If you’ve long mastered the art of building muscle but have hit the dreaded plateau, it might be time to take things up a notch.
It’s time for the muscle-building master to become the student again and to push yourself beyond your perceived boundaries.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s time to take your physique from good to great.
Going from beginner to intermediate is one thing – going from intermediate to advanced? A completely different ball game.
There is no margin for error here if you want further growth. The more advanced you are, the more volume your muscles will need to grow further.
But if you’re already using high volume, you’re fatigued and your progress has stopped, it might be time to scale back and concentrate on your intensity.
Let’s look at both modes:
As the name suggests, the idea here is to go to town on your muscles with more sets and reps. The reason being that your body adapts to a certain amount of volume and you’ll gradually need more with time to continue to grow.
Some advocates of very high volumes of training include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’d gladly spend hours in the gym smashing his muscles to pieces. This is all well and good, and it’s hard to argue with a legend, but more is only better to a point.
Go as high volume as you can recover from. Dig yourself a hole too big, and you’ll find your muscles unable to climb out and grow.
So naturally, “how many sets is optimal?” is the question.
This depends on a number of factors including genetics, recovery capacity, lifestyle factors, and nutrition.
Dr. Brad Schoenfeld performed a meta-analysis and found that 10+ weekly sets per muscle group built twice as much muscle as 5 weekly sets per muscle group. The top end wasn’t discussed, though. So starting with 10 sets and building anywhere up to 20 sets per body part, per week is a decent number to aim for.
Intensity can be quite an ambiguous term in fitness, but when it comes to lifting, intensity generally refers to the load or % of 1 rep max of each set. The higher your lifting intensity gets, your volume tends to go the other way and take a hit.
This less-is-more approach’s most notorious advocate is Dorian Yates – six-time Mr. Olympia. Fans of a low-volume, high-intensity system like Yates and Mike Mentzer, get in the gym – hit it hard – then leave.
The theory here is that your muscles only require a heavy set or two, maximum, taken to failure in order to see muscle growth.
If you’re a fan of vegetating on the couch outside of the gym, then this protocol is right up your alley. Rest days are encouraged for recovery so Netflix, food, and chill can be enjoyed for your downtime.
Hybrid of Volume and Intensity
Some forms of lifting combine the two.
‘Powerbuilding’ programs tend to focus on both shirt-busting muscle gains, alongside Hulk-like strength. The way to make this work without beating your body up too much is to have specific, goal-focused days.
One day could be a high-volume bodybuilding style workout and the next, a higher-intensity powerlifting style session.
These type of programs are popular with advanced athletes.
Making your pick
This isn’t a black or white decision.
Both volume and intensity are important for building maximum muscle. You need enough volume lifted with enough intensity. It’s not rocket science.
It’s hard work, consistently, with no room for error.
Especially at your advanced level.
An upgraded workout needs to be tag-teamed with upgraded nutrition to push your physique into the ‘elite’ category.
Take a hard look at your current diet, and be honest.
Is what you’re currently eating creating a conducive environment for muscles to grow?
What gets measured, gets managed, so download a calorie and macronutrient tracker to your phone like MyFitnessPal or similar.
Start with this simple formula:
- Sedentary lifestyle: 14 x your bodyweight in lbs
- Light/moderately active job: 16 x your bodyweight in lbs
- Active/laboring job: 18x your bodyweight in lbs
Someone with a moderately active job and a bodyweight of 180lbs would have a maintenance calorie intake of 2880 calories. Add 10% to this number since we don’t want to maintain – we want to make some gains.
This brings your initial calorie number to 3168 calories (2880 + 288).
Start with a baseline and adjust up or down if you're gaining fat too quickly. Cut your calories back by 5% if this is happening.
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Carbs: 4 calories per gram
Fats: 9 calories per gram
Protein: set your protein to around 0.7-0.8g per lb of your bodyweight.
Why not 1g per lb? That’s a common recommendation as it’s an easy, whole number to advise.
But while more protein is recommended in a calorie deficit, as an advanced muscle-builder you’re going to be anything but. You’ll be in a calorie surplus so 0.8g of protein per lb is more than enough to build the muscle you crave.
Carbs: glorious carbs.
Carbs are pretty easy to set. After you’ve calculated your calories for proteins and fats, just fill the rest of your calories up with carbs. These bad boys aid in gym performance and taste pretty damn good too.
Fats: the highest calorie macro so keep them at a reasonable level.
You’ll want fats at a minimum of 0.3g per lb of your bodyweight. You can go reasonably higher, just remember that you lose about 2 grams of carbs for every gram of fat you increase. Find which carb and fat ratio works best for your gym performance and day-to-day energy levels.
