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The “Hardgainer’s” Guide to Guaranteed Muscle Growth

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The “Hardgainer’s” Guide to Guaranteed Muscle Growth

If you’re worried you’re an incurable “hardgainer,” I have good news for you: you can build muscle and strength just like everyone else.

 

Some guys believe that their bodies are genetically programmed to stay scrawny and weak, regardless of how hard they train or how much they eat. Sometimes they turn to steroids and sometimes they just quit.

While it’s true that some people naturally have an easier time gaining muscle than others due to hormone levels and genetic predispositions, nobody is doomed to have a forever-frail physique.

The thing is, every person I’ve known that has made the hardgainer claim was training and eating incorrectly—every single one. They were all making several (or in some cases, all) of the following mistakes: working out too little or too much (not giving your body enough rest is severely detrimental to gains), lifting too light and wussy, doing the wrong exercises (relying mainly on isolation machines and not doing compound mass-builders is a sure way to stay small and weak), and eating too little every day/week.

If you’re an ectomorph type who has had trouble putting on size, I actually envy you. Your natural leanness is a blessing because when you start lifting hard and eating properly, you’ll build muscle like the rest of us, but you’ll put on less body fat, making you look better. And when you want to cut down to super-lean body fat levels, you’ll find it much easier than most. Yet another benefit of being an ecto is that you don’t need as much muscle mass to look big when you’re lean. 15 pounds put on a lean frame can be quite a dramatic change, and if you know what you’re doing, that’s 3-5 months of work, tops.

But you need to know what you’re doing in those 3-5 months. And it primarily boils down to doing two, simple things: eating enough food, and lifting heavy weights.

You Have to Eat Big to Get Big, But You Don’t Want to Pile on the Body Fat

The word “bulking” has negative connotations with many guys.

They think it means spending their days planning meals and eating everything in sight, and that it results in a gradual transformation into some kind of amorphous blob that can throw around 150 lbs dumbbells.

Well, excessive weight gain is not only unnecessary in a proper bulk, it’s should be avoided for several reason.  Being overweight comes with all kinds of health risks, as most people know, but it also accelerates fat storage and gets in the way of building muscle.

How?

Because as body fat levels rise, insulin sensitivity drops, which in turn impairs your body’s ability to burn fat and increases the likelihood that it will store carbohydrates as fat, and suppresses intracellular signaling responsible for protein synthesis (which can actually lead to muscle loss). Yes, you read that right, excessive weight gain during a “dirty” or “dreamer bulk” impairs muscle growth and makes undoing the weight gain even harder.

So, a much smarter way to “bulk” is to provide a low-to-moderate caloric surplus that allows for steady muscle growth while minimizing fat storage. A proper bulk should give you about .5-1.5 lbs of weight gain per week, and here’s a simple way to work this out for your body:

  • Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
  • Eat 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day.
  • Eat .4 grams of healthy fat per pounds of body weight per day.

That’s where you start. For a 150-pound male, it would look like this:

  • 150 grams of protein per day
  • 300 grams of carbs per day
  • 60 grams of fat per day

This would be about 2,340 calories per day (protein has about 4 calo­ries per gram, as do carbs, and fats have about 9 calories per gram), which should be enough to maintain steady muscle growth.

If you eat like this for 10–14 days and haven’t gained weight yet, you should up your calories by about 200 per day and see if that fixes it. If, after another 10–14 days, your weight is still stuck, simply bump your calories up again. While most people don’t have to adjust much, metabolisms do vary, so part of the process is finding your body’s “sweet spot.”

While dietary needs for building muscle efficiently and without excessive weight gain aren’t disputed (eat enough protein every day and keep your body in a moderate caloric surplus), the subject of how to train to maximize strength and muscle growth is controversial.

Let’s tackle that next.

“Everybody Wants to Be a Bodybuilder…But Nobody Wants to Lift This Heavy Ass Weight!”

The above quote is an astute observation made by one of the leading minds in exercise science, Professor Ronnie Coleman.

Here’s a simple little fact most guys, and even many “experts,” want to avoid: if you want to get big and strong in the least amount of time possible, you have to lift heavy weights, and you have to get off the machines.

The reason why is simple: Muscle grows in response to increased tension within the muscle. In order to keep stimulating growth, you have to keep increasing the tension caused by lifting that is, you have to keep adding weight to the bar. And while machines are good for rehabilitating injuries, research has shown that they just don’t build muscle and strength as effectively as free weights do.

One of the main, never-ending arguments in the world of weightlifting is on the concept of the ideal rep range for growth. That is, how much weight you should use, and how many reps should you do in each set. Opinions on what’s best are all over the place, ranging from recommendations of only a few heavy sets to 20–30 high-rep sets per workout.

At this point I can say with absolute certainty that there’s something “special” about lifting heavy weights while keeping your total workout sets (known as your workout volume) in the medium-to-high range. You’ll find evidences of its effectiveness in various places in literature.

One example is a study conducted by Arizona State University wherein they reviewed 140 other weightlifting studies and concluded that training with weights that are 80% of your one-rep max produces maximal strength gains.

Another is a paper published by the American College of Sports Medicine that recommended an “eventual emphasis on heavy loading (1-6 repetition maximum) using at least 3-minute rest periods between sets…”

Yet another sign of the effectiveness of lifting heavy weights is found in a study published by Ohio University, which had 32 untrained men lift weights for 8 weeks. They were spilt into 3 groups and one worked in the range of 3–5 reps, another in the range of 9–11 reps, and the last in the range of 20–28 reps. By the end of the 8-week period, the group working in the 3–5 rep range made significantly more gains in both strength and muscle than the other two groups.

My conviction about the superiority of this style of training goes beyond studies and theory. I used to train exclusively in the 10–12 rep range and REALLY got stuck in terms of strength and physique development. When I switched to focusing on 4–6 reps about 3 years, my strength exploded and physique dramatically changed (I’ve since increased my weights on every lift by 50–80%, and went from maintaining 187 lbs at 11% body fat to, currently, 193 lbs at 8%).

I’ve also had the opportunity to coach hundreds of people through my work, and the results are the same. Every day I email with guys that were stuck in a rut, pounding away in the 8–12 rep range, and who are now making progress again by focusing on heavy lifting with medium/high workout volume.

Unsurprisingly, many of the most respected names in this industry, such as Charles Poliquin, Mark Rippetoe, Martin Berkhan, Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, and Pavel Tsatsouline, all advocate heavy, compound lifting. The consensus is simple: it just works.

The bottom line is if you want to get bigger, you have to get stronger, and the best way to do that is lift heavy stuff.

The Weightlifting Protocol That Will Slay Your Inner “Hardgainer”

Here’s what I want you to do:

Adjust your weight so you can only do 46 reps.

That is, use enough weight to allow you to do 4 reps, but prevent you from doing more than 6. Generally speaking, this is about 80-85% of your one-rep max.

Always work to do more reps and weight.

The easiest way to get stuck in your progress is to lift the same weights every week, for the same reps. Therefore, it’s important that you’re always striving to improve the amount of reps you can do with a given weight, which then allows you to increase the amount of weight that you can lift.

And to relate this back to my advice regarding training in the 4–6 rep range, it’s very simple: once you can do 6 reps, you increase the weight by 5–10 lbs, and work with that weight until you can do 6 reps—which could take another couple of weeks of training—increase the weight again, and so on.

And in terms of exercises, if you want to really get the most out of your training, you must be doing the following exercises every week:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Military Presses or Dumbbell Presses

These are the primary mass builders and I promise you that you’ll never build a great physique without doing them regularly and heavily.

So, if you’ve had trouble building muscle despite regular weightlifting, heed my advice: eat big and lift big, and you’ll get big.

What’s your take on the hardgainer claim? Are you having trouble gaining strength and weight? Let me know in the comments below!

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

Depending on how you eat, train, and rest, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut.

And that’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: they lay out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

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I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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234 Comments
  • Roy

    Hi mike when do you think
    your training app will be out

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Hey Roy,

      Hopefully in the next 2-3 months. Had to get this site launched first, but it’s next (the same people that built this site are doing the app).

