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

So 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:


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

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:

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

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

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

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.

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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. Thanks, Clint! I’ve searched unsuccessfully in our supermarkets for wild rice, but I will pick up a few more starchy vegetables on my next grocery trip. I was thinking — all the women on my mother’s side of the family hover around 5’0″ and 100 lbs. I thought I just got my curves from my dad, like my height, but I’m starting to wonder whether going Primal is just finally making those “little” genes express themselves.

    Erin wrote on April 20th, 2010
  2. I’d recommend the same Primal dietary approach—regardless of goals. Only the calories need be manipulated.

    Thus, I’d recommend eating more of the good protein sources until you notice a *slow* weight gain. Only a small surplus is needed. I would not go “starchy”, which is contrary to inflammation principles, is fattening, and only pulls in more water. Complex cycling and timing of macronutrients is not needed either. This is simple stuff but few believe that.

    If you are already eating (chewing) as much as you truly an and still not gaining, add some tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. But this is usually not necessary if eating properly.

    And anyone needs is progressive, demanding, basic barbell lifting using any rep range between 5-12, or some combination thereof.

    Genetics takes care of the rest.

    Roy wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  3. Erin, that sucks about the banana allergy. Other fruits are not as creamy, so you’ll have mixed results. Papaya might work. I don’t like them, so I’ve never tried it.

    Roy, Mark recommends some “primal friendly” starches in the article.

    Roland wrote on April 22nd, 2010
    • Roland: Right. I was referring to avoiding a departure towards things like baked potato, rice, breads, etc.

      Agreed that there are better starches and perhaps these can be used around workouts, or in the mornings of training days—when insulin levels favor. But even this *may* not be necessary. In general, I’d oppose a traditional “bulking” mentality.

      Roy wrote on April 22nd, 2010
      • Perfect! Agreed.

        The trick is really to find a way to eat just a little more per day AND then not go and waste it by subconsciously training, moving, or fidgeting more!

        Roland wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  4. Wow, great info.
    I’m currently trying to get leaner but when ever i do that i lose all the muscle that i have worked so hard to gain.
    Might have to hook myself up with a copy of your book.
    thanks again.

    Rob wrote on May 6th, 2010
  5. I am an athlete at a high school a 10th grader. I am not a hard gainer but I consider myself as an easy gainer maybe because I eat a lot of calories, protein but not as much veggies and fruit (I do drink water though). I am strong for my age and I play basketball, and wightlift. I wight 150 pounds and I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I can bench about 120 pounds but I am losing muscle and potting fat!! How can I lose fat and gain muscle with pounds?

    David wrote on May 10th, 2010
    • David, if you’re losing muscle, you need a better weight training program.

      You don’t say whether you’re gaining weight, in addition to fat, but the better weight training program and some real efforts in the gym should help to shift fat gain to muscle gain.

      You could still be eating too much, but it’s hard to tell without knowing more about your actual scale weight gains and program.

      Get on a good weight training program like Starting Strength or The New Rules Of Lifting (both books on Amazon) and see what that does to your body.

      Roland wrote on May 11th, 2010
  6. Ok thatk you. I will try a new wight training program. Oh by the way I was skinny two years ago and now I look fatter and more muscular. But is is not actually fat it is hard muscle with fat. I guess I have to rain harder. Thank you all.

    David wrote on May 11th, 2010
  7. Mark,

    Great article. But hardgainer or not, I’m concerned about the fat intake you propose (especially saturated) when doing this type of workout. Wouldn’t that lead to an increase risk of heart disease and clogged arteries??

    Warren wrote on May 19th, 2010
  8. 5×5 stuff is terrible and useless
    all the people doing the Rippetoe stuff become fat and even less conditioned and strong than someone doing a normal lifting routine. Volume is underestimated, it builds muscles better than intensity.

    Andry wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • I think that’s an ignorant thing to say. Rippetoe’s methods build muscle differently than higher rep volume. Starting strength is designed to gain weight and o-lift/powerlift strength. It’s not designed for any other conditioning.

      Ben wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • There is no such thing as a “normal” lifting routine. Low volume/heavy lifting has been around for decades, Rippetoe is just restating it. Bill Starr did it before that.

      Never let anyone tell you there is only one way to lift weights. There are literally dozens of ways that many have had success with… High volume/moderate weight, HIT, low volume/heavy weight, slow go, olympic, powerlifting, etc.

