Search the internet on any given day and you’ll find free training programs that promise to “add mass fast” and “pack on pounds.” Some of these strength training programs may contain effective programming but be wary because others can actually send you down a wrong path towards poor results. It’s worthwhile for everyone to know what to look for in a size training program. Look out for these three programming red flags to avoid wasting time and start making big gains.

1. The Program Doesn’t Have Enough Volume

The kind of volume I’m talking about refers to how many sets you perform of a given exercise before moving on to the next exercise. Within a hypertrophy program, rest intervals should be kept on the lower end, and you should be doing plenty of sets to make sure your muscles get properly fatigued.  Three or four sets of 8-10 reps won’t cut it for your gains.

Also, don’t use hitting “failure” as your indicator for completely killing it in an exercise. A better idea is to train shy of failure and squeeze in more sets with intermittent rest periods. The cumulative volume will result in you having done much more work. That’s why systems like 8×8 training and German Volume Training (GVT) are so effective.

2. The Program Uses Too Many Exercises

You’re not going to optimize your hypertrophy if you’re doing total body workouts. If you want to build your body, you’re going to have to train like a bodybuilder. While there are plenty of total body training methods that can add size and strength gains, if you’re after a straight bulk, nothing will replace standard isolation training methods to slap size on.

Minus a few modifications to muscle group pairings (some like back and biceps, others like back and quads, for example), good trainees know that in order to have no sacrifice to lifting volume, you have to isolate to increase the cross sectional area of specific muscles. 

3. You’re Lifting Too Heavy

While there are a number of similarities between strength training and size training, there are also a number of differences. Training with heavy weights can actually act as a blocker to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (or the increase in voluminous muscle size) that people looking to get big are often seeking. Lifting heavy can definitely put on muscle, but as mentioned before, systems like GVT and 8×8’s work so well because of the rate of perceived exertion and levels of fatigue the body and muscles go through when doing them. The rest intervals are low, and the muscles get so fatigued that light weight begins to feel heavy.

Training methods like ladders, dropsets, rest pause, and tempo training are great ways to fatigue muscles without heavy weight. Also lifting too heavy, too often can exhaust the central nervous system which is bad news if you want any size gains at all. Find a proper balance such as alternating a high volume week with a heavy week so that neither property gets compromised.