      Thanks for checking in. :)

      Mike

  • Nikki

    Very good article, really enjoyed it! Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Awesome, thanks Nikkie!

  • Bepin

    Great article. Also whats this about an app? Im in. On the program for my first week and very sore but looking forward to next week.

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m going to have an app created for planning and tracking diet and workouts.

      Awesome on starting the program! Soreness is a good sign. :) Keep up the good work and keep me posted on how it goes.

  • Gus

    i’ve read your books and have lifted constantly for the past year. I’m not happy with where I’m at and cannot seem to gain weight. i eat 3250 calories a day. I am 6′ 3″ and weigh 193 pounds. 450 carb, 200 protein and 65 fat. Ive tried eating 3600 calories and it just made me look fat. I feel like i’ve wasted a year or my life. Ive been really committed to your books and routines and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I think i’m ready to try something new

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Hey Gus,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re running into trouble.

      Shoot me an email with the following detail and we’ll get it figured out:

      Your gains so far in both weight and strength, as well as your change in body fat percentage (from what to what in what period of time).

      Your meal plan, and how your adherence to it (every day exactly, somewhat, not really, etc. and what about off days?).

      How long you’ve been bulking for.

      Your workout plan (days per week, workout routines).

      Let me know!

      Mike

    • Olly

      Gus,

      I’ve been on the BLS programme for about 6 months now. When I first started with it, I put on fat too quickly in the 1st 3 months by following the sort of buling ratios you’re talking about – I hadn’t found my “sweet spot”, I guess. E-mailing Mike really helped me to get an understanding of how my body was responding and how to change my diet accordingly. I’m now steadily putting on muscle whilst knowing how to change my diet if the fat gets out of hand – I’m still no expert, but finally feel in control of my body. Strength gains have been unbelievable too. Give the man an e-mail – he’s a Legend and will sort you out. Don’t give up on this yet!

      • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

        Thanks for sharing Olly. I’m glad we got it sorted out and things are rolling along smoothly. :)

  • CJ

    Gr8 article Mike! I am going to follow the 4-6 rep workouts as advised in your book and in this article.

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Awesome, thanks CJ! Let me know how it goes!

  • Mastergunz

    Started your program 3.5 weeks ago at the beginning of a bulk cycle. I’m up a soild 2 lbs so far and my incline bench is increasing every week. One thing I have noticed is once I really started concentrating on form vs. Weight and really incorporating ab/core workouts I’m actually seeing increased definition in my abdominals and obliques despite the weight gains which is incredible! Thank you Mike!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      That’s great! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Daniel

    Dam Mike Know his stuff alright, I have been doing this for 4 weeks and I am stronger than ever, Bigger leaner stronger rocks, I am hooked!!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks Daniel! Keep lifting heavy! :)

  • Felix

    ” Honestly ” I had never had so much information to safely do the right stuff for me at my own pace , I’m a beginner at 46 year old , starting life over after years of personal hardship ; your book is really a blessing , Thank you so much Mike !!!!!
    I’m forever greatful to you . Your passion and everything give us light !!!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much Felix. I’m really glad you find my work helpful.

      Best of luck in your journey and keep me posted on your progress. You can write anytime if you run into any difficulties or have any questions. I’m always happy to help.

  • Simon

    Hi mike, great book, wish I read it a year ago because the gains I’ve made after 10 weeks are more than I’ve made in the previous year. One question though, my right bicep is way bigger than my left, I want them the same, is there anything I can do extra for the left to get them equal i.e. work to my weakest arm till it catches up?

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Hey Simon,

      Thanks! I’m really glad you liked it and are making great gains.

      Strength and size imbalances are common and usually just sort themselves out. I don’t think you need to target the smaller bicep just yet. Let’s see how it looks after 4-5 months and if it’s still an issue, then we can address it…

      What do you think?

      Mike

  • andri

    hey michael
    im a hard gainer ..
    ive read your book and it was really great
    i just started ur program like 1 week ago but is so hard for me to eat enough calories and when i eat a lil extra i feel kinda tired and not in a mood to work out
    i have to eat like 3000 calories to gain cuz i tried this before and im only 143 lb

    i really need ur help

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Hey Andri,

      Thanks for writing! I’m glad you liked my book.

      I understand the food issue. This is very common for people that aren’t used to eating a lot.

      What I recommend is that you work toward your goal gradually. So if you need to hit 3,000 calories per day and are used to eating, let’s say, 1,700, go for 2,000 per day for a week. Then bump up to 2,200 for another week. Then try for 2,600 per day, and so forth.

      Your stomach will gradually expand and it will become easier and more comfortable.

      What do you think?

      Mike

  • Nic

    Hey Mike,

    I just got your book and am itching to get started. The trouble is, I don’t have anybody to be a “gym buddy” to spot me and show me the ropes. And being a virgin to all things gym, I’m worried that I won’t have the tiniest clue on whether I’m starting out right or just putting myself at risk of grievous bodily harm! :D

    Do you think that this will be a problem? Thanks for a fantastic guide, by the way. :)

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Hey Nic,

      Thanks for picking up my book! Let me know what you think once you’ve given it a read.

      Regarding the spotting issue, what you want to do is end your bench, squat, and military press sets (the only exercises where you need a spot) with one rep still in the tank–that is, end your sets when you struggle for a rep and aren’t sure you can get another. You shouldn’t need a spot for any other exercises.

      You can also work in a higher rep range for your first week or two (8-10 for instance) to learn proper form, and then start increasing the weights. A lot of people find that helpful.

      Let me know what you think!

      Mike

      • Andy

        Mike! Pls tell why the buddy is needed in military press? (Is it the military barbell shoulder press?)

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah exactly…barbell shoulder press. IMO it’s nice to have a spot on this exercise.

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  • Rhys

    Hi Mike,

    With regards to the app, please allow people to personalise their macro’s exactly as required. I use MyFitnessPal at the moment, but macro’s can only be configured to percentages (Protein 50%, Carbs 30% Fat 20% etc.) I managed to tweak mine to be almost the same as my cutting targets, but the fat and carbs are just slightly off in either direction.

    Just a thought. Loved the book and am making some good steady progress with the cutting, just like it should be.

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Absolutely, and yeah I know the MFP frustration. A pretty annoying oversight IMO.

      Glad to hear it’s going well and thanks for sharing the tip. :)

  • Dex

    Can I do a power movement followed by a accessory moment.for instance if I’m doing chest can I do something like this
    Bench press 4/4-6
    Dips 4/8-12
    Db fly 4 /12-15

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Combining powerlifting and bodybuilding principles is definitely workable, but I would do it differently. I’ll be talking more about it in a follow-up book to BLS, but it goes like this:

      Exercise 1-Compound: Warm up and 3-5 sets of 1-2 reps (HEAVY)
      Exercise 2-Compound: 3 sets of 4-6 reps
      Exercise 3-Isolation: 3 sets of 10-12

      Honestly this is a bit of an advanced way to train though. I recommend people just hit the weights heavy (4-6 reps) for the first year or two to build a solid foundation of muscle and strength.

      • Dex

        I understand.ive been training for fifteen plus.

        • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

          Awesome!

  • It’s me

    Great marketing. Your affiliate commissions must be insane!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Haha thanks.

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  • jason meade

    ive always been a hardgainer but i found the best thing to do is good nutrition and great supplements i started using pro test and am consistently gaining wait so if anyone wants the info on it check it out http://mhlnk.com/02D8F167

  • Darren

    Hard gainer/lazy trainer! The end!

    • Michael Matthews

      Agreed!

  • Mike

    What is the best APP for tracking your protein, carb & fat intake?

    • Michael Matthews

      My Fitness Pal is pretty good for this.

  • Rich

    How many sets of 4-6 reps is best generally?

    • Michael Matthews

      9-12 heavy sets per workout.

      • Liftr

        So basically if your workout is going to have 3 exercises in it then you’re saying to do 3 to 4 sets per exercise. Or do I misunderstand your reply?

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup, exactly.

          • diamondjimbo

            One more question Michael (or anyone): If I can do all 3/4 sets @ 6 reps and complete them, am i not lifting enough? Ideally, should i fail on the 6th rep of the last set?

