I was inspired to write this after, you guessed it, I gained 15 pounds of muscle. This will be the second time I write this article because I believe I completely butchered my first draft. I spent about 3 pages talking about different exercise methodologies and philosophies and how someone might incorporate what I believe to be the most efficient and effective way to work out. I have nearly a decades worth of experience lifting, and I’ve tried in earnest many different strength and bodybuilding routines that produced different results. But the main question of why exactly did I recently gain 15 pounds of muscle, wasn’t answered completely. It wasn’t purely to do with anything I did in the gym. It’s a bit silly to put these things into arbitrary percentages, but I’ll do my best. My recent success has probably been 75% diet related, and 25% program related.
I’ve tried a lot of different programs that ranged from powerlifting to bodybuilding. I’ve always seemed to hit a plateau and then I move on from the program to something else. Lately I haven’t been bumping in to that all too familiar plateau after starting a new program. So is it the program that’s special? It’s cleverly designed, sure, and I can talk about it more later, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Diet and health. That was the key to 15 pounds of muscle. And perhaps if I wrote this article in a month or two, I would be saying “20 pounds of muscle.”
Listen, maybe 15 pounds doesn’t sound significant, but ask anyone who has been lifting for awhile how easy it is to do. It’s not. 15 pounds is easy for the newb. They can avoid the gym, ride a bicycle instead, and still grow their chest. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for a dedicated gym rat to look the same for years. Our bodies are stubborn. Packing on muscle is the last thing your body is concerned about. It takes a lot of things going right before your body can prioritize gaining muscle. And I think that’s going to be the main take away here. You need to be extremely healthy before your body can do the circus trick of adding muscle. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s what I have been missing for nearly a decade is that optimal, tip-top, peak of the summit health that allows the body to shrug it’s shoulders and say, “Whatever, I’ll humor you, here’s some pec development.”
It may seem blindingly obvious, but all diseases that kill people slowly will cause wasting away of muscle mass. If a deadly disease doesn’t cause wasting, it’s only because it kills the victim before it can happen. So what if you’re in some in-between grey area? You’re not unhealthy, but you suffer from from a menagerie of light symptoms that you couldn’t put your finger on as being disease related. These symptoms could be any number of things in any number of combinations. These could include slight fatigue, occasional head aches, slow recovery from exercise, achey joints, decreased attention span, trouble sleeping, irritability, brain fog, irritable bowels, an elbow or knee that’s not quite 100%, etc.
None of these these things represent a major problem. Even a few of them together couldn’t be considered a disease in and of themselves, but it’s obvious it isn’t optimal. What’s more, these things could present themselves one day, not the next, and a new thing on the list could take its spot later on. How do you track down problems that are ever changing and aren’t even permanent? How do you treat that? That’s where I believe a generalized approach is best and most sensible. Instead of taking 3 or 4 supplements and medicines to beat down problems that pop up like you’re playing whack-a-mole, address the body systemically through diet.
Diet and nutrition is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck for becoming healthy. You can do things like getting more sun light, grounding, and taking cold showers to improve health—and these things have their place—but you need to fix the major input in the body. A cold shower and sunlight on your balls may help, but it can’t overcome bad nutrition. If you’re having trouble gaining a bit more muscle mass or increasing on your lifts, I highly doubt it’s because you’ve reached your genetic potential. It’s much more likely you’re just bumping into a health limitation. So let’s get into it.
Diet: Two Don’ts And Two Dos
The rules are simple. And they are ripped right out of Dr. Cate Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition. I can’t recommend the book enough.
1. No Vegetable Oils. Ever. Never Again. Last time you had them was before reading this article. Non-negotiable. Even if gaining muscle isn’t your goal, purely from a health stand point you should adopt this.
2. No Sugar. AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Listen, I get it. Sometimes it’s a kid’s birthday party or something. But still. You’re a damn adult. You don’t need sugar in your coffee or a little desert after every dinner.
3. Meat Cooked ON THE BONE. Organ Meat. Bone Broth. Raw Eggs. Raw Milk. If possible, incorporate it all. It’s possible you won’t be able to source raw milk in your area or stomach organ meat, in that case, eat the rest including the raw eggs. A good goal for eating organ meat is about once or twice per week.
