How to gain your first 5 kg of muscle (detailed guide)

Gaining your first 5 kilograms of muscle is pretty easy. All you have to do is show up at the gym a few times a week, lift some weights with at least some effort, increase the weight once in a while, and in about a year, you should have built your first 5 kg of muscle.

However, even if most training styles build muscle when you first start lifting, this does not mean all approaches are equally effective. There are still some major mistakes that can delay your results, set you up for failure later on, or worst of all, keep you stuck in the beginner stage for years. So, to help you avoid these problems, in this two part video, Jeff Nippard and I will give you a detailed guide for exactly how to build your first 5 kilograms of muscle. You will learn what makes muscle grow, how to set up your own training program, and most importantly, what habits you should develop to help you easily reach and even surpass the intermediate stage. Let’s go.

What makes muscle grow

For a long time people believed that the main cause of muscle growth was muscle damage. The thinking was that training breaks down muscle fibers (meaning it creates micro tears and other disruptions at the cellular level) and those damaged fibers are then rebuilt bigger and stronger in the recovery period between workouts; provided you eat enough and sleep well. Since muscle damage was the goal, feeling your muscles ache in the gym and feeling sore to the point of being crippled for a few days post-workout were considered great signs that you’re growing.

Getting a skin-tearing pump and a burning sensation in your muscles were also believed to be indicators of growth. One common training advice was to use light weights for many reps combined with short rest periods because flooding your muscles with blood and metabolites was key to triggering the growth process.

Novelty was also thought to be important. People used to say that you must not allow your muscles to get used to a workout routine. You must constantly change the exercises, change their order, change the weight on the bar, change the rep range, change the number of sets; you must change everything often because muscle confusion is what shocks your body into growth.  

But modern research showed these ideas were misguided. We now know that almost all training-related muscle growth occurs because muscle fibers are subjected to high levels of mechanical tension.

When you lift weights, muscle fibers experience a type of force that tries to stretch them. This is what we mean by mechanical tension. Within muscle fibers there are some proteins that are sensitive to tension and get deformed by it. Researchers call them mechanosensors. When these mechanosensors deform, their new shape reacts with other molecules inside the muscle cell, triggering a complex molecular cascade that ends with the construction of new muscle tissue from amino-acids taken from food. This last step is what people mean when they say “muscle protein synthesis”.

Now, it’s important to point out that this process is still poorly understood. It’s not known exactly which proteins act as mechanosensors or how they do it, and the molecular cascade they trigger is not entirely mapped out. Some aspect or by-product of fatigue (such as deoxygenation or lactate) likely plays a role in applying the muscle building signal initiated by tension. Also, besides lifting heavy weights, other factors such as the cellular stretch caused by a muscle pump or just simply stretching a muscle for prolonged periods of time may also be able to affect mechanosensors enough to kick-start the construction of some new muscle tissue. But what is clear is that the tension produced by lifting weights is by far the most important initiator of the molecular cascade that ends in muscle protein synthesis.

Obviously, you don’t need to know any of this stuff in order to build muscle. If you simply apply a good workout routine and work hard in the gym you can experience muscle growth without understanding why it works. So instead of talking about mechanosensors, molecular cascades, and protein synthesis I could have just given you a list of exercises by now, some quick tips, and sent you on your way. And don’t worry, we will show you some training routines later on. But the reason I wanted to start with an explanation of what causes muscle to grow is because this reveals a few lessons that you would benefit immensely from adopting as the foundation of your training philosophy.

You know how in investing you might hear rules like: don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose or don’t touch your investments for at least a year? People make use of such rules to automate their decision making and avoid basic mistakes. The thinking goes that if you just go by those rules, you can’t go far wrong.

Well, once you understand why muscle grows, you can set up a few guiding principles like that for your training. Note I said guiding principles. You shouldn’t think of these as hard rules because all of them are wrong and counter-productive in certain situations, especially once you get more advanced. But following a few basic lessons in the beginning can almost guarantee that you will easily build 5 kilograms of muscle and also lay the foundation of productive training for years to come.

