Here are three important keys to seeing results when trying to bulk up:
1. Know your 1 rep max for the core exercises. Core exercises are those that utilize more than one joint and large muscle groups (i.e. the bench press, deadlift, etc.) If you don’t know your 1 rep max, you might be lifting too little or too much -based on your goals. I believe this was my biggest mistake most years of trying to do it alone. I simply estimated or did what felt hard. My own trainer never carried out any tests either. He just winged it.
2. Once you know your 1 rep max, you need to begin lifting at the appropriate % of your 1 rep max based on your goals. If your goal is to build endurance, you will need to lift at no more than 65% of your 1 rep max (10-15 reps) for a novice. But if your goal is to build muscle, you need to be lifting much more (about 65-85% of your 1 rep max) at 8-12 reps for a novice.
3. Don’t lift to exhaustion. This is another major mistake people make. Many will walk up to the machine, find a resistance that “feels difficult enough” and lift until they can’t lift any more. The scientific research has unquestionably demonstrated that this yields less muscle gain and leads to overtraining. (Think hamster in a wheel.) Instead you should be working at a more moderate resistance for the correct number of reps/sets based on your goals. Also, if you are only lifting what you think is heavy for you, you might (and likely are) underestimating how much you should be lifting.
Bottom line – taking the time to do a 1 rep test or estimating what it might be for those less experienced may take you a little more time the first few visits to the gym, but you’ll see faster results in the long run and won’t waste your days sweating for nothing.
A certified personal trainer should be well versed in the different ways to calculate your 1 rep max. If he/she isn’t taking the time to figure it out and is just “winging it” or estimating it, you’re not getting your money’s worth.* You might be better off working with someone else.
*1 rep tests should only be used for core exercises. Assistance exercises are usually done on machines or include the movement of only one joint (like the bicep curl) should not use a 1 rep test but other methods.