4. Fermented Foods. Cooked Vegetables. Fermented foods are things like sauerkraut or cheese. It doesn’t take a lot to get the benefit. If your vegetables aren’t fermented, cook them.
Simple rules. Very simple. I’ll break down each category just a bit more and try to explain the why of it. It’s going to be difficult to condense this, but I’ll do my best. For anyone feeling like my explanation is lacking, I highly encourage you to check out the book.
Let’s start with the demon on the top, vegetable oil. The average person in the US, will consume 30-60% of their calories from vegetable oil. A health conscious eater—the Cliff Bar munching type who’ll eat a salad covered in ranch (mostly vegetable oil)—will still get 15-30% of their daily calories from vegetable oil. Whether you like it or not, you are consuming much more of this poison than you are aware of. So what’s the issue? Perhaps it’s a cliche rephrasing, but rather, what isn’t the issue?
Vegetable oil and other seed oils are composed of highly unstable fat molecules. The structure of a vegetable oil fat molecule has two double bonds. The two double bonds are extremely unstable compared to other fats such as butter, lard, or olive oil (these will either have 1 or 0 double bonds). The double bond, in order to stabilize itself, requires a hydrogen molecule. Where does it find one? In your tissues after you consume it. The hydrogen that helps makes up the cellular wall in whatever tissue you can dream of—arteries, brain, joints, stomach lining, kidneys, heart, connective tissue, etc—is the victim of this process. This process is called a free radical cascade. So after ingesting vegetable oil, the molecule will then try to stabilize itself in your body by taking a hydrogen from whatever tissue it’s delivered to.
It’s considered a cascade because after one hydrogen is ripped off a cellular wall, another hydrogen will be ripped from its neighbor to fill the empty spot, and that empty spot will then be filled by its neighboring hydrogen ad infinitum till your body can put a stop to it with an anti-oxidant. The more vegetable oil you eat, the more anti-oxidants you better have to deal with the firestorms that you cause. But regardless, damage is done.
The cumulative damage over decades can range from arthritis, colitis, Alzheimer’s, heart burn, and on and on and on. Or, for the sake of this article, not building your biceps like battle ship guns because your body has OTHER inflammation to deal with besides building your muscles back up after exercise.
Now on to why to avoid sugar. Well, it’s sticky. It’s one of the most annoying things about it. And funnily enough, that’s actually the problem with it on a cellular level. It gums up some of the finer machinery of the body. Here’s what happens. You digest the sugar. It’s then hooked up to a carrier protein that has what can be thought of as a flag on it. Think of a little delivery ship with a flag on it. The carrier protein, or delivery ship, transporting the sugar will then look for another flag sticking out of the capillary walls in the circulatory system that matches its own. It’s an organized system. Things aren’t delivered randomly. When cells are hungry, a series of reactions will occur such that a “flag” of sorts will be waved in a blood vessel. When that carrier protein of sugar come’s across the flag, it will deliver the sugar (glucose) through the capillary walls. Fascinating stuff.
But what sugar does, and tends to do, is gum up that flag on the carrier protein. The carrier protein needs that flag to find its match. So instead of the carrier protein finding a matching flag, it just carries around the sugar in the blood stream until the carrier protein is destroyed. Suddenly, look at that, you have higher blood sugar, and your body addresses the problem with insulin. Short term, this leads to higher insulin and that familiar sugar high and crash. Long term you’re looking at diabetes.
Now, let’s back up just a second. Remember what I said about vegetable oil? Let’s suppose you’re eating sugar and vegetable oil at the same time. A carrier protein for a vegetable oil molecule will get its flag gummed up with the sugar. Then instead of the bad fat molecule being delivered to God knows where, it instead circulate in the blood stream until it crashes somewhere in your cardiovascular system. And the most likely place that would be, because the place it always returns to is… your heart.
This answers the question why vegetable oil and sugar—fast food, chips, confectionary, and junk food— are so responsible for heart disease. The combination of sugar and vegetable oils is a deadly combination. This answers a couple of important questions and describes a mechanism for how it happens. Why is there fat build up in people’s arteries close to their heart? Why are those arteries so damaged and brittle? Unstable fats that got hooked up to a carrier protein that was damaged by sugar’s sticky bullshit crashed and burned in your heart is the answer.