Lesson 1: Don’t chase sensations in the muscle, chase progress

If you pay attention to people training in commercial gyms, you’ll notice that many of them base their workouts around what feels like it’s working.

For example, many people are drawn to exercises that allow them to not only feel the target muscle but also look at it at the same time. A friend will sometimes keep an eye on the muscle as well to make sure it can’t escape growth. Other people are drawn to cables because they give this nice smooth feeling and others simply do whatever gets them the biggest pump, taking inspiration from the spirit animal of bodybuilding. Many people judge the effectiveness of a workout based on whether it gets them sore the next day. This usually means chasing the burn and taking the fact that you feel wrecked the day after as proof of a job well done. The thing all these people have in common is that they’re all chasing feelings.

Going by what feels to be working is understandable. It’s natural to want immediate feedback that the work you’re putting in is actually doing something… But the problem is that muscle soreness, pumps, aches and burns, are all poor indicators of growth. It’s possible to feel absolutely wrecked after a workout that didn’t actually make you much, if any bigger, such as downhill running, wall climbing, or a cardio session on the rowing machine. It’s also possible to see very little muscle growth, even if you got a great pump by lifting light weights with short rest periods.

The science supports this as well.

Studies from Flann and colleagues and Damas and colleagues have shown that muscle aches and soreness are not only unnecessary for muscle growth, they can be counterproductive, because when there’s a lot of muscle damage, a large part of growth is directed toward repairing damaged muscle tissue rather than building new muscle tissue.

As for pump training, this 2019 study showed that lifting light weights with short rest periods will create short-term increases in muscle size for a few hours because of temporary fluid shifts. However, this doesn’t necessarily correlate to more muscle fiber growth over time. We should be concerned with growing actual muscle tissue – we want to build size that doesn’t deflate soon after you leave the gym.

So if you can’t go by muscle sensations to judge the effectiveness of your training, what should you do instead? The answer is actually very simple: focus on making progress.

Let’s say you did 3 sets of 8 reps with 100 lbs on the bench press and it provided enough tension to get the muscle building machinery going. As the muscle grows, it gets stronger, and eventually, that same 3 sets of 8 with 100 lbs will no longer provide enough tension to trigger new muscle growth. It’s too easy for you. So now you need to create more tension. You can do that by either adding more weight (for example doing 3 sets of 8 with 105 lbs), doing more reps with the same weight (so, 3 sets of 9 with 100 lbs), or doing an extra set. Either one of these counts as progress because every one of these increases tension. However, I recommend using them in this order: 

  1. Your first progression choice should be adding weight to the bar or the machine while keeping reps the same. As long as you can do this, you’re golden, keep it up. 
  2. If you increase the weight, but it causes you to miss some reps, that means it’s time to switch to adding reps instead. Try adding one or two reps each week at the same weight, and once you return to your original number of reps, try increasing the weight again. This is what coaches call double progression.
  3. If you can’t increase either the load or the reps, consider adding an extra set. Eventually, you’ll be able to add some weight to at least one of those sets, and then you can return to your original number of sets again.
Remember, the best way to ensure long-term muscle growth is to focus on making progress. Don’t chase soreness. Don’t chase the pump. Don’t chase the burn. Don’t chase fatigue. Chase progress.
 

One of the single most helpful habits you can learn in the early stages of training is tracking your workouts: Every time you train you should be writing down the exercises, the weights, the sets and reps, and other notes related to technique and effort can be helpful too, especially as you get more advanced. And every workout, your goal should be to beat the training log in some way. Try not to be one of those people that chooses weights at random based on whatever you feel like that day. That’ll only get you so far. The weights you use and the number of sets and reps you do should almost always be decided by the training log.

The way you record your training is up to you. You can use a workout app, the notes app on your phone, a spreadsheet, or an old-school notebook. Just don’t keep it in your head. Write it down. The act of tracking your workouts not only makes sure that you don’t forget what you did in between workouts, it can also increase motivation and prove to yourself that you’re serious about making progress.

