Gaining weight, muscle and strength doesn’t have to be a complicated process. You can be successful by combining an appropriate amount of calories with a solid strength training program. Since complaining about genetics will only lead to failure, a much more efficient use of your time is to simply eat more and lift weights.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Daily Calorie Needs. Your first step is to figure out your body’s daily caloric needs. Gaining weight requires a calorie surplus (eating more than you burn) so that your body can use the energy for building muscle. When you workout, you create tiny tears in your muscle tissue that the body treats as an injuries. To repair this “injury” your body needs a lot of extra calories. This recovery phase is what makes you bigger and stronger.
You can use the calorie calculator to help you estimate your daily needs. This calculator uses your size, gender, age and activity level to estimate how many calories your body burns each day.
Step 2: Increase Your Calorie Intake. Once you figure out how many calories your body needs, your next step is to create a calorie surplus. A calorie surplus that’s combined with a strength training routine (step 3) will lead to gaining weight in the form of muscle. Simply eating more than you burn without any exercise will only lead to unsightly fat gain.
The increase in your calorie intake should come from healthy rather than junk foods. These foods will help to improve your overall health and increase your performance at the gym. Stick with unsaturated fats (olive & canola oils, avocados, nuts, seafood), complex carbs (100% whole wheat breads & pastas, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, beans, oats) and complete/lean proteins (chicken, turkey, seafood, low-fat dairy, whey/casein protein supplements).
Step 3: Lift Weights. Lifting weight is the most important step in gaining muscle. Without it, your calorie surplus will simply turn to fat and your beach body will be non-existent.
There are two main types of routines you can use for strength training; a full body or a split routine. A full body routine works every major muscle group every time you visit the gym while a split routine breaks up the muscles into groups allowing you to work on one area per session.
Full body routines generally benefit beginners as the workouts are shorter. Full body workouts also don’t require as many days per week in the gym as split routines do. Split routines are better for intermediate to advanced lifters as they allow you to devote more time per muscle group. Both workouts will yield positive results. Try both routines for yourself to figure out which one works better.
Example Full Body Routine
- 1st exercise: squats
- 2nd exercise: bench press
- 3rd exercise: deadlifts
- 4th exercise: bent over bar rows
- 5th exercise: shoulder press
- 6th exercise: tricep pushdown
- 7th exercise: bicep curl
- 8th exercise: sit ups
- 9th exercise: calf extensions
- 2-4 times per week
- 1-4 exercises per muscle
- 2-4 sets per exercise
- 6-12 repetitions per set
Example Split Routine
- day 1: chest and triceps
- day 2: rest day
- day 3: legs
- day 4: rest day
- day 5: back and biceps
- day 6: shoulders and abs
- day 7: rest day
- 2-4 exercises per muscle
- 2-4 sets per exercise
- 6-12 repetitions per set
Step 4: Take Supplements. There are so many supplements on the market that it’s hard to differentiate between lies and products that work. Some supplements are a waste of money but there are some that can help you gain strength and size. Supplements should only work in conjunction with a healthy diet rather than replacing it.
- Protein. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue. A workout creates tiny tears in your muscles that your body is forced to repair which requires an ample amount of protein. Make a post workout shake out of 50% whey protein and 50% casein protein. Whey protein will begin the recovery process right away as it’s digested very quickly. Casein, a slow digesting protein, will ensure that the recovery process continues for hours. Studies have shown that this 50/50 mix will yield better results than drinking a 100% whey protein shake. Your post workout shake should also contain sugar as your body’s main concern is replenishing its depleted energy stores. Chocolate milk, bananas and honey are good sources of sugar for a post workout shake.
- Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are a group of three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) that can help decrease muscle catabolism during exercise. Catabolism is a state in which your body is breaking down tissue for energy. During exercise, your body enters a catabolic state. To avoid this, take BCAAs before, during and after a workout.
- Creatine. All muscles in the body use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy. Creatine helps by adding more phosphate molecules into your muscles which gives your body access to more ATP at a faster rate. Creatine will allow you to lift heavier weight, increasing the stimulus on your muscles leading to more strength and size gains.
- Sports Drink. A sports drink (Gatorade or Powerade) gives your body a much needed infusion of quickly digested sugar that will be used to power your workout, keep your body out of a catabolic state and help start the recovery process once your workout is over. Sports drinks should be used before (approximately 30 minutes) and during an intense workout to promote an anabolic state and help post workout recovery.
Step 5: Rest. It’s this rest, combined with a calorie surplus that results in strength and size gains. Your time spent in the gym only provides the stimulus that your body needs to make your muscles bigger and stronger. Your muscles only get bigger and stronger if you provide your body with enough nutrients and rest. Weightlifting too often won’t give your body enough time to recover leading to slow or non-existent goals.
Generally, you need to rest each muscle group 48-72 hours before working it again. Keep in mind that some muscle groups are getting worked indirectly every time you lift (ex: lower back and shoulders). Signs of overtraining include injuries, excessive soreness, limited range of motion, low energy levels and diminishing gains.
Step 6: Monitor Your Results & Adjust. The size of your calorie surplus will determine how much weight you gain. You need to monitor your calorie intake and weight to ensure you’re on the right path. If after 2 weeks of starting this program, you haven’t gained any weight, increase your intake by 400-500 calories per day. Monitor your weight for another 2 weeks and continue to make adjustments to your calorie intake if needed. Remember, if you aren’t gaining weight, the problem is that you’re not eating enough.
You also need to monitor your progress at the gym. You can do this by keeping a workout journal and recording exercises, sets, repetitions and weights. This will allow you to ensure that you’re constantly getting stronger rather than being stuck at the same weight every week.
The Bottom Line
Gaining weight and muscle requires a calorie surplus and a strength training routine. Complaining that your genetics won’t allow you to gain weight will only lead to failure while eating more and exercising will lead to success.