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In this article, we are going to focus on unique workouts that you can use for serious muscle gains.
First, before we get into the unique exercises, understand that gaining muscle mass is a combination of training and nutrition. We recently covered the best diet for muscle gain, have a look here. Serious muscle gains are nearly impossible without a proper nutrition plan.
As always, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training; if you have any doubts about some of the exercises below, we suggest that you consult a coach that can help you customize a muscle-building plan that is right for you.
The Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises
First, let’s look at the difference between weight training and bodyweight exercises.
Bodyweight training is commonly defined as workouts where you use only your bodyweight to work out, and not extra weights. Examples of some exercises include sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks, and more.
One common misconception is that this is for beginners. This can’t be further from the truth. Learn how huge you can get with bodyweight exercises by reading a bit about Herschel Walker’s workout routine.
There are many benefits of bodyweight exercises. It helps in the development of both strength and endurance.
Building endurance is not only achieved through cardio workouts. Because bodyweight training usually includes higher reps than weight-based training, you develop muscle endurance.
Another benefit is that you can use it as a full-body workout. There are movements where you can hit your legs, core, arms, and shoulders all in one movement. Think push-ups, burpees, pull-ups, etc.
Bodyweight also offers a lot more variety in your training than standard weight training. Climbing, hiking, fast-paced walking can all be part of your workout routine. You can adjust the workouts as you progress.
Bodyweight workouts are also super convenient and cost-effective. There is no need to go to the gym or purchase a bunch of equipment. You are the weight.
You can modify most of the exercises to suit your fitness level, or simply adapt the number of reps. It makes for a cheap and easy way to train anywhere under any circumstances. No more excuses to skip a workout!
Unique Workouts – Standard Bodyweight Training Plan
Here is a standard bodyweight workout perfect for a beginner.
This workout is structured on a 4 times per week schedule. On your rest days try to truly rest or use some form of active recovery (light walking, swimming, etc.). You basically want to use at least 5 different exercises for each session and vary them throughout the week to get a full-body workout. Check out this article to answer your question – how long do I rest between sets?
Push-ups (or knees push-ups): 4 sets, 10 reps
Squats: 4 sets, 12 reps
Glute bridge: 4 sets, 10 reps
Plank: 3 sets, hold 15 to 30 seconds depending on the comfort level
Jumping jacks: 4 sets, 10 reps
Single leg calf raises: 4 sets, 15 reps
Shoulder bridge: 4 sets, 10 reps
Mountain climber: 3 sets, 10 reps
Leg Lift: 4 sets, 12 reps
Triceps dip: 3 sets, 12 reps
Plank march: 3 sets, 10 reps
Burpee: 4 sets, 10 reps
Bicycle crunch: 4 sets,10 reps
Wednesday: Rest or Mild Exercise
Thursday: Repeat Monday Workout
Friday: Repeat Tuesday Workout
For a lot of exercises, you can slowly increase the number of sets and/or reps as you start feeling more comfortable and stronger.
There are also ways to modify them to make them more difficult as you progress. For example, you can move from knee push-up to push-up as you progress, or vary it with a diamond push-up.
Unique Workouts – High Rep Bodyweight
You will notice that we, here at EMH, love high-rep bodyweight exercises. These have become a staple structure in our Basement Series. We really enjoy the physique changes we see from high-rep bodyweight movements, so we keep finding new ways to create full-body routines.
Here are some of our new favorite unique workouts from the Basement Series:
January Burpee Challenge – 100 per day
If you are looking for simplicity, this is it. Burpees. Nothing else. No other equipment. You can do it anywhere, anytime. 100 burpees per day for an entire month. The burpee is one of the most complete full-body workouts. This workout becomes a “unique workout” when you look at ways to vary the burpee to keep progressing. Check out this article for thoughts.
Deck of Cards Workout
This workout only requires you to do four things – come up with four bodyweight movements. From there, you just let the cards do the rest of the work. You draw a 5 of hearts – maybe the suit of hearts is push-ups. So, you have 5 push-ups. Put that card facedown and draw the next card. This is a unique workout because it is a constantly varied rep scheme that keeps things interesting.
Full-Body Workout – 20 Minutes
Want to get your full-body workout done in under 20 minutes? Check out this routine. This workout involves 5 movements – air squats, push-ups, crunches, burpees, and pull-ups. This has become a near-daily routine for us. We often use it as a hard-core “warm-up” before we jump into our next workout. That is the beautiful thing about bodyweight workouts – they can be highly effective but they can also serve as an intense warmup before you start throwing around weights.
Rate of Muscle Gain
How fast do you gain muscle if you work for it? Obviously, the answer will vary greatly from one individual to another. It depends on your metabolism and genetics to start with: bone structure, hormone levels and more have a role to play. It is the genetics lottery and it is not much you can do to change that. Some people will have to work harder or longer for the same result.
Age, fitness level, and other environmental factors will also have an impact on your muscle gain rate.
It might sound unfair but beginners that are starting a muscle gain program will see improvements faster than those that have been working out regularly for some time already. With experience and already some muscle built, your rate of muscle gain will become slower.
For most people working towards adding muscle mass, a realistic expectation is around half a pound a week. Note as well that it can be hard to determine if the weight you put on is muscles…or just weight.
Rest Days for Building Muscle and Strength
Rest days are pretty much as important as working out. Your body needs the time in between workouts. Many factors will influence how much rest you need, such as training experience, age, the intensity of your training, etc.
First, working out too much can lead to stress for your body and therefore increasing the risk of injuries like fractures or muscle strain.
Second, weight training breaks some of your body’s tissues down and you need to give it time for the connective tissues, muscles, and nerves to rebuild. You need at least a day of rest before working on the same muscles again.
You want to allow time for your body to recover, but obviously not too long either as to lose the progress you have made in terms of muscle mass and/or loss of body fat.
On some of those rest days, you can also do mild exercise or maybe an activity that you enjoy that will be less work on your body: take a walk in nature, do yoga, go for a swim.
A common mistake on rest days is to consider that you are not doing much and your food intake should be lower. But if you are really committed to your schedule and your muscle gain goal, then you shouldn’t lower your calorie intake. Think of the rest days as days for your body to recover from the previous workout.
Other Factors to Consider for Building Muscles
All of this effort above will probably be lost if your diet is not a part of your efforts towards gaining muscle mass. If you go home after your workout and eat junk food for dinner… it defeats the purpose! There are plenty out there, more or less difficult to stick to. You can have a look at our previous articles about diets for muscle gain and some tricks to meal prep.
Another important factor is hydration. Depending on your environment and the temperature, you need enough water to keep your body’s functions working smoothly. You will also need to drink plenty before, during, and after your workout.
Finally, you need good sleep so you give your body (and mind) time to recover from your last workout before the next session. It means getting enough sleep so you feel rested the next day, but also trying to have a stable sleep schedule that will help your recovery. You can have a look at your tips and biohacks for a night of better sleep.
Now that you are ready with a workout plan for muscle gain, the only thing left to do is make your schedule and go for it!