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I'm 5'9'' and 153 lbs now and 24 years old. I've been working out regularly for a year now. But I feel that the results now is not as impressive as it used to be.

I go to the gym 4 times a week, 2 muscle groups each time. Monday chest and triceps, Tuesday back and biceps, Thursday shoulders and legs, Friday chest and abs. I also do abs on Tuesday. I work on chest twice a week because I want to build more muscle mass on my chest. I pretty much use the same weight for around 9 reps and 4 sets for each workout. Sometimes I add 2.5lb to each side for my chest workout. But I'm still not very satisfied with my chest muscle mass. How should I change my routine to build more muscle mass?

I've also heard that there are different cycles in training, bulking cycles and cutting cycles. Bulking cycles are for building muscle mass and in this cycle you are expected to eat more and you are likely to gain some body fat. And in cutting cycle, you do more cardio and reduce your body fat. Is that true if I want to build muscle mass progressively? Is it possible to build muscle mass without going through these cycles?

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I've also heard that there are different cycles in training, bulking cycles and cutting cycles. Is it possible to build muscle mass without going through these cycles?

Most definitely. I cringe when I hear relative beginners use the terms “bulk” and “cut”. Especially if they’re not competitive bodybuilders. In my opinion, “bulking” and “cutting” is somewhat akin to “yo-yo” dieting. Why bother when some recent research indicates that “bulking” and “cutting” is not the key to muscular gains.

First, you must be training hard to achieve any gains. Couple that with consuming the correct amount of protein in each meal, and, you’ve got a good recipe for gaining mass. However, this is not a license for eating everything in sight.

A study by Jacob Wilson (PhD in Skeletal Muscle Physiology) in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, found that it is possible to gain muscle without taking in excessive amounts of calories. The study looked at the impact of “bulking” on hard training athletes. Two groups of individuals were fed “either a moderate 800 calories or an extreme 2,000 extra calories per day for 45 days”. They found that

We found that both groups increased their muscle mass by approximately 6-8 pounds. But, the difference when it came to fat gain was more pronounced. While the moderate calorie group lost 2 pounds of fat, the extreme calorie group gained 2 pounds of fat! This tells us that while extra calories can be anabolic, there is a ceiling for their positive effects.

Past this ceiling, excess calories will be stored as fat. The result is that it will take you longer to cut down, and when you do that, it will cost more muscle tissue from catabolic breakdown.

The study emphasized that the key to the process is optimizing your training and your protein intake, not, adding excessive calories. Lastly, the study recommends

There is a limit to the potential anabolic effects of overfeeding, after which you aren't gaining any more muscle, but only fat. Our study suggests that any overfeed should probably be no more than 500-800 extra calories per day.

I'd personally rather pursue muscle gains on a gradual basis with a sound approach to calorie manipulation. Even it if means it will take longer.

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Have you ever tried ascending sets,where you do a warm up set of 10 to 12 reps,always in good form,then the next set add a little more weight for say 10 reps,third set add a little more and do say 8 reps,fourth set add more weight and do 5 to 7 reps,fifth set add weight again and do around 3 reps.After your warm up first set,add enough weight that you have to work on the final 2 to 3 reps pretty hard on each set.By the fifth set you should be really grunting out the 3 or so reps.Always use good form on the lighter sets,but say if you are doing barbell curls,which should be your main biceps exercise,the fourth and fifth sets can incorporate a little,A LITTLE swing,but dont do too many cheat reps overall.If your main purpose is bodybuilding,e.g showy muscle,then stricter reps with a little looseness at higher weights has worked well for me.I built my arms up to 20 inches at their largest,these days at 52 years of age they are 18 qnd a half to 19 inches.I have not used steroids to do this,just strict form and not training arms or anything else more than twice per week.You need to let your body recover then grow.Creatine when it came out,plain old monohydrate,helped me put size on quickly.But be aware it usually takes years to build muscle mass naturally,so be consistent and patient,look at things in the long term.You can also do descending sets,which is done this way:After your heaviest 3 rep set,strip weight off the bar and do say 5 reps,then strip more weight off the bar and do say 7 reps,and so on.If you choose to do both ascending and descending sets in a workout,then train that body part no more than once per week.It is high intensity,which will shock your muscles,and should make you quite sore 24 hours later.This may trigger growth in your stale muscles.You may need to do this type of training for say two of your four workouts per week,it all depends how well you recover.This is an old school routine,simple but effective.I found it worked well for arms.Also incorporate deadlifts,squats,presses into your routine,as you need compound movements such as these to build strength and a solid power base.Be careful and get someone with lots of practical experience to teach you these lifts if you do not already do them,proper form will help protect your lower back from injury.

Dont make the mistake I did at 21 years of age,and over eat constantly.I put on 60 pounds in 5 months this way,sure I added muscle,but I also added a layer of flab which will haunt you the rest of your life.I was rather sheltered and believed the hype in the magazines at the time ,that all you had to do was stuff yourself and lift heavy and you would look like the guys in the magazines.I didnt realise it was the steroids they took with the excess of food that produced the huge muscle gains.Of course there are people who put on muscle quickly without drugs,but unfortunately that is not often the case. Give the ascending sets routine a try if you like,hope this helps.

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Phew, there are tons of them, some proven routines are GVT aka German Volume Training (10x10), Breathing Squats, Dogg Crapp and so on. I would encourage you to Google for them and use one and stick with it until you don´t see any progress anymore. Please note, all of the routines have one thing in common, they always involve compound movements, with relatively heavy weight and HARD WORK and recovery. I found the Layer system from Christian Thibaudeau very effective as it targets different muscle fibers in one workout ... and is not so boring like GVT. You could even make nice gains from a Powerlifting routine focusing on assistance movements like Jim Wendler 5/3/1 or Classical 5/4/3/2/1 routine.

I also would not over micromanage the diet, just try to eat clean with more protein an carbs in the morning and day times and more fats (healthy fats ex fishoil, nuts etc.) and less er carbs the later it gets in the evening. You should eat at least 4 times a day.

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