Once upon a time, when you wanted to know how to go from "twig" to "big," you just walked up to the dude with the gnarliest branches and politely asked how he sprouted them. If you were lucky, you got a good technique tip or two. More likely, you got a duffel bag full of legends, lore, and misinformation that had been passed down for generations. Sure, Jack LaLanne used to drink buckets of raw cow blood to get huge, but if you try it you'll end up looking more like Carrie than Ronnie.
Luckily for you, some experts who have experienced success are more open about sharing their tips and tricks. This is especially true of Chris Thompson, Jason Wheat, and Ronnie Milo. The captains of the Twinlab Muscle Militia have been there, done that, and seen the sequel. They've left no stone unturned in their quest for lean mass, and now they're committed to helping every single man and woman who is ready to think and grow bigger.
"If you want to add mass, you can't just shove everything in your pie hole and train until you puke every day," says longtime bodybuilder Ronnie Milo. If that's a surprise to you, then you need a Militia intervention! Overcome these all-too-common roadblocks that get in the way of muscle-building success, and you'll earn your spot in the ranks.
Meet the Muscle Militia
Sales rep, Twinlab
Favorite Supp: MVP Fuel
"I want to be proportionate, work on my weak spots, and make sure I give 100 percent in the gym."
Powerlifter, coming back from pec injury
Favorite Supp: Test Fuel
"My goal is to compete in powerlifting again."
Occupation: VP of Sports Nutrition, Twinlab
Favorite Supp: DIET FUEL Pro-Series
"I just want to be as strong, hard, and lean as I can be."
Roadblock 1 Hitting the ceiling too often
There's something about the weight room that can make normal, everyday guys go crazy and act like they're in the running for gold at the Olympics. Even if they don't hit a PR every day, they seem more than willing to put life and limb on the line trying. They pile intensity on top of intensity, volume on top of volume, and in a matter of weeks grind themselves into the dirt.
These guys don't last. Know who does? Guys like Chris Thompson who, at age 45, still finds time almost every day to perform the high-intensity, low-volume 30-Minute Muscle Militia Workout. Or Jason Wheat, who focuses most of his work on knocking out quality reps in the heavy-but-not-kill-yourself-heavy sweet spot.
"Most guys think that when they're trying to add mass they need to really be tearing it off and pushing maximum weight every time they're in the gym," says Wheat. "What you really want to do to get big and maximize the release of HGH and testosterone, though, is to complete 4-6 sets of 6-12 reps at about 70 percent of your one-rep max for nearly all of the exercises you do. Stick to the big three [squat, bench, deadlift] and the gains will come."
If that sounds too simple, then take your lead from both men. Wheat says he always keeps the 30-Minute Muscle Militia routine in his back pocket and performs it once a week, both for cardio and to shock his muscles into growth.
Roadblock 2 Not upgrading your hydration
When you switch from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one, your body's need for food and water will go up—especially the latter. If you don't increase the amount you drink, you will get dehydrated, and it won't be good for your workout quality, mental clarity, or overall well-being.
You may not want to be that guy in the Zubaz pants who totes a small barrel of water around with him in the gym, but guess what? You don't need to be. "I actually don't carry water with me when I'm training, because I train at a fast pace," Milo says. "If I'm a little parched, I'll get a sip. The only time I'll carry a gallon of water is when I'm cutting weight and drying out for a show, so that I know exactly how much I can drink."
Don't take this as permission to under-hydrate outside of the gym, though, especially if your goal is to add muscle. "Our muscles are made up of water. When you're gaining, you need to make sure you're drinking plenty of water, more than normal," Milo says. "It will speed recovery and help flush out your body. It's critical that you're never dehydrated if you want to build muscle and gain mass." He never leaves home without water. You shouldn't either.
How do you know if you're drinking enough? "A good rule of thumb is, if you're peeing clear or light yellow, you're hydrated," says Milo. If it's dark yellow or brown, you're not hydrated."
Roadblock 3 Eating for quantity, not quality
Building muscle used to be an excuse for treating your body like the bed of a dump truck waiting for a payload of fill dirt. King-size candy bars? Sure, why not. Bacon-wrapped sausage stuffed inside a bun-shaped mound of foie gras? Bring it on! The more calories the better, or so conventional wisdom said, because you first have to become a human roly-poly before shedding the fat to reveal the Adonis physique underneath.
This approach worked relatively well for some people, but it was disastrous for many, many more. They just got fat, and they never came back. You deserve better!
"Anybody can put on fat weight," Thompson says. "You've made the commitment to train with everything you've got, and sure, you need to eat more, but those extra calories have to come from lean protein and quality carbohydrates with the right amount of healthy fats."
Need to know where to start? With protein, of course. "Buy the highest-quality organic, free-range and grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs you can afford," Thompson commands. "For extra carb calories, choose sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and other clean sources. Gaining mass isn't an excuse to eat like shit. This isn't the time for ice cream and pizza."
Roadblock 4 Stacks that are too stacked
Supplements can provide a solid extra push toward your goals, but only when you take them consistently. So why don't you? If you're like many gym-goers, it's because your approach is too complicated, with stacks that are unsustainably expensive and hard to keep track of.
The solution: Keep it simple, and you'll simply keep growing—without feeling the financial pinch. Pick supplements that have been shown time and time again to work for your specific goals and to maximize your recovery between workouts.
"In between meals or when you don't have access to real food, a whey isolate like Twinlab's Clean Series Whey Protein Isolate should be your go-to protein source. It helps you get the protein you need to stay in a positive nitrogen balance and in an anabolic state so you can grow," Thompson explains.
Desperately seeking size? Sub out your next jug of protein for a weight gainer, which gives you fats, carbs and protein all in one. Struggling to keep up with your intense workout regimen? Consider creatine, branched-chain amino acids, or glutamine—three bona fide recovery boosters that won't break the bank.
Roadblock 5 A lifestyle that doesn't match your dreams
If you want to achieve a radical transformation, you're going to have to do a lot more than just slot a few hours a week of heavy lifting into your iCal app. Yes, you must be an iron-tossing machine hell-bent on gains when you set foot into the hallowed halls of the gym.
But as the Militia captains and the legends who came before them have proven, achieving that jaw-dropping, best-freaking-shape-of-your-life condition takes a total dedication to unsexy things like clean living, clean eating, and getting enough sleep.
Don't start crying just yet. You don't need to live like a model or an elite athlete forever if your goal is simply to be a better you. But everyone should try it at least once for a minimum of 12 weeks. This experience is crucial to seeing what results are possible on the other side.
"Greatness never takes a break, and neither does your body when you're trying to add mass," says Wheat. Each day that goes by without improvement is a day lost. The choice is yours: Get better or get back in line!