When it comes to creating a muscle gain workout plan, it’s easy to become confused. It’s also unnervingly easy to either undertrain or train too much. In both these situations, you might not be making the most of your workouts. You might even end up with no gains at all. I’ve been there! This is where Mike Israetel’s work has been a godsend to me. He put together a detailed guide on how best to train each and every muscle for optimum growth. In this article, I condense this into the most essential points to help you write a muscle gain workout plan. Here’s what you need to know if you’re serious about gains.
Dr Israetel has had extensive experience in both physique competitions, alongside training athletes and bodybuilders. He put together a vast amount of information in his Hypertrophy Guide. This was a godsend in helping me put together my muscle gain workout plan. However, his guide is very detailed and can take a while to digest! Here I’ve attempted to simplify his guide into a reference point. This will equip you with the essential information to start an effective muscle gain workout plan. For the more intricate details, read Israetel’s full guide.
Essential Concepts for Your Muscle Gain Workout Plan
There are a few key concepts you’ll need to understand before we proceed.
MEV: Minimum Effective Volume
This is the minimum amount of training you’ll need to do for muscle growth. This amount is a wise place to start in your first week of a new muscle gain workout plan.
MAV: Maximum Adaptive Volume
This is the range of volume you’ll progress through to make your best gains. It does not stay constant – for your muscles to grow, you need to progressively increase the amount you train them. So It’ll change week to week, as you progressively overload your body. The MAV range is between the MEV and the MRV (maximum reachable volume).
MRV: Maximum Reachable Volume
This is the maximum amount of training you should do. When you train too hard, your body stops being able to adapt. Israetel emphasises that your muscles will not grow if they cannot recover. He explains that you should not continually train at your MRV, but rather progress up to it.
How to Structure a Muscle Gain Workout Plan
Using the values in this guide, you should begin at the MEV for each muscle group. Week to week, progress through the range of the MAV until you reach the MRV. Then, it’s time to take a deload, where for around a week, you train at the MV. Then, change exercises, rinse and repeat.
One more thing before we get into the figures. Israetel uses the number of sets you do a week as a measure. This is based on the assumption that you are using a weight of between 60%-80% 1 rep max and between 8 and 20 reps per set. Israetel explains these are the most effective weight and rep ranges to work with for muscle gain.
The values he recommends for each muscle group below will be subject to individual differences – if you’re only just starting out, go lower. If you’re very experienced, you could go higher, but watch out for signs of overtraining.
The Right Amount of Training for Your Muscle Gain Workout Plan
When reading Israetel’s guide, I discovered that his recommendations are different for each muscle group. This, he explains, is down to the variation in our anatomy. Various amounts of volume, using different sets and rep ranges, are best depending on the muscles you’re training. Below, I’ve broken up his information into separate muscle groups. This will help you design a muscle gain workout plan that yields maximum results for your entire body.
So, let’s get into it!
Because of the anatomy and position of the chest, it can take a lot of stretch under load. The chest needs good recovery time. Israetel comments that he has rarely seen more than 3 successful overloading sessions on the chest.
MEV: At least 10 sets of direct chest work per week should be incorporated into your muscle gain workout plan.
MAV: Between 12-20 sets is where you’ll make your best chest gains.
MRV: The chest will struggle to recover from more than 22 sets per week.
Frequency: Include chest training 1.5-3 times per week in your muscle gain workout plan.
The back is a large area comprising of many muscle groups. For this reason, Israetel recommends ensuring you include both horizontal and vertical pulls in your muscle gain workout plan to grow your entire back.
MEV: For intermediate to advanced lifters, Israetel recommends around 10 sets per week.
MAV: Your best back gains are made between 14-22 sets per week.
MRV: You should avoid going over 25 sets per week in your muscle gain workout plan. More than this and the back will have a tough time recovering.
Frequency: The back can be trained anywhere from 2-4 times per week for maximum gains.
The biceps work in most pulling exercises. Israetel refers to direct bicep work here in these recommendations.
MEV: Intermediate to advanced lifters will need a minimum of 8 sets per week to see muscle growth.
MAV: Israetel reports that most people respond best to an average of 14-20 sets per week.
MRV: Around 26 sets per week is the point at which biceps will not be able to recover. If you do a lot of work on your back as part of your muscle gain workout plan, you should probably aim for slightly fewer sets than this.
Frequency: 2-6 times per week. Israetel explains that because the biceps are relatively small, produce little force, and are not exposed to a lot of mechanical damage, they recover quickly. If you choose to include bicep training 6 times a week in your muscle gain workout plan, make sure to use lower volumes per workout – around 3 sets a session.
The volume and tolerance of the triceps are lower than many other muscle groups. The triceps are larger than the biceps. The way they are positioned means they can take a lot of mechanical stress. But, like the biceps, triceps have involvement in a lot of other movements. These include chest and front delt exercises. So Israetel refers to direct tricep work here.
MEV: 6 sets per week is the minimum that is effective for muscle growth in the triceps. Israetel comments that this could be lower if your plan has a lot of chest and front delt press exercises.
MAV: 10 to 14 sets per week is the best range for making tricep gains.
MRV: Triceps cannot usually recover from more than 18 sets per week.
Frequency: 2-4 times per week is the recommended training frequency for tricep growth. Like the biceps, triceps recover very quickly. But ensure that you lower the volume each workout if your muscle gain workout plan includes 6 sessions of tricep training.
