Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Jul

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle

Muscle 4So you wanna put on some lean muscle mass. And you want to do it within the context of the Primal Blueprint, but aren’t sure where to start. It’s a common question and it’s about time I addressed it head on.

As I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out of the particular gene set you inherited. These are my end goals, and I’ve modeled the PB Laws with them in mind. But that doesn’t mean packing on extra muscle can’t happen with additional input. After I retired from a life of chronic cardio and started living Primally, I added 15 pounds of muscle, while keeping low body fat levels without really trying, so it’s absolutely possible for a hardgainer to gain some. The question is how much and at what expense?

I’d be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, counterproductive. What would Grok do – go for enormous biceps or the ability to haul a carcass back to camp? Unless you’re a bodybuilder (nothing wrong with that, mind you; it’s just not my focus), I can’t advise simply packing on size without a proportional increase in actual strength. Those bulging biceps might look good on the beach, but then again, so does the body that comes with keeping up with the younger guys, knocking out twenty pull-ups in a row, and lifting twice your bodyweight. Form is best paired with a healthy serving of function. The two are quite delicious together, and, luckily, following the PB allows us to get both without sacrificing either.

Of course, we’re all built a little differently. The basic building blocks are the same in everyone, but sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction) has the funny habit of producing unique genetics and small variations that affect the way we respond to our environments. It’s why some people are short and some are tall, or why some of us respond better to carbohydrates than others. Even though we all pretty much operate the same way, there IS a range of possible outcomes that is proscribed by your direct ancestors. By that same token, some people just naturally have more muscle mass. They’re usually innately more muscular than the average person, and putting more on through resistance training is often an easy task. Then there are those who can’t seem to gain a pound: the hardgainers. They might be increasing strength, but it doesn’t seem to translate into visible muscle mass. Now, my initial advice for a hardgainer is this – don’t worry too much about it! As long as you’re getting stronger, you’re doing it right.

Let’s face it, though. You’ve probably heard that enough already. It’s fun being the lanky guy at the gym who can lift more than most, but you’re dead set on bulking up (who doesn’t like a bit more muscle to go along with that strength?), and you want to do it in a Primal context. Besides, continuing to increase strength will eventually require increasing size. To do so, you have to target the very same anabolic hormones that others use to get big, only with even more enthusiasm and drive. Like I said, we all have similar engines, but some require more fuel and more efficient driving (sorry for the corny analogy). Activating these hormones will work for anyone, provided they work hard and eat enough food.

The main hormones that contribute to muscle anabolism are testosterone, growth hormone (GH), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). A little more about each and how to utilize them:

Testosterone

Crazy bodybuilders don’t inject themselves with anabolic steroid hormones that are based on testosterone for nothing. Among other roles, testosterone is an important muscle-building growth factor that favorably affects protein synthesis in addition to working with other hormones (like GH and IGF-1) to improve their function (more on this later). If you want to increase strength and build muscle, testosterone is absolutely required (don’t worry, though: no injections necessary!).

Growth Hormone

It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Growth hormone. It helps muscle grow and, perhaps more importantly, it burns body fat. After all, leaning out is a big part of building muscle (or else you’ll just look puffy) and GH will help you do it.

Insulin-like Growth Factor 1

IGF-1 is extremely similar in effect to GH, as it should be – GH stimulates IGF-1 production in the liver. In fact, it’s suspected that IGF-1 is actually responsible for most of the “growth-promoting effects of circulating GH.”

Anabolic hormones all work together. In fact, to maximize their muscle-building potential, you must have all three present. Testosterone increases IGF-1, but only in the presence of GH. GH promotes skeletal muscle cell fusion independent of IGF-1, but the two are most effective in concert. Luckily for you, the types of exercises that stimulate the secretion of one will generally stimulate the secretion of the others. Funny how that works out, huh?

Enter The Central Nervous System

In order for your body to start pumping out these delicious anabolic hormones, you must first give it a reason to do so. I might even say you should give your genes a reason to express themselves. The most effective way to do this is by notifying the central nervous system. Now, the CNS can be a stubborn bastard, but he’s all you got when it comes to interpreting stimuli and relaying messages to the rest of the body. He’s not easily perturbed, and he won’t bother if you aren’t serious. If you insist on doing nothing but light aerobics or tiny isolation exercises, your CNS will barely notice. If you want to get your CNS’ attention, pick up the intensity. Run some sprints or do some heavy lifting. When you do an exercise like the squat with a heavy weight, all hands are on deck. Your CNS realizes that some serious exercising is going down and notifies the hypothalamus, which in turn talks to your pituitary gland. This tiny – but vital – member of the endocrine system is the gland that dispatches luteinizing hormones to tell the testicles to secrete testosterone. It’s also the gland that synthesizes and secretes GH. IGF-1 is mostly produced by the liver, but its production is facilitated by the presence of GH, so we can see that it all comes down to CNS stimulation. Chronic cardio doesn’t affect your CNS in any meaningful way, so that’s why we tend to avoid it; vigorous sprints, hard and heavy lifting, and anaerobic output will get its attention, so do plenty of these to maximize muscle growth.

