Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Against the (current) grain methods to gain mass

Since I'm in my own mass gaining phase, I'm going to write more about this shit.  Mainly because I want to, and because most guys do actually want to know how to get bigger eventually.  So here we go..........

#1 Eat Carbs - I love this one now because carbs have become such the enemy in the lifting community.  But the fact is, you're never going to get big without em unless you're some crazy freak of nature.  And when I say big I mean fulfilling your genetic potential.  This whole "I'll just add some olive oil and eat some chicken and bell peppers" bullshit will not get you massive or build Hulk sized muscles.  That's a fact.  Paleo, Keto, low carb, and all of that bullshit is never going to be as good as carb based diets when it comes to mass building.  Building mass requires fuel and a lot of it.  To train, to repair, then of course to serve as a caloric surplus.  It's the gold mine of mass building "tricks" from an eating standpoint.

I have a friend who uses quite a bit of supplements and he hasn't gained any real mass in quite a few years.  6 months ago I lit into him and told him that he was never going to get big if he didn't eat.  He knew this already but just wasn't putting it into action.  He finally relented and I saw him yesterday, and he was 240 pounds.  The most he's been in over 5 years.  The only thing that changed was his eating.

I promise you that some guru or diet expert will tell you how you can become fat adapted and build mass and blah blah blah horseshit puke puke.  Same for internet board gurus who are 185 pounds or whatever that tell you that you don't have to go about it like this.

It's nonsense.

Great for mass building

Anyone who ignores anecdotal evidence is an idiot.  I don't know a single massive guy that got that way avoiding carbs.  Just because some guy you know that is massive now and does Paleo/Keto/Carb cycling what the fuck ever, doesn't mean he got massive doing that shit.  He didn't.  And if he did, he's the exception and we don't use exceptions to create rules.

I like railing on these carb haters because like everything else in lifting and dieting, shit comes full circle so at some point everyone will realize how important it is to eat carbs and will say how ahead of the curve I was.  Then I will be labeled a guru myself and live like King Solomon!

In all seriousness, I already live that way.  Now I'm just waiting on guru status.

No but serious, you have to have carbs to get big.  This is unavoidable.  So if you have turned into a carb phobia guy then I guess getting big is out of the question for you.  And I'm not joking about that.  I still laugh at one of the guys I was training for a while telling me he knew he needed to get bigger but didn't like how I told him to eat.  "I just want to add some olive oil and some good fats and do it that way."  Fine man, knock yourself out.  When you are in the same weight class in 6 months don't blame me.  Blame olive oil.

I will say that eating the right kind of carbs is important.  Sweet taters and oatmeal, you can't go wrong with.  White or jasmine rice right after a workout is really good, and whole wheat sammiches are a good staple as is milk.

You don't have to go carb crazy, although this will work (however you'll pay for it later as you read #3).  But how the hell are you going to power through multiple heavy, high rep workouts each week with a fucking refeed?  You aren't.  You aren't going to get big that way either.  That's just reality.  It's up to you to accept it and play with your carb intake.

#2 Train to failure - Don't confuse this with HIT.  I don't care if you do multiple sets or rest/pause or strip sets.  But at some point you're going to need to train to failure and learn how to work your ass off.  You need to remember that you are asking your body to make physiological changes that it does not want to make.  I know a lot of guys are big on volume but I'll delve a little bit into why volume training, IMO, is substandard in comparison to training balls out for mass.

Capt. Kirk was big on training to one big all out set

When a guy has to do 5-7-9 whatever sets of a movement with a static weight for volume, it's easy for him to throw on a weight that is easy, or rest a little longer than he needs to.  In fact, unless you time yourself, as the sets go on I promise you will rest longer each time.  I mean I've done plenty of volume before and had days where that 7th set of squats actually felt easier than that 3rd set.  I found that when I made volume training more intense by reducing rest periods between sets or taking a set closer to failure that a few things happened...

1.  I couldn't keep up the volume very long because I got weaker
2.  I started cutting the volume down because it was too hard to sustain that level of intensity.

Eventually I realized that my philosophy of working up to 1-2 top work sets then with maybe 1 back off set as a finisher worked so well because I could pour it all into those few sets, and I had marks to beat or goals to shoot for.

