Time to Grow Putting on Muscle Mass

By: Mike Francois, 1993 NPC Nationals Champion and 1995 Arnold Classic Champion
Magazine 22 #1

As the competition season has drawn to a close, most of you are probably in the off-season mode. This was my favorite time of the year… it was the time to improve weaknesses and pack on muscle. I felt like a bear hibernating in the gym. I loved the thought of “hiding out” and pounding the weights with the goal of (hopefully) shocking my competition in the new year. Social media wasn’t around during my competitive days, so I was able to disappear and get to work!

One of the biggest challenges competitors face in the off-season is minimizing fat gains while putting on muscle mass. Many people struggle with this delicate balance – some put on too much fat and others don’t put on enough. The nutrition and training plan I am going to outline will hopefully allow you to find this balance to help you reach your optimal potential whether you plan to compete or just pack on some needed muscle.

Mike Francois power leg press


Finding the Balance

Competitors need to realize that accruing some fat is inevitable – and actually necessary - in order to gain muscle mass and make improvements in your physique. When your calories are high enough to allow growth, there is always an excess that will be stored as fat. How will you know if you are putting on too much body fat? A general guideline to follow is to gain approximately 1 pound of fat for every 3 pounds of muscle. My goal every off-season was to put on 10 pounds of muscle, and looking back over my career, I consistently reached this goal. I know everyone’s situation is unique and some of you have to worry about a weight class, but my advice would be to never sacrifice size to stay in a particular weight class. If your body wants to grow, let it!

Below is the nutrition plan that I used to help pack on lean mass in the off-season and one I use as a guideline today for my clients wanting to build muscle. Obviously, this is a general meal plan and the amounts will need to be adjusted according to your specific needs. The servings listed are for a male middle weight competitor.

Sample Nutrition Plan

  • Meal 1: 1 cup oatmeal, ½ banana, 2 scoops UMP (you can mix it right in with the oatmeal, or drink separately as a shake)
  • Meal 2: 7-10 oz. tuna, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 cup of basmati rice
  • Meal 3: Protein Shake: 2 scoops UMP with ½ cup strawberries (I like the vanilla flavor with the strawberries)
  • Meal 4: 8 oz. 90% lean red meat, 6-8 oz. sweet potato, 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Meal 5: 8 oz. salmon, tilapia, or chicken breast, 1 cup broccoli, 1 cup basmati rice
  • Meal 6: 2-4 Lundgren brown rice cakes with 2-4 tablespoons almond butter


I recommend the following supplements to optimize your gains during your “growing season”:

  • FitTabs: 2 tablets with meals 1 and 5
  • Mass Amino Acids: take one tablet for every 10 lbs of bodyweight per day (Example: A 180-lb athlete would take 18 tablets per day – 3 tablets with each of the 6 meals above.
  • Muscle Synergy: 1-2 scoops prior to training.
  • Glutamine Select: 1 -2 scoops prior to training and 2 additional scoops post training. Note: I cannot stress enough how critical this supplement is. Glutamine and the BCAAs help to repair and build muscle and are the most important components of muscle protein.
Mike Francois power exercise squat

TRAINING Keys to Success

Now that we have the eating part taken care of, let’s discuss the fun part… training! In order for your nutrition and supplements to be optimally utilized, you need to train heavily, intensely, smartly and consistently. If any one of those factors is left out, you will not reach your full potential.

  • Train Heavily: You need to challenge yourself constantly by pushing heavier weights. Putting your muscle under the stress of heavy weight causes it to respond by adapting and growing.
  • Train Intensely: The intensity needs to be high. Don’t rush through your workouts, but in general you should NOT be in the gym for more than one hour. My workouts usually took between 45-60 minutes even when I was preparing for the Mr. Olympia. Almost every study I’ve read states that short intense workouts are the best way to build muscle.
  • Train Smartly: Training smartly is just as important as training heavily. Don’t be afraid to back off on the weights if you simply aren’t “feeling it” on certain days. Your body is probably trying to tell you to take your foot off the accelerator a bit. Listen to your body to avoid overtraining and injury.
  • Train Consistently: Be consistent with your workouts. I have seen a lot of people over the years get two good weeks of training in and then disappear for a month. I have also seen people make it to the gym every day, but only go through the motions while there. You need to be consistent with ALL aspects of your training.

Power Training Plan

1. I recommend grouping the following body parts with a schedule of 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off:

  • Monday: Chest, Biceps, Abs
  • Tuesday: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Shoulders, Triceps, Abs
  • Friday: Back, Calves
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

2. For each power exercise (except calves and abs), perform 4 sets of 5-8 reps. For calves and abs perform 4 sets as well, but the reps will be in the 30-50 range.

3. When trying to gain muscle mass, it is critical to incorporate the following power exercises into your training program:

Narrow Leg Press
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Single Leg Standing Curls
Standing Calf Raises
Donkey Calf Raises
Dumbbell Incline Press
Barbell Incline Press
Floor Dead Lifts
Reverse Grip Bent-Over Rows
Standing Barbell Presses to Front
Seated 1-Arm Dumbbell Press
Barbell Curls
Alternating Dumbbell Curls
Barbell Skull Crushers
Weighted Dips
V’s (Jack Knifes)
Mike Francois bicep curl

Customizing Your Plan

After completing the 2 power exercises listed under each body part, customize your lean-mass training by adding your favorite auxiliary exercise(s). You can pick your own or use some of the examples below. For each auxiliary exercise, perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

Note: You don’t need to add any auxiliary exercises for Hamstrings, Calves or Abs.

Well, there you have it. I have outlined the path to progress in the off-season. Now it is up to you to put the plan into action and reap the rewards!