If 80% of your foods come from the below sources or similar, then you’ll be moving into elite physique territory, performing in the gym, optimizing your health, and enjoying yourself along the way.
- Whey protein
- Lean meats
Carbs + Fiber
- Dried fruit
- Fresh fruit
- Brown rice
- Trail mix
- Healthy oils (coconut, olive etc)
- Nut butters
- Oily fish
Just know that to build next-level muscle, you’re going to need to put forth next-level intensity and work ethic into your workouts. There won’t be room for bad days or lackluster workouts.
As an advanced athlete, you’re looking for these ingredients in scientifically proven doses:
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. Research shows that beta-alanine in supplement form is beneficial because it has the ability to delay fatigue, improve endurance and increase the time to exhaustion.
Look for at least 3.2g of CarnoSyn® beta-alanine – a clinical dose that supports muscular endurance.
A combination of two amino acids, L-citrulline and malic acid, citrulline malate increases energy (ATP) by removing lactic acid and ammonia from the body, resulting in reduced fatigue, improved gym performance, and recovery.
If you’re after skin-splitting pumps, C4 Ultimate contains three different forms of citrulline to support nitric oxide production. For ultimate pumps, look for at least 6g per serving of citrulline.
What more could the advanced athlete need than ingredients to improve physical training? Mental performance.
Taurine is an amino acid that works in synergy with caffeine and B-vitamins to support a boost in mental performance. Aim for 500mg to 2g.
The most popular stimulant in the world.
It’s no surprise either when you consider its power in keeping you alert when you’re feeling drowsy and lethargic. It’s easily accessible in your day-to-day life in coffee form. But, if you’re a serial coffee drinker, you’ll find yourself having built up a tolerance for it.
A decent pre-workout supplement can shatter this tolerance and provide the gym performance benefits that caffeine alone cannot. Aim for anywhere between 200-400mg if you've got a high tolerance for stims.
C4 Ultimate is an example of a pre-workout that contains all of these quality ingredients in their effective doses.
On top of that, the advanced athlete will appreciate the added NO3-T Creatine Nitrate, Theacrine, and N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine. There’s a reason it’s called “Ultimate”.
This hypertrophy workout will last you four to eight weeks.
Aim to push yourself every week: either by getting more reps or, if you’re getting to the top of the rep range, by adding weight.
Choose your rest days where they suit you.
C4 Ultimate will help provide you with the boundless energy and performance you need for these explosive sessions.
Its formula features twice as much caffeine, more focus and more endurance than C4 Original, helping you get up and go, inching you ever closer to elite territory.
Workout 1: Chest/Triceps
In this phase, you’re switching up your bench technique to more effectively target the triceps. There’s still plenty of pec work here, though: lean forward on those dips to really target the area. Gut it out through the push-and-plank.
|Narrow-grip bench press||4||10||4110||90-120s|
|Dumbbell bench press||3||12||3010||60-90s|
|Incline dumbbell fly||2||10||4110||90s|
Workout 2: Legs (Quads)
Today you’re graduating from the jump squat to the box jump: try to keep your legs relatively straight throughout the jump to make it an explosive movement rather than a test of your flexibility. Focus on movement quality in the plate bridges: you’re aiming to activate your glutes for the rest of the workout.
|Plate hip thrust||3||10||2110||30s|
Workout 3: Back/Biceps
The band deadlift increases mid and upper-back activation compared with the standard variation of the move: to get the most from it, focus on keeping your shoulder blades pulled back as hard as possible throughout the lift. You might also want to use straps so that your grip doesn’t become the weak link. On the Kroc row, use the same weight each week and strive to beat your previous best max.
|Wide-grip lat pulldown||3||12||3010||60-90s|
|Kroc row - Run the rack||N/A|
Workout 4: Shoulders, Arms & Traps
For this workout, you’re moving to the standing shoulder press, which puts a greater demand on your core muscles. Stay braced through your abs and glutes and you’ll be able to move more weight – but keep that tempo strict.
|Seated lateral raises||3||10||2010||90s|
|Seated Scott press||3||10||2010||60s|
Workout 5: Legs (Hamstrings) & Abs
Things are getting tough: 12-rep back squats with a decent weight are no fun at all. Check your form to maximize your gains – feet slightly turned out, knees driving out. If the ab wheel rollouts are getting too easy, add reps or do them with a weight vest on.
|Kettlebell goblet squat||4||10||2010||60s|
|Ab wheel rollout||4||10||1010||60s|