. It's not the be all, end all of programms, as similar programms yield similar results, but it's the one I know. You will notice that a workout takes about 40-60 minutes, but you should be pretty exhausted at the end, so there's no need to work any longer.


Some final words on to nutrition (as that seems to be a problem, too). You say you want to build mass, but only gained 3kg in 6 months, which can only mean one thing: You're eating waaaaay to little. Some possible reasons for that:

  • You don't want to get fat. Well, muscle gains will seldom happen without fat gains. They almost never happen at a satisfactory pace without gaining some fat too. Say goodbye to your six-pack for a few months, build some mass and cut the fat later. Your temporary sacrifice will yield a much more stunning physique in the future.
  • You don't know that you eat too little. Most people have a very wrong idea of what they eat, actually. Monitor your food intake (kcal, protein, carbs, fat) for a week or two and get an idea of what you actually eat.

Now, if you know the reason why you're eating too little you can work on eating enough. How much is enough? About 4000kcal, probably more. When I first heard that number, I was shocked. But as I came to accept it, I found ways to make it happen. Some tipps:

  • Drink milk: A litre of skim milk will add ~400kcal to your diet. If you drink it instead of water, that adds up quickly. It's quite healthy too.
  • Eat calorie dense foods: Peanut butter, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate. Eaten in moderation, these will bolster you intake considerably.
  • Eat healthy: Yes, you have to eat much, but that doesn't mean 3 Big Macs should become your standard lunch. Also vegetables and fruits should not be ignored, as you will need the vitamins and the fiber to stay healthy and perform well.
  • Eat protein: Protein, being the building blocks of your muscles should be consumed in sufficient amounts. Opinions on what 'sufficient' really means differ, but 2g per kg of body weight is pretty much on the safe side. A high protein intake won't cause kidney failure, cancer or any other bad stuff btw. Just drink enough (3 litres a day, minimum) and everything's fine.

With all that information, it's of course up to you if you use it. You say you're happy with what you achieved so far. In my opinion you could reach much more, much faster. But if you don't want to turn your programm around and eat everything that can't run away quick enough, that's okay, too. I hope I could help anyway :)

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Thanks a lot for this answer. I will look at the link, I have tried barbell exercises once or twice and liked it, but didn't fell confident enough to go on with that without proper advice. I guess I'll give it another go. On the food side I am aware I should be eating much, but I have a hard time doing so. It's something I'm working on (it's kind of harder for me than working out actually :p). –  ARRG Mar 29 at 19:08
    
Do you have an idea of what would be a reasonable target for mass increase for someone with my profile ? –  ARRG Mar 29 at 19:09
    
Any number I could throw at you would be quite arbitrary. If you reach 90kg and still make progress, why stop?. If you don't like what you see, though, why continue? So it's pretty much up to you and your goals. –  LarissaGodzilla Mar 30 at 12:55
    
Right, I meant like growth-rate, you said "only gained 3kg in 6 months, which can only mean one thing: You're eating waaaaay to little" - what would you say is a feasible amount of weight to put on in that timespan ? –  ARRG Mar 30 at 17:13
    
1-2lbs (0.5-1kg) per week would be reasonable when you're making good progress. –  LarissaGodzilla Mar 31 at 6:30
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Arrg,

To gain muscle mass, you need to consume lots of protein, either through meals or through meals and shakes (my recommendation).

I'm not certain what exercises you're doing, but hopefully, they are weightlifting. You won't bulk up with cardio exercises.

The most popular programs that focus on gaining strength (and mass) through weightlifting require you to increase the weights you lift constantly. They also require you to weightlift about 3 days a week.

Less exercises, in some cases, can be beneficial. However, what she's proposing doesn't seem to be beneficial. Even if the advice came with increase in weights lifted, the repetitions/sets are too small to see much benefit in a short time.

Taking breaks between exercises are only necessary (my opinion) if you're exhausted from each exercise; there's no need to take breaks if you aren't breaking a sweat.

A good reason to do less is if the body's being overworked and overstressed. For example, doing 3+ hours in a gym everyday lifting higher volumes with higher repetitions/sets and no rest is excessive. However, with what you seem to be doing, it doesn't seem to be too much. You might need to ask her why she felt it's not necessary (it could be that she was referring to specific exercises and not the overall exercises).

Overall, consume lots of protein, lift higher volumes, perform cardio (to give your lungs/heart more endurance), and rest your body.

Edit

Based on the new information added into the question, I'm need to add a few information:

Based on the answer the second trainer gave you, there are two possibilities for what's going on:

  • You perform those exercises using bad forms. This is possible, especially when you don't have a spotter. It could also be the reason you don't get tired after completing the exercises.
    Solution: Either make a video of you performing those exercises and compare your forms with online videos of people completing the exercises perfectly. This will let you know if your form is right or not. Or get a trainer (possibly from a different gym - see 2nd theory for the reason) to spot you and tell you if your forms are off. If you find out your forms are off, you can complete the workout chart you've been given using the proper forms. This will help you on the long term. If your form is perfect to begin with, then, simply tell your trainer to move you to a higher level. Your muscles need to be challenged; otherwise, all your current gains and strength will be reduced.
  • The second possibility is that the trainers might simply want to start you off with the basic level, the same level given to someone working out for the first time. This is done to increase the time you'll spend with them in the gym, which translate to more money for them. After all, the gym's running a business to make a profit.
    Solution: If your form is already fine (after confirmation), you don't need to start from the basic level. Simply demonstrate your form to them as proof that you need a higher level. If they insist, despite the fact that your form is fine, it might be time to find another gym. You shouldn't waste time and money on things you already can do perfectly.

Keep challenging your body and it'll get stronger, faster, and more agile.

Keep the good work up! :)

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Hi, thanks for your answer. I am consuming more meat than I did (and more food overall too) and also started taking protein shakes. And yes I do weightlifting and avoid cardio. –  ARRG Mar 29 at 9:33
    
@ARRG Don't avoid cardio; you need it for endurance and for your heart and lungs. You want to be big, strong, fast and agile, not just big alone, right? The speed and agility will come from cardio. –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Mar 29 at 17:23
    
ah right, I think I had misread your last sentence. I'll keep doing badminton for cardio, and start doing more If I can get my calorie intake up I guess. –  ARRG Mar 29 at 19:10
    
Speed and agility from cardio? –  Pibara Mar 31 at 2:09
    
@Pibara Yes, speed and agility. Jumping and sprinting are some of the most common cardio exercises performed by soccer, football, basketball, and tennis players. You can't be agile without cardio. –  Kneel-Before-ZOD Mar 31 at 2:37
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