And if that’s not enough for you to quit the sugar, here’s a quick stat that may explain why a sugary protein shake after working out may not be the best idea: 75g of sugar decreased testosterone in male subjects by 25%. The short of it is that high insulin, your bodies way of dealing with sugar, is related to low test levels.
Cutting out vegetable oil and sugar will get you 80% there to a good diet. It’s not as easy as it sounds because these ingredients are in practically everything, but just this change will cause a substantial change in performance. Now let’s move on to rules 3 and 4.
Meat cooked on the bone is healthier than meat cooked off the bone. Likewise, bone broth is phenomenal for you. What you gain from bone broth and cooking meat on the bone are special little molecules called glycosaminoglycans. These molecules are not easily (if at all) manufactured by the body. The body employs them in connective tissue as well as your joints. What this means for you is you’ll have healthier skin and joints—less joint pain and tendonitis. From a lifting perspective, the latter is more important, but there’s nothing wrong with aging well either.
One note on meat. Low and slow. Don’t over cook it or you denature the protein. Medium rare for steak is optimal. Cooking meat causes hydrolysis to long protein strands which basically cut them up so you can digest them easier than raw meat. Over cooking meat then causes those shorter strands of proteins to be mangled up and become less useful.
Organ meat is for optimal vitamins and micronutrients. The bioavailability of vitamins in liver for instance greatly exceeds whatever multivitamin you pop in the morning, and also it provides vitamins in much greater quantities. One common rebuttal to this is that you’ll pee out excess vitamins. This is true for vitamins that aren’t bioavailable. Another interesting fact is that vitamins produced in a lab are considered synthetic vitamins. So what this means for you is that vitamin E taken in pill form will contain a normal or natural occurring vitamin E as well as an isomer of vitamin E. An isomer is basically a mirror reflection of a molecule. Think of your right hand vs your left hand, identical yet opposite. Research indicates that these non-natural occurring molecules can do your body more harm than good. Your body’s cells have evolved over millions of years to incorporate natural occurring vitamins. Throw in an identical yet opposite isomer, and your body can’t utilize it.
Why raw eggs? Because the precursor hormone of testosterone is cholesterol. This is found in abundance in egg yolk and it’s extremely digestible. If you can’t do raw, runny is fine. Don’t get hung up on the biotin sucking arguments you hear concerning raw eggs. It’s negligible. Eggs are better if sourced from a local free range chicken operation. These eggs have a higher vitamin content and less of a chance of making you sick when consuming raw.
As far as milk is concerned, raw is king. Raw milk has fat globules that are designed to be digested quickly. Remember the flags I was talking about earlier that the body uses to deliver nutrients? Well, imagine that fat globules in raw milk have flags that basically tell the TSA checkpoint of your gut, “Guys, I’m fine, let me in.” Your body can digest it much faster than pasteurized milk. Those fat globules are designed to grow babies. If you change their structure through heat or a process of “ultra-filtration,” you lose some of their benefits. Secondly with raw milk, there is protein that is denatured after the pasteurization process. You will get more digestible protein if you just leave it alone. Lastly, the microflora of raw milk is superior to the non-existent microflora of pasteurized milk. Raw milk can be digested by most people. It even has lactase in it to help with its own digestion (again, something lost through pasteurization). If you think you can’t drink milk give raw milk a try for a couple weeks and you’ll likely change your mind. Raw milk is absolutely the way to go for gaining muscle if you can source some.
Now on to fermented foods and vegetables. Fermented foods do wonders for gut health and you should incorporate a small amount daily. Humans either don’t digest or have a hard time digesting insoluble fiber which vegetables have a lot of. Eat a salad with raw kale, broccoli, or cauliflower. Now, does your stomach hurt? It might. This is a sign you aren’t digesting them well and if you aren’t digesting them well you also aren’t absorbing all their available nutrients. To get around this, if you have vegetables that aren’t already fermented, cook them before you eat them. Particularly cruciferous vegetables, these are an excellent source of anti-oxidants and vitamins.
