The One-Month Muscle Metamorphosis!

It only takes 10 days for a rotund caterpillar to transform itself into a monarch butterfly. Just imagine what you could do if you got your diet and training in line for an entire month. OK, now stop imagining and go do it!

I'm not usually the biggest guy in the room. Growing up I was always the smallest kid in class. I graduated high school at 115 pounds soaking wet. So when a guy comes up to me in the gym and tells me how he's tried everything and can't put on muscle, I feel fairly well qualified to call bullshit.

Typically, the first thing I want to know from this so-called "hardgainer" is what he ate over the past couple of days. While asking, I prepare myself for the inevitable explanation of how he eats so much, but his metabolism is just too fast. Then we'll talk about his training.

The end result of years of these experiences, plus breaking my own ass to put on weight, almost always reaches the same conclusions: You're not eating enough, you eat like crap, and your training sucks.

Nobody ever wants to hear that, but in 9 out of 10 cases, it's the truth. But instead, hardgainers would prefer to blame their genetics. DNA, it seems, has left them devoid of the ability to build muscle. Alas, they must suffer forever as the smallest guy in the room.

Maybe not. Over the years I've learned my lesson about blaming my metabolism. I plugged away in the gym, struggling for a pound of muscle here and there. Don't get me wrong, I got much stronger; that was primarily my training focus, but I didn't put on much size. I have, however, tried pretty much everything and learned what works and what is a waste of time.

With that said, let's break down my three explanations from above.

Reason 1 /// You're Not Eating Enough

If you call yourself a hardgainer, I can say with 99 percent certainty that your diet is the cause. Either you don't eat enough, or what you do eat is crap. Most likely, it's a combination of both.

For instance, it's become really trendy for men to utilize some form of intermittent fasting over the past few years. But if you're a skinny guy trying to put on muscle, this probably isn't the most effective way to go.

So before you send me an email proclaiming the excellence of your 18/6 fasting schedule for muscle-building, save both of us the time. It's difficult—not impossible, but very difficult—to get the kind of calories you need when using extended fasts.

I understand that nobody wants to be a calorie-counter. Fine, but that means you need to learn to eat intelligently when it comes to macronutrients. I've found that hardgainers benefit from getting at least 1.5 g of protein per pound of bodyweight, 2 g of carbs and .5 g of fat.

These are general numbers that I've seen work effectively with my clients and myself. They're not set in stone, but they are a good place to start. If you're trying to put on muscle and failing, the chances are good that you aren't hitting these kinds of numbers with your diet.

Which brings us to the second part of how your diet can hold you back:

Reason 2 /// You Eat Like Crap

One of the problems with processed foods—i.e., crap—is that even the ones that contain meat, like hot dogs and fast food, are surprisingly weak protein sources. They're far better carb and fat sources, but only to a certain point—after all, they're crap.

So if that's how you're trying to meet the "eating enough" benchmark, ask yourself: Are you really getting enough protein? Probably not. That number I mentioned above, 1.5 g per pound, is on non-training days.

On training days, with the addition of pre- and post-workout nutrition, that number should get closer to 2 g per pound. This is simply easier to do with solid whole food protein sources like quality meat and dairy rather than, um, crap.

If you're truly getting enough protein but still not putting on muscle, your next step is to look at your carbs. Ironically enough, considering a typical American diet, this is where many guys miss the target. We're often told to focus on protein so much so that we forget that carbs are important, too. The immense recent backlash against carbs hasn't helped, either. Adequate carb intake not only fuels you for your workouts; it also keeps your glycogen stores full, which signals your body that it's OK to grow.

Once you've got your carbs and protein in line make sure you're getting adequate fat in your diet. Dietary fat is crucial to hormonal function and it's hard to build muscle when you've got the testosterone levels of a teenage girl.

Reason 2(a) /// Your Workout Nutrition Is Crap

Nutritional timing around your workout is especially important if you are trying to put on muscle. You already drink a post-workout protein shake—which is great, but what about before your workout?

