Author’s note: If you’re wondering why this isn’t the second installment of “The Keys to Success” series, it’s because the article “out-grew” the pages of HARDGAINER. l’ve decided to turn “The Keys to Success” into my first book. I should have it completed by the end of the year.
Ah, the grand old question of them all. I’ve heard it a thousand times: “I’m doing everything right, so why aren’t I getting any bigger?” Let me give you the reasons why.
#1: Your eating is lousy
I know, I know, “I eat all the time,” “I eat like a horse,” “I eat a ton but I have a fast metabolism,” “I just burn everything off.” Yada, yada, yada. As your coach, my response would be, “No you don’t, or you would be bigger.” How to eat to get big is really very easy. Doing it, at least at first, isn’t so easy.
Let’s get something straight right away: If you’re training properly, which I’ll get into in a moment, and you’re not gaining at least (at least!) two pounds per month, you’re not “eating like a horse.” And I assure you it has less to do with a “fast metabolism,” than it has to do with you really not knowing how much you’re eating, or just being plain old not motivated. I would call you lazy, but if you’re training hard you’re certainly not lazy. So, the first thing you need to do is quit fooling yourself into thinking that you “eat a ton.”
Let’s really find out how much you’re eating. Write down everything you eat for a day. Get a calorie counter and count the calories, but don’t include the junk food. I’ve worked with countless trainees who assure me they are getting 4,000 calories or more, but when we go to figure it up, it turns out to be more in the 2,500 range – far from what a horse eats. Then we need to take a look at how much protein you ‘re getting. If you ‘re not getting at least one gram per pound of bodyweight, you need to pick it up!
The next thing to discover is if you’re following what I call the “three hour rule.” This is simply that you need to be eating no more than three hours after the completion of your last “feeding.” For example, if you complete breakfast at 6:30 am, you need to be eating by 9:30 am. If the 9:30 snack is completed by 9:45, then lunch has to be going in by 12:45 pm. And so on and so forth for the rest of the day. The reason for this is to prevent the body from going into a catabolic state in which it starts to close-down your body’s ability to utilize its own fat stores for energy, and instead utilizes protein. This is bad for someone who’s trying to gain muscle because, instead of building new muscle as a result of yesterday’s workout, your body is actually “consuming” it for fuel. Doesn’t sound good, does it?
What I just described is an oversimplification, but I hope it paints a good picture for you. So, if you’re one of these trainees who, in reality, eats more like a mouse, gets most of his 2,000 calories from anything other than protein, and eats only three “square meals” per day (every five hours or so), then you need to get to work to make some changes.
I wouldn’t recommend you go out and consume 5,000 calories on day one. All this would do is make you sick, and most of the food will end up in the toilet – one way or another. Your first step is to start following the three hour rule. Make sure to get all your feedings in. Keep the meals small so that your body has a chance to develop the ability to process them. Once you’re getting all the feedings in every day, it’s time to slowly increase the volume of each feeding.
Increase slowly but consistently – the same thing that you should be doing with the weights. For example, add one egg to the two that you ‘re already consuming for breakfast, and stay with that for several weeks till your body gets used to that increase. (I don’t have the time to get into the cholesterol consumption issue here, but if you’re concerned, eat only half the yolks.) Do this sort of thing for every meal. You could also utilize milk to make your progressive increases – just add a little more too each feeding. It’s not complicated stuff, just too hard for most people who don’t really want to improve. For the ones that really want to get stronger and bigger, it’ll be no problem. And they will be the ones who’ll be 30 pounds bigger by the end of the year. Either you want it, or you don’t – decide!
If you’re trying to get as big as possible, you should be up to 5,000 calories within a couple of months. One of the greatest ways to increase your caloric intake, and it has been around for a long time, is to ingest a weight-gain drink before going to bed. “Blenderbombs” (as they are commonly referred to) are one of the great old-time methods for getting in those growth-promoting calories. I can’t tell you how many men (and women) have packed on pounds of muscle utilizing this method under my tutelage.
