Want to have the healthiest and most capable body of your entire life?
Want to get so thick… so swole… so yoked… that people get whiplash as they walk by you from double-taking so hard?
Want to learn how to have such crazy-huge, bulging muscles, that you can easily lift a two-tonne car with your bare hands?
Well, I can’t help you with that last one…
But I CAN help you put on a good amount of muscle, even if you have struggled to do so in the past.
Here’s how I know that I can help you in this regard…
All my life, I struggled to put on muscle (or any weight in general).
I remember eating as many calories as I possibly could when I was younger and it wouldn’t do much of anything.
I know, cry me a river. Eating all of that delicious pizza and ice cream and peanut butter.
But it sucked!
Because, for me, it wasn’t just about vanity. I didn’t just want to put on muscles so that I could get attention from the opposite sex more often…
For me, it was primarily about function and mindset.
What do I mean by those two things?
Well, for mindset, I like the mental clarity and sense of accomplishment and forward momentum that I get when I work out. I feel unstoppable.
And for function… I simply wanted to be able to physically do things more easily.
I’ve mentioned before that I have been running a weekly men’s group for the past 3+ years…
Well, every week, when I was setting up before men’s group, I would have to pick up this heavy metal-base table in my living room (I host the meetings at home), and I would feel pain in my back as I attempted lifting it.
Honestly, this table probably only weighed about 50-60 pounds (25kg). But I could feel my back aching and hating the process every week.
After several months of struggling to move the table from one room to the next, week in week out, one of the guys in my group (named Sean) mentioned to me that I could do something about how difficult it was. He told me that he had been going to the gym every week for over a decade (and he had the arms to prove it).
But in the back of my mind I had the belief that my body simply wasn’t capable of putting on muscle… so becoming a muscle-bound gym rat just didn’t seem like a real option for me.
But, being tired enough of my own bullshit, I promised Sean that I would go to the gym with him, at least twice a week, for three months.
If nothing happened, I could stop going to the gym forever (guilt-free)… but if I saw results, then I would likely want to keep it up.
Well, fast forward a year, and not only have I put on 20 pounds of muscle, but I also have the best relationship to my body that I’ve ever had.
Not only that, if I miss my workouts for a week, I actually CRAVE going to the gym.
Which is fucking crazy because a year ago that would’ve sounded like an impossible pipe dream.
Anyways, if my formerly skinny ass can put on muscle, then so can you.
First, I’m going to cover the three biggest misconceptions that need to be addressed (if you want to put on any muscle at all) and then I’ll get into the five proactive action steps.
Myth #1: If you’re over 30 years old, it’s going to be a lot harder to put on weight
Most of my clients/customers are 30+, and this belief is something that I hear a lot.
Which is funny because it’s actually the exact opposite.
Putting on weight (as in, overall mass) is easier when you’re no longer a young, spry 18 year old.
Sure, your testosterone levels have dropped slightly (like 1-5% total, which is still next to nothing), and your recovery times will be a little slower, but it’s actually significantly easier for your body to keep on mass when you’re older.
Now, yes, it is easier to keep on body fat when you are 30+ versus when you’re super young… but skinny guys need to put on a bit of body fat (as does everyone) when putting on quality muscle mass is the goal.
I remember doing a big gym push when I was 24 years old, and I would force feed myself 4-5,000 calories every day. I remember joking about “eating to failure” at each meal. And even with all of that force feeding… I could barely keep any weight on. My metabolism was just too high to keep up with it.
Conversely, over this last year, I bumped up my daily caloric intake (very moderately) on a consistent basis and have been able to put on 20 pounds of quality mass with total ease.
So if you’ve tried to put on weight in the past, and failed to do so, realize that it will very likely be significantly easier to do this time around.
Myth #2: You have to spend a TON of time in the gym
Again, a common misconception. And again again… the opposite is true.
You break down your muscle fibre in the gym, but you repair and grow when you are at rest.
So it’s more true to say that if you spend too much time in the gym, you will just burn yourself out, and stunt your muscular growth.
I once made the rookie mistake of getting off the couch and starting to work out (hard) five days a week. Within two months, I felt exhausted and totally spent. And it was when I put a cap on the number of times I went to the gym per week (three) and only went 1-3 times per week, that I started to see much faster growth.
In other words, going less often and lifting heavier will actually put on muscle way more quickly and easily than trying to do anything remotely cardio oriented with lighter weights. Ditch the jazzercise and half-hour stationary bike sessions. Learn proper technique and lift heavy on compound lifts instead.
Myth #3: “I’ve tried it before. My body just can’t put on muscle!”
Look, this excuse is just straight up lazy bullshit.
If you had only tried to walk once when you were a baby and given up the first time you’d fallen, then you wouldn’t know how to walk.
You didn’t learn how to drive a car in one day. Or learn how to cook in one day. Or learn how to fuck like an absolute rockstar in one day (unless of course you took my video course – shameless plug, couldn’t help myself).
