Workout Plans
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Martin Irvine / Instar
Martin Irvine / Instar

Pack on up to 4 pounds of quality mass in 12 weeks.

Start this program

A majority of the workout-centric advice and tips in this issue center around fat-burning and workout routines that’ll help you get or remain lean all year. But we know some of you are already itching to plan or make a transition to getting bigger and stronger and packing on size.

You’ll use five basic movements—push, pull, hip hinge, squat, and weighted carry—as well as learn to calculate your own nutritional requirements and build a diet from the plate up that’ll provide you with the know-how to add as much as a four pounds of muscle to your frame. You will learn how to measure progress and respond to plateaus, so you can continue to improve well beyond Week 12.

To start, you should have body fat of 14% or less, have at least 18 months’ training experience, and be willing to commit to five hours’ training a week.


Ensure the bulk of your nutrition comes from foods that support your end goal of good health and high-quality mass gain. Feel free to accommodate 10-20% of your daily calorie allowance for any favorite “free foods,” such as extra nut butter, chicken, or even chocolate. They won’t do any harm in the grand scheme and this leaves 80-90% of intake for high-quality, nutrient-dense food.

Track overall calories and macronutrients to ensure you’re hitting key targets. Forget to track them and you risk eating too much or not enough. Innovations like MyFitnessPal can prove invaluable for tracking calories, hitting macro targets, and incorporating greater food choices.

one-arm dumbbell bench press

Martin Irvine / M&F Magazine

Calculate Your Needs

The quantity of the food is what dictates whether you gain or lose weight. To assess how much you need, establish your lean body mass, then basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy required to maintain normal bodily functions.

Step 1: Calculate Lean Body Mass and Basal Metabolic Rate

A bone density scan, or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, can accurately calculate body fat. Alternatively, have a professional skinfold assessment, preferably by someone accredited by the renowned International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK).

Lean Body Mass = Weight in pounds x (Body Fat/100)
To give an example, a 200-pound man with 10% body fat would have 180 pounds of lean body weight and 20 pounds of fat. From this, calculate BMR using the Katch-McArdle formula. Many BMR formulas are based solely on weight, which leads to inaccuracies, but this one takes into account lean mass.

BMR = 370 + (9.79 x Lean Body Mass in pounds)
So a 200-pound male with 180 pounds of lean body mass would require 2,332 calories a day.

Step 2: Calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Estimate your daily physical activity level, based on activity level and multiply by your BMR.

Sedentary = BMR x 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly Active = BMR x 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week)
Moderately Active = BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week)
Very Active = BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week)
Extremely Active = BMR x 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports and physical job or twice day training)

We’ve already calculated that a 200-pound male with 10% body fat has a BMR of 2,332 cals. If he has a very active lifestyle, he’d multiply this figure by 1.725 to reach a TDEE of 4,022 cal. This is his energy balance—eat more and he gains weight; eat less and he loses weight.

Step 3: Create a Surplus

To gain lean mass you need to increase energy intake beyond your basal energy needs. But gone are the days of mindless bulking, which causes unsightly fat that can reduce insulin sensitivity and increase inflammation—not ideal for muscle gain. We all gain muscle and fat at different rates, so it’s vital to work within your body’s metabolic capacity. Select the body type that best suits you and adjust calorie intake accordingly:

Endomorph (stores fat easily): + 2% of BMR cal
Mesomorph (builds muscle easily): + 4% of BMR cal
Hardgainer (naturally lean and skinny): + 6% of BMR cal

Let’s assume our 200-pound male is mesomorph, very active and has 10% body fat. He would therefore have to increase his daily cal intake of 4,022 by 4% to 4,182 to create a surplus. On non-training days he should reduce this by 200 to 3,822. For quality mass gain, always make small changes to energy intake over time. Never make big jumps.

single-arm landmine row

Martin Irvine / M&F Magazine

Macronutrient Guidelines

There is no single best macronutrient intake. Everyone is unique and requires different amounts of each. But protein and fats are essential. Protein builds muscle and fats are vital for hormone production. Regard carbs as calorie fillers.

Step 1: Establish protein intake

Take lean body weight in pounds and multiply by 1.0 to calculate daily protein intake in grams. This amount should remain constant on training and non-training days. So our man with 180 pounds of lean body mass should consume 200g of protein daily. Multiply this amount by 4 to calculate how many calories you will derive from protein, so the 180-pound male would get 800 cal.