      Any trainee should try any and all and see how their body reacts. If meeting goals then put it in your bag of tricks. Switch routines and styles throughout a training year.

      Roy wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • Well that is an incredibly silly thing to say, and is highly unfounded.
      Rippetoe’s program is ‘Starting Strength’.
      Not ‘Starting Conditioning’.
      Not ‘Starting Kind Of Strong’.
      ‘Starting Strength’.
      Strength in his program is the bottom line. He is not concerned with your conditioning on his program. It is intended to be used as a program to acquire a base level of strength. After attaining this base of strength you can do whatever you want to get rid of the fat you likely will have put on during the program.

      Riley wrote on June 23rd, 2010
  9. A hardgainer here. Great info…

    Just wondering whats some examples of good post-workout meals to take?

    Ive been eating a can of tuna in springwater and 4 cucumbers. So only protein and some carb intake there. No fat as I heard it gets in the way of protein absorption.

    Hope to hear some wise words! Cheers

    Rick wrote on June 1st, 2010
  10. Just more on my above post. Im also on a Candida diet. So no fruit (sugar), diary, etc… and eating only about 80g carb a day. Im staying away from protein powders preferring to go as ‘whole’ as possible.
    Also, any thoughts for a good pre-bedtime snack/meal?
    Thanks guys

    Rick wrote on June 2nd, 2010
    • You’re really going to have to eat more than that. You don’t list the rest of your diet, but you’re being way too careful after a workout, IMO. It leaves me with the impression that you might be too careful the rest of the day, too.

      That whole “avoid fat” thing after a workout is a myth, and while it might be fine for those who are going to eat 600-800 calories of protein and carbs, you’re not eating enough after the workout, anyway.

      Just eat. Protein, fat, veggies. You must eat more calories than you burn to gain weight.

      Roland wrote on June 2nd, 2010
  11. Hey Roland, thanks for your reply

    Ive been eating 3000cals a day, I weight 75kg. 6 meals a day. usually about 250g fat, approx 160g protein (enough for 1lb per kg of bodyweight for me) and the rest in carbs.

    Alright Ill throw in some fats for the postworkout meal too. Maybe some coconut oil?

    Any thoughts on a pre-bedtime meal? Ive been downing about 4 eggs.

    Thanks for the response!

    Rick wrote on June 2nd, 2010
    • If you’re gaining weight, then there’s no reason to eat more pwo, but just don’t worry about fat. If anything, I’d try my hardest to get any carbs in then. Like actual squash or tubers with a higher carb content. Cucumber is pretty light in the calorie and carb department, so considering that a pwo carb is not very realistic.

      That being said, you don’t need immediate carb replenishment unless you plan to train again THAT day, anyway. Your next few meals should be fine for loading you back up on glycogen.

      As to bedtime, eat anything that sits well and doesn’t keep you up. Eggs should be fine if that’s what you like. It’s P and F, so you’re good to go.

      Roland wrote on June 2nd, 2010
  12. Not sure if I understand the workout correctly.
    For example on A:
    Squat 5×5
    Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
    Overhead Press 5×5

    Do I squat for five sets, then move to pull ups for five sets, then overhead press for five sets? Or do I do one set of squats, pullups, and Overhead press, and repeat four times?


    Lars1000 wrote on June 3rd, 2010
    • Typically:
      Squat all 5 sets, move to pullups for 5 sets, etc.

      That said, you could also, too mix it up, do a set of squats, a set of pullups, a set of OH press and then repeat.

      Try them both. Switch it up every week or so.

      Roy wrote on June 3rd, 2010
  13. I am a hardgainer- was 160 on a seafood diet. Went down to 145 on a cheap non seafood diet, if I forget to eat a few meals I can lose 5 pounds a day easy. Hope this helps me I made alot of mistakes running everyday for a few years and really broke down with muscles that stayed sore for months. thanks

    Todd wrote on June 4th, 2010
  14. this all seems fantastic but im abit of new commer to this and don’t understand why you don’t want your muscle glycogen to be full? Thanks

    Sam wrote on June 15th, 2010
  15. Hi Mark

    Just had to drop a quick line and say that I’m stoked to have found your website! My American wifes mum sent me your dailyapple website link and I couldn’t believe that there was someone else out there as Primal as us! We’re in Sydney Australia and live and breath exactly what you are writing about. My partners have just bought your book and look forward to seeing what you have to say. We’ll write about it on our blog soon. I’m sure it will be great :) Keep up the positive messages of health that challenge the staud quo and look us up if you ever come to Sydney!


    primalbrad wrote on June 17th, 2010
  16. ‘Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?’

    why don’t we want to do this??