Cortisol: A Hormone to Avoid

Promoting muscle and strength growth also requires avoiding excess amounts of catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is the major stress hormone, and it exists for a very legitimate reason (dealing with “flight or fight” incidents, inadequate sleep, anxiety), but in large amounts cortisol increases serum amino acids by breaking down muscle, inhibiting protein synthesis and reducing amino acid uptake by the muscles – all awful things for muscle growth. Compounding the problem even further, the broken-down muscle is converted into blood glucose, which then raises insulin secretion and increases insulin resistance while promoting fat storage. And we all know how great those muscles look with a nice layer of adipose tissue covering them up! On a serious note, most people following the PB already minimize cortisol by getting plenty of sleep and reducing stress, but if you’re preoccupied with building muscle mass and engaging in extended workout sessions to achieve it, avoiding excess cortisol can get tricky: excessive exercise without enough recovery time actually increases cortisol. It makes sense (think of it like your body’s telling you it needs a day or two off), but the desire for more muscle mass drives many to work out to the point of counter-productivity. Just be careful, and give yourself at least a day of rest after a particularly grueling session.

Lift Really Heavy Things

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If you haven’t figured it out already, you’re going to be doing some heavy lifting in order to put on lean mass. The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems. Bodyweight stuff, while valuable, simply isn’t going to get you the strength and mass increases you’re looking for. Testosterone, while useful, only gets really anabolic when you start lifting. You need to get under some decent weight, enough so that your CNS and endocrine system are blasted, but not so much that you can’t maintain proper form.

A popular routine is the 5×5 method. Popularized by programs like StrongLifts and Starting Strength, doing compound lifts for five sets of five reps allows you to strike a balance between strength building and superficial muscle hypertrophy. Done this way, your hypertrophy won’t be purely sarcoplasmic, which results in fluid-filled muscles that look big but don’t see a corresponding increase in actual strength. Instead, the 5×5 method promotes myofibrillar hypertrophy: hard, dense muscle fibers that increase strength and size (with no puffiness). That’s real muscle that would make Grok proud.

If you’re lifting heavy and lifting hard, keep your workouts spaced at least a day apart and don’t lift more than 3x/week. Three exercises per session should be perfect. That may not sound like much, but it’ll be plenty if you do it right. Remember, you’re doing big compound movements that will really shock your system, with an emphasis on intensity and power. You don’t want to overwork yourself, release a bunch of cortisol, and set yourself back a few weeks.

Squats and deadlifts are absolutely required. No excuses. They engage the most muscles and produce the biggest hormonal response. They will be the bedrock of your mass building campaign. Most programs recommend doing squats every session, and I tend to agree. You can handle it. Deadlifts are a bit more taxing and so should be relegated to every other workout. So, one week you’ll deadlift once, the next week twice. You can also sub in power cleans for the occasional deadlifts (or do them in addition) if you’re comfortable with such a complex movement. Presses are paramount, both overhead and bench. I’d alternate both types of presses every session. Pull-ups are great, but weighted pull-ups are even better. Same goes for dips. Just try to get one pulling, one pushing, and one squatting exercise in each session.

An example for beginners, with sets coming first in the sequence:

A
Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
Overhead Press 5×5

B
Squat 5×5
Deadlift 1/2/3×5 (your choice; deadlifts can be incredibly taxing, and with exhaustion comes poor form, so be careful; sometimes it’s better to do a really heavy load for a single set)
Bench Press 5×5

C
Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure
Overhead Press 5×5

Do this sequence every week (maybe Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and steadily increase the weight each session. Once you’re making progress, feel free to add in other exercises like dips or more Olympic lifts. For more mass, more lactic “burn” (and more GH secretion), reduce your rest periods between sets or even superset them. If you feel like doing some cardio, stick to sprints once weekly, or even a Crossfit-style metcon (metabolic conditioning) workout, maybe some Tabata burpees. The key is conserving strength and giving your body time to rest and recover for the next round of squats, deadlifts, and presses.

This “program” can be tweaked and altered. Just make sure you’re doing big movements while maintaining extreme intensity and great form. Oh, and always make sure to squat and deadlift. Always. They produce the most testosterone, GH, and IGF-1.

Eat Lots (I Mean Lots) of Plants and Animals

steak2

No one would ever call the Primal Blueprint a protein-sparing plan, but you’re going to have to eat even more than before. Stuff yourself. I always say that body composition is 80% diet, and that goes for putting on mass as well as losing fat. You need to provide plenty of protein for all those hormones to synthesize, after all.

  • Never let your protein intake go lower than 1g/lb of body weight when you are aiming to add long-term muscle. It’s the building block of muscle, and your body is going to be starving for it.
  • Eat plenty of saturated and monounsaturated fat. Fat blunts insulin secretion while increasing testosterone production. Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?
  • Dietary fat, in conjunction with all the GH you’ll be producing, also spares muscle wasting.
  • You may have heard of the popular GOMAD method – Gallon of Milk a Day for easy mass-building. It undoubtedly works, but a gallon of milk isn’t exactly Primal and I can’t recommend it. Instead of milk, why not a dozen eggs a day? ADEAD? If you can manage it, eating them on top of your regularly scheduled meals is a great source of affordable protein, fat, and vitamins (Vitamin A in particular may have pro-anabolic effects).
  • Eat often. If you’re going for pure size and strength, fasted workouts and skipped PWO meals may not be the ticket. You’ll burn more fat with the extra GH secretion and existing muscle will be spared, but you may be missing the chance at prime protein synthesis when you fast. A PWO meal of protein and fat will still blunt the insulin secretion and provide fuel for your muscles.
  • Increase caloric intake. You’re going to be expending so much energy on the lifts (and you’ll continue to burn through it even on rest days) while eating clean, Primal foods (and keeping insulin low as ever) that fat accumulation shouldn’t be an issue at all. Eat!
  • On those days when you do expend a ton of energy – maybe on your metcon or sprint day – having a Primal-friendly starch, like squash or sweet potato, is a decent way to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
  • Eat a big piece of fatty meat every single day. Steak, whole chicken, lamb leg, organs, whatever. Just eat a solid piece of animal flesh for a powerful protein infusion on a daily basis.
  • A hardgainer is often someone who doesn’t eat enough. Sure, genes play a role, but you can ultimately have a significant say in how those genes rebuild you. To a point. Eat more and lift harder to grab the reins.