Lesson 2: The best indicator of muscle growth is increased strength

When researchers isolate single muscle fibers and measure how much force they can produce, they find that the thickness of the fiber strongly predicts how much force it can generate. The relationship is very clear, nearly a straight line. The thicker the fiber, the more force it can produce.

Whole muscle size also correlates with strength in trained athletes. This study by Brechue and Abe tracked the lean body mass and performance of 20 elite male powerlifters (which included world and national champions) and found that the amount of weight they could lift on the squat, bench press, and deadlift could be predicted to a high degree of accuracy by the amount of muscle mass the lifters had. Other studies that looked at olympic weightlifters and rugby players found the same thing: the more jacked people were, the stronger they were on average. This correlation holds true for recreational lifters as well. When both trained and untrained people perform an exercise that requires no skill, such as leg extensions, the amount of weight they lift strongly correlates with their muscle size.

Is this surprising to you? Probably not. I mean, it’s pretty intuitive that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. If you see a huge jacked man you intuitively expect them to be strong too. But what is not intuitive to most people is that you can use strength as a very reliable indicator of whether you are succeeding or failing to build muscle.

If you are succeeding to build muscle, you should be able to lift progressively heavier weights over time (this is assuming it’s on the same exercise, for the same number of reps, and with the same lifting technique). On the other hand, if you are not able to lift progressively heavier weights over time, you should take this as a warning that you are failing to grow – even if you are training consistently, getting pumps, and experiencing soreness.

This is a key point. To build maximum muscle naturally, especially as a new lifter, it’s very important that you see your strength increase over time.

Now, there are 6 main types of exercises that you should make progress on:

  1. A Squat-type movement
  2. A Hip hinge movement
  3. A Horizontal press
  4. A Vertical press
  5. A Horizontal pull and
  6. A Vertical pull

Different versions of these movements can be performed using barbells, dumbbells or machines. And luckily, there are no “must-do exercises” for hypertrophy – you can pick and choose based on your preferences and capabilities.

With that said, I generally do recommend at least learning 6 fundamental lifts: the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Pendlay Row, and pull-ups or chin-ups. Making progress on these 6 exercises will make sure that you’re gaining muscle across more-or-less your entire body. Again, it doesn’t have to be exactly these 6, but I do think these are basic lifts that almost everyone has access to.

And to give you some idea of how much strength you’d need to gain to indicate a 10 lb increase in muscle mass, here’s an approximate guide for males and females:

For example, if you can now bench press 100 lbs (45 kg) for 6 reps, you should aim to increase your bench press to 155 lbs (70 kg) for 6 reps. If you can now do 6 bodyweight chin-ups, you should aim to get to the point where you can do 6 chin-ups with 30 lbs attached to your belt. If you can now squat 135 lbs for 6 reps, you should aim to get to 205 lbs.

Now there are some caveats we need to mention here. 

