How to Gain Muscle

Most people tend to associate fitness with weight loss.  It makes quite a bit of sense, given that obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and there is a huge (if sometimes misguided) push for the general public to get healthy by losing weight.  But there’s another side to the story that gets overlooked sometimes, particularly in the realm of general fitness blogs.

You guessed it – I’m talking about gaining weight.


While there are plenty of people who are dismayed at how easily they gain weight, there are others who desperately wish that they knew how to gain weight.  Call it bulking, call it gaining, call it putting on mass…it’s all the same thing, and it’s exactly what some folks – often men, but some women, too – would kill for. Since I don’t have much personal experience with struggling to gain weight (more the opposite…), it’s not something I was much interested in studying until I became a personal trainer.  I’ve done my share of research, but I’m not an expert, so I wanted to share some interesting resources for putting on mass for those of you who want to ride the “gain train” straight out to “hugeville” just in time for “bulking season.”   And the rest of yall? Well, I hope you enjoy, and maybe feel inspired to make some gains of your own!  After all, building muscle is not just for those that want to be “straight yoked”…having plenty of lean mass is actually a great health benefit for anyone – male or female, old or young, athlete or average joe.

little kid lifting trap bar deadlift

Just remember as you go about making those gains that you are more than your body.  It’s easy to put a lot of your self-esteem and sense of worth in your body, particularly when you’re putting a lot of work into it, but you are more than your body.  Also, the standards set by the media are just as ridiculous in telling men they need to be jacked and yoked as they are in telling women they need to be waif-thin and have a thigh-gap.  If you want to put on more muscle, that’s great.  Go after that goal.  But don’t base your worth on it, and remember that you can (easily) still be a sexy oaf even if you don’t have a barrel chest and 23″ biceps.

Here’s a weight gain troubleshooting guide from Whole9.  For anyone who’s been working hard to put on weight and not seeing results, this might hold some answers.

Speaking of the Whole9 team, Dallas Hartwig published a write-up on his n=1 experiment for a clean mass gain.   I found this particularly interesting, as he seemed able to make fairly significant muscle gains while maintaining, for the most part, his level of pre-gain leanness.  He covers both nutrition and training in this gains-guide, and if you’re hoping to bulk without putting on too much extra non-muscle (translation: adipose), this will be worth a read.  Obviously, the diet Hartwig follows is paleo, which may or may not be something you desire.  (I’m not convinced.)  However, the principles he discusses can likely be applied with any number of different food choices.  Use it as inspiration or a general template rather than your new gain-train gospel.

In terms of training, there are a few things that could be helpful.  German volume training, which is very high volume training focusing on one or two main compound movements for each muscle group – i.e. bench press, squat, and row – during each training cycle.  See THIS article for much more in-depth explanation as well as a sample of the training structure.  Squats (if you know how to do them and are doing squats that work with your anatomy) can also be a great muscle-building tool, since high-intensity squats – meaning either high volume or very heavy weight – can promote higher levels of growth hormone, which is crucial for…well, growth.  If you ever use finishers in your workouts, you can find some great finishers with an anabolic (tissue-building) stimulus HERE.  This “Definitive Guide to Building Muscle” from Stronglifts has some great information, and the site is full of other helpful resources as well.  Another key point is to remember that recovery is when the magic is going to happen.  Training is the stimulus, but recovery is when your body’s going to actually be building tissue, so treat your recovery days with as much respect as you do your workouts.  In one of my favorite books on lifting, Beyond Brawn, the author demonstrates how “hardgainers” can make excellent muscle gains over time while training 4, 3, or even as little as 2 days per week.  I know some people truly prefer to work out more, but the principles outlined (compound movements, intensity in volume/weight, and proper nutrition and rest) in the book can be applied to nearly any training program you choose.

The bottom line when it comes to building muscle seems to boil down to three key points that work for most folks:

  • Eat.  Eat good foods (translation: lots of protein and carbs), and eat lots of them.
  • Train with compound movements, heavy weight, and moderate to high volume.
  • Rest just as hard as your train, and do plenty of it.

So with all that said, happy bulking!


Are you actively trying to gain muscle?

What are the best (or strangest) bulking tips you’ve ever heard?


2 thoughts on “How to Gain Muscle

  1. I am trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Quite the tough road. 🙂 I gain muscle pretty easily… it’s the extra fluff that’s hardest to lose.

    But (!) I am enjoying weightlifting for the first time in my life and look forward to each workout. That’s a win. 🙂

    Have a great day, lady.

    1. It’s HARD to do both at the same time! Check out that clean mass gain program I linked to, though…he addressed the idea of staying lean while putting on mass, and it sounded like his program was really effective for that (at least for him)!

      Also, so glad you’re loving lifting! Go forth and continue your badassery, amiga. 🙂

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