How To Gain Lean Muscle Mass with P90X

How To Gain Lean Muscle MassThe most common question I receive is:

“How to gain muscle mass with P90X? I thought it was for people who want to lean down only”

The truth is, P90X is not a weight loss program.  It is a well-designed program for anyone, whether your main goal is improving your fitness level, getting more lean, being ripped, or adding lean muscle mass.

The program works to get you to your most optimal physique – if you’re on the flabby side, you’d be losing weight.  If you’re on the skinny side, you’d gain lean muscle mass. However, if you want to know how to gain lean muscle mass, you will need to stimulate your muscle tissue properly to spur the growth – you need to lift heavy!

Method #1:  Gain Muscle With The “8 Reps” Rule

There’s a reason why Tony Horton mentioned on the video that if your goal is to gain lean muscle mass and to be big, lift around 8-10 reps. In my own experience, I only follow the 8 reps rule.

It works like this:  The moment I can lift weights at 8 reps in proper form, I try to force myself to do 1 more rep. The moment I can do the 9th rep – even a sloppy one – it’s the sign I need to start increasing my weight. The heavier I lift, the more I stimulate my muscles, and the bigger my muscles get (but only if I do everything in correct form!). I believe doing 8 reps while on P90X gives me great results and I’m a hardgainer.

Method #2:  The 5×5 Workout Plan

Although I started with my whole transformation with Power 90 back in 2004, I have to give credit to my best friend in college, Senor’ Peter Maes. He taught me almost everything I know about traditional weight lifting, which I later incorporated into my hybrid Power 90 workout. When I started my first round of P90X, I figured, ‘why not mix traditional weight training with P90X to create a hybrid mass building program?’ After 2-3 rounds of hybrid experiments, I found that adding a few 5×5 routines to the P90X equation seems to work well.

This system has worked wonders for hundreds and probably thousands of weight trainers and bodybuilders alike in both building muscle and gaining strength. No matter how long and how fast bodybuilding evolves, the 5×5 system will ALWAYS be a proven way to stack on gains like nothing else.

The 5×5 Plan

Pick an exercise.  Because compound exercises work the best, we will pick the bench press for this example. Start off by doing 5 reps with relatively light weight to warm up.

Next, add some more weight, and do another 5 reps. Now that you are warmed up, jump to your working weight that you can do for 5 reps and do 3 sets with this weight. Since you are looking to gain more mass, then keep your rest periods between 1 and 2 minutes.  If you want to build more strength, then 3 minute rests would be more fitting.

Next time you do the bench press, add 5 more pounds to both your warm-up sets and your 3 working sets and do it again. The key is to keep adding five pounds each workout until you can’t complete 5 reps for one of your sets. What you would do is stay at that same weight until you can complete the 3 sets of 5 reps in good, clean form.

Remember to always keep your reps no higher than 5, even if you can do more. Staying with the 5×5 system is one of the best proven methods for building size and strength as fast as possible.

Method 3:  Hybrid P90X + 5X5 (okay for a beginner on 1st Round)

In traditional weight training, the main compound exercises we need for gaining lean muscle mass are:

1) bench press

 2)shoulder press

 3)back row

4)bicep curl


6) weighted barbell squat

P90X has all of these compound workouts except for the bench press and weight squat, which I added into my custom hybrid routine, usually on Leg & Back day.

Here’s an example of Phase 1 of P90X

Mon : Chest/Back/ARX
Tues : Plyo
Wed : Shoulder/Arms/ARX
Thur: Yoga
Fri :   5×5 Bench Press/ 5×5 Barbell Weighted Squat / 40 min of P90X Leg & Back / ARX
Sat :  Kenpo
Sun : Rest!

The only flaw with this design is that not everyone could do this hybrid at home since you’d need a bench, barbell, and weight plates. If you have access to a gym, you could always do P90X at the gym, or else, just do whatever you can at home with regular P90X – it still works as it is! Now you know how to add lean muscle mass using P90X.

For those who want to do P90X at the gym, check out the post on How to do P90X at the gym.  If you think that you still have some bodyfat to shed down, it is recommended to focus more on leaning down first, and do the recommended 12-15 reps weight lifting. If you are unsure on what steps to take, just ask!