    Sam wrote on June 20th, 2010
  17. I gotta say a dozen eggs a day sounds like it could definitely be harmful. As much as I love eggs, and could easily eat a dozen a day, I gotta think it’d be bad for me. Am I wrong here?

    Ronstar wrote on June 21st, 2010
  18. Great article! Included heaps of insightful tips and covered pretty much everything that you could ask on how to gain weight and build muscle. Thanks for the post!

    Craig Mutimerz wrote on June 24th, 2010
  19. Hey Guys,

    How big can us ectomorphs expect to get with this kind of workout and going Primal?

    In one of Marks other articles he says: “And in the long-term the range (or limits) of possible outcomes is determined by gene expression (5’8” ectomorphs simply can’t become 275-lb body-builders, but they can be well-proportioned 165-lb men or 135-lb women.)”

    Im a 6’2″ male and my goal is to reach about 200lb. Is this impossible/unrealistic? Doing a bit of research I heard thats how much Hugh Jackman weighed in Wolverine and he is a 6’2″ Ecto as well… sure he didnt go Primal (lots of carb bulking) but when he leaned out he had some serious muscle there. Is this possible with the Primal way?

    Thanks in advance!

    Rick wrote on June 25th, 2010
    • I would say it is definitely possible. I’m ectomorph, 5’11” and have weighed 200 lbs. Sitting at 185 lbs. right now and lean and muscular so I think it definitely attainable. Of course I’ve been training for 20+ years.

      I would encourage lots of fats, proteins and a good amount of low glycemic starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, etc) along with of course lots of fibrous veggies.

      Lift heavy (and smart), keep progressing (adding weight, decreasing rest time, adding reps, etc.) and eat lots of good foods and you can achieve your goal.

      Roy wrote on June 26th, 2010
      • Roy’s pretty spot on.

        Obviously, you can be limited by genetics, but most people never get to anywhere near their limitation.

        To get big (or bigger), you have to eat more than you burn and continually get stronger, lifting heavier and more volume. One way or another, that has to happen.

        One HUGE benefit of Mark’s Primal eating is that it naturally curbs the appetite and self-limits calories. Calories tend to be at pretty reasonable number for both healthy living and a leaner look than most of us are used to. But, because of these “benefits,” adapting it to getting bigger means some more creative eating or a slow down of activity or both.

        You’ll have to find a way to eat more than you burn. Track your food, track your weight, and if you’re not slowly gaining weight, bump it up.

        Don’t just eat more on training days, either. Yes, a huge meal with lots of primal carbs is probably best right after training, but muscles grow over time, so eat a little more on the day after, too.

        Of course, if you’re adding too much body fat for your liking, slow it down some OR consider an IF day during the week. I train on Sat, eat bigger on Sunday, then IF all day Monday, then train again Monday night. Play around and see what works.

        Roland wrote on June 26th, 2010
  20. A lot of people completely overlook the importance of the central nervous system in the muscle building process. While everyone knows that you’ve got to lift heavy weights to build muscle mass, hardly anyone takes the approach of mixing things up in order to shock your CNS. I think that focusing on your central nervous system in addition the the basics is a great way to build more muscle mass.

    Nick Andrade wrote on June 26th, 2010
  21. Thanks Roy, Roland and Nick…

    Great to hear the positive replies!!

    I sure am upping fats and protein. I have Candida (yeast overgrowth) that im currently overcoming/healing… so low carbs is a must. And no starchy veg too. I have about 6T coconut oil and 3/4 cup of olive oil a day to up the good fats and other fats from avocado, meat, good butter and other sources.

    Any advice on squats? I seem to be really terrible with squat strength. I feel my technique is 100% sound so Im working on that by lowering the weight. My strength in general isnt great… I weight 76kg. Im deadlifting 5×5 85kg… but only squatting about 35-40 kg. Ive got really long legs so maybe thats part of the challenge. I heard core work can really assist squat strength alot.
    I guess it doesnt matter. as long as the weight increases and Im happy with the mass Im gaining its all good. its all about progress.

    Rick wrote on June 26th, 2010
    • Rick, at your height and if you have long limbs you may very well be more suited for deadlift than you are for squats. Certain body types are more well suited for certain lifts.