  • First, these numbers will not be totally accurate. Depending on your bone structure, you may have to increase some lifts more than others because you will have a mechanical advantage or disadvantage on different lifts. For example, if you have short arms you may need to add a bit more weight to the bench press and overhead press compared to a guy with longer arms but you may need to add a bit less for chin-ups and deadlifts. 
  • Second, these numbers may not fully account for the rapid increases in strength that are caused by other factors besides muscle growth when you’re a beginner. In your first few months of lifting, strength increases much faster than muscle size. In fact, you can get stronger even without gaining any muscle. This is because in the early stage of training, most strength gains are caused by neural adaptations, improved lifting technique, and changes in connective tissues. Neural adaptations means that your nervous system becomes better at recruiting and coordinating the contraction of muscle fibers. Improved lifting technique means that you learn how to perform an exercise to achieve better leverages and more efficient movement patterns. And changes in connective tissues refers to increased tendon stiffness and enhanced capacity to transmit force laterally between the muscle fiber and its surrounding collagen layer. All these things allow you to move more weight without gaining any muscle. We tried to account for these factors but if in your case these early adaptations are particularly strong you may need to increase your lifts by a little more than the numbers I’ve shown you. The good part is that after these adaptations have taken place, muscle growth becomes the primary cause of strength gains, and as a result, size and strength start to correlate much more closely.
  • And finally, if other genetic factors give you above average natural ability for strength, you will need to add significantly more weight to the bar than the numbers I’ve shown you. It is possible to be unusually strong for your level of muscularity if your height and bone length give you good leverages, your muscles attach to bones further away from joints, you’ve got long and elastic tendons, you’ve got a high fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fiber ratio, and your nervous system can make muscle fibers coordinate, contract and relax faster than average. These factors explain why the most muscular guy isn’t always the one that can lift the most weight or why the same increase in muscle size may lead to different strength gains in two individuals. The fact that increased strength is the best indicator of muscle growth isn’t useful in comparing two individuals to one another. It’s only useful for assessing one individual’s progress over time.

But all things considered, these are good goals to have in the gym. 

Lesson 3: Training will not maximize muscle growth if it doesn't provide enough tension or if it doesn’t provide tension enough times

So, based on what I’ve told you so far, you may be thinking that building muscle is all about lifting as much weight as possible. But that’s not quite right. To successfully stimulate muscle growth, your training must not only provide sufficient tension (in terms of the loads you’re using) but it must also provide that tension a sufficient number of times in the form of sets and reps. Both of these factors are needed. You need enough tension AND you need to apply that tension enough times.

Your training will provide enough tension as long as you’re pushing your sets close enough to muscular failure. You can think of muscular failure as the point where you can no longer do another rep with reasonably good technique. If you’re getting within a few reps of that point, you’re probably generating enough tension to maximize growth.

But this partly depends on how heavy you’re lifting.

For example, if you select a weight so heavy you can only lift it for 4 reps, that weight will produce a very high amount of tension from the very first rep because you need to recruit so many muscle fibers just to get the weight moving.

On the other hand, if you select a weight so light that you can lift it for 20 reps, there won’t be much tension at the beginning of the set at all. It isn’t until you get closer and closer to failure, that more and more muscle fibers are recruited until you eventually reach that same, high level of tension.

So… let’s say you pick up a weight that you could do for 20 reps and you decide to stop at rep 12 because you start to feel that burning sensation. That set wouldn’t provide enough tension to trigger very much muscle growth. To make sure that you’re getting the maximum stimulus at this weight, you’d need to take the set closer to failure, ideally stopping at rep 18, 19, or 20.

It’s important to understand this so that you don’t choose training styles that simply aren’t heavy enough. For example, some people expect to build muscle by doing athletic circuit-style workouts. But if you can do 100 high knee raises before hitting failure, doing 15 of them every 30 seconds won’t grow your legs at all. There’s simply not enough tension on the muscle. If you can do 30 kettlebell swings before hitting failure, doing 15 swings may get your heart rate up, it may burn a few calories, it may even feel challenging but it isn’t building muscle. If you can do 20 reps with a certain weight on the leg press, doing 8 reps with that same weight isn’t building much muscle. This is a very common mistake that a lot of new lifters make: they stop their sets at the first feeling of discomfort and that’s almost always too many reps away from failure to provide enough tension.

A good rule of thumb is to take most sets one to three reps shy of failure. But once you’ve got the technique figured out and have built a decent strength foundation, it is important to take some sets all the way to failure in order to learn what true failure feels like. Several studies have shown that beginners are, understandably, not very good at judging how close they are to failure and often underestimate it by 5 reps or more. I think this explains why so many people stop making progress fairly early on in their lifting career: they just aren’t pushing their sets hard enough to get them past the newbie phase.

Now you might ask: Well, if high tension is the goal, why not choose the heaviest weight I can handle, lift it once and be done with it?