I’m a firm believer in the body’s natural ability to achieve proper homeostasis, provided we supply the right environment and the right foods. For some of you, that might mean lower body mass, lower than you’d like. In my opinion, that amount of muscle is probably “right” for you and I wouldn’t recommend going above and beyond to achieve more of it… but I also wouldn’t condemn it, especially if it’s pursued in accordance with the Primal Laws. As for me, I am comfortable where I’m at and tend not to seek added mass (I’m also at a point where lifting heavy increases my risk of injury, and I HATE downtime). But if you are a hard-gainer looking to add a few, as long as it’s not just show muscle and you can actually lift some decent weight and at the very least manipulate your own body weight comfortably, eat those dozen eggs and gain that weight.

Gio JL Flickr Photo (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I went to the gym today and wanted one of the trainers to show me proper form for squats and dead lifts. What I got was a near argument with the owner who THINKS he knows all about fitness. Idiot trainer quotes of the day- 1)squats and deadlifts are advanced exercise and are unsafe. Machines strengthen and stabilize you.
    2)low carb/primal (I had to explain what primal was) is unsustainable and unhealthy..it’s all about moderation for a healthy diet

    I’m seeing a different trainer tomorrow. He LIKES heavy lifting like lunges, deadlifts and squats and is pro- low carb.

    Quinadal wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  2. “Crazy bodybuilders don’t inject themselves with anabolic steroid hormones that are based on testosterone for nothing.”

    Why do you need to put them down if you know that this is the only way for them to compete at the level at which they do? What if they get the best possible medication and support from one or more doctors; is it really *that* crazy in such a case, especially if you take into account that testosterone-based medication is being used throughout “normal” health care for various purposes as well (for those that are inclined to answer this rhetorical question: “No, it isn’t *that* crazy.”)? To each his own, I would say. At least give them *some* credit; after all, they are possibly more of an expert at “gaining weight and building muscle than you are”, regardless of whether or not you approve of their methods.

    What I’m furthermore wondering about (apart from the fact that the majority of the advice in the article is actually pretty good, I must say) is whether or not the Primal BluePrint program – which seems to sport quite a couple of (pseudo-)scientific claims – has actually been proven to work by means of a controlled user study that is scientifically sound and repeatable. Do you have a reference to a scientific journal or conference paper in which this is detailed, or is all of it based on anecdotal evidence (“success stories”) at the moment?

    anonymous wrote on July 26th, 2009
  3. I think the craziest part about bodybuilding is that they take roids for the purpose of looking better than other men in a glorified homo-erotic beauty contest

    gnosis wrote on July 26th, 2009
  4. To the guy getting all defensive about bodybuilding: are you trying to sound smart or something? Do you believe everything that has a ‘science’ label is true? You know, you’re probably right. Insulin plays no role in body composition, pasta is good for you and fat makes you fat.

    goskeptic wrote on July 28th, 2009
  5. Hi..I really enjoyed this article and I really like it..especially the point on
    Eating Lots of Plant and animal…
    I have a question on reagarding to this that…
    Should I eat potatoes with milk…after workout or before workout..as I know that it have lots of carbohydrate and fats…..????

    Body builder wrote on August 2nd, 2009
  6. Where does the testosterone come from if you’re a girl?

    Sarah wrote on August 9th, 2009
    • In women, testosterone is produced half in the ovaries and half in the adrenal glands.

      Toolman wrote on August 10th, 2009
  7. I love the article Mark! I think the 5×5 workout makes a lot of sense. I’ve also had good results from the HIT notion of lifting where you load the weight with as much weight as you can only perform 7-8 repetitions with, where the 8th rep is failure and going further would dip into the realm of negatives. With this method you only have to do 1 set and move quickly onto the next lift. This way you get all the muscle damage you need to grow bigger, the stress hormones are minimalized, and the workouts themself are brief but intense. Very primal, GROK ON!

    Ryan wrote on August 17th, 2009
  8. Great Post. To gain weight & build muscle requires a lot of tough exercises

    Physique Bodyware USA wrote on August 24th, 2009
    • “To gain weight & build muscle requires a lot of tough exercises”, NO brief but intense workouts are key. if you work intense enough 30 min is adequate. initially 3 times per week, then down to 2 at the end of the cycle.

      Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 1st, 2010
  9. 3 sets of 5 reps for the Squat, Bench press, and Press is plenty. For the Power Clean you do 5 sets of 3 reps and for the deadlift 1 set of 5 reps

    Increase the weight every time you train

    5×5 is too much volume.

