If all it took to become a swoldier was a few shakes of honcho sauce on your egg white omelet in the morning, then every dude in the gym would have redwood trunk thighs, Mt. McKinley pecs, and artillery cannon arms.
If only it were that easy! Making big mass gains stick takes hard work and a carefully orchestrated approach that encompasses the holy trinity of mass: fueling, training, and recovery.
Meet the Muscle Militia
- Occupation: Sales rep, Twinlab
- Athletic Goal: Competitive bodybuilder "I want to be proportionate, work on my weak spots, and make sure I give 100 percent in the gym."
- Occupation: Firefighter, Florida
- Athletic Goal: Powerlifter, coming back from pec injury "My goal is to compete in powerlifting again."
- Occupation: VP of Sports Nutrition, Twinlab
- Athletic Goal: Ripped physique "I just want to be as strong, hard, and lean as I can be."
As two of the hugest members of the Twinlab Muscle Militia, Jason Wheat and Ronnie Milo have the process of forging bulk down to a science. Their approach isn't just about packing on pounds. It's about healthy lean gains that they can maintain over time.
Follow these eight steps from the Militia manual, and you'll end up with the size, strength, and swagger that come with being a true size king.
Step 1: Eat clean, eat plenty
What you put in your body will affect your physique even more than your training will. This means quality matters, not just quantity. Eat clean and lean for the most part; just do it in different quantities.
"Nutrition is the most important part of getting big," says Wheat, so eat up. "For protein, consume whey protein powder plus lean red meat, chicken, and salmon. Choose quality fats like coconut oil, which contains medium-chain triglycerides; olive oil, and avocado. Add in more carbs in the form of rice, potatoes, and oatmeal."
More isn't enough, though. Says Milo: "You need to eat a lot of the right food. People use 'bulking up' as an excuse to eat garbage." Keep it clean and you won't have to go through the cycle of bingeing and dieting.
"Nutrition is the most important part of getting big."
Step 2: Build with the Basics
You can't make something from nothing, so don't expect to get big without training hard using multi-joint free-weight exercises. "For gaining mass you want to put the bench press, squat, and deadlift at the center of your training program," says Wheat. "Those movements hit the most muscle groups and trigger the greatest release of testosterone per workout, which will stimulate the lean muscle growth you want."
As anyone who's ever seen one of these lifts get butchered can attest, though, form is just as important as exercise selection. "Train at a controlled pace," says Milo. "Make sure you incorporate every muscle fiber possible in every rep for every lift to tax the muscles and stimulate growth."
Stimulate—that sounds pleasant, doesn't it? It's not. Give yourself a gut check every time you step into the iron arena and mentally prepare yourself to explore the discomfort zone. "I go so hard in the gym that I'm wrecked when I leave," says Wheat. "Sometimes it'll take me 20 minutes to walk out of the gym. Those are the only days when I feel like I'm going to throw up. If I feel like it's easy to walk out to my car then I didn't get a good enough workout."
Step 3: Find the Frequency Sweet Spot
You might be tempted to throw heavy iron every day in your quest to build your suit of muscular armor. But training too much and too frequently will only succeed in precluding the gains you seek.
Milo and Wheat both break down their training the same way during mass-gaining phases, splitting their strength training into three lifting days, each centered around one of the mass-monster basics: squat, deadlift, or bench. Take 1-2 days off from lifting between each day in the gym.
After a warm-up to elevate your heart rate, lubricate your joints, and awaken every muscle group, focus on pushing heavy weights for low reps with perfect form.
Step 4: Lift Heavy With Low Reps
After a warm-up to elevate your heart rate, lubricate your joints, and awaken every muscle group, focus on pushing heavy weights for low reps with perfect form. You'll have to experiment to find exactly which rep range will promote the biggest gains for you, and this will change over time. In general, though, shoot for between 4 and 12 reps per set. Stick to a specific rep range for a week, then move on to a new rep range the following week and vary the cycle over time.
"I go as heavy as possible but I cycle reps," says Wheat. "One week I'll do 8-9 reps, the next week 4-6 reps. I keep my body guessing but I keep the rep range low, between 4 and 12."
Once you rack up a lot of experience, you might find that what works for others doesn't work for you. Milo doesn't count reps, and instead focuses on driving maximum contraction until he knows he's finished giving his all in a set. "Your body doesn't know what reps are. Your body will tell you specifically what you need," he says.
The Muscle Militia Mass Program
Step 5: Resist the Urge to Do More
Training sessions in the gym shouldn't exceed one hour during a growth phase. "If you're working out hard, you don't have the energy to be in there for four hours," says Milo. "I get at it, get in a hard workout, and get out. If you're spending time checking yourself out in the mirror and taking selfies, you're not training hard enough."
More important, don't push your body into a catabolic state by overtraining. "I try to keep my workouts shorter when I'm trying to gain mass, always under 60 minutes," says Wheat. "I do that so I'm not burning too many calories."
"If you're working out hard, you don't have the energy to be in there for four hours. Get at it, get in a hard workout, and get out!"
Step 6: Alternate intense cardio with recovery cardio
Cardio, despite what you may have heard, still has a place in a gaining phase. Just reframe how you approach it. Use it strategically, and you can bazooka-blast fat while you gain muscle. You can even help your body recover along the way.
"I'll do fast sprints for 30 seconds then walk for a minute," says Wheat. "Or I'll do box jumps in supersets with burpees. Or I'll run stairs for 30 seconds and rest for a minute and do it for sets for 10. I do all my high-intensity training in sets of 10 to keep the whole routine under 20 minutes."
Milo does high-intensity intervals as well but he also uses steady-state cardio to promote recovery and combat muscle soreness. "At the end of the day, cardio burns muscle if you do it for long durations," he says. "But I also do two days of regular cardio for 30 minutes at 70 percent of maximum heart rate to promote recovery."
Step 7: Sleep Big
Training stimulates your body to grow. That growth happens when you rest and recover. "You have to make sure you get enough sleep, and nap if you have to," says Wheat. "Any time you don't get enough sleep it lowers your natural growth hormone and testosterone levels, at which point you're not going to grow at all. You're not even going to recover from your workouts."
Aim for eight hours of sleep every night. Avoiding caffeine and stimulants in the afternoon and evening will help.
When you're building mass, the quality of your sleep matters just as much as the quality of your food.
Step 8: Give it time to work
Turn on your television after midnight and you can find dozens of infomercials promising to turn you into a ripped bronco in a few short weeks. Adding lean mass the right way takes more time. Patience is a must.
"I get messages all the time from guys who want to get big in 8 or 12 weeks, and they want to know how to do it," says Wheat. "I say you pretty much can't do that. If you have an unrealistic timeline, you'll get frustrated or quit. You're not going to see results overnight."
Are you really ready to put it all together? Try the workout above, mix in appropriate rest and nutrition, and you'll start packing on the lean mass you need to become a size king.