Yates early training stuff can't be beat for a good mass building methodology

One of the things I hated about volume training was the fact that I had no real goal in sight.  You just had to get the volume in.  This bored me.  I love to have a goal to beat.  A number or weight to hit.  This motivated me and still does.  You can do a million sets all day and lie to yourself, or you can put weight on the bar and do more reps than you did with that weight last week.  There is no way to cheat yourself like this.  Numbers don't lie.  If you got 11 last week and got 13 this week, you got better.

With volume training you can lie to yourself all damn day.  I know, I've done it.  When you're busting ass for new PR's you can't.  You either made it happen or you didn't.

#3 - You cannot get big and stay lean or get leaner (but you can limit fat gain) but you shouldn't get fat either

This is one of the reasons that so many "don't know shit" guys don't like my eating advice.  Because they want to believe that deep down they can get bigger and keep their six pack.  Or that you need to eat fucking rice cakes, chicken breast, and egg whites all day long.  You're NOT going to get bigger and stay the same leanness unless you have a hell of a mess of drugs at your disposal.  I am assuming you don't.  If you do, please share.

Look, at best you will probably gain 1 pound of fat per pound of lean mass.  And man, that's BEST case scenario.  More than likely you will gain a few pounds of fat per pound of muscle.  I will tell you this, it is important to keep fat gain to a minimum if you want to KEEP that hard earned mass.  Why?  Well, later you're going to want to peel that fat off.  The more fat that is on you, the more muscle you will cannibalize because you will have to diet longer.  And being in a caloric deficit for a long time will take more muscle with it as well.

Never listen to douchebags about training or eating

If you keep fat gains to a minimum, then you will only have to diet for a short time.  Thus, sparing most, if not all, of your hard earned muscle.  Fat gain is unavoidable.  However bulking is NOT an excuse to turn into a fat ass slob.  I promise you if you do that when you diet down, you will either be the same size as before or even smaller.

Now that just sucks doesn't it?

So don't use bulking as a reason to become Jabba the Hutt.  And if you're already above 15% bodyfat don't ask yourself or anyone else if you should bulk.  This is retarded.  The answer is no BTW, if you did want to ask.

#4 - Keep fat intake low(ish)

Again, this will go against the current trend of how fats will fix global warming, create world peace, make all women hotter, and of course give you a sexier body and faster car.

There are a few reasons to monitor fat intake when doing a clean bulking cycle.

First off, calories.  See #3 if you don't get it.  If you eat a shit load of carbs and a shit load of fat, you're going to get fat eventually, unless you're a super skinny guy that has to eat whole villages of midgets in order to just maintain weight.

I keep my fat intake to about 80 grams a day even at 4200 or so calories.  So you figure yeah, I'm around 400 grams of protein and 490 grams of carbs (give or take here and there for each).  My fat comes from a couple of whole eggs in the morning, some fat that is in 2% milk, peanut butter or almonds, and red meat.  I get it through FOOD.  The eggs and red meat are great sources.  I eat red meat almost every day.  Flank and sirloin usually, but I will have a ribeye as well.  If you want to be more conscious about good fat intake, which is not a bad thing, add in some flax in you will.

No I don't believe that if you eat fat, you'll get fat per say.  In fact as much as I rant against all this carb-hate I do agree that higher fat-lower carb diets work great for getting rid of fat (but you still have to beware of caloric intake) and works really well for most people in that regard.

However you do not need a significant intake of fat to gain mass.  And I will tell you this, if you are ingesting high amounts of carbs to fuel those hard workouts and to recover from them, what do you think your body is going to do with all of that extra fat?  Yeah, it's pretty simple.  Make you fatter.  Bulking is about growing as much lean mass as possible, not expanding your waistline.

So basically -

High carb and high protein with low fat to gain mass.

High protein and medium fat with low carbs to lose fat.

#5 - Squat, push, pull, arms, squat, push, pull, arms........

If you're not preparing to compete in anything, getting jacked for the sake of getting jacked is pretty simple really.