And one final hot take on fruit. It’s fine. Not the superfood you’ve been sold. Too much fruit presents the same problem as too much sugar. Genetically modified fruit designed to be sweeter is part of the problem here. Trust your taste buds here. Berries tend to be better.
This isn’t just for you. If you have a family they absolutely should be eating this way too. Children and pregnant women especially and if you can’t convince your wife have her read the book. Look into Nourishing Traditions or the Weston Price foundation for more info.
So that’s it. That’s the diet advice that will improve your health and increase your size. You can worry about the more typical dieting advice you’ll get from lifters using these guidelines. You know what they are. Eat past caloric maintenance to gain weight. Get enough grams of protein per pound of body weight. You know the gist of it. Just makes sure you’re eating healthy first and foremost before you shove too much food down your throat during a bulk.
Before we get to the next section, let me say this. If you have a program that you feel is working, don’t change what you’re doing. Fix your diet and see how you do on your current program. You’ll shock yourself. A lot of programs work. It’s not absolutely necessary to follow this advice.
Exercise: Less Volume And More Intensity
Paul Skallas recently wrote in a Lindy Newsletter that a “great physique” has a low return on investment for grown men. There’s a lot of hairs to split by what a “great physique” is, but we can safely assume a great physique is probably more muscular than the one you have, and as far as body fat, that can range wildly from 8 to 20%. He says, and I believe correctly, that charisma, wealth, and a sense of humor will go a lot farther in having success with women. This is certainly true.
But the flip side of this equation is how much will a great physique help with your self-confidence to be charismatic. How much will being the strongest or fittest guy in the room help you with a contract negotiation, or give you the chutzpah to ask for a raise. People respond to strength on a sub-conscious level, and you will respond to yourself as well. Your wit and sense of humor will flow if you have confidence in yourself with how you look. “Even if I sound stupid, I’ll look good!” This is powerful. In fact, looking good gives you more latitude for error when dealing with women. Women will put up with a lot more from a hot douche bag than a schlubby guy with a kind heart. And they prefer strong looking men. Furthermore, in the male domain, dealing with other men is easy when you know you are stronger than them. This gives you confidence to speak, and this gives you a commanding presence that is difficult to acquire purely through charisma. Some men can do this of course, but many men cannot transcend their weak body. We are simple creatures. Attractive women get more advantages, and bigger men get more respect.
Now the key getting a good return on investment is to limit time in the gym. A lot of what I’m saying will be geared towards time efficiency. I’ve tried a lot of different things in the gym over the years and there’s no shortage of work out philosophies to draw from, but I think I’ve settled on the most mature approach to lifting. Keep it short, keep the intensity high.
The good news is that keeping work outs short and the intensity high has worked better for me gaining muscle than extending time and days in the gym. I’ve busted more plateaus using this approach than upping work out volume. This worked for me. But! Let’s not pretend we’re all super unique and special. What works for me, will work for you. Our physiology is 99.99% the same. That’s why our child vaccines worked. It’s why we can both take ibuprofen to get rid of a head ache. Our mouthes will salivate before we ralph… I think people get too hung up on their physiological uniqueness. A training method that works will work about the same for any two random people. Yes there are genetic freaks, but you aren’t one of them. The main variables—that hardly refute the point—are these: ability to recover, predisposition to building muscle, and how much mental fortitude you have.
For example, if we both run Doug McGruff’s Body By Science—a 15 minute workout roughy once a week (more brutal than it sounds, I promise), it may take me 7 days to recover before I can exercise again, and it may take you 5 or even 9 days to recover. You may build a little bit more muscle with this particular type of stimulus, but you also may burn out quicker. So basically the 3 main differences are recovery, genetics, and fortitude. With that being said, you don’t need to experiment with German Volume Training—10 sets of 10 reps for God knows what muscle, and you don’t need to keep increasing your days and time in the gym. And for the love of God, whatever worked for Arnold in the 70’s doesn’t matter. Going to the gym twice a day for two hours at a time six days a week will crush you. The guy was winging it and he had three things you don’t: ability to recover (lots of steroids), predisposition for muscle (genetics), and a superhuman mental fortitude (autism). So let’s skip the high volume insanity
You’re likely on the spectrum of average. Average people can’t handle insane volume day in and day out. You don’t need that much volume for muscle growth. There’s a misunderstanding that if you put more work in, you’ll get more results. It’s not true. What you’re doing is trying to elicit a biological response from a dosed stimulus. If I do a heavy set of squats and I reach that threshold stimulus where my body is going to adapt by gaining muscle and getting stronger, what will I gain by doing another extremely heavy set of squats? What would I gain by running over to the leg press machine? It’s a time waster. Don’t confuse pain for progress. Don’t chase after a blood pump from exercise to exercise because you like the way it looks in the mirror. Keep the intensity high and volume low.