The inclusion of a pre-workout shake does a couple of things. First, it helps up your calories and protein total for the day—always good things when focusing on adding weight. Second, it supplies your body with amino acids and carbs for the coming workout. I've found that for many, simply including this shake can be the game-changer they need.

Intra-workout nutrition, meaning during your workout, is another often overlooked element that plenty of people have found helped kickstart their gains. Sipping on amino acids throughout your workout is great for recovery, sure, but it can also impact muscle-building. This is something every frustrated hardgainer should consider.

And of course, you need to get some protein after you train. Not just shakes, but food. Duh.

Reason 3 /// Your Training Sucks

I'm not sure if guys take it more personally when they're told their diet sucks, or their training. It seems about equal.

Hey, nobody wants to admit they're doing something wrong. That's natural, especially for men. But if your training isn't producing results, you need to accept that maybe it's just not that effective. There are many pieces of the training puzzle that can go awry, but let's focus on the three main offenders.

1 / Crappy Exercise Selection

If upon entering the gym you immediately start off with triceps kickbacks before progressing to the seated calf-raise, you're doing it wrong.

Exercise selection is one of the most important aspects of training. If your exercises suck, your results are going to suck. You should be focusing the overwhelming majority of your training on multi-joint compound movements like squats, deadlifts, standing overhead presses, bench presses, pull-ups, and rows.

I've written entire programs that used nothing but those movements. In the program below (Yes, there is a program! I'm not just here to pick on you.) you'll get an idea of how to choose effective exercises. Pay special note to how many are compound movements, and the select number of isolation exercises.

2 / Never Changing Your Rep Range

Manipulation of rep ranges is pretty much the heart of basic program design. Your body adapts rather quickly to a rep range, so if you've only been doing 3 sets of 10 for years, that's probably one of the reasons you stopped seeing results.

An effective program makes use of multiple rep ranges to target many strength qualities and muscle fibers. And while we're talking about reps…

3 / Using the Wrong Volume

Volume refers to the number of sets and reps you do of a given exercise. Don't use enough volume, and you won't elicit results. Use too much, and you won't recover and could get hurt. Assuming you're using a variety of rep ranges—you are, aren't you?—you need to manipulate the number of sets you do in order to encourage adaptation.

Look at it this way: If you're doing sets of 4 and only do 3 sets, you've done 12 reps total for that exercise. Think you're going to build muscle from 12 reps? Nope. Now if you do 6 sets of 4 instead, you're approaching the money zone.

A great general rule is to aim for approximately 25-40 reps if you're trying to build muscle. Obviously this isn't concrete: you can go as low as 15 or as high as 50. Between 25 and 40 is generally accepted to be the sweet spot, however.

There's lots of room for variation, which means there are lots of different ways for you to build muscle in the weight room.

Month of Mass Hypertrophy Program

By now you should get the idea: Eat, lift, eat some more. So how about a strength program that works? The program below is based on lifting four days per week: two days will on the upper body and two on the lower body.

This month of training utilizes lots of heavy, compound movements and lots of different rep ranges. This ensures you'll get maximum muscle recruitment while developing multiple strength qualities and a range of muscle fibers.

Week 1 ///
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Upper Body
Day 3: Lower Body
Day 4: Upper Body

Week 2 ///
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Upper Body
Day 3: Lower Body
Day 4: Upper Body

Week 3 ///
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Upper Body
Day 3: Lower Body
Day 4: Upper Body

Week 4 ///
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Upper Body
Day 3: Lower Body
Day 4: Upper Body

The Last Set ///

One final thing I'd like to touch on is the last set. I'm usually a strong proponent of keeping away from failure as much as possible in the gym. Training to failure too often is a surefire way to compromise your results. Strategically training to failure, however, can be one of the best things you can do in the gym.

In this program, I suggest taking your last set on most exercises, particularly your main movements, to the point of technical failure. This means you can't do another rep with reasonable technique. In other words, if you need a spotter to assist you—even if it's just fingertips on the bar!—you need to stop. You can't complete any further reps on your own.