    Jeroen wrote on August 28th, 2009
    • Not neccessarily. There are a ton of people who have made incredible gains off 5×5.

      I’m all for low volume training but 5×5 is not high volume. Each person has to figure what their body responds best to (imagine that, people are different) and 5×5 is a tried and true method that has proved itself a great tool for many, many people.

      Toolman wrote on August 28th, 2009
      • Yeah wel; my advice would be to read two books about strenght training and that is: Startingh Strenght II edition and Practical Programming for strenght training both by Mark Rippetoe.

        5×5 is for intermediate trainees not for novices to strenght training like most of us are

        Regards

        Jeroen wrote on August 29th, 2009
        • The difference is likely trivial.

          Mark suggested 2 days a week with 5×5. Rippetoe suggests 3 days a week with 3×5.

          Roland wrote on August 29th, 2009
        • I love Rippetoe’s stuff and believe it valuable information but I was simply responding to your general comment that 5×5 is too much volume, which simply is not true. Some may respond better to other lesser or great volumes but that is something that has to be personally determined.

          BTW – Mark Rippetoe was trained by Bill Starr (coach who is synonymous with 5×5 strength training). Here is Rippetoe’s description from his web page:

          “I have doing the [clean and jerk and the snatch] as a part of my training since 1979. I was a competitive powerlifter, but we snatched and c&jed as a part of training with Bill Starr. I have snatched 82.5 and C&Jed 105 as lifts that were not my competitive sport. My best clean was 275 many years ago — power, I believe. I have been coached by Bill Starr, Tommy Suggs, Jim Moser, Dr. Kilgore, Glenn Pendlay, Angel Spassov, Harvey Newton, and many fellow lifters. I have never claimed to be a good weightlifter, but I have coached the lifts since 1984.”

          Toolman wrote on August 31st, 2009
  10. The article is great…but the only problem is the diet. How am I supposed to fill my fridge up with all that food every day? I’m living on a tight budget and I really want to gain lean muscle. I can only spare enough money to buy the cheapest foods out there (potatoes, rice, ground meat, etc.) so getting all those healthy and diverse products is difficult for me…Maybe it’s just a personal problem, but the meals and such seem too unrealistic for the average working guy to follow..

    Rajiv wrote on September 1st, 2009
    • Some of my staples are the following:

      Ground beef
      Eggs (cheap!)
      Chicken
      Talapia fish

      Spinach salad
      carrots
      canned veggies

      Frozen berries

      I also have a smoker and routinely buy pork shoulder or brisket and smoke it on weekend and have meat for 2 weeks.

      None of this is overly expensive and actually quite economical. I buy in bulk from Sam’s alot also.

      Toolman wrote on September 1st, 2009
    • I bought a Seal-a-Meal so I can buy large packages of meat when it’s on sale and seal it up to freeze. I just bought 8 lbs of drumsticks! I also eat LOTS of eggs.

      LittleMissGrok wrote on September 1st, 2009
  11. Through my teenage years I spent all my yime doing weights and got no-where. I am a textbook hardgainer.
    So i took a different path and spent the last few years fighting in Muay Thai which meant cutting weight for fights and trying to be lean etc.
    I’ve decided to go back to weights and put on size, I’m 24 now, but think i’ve stuffed my body up as i can’t put weight on past 84kg and im 6’2. i want to crack 90kg but it’s impossible.
    I eat more than anyone on Earth haha!!
    I think genetics sometimes can’t be broken…

    Justin Bell wrote on September 5th, 2009
    • Justin,

      How much weight can you squat for a single rep? How much for 5 reps?

      How much can you deadlift for a single rep? How much for 5 reps?

      Let me know and then we can move on from there to some helpful suggestions.

      Toolman wrote on September 8th, 2009
      • Unfortunately I have a groin injury that needs rest, so I’m only doing chest, back, shoulders and arms.
        My squat form is ordinary, so wouldn’t be too much.
        I work out each weekday as follows
        MON Chest & Back
        TUES Arms
        WED Chest & Shoulders
        THUR Arms
        FRI Chest & Back
        SAT Boxing
        SUN Rest

        Justin Bell wrote on September 22nd, 2009
        • I appreciate the response and the info but none of that really answered the questions I asked :)

          How much weight can you squat for a single rep? How much for 5 reps?

          How much can you deadlift for a single rep? How much for 5 reps?

          You can give the numbers you had prior to your groin injury. Once we have those the we can give some helpful suggestions.

          Thanks in advance.

          Toolman wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  12. Justin, you should log/track your food intake with fitday.com for a while. Not saying you don’t truly eat a lot, but I’ve found that a lot of people (hardgainers) are eating a lot FOR THEM, but still not a lot.

    Hopefully you can track things for a while and let us know.

    Roland wrote on September 6th, 2009
    • Sure I will try that site. Thanks.
      But yes I definately eat alot.
      I never miss breaky and can’t go 2 hours without hunger.
      I can easily nail a family size pizza in a sitting.
      The missus cooks for 3. (2 for me)
      I snack alot and try to eat alot before I go to bed. I also try to eat alot of carbs in afternoon/night!