          • Brandon

            In BLS Mike says once you can do 6 reps of a weight move up 5 lbs and more than likely you will be able to complete 4 reps of that weight. In my experience that is exactly what happens.

          • Michael Matthews

            Nice :)

          • Michael Matthews

            I like increasing my weight once I hit 6 reps. So set 1, 6, add weight, get 4 or so next 2 sets, work with that weight next week until 6, go up, etc. If, however, you only get 2 to 3 reps after increasing, drop back and work with that lower weight until you can do TWO sets of 6, and then try to move up again. If that still fails, then work up to 3 sets of 6 and you’ll be fine.

          • Karl Kevin

            Sir Michael can u teach me a absolute program to build more muscle because i`m just a skinny person and i want to get buff. thanks!

          • Michael Matthews
  • cestalyne

    Are these 4 exercises ones you would recommend for women as well, or would those be different? (Women who are trying to be stay more toned as opposed to big). Thanks!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great question and yes, women should absolutely do these exercises. Remember that women simply don’t have the hormones to get big and bulky. So long as you stay lean (20% and under), no amount of weightlifting will make you bulky–it will simply give you curves and muscle definition.

      I’m actually going to do a post for women and training. Keep an eye out for it!

      • cestalyne

        Thanks! But under 20% body fat?? You know 18% body fat is considered an anorexic percentage??? just wondering! :)

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s a myth. The look that most women want is around 18%. When you approach 15% is when you’re getting too low…

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  • GP

    Mike I have a question for you. What about the tempo for exercise? Hoy Many seconds On lifting, lowering?

    • Michael Matthews

      I like to use a 2-1-2 tempo (2 seconds down, slight pause, 2 seconds up).

  • Luke Randolph

    Hey Mike- i have trouble squatting and feel like I’m always lifting more with my back than legs and glutes. Until I perfect my form, how are heavy lunges in the meantime for a substitute for heavy squats?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah that’s totally fine–lunges are good. Hack squats are good too. Have you tried those?

      • Luke Randolph

        i don’t have a hack squat machine in my gym but i’ll be giving those a try because i’m about to switch to a bodybuilding gym. thanks a lot!

        • Michael Matthews

          Oh cool, I think you’ll like them. Lemme know!

  • David Slack

    Hi Mike, what type of weight training would you suggest for someone who is cutting from around 8% bf and wanting to get even leaner while keeping muscle mass? From what iv read, i believe i should be keeping the weights heavy and go more for a strength training with lower reps instead of the higher rep pump style training! But what about the intensity and volume while I’m cutting, should i be keeping volume low or increasing the volume? How many sets and exercises would you say is ideal while cutting? Thanks mate

    Dave

    • Michael Matthews

      Definitely heavy lifting. You want to continue overloading your muscles, which will help preserve lean mass.

      9-12 heavy sets per workout would be perfect. 4-6 rep range.

      And remember that a mild deficit is key while cutting. Don’t cut your cals too much or you WILL lose muscle. 20% deficit, give or take.

  • brian

    hello mike,
    i am a military service member constantly being picked on for being the ”little guy”. I want to change that. I have been doing the traditional 10-12 reps on routines, but I will now be doing 4-6 as instructed. I would really appreciate a work out routine from you. shoot me an email at srandl.b94@gmail.com

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome, thanks for writing Brian. There’s a bit more to getting big and strong than just lifting heavy weight (you have to do the right exercises, train with the proper workout volume, eat right, etc.).

      I would HIGHLY recommend you read my book Bigger Leaner Stronger ASAP. It will answer a lot of your questions:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /books/bigger-leaner-stronger/

      • Jeff

        Hi Mike, does your book include a workout routine with specific exercises, how many sets to do of each exercise, etc as well? When I was playing college hockey and eating in a dining hall, I was able to maintain around 170 lbs, though gains after that point were practically non-existent. Now that I cook for myself and work, I don’t have nearly as much workout time per day and have been stuck around 150 lbs. I’m ready to actually learn a proper, efficient routine to get stronger. I’ve just started following you on twitter as well (jepharmd).

        • Dan Strohschein

          I have Bigger Leaner Stronger and I can say that it does have detailed exercise plans for 3 and 5 days a week, and nutrition plans for cutting, bulking, maintaining, and even info on supplements. It’s got just about everything you would need.

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks Dan!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup it lays everything out. Very easy to follow–you only need 3-5 hours per week. And the diet is very flexible–you work with the foods you like.

          Hope this helps!

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  • jake

    Mike, great article! What should my “cool down” time between sets? A couple minutes?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah 2-3 minutes rest in between each set.

  • RT

    Hi Mike,
    I am a little confused about the rep thing. The weight I currently use allows me to do 12 reps (failure on 13th) ON THE FIRST SET. I then rest for a min, more or less, and then start the second set. I can pull off 8-9 reps on the second. Again rest a min. This way I do 6 sets. So … on the last 3 sets, I am definitely in the 4-6 rep range. Would you still say that my weight is too light?
    This is what I do not understand: if someone picks a weight using which he can do lets say 4-6 reps in the first set, there’s no way the guy can repeat the same counts on the next 2-3 sets, unless he rests for a long time between sets. And I thought rest time should be short.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s a standard pyramid style of training, which I really don’t like. You’re just not going to do well with it as a natural weightlifter.

      You actually can keep the weights the same when you’re training heavy. Complete newbies sometimes lose a rep or two as they continue their sets, but most keep the weight the same.

  • Ernie

    Hey Mike, I didn’t see it but how many sets is the 4-6 range say on benchpress or squats as an example?

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question. 9-12 heavy sets per workout. I like to do 3-4 exercises per workout (3 sets each).

      • Jonathan

        3 sets on the same weight? of 4-6 reps?

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup.

  • Devan

    I freaking love this article! Excellent stuff again man. In my own personal experience, I increased my caloric intake from 2,000 calories a day, to 6,000 over a 3 week period (pretty huge jump, I know. It hurt like crazy.) and my weight increased 20 pounds after a month, and now my stomach can handle almost anything without the need to throwup.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Devan! Really glad you liked the article.

      Wow, 6k per day. That’s nuts. You’ll probably gain a bit too much fat doing that… I would recommend a more moderate surplus…

  • Jonny Souter

    Excellent article, Mike, and I have recently tried implementing heavier sets of those compound movements, but struggle with squatting and deadlifting because of my lack of flexibility/ROM. I try going the 4-6 rep range with these movements, but my ankle/hip ROM won’t allow me to get low enough, so my lower back bears excessive strain. Are there any alternatives for people like me for such fundamental exercises, or tips to improve my suppleness so i’m using my legs more than my back?
    It’s so frustrating when they’re so pivotal for muscle gains.
    Thanks heaps,
    Jonny.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah that can definitely be an issue. Check out this article of mine:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /how-to-improve-flexibility-and-mobility-for-squatting/

      You can work in the 6-8 rep range or even 8-10 while you increase mobility/flexibility, and then start hitting the heavy weights.

      Hope this helps!

  • Doug

    Great article but when I get to the gym I’m trying to work at least 2 major groups and that 3 minute lag between sets really cuts down my time. Working on heavier but 3 minutes………….ouch.

    • Michael Matthews

      Glad you liked the article. If you’re training heavy, you can cut the rest to 2 minutes, but don’t get less than that or your strength will suffer…

      If you’re training the smaller muscles in a higher rep range, such as 8-10 or 10-12, you can rest 1 – 1.5 min in between those sets.

  • Matt

    Hi mike, great article! I’m not a hard gainer, I’m currently doing p90x which suits me because it’s not my size but my body fat that I’m trying to lose, but I’m trying to put together a work out plan for my friend whose a hard gainer. I’ve a few questions, how often should he do the 4 key exercises? Once a week, on different days? And should he incorporate isolation exercises like the dumbell bicep curl on those days?

    Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Matt! Cool on what you’re doing.

      Frequency really depends on workout intensity (weight lifted) and volume (sets done).

      For instance, my Bigger Leaner Stronger program has you doing 9 – 12 heavy sets per muscle group, and this is done once per week. If you were doing 3 – 6 heavy sets per workout, you could probably get away with two such workouts per week.

      Yes isolation exercises are done in addition.