Tips for Gaining Mass

So, now that you know some great methods for gaining muscle mass, lets take a look at some general guidelines to follow if you want to bulk up:

  1. Take The Appropriate Break.  When you’re lifting heavy with 8 reps, you will be out of breath and need to take longer breaks to recover. Take that break and pause the DVD as you need to regain your strength for the next routine. Keep your break around 1-3 min.
  2. Shorten Your Routine.  When you take your break and are doing the whole workout routine, it can take you 2 hours to complete the entire program. You grow your muscles when you’re resting, and not when you’re working out. Keep your lifting routine to 60-70 minutes tops. Just do about 80% of the routine. It is OKAY to skip the rest of the routines.
  3. Don’t Skip Cardio.  Cardio is still essential as it helps to sculpt and give your muscles that defined look. So, do not skip your cardio workouts. Consult with your coach on the necessary cardio that you should be doing, and if you should skip any cardio at all.
  4. Keep Good Form.  Forget about the ego. Focus more on proper form. Someone who only curls at 30 lbs can have bigger and more defined arms than you (who can curl 40 lbs), simply because he focuses on proper form. It’s OKAY to lift heavier as long as your form is correct. FORM IS EVERYTHING.
  5. Follow Your Diet Religiously!  Diet is the key. Many fitness professionals out there agree that diet is 70-80% of the results. The only way for you to build mass is by eating – a lot! The food has to be healthy and clean – no junk food please! The Phase 2 and Phase 3 diet plans are more appropriate.
  6. You Need Supplements! If you’re skinny to begin with, chances are your body is not that efficient at absorbing nutrients. There is only a small percentage of the human population who can get ripped and muscular by eating regular food. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not one of them. So you need to take your supplements, as no one can get proper nutrients from regular food anymore, especially living in the USA.  Read more about nutrition to build muscle.
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What sort of tips do you use to gain muscle with P90X?  Have you developed a new routine that works well for you?


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24 Responses to How To Gain Lean Muscle Mass with P90X

  • Question for you on gaining mass. How do you gain mass in your chest doing p90x? Since there are no weights involved I don’t know how to do this with only push ups. Did you use a weight vest?

    • That is correct James. I started using weight vest by 2nd round of P90X. And as you see from the post, you can add in bench press as well into your routine

  • Hi Nick – Just two points/questions: (1) Could you maybe write an article on plateauing and P90x. For instance, I’m entering the end of my second round of P90x, and I’m not seeing the sort of improvements (numbers-wise) that I saw during my first round (especially in the biceps department). Do you have any suggestions (I plan on doing P90x2 after I complete this round to break up the routine a bit). (2) I tried lifting heavier as you suggested (max at 8 reps), however, for some reason I just felt awful, like too much stress in my core and I really didn’t enjoy it like I do when I do 8-10. So for now I will stick to classic even if it means smaller gains. Maybe people’s bodies are different, I don’t know, maybe I was just having a bad week. Great site!

  • Hi Nick

    My question is whether you’ve seen Steve Edwards’ mass building p90x modified routine. Do you think it’s better for building mass than regular p90x? The reason I ask is because (and I don’t know if you would agree), in my opinion round 2 of p90x (CST, BB, and LB) is best for building mass, yet the modified routine looks awfully similar (especially block 2 of the modified routine) to round 3 of p90x (alternating CST, BB, LB and CB, SA, and LB).

    I guess another way of phrasing my question is do you recommend extending round 2 of P90x classic if the goal is to build mass?

    Thanks in advance.

    • I’m not too familiar with Steve Edwards routine, I just know mine and it works for me and my team.

  • I heard the p90x is good for fitness, but my real goal is to have muscle mass and form. Is the p90x good to accomplish my goal? Do i have to make adjustments to it? Or should I just go to a regular gym and do regular workouts?

    • Well, what do you think after reading the article and my profile? Do you think P90X is good to accomplish your goals?

      • it seems the answer is yes. just one quick question. By implementing the 5X5 which day should i apply it in other words instead of which exercise should i do it? And should i do the same exercises on the dvd when i apply the 5X5?

