T Nation

Max Muscle, Busy Schedule

CT, in your experience what would be the best training method when the goal is max muscle growth but, time is an issue?

How short can workouts get?

Search this site for 20 minute muscle builder.

It depends on available frequency. For example if you can train 6-7 days a week for 20 min you can get pretty good results… but 20 minutes 3 times a week wont work that well for significant improvements.

Also it depends on strength levels. Someone with a 260kg squat will need a longer warm up than someone who can squat 100k

CT, if possible what do you mean by pretty good results or significant improvements?

It seems everyone has an opinion of what “good results” would be but, since you have trained bodybuilders, athletes, regular people etc. you have a better insight as to what can be done.

I am currently in this situation. I get up at 3 am for work + occasional overtime and some days do not feel up for training but, go through with it anyway which I feel may be hurting my progress.

What would you recommend if one could train 4 days a week maybe 5 for 20-30 min? My goal is a powerful looking physique i.e large upper back, traps and shoulders. One that even at lower body weight looks strong in a t shirt.

Just as a visual could you think of a physique, size wise that may be achievable?

It’s impossible to answer because of genetic differences. Not only do humans vary widely on their response to training and how much muscle weight they can add but also how that added muscle will look like. I’ve known guys who gained 10lbs of muscle and completely changed the way their body looked while others gained 15lbs and looked similar.

Honestly at 4 sessions per week at 20-30 minutes you will not be getting huge. You CAN add muscle and strength but you just can’t gain maximum muscle without a certain workload.

You can certainly improve though. For the past month I trained mostly 30 minutes sessions because I’m on the road giving seminars. And I added 1.5lbs of body weight with the same body fat level. 1.5lbs in a month is not huge, but it’s better than not progressing at all. And in a non-beginner it is pretty much the max rate at one which can gain (if one were to continue at this pace he would gain 18lbs of muscle in a year, which is amazing and VERY rare). B ut I was coming off of a fat loss diet and slightly increased my calories. But I would still have added some muscle.

The message is that you can add some muscle and strength with a low training time per session but you need to get many sessions in…at 20-30 minutes ideally you would have 6 sessions per week. 5 will work well. 4 might give you some results.

You also have to understand that you need to compensate the low volume by an increase in how hard you train.

At the moment, because my training time is so low, I do one work set per exercise but it uses one or several intensity techniques.

For example, a set could look like:
Do 6-8 reps close to failure/rest 10 sec/get 3-4 more reps with the same weight/rest 10 sec/reduce weight by 50% and perform reps to failure using a slow CONCENTRIC (lifting in 4-5 sec) and normal eccentric/10 sec rest/using the same weight do reps close to failure with a slow ECCENTRIC (lowering in 5 sec) and fast concentric


Do 6 heavy reps/rest 15 sec, decrease weight by 30-50%/do 8 reps/rest 15 sec decrease weight by 30-50%/do 10 reps


Clusters 2 reps/10 sec/2 reps/10 sec/2 reps/10 sec/2 reps/10 sec/2 reps… for a total of 10 reps with a weight I could do 6 reps with

I divide my body in 2 groups so that I can hit everytthing 3x a week (I have 6 sessions) so I compensate the lack of volume by an increase in frequency.

I might do…

Back (2 exercises)


I pick one exercise for each (except for back where I have two, one for mid-back and one for lats)

Each muscle is trained three times a week and I use a different training method on all three sessions…

For example…

DAY 1 . Group A Rest/pause
DAY 2. Group B Rest/pause
DAY 3. Group A Drop set
DAY 4. Group B. Drop set
DAY 5. Group A. Cluster
DAY 6. Group B. Cluster

The thing is that growth comes in spurts.

You cannot extrapolate how much muscle one can build in one year. For a short period you might build 1lbs of muscle per week … for a month, adding 4-5lbs lf muscle (maybe 6-7lbs of body weight) then your weight will not go up for another 4-6 weeks then you can again.

And it\s impossible to predict when these spurts will occur and how many you will have.

That’s why some people will gain 5lbs in a month and already see themselves being 40lbs bigger at the end of the year… only to end up being 7lbs bigger after 12 months.

In my experience, in a non-beginner and non-performance enhancing drugs user, gaining 10-12lbs of muscle in a year is really good. I’m not saying 10-12lbs of body weight and not even lean body mass, but actual muscle tissue.

