A Guide To Training For Muscle Size

A Guide To Training For Size

Let me set the scene…

While busting out another pristine set of below-parallel squats, you spot some chief doing bicep curls.

There he is, throwing his back into every rep, and he just about gets 8 reps.

If you can call them reps.

You next spot him on the bench press where he proceeds to dip the weight down about a quarter of the way to a full press eight times, and then sits up looking pleased at his 100kg re-rack.

There is one in every gym.

And if you don’t think there is one in your gym, then it’s probably you.

Maybe give that person the following workout tips…

Beware the ego lift

Let’s get one thing straight Arnold junior:

No-one cares how much weight you are lifting!

Not even the girl giving you the eye from the treadmill when you’re screaming through each sloppy rep.

She’s probably just checking you haven’t prolapsed.

funny bench press fail gif

How much weight should you lift?

Well, unless you’re a powerlifter or a strength athlete, you should be aiming for the 8-15 rep range.

To failure of course.

Countless studies1 have shown that this rep range gets the maximum physiological change out of your muscles when training for size.

Any lower and you are training your muscles for strength improvements, and while there is a cross-over between the two, just training strength will slow your progress towards your size goals.

The main reason for this is that strength training really builds on your neuromuscular system rather than your physical ‘hardware’ (your muscles).

While doing strength work does have its place in a bodybuilding program, it should not be like this in every workout .

Especially if you are training for size.

Hypertrophy training will still give you some strength gains, and visa versa.

Just keep in mind your goals when training.

Train with your head, not your ego.

Lighter weight, more reps

So 8-15 reps, we’ve established that, but why?

Well the main reason is when you go much heavier, therefore hitting fewer reps, you reduce your time under tension.

This is usually because you have to power the weight up and have to lower the weight far quicker, missing out on that crucial negative portion of the rep.

arnold schwarzenegger mind muscle connection

Another good reason to stick to a little lighter weight and keep good form when training for size comes from Uncle Arnold himself: ‘Mind-Muscle Connection’.

If you have to throw that weight around like a fool then the muscle you’re targeting is probably being missed as more muscles are recruited to lift the weight, thereby having less effect on the muscle you are targeting.

Know where your limits are

Don’t misunderstand me though.

You still have to push/pull some serious weight to get size.

You absolutely have to hit muscle failure when training for size.

But know where the limit is – and be honest with your gym buddies.

Check their form and they can check yours.

know your limits master wayne

Just put this into practice for one week if you don’t believe me.

What have you got to lose?


1. Steven J. Fleck, William J. Kraemer, Designing resistance training programs, 3rd ed, 2004

Prestes J, Frollini AB, de Lima C, Donatto FF, Foschini D, de Cássia Marqueti R, Figueira A Jr, Fleck SJ. Physiological Sciences Department, Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Federal University of São Carlos, 2009


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  1. Charles, which, if any bodybuilder’s training programmes would you recommend for building mass?

    Ben Pakulski raves about his MI40 programme but is it more just about doing the basics right unless you’re going for a pro-card?

    1. I don’t know if he’s a pro or not but Jim Stoppani’s ‘Shortcut to Size‘ is amazing.

      You get some really decent gains and I like that there is a strength week.

      Y3T from Neill Hill is pretty good as well but I didn’t enjoy that one so much, that’s just me though.

      1. Pakulski is a pro, he finished 11th at Mr Olympia 2012, preaches a lot about time under tension so you’d probably appreciate his work.

        I’ve tried both SCTS and YT3 and agree with you that Stoppani’s was better.

        Although I felt the strength week didn’t really work on shoulders.

        YT3 is definitely an advanced programme and I don’t think would be as effective for people starting out.

        Perfect example was I think phase 2 week 2, chest.

        Main movements were smith and pec dec, completely ignoring the big barbell and dumbbell exercises that will build serious mass.

        1. Yeah I’ve only dabbled with MI40 so I can’t comment on it really but I am a huge fan of time-under-tension.

          It’s the only way to train biceps and triceps in my opinion.

          Works well on other muscle too obviously.

          Totally agree about SCTS though – 5 reps on lateral raises is absurd.

          Agreed on Y3T as well.

          My problem with it was probably that I went into it right after SCTS so I was more than likely very burned out.

          I might write a post on deloading between programs.

  2. Great article.

    Ego lifting is the most common mistake most gym rats make today.

    They are stressed for lifting heavy weights but have no clue about their form.

    It is recommended that first you master the form for a particular exercise and then gradually increase the weight to get the maximum benefits.