      Justin Bell wrote on September 22nd, 2009
      • If you’re truly a hardgainer, stop doing cardio. Cardio is the anti-muscle. Seriously. You said you’re training Muay-thai…. well that’s probably why you can’t hold any muscle mass. I’m a surfer, and can’t put on ANY muscle in the summer and fall when I surf regularly. When I stop cardio’ing myself senseless, I can slowly add a couple pounds. Conventional wisdom keeps you in that trap, leading you to believe you use cardio to lose fat. It’s just not true. DIET off the fat, diet and lift to add muscle. NO CARDIO.

        Fixed Gear wrote on October 26th, 2009
        • you are dead right buddy. since my post i have cut ALL cardio. its very hard i feel like a lazy slob….but im stacking on the kg….up to 89kg and i was 74kg in dec for my last fight!!!

          I would love to find that perfect mix of cardio and size/strength

          Justin wrote on October 28th, 2009
        • Cardio is not anti muscle! Cardio is good for the heart. if you want to add muscle while doing cardio you need to eat more to make up for the deficit.

          Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
        • Cardio IS the anti-muscle. Cardio is good for your heart. But you know what else is equally good for the heart? Sprints on the beach. Hard deadlifting or squatting. I did ZERO cardio for 4 solid months, ate primally, lifted, did sprints twice a month. And then one day the surf got really good and I surfed for 2+ hours with my roommates. I had NO PROBLEM hanging with them, actually having better stamina than them, despite having done zero cardio for 4 months. Trust me, your heart gets a GREAT workout doing deadlift or sprints. You don’t need to mindlessly beat yourself up on a treadmill to retain that ability to have stamina when you want it.

          fixed gear wrote on March 6th, 2010
  13. Mark, great article, great website.

    I’ve been incorparating the work of Pete Sisco into my weightlifting workouts and let me tell you, this stuff really gives the CNS a wake up call. He even has a specific routine called the ‘CNS Workout’. Although I generally use a combonation of his Power Factor and SCT workouts.

    You should check out some of his literature(The ebook TrainSmart mostly), and although I don’t subscribe wholly to everything he says, a lot of his general strength gaining principals ring true with me.

    Oh, and thanks for increasing my knowledge of many things. Much appreciated.

    Mark wrote on September 7th, 2009
  14. How can I increase my arm strength without putting on weight to compromise agility? (Agility as in, jumping high/long)

    "scout" wrote on September 17th, 2009
    • heavy weight, low reps, low sets and 2 – 5 min rest in between sets. example:
      3 x 3

      Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
  15. boxing mate

    Justin wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  16. 12 eggs a day! I’m definitely not eating enough protein – nuff said! :O

    James wrote on November 4th, 2009
  17. Dear Mark or any who have input,

    I’m trying to gain muscle.
    But, I am certain I am not like most.

    First of all, I’ve been training and for some time competing at a high level in powerlifting and sprinting for 10 years.
    Sometimes fun competitions like highland games, strongman or even Crossfit-get-togethers with friends are done.

    Some of my best accomplishments are, all at a bodyweight of 165-168lbs:

    550lbs conventional deadlift
    517lbs back squat, competition depth
    418lbs olympic deep squat
    235lbs push jerk
    100 meters sprint: 10s97h

    (I don’t feel I need to prove myself for these numbers, but some of them are on my youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/Leeuwer
    Shameless attention plug, check!)

    None world-class, but I worked very hard for these numbers and managed to keep my weight and bodyfat percentage within a “reasonable” throughout.

    Gaining muscular weight has always been a problem though. I can gain weight, easily, but most of it fat …which I would diet off later … with the end result being me at the same size but with some added strength. This is good to a certain extend as a competitor, but at a certain point I felt I needed to gain more muscle and weight, without increasing my bodyfat percentage too much, to continue to improve.

    Now … I’ve adopted a paleo/primal eating plan for the obvious reasons, however, … now it seems I CAN’T gain weight.

    I’ve added half a gallon of raw whole milk after workouts on training days, I’m now eating at least 12-14 eggs a day, several spoonfulls of natural nut butter, several large servings of meat, fish or fowl and some fruit(and of course my veggies), but it seems like I’m actually losing weight. I do have to note it seems to all be fat, about which I’m not complaining.

    Of course, being in the iron game long enough I know the answer to this problem: “SIMPLY EAT MORE!” or “SQUATS AND(raw)MILK!”

    But, besides that, has anyone any tips or experiences on how to gain weight? I’m looking for people who have somewhat of the same starting point.

    Kind regards,

    Bert

    Bert wrote on November 14th, 2009
    • Bert, if you’re not gaining ANY kind of weight (fat or muscle), then you’re not eating enough calories.

      The opposite of fat loss advice for you — move less, eat more. The milk is good, and try to add other high calorie foods like nuts and seeds, dressing, oils and fats, more fruit than veggies, maybe? More winter squash and root veggies vs lower cal veggies, too. There’s probably no need for more protein, since after a certain minimum amount of P, it’s simply calories that are needed to add to your weight.

      Aggressive lifting should take care of “heart health,” so cut out superfluous cardio, take the elevator, and park closer to the door. ;)

      I think you know how to lift for muscle gain, and I’m sure it will come with the food.

      You’re strong. Impressive!

      Roland wrote on November 14th, 2009
      • Hey Roland,

        Thanks!

        Yep, especially the move less thing might be a good way to go. I’m now taking a deload week and next week I’m cutting about 10-15% off my total weekly volume.

