Having you been spinning your wheels and stuck at a plateau, trying to gain more muscle?

If you’re trying to pack on muscle then there’s a certain set of basic rules that you need to follow to ensure you’re not wasting your time. If you’re a skinny guy, then it’s even more critical to understand that what works for easy responders, may not work for you.

That’s because you’re a hard gainer. A hard gainer just simply CAN’T do what everyone else is doing and expect the same results. We don’t have the blessed genetics for it. Not only is it difficult to build muscle, but it’s very hard to keep it as well, I know this first hand. Some people can stop working out and start to put on weight, guys like us stop working out and actually lose weight.

So, let’s lay down some simple steps that you can take to consistently take to start packing on muscle mass more effectively.

1. Don’t Ignore Ignore the Law of Progressive Overload

You must get stronger over time, it’s that simple. To build muscle, you have to progressively overload the muscle with greater imposing demands that force the muscle to get stronger and keep adapting.

By using the same weights, reps, sets, and intensifiers you’re not doing anything that forces your body to adapt any further. By training like this, you’re just spinning your wheels and wasting your time.

When you look at your training plan, be sure to have periods of intentional progressive overload that force your system to get stronger and adapt your nutrition and recovery time as well so that you can continue to push yourself each training session.

Just remember, the guys who consistently gain more muscle are the ones who’re getting stronger and stronger while paying attention to the other critical muscle building laws.

2. Train With High Frequency

Skinny guy or not, high-frequency training has been proven to be far more effective for producing muscle mass than training each body part once per week, yet there’s still a ton of programs out there that commit their trainees to doing so.

NOTE: Muscle protein synthesis occurs for 48-72 hrs after working out, which means that’s the period in which the muscle is actually growing, even if the muscle is sore for days after.

Try planning your programs in such a way that you can hit each muscle group at least 2x’s per week, just ensure that you’re keeping your nutrition in check to elicit the most gains from it.

“I always thought about how many times I’d be able to hit any given muscle group before stepping on stage in 20, 30, or 52 weeks out, and would literally count how many sessions I have left to “hit legs” for example. Knowing that I only had let’s say 13 leg workouts left until the big day made me maximize each session.”

3. “Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate”

I’ll never forget those words from Lee Haney…

Here’s the thing, STOP doing what you’re favorite pro bodybuilder might be doing. For the hard gainer to try and pump out the same volume when you’re not using steroids, or able to pack down food like it’s literally your job, it’s only detrimental to train this way.

Get it, train hard, get out, fuel your body and keep it simple.

4. Have a Solid Strategy to Follow… 

We all know the saying, “fail to plan and plan to fail.”

If you’re just winging it or doing “instinctive” training as my training buddies and I used to call it when I first started training during my early teen years, then you simply won’t be very effective.

Have a plan that’s at least in 4-week blocks so that you can easily track why and how your body is responding to the demands you place on it.

If you need to hire a trainer or online coach to help you map this out, then I highly recommend this! It will take the guessing work out of it and have you fully equipped each day you enter the gym, allowing you to focus entirely on the task at hand.

My personal coaching clients have their workouts posted right on my coaching app so they can have it right at their fingertips on their smartphone, allowing them to input their numbers, check my videos for quick tips, and cues and so on. This allows them to be fully concentrated on what matters – putting in the work. (Just keep your phones on airplane mode while training to avoid distractions)

Lastly, stick to the plan. You’ll never know what training plans or supplements are actually working for you if you’re constantly changing things or adding things in and not allowing your body to get good at any one thing. You need to dose yourself consistently of the same medicine to get the benefits. Don’t be a program hopper.

Don’t be a program hopper.

5. Cycle Your Training

A surefire path to failure, burnout, overtraining, and ultimately injury – is to not cycle your training. Your body can only withstand so much.

By cycling periods of high/low volume, power/strength, workout density and overall intensity, you allow the entire body to go through periods of adaptation. Remember, the nervous system plays a crucial role in getting your muscles to respond each day, and it too needs a break from the high-intensity workouts and pre-workout supplements that so many guys are always taking year round.

