Tired of being underweight? Tired of looking like pre-Captain America Steve Rogers? Then this is the article for you!
Getting big is a simple process in theory. Eat more, exercise more, and be patient. But there are ways to make this process more successful, ways to get better results and in a faster time.
They are hardly secret, you don’t have to be a member of a cult to access them. Rather they are just unknown by many people. Unpopular with regular gym bros who would rather follow some roided freak on Instagram than take advice from a respected fitness expert.
But the information is out there and this article is going to put it all in one place for you.
Secret #1. Set effective targets
Getting big is a pretty unspecific target, what’s your definition of big? And would it differ from your friends’ definition.
Do you want to be big like a bodybuilder? Or big like a powerlifter? Or maybe your idea of big would be a fitness model – in which case you might be surprised at how big they actually are.
But whatever your target is, you need to make sure it is realistic and achievable.
If you are 5 foot nothing and weigh 50kg then setting a target for being 120kg of pure muscle is not a realistic target. Look at trying to add 3-5kg of lean mass in 12 weeks.
Setting a goal that is measurable will put you head and shoulders above your peers who are walking into a gym with no idea of what size they want to be. Just that they want to be bigger than they currently are.
Once you have set a target you can move onto secret number 2.
Secret #2. Measure everything
So you’ve set your goal of adding 3-5kg of lean muscle within 12 weeks, that means that you need to work out the amount of lean body mass you already have (bodyweight minus body fat – so if you are 20% body fat and weigh 100kg you have 80kg of LBM).
But as most of you already know measuring lean body mass and body fat percentage are not that accurate and in a lot of ways the measurements are meaningless.
What you really care about is how you look. So whilst it is important to have the LBM and Body fat measurements it is also to take progress photos on a regular basis as this will help you to see the changes.
Other things that should be measured, step count as an increase in non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is a great way to keep body fat down whilst bulking. This was proven in a 1999 study that found that as body fat goes up (a common issue with bulking) NEAT goes down, increasing your step count is a good way to fight this issue .
Finally the most important thing to measure is calories, it isn’t enough to just eat more you need to eat the right amount so that you can build muscle but without gaining too much body fat.
A good strategy is to slowly add calories on a weekly basis whilst also slowly increasing training volume.
Use progress photos and a set of scales (also tape measurements) to assess whether you are gaining too much fat in too short a time period. Then you can adjust your calories to fix it, if you’ve gained too much fat over 3 weeks then maybe lower calories or increase exercise/NEAT.
Secret #3. Train Full Body
The problem with the traditional bodybuilder split is that it is unrealistic for regular people to follow correctly.
Yeah, if you’re training for 2 hours twice per day the traditional split will work out fine but if you need to balance gym time with home life, social life, and work life then you’re probably only managing 4 times per week for around 1 hour to 90 minutes.
A recent study by Schoenfeld, Ogborn, and Krieger (2016) found that training muscle groups twice per week promoted superior hypertrophy .
This means that you need to hit quadriceps twice in a week rather than just once in a ‘leg day‘. Again, if you are able to train twice per day then you can get away with a split but if not a full body program will be more effective.
Something like the Push/Pull program where you train the muscles responsible for pushing movements (bench press, leg press, squats, shoulder press etc …) one day and then on the next day you train pulling movements (deadlifts, romanian deadlifts, lat pulldown etc …) is a decent compromise.
It works full body in terms of Upper/Lower but is still split into two distinct parts. So biceps would be on the pull day whilst triceps would be on the push.
Secret #4. Sleep More
Sleeping more will help improve recovery and hypertrophy as this is where Muscle Protein Synthesis is most effective, it is also where hormones are maximally released.
Studies have shown that people who sleep more have higher testosterone and growth hormone levels than people who have troubled sleep .
You are probably already aware that increased testosterone and growth hormone is a good thing for getting bigger, so can see why more sleep leads to bigger muscles. But sleep also has a positive effect on performance, college athletes who slept more played better the next day .
This means that your training session following an extra long lie in would be superior, which means that you would get bigger muscles.
Secret #5. Increase Protein (correctly)
The fact that you need to increase protein to gain muscle is hardly a secret, if anything it is one of the most widely known facts in fitness. But how much should you increase it by?
Most guys just straight up guess, they decide that they are bulking so just eat all the food possible whilst trying to make sure it is high in protein.
But a meta-analysis of high protein diets by Helms, Aragon & Fitschen (2013) found out the perfect protein intake amount for natural bodybuilders. The answer is that most bodybuilders will get the best results from 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of lean body mass (LBM) .
So remember that is bodyweight minus body fat. This all goes back to measuring your calories, your weight, and your daily activity again, which was mentioned in Secret #2.
 Levine, J., Eberhardt, N., Jensen, M. 1999. Role of Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis in Resistance to Fat Gain in Humans. Science 283(5399): 212-214
 Schoenfeld, B., Ogborn, D., Krieger, J. 2016. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine [Epub ahead of print]
 Born, J., Fehm, H. 2000. The neuroendocrine recovery function of sleep. Noise Health 2(7): 25-37
 Mah, C., Mah, K., Dement, W. 2008. Extended Sleep and the Effects on Mood and Athletic Performance in Collegiate Swimmers. Sleep 31[Suppl]
 Helms, E., Aragon, A., Fitschen, P. 2013. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11(20)