The Speed/Power Workout: How to Build Muscle When All Else Fails

Muscle just looks better...Find out how to build muscle NOW!
Muscle just looks better…Find out how to build muscle NOW!

These days, your run of the mill exercisers seem to fall into one of two groups.  Your first group is all of those people with body fat issues.  Whether they have it or not, they are convinced they’ve got fat to burn and focus the bulk of their efforts on cardio.  The next group is made of up of those guys and girls who aren’t overweight, but still consider themselves out of shape.  They’re often skinny, skinny-fat, or “average”.  The have a desire to add muscle mass, but for whatever the reason are having a hard time doing so.  The result?  A physique that would make Nicole Richie jealous.  Since the heavy group wants to lose weight and has no desire to focus their efforts squarely on weight gain at this point, our post today  is for all of you “hard gainers” out there.

Where do you fall?  Are you a hard gainer?  Not sure?  Well, do you have more straight lines than curves?  Does lifting 15 pound dumbbells for a few sets make your arms sore for days?  Do you have an underlying sense that you don’t know what goes in to building muscle?  If your answer is predominately yes to these questions, chances are you fall into the “not fat, but not fit” group.  If this is you, keep reading, because we’ve taken some advanced body building concepts and tweaked them for the average gym-goer in an attempt to show you how to build muscle and get some meat on those bare bones!

What You’re Asking For

First off, what are your goals?  If you’re like most people I talk to, your goals are something like this:

  • Lower body fat percentage
  • Increase lean muscle mass
  • Get “toned” (toned is simply the result of achieving the first two bullet points, rather than a goal in and of itself)

If I’m understanding things correctly, basically, you DON’T want to look like this:

Anyone want the body of a 14 year old boy.....?  Anyone..?
Anyone want the body of a 14-year-old boy…..? Anyone..?

But do want to look more like this….

Low body fat, lean muscle mass, and as a bonus...eating is encouraged.
Low body fat, lean muscle mass, and as a bonus…eating is encouraged.


Does that look (and sound) about right?  I mean, why shouldn’t it, right?  One body is healthy, lean, and sexy…the other looks like it just came from a refugee camp.

Ready to Start Building Muscle?

So you get it, you understand what you want, you know the benefits of what you want, and you like food just a bit too much to ever achieve that “beautiful” mainstream media type of look.  One problem, you have no idea how to build muscle.  You’ve tried all sorts of muscle-building workouts but your body simply doesn’t respond.  You don’t know what you’re doing wrong, but something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.  First off, don’t sweat it; a lot of people have a very hard time adding muscle to their frames.  Whether it’s a lack of knowledge or genetics, building muscle is a ton of work.  Well you my friends are in luck.  This workout plan is going to give you the knowledge and workouts you need to help even the most clueless and muscle-adverse genetic makeup switch into a lean, mean, muscle-building machine.

The basis for this workout is coming from my own personal experiences.  I’ve recently been dabbling in body building workouts in an effort to take myself to the next level.  Now, keep in mind, I am NO body builder…as a matter of fact I am one of the furthest things from it.  I stand 5’10” and weight in at a very lean, 165 pounds.  I am NOT big, and I am NOT bulky.  I am lean and healthy.  Simply using body building workouts will not instantly cause you to develop large bulky muscles…if only it were that easy there wouldn’t be so many failed faux bodybuilders running around.

Since most of our readers are a bit more novice, we’re going to simply take the concepts behind the type of workout I’m about to lay out, and make it more user-friendly.  We’re cutting back some of the volume, removing some potentially dangerous exercises, and making this a plan that will help you build muscle fast and efficiently.

The Speed/Power Workout: A Recipe for Muscle Building Success

As I mentioned above, the basis of this workout comes from Layne Norton’s PHAT training. We’re shifting between two different styles of lifting in one program.  On days one and two, we’re going heavy, performing complex movements, with lower rep sequences.  This method of lifting is great for building strength across your entire body.  Follow up days will place more of a focus on explosion, speed, and hypertrophy  (Read bout muscle hypertrophy here).

The shift between these two vastly different types of training will typically help you build muscle fast and at the end of the day, may even give you a better personal understanding of how to build muscle. By seeing how these two methods of hitting your muscles work, you should be able to take what you’ve gleaned here and apply them elsewhere.

Day 1: Upper Body Power Day

  • 3 sets of 3-5 reps Bent Over Rows
  • 2 sets of 6-8 reps Rack Chins
  • 3 sets of 3-5 Flat Bench Press
  • 2 sets of 6-8 Lat Pulldowns
  • 3 sets of 8-10 reps Dips
  • 3 sets of 6-8 reps Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • 3 sets of 3-5 Dumbbell Military Press

Day 2: Lower Body Power Day

  • 3 sets of 3-5 reps Squats
  • 2 sets of 6-8 reps Reverse Barbell Lunges
  • 2 sets of 6-10 Leg Extension Machine
  • 3 sets of 6-8 Bulgarian Squats (per leg)
  • 2 sets of 6-10 Standing Calf Raises
  • 2 sets of 6-10 Lying Hamstring Curl Machine