Total body weight is muscle + fat + water + organs + skeleton + glycogen (etc.)… for our purpose total body weight will be affected by muscle, fat and water gain/loss

Lean body mass is everything not fat in the body (so it also includes organs, skeleton, glycogen, water)… but fluctuations will come from muscle, water and glycogen gain/loss

Muscle mass is the amount of muscle tissue you have.

A normal male has 30-50% of his body weight in the form of muscle. So if you are 190lbs you likely have anywhere between 55 and 95lbs of muscle… in that context “only” 12lbs of muscle is pretty significant since it represents as much as a 22% gain.

The thing is that people have unrealistic goals because water and fat gain can give the illusion of more muscle growth. Someone will claim to have gained 15lbs of muscle in 2 months… in reality that person likely added 4lbs of muscle, 4lbs of water and glycogen and 7lbs of fat. The thing is that when you are of a normal level of body fat, you will not look fatter, so it is easy to assume that all your gains were muscle.

So when it is someone else that tells you that they gained 15lbs of muscle in two months, and you only see them in a shirt, it is easy to believe them and start to think that this is a realistic gain.

I’ve seen people gain 15lbs of muscle in two months… but at the end of the year they will likely only have gained a total of 15-17lbs which is A LOT.

For a normal, non-beginner individual, 10-12lbs of pure muscle in one year is VERY good. If that person didn’t go crazy with the food that might come with a total weight gain of 15-20lbs due to some fat gain. Some will add 30lbs of scale weight, but that is only because they gained mnore fat.

Without knowing your experience level, your potential/response to training, your body type I cannot give you any visual comparison. Anyway it would be a mistake to shoot for someone else’s body. All you can do is train as hard as you can, eat properly and your body will progress at the fastest rate that it can.

Thank you, for the awesome responses. Very insightful.

Out of curiosity if one were in a fat phase/cutting would their be a minimum of work that can be done to maintain as much muscle as possible? Is it mostly about diet?

Maintaining muscle is not only about diet. In fact if you diet (eat a caloric deficit) and do not lift you will lose as much muscle as you do fat (many studies have shown this to be true).

How much training do you need to maintain muscle? Again it depends on frequency and how hard you train on each set.

Rule of thumb is: if you aren’t losing strength you will not lose muscle. So any amount of training allowing you to maintain or increase your strength will work to prevent muscle loss.

I’ve been training people for a long time. Been in gyms for even longer Trained in all types of gyms and there is one thing that I can say with 100% certainty:


I’m not talking about how much work they do, but how hard to work on the sets they do. MANY MANY people try to compensate their lack of intensity by doing more work… it doesn’t work like that.
As little as one work set for a muscle CAN trigger growth and doing 20 sets for a muscle might not be sufficient to stimulate anything, depending on how hard these sets are performed.

So it is safe to assume that if your level of focus and intensity is similar to what you see in gyms, you will not progress.

If you cannot OBJECTIVELY say that at any given time you are the one in the gym that is the most intense and focused on the sets he is doing then you will not gain anything.

Remember this… only 5% train hard enough to progress … so if you aren’t in the 5% of where you are training at, then you wont progress… which means that since EVERYBODY thinks they train hard, they HAVE TO look at you during a set and think “that guy is crazy”… otherwise you are just part of the herd.

So true coach,

To me though, being in that 5% and actually training as hard as you can means busting your ass on every set and going to failure until your eyes pop out…but then we have learnt that you just cannot go all out on every set or go to failure on big lifts.

Question is training hard vs smart, how to know when to push it 100% and how to know that maybe the next set ain’t such a good idea. This is somthing I’ve struggled with

Here is something I have thought about. As trainees, especially on a site like t-nation we think about results in max muscle, being more muscular and larger than average.

What kind of work load would be necessary if the goal was to just be “hollywood lean” 5’9-5’10, 150-160lbs, lean?
What if the trainee was already 175lbs and relatively lean and just needed a fat loss blitz?

I see examples of what action stars had to do to get ready and think “that is bull” I am bigger, and leaner and train nowhere near as much.

Hey CT! Do you think system could be useable/produce results if one would train 3 times a week (week 1: a-b-a, week 2: b-a-b) but adding one more exercise to each muscle group? Or adding another grueling set like this? Sounds like a nice change from my regular schedule…
Do you only use one exercise for delts? How do you cover all 3 heads with one ecercise?

Guess with limited time, squats are out of the questions. What so you for quads? Leg-press? Leg extensions?

Usually if I start with quads it takes a lot od time to warm up to working weights and draines my energies for the rest of the workout… How do you manage training quads 3 times?

Not really… not enough frequency. If volume is low, frequency per muscle needs to be higher