Hey man, you wanna build some muscle man? You do? Well that’s good man, you at the write blog post.
What’s up everybody. In a previous post I mentioned how over the past years I’ve gotten into weight lifting and gained 65 pounds of mostly muscle over that time period. I received an email asking about how I was able to go about doing that and some pointers on gaining muscle so I decided I’d write a post to cover some of the basics.
Let me start out by saying that I’m tall, I naturally have a smaller frame and a very high metabolism. I was extremely skinny and decided that I wanted to do something about it. I had tried eating excessive amounts of the most fatty foods you can imagine, primarily fast food, probably taking in at least 5,000 calories a day and no matter how much I ate, I’d never gain a pound.
When that effort failed I decided it was time to take an alternate route and I joined a gym about 2 minutes from my house on July 1, 2007. At that time I weighed 150 pounds, I had no idea what I was doing and one of my goals was to bench press 135 pounds for one rep! Looking back, I can’t even imagine what it was like being that weak, but at the time it was all I had ever known.
I was highly ambitious and determined to stick with it as long as it would take to get where I wanted to be. I joined the gym with a friend who was a lot more experienced with weightlifting and much stronger than I was at the time. He had me taking protein shakes before, and after the workouts. I think this is a little excessive now, but the new shock to my nervous system from working out, and the added protein to my diet helped me gain a lot of mass quickly. In the first three months I jumped almost 20 pounds. From there on out my progress slowed drastically, and ever since then I’ve had to work hard to gradually increase my weight over time.
Coming into it as naturally disadvantaged as I was, I knew I would have to take my commitment and workouts to a more extreme level than the average person to get similar results. My body still to this day won’t carry much fat no matter what, or how much I eat. A lot of guys say they wish they could have that problem, and I do see the advantage, but at the same time it makes it easier to slack and eat unhealthy foods. So if I wanted to have the same amount of mass as someone with a little bit of fat on them, I’d have to be able to lift significantly more because I would need to make up for that lack of fat with more muscle. Of course this forces me to be much more cut and carry more lean mass but the point is, I had to work harder to get my weight up to a point that naturally came easier to most.
Everyone has advantages and disadvantages based on their body type. My plan was to exploit my high metabolism and its ability to naturally keep me lean without any effort and continue to pack on as much muscle as I could, with the long term goal of reaching 220 pounds. I’ve just returned from a week off and weighed in today at 205. At my peak shape I was 215. When I stop lifting, I tend to start dropping weight immediately.
So enough about the background story. Time to dive into the strategies I’ve used to get to where I am now. It all started out with a book called Training For Mass by a guy named Gordon LaVelle. The book was based around a high intensity training style. The logic behind it was that the bodies adaptive mechanism responds more to intensity as opposed to volume. A key example given in the book was that if you were to spend an hour in the sun in the desert, your body would be beat red. If you were to spend a day in the sun at the north pole, you’d barely notice a difference in skins pigment. So it wasn’t the amount of time that made the body react most, it was the intensity of the direct sun rays.
Another example was comparing the leg muscle development of a sprinter, to a long distance runner. The sprinter will have large developed leg muscles, while the distance runner will be very skinny. The short intense muscle contractions caused growth, the less intense, higher volume runner does not develop the same muscle mass. Also, the long distance runner will burn more muscle as a source of energy while working for such long periods of time.
Applying this concept to bodybuilding, your workouts should be designed to get the muscles warmed up and ready, never getting too close to failure, until building up to a final set with maximum intensity, in theory, stimulating maximum growth. Additionally, the point was made that excessive sets and reps at lower intensity will not stimulate additional growth, but will waste more calories which will actually prevent maximizing your gains.
This concept appealed to me greatly and I based my workouts around the philosophy for quite some time in the beginning. High intensity training was first made popular by Dorian Yates, six time Mr. Olympia. Over time, I’ve realized that this method of training is a great strategy, but you also need to change up the pace to create muscle confusion. Sometimes switching to lower weights, higher reps for awhile will help develop your muscles better than always going heavy. There are two types of muscle fiber, type A and type B. One is fast twitching, and the other is slow twitching fiber. Slow twitching are stimulated by high weight, low rep. Fast twitching the opposite. The theory is, you need to exercise both types of muscle fiber to maximize gains. The book also points out that high intensity training principles aren’t some be all, to end all absolute, arguing that if this were the case, you’re workouts would simply be an intense one rep max for every exercise, which clearly is ineffective.