Day 3: REST

Day 4: Upper Body Hypertrophy Day

  • 6 sets of 10 reps (using 50% weight used on day 1) Bent over rows
  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps Seated Cable Rows
  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  • 2 sets of 12-15 reps Incline Dumbbell Flys
  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps Skullcrushers
  • 2 sets of 12-15 reps Arnold Presses
  • 2 sets of 12-15 Cable Tricep Pushdown
  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps Barbell Preacher Curls
  • 2 sets of 12-15 reps Lateral Dumbbell Raises

Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy Day

  • 6 sets of 10 reps (using 50% weight used on day 1) Squats
  • 3 sets of 8-12 Reverse Barbell Lunges
  • 2 sets of 12-15 Leg Press Machine
  • 2 sets of 12-15 Box Jumps
  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps Seated Hamstring Curls
  • 3 sets of 12-15 Leg Extension Machine
  • 2 sets of 12-15 Long Jumps
  • 2 sets of 12-15 Russian Lunges holding Dumbbells

Day 6: REST

Day 7: Rest if needed, or go back to day 1 and start the rotation again

Again, I’m not saying this plan to build muscle is BETTER than Layne Norton’s plan.  I’m simply saying it is more accessible to the average gym goer.  If you’ve got the foundation, drive, and time to go all out, balls to the wall, by all means, skip this workout and go right for Layne’s PHAT program.

Half of the Battle…

Now that you know HOW to build muscle, you’re in a position to win half (well, almost half) of the battle.  You see, the reason so many of you out there are having trouble adding muscle to your bodies and improving your physiques is because you simply aren’t eating properly.  Specifically, you aren’t eating enough.  Your body is unable to build new tissue (lean muscle) if you aren’t taking in more calories than you burn each day.  Do this workout without taking in enough protein and calories and all you’re going to do is spin your wheels.

Granted, this is a fine line to walk.  Start loading up on junk to increase your daily caloric intake, and you’ll not only build muscle and strength, but also a whole lot of fat in the process.  This is why the importance of your food choices is so vital.  A rough gauge to determine your maintenance caloric needs are roughly 13 calories per pound of body weight.  If you’re looking to build muscle you need to eat MORE than your maintenance level each day.  Shoot for an additional 300-400 calories above maintenance as you begin this plan.  This will give you a slow but steady supply of excess calories ready to lend themselves to the muscle-building mechanisms of your body.

Additionally, it can’t be said enough, but you’ve got to find a way to get ample protein.  Your body uses amino acids to build muscle tissue, and without it, your gains will be minimal at best.  Shoot for .75-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  Opt for lean beef, chicken, fish, tofu, and legumes to make sure you’re getting your protein requirements from nutritionally dense sources.  A little protein with a side of anti-oxidants is a hell of a lot better than a little protein with a side of saturated fat, wouldn’t you agree?



9 thoughts on “The Speed/Power Workout: How to Build Muscle When All Else Fails”

  1. Thanks for this info. I’m actually doing the Total body Blitz and am in week 3. But, the diet portion is so confusing to me.

    I am in the target audience for this group where I want to lose body fat and put on lean muscle. I just want to see my body fat % of 26% (F, 31, 158lbs, 5’9″) to decrease (and of course my waistline). But, I get loopy when it comes to nutrition.

    Are you saying that even while cutting fat and building muscle, we should eat at an excess?

    1. This is a really great question, and a bit tricky. I talked to a couple people I know with far more nutrition knowledge than myself about this one.

      My understanding is, it’s hard to give blanket advice like, “yes, you should eat excess calories even when cutting to continue putting on muscle.” You see, every body has a different genetic make up. Some put on muscle very easily, lose fat quickly, while others have a hard time adding muscle and fat…while still others have a hard time losing fat, but no problem gaining muscle…you get the idea.

      In order to successfully cut fat while adding muscle mass (newbie gains aside), it usually takes a great deal of calculated eating. What I mean by this is, eating the right foods, at the right times of day, and making sure you’re getting the right % of nutrients from the foods you’re eating. It goes without saying, this is more than most of us can or even want to handle.

      My approach, and what was suggested to me, is to calculate your baseline caloric needs. A rough guideline is 13 calories per pound of body weight. Once you’ve got that number, consider adding 200-300 calories above that. This should allow you to continue building muscle, and assuming you’re going hard on your cardio, burn through body fat. Your weight may not change drastically, but your body fat % should certainly lower. Again, everyone is different and your caloric needs may vary. Best bet is to log everything you’re eating so you know exactly how many calories you are taking in each day. From there simply lower or raise your daily intake until you reach a happy medium that has you burning fat while continuing to slowly add muscle. May seem like a lot of work, but it’s something you can easily get used to do, and is a sure-fire way to figuring out your daily caloric needs and what is the best level of calories needed to achieve your goals. Hope I didn’t confuse you with all of that. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!


      1. No, that was a very clear answer. Thank you! I’m learning that the nutrition part is truly trial and error. I’ll definitely have to start logging and paying more attention to its effects to figure out what’s best for me. Thanks, Matt!

  2. Is it recommended to finish each exercise before moving to the next, or is it okay to do this routine in superset or circuit fashion?

    1. I would suggest completing exercises in order, one set after the other, with about 60 seconds rest between sets.
      If you’re maintaining a good pace each day should take no more than 40-45 minutes to complete. Hope that helps!


  3. I’ve never done rack chins before. I have done assisted chins but am not strong enough to do without assistance. What’s an alternative exercise if I don’t have the strength to do a rack chin?

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