      Doesn’t mean you can’t squat just means it may be more of a struggle for you and you need to be very careful on your technique, i.e. absolutely no rounding of your back and knees being pushed outward and not collapsing inward.

      Squats of deadlifts either one will work for gaining some good mass. Just keep pushing up your numbers and keep your form perfect and you will get there.

      Roy wrote on June 27th, 2010
  22. Thanks Roy. Did some squats today. Kept at a reduced weight so form was real good and reaped the rewards. They were good deep squats! I feel I could have put on 5kg more maybe but hey, in two days time i can do that! no worries! Im not that strong with bench presses as well… but Im not going to fight against it. Im just going to accept the fact that thats where I am at at the moment and focus on what I need to do to take the next step. Thanks for your support!

    Rick wrote on June 28th, 2010
    • Yep, just keeping progressing and your body will adapt, it’s created to do just that.

      And right on, gaining mass is a “marathon not a sprint” so small, incremental progression over time will get you there.

      Good luck and hit this thread back with any questions, concerns you have.

      Roy wrote on June 28th, 2010
  23. So mark, how would you recommend adding the olympic lifts in? Once I progress a bit more on SL I’d like to throw them in, but I’m tossing up ideas on frequency and placement. Would you suggest differing frequency and placement with snatches vs. cleans as you do squats vs. deadlifts? I do seem to recall hearing somewhere it’s common amongst olympic lifters to train snatches more often than cleans. Perhaps snatches every workout before squats and then alternating cleans into every second workout like with deadlifts (alternating between the two obviously)?

    Adam Danger Frost wrote on June 30th, 2010
  24. I have had 3 knee surgeries and my doctor mentioned that I should not do high impact movements or squat. I hate this because I love doing all of those exercises and i’m into cross-fit. I guess I’m really screwed..

    Ramsey Clark wrote on June 30th, 2010
  25. Body weight exercises won’t get you there?? Somebody tell that to Herschel Walker.

    Max Speed wrote on July 6th, 2010
  26. Mark, in your sample workout for beginners, are you recommending alternating each exercise? For example, Day 1 (A) do all squats in succession before moving on to pull-ups, or do an alternating pattern of squats, pull-ups, press – squats, pull-ups, press, etc. Sorry for such a lame question! This will settle a debate between myself and a buddy. (I believe it should be alternating.)

    Chris Nesbitt wrote on July 19th, 2010
    • Chris,

      Don’t know if Mark will get back into this thread (it’s fairly old) but I’m pretty sure it’s calling for doing all squats then moving on to pullups, etc.

      What would be suggestable, IMO, is, as a beginner, do the routine that way for 3-4 weeks and then switch it to the alternating style for 3-4 weeks. Minor changes (and it is minor) can make a major difference in how your body responds.

      Hard thing about alternating, if you belong to a gym, is hogging multiple pieces of equipment for the whole time. Another good reason to train at home :)

      Roy wrote on July 19th, 2010
      • Thanks, Roy!

        Chris Nesbitt wrote on July 19th, 2010
  27. Super detailed and agreed on the dieting. Nutrition is #1. If your not eating than don’t waste your time with exercise routines. Get your diet in check, then create your Fitness Plan.

    Alfredo wrote on July 27th, 2010
  28. These are interesting points that you have made. Gaining weight is a very, very difficult and long process that takes a lot of dedication. has a lot of indepth articles and info for hardgainers and thats another spot to take a look at if you guys want to know more about weight gaining.

    Johnson wrote on August 14th, 2010
  29. hey guys!! Its been about 2.5 months since of been working out with this plan. ive put on about 10kg!

    I have an issue though… my arms arn’t growing as much muscle/mass as the rest of my body. I have quite long and lanky arms and Im finding it hard for them to grow good muscle.

    Ive added in some skullcrushers and dips for my tri’s and dumbell curls for my bi’s …but they’re still not growing that well. THey are sore the day after I work out so I know Im pushing them good.

    Any tips guys? Someone mentioned to me that it just means I need to eat more calories to give them an extra boost. Could this be accurate?

    Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks in advance!!

    Rick wrote on August 26th, 2010
    • There’s only so much muscle you can put on at once, so just eating more won’t do it. Some people’s arms (or legs, calves, etc) just grow slower or less than other parts. I don’t there’s hard in doing the tri and bi exercises, but it will still take time and patience.