As always, it comes back to balance. Try different things, keep your muscles guessing, and when something works, keep doing it. Another key principle I’ve stuck with over the years is to make sure to focus on compound exercises and begin your workouts with the most compound movement of your routine. Compound exercises use a much larger portion of the body, and therefore stimulate more muscles throughout the body at once. The more muscle you stimulate, the more beneficial this is to your overall gains. Isolation movements are necessary, but will not increase your overall body mass as quickly as compound movements.
I’m on a 5 day workout plan which consists of one day for each of the following muscle groups. Chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs. I will list the compound movements I begin each workout with for each muscle group. Chest day is flat bench, back, either dead-lifts or pull-ups, arms, close grip bench press for tri’s, curls for bi’s, shoulders, military press and for legs I use the leg press. A lot of people would suggest squats over leg press but no matter how much I focus on form, squats always bother my knees. I think it has to do with my height, longer limbs and torso, increased leverage, and thin bone structure. The point is, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. (Update: after refining my approach, squats are now a regular part of my routine).
I use the 5 day routine in an attempt to maximize recovery and growth time for each muscle group. If you do not allow a muscle to fully recover it cannot grow, and you can reach a point of over-training which is counterproductive.
Different strategies I’ve used to gain weight over the years are to use wight gainer supplements. I’ve found Optimum Nutrition’s Pro Complex Gainer to work well and it’s also one of the best values out there. For a less expensive alternative there’s also Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass (more sugar, less protein and vitamins). If you’re really stuck on a plateau try taking weight gainer two times a day. Always take it post workout to spike your insulin levels and give your body the fast absorbing protein it needs to recover. Additionally, try taking it right before bed. This will keep your body fed a larger portion of the time frame you are going without food while asleep, and you’re also not going to burn off much of the calories while you sleep.
As far as supplements go, I believe most are just a big marketing scam with no real benefit. I’ve tried a lot of them out over the years and if I didn’t see results I wouldn’t waste my money. All I take now is weight gainer, a multivitamin and mineral, fish oil and flax seed oil. Occasionally I’ll buy branch chain amino acids and creatine but those aren’t really necessary. Creatine has a good reputation for results which is why I’ll mix it in on occasion and I’ll take the BCAA’s before bed since certain BCAA’s are proven to increase your testosterone levels. I don’t mess with test boosters or anything hormonal. I like to stick to essential macro nutrients which I believe to be a more natural approach. Anything that unnaturally manipulates the body chemistry I stay away from.
My goal is to get in shape to be healthy, not to gain external validation for my physique. I will never have an ego about anything related to physical strength and I’m not impressed by guys who juice as an overcompensation for their lack of self esteem. Any time your intentions are to impress other people and not based on trying to accomplish something because of what it does for you internally, you’re on a path headed for disappointment seeking to fill your cup with validation. But the cup will always have a hole in it. If you’re walking into a gym as skinny and weak as I was initially, you can’t worry about what other people think or how much the other guys are lifting. Just realize that everyone benching 300+ pounds had to start somewhere. I mentioned I couldn’t bench 135 lbs for one rep when I started out. Now my max is up to 290 lbs. If you’re truly committed to achieving your goals, you’ll surpass most of those guys in time. A lot of them just go through the motions and their results stagnate. If you’re going to continue to progress, it’s only a matter of time before you see yourself surpassing most of the rest.
Another concept I’ve been really trying to make a habit out of lately is to really concentrate on the muscles you are targeting in your workout and to try and bring your consciousness into those muscles. It’s somewhat of an esoteric concept, but my experience has shown that by bringing your consciousness, your awareness into a certain muscle it will allow you to place your willpower into that muscle, which enables you to exceed your physical limitations and push the muscle to new levels of performance. The mind-body connection is pretty miraculous, and this concept has really helped me to exceed my limitations. If you’re just going through the motions and not pushing your limits physically, you’ll never achieve maximum results. If you can focus you’re consciousness and will power into a certain area of your body and really pay attention to the muscle contractions, you’ll be amazed at the difference.
Of course I can’t write a post on the subject without mentioning the importance of diet. Be sure to consume 5-6 meals a day. Eat lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables, almonds, if you want to gain, don’t be too shy of fats and simple carbs every now and then. Drink lots of water, make sure to get enough sleep, and just maintain a healthy lifestyle in general. Read up on different workouts, different diets, nutrition in general and continue to learn along the way. Try new exercises, new workouts, different techniques and always pay attention to your form. There’s plenty of information out there on the internet and a lot of great books on eating properly. Keep reading and applying different strategies to discover what works best.
I hope this was helpful if you’re interested in building muscle mass. I’ll have to write on this topic again soon. Thanks for reading.
Note: If you’re interested in some advice on gaining success in all areas of life check out SoLongMediocrity. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read here please connect with me on both facebook, and twitter if you haven’t already.by