This was especially relevant a few weeks ago, because I was suddenly getting nowhere and even started to lose weight. Then, I made some key adjustments and have since gained 5 pounds of (mostly) lean mass within the last 3 weeks. This is what I did:
Eat all the time: I decided to stop Intermittent Fasting and save it for when I want to start cutting -- in April. I was getting lean from the fasting, yet I just couldn't put down enough calories in the remaining hours to gain size. Maybe some people can bulk while using that method, but it wasn't working for me. So, I started eating all the time: cottage cheese, eggs, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches, protein shakes, chicken, almonds, etc. I also started eating a lot more carbohydrates, like oatmeal and Go Lean cereal. The carbs were a big change for me, since I used to avoid them like the plague. I needed them, however, because it takes a ton of calories to build muscle when you are 190 lbs. Yet, I still eat very clean, because bad food hinders muscle growth and promotes fat storage.
Fish Oil: I've known for a long time that fish oil is "good for you". Yes, it has great Omega 3s that your body can easily utilize (as opposed to those in flax, which the body has to convert first). Yes, it's great for your cardiovascular health, your brain health and it helps burn fat...and now, recently, a study came out showing that it significantly improves muscle growth. Wait! What? Improves muscle growth? Now you've got my attention! So I'm taking fish oil for my, um, health.
Music: I was mostly a non-headphone runner and I've always been a non-headphone lifter. It sometimes annoyed me when I would go up and ask people if they were finished with a barbell and they would have to pull an earbud out to hear me. However, I recently read about a study from the Weider Research Group which showed that people who listen to their preferred music, while lifting, experience a noticeable improvement in strength during the workout. So, now I'm rockin' the iPod as I pump out reps to Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Nirvana. I will admit, it does really help me stay focused and lift hard.
More sets: I've also started doing significantly more sets per muscle-group while not going to failure most of the time. For example, for chest I will do four sets of bench press, three sets of incline press, three sets of incline flyes and three sets of cable crossovers. This is considered a volume approach. In the past, I've usually performed two or three sets total for an entire muscle-group and went to absolute failure every time. However, I seem to be responding quite well to this new type of training. I should also mention that I am now only working each muscle group once per week.
So, hopefully these additions to my routine will continue to help me reach my goal -- and maybe even go further. As you can see in the photo, even though I had previously been a no-frills lifter, I am now all decked out with headphones, straps (for grip when pulling), weight belt...water bottle. Hey, whatever works.