  • Dale

    Honestly, this is the most knowledgeable article I have read concerning training for a hardgainer. Even BB.com has very nonsensical advice that will lead a hardgainer to overtraining. Compound lifts, work to increase the load and do as little as possible to maximize recovery. Excellent article.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Dale! it really is this simple.

  • Matt

    Hey Mike,

    Love your work.

    Would you recommend working in the 4-6 rep range for assistance exercises? EG tri push downs, dumbell curls etc.

    Cheers,

    Matt

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Matt! Really appreciate it.

      Yes, if you can maintain proper form. If you can’t, work in the 6-8 rep range.

  • Tom

    great article, but when i do a low amount of reps per set, i don’t feel really sore the day after, which makes me believe i haven’t worked out to the max. isn’t feeling sore equivalent to building muscle?

    • Michael Matthews

      Soreness isn’t necessarily an indicator of a good workout. Genetics, nutrition, and conditioning all play a role.

      For example, I don’t get too sore anymore regardless of what I do. My back will be a little sore after going up in deadlifts, my legs get a little sore after legs day, and sometimes my triceps get a little sore (random), but that’s it. I continue to make gains all around though.

      As long as you’re getting in your 9-12 heavy sets per workout with good form, you’re doing it right. And you should see results to prove it–your strength should go up and you should gain muscle. That said, if you’ve been training for quite some time, I recommend bumping the workouts up to 12 heavy sets. Add one extra exercise, and do 3 sets of it.

  • Matt

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the prompt response.

    Would you keep the weight the same for all sets or decrease it by 10%, reverse pyramid style, for each set?

    Then increase the weight once you hit 6 reps on all sets?

    Cheers,

    Matt

    • Michael Matthews

      YW! Keep the weight the same and increase once you hit 6 reps on one set, not all.

  • Jonas

    But isnt the rep range around 5 reps used for strength training, and the hypertrophy (obviously, whats happening when you get big, if you want to gain (muscle)mass ) rep range is more around 8-12 reps?

    Or what is the actual science behind this idea youre talking about?
    Please give me some advice!

    Nice article though!

    • Michael Matthews

      The old rep range debate is really frustrating, but check out the following:

      http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/reps-per-set-for-optimal-growth.html

      The big “secret” behind the high-rep, high-volume workouts espoused by the big fitness models and bodybuilders is…drugs. It’s really that simple. Working in the 12 – 15 rep range for 2 – 3 hours per day is GREAT if you’re drugged up because your body can actually repair all that damage. It can’t if you’re natural though (unless you have crazy, Olympian genetics).

      Ironically, even the vast majority of druggers that know what they’re doing (professional bodybuilders mainly) lift REALLY HEAVY. I’m talking about 25 sets per workout in the 3-5 rep range, lol. Talk about getting crushed…

      • Jonas Hohmann

        Would you suggest to also use the principle of deload, because reps between 4-6 seem like a heavy ass stress for most (bodies).
        means: to use periodization, like 2 weeks 4-6 reps, 1 week deload higher reps… etc.. whats your take on this?
        and to also vary the rep range, and to also work slow twitch fibers with higher rep ranges, since obviously-> the more fibers are stressed and are fotced to grow-> the more muscle mass, nah?
        tell me your take on this please! :) thanks so far!!

        and – oh- why actually do you recommend to do 3x(~)5 instead of the commonly used 5×5 training principle?
        (5×5-> more work, more stress( of course , with (more) recovery-> more muscle gains? )

        very interesting, very interesting..!! :))

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup, a de-load or rest week is built into my Bigger Leaner Stronger program every 8-10 weeks.

          Periodization is another matter altogether, and one that I will address in my follow-up book to BLS.

          Check out this post of mine, you’ll like it:

          https://www.muscleforlife.com /guide-to-muscle-hypertrophy-muscle-growth/

          I recommend 9-12 heavy sets per workout when you’re training in the 4-6 rep range. I break that into 4 exercises of 3 sets each, or vice versa.

          • Jonas

            but whats the reason why you prefer 3×5 over 5×5 and ecen recommend it to other people?
            why 3×5 and not 5×5?

          • Michael Matthews

            Because you don’t want to go over 10-12 heavy sets per workout, and that would mean 2 exercises per workout. I prefer 3-4 exercises as you can train muscles in different ways with different exercises.

          • Jonas

            why dont iwant to go over 9-12 heavy sets per session? many people train this way… just wondering, would appreciate a short, logical answer!

          • Michael Matthews

            Because you want to keep your total workout reps in the 40-60/70 range. If you go beyond this, you get into overtraining territory…

          • Jonas

            i ve read about you that youre training 5 times a week?
            hows that working, what does your split look like, could you please be so kind and post your personal training routine that youre using at the moment?

            do you generally suggest doing fullbody or push-pull-legs, or any completely different split?

          • Michael Matthews

            Personally I like a one-per-day split because it allows me to give my all to each workout.

            Like “ideal” rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume. The lighter the weights and fewer the sets, the more often you can train the muscle group.

            In the case of BLS, you hit your muscles hard, with about 50-60 reps per workout, with all reps recruiting maximum muscle fibers (due to the load). The reality is unless you have superhuman recovery, you just won’t be able to do these workouts more than once per 5 days. Once per 7 days is probably a LITTLE more rest than some people need, but I think it’s better to err on that side than the side of overtraining.

            The bottom line is EVERYONE that follows the program makes rapid strength and size gains. Even long-time lifters.

  • Hugo

    Tried hardgainer advocated by Stuart McRobert for years.
    Unfortunately it didn’t work out for me. But I have to admit that my sleeping and eating indeed is not perfect. I will try your approach over the next three months and improve my eating and resting. I will let you know whether it worked or not ;-)
    Cheers!
    Hugo

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m not a fan of SM’s approach. It’s under-training, and not enough emphasis on heavy compound lifting.

      Definitely let me know how things go on my program!

  • David

    Hey Michael!
    My name is David and I’m currently at 100 pounds at the age of 18. I’m going to the gym for almost a year now, seeing strength gains but 0 muscle gains. I’ve been varying with my reps a lot. From 10-15 to 4-6 to 10 but the only thing that changed from the rest, was, that only my strength increased at the 4-6 rep range. I didnt get an single pound of muscle with any of those rep ranges. Maybe I was doing the wrong exercises? My only compound exercises were Bench Press and Squats, rest were isolation exercises. My question now:
    How many sets should I do per workout and what exercises should I do? I know you said focusing on compound ones, but i guess u dont mean for a whole workout (ex. Bench,squats,military,done.)
    Could u give me an example for a workout day with the exercises, reps and sets?
    I’d be very grateful!

    David

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey David!

      Could be a variety of issues:

      Wrong exercises.

      Wrong workout volume.

      Wrong training frequency

      Wrong diet

      The first thing you should do is read my book Bigger Leaner Stronger:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /books/bigger-leaner-stronger/

      It lays out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

      What do you think?

  • Brian

    Is it ok for me to be doing crossfit type training while eating correctly to gain muscle mass and weight? I’m 140lbs, 6’1″ and about 4% body fat. I need to do this kind of training to prepare myself for the police academy, so regular weight lifting isn’t really an option. Should I just lift heavy ass weights while doing crossfit and take q bunch of short rests or superset exercises together to keep up the heavy weights and keep my heart rate up? Thanks for the help.

    Brian

    • Michael Matthews

      You could do that. Some people I know do, but you do have to make sure you’re really paying attention to form and not attempting to hit heavy compound lifts when you’re fatigued, you know?

      • Brian

        Yeah, I’ll probably just kick it up a notch so it isn’t too heavy, because its hard to keep perfect form with 200reps of each exercise. I’ll just eat a bunch and hope for the best :P

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah I know, that’s one of the big downsides to CrossFit (fatigue ruins form, which raises risk of injury).

  • Eugene

    Hey Mike I’m from South-Africa. Just wanted to say thanks for the good advice. I always though my body isn’t made for picking up weight because I do a lot of cross country running… I’ve been following your bigger leaner stronger program for about 5 weeks and I’ve went from 138lbs to 146lbs , and still climbing. I will be sure to spread your website and name to everyone
    Cheers

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Eugene! I really appreciate it. And wow, great gains so far! That rocks man–keep it up and keep me posted!

