A Busy Man's Guide To Building Muscle And Getting Strong

by Dean Palibroda in


Over the last 10 years I've personally experimented with every muscle building and strength increasing protocol under the sun. Through trial and error I've developed a recipe that takes into consideration the hard science needed for optimal muscle growth and strength gains, while simultaneously minimizing overall time spent in the gym.

My desire in creating such a formula stemmed from my transient lifestyle ­ travelling dozens of times per year. I wanted to streamline the muscle and strength building process so I could shift my limited willpower and focus to other areas of life.

Now obviously there’s a nutritional component to muscle building, however I will not be addressing this ­ just the stimulus necessary to increase strength and elicit muscle growth.

This program is not intended for the new trainee with absolutely zero training experience. I’m assuming you have a general understanding of weightlifting vocabulary and exercise form. It's also not intended for trainees using performance enhancing drugs, or competitive bodybuilders or powerlifting athletes whom need customized approaches.

Now rather than listing supportive research to back up the claims I make in this article, I’m going to reference videos and articles from other people that know much more than I do about the science and can support claims with peer­-reviewed scientific research.

The Science

For optimal muscle and strength gains, one naturally needs to stimulate each major and minor muscle group in the body, while utilizing different movement angles ­ simulating different muscles that make up the major muscle groups.

Let’s take the shoulders for example.

To increase width and mass, prevent rounding of the shoulders and improve posture, one must isolate the lateral and posterior heads with movements such as lateral flys or facepulls.

Next, we need to consider how we split up the exercises over the course of seven days, making sure to take into consideration rest time and time for other activities.

For natural trainees, the optimal frequency is 2­3 times per week. Take chest for example: through the course of 7 days, one needs to stimulate the muscles in the chest a minimum of twice ­three times being optimal.

In the video below, Jason Blaha of Juggernaut Fitness outlines the history and effectiveness of a full body training split:

I prefer 3 times a week myself, because it reduces gym time. When I say this, I’m taking into consideration preparation time, travel time and that unproductive energy depletion that I’ve found comes after each training session no matter what was done.

Although each session may be longer, limiting our weight training sessions to 3 days per week, gives us the time and energy to focus on other physical activities, whether that be sports, rock climbing or yoga to name a few.

The Split

Now before I outline the exercise order, sets and reps I wanted to make it clear that you must get adequate sleep, or else you run the risk of burnout.

Although this protocol is designed to be performed in a commercial gym, with a little homework on your part, you can switch out for alternative exercises or bodyweight movements depending on preference and equipment available.

Here goes:

Day 1: Power/Hypertropy
Barbell Squats/Hack Squats: 3 sets X 4­-6 reps
Flat Bench Press: 3 sets X 4-­6 reps
Bent­over Rows: 3 sets X 4-­6 reps
Shoulder presses: 3 sets X 4-­6 reps
Shrugs: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Rear Delts: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Side Lateral Raises: 2 sets X 11-­12 reps
Calf Raises: 3 sets X 4-­6 reps

Day 2: Hypertropy/Depletion
Leg Presses: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Ham Curls: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Chest Flies: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Chins/Lat pulldowns: 2 X 10-­12 reps
Rear delts: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Side Lateral Raises: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Biceps: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Abs: 3 sets X 10­-12 reps
Calf Raises: 2 sets X 11-­12 reps

Day 3: Power/Hypertropy
Deadlifts/Hip Thrusts: 3 sets X 4­-6 reps
Lungs/Squats: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Dumbbell rows: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Bent­over Rows: 3 sets X 4­-6 reps
Incline Chest Press: 3 sets X 10-­12 reps
Rear delts: 2 sets X 11-­12 rep
Side Lateral Raises: 2 sets X 11­-12 reps
Calf Raises: 3 sets X 4-­6 reps
Triceps: 3 sets X 10-­12 rep
Wrist Curls: 2 sets X 11­-12 rep

Where an exercise isn’t specified, take biceps for example, simply select any exercise that isolates the biceps that you like. This allows for plenty of exercise combinations ­ thus prevent boredom and plateaus.

As for the repetition range, this has to do with the progression, something I learnt from a 1­-on-­1 coaching session I did with Jeff Alberts over at 3D Muscle Journey.

Let’s take the bench press for example: Week one you’ll do 4 straight sets at 6 reps. Week two, you’ll do 4 straight sets at 5 reps (increasing the weight 5 pounds from the previous week); week three, you’ll do 4 straight sets at 4 reps, again increasing the weight 5 pounds from the previous week (week 2). The 4th week you’ll do a deload week, where you simply decrease the poundages by 10­20 percent of your previous weeks high on each lift.

For the lifts that only have two rep ranges like rear delts for example, just perform 11 repetitions on your third week. So week 1 you’ll do 11 reps, week two 12 reps and week three, 11 again ­ and then finally a deload week. The following week you’ll start week one at 12 repetitions.

Depending on the exercise, use a controlled 2­4 second tempo. Compound dynamic movements (i.e. bench press, squat, deadlift, shoulder press…) lend themselves to a faster tempo (2 second eccentric), whereas isolated movements (bicep preacher curl for example) lend themselves to a slower tempo (4 second eccentric).

For tracking my progress I’ve used simply pen and paper for years, but am currently using an app called GymHero that I really like.

Now take this split and put it into practice; try it out for a few months and see what you think.

Finally if you’d like a much deep understanding of the muscle building process, here’s some peeps I’d recommend:

Ian McCarthy
Layne Norton
Lyle McDonald
Jason Blaha
Allen Aragon
3D Muscle Journey Team
Vince Del Monte

To your results!