So let’s talk numbers. What is low volume? 5×2, 3×5, 2×10 1×12, etc. Even one set of 20 is fine. But only ONE set of 20. If you need that pump for whatever psychological reason, this will do it for you. Doing 4×20 squats will give your legs a hell of a pump, but the recovery time will be too great. The stress will leave you fatigued for at least the next day if not more. This leaves you with a problem, when will you be able to properly train again with 100% effort? If it takes you 5 days to PROPERLY recover (most people don’t, by the way) before you can put out that maximal effort again, you’re wasting time. And good luck figuring out a 5 day squatting schedule, so you’d basically be squatting once a week for your leg day. Over the course of a year you’d train legs roughly 52 times which would theoretically be 52 times you grew stronger and bigger. If you eased back the volume and just did 1×20 instead of a 4×20, and then you worked out those legs twice one week then once the next week alternating through the whole year, you would exercise your legs 78 times. Despite squatting less overall, you would have more “growing events” than the high volume 4×20 routine after a year is over.
If you go all out on 4×20 squats, or hell, even 3×10 squats, the stress your body has to deal with is unreal. You’ll compromise your immune system, fatigue your central nervous system, and delay recovery. Don’t be surprised that you may get sick more often doing high volume insanity. Here’s a very extreme example: I got Covid-19 after doing a 1,000 rep leg day recommended to me by a friend in the Air Force. Yes, one thousand reps. 100 squats. 100 leg extensions. 100 leg curls and on and on. It CRUSHED me. It was a huge mistake. I could barely walk for two days and then started developing ‘rona symptoms soon thereafter.
Also, don’t be surprised that your other lifts suffer because you went all out on squats on an EPIC leg day. Your leg day shouldn’t involve squats, then leg press, then hack squat, etc. Focus all of your mental and physical energy on one exercise. Make it hell. Then move on. If you like, you can add leg curls as an accessory for a leg day, go ahead, but don’t do squats and feel like you need to do leg press. Basically I’m saying avoid similar movements.
Let’s suppose you still have gas in the tank to do leg press, that’s great! If you went as hard as you can on squat, and you still feel good and energetic, save that energy for your family or hobbies. Don’t waste it in the gym. Keep in mind, if you squatted more weight this week than last week, that’s all that matters. You don’t need to do more. You accomplished your goal. Take that accomplishment and leftover energy to other passions in life.
The other problem with too much volume is scaling up weight. Mark Rippetoe has everyone doing 3×5 squats based on the basic principle that you can more easily scale up weight when the volume is low. How often do you think you’ll add weight to the bar with a high volume rep scheme? For a little while, I guess. Your body will adapt, and you will get good at it, but the ceiling is ultimately lower. If you’re doing 3×10 squats, the guy doing 3×5 squats will ultimately make progress for longer. And honestly. One set is all you need. Make that one heavy set in any range between 6 and 20 and you’ll find yourself loading that bar 5 pounds every time you squat for a long long time (less so for the upper range of reps). If you want more leg work that day, do an isolation exercise that doesn’t include quads.
So if you’re drawing up your own program, what’s the best way to cut volume? Just do one working set per exercise (and preferably per body part). What I mean by that is instead of 3×10 bench. Just do 1×10 with everything you got. And this is crucial—maybe the most important part of what I’m gonna tell you—the next time you bench, you need to beat that in either reps or weight. You need to log your work outs. Carry a journal or use your phone. No excuses. If you want to build muscle you must improve. And if you want to improve you have to keep track of what you did. You cannot work out based on feel. I’ve also tried that, and many other guys do (probably most guys), and they don’t change. EVER. They look the same for years. You will only change when you start to beat your last work out.
