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A bodybuilder in mass-gain mode will face all sorts of questions. Well-meaning friends and family will comment with a tinge of worry about the superhuman amounts of food you’re eating. They’ll question why you can’t skip the gym “just this once.” Some jokester will suggest a steady diet of fast food and ice cream to get huge. (Yep, no one has ever thought of that before.)
Thing is, you probably have questions, too. But you can’t turn to all those laypeople in your life who wonder why anyone would want to transform themselves into a human anatomy chart. No, you need experts. Someone who understands your quest, who helps dedicated folks just like you pack on solid, lean mass for a living.
We’ve tapped our favorite trainers to get their key dos and don’ts, covering a range of training, nutrition, and supplementation tips. Just one extra “don’t” before we begin: Don’t let any of the doubters get to you. All will be clear to everyone soon enough, when your relentless efforts lead to awe-inspiring results.
DO: GIVE IT MORE TIME
Sometimes your inability to gain mass boils down to one brutally simple reason—you just haven’t been at it long enough. “Anyone who has ever said that they aren’t able to put on muscle, lean out, or accomplish something fitness related maybe just hasn’t stuck to their nutrition and training program long enough,” Dustin Kirchofner, C.S.C.S., says. “Consistency over a longer term is the key.”
DON’T: BE TOO PICKY IN A PINCH
The human body is an insanely complex feat of nature, but there’s a straight- forward balance when it comes to your mass-gain efforts: At any time during the day, you’re either in an anabolic or catabolic state. That is, your body is either building lean tissue—or burning it off for energy. Rarely, if ever, are you perfectly equalized between the two.
What does this mean in practical terms? For gaining weight, you need to stay anabolic, says Heather Farmer, a New York–based personal trainer, fitness coach, CrossFit group class instructor, and Olympic weightlifting national competitor in the USA Weightlifting 63kg women’s class. “You cannot afford to skip meals,” she adds. “If more than two or three hours has passed and you haven’t had any food, go eat! And don’t be too picky—macros are macros when your options are limited.”
DO: CHILL OUT MORE
“Don’t run—at least not long distances,” says Gerren Liles, a Reebok One ambassador and Equinox Master Instructor based in New York City. “Steady-state running creates constant impact and breaks down the muscle fibers. Think about the difference in the body of a sprinter versus a marathon runner. Strength training should be the bulk of your workout routine, but if you absolutely have to throw some cardio or conditioning in, do sprints, stairs, or the occasional HIIT session.”
By the way, if you’re aiming to somehow get huge and ripped at the same time, well…stop it. “Most guys want to gain muscle while also simultaneously staying ripped, but that’s very hard to do because the processes for gaining muscle and staying lean require different training protocols and diets,” Liles explains. “You need more calories to feed the muscles to spur growth and strength, and that may come at the expense of having definition. Get to the size you want, and then you can adapt your training to getting leaner. Doing both at the same time is a recipe for frustration.”
DON’T: PARK YOUR WHEELS
Because they are such a signi cant muscle group with lots of muscle mass potential, legs should be a priority. “Training your lower body will naturally increase growth hormone and testosterone levels, which will help all-over muscle gain,” says Dan Roberts, C.S.C.S., strength and conditioning coach and founder of the Dan Roberts Group in London. “In addition, the ‘tiny legs, big lats, big chest’ look is so Gold’s Gym 1990s– wannabe terrible. You have to look proportional to look great. So do equal amount of lower-body and upper-body work.”
DO: TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
When progress stalls, doubt creeps in: “Am I doing enough?” Instead of spending an hour at the gym, you might ramp that up to 90 minutes or more, or add an extra day of training a week, all in an attempt to break the rut. Instead, it’s time to improve the quality of your work, says Dustin Kirchofner, an active- duty U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, certified strength and conditioning coach, and owner of Modern Warfare Fitness in Colorado.
“If you have trouble putting on muscle, you need to focus on keeping your workouts less than an hour, maintain high intensity during that time, and limit your rest periods to one minute between sets,” he suggests. “You need to get in and get out. Remember, the longer you drag things on in the gym, the more calories you’re burning. Those calories could go toward putting on solid muscle and recovery, but instead they’re being wasted.”
He also suggests reorienting your routine toward primary compound lifts and reducing volume, allowing more time for proper recovery—as we have done in the sample “FLEX Mass Blast” workout. “If you have problems putting on muscle, your body actually needs more time to recover than someone who puts on muscle very easily,” he says. Four days in the gym with three days of rest might just do the trick.
DO: BE A BIT OBSESSED
“In sport, business, and life, great things don’t come with balance; they come with a little bit of controlled obsession,” Dan Roberts says. “So plan your workout, plan nutrition, and plan your sleep. Write it down and let it consume you a little bit! My experience training some of the world’s best athletes and Hollywood’s action stars has shown that amazing results can happen when you transcend ‘wanting’ results and instead train like you ‘need’ the results.”
DON’T: SKIMP ON SUPPS
Supplements won’t save a poor diet or training plan—but they can dramatically improve results when you’re clicking in those areas. “You should supplement to maximize recovery from training,” Heather Farmer says. She suggests a quality whey protein. “You should include a protein source with every meal,” she says— plus BCAAs and creatine as a starting point.
Also, if you really have trouble adding body weight, consider that most often “gainer foods” are going to have a high ratio of both carbohydrates and fat, she adds. “So, for a basic example, you’d choose Nutella, which is high in carbs and fat, over cereal, which is high in carbs but low in fat. It also helps to keep your kitchen stocked with calorie-dense foods like whole milk, peanut butter, and bananas, among others. For instance, a few extra spoonfuls of peanut butter every day are an easy way to add a good chunk of calories to your diet.”
DO: REP ACCORDINGLY
“Always stick to the basic five- to 12-rep-window rule for weighted exercises,” Roberts says. “That means when going all-out on your lifts, if you can’t do five, the weight is too heavy, and you’re moving into powerlifting territory—that’s great for strength but not optional for hypertrophy, which is what you’re after. On the other end of the spectrum, if you can do more than 12 reps, the weight you’ve chosen is too light, and you’ve shifted into muscular endurance territory. Again, you’ll get an adaptation doing that, but it won’t optimize muscle gains.”
THE FLEX MASS BLAST
Just starting out? Or have a stale training regimen and need a new challenge? Here’s a straightforward program, designed around the major compound
lifts and augmented with an array of free-weight, cable, and machine moves to maximize muscle stimulation and development. You’ll lift four days per week and take three days off—arrange those around what works best for your schedule. For weighted exercises, choose a resistance that elicits failure at or around the listed rep range.
DAY 1: BACK, SHOULDERS
DAY 2: THIGHS & CALVES
DAY 3: CHEST, TRICEPS & ABS
DAY 4: TRAPS, BICEPS, FOREARMS, & LAGGING BODY PART OF YOUR CHOICE