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How to build muscle with 3 short workouts a week

I hope that by now most people know that building muscle is a time consuming process, and not as fast and easy as what some supplement or equipment ad might suggest. You do not build admirable amount of muscle mass while training just once a week, you need to spend a lot more time with the iron to do that. But what if you are really skinny and need to gain atleast some muscle mass, so that people no longer make jokes about you, and to do that you have very little time in the week to train? Should you just give up all hope and resign to being skinny for the rest of your life?

The answer to that would be no, you do not have to give up all hope. You can train as little as 3 times a week, and no more than 30 minutes each session and still build some fair amount of muscle mass. Do keep in mind though, that I am talking about some muscle mass, and not so much that a Mr. Olympia would feel threatened. As I have mentioned before about what one can expect with 3 brief workouts a week for fat loss,  I will repeat the same for muscle building too, that is, to be really good at something you need to spend a lot of time working for it. If you have less time to give, then your results will also be diminished, but not necessarily zero. And lets face it, considering that the average man does not look like Hercules, even a fair bit of muscle mass is often enough to get you noticed in a crowd of regular people.

However, it must be kept in mind that training less frequently does not mean that you can also avoid eating properly. Since training is diminished, you need to maximize your eating for best results. No, you do not need six protein shakes and 10 meals a day, but you do need to make sure that you get in enough quality nutrients each day so that your body has the building blocks to build muscle mass. And another thing that I would like to mention is that while you may train only 3 times a week, you must be active everyday even if that is only for 20-30 minutes a day. You can do some joint mobility work, walking, or do any other light activity that helps to keep you healthy. Remember, the human body was made to be active frequently and not just once or twice a week.

Before moving onto planning your workout I must mention that when I say 30 minute workouts, I mean 30 minutes of actual lifting including the rest in between sets. This time does not include the warm up and cool down periods. This time is to be added to your schedule depending on how much time you need to spend with these. Now when it comes to routines, there are already a lot of popular ones out there, that require little time and can deliver great results, and all of them are centered around lifting heavy weights and doing only/mostly compound movements.

And that is exactly what my suggestion will be too. Lift heavy, and stick to compound movements mostly. So here is how your workouts should go to maximize results:

1) Start with a low rep strength exercise- getting strong is very necessary to get big, period! Heavy weights done for low reps helps to make your muscles appear thick and dense rather than big and smooth. Thus start with a compound move and after some warm up sets, do 2-3 working sets for 3-5 reps. Good choices would include barbell squat, deadlift, barbell military or bench press, etc. Olympic lifting can also be included here, with snatches or clean and jerk/press being great low rep exercises to do. However do keep  in mind that these exercises are pretty technical and if you are just starting out, then the simpler ones like presses and squats might be better.

2) Do alternating sets of two compound exercises in the 6-12 reps range- after you are done with the low rep exercise, continue to do two exercises in alternating style, using the more popular muscle building rep range of 6-12 reps. In case you do not know, alternating sets refers to doing a set of an exercise, taking rest then doing a set of another exercise and then after some rest going back to the first exercise, and repeating the sequence. So unlike regular supersets, you do not do the two exercises back to back with no rest, you take some rest so that you can go heavier and build more muscle. Alternating sets also help in keeping the workout time short and getting a great growth hormone release. However the thing to keep in mind is that you should not mix two exercises that train the same muscle group and are very similar. For eg doing inline press and following that with push ups is not a good idea. A better idea would be to follow the incline press with a pulling exercise like dumbbell rows.

3) If time permits, then finish with an isolation exercise- to be honest I am not a huge fan of isolation exercises and do not really miss them if I dont do them. However, some amount of isolation work done after strength and hypertrophy work can help to some extent in working on your problem areas. The key is to remember that isolation work should not be done in place of compound exercises, but just as a finisher after the main work is done. This is where you throw in the arm curls, lateral raises, calf raises, etc. Do about 1-2 sets of 8-15 reps, and move onto the cool down and stretching exercises.

Here are some sample workouts that will help you to go about building muscle with short workouts:

Full body workouts:

Example one:

1) Squats- 2x3-5 reps
2a) Dumbbell incline press-3 x 6-10 reps
2b) Barbell rows- 3x 8-12 reps
3) Dumbbell curls- 1-2 x 8-10 reps (optional)

Example two:

1) Military press- 2x3-5 reps
2a) Stiff legged deadlifts- 3 x 6-10 reps
2b) Weighted push ups- 3 x 8-12 reps
3) Standing calf raises- 1-2 x 15-20 reps (optional)

Split routine workouts:

Upper body focus:

1) Bench press- 2x3-5 reps
2a) Dumbbell military press- 3 x 8-10 reps
2b) Barbell rows- 3 x 8-12 reps
3) Triceps pressdown- 1-2 x 12-15 reps (optional)

Lower body focus:

1) Squats- 2x 3-5 reps
2a) Stiff legged deadlifts- 3 x 6-8 reps
2b) Lunges- 3 x 8-10 reps each side
3) Seated calf raises- 1-2 x 15 (optional)

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