        I was already taking the elevator and walking a lot on top of “some” light cardio(one 20-30-minute session a week), but I might cut down on that now too.

        I’m adding in more fruit as well. Seems I hit a ceiling what concerns more fat and protein intake, like you said as well,and eating 4 pieces of fruit now daily might help more.

        Thanks again for the help!

        Bert wrote on November 17th, 2009
    • Chad Waterbury gives the following advice on rep ranges for hypertrophy in his “rep bible” article:

      Reps – 36-50
      Load – 70-80% of 1 rep max
      Rest between sets – 60-120 seconds
      Sessions per week per muscle group – 2-4

      http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/the_setrep_bible

      If you are not gaining in muscle size it’s usually 1 of 2 things (or both) improper training technique (for desired goal) or lack of calories for growth.

      It’s sounds like you are very well trained at strength. That doesn’t always equate to hypertrophy though, especially if one is concentrating on max singles and volume is on the low side.

      Design a routine with the above numbers as your guideline and eat and rest appropriately and you should be able to gain. If you are doing that and not gaining add calories to your diet each week until you do start gaining.

      Toolman wrote on November 15th, 2009
      • Hey Toolman,

        Thanks for the help!

        I’m familiar with all writings of Chad Waterbury and my general strength is very good in all areas … both maximum strength, repetition strength, endurance strength as speed-strength(power).

        The calories will be the biggest factor!

        Bert wrote on November 17th, 2009
        • Sounds good.

          Increase those calories with some fats. It’s easy to get alot more calories by just adding a bit of heavy cream, olive oil, fish oil and nuts. As I’m sure you know a gram of fat has double the caloric density of either a gram of protein or carbohydrate… so have a big old bowl of blueberries and heavy cream and slip a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil into your salad.

          Good luck!

          Toolman wrote on November 17th, 2009
    • I will say it again, cardio is the ANTI muscle. I don’t know how much cardio you’re doing a week, but if you’re lifting and eating appropriately to gain, but then doing lots of cardio…. you’ll never get anywhere. Look at marathon runners, pro cyclist like Lance Armstrong, those guys have very low muscle mass. Contrast that with Olympic sprinters. Are you training more like a sprinter or a marathon runner?

      fixed gear wrote on December 1st, 2009
      • Read my first post on this topic, if you will.

        I have always trained like a sprinter.
        The only cardio I did weekly was a single 20-30 minute relaxing bout of stepping or something alike, for the simply reason that it makes my joints feel better, who’ve taken quite a beating after 10+ years of training heavy and fast, like I should.

        I do not believe it will have a lot of impact on my gains.

        Bert wrote on December 2nd, 2009
        • Bert,

          Have you tried creatine?

          Toolman wrote on December 2nd, 2009
        • You pulling my leg? ;-)

          Of course … also all the other stuff throughout the years… glutamine, CLA, BCAA’s, etc … now creatine does work, but it is not steroids.

          Thanks for your help though guys. I’ve gained another 2,5(lean)pounds in the meantime, just by forcing myself to eat more.

          Bert wrote on December 2nd, 2009
      • it’s not anti muscle you just have to compensate by eating the additional calories that you burned doing the cardio.

        Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
      • it’s not anti muscle, you have to compensate by eating the additional calories that you burned doing the cardio. other wise you’ll be in a calorie deficit.

        Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
    • you can’t force yourself to add muscle by over eating you gain muscle because of anabolic hormones. focus on creating the ideal anabolic environment and you’ll grow.

      Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
  18. Hi Mark-
    I am so thankful for this post. I am a Crossfitter and trainer and have been working with my 16 year old on his fitness and his diet. It is complicated to try and gain mass at this age (although he is a lean 6′ 195# kid) as a Type 1 diabetic. This post is powerful for him and his other athlete friends who refuse to cheat for the sake of size (pro-hormones etc.) Keep the good stuff coming, looking forward to receiving my copy of your book and how it will help me, my family and my clients with their nutrition/diet/eating!

    Anne wrote on November 19th, 2009
  19. kre alkalyn Kre-Alkalyn is the top most creatine supplement on the market. It does work, sharing my experience..

    kre-alkalyn wrote on December 10th, 2009
  20. First day of PB. Cant wait to retrain!

    SikoraArt wrote on January 3rd, 2010
  21. Hi everyone,
    I was looking at some articles on the net that talked about the old conventional wisdom that you need carbs to build muscle and gain weight (I know, I know I’m sad for even reading the things through) but one comment left me wondering. A person said that if one is in ketosis, one cannot build muscle and gain weight. Their reasoning being that “ketosis is a catabolic state and therefore anabolic processes like building muscle cannot occur.” (I read that and just thought wow! how knowledgeable you must be to use the words anabolic and catabolic) While I know the emphasis of the PB is to hit the “sweet spot” rather than go for a full blown ketogenic diet I was wondering is it possible to gain weight and build muscle whilst in ketosis?

    Thanks guys!

