The gym has been my home for more than four decades. Spend that much time anywhere and you will figure out what works and what doesn’t. Take building muscles, for instance. The greatest fallacy of the mass-building industry is that some big-armed expert is hoarding top-secret, burn-after-reading protocols that are worth whatever he’s charging for access (usually way too much).
The truth is, there are no secrets. But there are rules. And most of them are surprisingly simple. As an athlete, I used these rules to break the US record in the weights pentathlon. And as a coach, I’ve used them to help hundreds of athletes – including Olympians – pack on beef. One warning: some of these rules are the opposite of what you’re used to reading in fitness magazines.
That’s because this isn’t an article that tells you how to both build muscle and lose fat. This is all about supersizing your body as quickly as possible. And all it requires is a little common sense and a lot of time with a barbell.
1. Have ONE Goal
Building muscle and losing fat have one thing in common: each is best accomplished when you do it to the exclusion of all else. I can’t tell you how many guys with 30cm biceps have asked me about building mass but want a guarantee they’ll keep their six-pack. While you’re bulking up, you can’t obsess about single-digit body fat or your finishing time in a 10km race. Add five or six centimetres to your upper arms first. Then we’ll talk about those other things.
2. Use Medium Reps For Maximum Gains
You’ll build the most muscle by doing sets of five to 10 reps. This range hits a “magical” intersection between heavy loads and extended time under the bar. Each generation of lifters wants to rewrite the rule book, but they all eventually come back to this system.
3. For Squats, More Is Better
About two decades ago I received good advice that I foolishly ignored: never do fewer than 10 reps of the barbell back squat. Yes, there are always exceptions. But for most people most of the time, the extra time under the bar seems to stimulate the body as well as the appetite. Both are key in helping you add mass.
4. Don’t Chase Variety
Good bulk-building programmes have very few moves. At a time when there is so much equipment to use, it’s difficult for many lifters to follow a system with just eight exercises. But that’s all you really need (see “The Best Exercises for Big Muscles”). In fact, if your singular goal is pure size, then you should do them almost exclusively.
5. Always Leave One Or Two Reps In The Tank
It’s often said that the secret to adding size is pushing your muscles past their limit, squeezing out extra reps with the help of a training partner or by sacrificing form. But most of you will reap more benefit if you end each set knowing you could have done another rep or two. It’s better to do another set than to roast your muscles with forced reps.
6. Let Your Body Tell You How Long To Rest Between Sets
As a general rule for building mass, most guys need about three minutes of rest between sets of squats and bench presses and 90 seconds between sets of other moves. If you’re leaving one or two reps in reserve (see Rule 5), you should be able to repeat your performance from one set to the next.
7. Eat Big To Grow Big
When the goal is mass, it’s difficult to eat too much. Most men eat too little. A good workout plan not only burns lots of kilojoules but also cranks up your metabolism. If you eat just a little more than usual, you won’t even break even. You need to eat a lot. When I put on 18kg in four months my first year in college, I ate sandwiches before dinner.
8. Preserve Your Energy
A guy who’s eating to grow needs to minimise his activity outside the gym. Work hard and rest hard. If you’re playing lunchtime soccer between workouts, you’re not resting. And if you’re not resting, you’re not growing. Remember, a mass-building programme isn’t a lifetime health plan. It’s a short, focused attempt to become bigger than you are now.