Okay, so one working set per exercise. Is that enough? I believe so. Can you do more? You absolutely can if you like. You can introduce the rest pause for increasing intensity and ‘effective reps.’ If the last 3 to 5 reps of any all out exercise are the effective reps (the ones that actually cause enough stress to the muscle where the body has to compensate with growth/strength increases), then why not just focus on those? Instead of doing 3×10 on bench, do 1×10 (remember, everything you got, the last rep should be a struggle) then rest for only 20 seconds at most and bang out as many as you can. You should land around 5 reps or less. Wait 20 seconds. Do as many as you can again (which will be less than the second micro set). Then voila. You’re done. You did one working set and two micro sets in less than half the time of a 3×10 set and you did just as many EFFECTIVE REPS.
If you’re confused, this is what it looks like:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8*9*10*
Rest 20 seconds
Rest 20 seconds)
10 effective reps (*denotes effectives reps)
The best way to utilize rest pause reps is to find a rep range anywhere from 11 to 15 or 8 to 20 or whatever for a given exercise. Count the total reps in all sets. Once you you get to the upper limit of your rep range, then increase weight. So if your rep range is 11-15, and you do 13 total reps, say on bench with 230 pounds. And it looks like this:
1st set: 8 reps
2nd set: 3 reps
3rd set: 2 reps.
Then the next time you lift you will try to beat that rep range. It could look like this:
1st set: 9 reps
2nd set: 4 reps
3rd set: 2 reps
This means you got 15 reps. The next time you lift you will go up on weight. You would probably be best served by using 5 pound increments. What happens if you don’t increase reps? Dante Trudel has the most entertaining solution to this problem he utilizes in his program DoggCrapp. Drop the exercise you failed on. You have to replace that exercise with something else next time. This adds gravity to the lift. Either increase on the lift or risk having to change it. So if you fail to increase on bench, you now have to do incline bench or dumbbell bench, or whatever the next time. Just don’t worry about getting stuck. Get strong on a different but similar exercise and eventually come back to the one you failed on.
You can’t do rest pause for everything though. I don’t recommend them for squats or deadlifts. Basically exercises where good back form is paramount. You can get away with rest pause sets on nearly every isolation exercise there is. For other compound lifts such as OHP or rows, you’ll just have to experiment to see if you’re comfortable with it.
There really isn’t much else to say about lifting. It’s actually more simple than you’d think. Warm up good. One working set. Cut the junk volume. Cut your time in the gym. If your goals aren’t being achieved in just 3 days in the gym, you have different problems—namely diet and recovery.
What about bro split? Upper lower split? Banana split? Full body work out? What works best? What exercises to do? How many days?
There’s a lot of hairs to split here. This is when things get really personal. I’ll try to lay out some sensible guidelines. If you want to work out once a week, just do the Body By Science work out. It takes roughly 15 minutes. You’re clearly prioritizing time over muscle, and this is the absolute best option. You likely won’t get 15 lbs of muscle very quick, but you will be free of gym drudgery. It really works, too. This guy who ran the program for 9 months went on to win PaleoFx in Texas which featured a lot of CrossFit style lifts.
If you want to work out twice a week, do a full body work out and squat twice a week and dead lift just once. Do whatever exercises you like. Just keep track of what you’re doing and beat your lifts.
As far as 3 days a week, you will likely want to do an AxBxAxx split (the next week will be BxAxBxx). Split your body up any way you like: Upper/Lower, Back and Bis/Legs and Tris, etc. Whatever. Just don’t make the exercises too repetitive. You don’t need dumbbell flys after bench. If you want to do flys to focus on your chest, let that be your pec exercise for the day. The goal is time efficiency and recovery. Your chest isn’t going to recover if you overtrain it.
One point for those who get bored in the gym. Let’s say you like more exercise variability. For an A work out you can have 3 different A workouts: A1, A2, and A3. If your A day is extremely simple, say just chest and legs then your A1 workout can be incline bench with a regular squat. A2 can be decline bench and leg press. A3 can be dumbbell fly and Bulgarian split squats. Let’s suppose you have the same type of variation for your B workouts. Then you would cycle out the workouts like this: A1xB1xA2xx and the next week would be B2xA3xB3xx. Then you’d restart.