Blender bombs are easy to make, cheap, and taste great. All you do is put two to three cups of milk in a blender, add a couple of cups of protein powder, some fruit and maybe some ice cream, blend it up and slowly drink it over the next 20-30 minutes. If you try and drink it fast, it may make you sick.
Don ‘t think that you need to run out and buy the latest high-tech protein powder for 50 bucks or more. All you need is to get some non-fat dry milk powder and use that as your protein powder. It costs about five to six bucks for a big box, and it’s made from a good quality protein source – milk protein!
If you want to spend some money on a commercially available powder, get one that has protein as its only ingredient with the possible exception of some flavoring. Don’t get fooled (and pay for) some high-tech sounding ingredients. All the hyped “metabolic” this-and-that don’t do anything, so don’t waste your money. Back to the flavoring issue, I suggest you get a powder that is unflavored, or vanilla flavored, so that you can flavor it the way you want. If you get some exotic flavor, you’re stuck with that flavor till the can runs out. With unflavored, or vanilla, you can change it up all the time.
Now I need to touch on what could be a large subject due to the conditioning methods of the clever “marketers” out there. The subject is putting on some bodyfat while gaining a lot of muscle. All the popular bodybuilding mags have done a tremendous job of conditioning you to believe that you can gain 50 pounds of muscle and lose fat and look just like one of the steroid freaks. To put it simply, they’re lying. Can you put on 30-50 pounds in a year? Yes. Will it all be muscle? No. So, how much will be fat? It depends on how dedicated you are to an aerobic program, how skinny you were when you started, and genetics.
I want to state very clearly that I never recommend anything that could make you unhealthy. I want to do just the opposite. If you follow the aerobic recommendations that I’ve written about in the past, you’ll minimize fat gain while putting on lots of muscle – which actually improves your bodyfat percentage – and dramatically improve your cardiorespiratory condition, and you should improve your blood lipid profile. I don ‘t want you to gain any fat either, but if you’re really trying to pack on the pounds, there’s just no way around it.
I have to go back for a moment and say a little more about gaining some fat around the waistline. It always makes me chuckle when I consult with a trainee who’s incredibly skinny, has little muscle mass to speak of, and wants to gain as much muscle as possible, then says, “but I don ‘t want to get fat.” After I’m done with my laugh, it makes me realize how bad things are out there. I’m talking about the lack of true, honest instruction. I’ve worked with so many trainees who are so misled, that they have wasted years of effort trying to get big but trying also to maintain sub-12% (many sub-8%) bodyfat that they never get anywhere because their bodies are never getting the nutrients necessary to pack on the muscle.
Here’s the bottom line: If you want to be 200 pounds of “ripped” muscle (or more, depending on height), you better go to work on getting the muscle first (while getting in great shape, and keeping fat gain to a minimum), by spending the next 3-5 years getting your weight up to 230 pounds or more, and then concentrate on dropping the bodyfat. You may have to do this several times before arriving at 200 pounds “ripped.” The other thing I want you to realize is that it’s a lot easier from a metabolic standpoint to lose fat than it is for the body to gain muscle. What I mean by this is that losing fat is easy, gaining muscle is hard.
If you want more detail on how to eat to get big, see issue #54 which contains my article by the same name. ,
#2: Your training is lousy
For trainees that have been reading HARDGAINER for a while, quit messing around and ruining good programs! You’re hybridizing them. What I mean by this is that you’re trying to keep in some unproductive training methods or exercises, e.g., training four days per week while doing legs two days and upper body two days. This is too much. Another thing I hear about is trying to perform one of my recommended two-times-per-week programs three times per week. Won’t work! Another one is where a trainee is actually training properly on his legs, but keeps hitting his pecs with two or three exercises, 2-3 sets per exercise, every workout.