  • Sarvesh

    Hey Mike i read your article it pretty much inspired me. I wanted to ask you to suggest me on my current workout. It is as follows Monday – Back and Biceps , Tuesday – Cardio (for me i take forearms and abs. I don`t do treadmill and cycling as I am a hardgainer.), Wednesday – Chest, Shoulders and triceps , Thursday again Cardio and Friday i do Lower Body (complete legs). Also I take a weight gainer and it provides about just 15g protein per 100g. I have a weight of 55.3 kg and height of 5.9“ so its clear I`m underweight. And my workouts consists of 3 sets of 12-15 reps and when I increase weights mostly in last set I try to do 8-12 reps.So what you suggest I should do to get better results. As of now in 2 months only my streght seem to increase and now i just have a loose shape rather than what i had earlier like a skeleton.

  • Kay Daenjer

    Hey Mike,
    Amazing Article, it was laid out perfectly and pretty much answered all the questions I had about nutrition. I’ve been doing this routine called Strong Lifts which uses compound movements you had previously mentioned (squats, deadlifts, barbell benchpress, barbell rows, barbell overhead press, and dead lifts), 3 days a week for 5 sets of 5 reps.

    I started out with just the bar, and every time i lift I up the weight by 5lbs for that day.
    Day A: Squats, Bench Press, Barbell Row, pull ups 3×8
    Day B: Squats, Overhead Press, Deadlift , Pull ups 3×8
    repeat.

    I do this Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday.

    Does this look like a good routine if I pair it with the caloric surplus?
    126g of protein a day= 504 cals
    252g of carbs a day= 1008 cals
    51g of fats a day= 459 cals

    5’7 126lbs

    1,971 calories total, so aim for 2,000?

    Awesome Article man.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Kay!

      Yup, I’m familiar with the SL program.

      Yes, those macros are a good place to start. Let me know how it goes!

  • Alec

    Hey Mike, great great stuff, man. I’ve been training with many different programs (classic bodybuilder stuff to pure calisthenics, etc.) and have done dirty bulks, intermittent fasting, super lean cuts, etc. for the past two years. I’m now 6 ft. 160 lbs. and pretty strong with a well proportioned physique that looks good shirtless. I’m back at it for a specific show (I’m an actor) in 3 months and am taking your approach all the way there, man. It sounds solid with the science behind us ectomorphs, it’ll give the satisfaction of increasing my strength even more, and those macros look like they’ll keep me gaining while keeping body fat low. I’m probably going to do three compounds heavy and one isolation in the medium rep range for those good ole “show muscles”… I’m also planning on doing a three day split, three on, one off, going push, pull, then legs and abs that would go like this:

    Push:
    Incline Bench Press- 3 sets of 4-6 (I really need to build upper pec)
    Military Press (alternating front and back)- 3 sets of 4-6 (to hit front, medial and rear delts)
    Weighted Dips- 3 sets of 4-6 (head up to keep it on front delts and triceps)
    One-Armed Triceps RopePushdowns- 3 sets of 10-15

    Pull:
    Deadlifts: 3 sets of 4-6
    Bent Over Rows: 3 sets of 4-6
    Weighted Pull-Ups: 3 sets of 4-6
    Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 3 sets of 10-15

    Legs/Abs:

    Squats: 3 sets of 4-6
    Lunges: 3 sets of 4-6
    Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets of 20
    Roman Chair Crunches: 3 sets of 20
    Roman Chair Twists: 3 sets of 20

    What do you think? Too much? Keep in mind I’ve been training pretty hard and consistent for 2 and a half years now.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Alec! Cool on everything you’ve done so far, and I like your plan.

      Few points:

      Unless you know you can hit the behind-the-neck presses, don’t do it. Most people will get hurt doing that, especially with heavy weight.

      I’m not a fan of preacher curls due to the unnatural stress they place on the elbow joint. I much prefer standing curls.

      Instead of lunges, IMO do leg press or hack squat (sled not barbell). You could do lunges after, 8-10 rep range (or 10-15 if you prefer).

      Lemme know what you think.

      And FYI you’re going to love my Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger program. It will be in my next book and it’s perfect for an advanced lifter like you (it’s a periodized version of the BLS program).

      Book will be out Jan/Feb.

      • Alec

        Dude, thanks for the prompt and thorough response. Here are my thoughts:

        -You’re probably right about the behind the neck presses. I have hyper flexible shoulders so my range of motion allows me to get back there safely but probably not with the heavy weight I intend to go for to grow in strength and size. So let’s keep those to a standard military press

        -Same thing on those preacher curls. I have hyper extended elbows, so I wonder if my elbow joint is taking over the bottom half. I’m gonna switch that out for standing barbell and go from a wide to narrow grip with each set (so 1st wide, 2nd medium, 3rd narrow) to hit all three angles. I’m also doing this on my pull ups (1st wide grip, 2nd hammer grip, 3rd close grip chin ups)

        -I’m also thinking of trading out the lunges for one legged leg press with an emphasis on pressing through the heel. Yesterday I did pistol squats instead, but it felt like the workout was too quad dominant. I like relying on squats for quad/ gluts, so my thought is this version of the leg press will give more ham/gluts

        Look forward to that book, man. Your site is now bookmarked with KinoBody (another favorite that I’ve rediscovered off of your site)

        My last question is this… do you think that’s too many days in the gym to really see increase in size and strength? Greg is all about a three day split for real growth in size and strength, but then he has articles about hitting things like chest twice a week. That makes sense to me seeing as the traditional “one body part a week” leaves me anxious to get back in and only three days makes me a little stir crazy on off days.

        Thanks again, Michael and keep on keeping on!

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure. :)

          Cool on the MP. Remember touch your clavicle with the bar–no half reps.

          Give the standing a try and let me know. Keep your elbows at your side and try not to sway too much (can be hard when you’re going heavy, but this is where core comes in).

          You can do one-legged LP but I prefer both legs personally. Up to you.

          Thanks on the book. I appreciate the support. :)

          Like “ideal” rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume. The lighter the weights and fewer the sets, the more often you can train the muscle group.

          In the case of BLS, you hit your muscles hard, with about 50-60 reps per workout, with all reps recruiting maximum muscle fibers (due to the load). The reality is unless you have superhuman recovery, you just won’t be able to do these workouts more than once per 5 days. Once per 7 days is probably a LITTLE more rest than some people need, but I think it’s better to err on that side than the side of overtraining.

          The bottom line is EVERYONE that follows the program makes rapid strength and size gains. Even long-time lifters.

          • Alec

            Thanks again for the thorough response, my man. I’m a personal trainer as well, so this is absolutely on my list of sources for good information for my clients and my own personal reference. Cheers to you as we go into the New Year!

          • Michael Matthews

            My pleasure, thanks Alec. I really appreciate it!

  • owenjerome

    HEy Mike, I think this is where I need to start. Im 40, 6’1, 150 lbs and I want to bulk up to 180 lbs. I have a very fast metabolism. Thanks for the information so far. Looking forward to the journey!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great, let’s get you going! Let me know how it goes!

  • kevin

    hey mike this is a great article.
    I am a hard gainer, as my metabolism is very fast. I am about 6ft and weigh 140 so I definitely want to bulk. I would like to be about a solid 180. do you suggest a calorie amount or is it more about the carbs and protein? I just began work out with a partner about 5 days a week

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Kevin!

      Cool on your stats and goal. I like it. If you’re training properly, I would start here:

      140g protein per day
      300g carb per day
      60g fat per day

      Let’s see how your body responds to that…

  • Sahoo

    Hi Mike,

    This is an awesome article! It is highly informative, including all your comments to the many questions that people have asked. Thanks a lot!

    I had a couple of questions myself:
    1. I am following your recommendation of 4-6 reps per set, with 9 sets per workout. I workout 3 days a week. Along with this, I am also following the dietary recommendation (1x protein, 2x carbs …). What about the days that i am not working out? What should the dietary composition look like?
    2. Even after doing the heavy rep workout as you have suggested, I do not feel tired or exhausted, meaning I think I can squeeze in a few more sets I believe. On the reps’ side, I am between 4 and 6 per set all the time. So, is my workout okay or should I add a few more sets? Or do you think I may overwork myself?