Israetel splits these into two groups, the rear and side delts, and the front delts. These are trained with different volumes and frequencies as part of a muscle gain workout plan. It’s worth noting here that Israetel steers clear of lower rep ranges for side and rear delts. He sticks to a minimum of 10-12 reps, going up to 20+ per set. However, the front delts are best suited to heavy training. Sets of 6-12 reps for front delts can be included in your muscle gain workout plan.
MEV: To make shoulder gains, the rear and side delts need around 8 sets a week as a minimum. If your muscle gain workout plan includes very isolated exercises that specifically target either the rear or side delts, aim for 6 sets each. For front delts, Israetel says you can get by without any direct work. Overhead pressing, tricep work, and push movements stimulate the front delts enough.
MAV: Between 16-22 weekly sets is best for maximum muscle growth in the rear and side delts. For the front delts, 6-8 sets are enough, inclusive of incline and horizontal compound push exercises.
MRV: Israetel noted problems regarding recovery for the side and rear delts when training above 26 sets per week. The front delts work in many exercises for other muscle groups. Therefore, Israetel recommends no more than 12 sets per week maximum.
Frequency: The rear and side delts are best trained 2-6 times per week. Like the biceps, your rear and side delts recover very quickly. But ensure that you lower the volume each workout if your muscle gain workout plan includes 6 sessions of tricep training. Israetel recommends lower for the front delts – he says 1-2 times per week is plenty. Any more, he explains, could interfere with chest work.
The traps are a small muscle group. They’re also involved in many other compound exercises, such as deadlifts and pulling movements. Because they’re small and don’t have a broad range of motion, Israetel recommends aiming for higher rep ranges. Around 12-20 reps per set are suitable for the traps.
MEV: Israetel reports that most people experience trap growth with no direct work. Alongside rows and deadlifts, shoulder training stimulates the traps enough. Make sure these are part of your muscle gain workout plan if you do not plan to train traps directly.
MAV: The most effective trap growth comes from a range of 12-20 sets per week.
MRV: The traps are designed to hold your shoulders up. So they do not fatigue easily. However, Israetel warns against including too much trap training in your muscle gain workout plan. This is because you are likely to aggravate other areas of the body like bicep tendons. He recommends a maximum of 26 weekly sets.
Frequency: The traps have a tiny range of motion. This means they are less prone to fatigue. Israetel states that traps can be trained anywhere from 2-6 times per week. Ensure you do limited numbers of sets per session if you plan to train them 6 times.
Israetel makes some interesting points about abs. Whether or not to train them directly depends on your goal. If your muscle gain workout plan is intended merely for all-round muscle growth, or you want your abs to really ‘pop’, training them directly is a good idea. However, they do get a lot of stimulation from compound exercises. Plus, a lot of ab growth can make you look thicker around the waist. So if your goal is to have a slimmer waistline, you needn’t – and perhaps shouldn’t – directly train your abs.
MEV: Israetel reports seeing ab growth with no direct ab training. But, if you’re looking to seriously grow your abs, read on.
MAV: For beginners, as little as 4 sets per week is enough for maximum ab growth. As your abs develop, you can go up to between 16-20 sets. But Israetel comments that this can take years.
MRV: The abs are very resistant to fatigue. They work all the time to stabilise your body. However, if you go above 25 sets per week, the rest of your workout might suffer. Weak abs from overtraining can reduce stability and strength. You need this for adequate training of the rest of your body.
Frequency: Israetel recommends 3 times per week for beginners as well as those with large and strong abs. Others can benefit from up to 5 ab sessions a week as part of a muscle gain workout plan.
The glutes are a strong and powerful muscle group that is involved in many other compound leg exercises.
MEV: If you specifically want to grow your glutes, you’ll need direct glute work. However, for most people, glutes will get bigger as a result of working out your quads and hamstrings.
MAV: For direct glute work, your best gains will come from a range of 4-12 sets per week.
MRV: In addition to quad and hamstring work, it may be difficult for glutes to recover from over 16 sets per week.
Frequency: Israetel recommends training glutes directly 2-3 times per week. As they have involvement in many other exercises, more than this will hinder their growth.
The legs comprise of the quads, hamstrings and calves. There are different recommendations for each of these muscle groups.
MEV: To get quad gains, you need to include around 8 weekly sets in your muscle gain workout plan. Sometimes, Israetel reports, this needs to be higher. For hamstrings, this is slightly lower at 6 sets per week. The calves work during other leg exercises, but for them to grow, you should train them for a minimum of 8 sets a week.
MAV: In Israetel’s experience, the most effective quad gains come from 12-18 sets per week. Hamstrings respond with fewer weekly sets – around 10 to 16. You should aim somewhere in the middle for calves – approximately 12 to 16 weekly sets.
MRV: All of the muscle groups in the legs will have difficulty recovering if you train them for more than 20 sets per week.
Frequency: The quads are a large and powerful muscle group. They are prone to a lot of fatigue. Israetel recommends including 1.5-3 sessions per week in your muscle gain workout plan. The quads are able to handle slightly more, around 2-3 sets per week. The calves are somewhat different. Israetel advises monitoring how they respond to your training. If they’re very sore after one session, train them twice a week. If not, train them 3 or 4 times per week.
Start Your Muscle Gain Workout Plan
Now you know the best way to train each muscle group for maximum gains. You should also have a good idea of the right frequencies and volumes. But there are a few other things you might find useful before you create your programme. To ensure you get the most out of your workouts, read up on the fundamentals of an effective workout plan.