As far as working out 4, 5, and 6 days a week. I simply can’t recommend it. I’ve done it. You’re wasting your time and you’re not getting that sweet return on investment. What you’ll find with programs that have you working out that often is that some days you’ll be expected to go the gym and not exceed say 80% effort on a lift. Think about that for a minute. You’re going to the bloody gym to do half ass effort. Basically reps that have no stimulatory effect for gaining mass or muscle. It’s silly. I’ve also tried going to the gym 4 to 6 times with maximal effort to see if I could gain mass. You know what happened? Not a lot. I got overtrained and had to take a siesta each day because I fried my CNS blitzing it in the gym nearly every day. And how much muscle did I gain? None. I spent a lot of time in the gym that should have been spent with family or other hobbies. You can make this work with only 3 days, I promise.
If all of this programming advice is difficult to incorporate, just run DoggCrapp. Dante Trudel is the creator of DC training, and I’m lifting most of this from his training philosophy as well as the high intensity man himself, Mike Mentzer. I’m just leaving you more latitude to do what you want with it.
So let’s recap: Eat good. No vegetable oil or sugar. More organ meats. Raw milk and eggs if possible. Minimize volume on work outs. Keep track of what you lifted and beat your last lift. That’s all. That’s what it takes to gain 15 pounds of muscle as a natty. You absolutely can do this. Good luck.
21 Comments Add yours
Great article and advice. Will try to cut sets. What’s your take on core/ab work outs (situps/planks)? Could those be done daily for definition or is that also wasted time?
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I used to fall for the meme that you didn’t have to train abs. That they would come as long as you’re low body fat and strong every where else. I’ve now done a reverse on that. If you want defined abs, it’s better to train them.
I wouldn’t train them daily though. That to me would fall under the category of wasting time. Shoot for twice a week and try to increase weight/reps each time just like with anything else.
If you’re gonna go with regular sit-ups, get an Ab mat. These things help tremendously. They keep the arch in your back and make doing regular sit-ups far more effective than without it. Also, scaling up weight using an ab mat is easy. Just hold a bigger dumbbell when you do a sit-up. They’re pretty cheap 16-20 bucks.
I believe the literature on the subject though says that abdominal activation is highest with the ab roller and hanging leg raises. An ab roller is dirt cheap. To do a hanging leg raise with good form and without getting hand fatigue, you need some type of strap system. Hanging leg raise, to scale up weight, just hold a small dumbbell between your ankles. And for the ab-roller… I’m not sure. I think you just have to do harder ab roller variations.
And planks are okay. But at a certain point when you’re hitting two minutes with ease you need someone to start putting weight on your back. The ab activation is inferior doing planks is less than everything else on the list. A lot of muscles are activated besides your abs. And also static exercises tend to produce the least results for gaining muscle. You need the range of motion to get growth.
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Thanks for the good information. I was thinki
ng of Bruce Lee, he would do daily ab work outs, regardless of set. However, will try this to failure and increasing weight to save time! Thanks!
No problem, man. Good luck!
As someone who’s made similar (although newbie) gains in the last year, another piece of advice: Carbs! When swimming in Weston A. Price adjacent nutritional circles they’re very easy to disregard, but they’re absolutely essential for performance, recovery and muscle growth (especially as an ectomorph with little to no fat-based energy stores).
White rice is a good staple as nearly everyone is able to digest it easily, and then people can have sourdough bread, potatoes, oats etc. depending on individual tolerance. I’ve found avoiding fiber (whole grains) tends to help with keeping appetite up, as well.
I deliberately didn’t talk about carbs, fat or protein at all. I liked Dr. Shanahan’s take that talking about food this way misses the point of what the food is made of, where it comes from, and how nutritionally healthy it is.
With that said I’d have to say that the bulk of your calories should be fat based. Carbs, even complex carbs, break down into sugar in the body, and I think that’s important to avoid. I don’t recommend going full keto, just see to it that carbs aren’t the centerpiece of any meal.
But hey, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t over think it.