        • William, I dont know how else I can be more specific than my article above. My advice is to re-read the article carefully and slowly.

          Keep in mind that I didnt apply the 5×5 until my 3rd or 4th round of P90X. I followed the classic version, as well as many other guys out there who did P90X as it is. So regardless of 5×5, if you apply the bulking rules, you should still be fine.

  • When you say you did only 40 minutes of Legs & Back, did that include the warmup? Did you do the first 40 minutes or last 40 minutes?

    • I usually start the workout with warm up, then 5×5 chest, then move on to Leg & Back. By that time, my body is warmed up so no further warmup is needed. I dont follow the video anymore, other than printing the workout sheet and choose and skip the routines that I want. I do whatever I can in 40 min.

  • Hi Nick,

    I’m inspired by you and your videos. I’m having trouble lifting the weight properly. Problem is, I am only using 15 lb dumbbells. I can’t get the full range of motion on the fly moves. Should I switch to a lighter weight? Also after a while my left arm gives out and I can no longer do curls all the way up.

    • That is correct. You do need to lift lighter with proper form. However, you do need to push yourself to lift heavier at least every month

  • I am 21 year old guy weigh 145 just put on 15 lbs in the past 4 months but normally hard gainer. Ive been hitting the gym 3-4 times a week with a normal back-bi, chest-tri, shoulders-traps- legs split. I’ve done p90x a couple times now.

    Heres the deal just joined the army and I have basic in 6 months I’m already a very I shape guy but I’m going to special forces so I want to be as good as I possibly can be. My question is what’s your thought on my training for the next 6 months keep hitting the gym or do p90x or consider a hybrid routine, if I chose to do both could I literally do both normal or would that be over training 3 days of weight lifting + p90.

    Thanks for helping me out if you want to email me my personal email is

    • You can do either one. P90X by itself is very sufficient as long as you’re focusing on lifting heavy. If not, you can always do the hybrid routine

  • Hey I was wondering if you could help me out Im a female 20 and a hard gainer, I want to mainly work in my lower body to get bigger legs and a bigger booty lol. how can i do this by incorperating P90x ? i also want to get a smaller waist since i have a bit of a muffin top so if you could help id really appreciate it. the body im going for is Natalia Muntean shes my inspiration. Hope you can help me out I have a special occasion in 3 months and i want to get into really good shape.

  • Hey, I will start p90x I am new at this. Doing the classic routine will help me grow muscle. I am a mesomorph type.

  • hey man this is a great routine i was wondering is there any way where i can add more compound moves in with this workout ive been lifting for a year now and want to add more mass

    • P90X is all about compound movement. Is this your first time doing P90X? I do not recommend changing or adding any routines, except of the suggestions on this page. If you have further inquiries, we could talk more, either by email or phone

  • Hello! I’m also wondering why you decided to add the 5×5 bench press on leg days instead of just substituting bench press for some (or most) of the push up exercise in the chest&back routine. Is there a specific reason for this? What I’m currently doing is substituting Barbell and dumbell bench press with different inclines for most of the push up exercises, 6-8 reps x 2 for each exercise… But i’m not sure if its a good idea.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Khalien: I believe that in order to stimulate the chest muscle growth, you should hit it at least 2x per week. Heavy presses are great for building mass but not so much in terms of giving the proper tight toning pec look like if you do pushups. I tried subbing presses for pushups at one point and did not like the end results much. From experimenting, I found that putting 1 day just for pushups, and 1 day for presses works very well.

  • Emailed you the answer 😉

  • Hello there… I’ve been lokkinf for hybrids like this one for a long time and finally I come across…

    Thanks for showing this hybrid… I’m on week 3 of round 2 and I’ve made my own hybrid …kinda… So Can you give me more specifcs about how to stack bench presses and squats into the program Why did you put bench press 5X5 on leg days, I was doing bench press on chest day before some of the push ups but I was just guessing … on leg days I was doing weighted saquats instead of DB squats and calf raise and I was also doing Leg presses and Leg ext
    Extension…How can I stricture a program like this ? I would also like to include some chest cable corssovers. Can you help me out?

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