Because that doesn’t work either. In addition to subjecting muscle fibers to sufficient tension you also need to do it a certain number of times in the form of reps and sets. For instance, a study by Mattocks and colleagues found that a group that did two workouts a week, each consisting of 5 single max reps on the chest press machine failed to build any significant amount of muscle over the course of 8 weeks.

It’s not clear why heavy singles don’t build much muscle. Perhaps mechanosensors need to deform a certain number of times in order to trigger the molecular cascade that ends with protein synthesis. Or perhaps some aspect of fatigue (like deoxygenation), or a protein or molecule produced under fatiguing conditions (like lactate) are involved in the signaling pathway between mechanosensors and protein synthesis. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely. But what is clear is that you can’t get away with doing just a few very heavy reps and calling it a day. You need a certain number of heavy reps and sets per workout to create a good muscle building stimulus.

This is important to understand because when you’re tracking your lifts in the gym it’s easy to get tempted into increasing the weight on the bar at the expense of reps. On paper that can appear as progress. Yet if the number of reps per workout gets too low, you can actually create an inferior muscle building stimulus, despite having more weight on the bar.

It’s common for guys to get into this situation, especially on the bench press.

A guy may start doing sets of 8 reps on the bench. Stuck at the same weight for a few weeks, he might decide to add 10 pounds and drop the reps down to 6. A few weeks later, he might add another 10 pounds and drop the reps to 4. Finally, impatient to reach 225, he might continue to increase the weight until the only way he can bench is with his buddy getting a bonus set of rows in the process.

This is not good.

You have to strike a balance between the weight and the bar and the number of reps and sets you do per workout.

A good way to do that is to set up your training program based on the following guidelines:

  • Do around 9-12 sets per body part per week. So 9-12 for chest, 9-12 for back, 9-12 for quads, etcetera. Note that smaller muscles like biceps, triceps, or rear delts only need 3-6 weekly sets because of overlap with compound lifts.
  • Take all sets within 0 to 3 reps of failure. They need to be hard.
  • Most of your sets should be done in the 6-12 rep range (this is called a medium rep range). So most of your bench press, squat, or barbell row sets should be performed with a weight that makes you reach failure in the 6-12 rep range.
  • Some of your sets can be done in the 1-5 rep range and 12-20 range (these are called low and high rep ranges). It can be beneficial to train the big compound lifts with heavy weights in a low rep range with a focus on strength progression. And a higher rep range can be advantageous for isolation exercises. Some people find that training smaller muscle groups with heavy weights leads to poor technique or joint pain. So it can be beneficial to do isolation exercises such as biceps curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, leg extensions, or cable flyes, with lighter weights that make you reach failure in the 12-20 rep range.  
  • And finally, distribute those sets over 1-3 workouts per week. So for example you can do all your weekly bench press sets in a single workout, two workouts, or three workouts, depending on your preferences and schedule.
If you set up your training routine based on these guidelines you’re on the right track.

Training

So, with this foundation in place, here are some sample routines you can use in the gym right away. I’ll put them up here on the screen and you can pause the video or take a screenshot if you want to have a closer look. This is a sample full body split you can run 3 days a week. This is a sample upper lower split you can run 4 days a week. And this is a modified body part split (or modified bro split) that you can run 5 days a week.

Full Body Split

Monday

Back Squat

3 sets x 6 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Barbell Bench Press
3 sets x 8 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Lat Pulldown
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min 

Romanian Deadlift
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min 

Assisted Dip
3 sets x 8 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Standing Calf Raise
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min 

Dumbbell Supinated Curls
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

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Wednesday

Deadlift
3 sets x 5 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min 

Military Press
3 sets x 8 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Chest Supported T-bar Row
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Leg Extension
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Cable Flye
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Crunch
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Dumbbell Skull Crusher
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

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Friday

Dumbbell Walking Lunge
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Dumbbell Incline Press
3 sets x 8 reps | 1-3 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Barbell Hip Thrust 
3 sets x 12 reps |  1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Seated Face Pull
3 sets x 12 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min 