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Completely agree that a reductionist approach to food does more harm than good, being a completely anti-traditional view. I haven’t read Dr. Shanahan specifically but spent years getting really into Paleo/Primal, Weston A. Price, etc. so I imagine I’ve encountered much of what she says before.
Just wanted to share my piece in order to help anyone who may accidentally end up going too keto (and low calorie) to gain muscle after cleaning up their diet like I did. Congratulations on the gains and thanks for the great essay!
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I appreciate it man
Ah, to be only 2-3 decades old again.
Remember to train/lift safely. Once you hit 30 and every decade after, something goes bad (back, knee, elbow, shoulder, foot…).
Also, Never every quit lifting/exercising (from my own exp) because you almost never get back to where you were before. This will be a challenge once you have a family and choose incorrectly to cut work out time as you become over loaded in other responsibilities.
After 35 its all about reducing the rate of decay.
Just this grey beards 2cent worth.
Sounds like a challenge. I just found this guy a few days ago. He had debilitating knee injuries, and he rehabbed himself doing a few key things. Walking backwards, improving flexibility, etc.
Maybe you’ll enjoy a few minutes of this. Maybe you will think it’s tripe, idk. In a short article he wrote, he wrote about George hackenschmidt. A guy was jumping over small hurdles up until his 80’s until he died. In the video I linked he features a 40 something year old who is still dunking a basketball. The take away is if you train for mobility, very unlike my training recommendations in this article btw, you can develop and keep athleticism well past your prime.
I do agree, the game changes past 30 though
thx 4 the link.
This really good stuff. Thanks for putting in the hours to put it together, WS!
Could you make a sample routine with sets and reps? Like, just one A or B workout as a template?
Yeah no problem. I didn’t put one in the article because ideally the routine is customized to your goals. I’ll give you my A1 and B1 from my routine. You can adjust it, and make more variations as needed.
rp=rest pause. One set with two micro sets
If it doesn’t have rp it means it’s just one set. The goal of the program is to increase reps until you hit the high end of your rep range. Some days have more or less rp than others, btw. It’s not really A or B dependent.
Decline bench 11-15rp
Overhead Press 11-15rp
Tricep rope extension 11-20rp
Chin ups 11-20rp
Deadlift (6-9) heavy; (9-12)lighter
Ez bar bicep curl 11-20rp
Single leg Romanian deadlift 11-20
Ez bar reverse grip curl 11-20
Stutter Squat (6-10) heavy; (20) lighter weight. (Squat half way down, then up. Then squat to full depth, then up. That’s one rep. Will light your quads on fire.)
Ab wheel 20-30
I hope that helps. If you use this example, when you create an A2 or B2 replace decline bench for incline, reverse grip curl for hammer curl, stutter squat for regular squat, OHP for Arnold press, single leg RDL for leg curl, etc.
You don’t have to do those specifically, but just as an example. Let me know if anything is unclear or you have any specific goals (athletic) wise
Makes sense, thank you.
Actually, I have one more question.
Can I work out every other day?
Do I have to take the weekend off?
You could. There’s nothing stopping you except recovery time. You might have an exceptional recovery ability and get away with it. It’ll take mental toughness as well. It’s really up to you and your abilities here.
With that said, I wouldn’t recommend it. The point of the program is that you hit a PR every single day on every single lift. The likelihood of doing that decreases when you cut rest. And listen, it’s kind of demoralizing to not hit your goals for the day. I think it’s best to view this as marathon rather than a sprint, too. Slow and steady is going to produce the best results (in my opinion). You don’t want to burn out mentally. But again, this is a personal thing. You could get away with it for 6 weeks, maybe more, but at some point you’re going to need that weekend break. Maybe blitz it for a couple weeks, and when you start barely beating your lifts, add in some more rest.
Best of luck bud
And can I do rest pause with weighted push ups?
Yeah there’s no reason you can’t. In my own program I took out flat bench to do deep (using handles) body weight push-ups. I still have incline and decline for my other days so I can go heavier
Here’s a program I made. What do you think?
Barbell Row (11-15 reps)
Chin-ups (11-20 reps)
Skullcrushers (11-20 reps)
Standing Barbell Press (11-15 reps)
Weighted Pull ups (11-15 reps)
Lateral Raises (11-20 reps)
Face pulls (3 sets, AMRAP)