You often hear folks talking about how difficult it is to lose weight and stay on their diet. Conversely, I’d venture to say the inverse is even harder; trying to gain lean muscle.
There are some simple pitfalls we can avoid, and some strategies we can use, to help ensure that our hard work pays off, but don’t be fooled; gaining weight is not easy.
If it was, you’d see less 150 lbs dudes at Planet Fitness benching and performing bicep curls five days a week. 😉
- Eat a surplus of calories: No mystery here, but easier said than done. Gaining weight can be frustrating in the sense that it’s very easy to move 2 steps forward and then 2 steps back, in which you miss your mark on calories needed. One way we can ensure that we avoid this scenario is twofold: never miss your post-workout nutrition shake in the form of a protein/simple carbs, and include liquid meal-replacements high in calories. If you’ve ever tried to gain weight before, you may have noticed that it was difficult to “choke down” the extra calories needed. A meal-replacement shake high in calories can help by being the bridge between your main whole-food meals.
- Decrease your training frequency: This may come as a shock to many, but simply training more does not equate to more results. In fact, there have been numerous studies done which refute this idea as a whole, and in the case of someone trying to gain muscle, less is more. Over the years I’ve seen the most results with my clients and myself from prioritizing recovery in between sessions, as this is where the real magic happens. Consider these training splits:
4x a Week:
3x a Week:
Friday: Total Body
Of course, these splits can be altered to match your schedule.
- Prioritize your recovery: Again, no mystery here, but in a world where technology is at our fingertips, are you using something like Heart-Rate Variability (HRV) to track how well you’re actually responding to the stress of your training program? If not, I highly recommend utilizing such a tool. An HRV will actually monitor stress and the autonomic nervous systems’ response to it. The psychology behind “training less” is tough for some to swallow, but having a tool like an HRV can actually help alleviate some of the mental stress that trainees may incur by thinking they are going to lose all of their gains by taking more rest days. Put simply, HRV can help guide you to know when to push and when to back off. This simple tool will help maximize your recovery, thereby allowing more muscle-gain to take place.
- Use efficient programming: Efficient programming is certainly an art form and if you don’t know where to begin, seek the help of a qualified coach. Luckily, there are many great programs like 5/3/1 or Westside for Skinny Bastards at your fingertips. If you feel like trying to tackle your programming on your own, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First, prioritize movements that train big muscle groups such as sumo deadlifts, box squats, push presses, etc.. Second, use assistance exercises like single-joint variations to help improve lagging muscle-groups. Third, include proper recovery between your more taxing sessions (72 hours between your upper/lower sessions). Finally, don’t forget measures like loaded carries and sled work, as this work can help improve your aerobic qualities, which will then improve your recovery.
- Experiment with different loading parameters: We all have different breakdowns of muscle fiber, which will dictate what rep-ranges and loading parameters work best to gain muscle mass. Fast twitch athletes (higher concentration of Type 2x muscle-fiber) will incur gains in lean body mass from lower-rep schemes with heavier loading, whereas slow-twitch athletes (athletes with a higher concentration of Type 1 muscle-fiber) will incur more growth from higher-rep schemes. Of course, there will also be folks that fall somewhere in the middle. Part of the learning process as a trainee is experimenting and finding what best suits your unique makeup. Overall, a blend of multiple qualities may suit you well. A typical upper and lower day may look something like this:
1) Rack Pull Deadlift: Build to a 1RM.
2) Front Rack Reverse Lunges: 4 x 5 ea.
3a) Lying Hamstring Curls: 3 x 8-10.
3b) Single Leg Leg Extensions: 3 x 8-10 ea.
4a) Pull-Throughs: Accumulate 100 Reps.
4b) Air Squats: Accumulate 100 Reps.
5) Standing Abs: 4 x 15.
1) Medium Grip Floor Press: Build to a 3RM.
2) Barbell JM Presses: 5 x 10.
3a) Chest Supported Iso Dynamic DB Rows: 3 x 10 ea.
3b) Incline Tate Presses: 3 x 12-15.
4a) Seated Incline DB Hammer Curls: 3 x 8-10.
4b) Standing DB Shrugs: 3 x 15.
5a) Bent-over rear delt raises: 100 Reps.
5b) Banded Pushdowns: 100 Reps.
6) Decline Russian Twists: 4 x 30s Max Reps.
In short, gaining muscle should not be taken lightly; as previously stated, if it was easy, everyone would be jacked. You’ll have to commit yourself to your diet, recovery, and training 100%, all while being patient. Don’t make the mistake of giving up too early because the scale isn’t moving. You’ll more than likely find that slow and consistent progress is the best course of action and your results will stay with you much longer than simply looking for the quick fix.