Squat on day.....any kind - fronts, hacks, high bar, low bar, whatever (although I am not a fan of box squats for mass gain at all as the quads are removed from the equation for the most part)
Push one day.....any kind - bench, incline, standing
Pull one day.....any kind - deadlifts of all kinds, barbell and t-bar rows
Do some arms......whenever you like, barbell curls, pjr pullovers, french press, db curls

So simple.  Yet so effective.  Go in to squat and squat until your legs shake.  Finish up with some leg curls.

Go in and do some flat bench and then some incline db press.  Use some PITs and go all out.

Go in and pull heavy, then take some weight off and hit a high rep set of romanians then chin until your arms fall off.

When your arms are back on, go back in and do some french press and heavy barbell curls for high reps.

Take a day off or two, eat a lot, rest a lot, sleep extra, and repeat.

This shit is so simple I really don't know why there are so many questions about it.  You have to eat a lot, you have to get stronger in a medium-high rep range through a progression scehem, and you have to rest and recover.  That's all the secrets.  Ok, well not all but you know what #6 would be if I were to write about it........


  1. Great Article, I think carbs have been demonized unfairly, probably due to the crap type of carbs we're exposed to (I'm looking at you high fructose corn syrup). Back in the day we used to eat a shit load of carbs but it was real food and we used to lift a shit load of weight. if you're an out of shape un-trained individual you should maybe have a few less doritos though.
    Next time some youngster asks me the usual questions at the gym I'm going to point them your way.

  2. Well people used to work hard labor too, so eating a ton of desserts and potatoes and bread never hurt them.

    We're just fat and lazy now. Carbs are still your best friend from a food standpoint when it comes to mass building.

  3. Any links to the early Yates training stuff?

  4. Great article!

    Quick question, how do you feel about squatting and deadlifting in the same week, every week. Do you think it's best to only pull heavy every other week and do a variation the weeks your not pulling? It seems my upper body lifts move slower when squatting and pulling every week, is this the norm?

    Thanks, Ryan

  5. Wouldn't be hard to dig up I think. I just remember that my training for years and years was based off of how Dorian trained a lot at that time.

    Which was, 1 main set, then generally a reduction of weight for the 2nd set (big set, then a back off set). This is my bread and butter.

  6. I have made good progress with both.

    I find that if I pull one week and squat the next when I am concentrating on conditioning that I maintain my strength really well.

    If I am planning for a meet, I will squat and pull in the same workout.

    Right now I am training for mass and squat and pull on different days. But my squatting is light because of an injury.

    You might try squatting heavy and pulling light right after the squats, then squatting light and pulling heavy the following week to see if that helps you out. I have made good progress with this as well.

  7. I remember old Flex issue outlining Yates original split, it was:

    M - Chest (Bench, Inc), Back (Chins, Rows, Deads), Shoulders (Press, Laterals)
    W - Legs (Squat, Leg Press, Leg Curl, SLDL, Calves), Bi's (B/curl, D/bell Curl), Tri's (Ext, P-down)
    F - Chest, Back, Shoulders
    M - Legs, Bi's, Tri's

    2 exercises per bodypart (3 for back), 2 sets of 6-10 per exercise.

    I remember writing to him when I was about 13, he advised that exact routine. Still got the letter on headed Temple Gym paper in my Blood and Guts book!! Those were the days!

    There is an article here:

    Hope that helps,

  8. Hey Paul,

    When you say leg curls, do you mean the leg extension machine? If so (dumb question coming up) are they not bad for the knee's?

    Thanks fella.

  9. Steven - Leg curls man. For the hamstrings.

    Dan - Awesome hook up! And yeah those were the days!

  10. Thank you for posting this. People just want something easy to blame instead of putting in hard work. Paleo and all these other things have gotten ridiculous...I do not want to knock on crossfit because I think it is a great way to get people to lose weight and get in shape; however, do they really think that it is their diet that is leaning them out or the fact that they are training their balls off and running every fucking day? Training and dieting are simple concepts complicated by idiots trying to make excuses or sell you something. Heavy training year in and year out+copious amounts of calories= one BAMF in the weight room. Thank you for demystifying all of this really enjoy your blog

  11. Thanks Jay.

    I have no idea how crossfitters do all that cardio and shit on paleo and low carbs. Makes me hurt thinking about it.