And yet you let one bad workout/fitness streak tarnish your relationship to exercise forever?
If your ‘why’ is strong enough, then you can power through this without issue.
And it won’t even take that long. You could fall in love with working out in a matter of a month or two if you have a strong enough ‘why’.
Maybe you want to work out so that you can carry your young kids around with total ease. Or maybe you want to get strong so you can see what your human flesh vessel is capable of before you die. Or maybe you just want to feel strong and capable and sexy as fuck.
Whatever your reason is for why you can’t, have an even stronger reason for why you want this. Put that in your back pocket, and read on.
Here are the five biggest things that I wish someone had told me a year ago as I started in on my fitness journey.
1. The first month is going to hurt the most
I wish that someone had warned me about this before I started working out regularly…
You will experience muscle soreness in your first month of working out that is unlike any muscle soreness you will feel at any other point in your fitness journey.
My muscles were singing with pain in the first two weeks. Why? Simply because they weren’t used to being used.
This phase is temporary. But be warned. It’s a thing. Don’t worry about it. Just go slow, ease into it, and have patience. It will go away within your first 2-4 weeks of consistently working out (again, even if you’re only working out a couple of times per week).
If you’re still feeling a lot of muscle soreness after your workouts after a month of working out, it’s either because you aren’t sleeping/eating enough to fuel your recovery, or you’re switching exercises around too much and need to stick to a simpler program.
2. Use absolutely everything at your disposal to make yourself go to the gym
I knew that I had some heavy emotional resistance to getting myself to the gym… so I threw every tool I had at my my new habit.
(Side note: notice I said the word habit, and not goal? More on this later).
First, I pre-committed by buying all new gym clothes, gym shoes, and a bag. I wanted to remove all potential barriers I had to working out.
Even if I had a 0.1% resistance to working out because I felt like my old gym shirt wasn’t flattering, then I wanted to remove that resistance. Why? Because environment is more powerful than willpower. And I wanted to deploy as little willpower as possible in order to get myself to the gym.
Next, social accountability. I promised my friend Sean (and every man in my men’s group) that I would go to the gym every week (a minimum of two times per week) for the next three months. If I succeeded, I would reward myself with a spa day. And if I failed to meet my three month goal, then I wasn’t allowed to shop at Whole Foods for a whole month (which is just NOT an option for me – I am an absolute grocery snob).
Finally, I would lay out my gym bag and gym clothes the night before each workout (I work out in the mornings because, again, we all have finite willpower, and willpower dwindles through the day) so that when I woke up, my gym clothes would be the easiest thing to put on (because they were within arms reach). Then it would feel weird to not go to the gym with my gym clothes already on… and it would feel even worse to not go to the gym when I knew my friend Sean would be there and he would judge me if I didn’t show up.
These tools worked for me. Vanity (looking good in my new gym clothes)… social accountability… leveraging the power of punishment/reward… and laying out my clothes the night before (so as to make putting them on the path of least resistance).
Borrow what you want from those, and add your own unique spin. What motivates one person might not motivate another, so calibrate all of this stuff to yourself and your unique situation.
Also, if you’re looking for more information on how to install good habits into your life, I can’t recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear highly enough. The book can be summarized by saying that to make a habit stick, make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying… and to make other (less desirable) habits get out of your life, make them invisible, unattractive, difficult, unsatisfying. Obviously, this book will help you in sticking to your new workout habit if that’s something that you ant to do.
3. There is no way around the fact that you will have to eat more
If you are a skinny/slender/slim/svelte person like I was (and still am genetically), there is no way around the fact that you will need to bump up your caloric intake in order to put on weight.
Now, before you say it, I want to head you off at the pass.
There are three types of predictable resistance that I have heard to this point, over the past year:
– “I really don’t think I can gain weight!”
– “I already eat sooo much!”
– (Or, as people start to admit that maybe they can put on weight) “But then I’ll put on body fat!”
First, to those who think they can’t gain weight.
Unless you truly have a physiological disorder that prevents your body from being able to digest food, I don’t believe you. In many ways, our bodies are like math equations. If you consume more calories than your body burns in a day, then you will gain weight. That’s just how bodies work.
Now, if you sit on the couch and don’t move for a month and eat 5,000 more calories than your body needs per day, then you will only gain fat. So not all mass is created equal.
But if you eat a moderate amount of extra calories than your body needs on a daily basis (say, around 500 extra calories) and you make sure that you get enough protein intake for your body to perform protein synthesis to repair your slightly damaged muscle tissue, because you are routinely going to the gym 1-3 times per week and moving weights around, then your body will get stronger. There is no other way that your body could respond to this.
Put a 12 horsepower load on a 10 horsepower engine, and the engine will blow. But put a 12 horsepower load on a 10 horsepower human muscle, and your muscle becomes a 12 horsepower muscle.
Okay, on to the second form of predictable resistance. Those who say ‘I already eat so much!’
First, I don’t believe you. Second, track the foods you eat, every day, for a week, and see what your true caloric intake is.