    Thanks for your response.

    - Sahoo

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much!

      1. Great. If you’re bulking, you can reduce your calories to maintenance on your off days if you’d like. Not vital but some people like it.

      2. You can add 3 more sets, making 12 total, but don’t go over this or you will begin overtraining.

      Hope this helps!

      • Sahoo

        Thanks for the quick response. I have ordered your BLS book and will start your routine from next week. WIll let you know how it goes!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! Thanks, please do!

  • Jonas

    Mike, eating naturally, eating just 60 grama of fat is just not working …
    I eat 3 eggs with some ham in the morning and also about 150 grams of Yogurt( 3,5% fat) with some fruits.. Lunch is usually chicken with some potatoes and veggies/ salad… Then workout in the afternoon, fruits with some honey directly after workout to refill glycogen stores, then as an after workout meal usually fish with most of my carbohydrates ~70 %) and some veggies. Snacks might be a nut here or the or a banana/apple/orange…

    Now if i type this into my calorie counter it says something like :36 % carbs. 25 % protein, 38% fat…
    Can this work as well (?) as i just cant find any problem with my diet, if im eating natural protein, fats are just coming with it naturally….

    • Michael Matthews

      If you like to eat more fats that’s fine. Get 1 gram pro per pound, fill up the fats you want, and eat the rest in carbs…

  • Gareth

    Hi Matthew. Read a few articles on the site and have to say it’s the most confident read I’ve found on the web. I feel confident with your advice and want to get stuck in. I have your workout and notice it’s a 5 day spilt. I am just wondering if you have an alternate workout that would work on a 2/3 day spilt. Just with work and other commitments I would find it difficult doing a 5 day spilt

    Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Gareth! I really appreciate it.

      Yes, here’s a 2-day:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/maintain-muscle-and-strength/

      And for a 3-day, you move your triceps work to the end of your chest workout, your biceps work to the end of your back workout, and your shoulders work to your legs day (this is tough).

      • Gareth

        Thank you for your reply. I don’t have much size and would consider myself a beginner and want quick results in terms of gains. Simply would I have to adjust and aim to hit the gym 5times a week or would the 3 day spilt be just as affective. Does the 3 day spilt not contradict the principles you’ve set and force me to be over training by doing more than 12sets per workout?

        • Michael Matthews

          5 x per week would be best. Yes stick to 9 to 12 heavy sets per workout.

      • Gareth

        I have made this 3 day spilt workout using your principles, what advice could you give for this workout. The Abs Circuit is the same from an article on this site.

        3 day spilt

        Day 1: Chest/Biceps/Abs

        *DB Bench Press 3×6
        *DB Flyes 3×6
        *Hammer Curls 3×6
        *Cross-Body Hammer Curl 3×6
        *Abs Circuit

        Day 2: Shoulders/Legs

        *DB Military Press 3×6
        *Side Laterals to Front Raise 3×6
        *DB Squat 3×6
        *Calf Press 6×6

        Day 3: Back/Triceps/Abs

        *CG Lat Pulldown 3×6
        *Cable Row 3×6
        *Overhead Cable Extension 3×6
        *EZ Skullcrusher 3×6
        *Abs Circuit

        • Michael Matthews

          Not bad but it’s missing the big fun barbell stuff! Bench Press, Military Press, Deadlift, Squat…

          • Gareth

            The closest gym to me believe it or not doesn’t have a barbell. Sad I know! It has an ez bar and Smith machine though or is the dumbbells a better substitute

          • Michael Matthews

            Lame! I would use the Smith for Bench, Military, and Squat, but don’t deadlift on it.

          • Gareth

            So you think my 3 Day spilt be alright but bring in the Smith machine for bench military and squat?

          • Michael Matthews

            Yes exactly.

          • Gareth

            Is my 3 Day spilt OK then and use Smith machine for bench, squats and military? or would you change anything on my 3 Day spilt

  • halevi

    I’ve been following this plan for about 4+ months and have gone from 155 (at 5’8″) to 162 lbs. I work out 2 hours per week – 1 hour per workout. Body fat % has probably gone down a little bit. Ideally, I want to work out 3 times/week, but I don’t have that much time.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great job! Those are good gains for only being able to train 2 x per week.

  • Daniel Vargas

    What this article states is pure truth. I have always been thin and stuck in the 8-12 rep range. Sure I gained little strength, but it took MONTHS to get a 5 pound increase. I started working in the 4-6 rep range. BAM! Every two weeks, I gained a 5 pound increase, and the muscle gains are just beyond belief! Extremely happy with my results. THANKS MICHAEL!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Daniel! Perfect man, keep up the good work!

  • Adam

    Quick (and probably dumb) question. If I’m eating 2300 calories a day and I include cardio that burns 200 calories on a weight lifting day should I bump my calories up to 2500 for the day to off set the cardio and not be deficient? Or should I still aim for 2300?

    • Michael Matthews

      I prefer not to add and subtract like this. Here’s how I prefer to do it:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      • Adam

        Thanks. I read through this and do a lot (if not all) already. I was just curious because in your article about cardio and muscle gain you did talk about trying not to go into caloric deficiency so I wasn’t sure if I should be adding more calories (that still stay on my macro nutrient level) on days I do cardio and weights

        • Michael Matthews

          You adjust based on how your body actually responds. If you don’t gain or lose weight as desired, you adjust.

  • James

    Hi Mike I’ve been working out for 3 months now have and have only gained 4 pounds and am still skinny, I weigh 142 ibs and eat around 160 grams of protein and lots of complex carbs, I dont know what to do im on the verge of giving up I also train hard 4 days a week about 2 hours each time, please help. I try to keep lean as possible and have noticed that my body is more toned but im still super skinny and have trouble gaining weight

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey James,

      Have you tried the strategies I outline in this article?

  • Renier

    This is by far you best article, just great!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

  • Michael

    Michael,

    Great article, very easy to follow and some solid information in there!

    So here’s my issue if you don’t mind listening. I’ve played football (soccer) my whole life. I started lifting as I began to take the sport to the next level when I was around the age of 18 (I’m soon to be 22). I’ve always been lean and fairly muscular from my abs down. My problem seems to be gaining muscle on my upper body. It’s as if my lower body is a mesomorph and my upper body is a ectomorph. Now, I know football/soccer players aren’t supposed to be huge, muscular figures but I would like to gain some upper body muscle so I can put myself around a bit more on the pitch.

    Come August, I will be starting my last collegiate season and I want to ensure it’s a successful one. Is there any advice you can give or a direction you can point me in so I’m doing the right work this summer to make sure I’m in the best shape possible in terms of strength and mobility in August? I have almost every weightlifting/conditioning amenity available at my university, so almost any exercise is doable for me.

    Let me know your thoughts if you get a chance.

    Take care.

    Cheers,
    Michael.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Haha well the amount of cardio you’re likely doing is going to work against you somewhat, but you can definitely build muscle.

      If I were you, I would focus on building strength on the following exercises:

      Squat
      Deadlift
      Bench Press
      Military Press

      Emphasize heavy lifting (4-6 rep range) and perform 9-12 heavy sets of each every 6-7 days.

      You also need to make sure you’re eating enough:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Michael

        Thank you for the quick response.

        I’ve been doing bench on and off this spring but need to increase the amount throughout the summer and I definitely need to start hitting the legs hard again now I’m in my off-season and don’t have any games to worry about for a while.

        Do you have any tips for working in heavy cardio with heavy lifting? Obviously cardio is essential for my sport but I don’t want to counteract the heavy lifting by essentially “running it off”.

        Thanks again for replying and feel free to direct me to any of your pages so you’re not explaining anything you’ve already posted elsewhere!

        Cheers,
        Michael.

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool.

          You could squat every 3-4 days but you’ll want to keep your 7-day volume to 60-70 heavy (4-6 rep) reps. If you go over that you’ll start running into overtraining issues.

          Regarding the cardio, keep it separate to your lifting and have protein and carbs before and protein after. That will mitigate muscle loss.