    David wrote on January 4th, 2010
    • Why would you want to be in Ketosis? Carbs give you the energy to progressively lift heavier and heavier weights. muscles won’t grow unless adequately stressed. PROGRESSION IS KEY! You need fuel for progresseion. It’s a scientific fact that when you are in a calorie deficit you will burn stored fuel. you folks all want some kind of blanket workout routine and diet. it doesn’t work like that. you need to experiment we are all different. start with 150 grams of carbs per day and in 2 weeks check your progress. use your strength in the gym to determine if you need more or less

      Robert C. Morreale wrote on February 2nd, 2010
  22. Has anyone worked with/tried a strenght training format/philosophy called “escalating density training”, which was developed by Charles Staley? It seems that it would be very “Grok” friendly, since it would appear to develop the type of strenght that primative man would have naturally gravitated towards…strenght without frivilous bulk coupled with muscular endurance.

    Anyone given it a shot? I am seriously looking into trying it.

    Phil wrote on January 10th, 2010
  23. nice website.. great information, this site also has awesome info

    Marcel wrote on January 27th, 2010
  24. This article was better than I expected (I tend to expect the worst…so much crap in this industry). I agree with much of what you wrote.

    However, I’d like to add that fasted training may not be that bad at all. New studies show it might even be superior to fed state training if you look at the compensatory boost in some myogenic growth factors as a response to proper post-workout nutrition.

    If someone is interested, I’ve written a bit about this here –

    http://leangains.blogspot.com/2009/12/fasted-training-boosts-muscle-growth.html

    Martin Berkhan wrote on January 29th, 2010
  25. Increasing your lean muscle mass will actually enhance your speed, agility co ordination and strength when using proper training principles, not disadvantage them.

    One major concern is surrounding flexibility as the muscles become so conditioned to contracting they can end up shortening. This is why a strong focus should be on flexibility when weight training as well as using your full range of motion during exercises.

    weight training routines wrote on January 30th, 2010
  26. Awesome post, have it printed out and ordered your book a few days ago on amazon, can’t wait to get it. Keep being awesome.

    beginners workout wrote on February 7th, 2010
  27. Plugging Starting Strength and Practical Programming by Rippetoe. I started on a 5×5 program and then switched to SS. Wish I had done SS from the beginning. Also 70sbig.com is a fun sight and anyone who thinks they are a hard gainer needs to go there for some hefty doses of reality. One of the diets 70sbig advocates is a paleo + milk diet coupled with linear progression barbell training.

    Michael wrote on February 11th, 2010
    • Hi Michael, why is that? -did you find 5×5 being too hard when working out 3 times a week? You see more progress with SS? I’m starting out myself so I’m just curious.. Cheers :)

      George Clooney wrote on March 24th, 2010
  28. Hi Mark. I bought your book a couple of days ago and I LOVE every page of it! Though there is one question i’d like to ask (anyone, for that matter, please feel free to contribute) about training frequency depending on job type. I work as a construction / manual labourer and i’m trying to decide whether to go a 3 day full body routine or just keep it at 2? I’m afraid I might overtrain if i’m on a 3 day full body strength training routine. I’d like to add about another 6-7kgs of lean muscle tissue. Thanks in advance!

    Daniel wrote on March 9th, 2010
  29. Great comprehensive article Mark. I totally agree that compound exercises definitely are the way to go if you want to put on size as quickly as possible. The king of them all squats is a must for boosting the metabolism and pumping out those essential growth hormones.

    Toning Abs wrote on March 16th, 2010
  30. “Lift really heavy things” haha I like your writing style, and the information is solid. Thanks for this great article.

    Jeff wrote on March 23rd, 2010
  31. I have a question. I am an 18 year old male and I follow the crossfit wods. I have been exercising for years (crossfit for a little over one year) but eating very wrong (ridiculously high carbohydrates and very little fat and only moderate protein). I have been following a primal diet to the extent that I can in college (lots and lots of eggs and nuts/nut butters) for a while now hoping to finally bring my body fat down but have not been able to see any progress. Is it possible that I am eating too much fat now if I am eating almost 60 eggs a week and adding more fat in the form of spoonfuls of nuts and nut butters? That said, I really love eating primally. It has opened up new worlds of taste that I had been restricting in following paleo and zone diets

    Ben wrote on March 26th, 2010
  32. Ben,

    I thought I was eating lots of eggs at about 20 per week!

    I also had been eating tons of starches. I replaced those with mostly good greens (keeping starch intake only around workouts–as many have done for years). I am eating plenty of fats in meats and oils in salads, plus a Fish Oil supplement, and now have clearly visible abs–finally.

    Are you getting enough good protein? And are you strength training centered on the big lifts? Those two factors account for much of what will happen in bodycomp change. Old stuff, really.

    I agree with the author to avoid fasted workouts and training. Just eat consistently, but eat well– as described here. Most of what is necessary to do for lean gains and fat loss is already long known.

    For strength and muscular development, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is the way (for beginners and most who say they are lifting veterans). It centers on 3 basic lifts per session–and if eating correctly–one will probably not get noticeably better results with more work or bodypart specializing.

    SS is a brilliantly articulated work on a 5-rep method that is proven for decades. His instruction has even taught me some things on the “basics”–which always work best.