Schedule breaks, or days off, even when you’re feeling great. Don’t wait until your body has hit total exhaustion to signify a break is needed. Be smart, think ahead, and cycle your training.

6. Learn How To “Squeeze”

As much as progressive overload makes sense, it’s important to realize that muscle building is far different from pure strength training. If you’ve ignored proper “beginner periodization” and skipped right to the latest training program put out by your favorite IG star or pro bodybuilder – you’re probably lacking the ability to keep maximum muscle fiber recruitment (MFR). This takes years to accumulate, and lot’s of practice reps with good technique.

You should be able to make ANY weight burn like crazy when performing your sets. In fact, you should be able to make any muscle burn by squeezing without any weight. Quite often what I see with trainees is that they can recruit muscles like pecs and biceps really well, for a few reasons;

  1. Because you can “see” them, so you have a better mind/muscle connection.
  2. You probably work them more or flex them more for your buddies or ladies.

Just know, that the greater your muscle fiber recruitment ability is the more mind to muscle connection you’ll have when lifting any amount of weight.

This one simple, yet vital component to muscle building can be easily overlooked, leaving the hard gainer just going through the motions, appearing to be training hard, be not training effectively.

This is where coaching cues can come in real handy…

7. Soft Tissue Work

To unlock new muscle growth, treat your muscle with various types of soft tissue work.

Try Foam rolling, dynamic stretches, PNF stretching, and other forms of massage to help keep the muscle mobile, functional, and well taken care of.

Spending this time as active rest or at the end of your workout may help with faster recovery and overall feeling better.

8. Stick To The Science

Without a doubt, science shows us the Damage, Tension and Metabolic Stress are what build muscle.

So knowing this, you can start to build your workouts and programming around these basic principles. By placing proper time under tension, various metabolic intensifiers and maximizing the force you can place on the selected muscle working, you greatly increase the effectiveness of every rep you crank out. Not to mention, this results in more cellular swelling for that ultimate pump we all live for.

9. Don’t Get Fat

When you’re on your quest for more mass, don’t sacrifice your body composition. It’s not only hormonally damaging to get a spare tire around your waist, it’s simply depressing.

Too often when guys are trying to pack on muscle they resort to the old school methods of just “EAT EVERYTHING”… AKA – the seefood bulking diet. While this may work for a few weeks, it’s important to take your eating more seriously and put quality, measured amounts of food in your body.

I like to have my coaching clients stay around 10-12% body fat when packing on muscle. It’s more anabolic, you can see where the muscle is being added, and it’s visually more appealing for you and your mate. Plus, should you decide to compete or book a photo shoot, you won’t be dying to get ripped in a short amount of time.

Get your body fat tested in a bod pod or whatever your local fitness professionals have to test body fat and monitor how your body responds to your diet and workload you’re putting on it.

10. Start Relying More on Food

As a hard gainer, it’s so easy to want to resort to whatever you can that will make muscle growth happen faster, I know the feeling. But there’s no bigger rookie mistake than being super consistent with taking supplements, and not relying enough on food.

I was guilty of this myself up until 2009 when I decided to get smart and hire a nutrition coach to help me prep for the WBFF World Championships. What I learned from that contest prep has stuck with me to this day… The body needs whole foods.

I can remember when my coach actually cut me off of whey protein and switched me to nothing but whole protein food sources, this was so shocking to me… But I was fuller, I kept better pumps, I leaned out faster, and overall I felt better at such low body fat levels.

The key here is to “supplement” your supplements. They have plenty of benefits, no doubt. But I recommend that you make sure your whole food sources are the first go-to for getting in quality nutrients and calories and that supplements only make things easier, and more effective after that.

If you have any questions or comments, use the hashtag #mattstirlingfitness on Instagram or email contact@mattstirlingfitness.com.

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