Lifting for strength and mass

Many off-season athletes work out to increase strength and gain mass. This must be done in conjunction with a good nutrition plan (see “Nutrition 101: Nutrition for Mass Building” published on July 26, 2013, online at It is also important for the beginning athlete (those who have trained for less than six months) to follow a weight training program of light to moderate lifting for several months before beginning an intense mass-building weight-training program.

Don’t jump right into the heavy weight phase. Proper form is important for the most benefit as well as injury prevention. Also, always have a training partner when lifting heavy weights.

Schedule your workout for one-hour sessions, focusing on specific body parts on separate days. Utilize compound exercises – squats, dead lifts, military presses, leg presses and bent over rows – that involve more than one joint. You are only as strong as your weakest muscle group. Strengthening and stabilizing the smaller muscles will allow greater strength development of the larger muscle groups.

Work the larger muscle groups first and work toward the smaller ones (chest/back, shoulders, arms; glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves). Sustain intensity levels during your workout; incorporate sufficient rest between sets (2-3 minutes). This can be done easily by alternately working opposing muscles groups; for example, do one set of bicep curls, then do one set of tricep extensions during the rest period.

Avoid overtraining: in other words, don’t lift heavy every week. Plan for recovery time (muscle tissue needs time to repair). Incorporate light weeks in which you do two to three sets of 12-to-20 repetitions (reps) at a lighter weight.

Heavy weight lifting reps of four to eight will help develop strength and mass; reps over 12 to 15 help with muscle endurance and definition. Vary your workouts so you are starting with a different part of each muscle group so that your body is forced to adapt. Muscles adapt to the stresses and loads placed upon them and grow to meet those demands.

Chest / Back / Lats

Flat/incline/decline bench presses (bar and dumbbell) and flies will work the major pectoral groups of the chest. Pulley cross-overs are also good for range of motion and inside pec definition. Pull-ups/chin-ups, bent-over rows, dead lifts, reverse flies, and t-bar rows will work the back. For these large muscle groups, shoot for three sets of four to six reps. Adjust your weights so you are struggling to make the fifth and sixth reps each time.

Shoulders / Arms

Developing shoulder muscles (like David Robinson and Dwight Howard) really help to define the athletic physique and showcase the biceps/triceps. Military presses, shrugs, upright rows, front/side deltoid raises and dumbbell presses are the key exercises. A three-exercise combo (3 x7) of lower half curls, full curls, and upper-half curls with dumbbells is a good basic bicep starter. Add hammer curls and barbell curls. Tricep extensions, kickbacks, close-grip bench press, “skull-crushers” and weighted bar dips work the back of the arms.


Squats, leg presses and hack squats are great for quadriceps development; leg curls for the hamstrings and calf muscles benefit from multi-position calf raises.

For sports requiring explosiveness, train the muscles to explode during exertion and use a three-count return to starting position and then repeat for each rep. Be sure to include flexibility training to maintain good range of motion. All that mass development does you no good if you are unable to utilize the muscle effectively. Train for mass, proportionality, symmetry, strength, flexibility and conditioning

Tremendous results can be achieved in strength and mass development during the off-season given proper nutrition, proper training, proper form and proper motivation. You can get bigger, stronger, and more explosive!

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