          • Michael

            Perfect, thanks for the help.

            Take care.

          • Michael Matthews

            YW

  • Dalius

    Hi, I started following your program, but for example I don’t manage to keep the same weight for all three sets for most exercises. For example if I do a deadlift 160 kg for 6 reps, for next set I can do 155 kg for 4 reps and for third set may strength even drops more so I have to do for example 150kg for 6 reps. I rest 3min. Is this fine? Should I keep each set at different weight , reach 6 reps and progress by 2,5kg by doing 4 reps, then 5 and 6 and then add again 2,5kg. Or should I reach all three sets 6 reps and then increase weight, meaning first two going not to failure (or almost failure).
    I done the first method before using reverse pyramid with push pull legs split, but I want to follow your program as you recommend with 5 day split. I got all your books and like them very much. :) But just this thing is bothering me all the time. :D
    Thank you in advance and sorry for long post. :)

    • Michael Matthews

      I like increasing my weight once I hit 6 reps. So set 1, 6, add weight, get 4 or so next 2 sets, work with that weight next week until 6, go up, etc. If, however, you only get 2 to 3 reps after increasing, drop back and work with that lower weight until you can do TWO sets of 6, and then try to move up again. If that still fails, then work up to 3 sets of 6 and you’ll be fine.

      Muscle endurance will come with time. Just gotta be patient.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Chad

    Hi mike, I really like your books and own a few of them and think the website is great. im 6 foot 4 currently 190lbs at 14 % fat, I have been training for four years but have have not dieted properly until maybe the last year, I have been through various cycles of cutting and bulking but bulking too fast and have cut incorrectly and lost the little muscle gained on the fast bulks. I have managed to gain some muscle in the noob gain stage by just training in the first year but the gains have been slow, i then spent 2-3 years bulking and cutting wrong and having little to show for it, but now have just completed a smarter bulk but still a little fast gaining just over a pound but much better than in the past, how much muscle do think I could gain now? my long term goal is over 200lbs at 8-10 percent is that realistic considering im a slow/hard gainer. i started at 160 lbs but was 17 so i don’t know how some of my muscle gain was through growing up, like is said first year i just trained and ate anything and everything without tracking calories but was probably under eating. i train on a full body routine 3 times per week for 45mins to 1 hour, i have tried many routines but iv noticed the most gains in muscle and strength from this routine than any other, the routine consists of all the big compound exercises like squats, dips, bench press, dead-lift etc with one isolation at the end, what do you think of this routine? any advice would be appreciated. do you have any advice for cutting as well, in the past i seem to stall at 12 percent, im thinking carb cycling, what do you recommend to break a plateau?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Great on your stats. It sounds like you can still make great gains and your goal is very doable. You’re tall.

      Cool on your routine. So long as you’re lifting heavy and your weekly volume is correct, that style can work well.

      You should start with a cut and that starts with creating a proper meal plan:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Ivan

    Hey Mike!
    Love your stuff, and love your theories in BLS. Do you feel that even a beginner like myself gets the max benefits from say the 5-day a week program rather than a full-body 3-day split of some kind? Just looking for the reason you think so. Risk of overtraining maybe? Thanks for the time!

    • Ivan

      And I mean the 5-day you set forth in the One Year training guide. Sorry!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Honestly it’s a toss-up when you’re a beginner. You can probably do equally well on both approaches, but I think you’ll like the BLS workouts more than longer full-body workouts. Try squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, and military pressing heavy weights all in the same workout and I think you’ll agree. :)

  • Samuel Sander

    “eventual emphasis on heavy loading (1-6 repetition maximum) using at least 3-minute rest periods between sets…”
    I’ve been doing 5-minute rests with stretching in between compound (and sometimes even isolation) sets to give max effort on the next set. What do you recommend, should I decrease my rest time? Thanks!! :))

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I would unless you’re doing really heavy lifts–1-3 reps. And don’t stretch in between:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/stretching-before-aerobic-exercise-or-weightlifting-yes-or-no/

      • Samuel Sander

        Ok cool, timing my rests a bit shorter next workout! I remember reading some study that claimed 5 minute rests as opposed to 3 minute ones result in higher testosterone levels, although they didn’t observe muscle gain. On the phone right now, but might have this paper bookmarked on my pc. I think it was on Martin’s Leangains blog as well.

        Interesting @ stretching. I’ve got to find a new activity now to to pass the rest time :D Also, got to try the dynamic stretching stuff you mentioned in that post. Thanks!;))

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah 2-3 minutes is enough when you’re training with about 80-85% of 1RM. I like 4 minutes when working with 90-90%.

          Haha yeah dynamic stretching is way better. Mobility work is great too.

          • Samuel Sander

            Bumping an old reply here, hope you don’t mind :) Been following the 3 minute rule as you recommended, thanks!

            Another topic I was wondering about is the recommended length of a workout. I remember reading you saying that as long as you’re doing 9-12 sets per workout it’s all good. I’ve currently got my training routine split into two workout routines. Day A – Dips, Incline Bench Press, Squats and 2 exercises for triceps. Day B – Deadlift, Pull-ups, Overhead Press, Bicep curls. Whole thing takes me about 1.5h (including warmup).

            What do you recommend, should I continue with my current routine or perhaps create a separate day for squats and even bi’s/tri’s and get my time per workout down to an hour or so, so it’d be more focused? Many, many thanks in forward! :))

          • Michael Matthews

            Great!

            Long workout suck when you’re trying to lift heavy weight. As you know, you lose focus and energy along the way.

            Up to you but I think your workouts would be more productive if you shortened them and increased frequency instead.

          • Samuel Sander

            Yea, I’ll follow your 3 day plan in BLS instead. Right now had only 3,4 days in between the same muscle groups as I only had Day A and Day B. I’ll include Day C as well. Thanks! :)

          • Michael Matthews

            Great, let me know how it goes!

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  • Steve Crook

    Your Professor Ronnie Coleman video isn’t available any longer. Says because of copyright claim by the professor…

    • Michael Matthews

      Ah damn!

  • Joe Teale

    I really need help to find a set in stone gym routine I’m very motivated but lack knowledge of weight lifting. I need a routine on paper were I can go into the gym and know exactly what to do at each session.also if that was to come with a nutrition guide or meal plan that would be amazing,I’m 12 stone and 6’2 very lean with no body fat thanks for all the comments to follow

    • Michael Matthews

      Have you taken a look at my Bigger Leaner Stronger program?

  • Cris Wolf

    Hey Mike! I have a question. I bought your book “Bigger,Leaner,Stronger” and I’m currently using the 5 day per week workout you proposed.Well, my body type is ectomorph(currently 139 lb),I’m 17 years old, 5’7′ on height, and I had weightlifted before ,but really not seriously.Currently,I’ve been with the workout you proposed for almost 2 months.Being an ectomorph, I have read and heard lots of times that I only have to workout 3 times a week instead of 5 times…so I don’t know,what do you suggest? Do I stay training 5 times a week or go to 3 times a week?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it.
      That’s great you’ve started.

      5 x per week is going to work better. You can make gains on 3 x per week but it’s going to be less than 5 x….

  • Renier

    Hey mike, I really like reading and reading this article a lot, I have a question, for example my current bench is 188 x 4 reps, In my working set I do 4 then 3 and end with 2 reps, the same with my high bar squat I do 4 then 3 and then 2, I must consider that I’m not in a caloric surplus just yet because I’m reversing diet into my bulk, I’m pretty sure I could get 6 reps with 177 on the bench for example, but then I remember”Once you got 6 reps, move the weight” I like principle a lot, What do you think? Should I lower the weight? or can I keep it up until I get 6 reps on my first set?, If for example you move up the weight what would be the lowest rep amout you will do in your first working set? because in some exercises I get like 3 2 1 reps and then on other I get like 5 4 3 and Don’t know if I’m getting enough reps or if that’s just fine considerings I’m not bulking yet and trying to not lose strenght, Thanks man

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Hmm I would hit 4 for set 1 and then drop 5-10 pounds so I could get 4 on the next two sets. We want you staying in the 4-6 range…

      • Renier

        Thanks man, Great advice, that rocks!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW!