Dumbbell Lateral Raise
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Lying Leg Curl
3 sets x 10 reps | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min


Notes:

  • To learn how to perform these exercises correctly (in order to work the muscles properly and prevent injury), check out my Technique Tuesday series on YouTube. Search for: How to “name of exercise” Jeff Nippard. For example: How to back squat Jeff Nippard. 
  • RIR = reps in reserve – this is the number of reps you could have done before reaching failure at the point when you stopped the set. For example, if you can do a maximum of 8 reps with 100 lbs on the bench press (you drop the bar on your chest if you attempt rep 9), stopping the set at rep 6 would be 2 RIR – two reps in reserve: rep 7 and rep 8. A goal of 1-3 RIR means that at the end of each set you should be able to complete at most 1 to 3 more reps with good form.       
  • Rest 3-4 minutes between sets for exercises that require a greater focus on technique to perform safely: Squats, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Military Press. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets for less technically demanding exercises that work multiple muscle groups: Lat Pulldown, Romanian Deadlift, Assisted Dip, Chest Supported T-bar Rows, Dumbbell Walking Lunges, Dumbbell Incline Press, Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown, Barbell Hip Thrust. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets for less fatiguing exercise and those that work a single muscle group: Standing Calf Raise, Dumbbell Supinated Curls, Cable Flye, Crunch, Dumbbell Skull Crusher, Seated Face Pull, Dumbbell Lateral Raise, Lying Leg Curl.
  • Progression model: When you can do all the prescribed reps in all 3 sets, add 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. If the load increase causes rep loss, add back the reps before adding another 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. For dumbbell and cable exercises, increase the load by the smaller increment possible as any increase represents a larger percentage of the overall weight. 
  • Always track your workouts and aim to beat your previous performance by adding load or reps. That said, good technique takes priority over load/rep increases. If you’re sacrificing technique to lift more, that’s not progress.

Lower / Upper Split – 4 days / week

Monday – Lower Body #1

Back Squat
3 x 6 | 1-3 RIR | rest -4 min

Romanian Deadlift
3 x 10 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Barbell Hip Thrust
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Leg Extension
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Lying Leg Curl
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Machine Seated Hip Abduction
3 x 6 | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Crunch
3 x 12 | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Tuesday – Upper Body # 1

Barbell Bench Press
3 x 5 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Lat Pulldown
3 x 10 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Military Press
3 x 10 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Chest-Supported T-Bar Row
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Cable Flye
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Dumbbell Supinated Curl
3 x 10 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Single Arm Rope Triceps Extension
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

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Thursday – Lower Body #2 

Deadlift
3 x 8 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3 – 4 min

Dumbbell Walking Lunge
3 x 10 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2 – 3 min 

Single-Leg Leg Extension
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Single-Leg Lying Leg Curl
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Machine Seated Hip Abduction
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Standing Calf Raise
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Plank 
3 x 20 sec | rest 1-2 min

Friday – Upper Body #2

Dumbbell Incline Press
3 x 8 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
3 x 8 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min 

Assisted Dip 
3 x 10 | 1-3 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Barbell Bent Over Row
3 x 12 | 1-3 RIR | rest 2-3 min 

Dumbbell Lateral Raise
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Seated Face Pull
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Hammer Curl 
3 x 8 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min


Notes:

  • To learn how to perform these exercises correctly (in order to work the muscles properly and prevent injury), check out my Technique Tuesday series on YouTube. Search for: How to “name of exercise” Jeff Nippard. For example: How to back squat Jeff Nippard. 
  • RIR = reps in reserve – this is the number of reps you could have done before reaching failure at the point when you stopped the set. For example, if you can do a maximum of 8 reps with 100 lbs on the bench press (you drop the bar on your chest if you attempt rep 9), stopping the set at rep 6 would be 2 RIR – two reps in reserve: rep 7 and rep 8. A goal of 1-3 RIR means that at the end of each set you should be able to complete at most 1 to 3 more reps with good form.       
  • Rest 3-4 minutes between sets for exercises that require a greater focus on technique to perform safely: Squats, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Military Press. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets for less technically demanding exercises that work multiple muscle groups: Lat Pulldown, Romanian Deadlift, Assisted Dip, Chest Supported T-bar Rows, Dumbbell Walking Lunges, Dumbbell Incline Press, Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown, Barbell Hip Thrust. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets for less fatiguing exercise and those that work a single muscle group: Standing Calf Raise, Dumbbell Supinated Curls, Cable Flye, Crunch, Dumbbell Skull Crusher, Seated Face Pull, Dumbbell Lateral Raise, Lying Leg Curl.
  • Progression model: When you can do all the prescribed reps in all 3 sets, add 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. If the load increase causes rep loss, add back the reps before adding another 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. For dumbbell and cable exercises, increase the load by the smaller increment possible as any increase represents a larger percentage of the overall weight. 
  • Always track your workouts and aim to beat your previous performance by adding load or reps. That said, good technique takes priority over load/rep increases. If you’re sacrificing technique to lift more, that’s not progress.

Body Part Split | a.k.a Bro Split

Chest & Triceps

Barbell Bench Press
3 x 6 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Dumbbell Incline Press
3 x 8 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Cable Flye
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Assisted Dip
3 x 10 | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Dumbbell Skull Crusher
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Legs & Abs

Back Squat
3 x 6 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Romanian Deadlift
3 x 8 | 1-3 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Barbell Hip Thrust
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Leg Extension
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Leg Curl
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Standing Calf Raise
2 x 8 | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Crunch
2 x 12 | rest 1-2 min

Back & Biceps

Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
3 x 8 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Cable Seated Row
3 x 10 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Chest-Supported T-Bar Row
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Seated Face Pull
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Dumbbell Supinated Curl
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Legs & Abs

Deadlift
3 x 5 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Dumbbell Walking Lunge
3 x 10 | 1-2 RIR | rest 2-3 min

Single-Leg Leg Extension
2 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Single-Leg Lying Leg Curl
2 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Machine Seated Hip Abduction
3 x 15 | 1-3 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Standing Calf Raise
2 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Plank
3 x 20 sec | rest 1-2 min

Shoulder & Arms

Military Press
3 x 6 | 1-3 RIR | rest 3-4 min

Dumbbell Lateral Raise
3 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Cable Reverse Flye
3 x 15 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Single Arm Rope Tricep Extension
2 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min

Single Arm Cable Curl
2 x 12 | 1-2 RIR | rest 1-2 min


Notes:

  • To learn how to perform these exercises correctly (in order to work the muscles properly and prevent injury), check out my Technique Tuesday series on YouTube. Search for: How to “name of exercise” Jeff Nippard. For example: How to back squat Jeff Nippard. 
  • RIR = reps in reserve – this is the number of reps you could have done before reaching failure at the point when you stopped the set. For example, if you can do a maximum of 8 reps with 100 lbs on the bench press (you drop the bar on your chest if you attempt rep 9), stopping the set at rep 6 would be 2 RIR – two reps in reserve: rep 7 and rep 8. A goal of 1-3 RIR means that at the end of each set you should be able to complete at most 1 to 3 more reps with good form.       
  • Rest 3-4 minutes between sets for exercises that require a greater focus on technique to perform safely: Squats, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Military Press. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets for less technically demanding exercises that work multiple muscle groups: Lat Pulldown, Romanian Deadlift, Assisted Dip, Chest Supported T-bar Rows, Dumbbell Walking Lunges, Dumbbell Incline Press, Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown, Barbell Hip Thrust. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets for less fatiguing exercise and those that work a single muscle group: Standing Calf Raise, Dumbbell Supinated Curls, Cable Flye, Crunch, Dumbbell Skull Crusher, Seated Face Pull, Dumbbell Lateral Raise, Lying Leg Curl.
  • Progression model: When you can do all the prescribed reps in all 3 sets, add 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. If the load increase causes rep loss, add back the reps before adding another 5 lbs / 2.5 kg to the bar or machine. For dumbbell and cable exercises, increase the load by the smaller increment possible as any increase represents a larger percentage of the overall weight. 
  • Always track your workouts and aim to beat your previous performance by adding load or reps. That said, good technique takes priority over load/rep increases. If you’re sacrificing technique to lift more, that’s not progress.