I will bet you that you don’t eat nearly as much as you think you do.
In fact, I know you don’t… otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this far into the article.
It probably goes without saying but I’ll say it regardless.
You want to be eating quality food.
Junk energy in, junky energy out. Clean energy in, clean energy out.
Eat an ample amount of vegetables, nuts/legumes, complex carbohydrates, fruit, and high quality eggs/red meat/poultry/etc.
Nothing new to add here. You know what to do.
Eat quality food. Eat enough food so that you’re in a moderate caloric surplus every day (especially on the days that you work out). And drink enough water every day so that your body can be the well-oiled machine that it so desperately wants to be.
And, hey bonus round, here’s a quick list of inexpensive foods that you can use to bulk up that all have a good amount of protein and/or nutrients in them: steel cut oats/oatmeal, pasture-raised eggs, black beans and white rice, almond butter/peanut butter, whole wheat bread, canned tuna, grass-fed whey protein (whey protein out of New Zealand is the best source lately), whole wheat pasta, and frozen dark berries (for smoothies and/or your oatmeal). Another helpful protein point for really putting on muscle is to eat a gram of protein for every pound of body weight per day. It’s a lot, but it helps.
And, finally, for those who worry about putting on body fat
… yes, you will put on fat. This is a necessary step in being able to build up muscle mass.
If you really want to gain strength and muscle mass you also have to gain fat in the process. And in the future (like a year later) if you want to do a “cut” to drop excess fat, you can do that while keeping the muscle (which is quite easy, just eat enough protein while being in a caloric deficit for a while) but you absolutely must gain both fat and muscle first. You have to have built it to be able to keep it. That’s why bodybuilders do “bulk” and “cut” phases.
Again, yes, you will lose your 6 pack abs in the short term, but is that really what is most important? Would you rather be super skinny and weak or an absolute tank with some body fat who is super strong? Also fat looks way different/better on a strong body than it does on a weak person.
4. Compound lifts are where it’s at
Now, I am going to contradict myself in the following point so stay with me here…
If you have struggled to gain muscle mass in the past, then the importance of compound lifts can not be over-stated.
Think classic military style workout.
Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups/chin-up’s, bench press, and overhead press. Your entire workout routine could consist of these five exercises, and with proper technique, you would be totally set for a complete workout structure.
Don’t listen to people who talk about how our muscles get on to us and we will hit a plateau and need to deploy ‘muscle confusion’ tactics. They’re just trying to sell you something.
I don’t have a fitness program. I don’t have anything to sell you. So I have no reason to lie to you about this.
You could have a 30-45 minute workout, two times per week (remember, going to the gym too much does not equal greater muscular gains) and you would be totally set.
If you want some of the best programs on learning proper lifting technique, and/or you want a program to follow, either check out/follow Starting Strength, or 5×5 StrongLifts. Those two are the gold standard today.
I have been on a loose version of Starting Strength for the past half a year and it has served me incredibly well.
5. You have to find a way to make it fun
Alright, now on to the fun stuff.
If you want to have the most stream lined, efficient path towards a super-fit, incredibly toned body, then hire an expensive personal trainer, track all of your calories every day, sign yourself up for a fitness competition for 6-10 months away, and make your life about living and breathing fitness.
OR… if you’re like me and literally everything about that sounds like the fucking worst thing ever… then don’t do any of that and instead do the following.
Find a way to make it all fun!
Buy yourself gym clothes that you feel amazing in (even before you’re as fit as you want to be).
Do the exercises that feel the most fun to do and give you really impressive looking ‘pump’’s.
Go to the gym as often as you want to, without pushing too hard.
Go to the gym with your friends and laugh your way through half your workouts if you want.
Ask your friends for compliments / ask them if they notice your physical improvements month over month.
People take this stuff so fucking seriously. But it’s allowed to be fun!
If you would rather do biceps curls and calf raises and go super targeted on your exercises (often referred to as ‘accessory lifts’), go for it!
If you want to reward yourself with a sugar-filled smoothie (or, my personal favourite, a bag of SmartSweets, aka adult candy) after every workout, go for it!
Whatever you do to make it fun for yourself, remember that you are learning to cultivate a new, lifelong relationship to moving your body. So why not make it fun?
Ultimately, we all die.
(Weird pivot but okay.)
So why not see what your body is capable of before you die?
Why not turn your body into even more a sexy masterpiece than it already is?
Why not cultivate a habit out of something that is good for your mental health, good for your bone density, good for your sex drive, good for your sleep, and good for just about literally everything under the sun when it comes to you having a high quality life?
I care about you. I hope that you fall in love with exercise like I have because FUCK is it ever great.
Honestly. I wish you all the best in your relationship to your body.
Also, my sincerest gratitude to you for reading this far.
Best of luck friend!
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you enjoyed this article, then you will also love checking out:
Pps. Big thanks to Demetra for helping me, both in my fitness journey, and in giving me feedback and input on this article. Check out her website/get on her email list by clicking here.