With adequate nutrition there is no reason why a trainee can't put on at least 4-5 pounds of muscle over the course of the program. Just make sure to monitor your weight over the course of the four weeks. If you're not moving in the right direction, modify your nutrition as necessary. You don't need to count calories, but you definitely need to have an accurate idea of what you're consuming.


This article is an excerpt from my new e-book Training Tails, which includes 20 articles and programs for strength, hypertrophy, health, and athletic training from some of the biggest names in the fitness industry, including Joe Dowdell, John Romaniello, Tony Gentlicore, Sohee Lee, and many others. All proceeds are being donated to a Long Island no-kill animal rescue. World-class fitness information and saving puppies? That's pretty awesome.



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About The Author

Chris Smith is a strength coach from New York City and the founder of Train Better Fitness.

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northcuttnm

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northcuttnm

Great article. Coming from a guy who always struggles putting mass on I agree with this article 100%.

Aug 7, 2013 5:23pm | report
 
Mudvayne24

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Mudvayne24

This article is terrific. It definitely takes time to put on that extra muscle tissue, but if you follow this article you're basically guaranteed for success. I can't even count how many people have come up to me asking me how to put on some extra muscle and they seem to expect some sort of magical answer, but all I come up with is "eat". I think I should email this article to everyone I know.

Aug 7, 2013 6:59pm | report
 
PDeV1

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PDeV1

yes.. It's true.! And a lot of people want to take mass and be around 6-8% body fat.. You have to eat and forget those abs for some times. Now I am bulking (11-12% Bf) and I see progress. But it's time and efforts!

Aug 8, 2013 9:08am | report
jstanek

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jstanek

Sweet article, just don't understand the part about not liking training until failure.

Aug 7, 2013 7:50pm | report
 
SKHorne

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SKHorne

Personally i've had bad experiences with training to failure. Its actually set me back months' of hard work due to getting to that point and trying to perform an exercise with bad technique. Its mainly pointing to exercises such as bench, deads, squats and big compound movements, others you can get away with training to failure.

Aug 8, 2013 10:39am | report
44Benja

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44Benja

I know what you mean. I trained to failure for like two years straight, but once I stopped doing it as much I actually felt a lot better. A few years ago I seemed like everyone was preaching going to failure, not it seems most experts agree you should do it much less often. Weird.

Sep 11, 2013 9:37pm | report
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

The protein thing again, ive heard so many different scenarios, I also heard that protein synthesis is stunted after you consume about 2/3 of your bodyweight, and then here we are again with someone saying you need more, I just cant believe for someone of my size that I would have to consume 270 grms of protein, let alone how it would be possible for me, I mean jeez 4 scoops of my protein and that's only 120 grams......

Aug 7, 2013 8:31pm | report
 
monty097

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monty097

270 isn't that hard to get to man, think of it like this if ur getting 120 from ur protein then u only need to get 150 from food. An 8 ounce steak has around 70g of protein so that's almost half of the 150 right there.

Aug 7, 2013 11:43pm | report
Mudvayne24

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Mudvayne24

I probably eat 250 a day pretty easily. 10 oz. of chicken is not really a whole lot of food and that's a good 60 grams of quality protein there. If you consumed that twice per day and had a few scoops of protein powder you'll hit 200 without even breaking a sweat.

Aug 8, 2013 8:40am | report
PDeV1

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PDeV1

I eat (when I was on cutt) 307-310 grms of protein by day...

Now I eat 250 gr of protein, 250 of carbs, 110 of fats.
Morning : 8 egg whites, 1/2 cup of oat meal, 25 gr of almonds, 1 appel.
During training : 1 gatorade (33gr of carbs)
After training : shake 1 tablespoon of honey, another gatorade or 1/2 cup of oatmeal.
10h30 : 200 gr of greek yagourt with 1 banana or 2 appel or 320gr of watermelon.
Dinner : 200 gr of chicken, 1/2cup of rice, 50gr of almonds, 1 vegetable serving.
PM : 1 shake or 100 gr of meat with vegetable
at 17h00 : 200gr of meat, 50 gr almonds, 2 cup vegetable.
night snack : 2 whole egg with vegetable.
Everyday... 3016 calories... And probably I'll up to 3300 in the next months.