    Good luck,

    Roy

    Roy wrote on April 3rd, 2010
  33. this article has done me wonders. i’ve been steadily in the gym for 4 years now and after this article, i can say i’ve REALLY seen a significant progression in my attributes. i’ve gained about 10 pounds in the past 2 months. i can’t say it’s all muscle, but my cardio and strength have increased significantly, so i definitely can’t call it bad.

    i’ve focused on my legs a lot more and decided to go down in weight on the bench. by going down, i tried increasing my output on the lower weight and generally adding weight gradually to optimize my sets…instead of walking in the gym and throwing 225 on the bar and doing 3 sets of 6, i go in and do 5 sets of 5 at 185, adding 5 pounds per session…it’s worked out great. and i’m going in on leg lifts and squats like crazy doing 5 sets of each at a lower weight and maximizing on the day i dedicate specifically to lower body. right now i’m 197. i was 185 when i came across this article.

    my diet has changed significantly. i love food, but i suck(ed) at cooking and would always cut out and catch a burger or some other crap to substitute a good meal. well now that’s stopped. every week i go to the grocery store and stock up on chicken, eggs, fish, turkey and canned tuna. that along with all the fruits and vegetables and i’m golden for three meals a day outside of breakfast.

    chrisc wrote on April 5th, 2010
  34. There is definitely truth in the familiar saying, “If you want to get big you need to eat big and lift big!”

    Enough said.

    weight training routines wrote on April 9th, 2010
  35. What is your opinion of an exercise program like P90X for building lean muscle?

    David Gress wrote on April 12th, 2010
  36. I am doing P90X. The system uses nutrition effectively and has good motivation for taking workouts to the next level with exertion. It is a system for getting RiPPED (low body fat) rather than mass building. Of course you will still build lean muscle if you are honest in your workouts and what you have to do every day with your daily goals.

    Staying in your hypertrophy range (5-10 reps per exercise to failure) throughout the system and eating big is best. Supplement P90X with compound movements like squats and deadlifts and sprints. Lots of sleep, moderate water intake (A gallon a day is probably too much, but not much less than that) and eat properly according to the guides.

    gestalt wrote on April 12th, 2010
  37. The tried and true 5×5 routine. The shortened version is awesome for people on the go.

    What’s interesting is that most people confuse ripped and muscle building. Physiologically speaking they are the same, but one simply has less fat.

    You lift more weight, not including the 2-6 weeks it takes for learning and skill building and the rest is structural changes whether from muscle or connective tissue change or both.

    Always had a hard time following diets, but oh well.

    Awesome post.

    Darryl wrote on April 13th, 2010
  38. Whether one wants to lose weight (FAT) or gain weight (MUSCLE), I believe the principles of rational strength training (focus on basic movements with lots of weight, with barbells, preferably) and diet (PRIMAL) should be applied—in both cases.

    The only thing that should differ dependent on which goal is applied, is that the QUANTITY of PRIMAL food intake be altered.

    I don’t see any other path here.

    Roy

    Roy wrote on April 14th, 2010
  39. I’ve been Primal for about two months now, and I’m experiencing a weight-loss problem. I’ve lost more than I’d like! I’m 5’7″, and I’m down to a 34″ chest, 25″ waist and 35″ hips. I’ve got a six-pack, a 14″ bicep and 23″ thigh, so I don’t think I’m lacking in the muscle department too much. I’m not sure my weight, because I don’t own a scale, but my clothes have become baggy and I feel this is too small for me.

    I do my weight training every other day, and I tend to count my being on my feet all day (I work at a coffee house) as low-level aerobic exercise. I get in a sprint session about once a week, and a longer run also because I like to.

    I eat whenever I’m hungry. What can I do to reverse my shrinking self?

    Erin wrote on April 20th, 2010
    • If you like heavy cream (and who doesn’t :)), then try drinking that often to add in some more calories or any other fat that you like, as well as Clint’s suggestion for sweet potatoes, etc.

      Toolman wrote on April 21st, 2010
    • Don’t just cook with oil, add extra oil to your foods.

      Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both have wild rice, but it’s also available online.

      Also, coconut milk or cream is high calorie and easy to drink or add to foods (like curry).

      Here’s a primal dessert

      Coconut Banana “Ice Cream”

      Serves 2

      2 bananas (previously sliced into rings and frozen in a zipper bag)
      .5 oz unsweetened, shredded coconut
      .25 cup coconut milk

      Pour all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until it’s creamy. If necessary, drizzle a tiny bit more milk to get to the desired consistency.. It will never be totally smooth because of the shredded coconut.

      Garnish with a few reserved coconut shreds.

      Nutrition: 205 calories, 11g Fat, 29g Carbs, 4g Fiber, 2.5g Protein

      If you used coconut cream instead of milk, you add an additional 50-75 calories, depending on the brand. Or you can just eat more of the “ice cream” yourself.

      Roland wrote on April 21st, 2010
      • Roland, that dessert recipe sounds delicious. There are some banana allergies in our household, though, so I think I’ll experiment with using other fruits. No Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods within 100 miles of South Bend, IN, unfortunately, but I’ll scope out some of the smaller natural foods stores.

        I’m also going to let you guys in on a bit of a secret. I don’t know about other coffee houses, but Starbucks has heavy whipping cream on hand (that’s what goes in my coffee when I’m at work), you just have to ask for it. You might get some rolled eyes, although not from my manager, who also uses it — just tell them tough cookies.

        Erin wrote on April 21st, 2010
  40. Erin,
    Add in a few more Primal carbs like a sweet potato or even a little wild rice and see if the loss levels out. I had that problem too and went too far the other way so add the carbs in slowly until you find your “sweet spot.”

    Clint White wrote on April 20th, 2010

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