      When you’re still in the stage where bigger muscle groups are adding fast, it can mean other areas don’t grow as fast.

      Roland wrote on August 26th, 2010
    • Hey Rick,

      Most people have some body parts that gain muscle easier and some body parts that don’t, it’s one of the struggles of gaining mass.

      There is literally tons of advise.

      Chad Waterbury would probably suggest training arms in a high frequency fashion:

      Charles Staley would probably encourage an EDT style approach:

      And Charles Poliquin would encourage growing your whole body to effect arm growth (which you are doing :))

      A big part of training is finding what works for your particularly… a lot of trial and error sometimes :)

      Keep training and you will get there. Adding overall size is a great key so that is a big plus!

      Roy wrote on August 26th, 2010
      • Thanks for the tips guys! Yeah I think youre right Roy, trial and error. My arms and shoulders are what I really need to work on.

        Im going to focus on slowing down the neg part of each rep and see what kind of change that may bring me. Being a true ecto my frame is tall and narrow so having good sized shoulders would be awesome so i look more filled out and have some width. Today I did some side deltoid raises and with the pump they got it made a MASSIVE difference to the look of my frame. anyway bro, ive gained 12kg, body fat is still quite low so its just a matter of tweaking the rest.

        thanks again mate!

        Rick wrote on August 31st, 2010
        • Good deal Rick… for shoulders I would also suggest looking into dumbbell hanging clean and press and see how that works for you. It’s a great mass building exercise.

          I’m ecto too so just be patient and keep at it. It will come with consistent work.

          Roy wrote on September 1st, 2010
        • Roy… Im going to add that to my workout for sure. Looks like a killer movement!! Hey, can you check out my workout and give me any tips on it…

          Squats 5×5
          Overhead Press 5×5
          Pullup 5xfailure
          Dips 5xfailure
          Bench Press 5×5

          Deadlifts 3×5
          Barbell Lunges 3×8
          Chinup 5×5
          Incline Press 5×5
          Lateral Side Raises 3×8

          Basically the skeleton is from Mark’s workout he wrote in this article. I think the side raises need to go and I could throw the Hang Clean Press instead. What do you think?
          Thanks again for the help!!!!

          Rick wrote on September 1st, 2010
        • The weight you are gaining I honestly wouldn’t change a thing at this point. Once you stop gaining then it will be time to take a look at some changes.

          Once you see that coming feel free to post back here and we can take a look then at some other options, tweeks, etc.

          Roy wrote on September 1st, 2010
        • Rick, your workout isn’t balanced. You have 5 upper body pushing exercises (including the raises) and only two pulls, both in the vertical plane. You’re setting yourself up for posture issues.

          You don’t need so much pushing and you need more pulling.

          Here’s an example, it might not be perfection, but it’s going to be better than all the internal rotation and pressing from the program that you’re thinking of now.

          Squats 5×5

          Overhead Press 5×5
          Pullup 5xfailure

          Dips 3xfailure
          Facepulls (with scap retraction), 3×15

          Deadlifts 3×5

          Bench Press 5×5
          Chinup 5×5

          Barbell Lunges 3×8
          Incline Press 3×8
          DB Two Point Rows, 3×8

          Roland wrote on September 1st, 2010
  30. I have done 5×5 type programs with pretty good success for strength gaining, but recently applied it to mass building.

    I went with the ADEAD (Dozen eggs a day), in addition to my regular (about 95%) primal diet. I am a hardcore hardgainer, so I had to be very disciplined for this to work.

    I weighed myself daily, and if there were 3 days in a row where I didn’t gain mass, I added more food (some days I was through 12 eggs before lunchtime!)

    Results were an astounding 17 lbs gained in 28 days, and I only increased my body fat percentage by 0.5% (at 6’1, went form 180-197lbs)

    To all the people who think you need to stuff your face with protein powders, dairy, or complex carbs to gain weight, it simply isn’t true! The blueprint works!

    Moses wrote on August 27th, 2010
  31. Hey guys,

    Nice to see some good weight training discussion here.

    If you’re looking for some variety over the 3 x 5 and 5 x 5 programs that seem popular here I HIGHLY recommend having a look at Martin Berkhan’s “Reverse Pyramid Training”.

    I’ve had my BEST gains by far with this setup,, basically I just do bench, squats,chins and deadlifts using these guidelines. I throw in some assistance work for calves (they really need it lol), arms and abs at the end of the workout.