Now, if you’re wondering which of these is “the best” or which one you should use… The answer is: it doesn’t really matter.

Each split has advantages and disadvantages and all three would produce pretty similar results if applied consistently. But that’s the key: progressing through the workouts consistently. It doesn’t matter how good your training program is on paper if you cannot or do not stick to it. Adherence is fundamental to making progress. For this reason, the split that will work best for you is the one that best fits your schedule, lifestyle, and personal preference.   

If you can only consistently make it to the gym 3 days per week, it would be a mistake to struggle to run a 4 or 5 day per week program. Missing a few workouts per month interferes with your progress and you’d be much better off using a 3 day per week program that you apply consistently. So when choosing a training split, make sure that your work schedule and other commitments allow you to run it without missing workouts on a regular basis.  

Lifestyle is equally important. If you find that despite having time to train you often choose to miss a workout for the sake of doing something else, you should consider reducing the number of workouts per week or rearranging them in a way that improves adherence. For example, if twice a month you play basketball with your friends on Tuesdays and you usually miss the Tuesday workout for that, it would be better to not schedule a workout for that day in the first place. Similarly, if you find that you often give up on your Friday evening workout to go out with your friends or get away for the weekend, you should move that workout to another day or reduce the weekly number of workouts so Fridays are free. 

Finally, it’s important for you to enjoy your training. That’s because if you don’t enjoy your workouts you will likely not be motivated to put enough effort into them or you will dread going to the gym and miss workouts on purpose. If you hate lower body workouts, consider running a full body split where leg exercises are spread over multiple workouts. If you like focusing on a single muscle group per workout, don’t do lower/upper or full body workouts. Do the old school bro split instead. Don’t buy into the mentality that you’re supposed to suffer in the gym. Yes, you should work hard and that is often painful or exhausting but your workouts should be enjoyable enough that you’re motivated to put effort into them and show up at the gym regularly.     

Now, if all three training splits fit your schedule and lifestyle, and you enjoy whatever gets you great progress, then I would recommend choosing the 3 day per week full body split.

As I mentioned earlier, your default progression should be adding weight to the bar or the machine while keeping the reps the same. Do that for as long as you can. Once adding load causes rep losses, add the reps back in until you get back to the original rep target.

As for tracking workouts, I recommend using the notes app on your phone. That’s probably the easiest and most convenient way to do it. You can make a separate note for each workout, list the number of exercises you need to do, list the number of sets and reps, and list how close you got to failure on each set. As you do the sets you can check them off and update last week’s numbers with what you did today. Lastly, you can write a note for each exercise to remind yourself what to aim for next time. For example, you can write: next time add 2.5 kilograms to all sets, or add a rep to set 1 and 2, or improve technique on set 3 or something like that. You’ll be surprised what a difference that makes. Your notes give you a goal for each workout and ensure you’re not choosing weights and reps at random. 

Follow a Complete Nutrition and Training Program

And if you’re looking to put all of the information we covered here into an actionable plan that you can just go into the gym and execute there are two programs I recommend. If your goal is to gain weight and muscle I recommend getting Jeff’s Fundamentals Hypertrophy Program – affiliate link. It comes with 3 separate programs for you to use to go from skinny to muscular in your first year of training. And if your goal is to lose weight while gaining muscle, I recommend enrolling into my ShredSmart Program. In addition to giving you clear training routines, ShredSmart shows you how to eat to create muscle definition and get six pack abs.

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