Muscle building for the lazy home body
September 29, 2008 6:11 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way for a fairly unmotivated but still moderately fit guy with a lot of time on his hands to build upper body mass in the comfort of his own home?
posted by zaebiz to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of protein, lots of push ups.
posted by ewkpates at 6:31 AM on September 29, 2008

Build a rock wall (or path). Seriously. If you've ever looked at the biceps of stonemasons, you'll know I'm right. Bonus: you'll be creating something that can stand for literally centuries, if you plan it well.
posted by amtho at 6:46 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Use a rowing machine. Train explosively; 20 seconds at full effort, 10 seconds rest, repeated for maybe five minutes. Your t-shirts won't fit in a month. It's very annoying.

Or you could become a baker. (There's two guys in the village you never start a fight with: the blacksmith, and the baker.) Problem with baking is that you can wind up eating a lot more.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:56 AM on September 29, 2008

Check out Shovelglove. It's simple, and seems to get recommended quite a lot for your situation. Even if you don't choose this guy's particular mode of excercise he has some good points on the importance of routine and timing for this kind of program.
posted by Tapioca at 6:57 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

On a similar, though dorkier note: shovelglove! This won't necessarily benefit from your having lots of time on your hands, but should work well for the fairly unmotivated.
posted by mustard seeds at 6:57 AM on September 29, 2008

Give this a try:
posted by mand0 at 6:58 AM on September 29, 2008

Invest in some free weights and maybe even a bench. Push ups will just tone not build a reasonable amount of mass. I also suggest checking out Crossfit for an intense daily workout, they are scalable so you can work up to the full set work outs.

If you really get serious about it and start multiple intense workouts a week i would suggest investing in some protein powder on top of your normal diet. It is nearly impossible to get enough protein by eating meat, nuts and soy. I like nitro tech, I really feel I recover faster with that compared to other brands. Also, stay away from creatine, that stuff just makes your muscles look bigger by filling them with water.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 6:59 AM on September 29, 2008

Buy an olympic weight set and a bench with squat rack -- check craiglist, lots of failed fitness goals there.

Don't be one of those guys who only work out upper body, please! Hell, don't work out biceps either! If you just did bench press, rows, deadlift, and squat consistently and eat plenty you'd gain tons of muscle.

I don't really think pushups are going to get you very far. They're far to easy after you gain a little strength. Doing 40 pushups in a row is going to only help small slow twitch fibers grow and help you get in better cardiovascular shape.
posted by wolfkult at 7:01 AM on September 29, 2008

A small thing that's helped me is to do the TV-ad-workout: Whenever there's an ad-break on telly I have to do the excercise of the day (it might be situps, pushups, jumping-jacks etc).

It's a great way of getting some training done in front of the telly.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 8:00 AM on September 29, 2008

Do not let ignorance get in the way of you doing 400 push ups in a row.

Push ups are the solution to your problem. The military uses a variety of push up techniques to really build strength. Ignore wingnuts who tell you otherwise.

And get your protein.
posted by ewkpates at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2008

Yeah, there's a whole world of inclined pushups and handstand pushups and one-armed pushups and pushups with weight on your back and pushups with clapping in the middle like Mr. T in Rocky 3.
posted by box at 9:22 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: I second wolfkult's recommendation. If you want to build mass, the absolute best effort-to-return ratio happens when you lift heavy weights using compound lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bent-over rows). Starting Strength and somebody's $100 used weight set and bench from Craigslist is all you need; follow the program in the book, eat lots of protein, and you'll see results within a couple of months.

Pushups are great for building strength, but you don't see pro bodybuilders in the gym doing nothing but pushups, for good reason. If you're looking to build strength and mass, as opposed to strength and endurance, lifting heavy is a physical requirement, and pushups are only as heavy as you are.
posted by vorfeed at 9:29 AM on September 29, 2008

Spend $20 and get a chin-up bar that will fit in a doorway. If you have the room, mount it so that you can extend your legs out and build towards a front lever. This website has a lot of articles that detail how to build strength without leaving your home.
posted by demon666 at 9:41 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: vorfeed: "I second wolfkult's recommendation. If you want to build mass, the absolute best effort-to-return ratio happens when you lift heavy weights using compound lifts "

Is the low weigh, high reps rule of thumb not valid anymore? Also I don't need the strength - I just want the mass. Does that make a difference?
posted by zaebiz at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2008

Everything I read suggests that high reps builds only endurance; to build mass you need to cause minor tearing in the muscles (slight damage = demand), which signals the body to add more muscle. Thus, to add mass, low reps + max weight to burn-out.

Caveat: you must be warmed up before you try to work to burn-out, or you risk serious injury. Thus, start with a moderate number of moderate weight reps (possibly two cycles), and then proceed with enough weight to burn-out in 3-6 reps.