As far as exercises go, dump the flyes as your pec exercise, and learn to bench press properly. I can hear you now, “But I don’t feel the bench in my pecs, and flyes make them real sore.” Yes, but I’m confident that the 25-pound dumbbells that you’re waving around aren’t making your pecs big, and they’re probably why your shoulder hurts. Once again, learn to bench press properly. Dump the lateral raises, and concentrate on shoulder presses. Quit “pre-exhausting” your quads with leg extensions and then performing leg presses with “piss-ass” weights just because they give you a great “burn,” and squatting hurts your back. Let me assure you that the only thing that’s going to give you big legs is utilizing big weights (which have nothing to do with the “burn”). And if you don’t have a diagnosed back condition, then your back hurts because it’s weak, your abs are weak, and your obliques are weak. So, learn how to squat properly, and also strengthen your back, abs and obliques.
I know I’m “going-off” here, but it really aggravates me that so many good coaches have educated you through the pages of this magazine for over a decade, and you continue to do things that are getting you nowhere. Just stop it and listen to us! I probably shouldn’t be getting so frustrated here, but you should know better! And I know that you could be achieving so much more from your efforts if you just follow the basics. If you’re new to HARDGAINER and want to learn about the basics, contact Stuart and he’ll recommended the back issues you ‘ll need. I’ve written articles on how to design a productive training program, exercise techniques, and eating to get big. Also, get Stuart’s book BRAWN.
Another thing that you’re doing is changing programs too frequently – even if it’s going from one good program to another. It’s okay to experiment with different approaches, but you’re using this (switching programs) as a method to avoid what the problem is with the first program in the first place!
For example, after going strong for three months on a good, basic program utilizing single progression, your ability to add weight – even in the proper amounts – stops. So, the first thing you think is that you’ve plateaued, or the program doesn’t work for, and you switch to something else. The new program starts to work for a while (three months or so again), gains stop (about where they did before), and once again you switch to something else. The problem isn’t with the program, it’s with something that you’re not doing.
Instead of changing programs, make sure that you’re eating right. Make sure that you’re attacking the program instead of just “cruising.” Quit messing around in the gym, and make a pact that you’re going to “kick ass” every set. I’ve helped many a trainee continue to make progress without changing anything but their effort and concentration level during each set. Quit messing around late at night, and get to bed. Your exercise technique might need work, which will improve your leverage and help you continue to add that next dose of iron to the bar. In all my years of experience, it’s usually not that the program fails a trainee, but the trainee who fails the program.
Another aspect of training that causes trainees to change programs too frequently is the so-called need for variety. Now, there’s a time in your training life when this may be necessary, but it certainly isn’t necessary in the beginner and intermediate stages, and maybe not until you’re very strong and very developed. What I’ve seen is that the moment trainees get “bored” with their programs, they figure a change will get them “fired up” and gaining again – and usually it does, but only for a while. Then it’s right back to the same cycle: limited (if any) progress, boredom, changing the program, limited progress, boredom, changing the program, etc. Once again, the problem isn’t with the program, but with the person performing it.
I’ve had trainees who have utilized virtually the same program for three or four years who end up putting on 50-100 pounds of weight, squat and deadlift double (even two and a half times) bodyweight for reps, bench one and one half times bodyweight for reps, and get accused of steroid use. Do you know why these trainees didn’t get bored? Progress. Progress kills boredom. If you’re doing everything right outside of the gym, and your program is sound (and your approach to your program is sound), you’ll make continual progress for a long stretch of time. And I assure you that if you’re making progress week in and week out, you’ll not get bored.
Knowing what to do is easy. It’s been laid out for you so many times in this magazine. Developing the discipline necessary to do it, is the hard part. I have the utmost confidence that you can develop great strength and a physique you can be proud of if you’ll just develop the discipline to stay focused on all the basics, and the patience to stay with it for many years.
If you do this – and you must if you’re to succeed – I’m sure the question that will pop into your head is: “Wow, I wonder how much bigger I can get?”
This is all very true, but let’s not forget the genetics. At some point, your body has certain limitations in terms of size. My advice is – do your best when it comes to nutrition and exercise and be the best version of yourself.
Yes absolutely – I suppose Christy’s argument in this piece is that people were selling themselves short and not pushing to their genetic limits. As you rightly point out – there’s only so much that can be done… The trick is making sure you do it!