Hope this will help you.

Aug 8, 2013 9:11am | report
Garconis

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Garconis

2 scoops, 3x a day = about 150 grams. I do 2 scoops of Whey in the morning, 2 scoops post-workout (evening), and 2 scoops of Casein. Add milk instead of water and your protein will rise even more. Then, obviously add in some eggs and meat throughout the day, and you're all set.

Aug 8, 2013 6:55pm | report
monheimk

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monheimk

I weigh a good 20 lbs less than you and while bulking my macros are 320 grams of carbs and protein and a little over 70 grams of fat. I have no problem reaching any of these. Just eat more and neither should you. If you need diet specifics I can share, but staples are oatmeal, egg whites, eggs, tuna, chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes, tilapia, salmon, peanut butter, etc.

Aug 8, 2013 8:15pm | report
lucia316

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lucia316

Except your macros are off. Unless you're on AS you don't NEED that much protein. Your fat is low.

Aug 8, 2013 11:12pm | report
AzzidReign

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AzzidReign

I think people have the concept of the protein wrong. If you start researching, they are talking about 2g of protein per kg of body weight, which works out to something close to 1g per lb of body weight.

Sep 29, 2013 12:08pm | report
Leo855

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Leo855

I've been following a program similar to this and have found noticeable increases in size and strength. Definitely giving this a try for myself.

Article Rated:
Aug 7, 2013 10:13pm | report
 
xxgameskingxx

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xxgameskingxx

Great Article, really good tips for mass.
but i dont think i will go for the upper and lower body, i love exercising one muscle group every week !

Aug 7, 2013 11:17pm | report
 
lemona7778

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lemona7778

great article,but work out program isn't good,there are only supersets,triset...and where is drop set,zero set,high volume,partial hold ......

Aug 8, 2013 2:05am | report
 
poppyq

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poppyq

A workout program doesn't need every single kind of set to be a good workout.

Aug 8, 2013 7:37pm | report
acecole504

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acecole504

Just what I needed.

Aug 8, 2013 3:20am | report
 
DevonEdgar

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DevonEdgar

This is a great article, they really focused on covering every aspect of living a healthy life. I particularly like the part about exercise selection and execution of those exercises.

Aug 8, 2013 5:37am | report
 
SHUTupNrocK8

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SHUTupNrocK8

Great article, as I do make my own workouts for the most part, I will definitely try this out. Thanks.

Aug 8, 2013 5:56am | report
 
ZMAIKEL

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ZMAIKEL

thank you good article!!

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Aug 8, 2013 6:18am | report
 
honeyroyale

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honeyroyale

does this apply to women as well? and what if you're trying to lose fat AND gain muscle? I've been advised to eat 1700 calories from one article on this site, but from yours, I should be eating about 2200. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Aug 8, 2013 7:58am | report
 
Mudvayne24

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Mudvayne24

In my opinion (I've developed a lot of those opinions from Layne Norton after seeing the science back it up) you should eat as much quality food as you can without gaining fat. If you could eat 2,500 quality calories and not gain fat, feel satisfied, and have a good energy level, then I would do that. This way you will have plenty of raw materials to build up that lean tissue, and when/if you actually do have to cut you can drop to maybe 2,250 calories and actually lose fat because your body has adapted to a higher caloric intake.

Aug 8, 2013 8:43am | report
YoungEx20

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YoungEx20

Unless you're doing something illegal or just never trained hard before it's impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Pick one, execute it, then switch to the other. I'd bulk first at your height and weight.

Aug 14, 2013 8:37pm | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 88 Comments

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