Step 2: Establish fat intake

Non-training days require slightly higher fat as there is less need for carbs. If your body responds well to fat go for the higher end of the ranges prescribed below and vice versa if it performs better on carbs.

Training Days: Multiply lean body weight in pounds by 0.3-0.6g
Non-training Days: Multiply lean body weight in pounds by 0.7-0.9g

This tells you how many grams of fat you should consume daily, so our example who has 180 pounds of lean body mass should consume between 54g and 108g on training days. To work out how many calories this equates to, multiply the figure by 9. So, our guy would consume between 486-972 cal of fat on training days and 1,134-1,458 cal of fat on non-training days.

Step 3: Establish carb intake

The amount of carbs you require is the amount left after working out your daily protein and fat requirements. We know our 200-pound male requires 4,022 calories on training days, of which 800 calories should come from protein and 486 calories from fat (if he takes the minimum amount of fat). He should therefore consume 2,736 calories of carbs.

Low-Carb Days

Going low carb can optimize insulin sensitivity, meaning you metabolize carbs more effectively so you may wish to try it on a training or non-training day.

close-grip pushup

Martin Irvine / M&F Magazine

Adjusting the Plan

How do you know if mass gains are high or poor quality? You take the time to assess key markers of body composition and performance. Look for dips and progressions and change accordingly.

Measure yourself on the same day and time every week to ensure the test is meaningful. Key measures include weight, appearance, skinfolds, strength, mood, and health.

Perfect Scenarios: Don't Change a Thing

Scenario A

  • Weight increase
  • Skinfolds static/up marginally
  • Leaner appearance
  • Positive feedback from others
  • Strength increase
  • No colds/infections

Scenario B

  • Weight constant
  • Skinfolds static
  • Leaner appearance
  • Positive feedback from others
  • Strength increase
  • No colds/infections

big arms t-shirt

Martin Irvine / M&F Magazine

Not So Perfect: Change

Adjust your diet if there isn’t an obvious reason why you’re not progressing, such as lack of sleep, stress, or poor adherence to diet/training.

Scenario A

  • Weight decrease
  • Leaner appearance
  • Positive feedback from others
  • Strength increase
  • No colds/infections

Solution: Further increase calories according to body type (i.e., by 2%, 4%, or 6%) described above.

Scenario B

  • Weight decrease
  • Strength increase
  • Increase in hunger
  • No noticeable size increase

Solution: Further increase calories according to body type (i.e., by 2%, 4%, or 6%) described above.

Scenario C

  • Weight up 3 lbs or more
  • Skinfolds up too much
  • Strength increase
  • Visible fat gain or bloating

This could be from missing training sessions and/or cheating on your diet, therefore creating too great a surplus.

Solution: Pull calories back by 7.5% daily and sit tight until weight plateaus and appearance begins to improve.

pullup back exercise

Martin Irvine / M&F Magazine


Target each muscle group twice per week. The more frequently you train a muscle, the greater the opportunity for growth, provided recovery is complete. The program utilizes a range of “big bang” compound moves as well as isolation and functional exercises to improve strength and aesthetics. The varied rep ranges and techniques target the three main mechanisms of muscle growth:

  • Mechanical Tension: When an exercise is conducted with quality and intensity through start, mid, and end ranges.
  • Metabolic Stress: Otherwise known as “the pump.”
  • Muscle Damage: Achieved through the eccentric portion of a rep and use of different training exercises, techniques, and tools such as bands, chains, dropsets, and supersets.

Notes to Remember

Your plan is a guide

A program is a piece of paper that does not factor in your life: Work, illness, family issues, etc. will interfere. Be prepared to adjust. Monitor recovery and back off at signs of fatigue or overtraining.

You don’t need failure

For those who say, “No pain, no gain,” I say, “No pain, no brain.” You don’t need to feel sore and exhausted by the end of your training session to see optimal results. Basing progress on such factors is not productive.

Don’t get crushed

The weights you’re using should be light enough for your mind to focus on controlling the load—not worrying about getting crushed.

Does perfect form exist?

The idea of textbook form is flawed. Every body is built differently, and thus may require different techniques. Train with intent; angle your body into the best possible position to achieve maximum tension.

Weeks 1-12