To gain muscle mass you need to have the following things in place:
- Progressive overload from resistance training.
- Caloric surplus (especially around your training sessions).
I will deal with each separately…
Progressive Overload From Resistance Training
When you want to achieve progressive overload, you essentially want to make your training harder.
Here’s how progressive overload looks:
Train hard > Stress Your Body > Adaptation > Train harder > Stress Your Body More > New Adaptation > Repeat…
Over time, progressive overload enables you to do more work or work harder and increases the size of your muscles provided that you supply your body with enough calories and you recover properly.
Just imagine a guy who goes from working with 15 KG on the shoulder press to 70 KG while eating a slight caloric surplus and gaining bodyweight. (Training at a higher intensity).
Of course this guy will add muscle mass because the only way his body can keep up with the increasing demands of his training is to grow and strengthen the muscles.
The same goes for when a guy takes that 15 KG on the shoulder press and starts doing it everyday rather than once per week. (Training at a higher frequency).
Or when he takes that 15 KG on the shoulder press and start doing 10 sets of 10 reps per training session rather than 2 sets of 8 reps. (Training at a higher volume).
Essentially, to achieve progressive overload, you have to increase training volume, frequency and intensity.
- Higher Volume: Increasing the amount of sets and reps you do for a muscle group to increase the total workload done per workout.
- Higher Frequency: Training a muscle group more often.
- Higher Intensity: Training harder on each set you do for a muscle group by training with a weight closer to your max, longer time-under-tension on each repetition or high intensity techniques such as drop sets and rest-pause sets.
Now, you may wonder… What is best? High Volume Training, High Intensity Training or High Frequency Training?
There’s only the right training style at the right time in YOUR individual training career, and often you will have to use different training styles for different muscle groups and at different times in your training career.
And what is even more important than your style of training, is the execution of it:
- Are you properly connected to your set? Do you have a mind muscle connection?
- Do you follow proven bodybuilding principles such as having a time-under-tension of at least 45 seconds in a set, or do you rush through your sets and use a lot of swinging and momentum to move the weight?
All I can say with certainty is that most skinny-fat guys who complete Phase 1 tend to get VERY good results with High Volume Training, but even that stops working after a while, and then we have to switch it up a bit.
The key is to track progress regularly so you know when to switch from one training style to another (and also to listen to your body).
Caloric surplus (especially around your training sessions) and recovery.
The second part of adding muscle mass to your frame is “caloric surplus”.
To build muscle mass, you need progressive overload but you also need to supply your body with the food and recovery that supports this progressive overload.
To be specific, you need the following in your diet (macro perspective):
- Enough protein to build and repair your muscles after hard training.
- Enough carbs to provide energy for your training sessions and to increase muscle and Central Nervous System output during your training, and fill up your muscles with glycogen after a training session.
- Enough fat to keep your testosterone levels high enough for building muscle mass.
- Enough calories to build mass (some of that mass will be fat and some of it will be muscle mass).
All diet plans I make have enough of all 3 macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) and a slight caloric surplus that enables you to gain as much quality mass as possible (this caloric surplus is calculated based on the data you provide me, and is adjusted later based on your weekly check-ins).
This small caloric surplus ensures that you recover from your training while keeping the fat/muscle gain ratio as optimal as possible (the bigger the surplus the more muscle you can potentially gain, but this is also followed by more fat gains).
On a micro level you will also need to account for factors such as amino acids, minerals, vitamins and a bunch of other things but most of these things will be taken care off as long as you follow my High Testosterone Diet Plan and take my recommended supplements (the diet foods are MUCH more important than the supplements).
Reduce Stress to Maximise Free Testosterone
One thing a lot of people forget is that training is a stress and to keep making gains in your training, your body has to recover from the stress you placed on it during your last training sessions.
If you keep showing up to your training sessions for months on end without being recovered, you will either be stuck doing the same amount of volume and intensity, burn out mentally or get injured.
Now, it’s no issue if you’re an advanced trainee and you put a massive amount of stress on your body for a few weeks and you keep showing up under recovered for each training session.
A few weeks of overreaching won’t hurt, as long as you cycle off the hard training regularly and introduce bodyweight only training weeks or complete rest weeks right after. (This is typically what happens when I put some of my Phase 2 clients on a High Intensity Program).
However, whether you do these hard training cycles or you’re still in Phase 1, it’s essential that you take recovery seriously because proper recovery won’t only make you feel better on a daily basis, but also enable you to get training results a lot of faster because proper recovery reduces the stress hormone Cortisol.
Cortisol binds to Testosterone which is the male hormone of vitality, therefore elevated Cortisol levels will leave you with less Free Testosterone.
The best ways to reduce stress and thereby maximise free testosterone and training recovery are ranked below:
- Sufficient high quality sleep. (Most people need about 8-9 hours. If you’re below 25 it’s most likely closest to 9 hours.)
- Daily meditation of minimum 10 minutes.
- Physical touch. Human beings need physical touch on a regular basis to feel relaxed. If you don’t have a partner to get physical touch from, a good replacement is to get a massage regularly.
- Stretching tight areas of your body. Tension inside your body elevates cortisol.
- Eating foods that you digest well (minimum bloating and constipation from diet). Foods that you digest well make you feel light and energised and take out tension from your body.
- Get fresh air and sun as much as possible.
- Maximise the amount of time you spend with people who provide positive value to your life and minimise the time spent with the ones that provide negative value. Reward the people who make you happy without expecting much in return by giving them your time. Don’t give your time to those who argue more than they make you happy or only chat you up for favours.
If you do these you should start seeing an increase in the feel good hormones in your body and get into a positive feedback loop where you start focusing on all the positive things in your life rather than the negative stuff.
On another note, stress management techniques are especially important for skinny-fat guys because from my experience talking with hundreds of skinny-fat guys, we tend to get stressed very easily because of our bad genetics.
If you find yourself thinking about “whether you’re going to make it” or “why you can’t look like your favourite fitness model” it’s time to reduce stress and start thinking more positive thoughts. (When your mind has negative thoughts it cannot have positive thoughts at the same time so you’re essentially stopping personal growth.)
Summing It Up
You gain muscle mass by:
- Stimulating your muscles through progressive resistance training that follows proven bodybuilding principles emphasising long time-under-tension and a proper mind-muscle-connection. (Remember, we want to just stimulate and not annihilate).
- Support muscle gains by eating a diet that has a sufficient amount of calories, macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) and micronutrients (amino acids).
- Emphasising recovery and stress management to ensure that you’re recovered for your next training session and that you can thereby sustain your training program over the long-term.
Over time, sticking to these 3 rules is guaranteed to enable you to gain muscle mass (provided you don’t have hormonal imbalances or health issues that have to be sorted out).