Alternatively, you can pyramid (12 reps at 70 lb, 8 @ 80 lb, 4 @ 90, 8 @ 80 - which should be nearly impossible to finish, 12 @ 70 - if you can make it that far). Obviously, those numbers are just for example.

There are advocates of both.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2008

Best answer: Is the low weigh, high reps rule of thumb not valid anymore?

Low weight and high reps tends to build endurance and aerobic strength. It does make your muscles a bit bigger and stronger, but only to a point, and after that you'll mostly build greater endurance. In order to make your muscles grow, you have to work them harder than you've worked them before, and the easiest way to be sure you're always doing that is to increase the weight over time. From what I have read, a low number of reps (1-5) is best for building strength, a moderate number of reps (6-12) is best for building size, and anything more than that is best for building endurance, but the exact number is not tremendously important compared to increasing the weight.

Also I don't need the strength - I just want the mass. Does that make a difference?

For hardcore bodybuilders, yes, but for you right now, no. The bottom line is that you can't begin to seriously target mass until you've built the strength and proper form it takes to lift heavy safely, and you cannot initially increase strength without inducing growth, so a generic beginner's program is fine. Don't worry about it for now. You will gain mass. Most men get plenty of initial gains when they start strength training, no matter the program. If you're working out three times a week, getting lots of good sleep, and eating lots of protein, in six months you will be amazed, and in a year or two you might not recognize the guy you used to be. Don't worry about specialized programs until you're not getting any more gains from the basic one.

I would recommend the following for a home workout program. Some of it you may already know, but I'll put it down from the beginning just in case:

Get used equipment (a basic bench with squat rack, a barbell, and 200-300lb of plates is a good place to start) from Craigslist, yard sales, classifieds, or Play It Again Sports. The bars/plates/benches come in two types, Olympic or standard -- the Olympic bar is much heavier (45 lb as opposed to 20), the ends of the bar are much larger, and the ends usually also spin. Olympic stuff tends to be more expensive, also. Which type you choose doesn't really matter all that much for a beginner, but make sure you get all the same type. It's usually cheapest and easiest to just buy someone else's entire setup from Craigslist or the like. You should be able to get everything for about $100-300. Also, get a basic bodybuilding book. I recommend Starting Strength or New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.

Start off light while you learn the proper form. Your bodybuilding book will help with form, and/or get someone who knows what he's doing to train you. Form is important, because if you're lifting wrong, you will eventually get hurt, even if you're only using light weights, and then you'll lose some of your gains while you take time out to heal. Fortunately, it is not too hard to learn to do it right at the beginning.

Once you've got the form down, you should aim to increase the weight steadily until you are lifting about as heavy as you can without breaking proper form. Then, you should try to increase the weight slightly with each successive workout (there's a general guide as to how much here, but the rule of thumb is that you should add enough that you are just able to do all your reps with proper form each time). Get a spreadsheet or notebook to record the weight and number of reps in, that way it'll be easy to figure out the next amount.

I recommend the Starting Strength routine, which concentrates on compound exercises: bench press, squat, deadlift, press, and bent-over rows. Aim for three heavy sets of five (except deadlift, just one set for deadlift is enough if you do them after the squats). Be sure to do warm-up sets with a lighter weight (say, 5 reps with half the full weight plus a set of 3 with 3/4 the full weight) before each exercise. It's safer, and it will also help you to lift the full amount during your work sets.

One nice thing about this is that it's quick and easy. It takes a lot longer to do a high-rep, low-weight workout, especially one with a million different isolation exercises (curls + hammer curls + tri extensions + incline curls + blah blah blah) than it does to just get in the weight room and do three heavy sets of these 5 exercises, and you will get more from these because they're extremely effective.

The key is not to make the routine too long or complicated, because then you won't want to do it often enough. Aim to do a simple workout like this every other day (rest promotes growth, so never work out on consecutive days, and catch an extra day of rest now and again). The Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Friday/Sunday/Tuesday sort of schedule is good. Eat protein directly after each workout, and as often as you can otherwise.

I think the routine I gave above is the most efficient way to start, but actually doing it is a lot more important than how you're doing it (except for issues of form and safety!) during the first couple of years.
posted by vorfeed at 10:13 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Speaking of "issues of form and safety", a lot of serious bodybuilders like the work-to-failure model that IAmBroom mentioned, and it most certainly works for them, but I don't think it's appropriate for a beginner. The first thing that fails when you get close to burn-out is your form. Trying to work to burn-out without both a spotter and excellent form is a recipe for trouble, especially if you do not already have a very strong core. For example, what happens if your lower back is weak and you try to deadlift to failure? If you get tired on the last rep and round your back, you're gonna pull something in your lower back and end up on the floor. It is very easy to seriously hurt yourself this way.

This is the sort of thing you should be thinking about two years from now, when you're not making any more progress with a basic program, but not at the beginning.
posted by vorfeed at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2008

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