  12. This is me nowadays Paul - I had virtually no time to train today so I just went in did two warm ups and one 11 rep set of squats (1 rep more than last time) and 2 sets of leg curls.
    I finished with 2 sets of surgs - all done in 30 mins or less.
    When I have more time I'll do more (if I want to)
    Next session will be bench, shoulders and triceps.
    The one after will be deads then chins/pulldowns and kurls
    More reps then more weight on the big exercises - that is all.

  13. Man, I totally agree about training to failure. I know lifters like to avoid failure in the competition lifts, but at some point you have to find out where your limits are. I'm doing your Strong-15 right now and I'll do a weight on the way up to the singles that's close to the back-off weight and it will feel like I could only get 5-6 with it. Then I do the back-off and get 19. If you don't push yourself, you don't know.

    Thanks for another great post, Paul. I wish I could have read stuff like this when I was a teenager.

  14. Paul,

    What are your thoughts on a semi-dirty bulk? Roughly 85% clean?

  15. Dave - Depends on how lean you are and what your bodytype is. If you're a guy that has a lot of trouble putting on weight and is really lean, it's a great idea. If you're really lean and put on weight fairly easily it's fine on a short term basis.

    Thanks Frank!

    Phil - This is pretty much me in a nutshell now as well. Just go in, do 1 thing and maybe 2 if I feel like it on a big movement day. Otherwise the big movement alone is fine.

  16. Paul, on eating carbs...carbs are good no doubt. But would you say or advise that not eating carbs after a certain point (like dinner) would help out with number #3? hope this question makes sense...

  17. I get what you're saying.

    And the answer is yes and no. It all depends on you and what the rest of the day looked like and your activity level.

    If you're a naturally skinny guy that can't put on weight, have em. If you aren't, didn't do much that day and put on weight more easily, don't.

    So judge it day to day if you will. If you did a lot of squats and deads that night and are hungry have em. So long as the bodyfat is being kept in check. If not, cut em out.

  18. wat a bout the skinny fat guys type ..how should they fix their diet to gain mass ?

  19. Get lean first. There is still "fat" in the skinny-fat equation. Then go from there.

  20. Great stuff Paul. I'm training my 17 year old for football & lacrosse, and it's hard when I tell him to keep it simple, and he wants to do the latest routine from Muscle & Fiction.

  21. I was the same way then Brian. It's hard to get across to some guys that this stuff is more simple than they ever imagined.

  22. Im new, what does PITs mean?

  23. Perceived Intensity Techniques. Things like rest/pause, strip sets, or just how hard a set is in general.

  24. Hey Paul,

    I've been following your blog for a while now and I really enjoy your writing style.I would deeply appreciate if you could help me out.
    So I'm your typical skinny dude.Long story short,I started working out at age 16 doing mostly bw exercises and running.I used to weigh 55 kilos.Fast forward to last year December when I started barbell training.Then I weighed 70 kilos and was pretty lean to begin with(last summer I had my bf% tested and it was 12,5%) thanks to bw training.
    So here I am today at age 19 and I'm hovering between 74-75 kilos and Im still fairly lean.I wouéd estimate my bf at 15-16%.
    My dilemma is that I just cant gain lean mass and my main lifts have been stuck.I work out 4x/week and front squat and deadlift twice a week.
    I believe my diet is all right.I've been doing intermittent fasting ever since I started exercising in general because it gives me stable energy levels and because of the health benefis.Despite IFing I eat 2 large meals per day.For example my post workout meal may look like this: 4-6 whole raw large eggs with oats and raw milk or raw goat milk and yoghurt.For dinner I eat whatever meat my mom cooks or canned tuna or sardines with rice.I also eat legumes on a regular basis and nuts too. I pay close attention to my sleep too and havent drank alcohol in months.
    On off days I like going for walks or riding my bicycle.
    What do you think I'm doing wrong? Every time I try to eat more I just get fat so I reduce my food intake to where it was previously.Is it possible that Im genetically screwed or is it my hormones?
    Again,it would mean a lot to me if you could share your opinion.
    Respect from Hungary,

    1. NO ONE gets big using IF. NO ONE. You answered your own questions. No one ever went 16 hours without eating and gained mass.