    Only 2-3 sets RPT style per movement and I’ve had my best gains ever in the last 3-4 months. I was doing SS before but stalled and this definitely got me through my plateau. Bench is up 15 kg for reps and squat 35 kg for reps. Bodyweight up 3-3.5 kg but I’m looking leaner to boot. Also doing the Leangains diet which is working great.

    JohnNaka wrote on September 2nd, 2010
    • Hey John,

      Can you share your exact workout routine? I would love to check it out!!!


      Rick wrote on September 3rd, 2010
  32. How do you eat 1g of protein for 1lb of bw thoughout the day? If I’m 180 lbs, how do I eat 180 g of protein?

    Lee wrote on September 8th, 2010
  33. Now lee Im not sure if you’re asking how do I know Im eating 180g or How could I eat that huge amount of protein.

    To find out how many grams of protein is in certain foods you can search nutritional sites on the net. A few are ,etc…

    To eat 180g of protein is not that hard at all. But to do it make sure you’re eating every 3 hours. …and ensure every meal contains about 30g-40g of protein. Meat’s will be the number 1 source of good protein and, as mark and a few others have recommended, eating up to a dozen eggs a day will also bump up the protein too (as well as good fats).

    Yesterday I ate about 240g of protein with out even flinching. My purchasing of meat, especially red meat, has gone up for sure. But so has my health!

    Rick wrote on September 8th, 2010
  34. Thanks Rick, I will give it a shot!

    Lee wrote on September 9th, 2010
  35. Bring on the “real” meat!!! It’s going to be a good day with the “iron” tomorrow. Thx for the extra motivation.

    Stewy wrote on September 14th, 2010
  36. Hey Mark, great article.

    It seems that you have recently reversed your position on weights vs. bodyweight. In this article you state that weights, especially squat and deadlift, are essential. But in most recent articles and in Primal Blueprint Fitness, you state that manipulating body weight is all that is needed to create a fit body, six pack (with diet of course), great strength/weight ratio, etc. As a specific example, you state that the pushup is superior to the bench press due to its fuller range of motion and use of more muscles like the serratus. What do you think about the role of weight now? Weight vests the way to go? Or is squatting heavy weight still preferred for people looking to put on mass? I suppose my real question is, can I eat a lot of food, caloric surplus, be primal, and do only bodyweight stuff to failure and expect to gain some size and become ripped?

    Richad wrote on September 16th, 2010
    • Richard,

      Don’t know if Mark still keeps up with this thread but I would point to the title of the post which is “How to gain weight and build muscle”.

      Can you become ripped using body weight (and vest and diet) exercises. Absolutely. Can you gain mass? Less likely (though still possible for some with great genetics).

      Use both. Split your training year into mass gaining using 5×5 principles and other part of year to dedicate to body weight training.

      Don’t get locked into either and try them both “on for size”.

      Roy wrote on September 17th, 2010
    • If size is important to you, then you should consider weights. Progressive overload is key, and not just by adding reps. Adding weight/resistance isn’t all that easy to insure with bodyweight exercise.

      Nothing wrong with bodyweight, and it’s a great part of most programs, but I would say to concentrate on weights as the primary and bodyweight for the assistance.

      Roland wrote on September 17th, 2010
  37. hehe, “lift heavy things” – nice and simple :)

    Some good info there on glycogen stores too.

    I’ve just switched to doing a lot of kettlebell work like snatches/swings etc and apart from feeling great my lean mass has gone through the roof!

    Photo Restoration Guru wrote on September 28th, 2010
  38. What do you do once you’ve reached your ideal body composition? Continue eating a dozen eggs a day for the rest of your life? (I apologize if a similar question has been asked already – I couldn’t find anything)

    Uberdoc wrote on October 1st, 2010
  39. I love what the primal blueprint has done for me. Even when I can’t workout for awhile I don’t fall on the wagon and have to deal with excessive weight gain. Before primal I was skinny fat. Now I can eat WAY more calories and still maintain low body fat.

    Steve wrote on October 2nd, 2010
  40. Just a quick tip…Leangains + Primal Blueprint = Ultimate WIN for muscle building without fat gain.

    Check out the Leangains guide on Martin’s site Do that, eat paleo and lift heavy. You’ll lean out and build muscle. I don’t care if everyone says it can’t be done because I’ve done it and so have many others.

    Jacker wrote on October 3rd, 2010

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