4 - Train Big To Get Big
If you were to build a house, you would build a foundation first and then build upon it, right? So in order to be a house, you need to first build a solid, strong foundation and then add concentrative movements to your training program in order to add detail. Your training program should consist of multijoint movements, movements that work multiple muscle groups at once, or movements that allow a maximal overload of the muscle - all other exercises should be extra and done at the end of your training session, if done at all!
Training this way will give you more bang for your buck by working more muscle groups and decreasing the time in the gym that it would take to hit all those muscle groups with isolation exercises. For a list of appropriate exercises for each muscle group see my article on Mass Building Exercises.
Your legs are clearly your largest muscle group, consisting probably around 60% of your total body mass, and your back is easily your second largest muscle group. So it is fair to say that by not short-changing your larger muscle groups you stand to gain more mass and bodyweight because of the area that it covers on your body. I've seen clients gain extraordinary amounts of bodyweight by simply prioritizing or training larger muscle groups ahead of smaller ones.
Different bodybuilders use different repetition schemes. Some go heavy like powerlifters and others perform 15 reps or more per set. But two things generally remain the same - high intensity and high weekly volume. Volume (sets * weight * reps * exercises * frequency) means total work performed. So you can get away with not completely taxing and fatiguing the muscle fibers if you were to increase the frequency.
5 - Rest
Sufficient sleep is important! The obvious reason is because fatigue will lower your intensity in the gym, thus hampering your results. But sleep is also when growth hormone levels elevate and your body repairs. Try to get at least 8-10 hours a night.
One reason I find that people have trouble putting weight on or keeping it on is because they are very physically active. I typically find this with athletes, people who enjoy running, or people with physically demanding labor jobs. They may feel like they are eating a ton, but they are also burning off a ton.
This scenario makes it very difficult for them to put on weight because they have to eat so much, sometimes to the point of eating even if you're not hungry (this may be where meal replacement or weight gain powders help). I recommend cutting out or limiting cardiovascular exercise for a short period of time and then adding it back in when your nutritional program is sound.
More is not necessarily better when talking about training frequency and a goal of weight gain. Again, more physical activity means more burned calories which means you have to compensate by eating extra. I find that a properly tailored program of no more than 3-4 days a week works excellent for people with trouble gaining weight. This means working out every other day. The day off between workouts allows you to rest both physiologically and psychologically.
Physiologically, your muscles can rest and repair and your glycogen levels can replenish giving you more energy for your next workout. Psychologically, you can rest and get yourself psyched and focused for your next high intensity workout. The day off also makes it easier for you to stay in energy balance because you don't have to compensate for burning extra calories as you would if you worked out.
6 - Avoid Catabolism At All Costs
Muscle catabolism is like a four-letter word to bodybuilders and you want to avoid it at all costs. Catabolism may occur if you go without eating for a while or from long extended workout sessions. Your body begins by robbing your muscle of glycogen and then it may start to break down your actual muscle tissue protein for energy. You need to avoid this by eating regularly and at key times to always stay in energy surplus and provide an anabolic environment.
You may want to consume something prior to working out (low sugar protein shake) and/or while working out (diluted Gatorade, etc.) and also consume something in the middle of the night. When you are sleeping you are basically fasting for 8-10 hours, so your body goes into catabolism. Mix up a protein shake before going to bed and keep it in the fridge or keep a protein bar close to your bed.
Whatever works best for you. I know that some professional bodybuilders go so far as setting their alarm to wake them up in the middle of the night to eat - I eat when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Also, be sure to eat breakfast.
7 - The Weight Gain Frame of Mind
Theoretically it is possible to gain both lean tissue and lose or maintain fat mass but it is a very fine line and much easier said than done. If weight gain is your goal, then you need to not be afraid to gain a little fat tissue - It almost comes with the territory when you are trying to add solid pounds of muscle tissue. You should just monitor your fat gain to make sure you're not getting carried away with the calories.
Most professionals go through "bulking" cycles in the off-season where they consume massive amounts of calories, don't perform any cardio, and hit the weights hard in order to gain lots of muscle, strength and bodyweight. Then they go through a "shredding" cycle, which may involve dieting and/or introducing cardio back into the program to get rid of any bodyfat they may have gained from the bulking cycle. I highly recommend this approach.
- Every calorie is a good calorie for "hardgainers" looking to put on bodyweight.
- Consistency is the key to reaching your goals.
- Listen to how your body responds.
- Train hard and HAVE FUN and watch yourself grow!