  • Ilia

    Hi Mike, is a proper “bulk” possible if I did fasted workouts 1st thing in the morning? I have been reading/doing your “Simple Science Losing Belly Fat” program for a few weeks now and am taking Leucine/GTE/Caffeine before workouts. The program did wonders for me and I went from 11/12% body fat down to 9% and got used to working out fasted! I’ve been losing about 2lb/week so far. Ideally I’d like to get down to 7/8% body fat over the next few weeks (to expose my 6-pack), and then, start bulking since I look rather skinny with some definition! I need to be way bigger overall (5’8, 156lb now)! My current carb intake is about/less than 1gr/body weight. If I worked out fasted in the am and doubled my carbs to 2gr/pound (plus doubled fat intake to 0.4/lb) for the rest of the day, doesn’t that make the additional carb intake obsolete on workout days? Aren’t carbs supposed to be used to fuel energy BEFORE workouts, not after? Should I stop working out fasted after I get down to my ideal 7/8% body fat so I can start bulking? Thanks so much!!

    • ilia

      p.s. What about rest days, should i keep the same carb intake (2g/lb of body weight) when bulking? I understand that my protein intake should be 1/1.2g per lb on ANY day :)

      • Michael Matthews

        You can reduce cals a little on off days but don’t drop below maintenance.

        • Ilia

          Is ‘maintenance” same as TDEE? Also, I use MyFitnessPal and whenever I input cardio it adds calories by allowing me to eat more since i burned x amount of cal. So for instance, if my goal is 2400/day (my TDEE) and I burn 200cal from cardio on a given day, should i eat 2600 that day to ‘catch up’ or stick to 2400 (actually 2200 after cardio) if, say, I wanted to maintain?

    • Michael Matthews

      I wouldn’t train fasted while bulking because you want the strength benefits of pre-workout carbs.

      Great job on the cut! That’s awesome.

      It sounds like you’re in a good place to start bulking properly. Check this out:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Ilia

        Thanks! That’s another great article of yours!! Sounds like you recommend that I stat bulking now (at 9%), rather then dropping to 7-8% and then start bulking? p.s. I do have some ‘above average’ muscle definition already but would like to be bigger on the long run. Wish I could post a pic… Thanks again!

        • Ilia

          oh here! i wanted to get to the 6-pack first (lol), and then bulk but let me know what you think… Thx much! I’ve been telling all my friends about your articles!!

          • Michael Matthews

            Nice man looking good! Thanks a lot for the support!

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks man! Well it’s up to you. Just know that if you get leaner you will look smaller. It sounds like bulking will better serve you in the long run.

          • Ilia

            Thx for the advice!! I just got your book and all the bonus materials :) All are awesome!! What I might do is keep doing 3-4 sessions of fasted HIIT per week first thing in the morning 8-9am (15min so i don’t get too tired for weight lifting later in the day), then have a good breakfast, and then do my strength training around 11pm-noon (I like to train 5 times/week, Mon-Fri). That way I am going to keep burning belly fat with fasted HIIT, and then bulk with my 10% caloric surplus (with non-fasted lifting). Let me know if my thinking is right :)

  • Jenny

    I have a bit of a weird situation… as a woman, I unsurprisingly find it a challenge to gain muscle compared with guys, but I have no problem since passing the age of 25, of maintaining fat… I can still eat about 3000+ calories of junk in a day for days on end and my weight remains steady, but my steady weight is high at 67kg and 27% body fat. I’ve read your awesome books and really cleaned up my diet and I’m making massive strength gains, but my composition hasn’t really changed. I’m still the same weight and high Bf% with everything from 10% to 30% calorie deficits on my rate as calculated using katch mcardle and exercise factor of 1.2… in fact, a deficit between 5%-20% causes weight gain!! Above or below that causes very slow loss… any idea what is going on and what I can do to cut a whole lot more effectively?

    Macros at present: p:c:f 44:38:18 on average… with protein at 1-1.2g per pound of lean body mass.

    I really appreciate any suggestions you have…

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey Jenny!

      What are your macros like right now? How often are you cheating and what are you eating when you cheat?

  • Frank

    Thanks for sharing good information Mike. I really I had access to this information 7 years ago when i first started lifting. But i guess its never too late to get on the right path. I just started down the BLS path and hope to see a transformation in 6 months. My OCD really makes me overthink things, but if IF i gain a pound a week for 4 months gaining a total of 16 lbs, how much of that do you think i can retain after cutting the fat?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Frank! I hear you. I wish I knew 7 years ago what I now know too, haha.

      That’s great you’ve started the program and if you gain 1 pound of muscle for every pound of fat, you’re doing well.

  • Frederick

    Hi Mike, question! I have adjusted my macros close to your bulking recommendations, and been following your workout set up in BLS. My strength gains have shot out the roof! My weight gains have been incredibly consistent for the past 4 months, however for the last month or so, I have been maintaining my body weight, despite eating 3,000 calories a day. My current body weight is 165, and I’m 5’8” with about 11% body fat.
    Carbs around 360g
    Protein around 181g
    Fat around 81g
    I am assuming I need to eat EVEN MORE :/ . Should I add more carbs to add more calories?

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey man! That’s great on your gains!

      You just need to eat more. Let’s bump you up to 400g carb/day and see how your body responds…

  • Kai

    Is this thread still being responded to?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup. What’ sup?

  • Jules

    Hey Mike, I am on the second week of your Thinner Leaner Stronger. As a female, i am not afraid of heavy weights, but I am pretty weak [[especially side lateral shoulder raise, it is a measly 8lbs per hand :'( ]] ! It’s just a shame that I can’t hang with the guys and throw around the heavy things( soon enough I hope!!). So as a female 5’7 120 lbs and 22% body fat, would you recommend I at least TRY the 4-6 range. Maybe after 2 weeks of 8-10? Or should I just keep to the 8-10 Reps. Coming from a previous moderate intensity cardio bunny, I really want to start off by making the most of my newb gains. In TLS, you suggest 8-10 Reps, but would it impair my gains if I went all out and at least tried to go heavy for 4-6 reps?Example: my leg press this week was 135lbs for 9 reps. So for calculating my 4-6 rep range, should I try 1 rep at a higher weight to test out what my MAX is, and then multiply my MAX by .80? Thanks again!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great job on starting the program! Shoulders are a bitch. They’ll come along though.

      I wouldn’t do 4-6 yet. Get real comfortable with 8-10, build some muscle and strength, and in 6 months or so we could work some in.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

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  • HMorsy

    thanks a lot for your efforts. I got a question if you may: I am a hargainer when it comes to muscle gain, but an easygainer when it comes to fat :)
    I mean i have a high body fat % (21% at least) and a small lean muscle mass ( I am 5’8′ tall and 160 lbs )
    How could i get bulk with losing fat or at least not gaining more?! sounds complicated i know :(

  • Brad

    Great article. Lots of things I have been overlooking in here.
    What excercises would you recommend for someone who is limited to just dumbbells?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      DB only is tough because you can’t train your back or legs all that effectively. (DB deads and squats just aren’t shit compared to BB lifts.)

      Any way you can get a BB setup or get into a proper gym?

      • Billn

        FYI- If you live in USA you can pick up used weight lifting BB / DB bars, & matching weight plates at places like Play It Again Sports.

        • Michael Matthews

          Good tip! Thanks for sharing.

      • Brad

        That’s what I figured. I’ll have to make do with DBs for the time being, but I’ll look around for BBs as the holidays approach.
        Thanks for replying!

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool. YW!

    • Wing Ding

      Hey bud if you want to work out with dumb bells like i do, then shove a whole heap of weights in your bag and then squat, also if you want to work out your chest and arms do pushups with the weights in the bag, you can also go to the park and do dips or chin ups with the weights this will help you grow stronger till you can go to the gym or buy a barbell.

  • Oh Adams

    I agree with everything you said in the article except one thing. I strongly believe dead lifts are extremely over rated exercise. It just gives every skinny guy the satisfaction that they are lifting big and pumps your ego in the gym and also gives you thicker waist and glutes. I do not believe it does so much benefit as people believe in it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment! I disagree though. :)

      Heavy deadlifts are probably the single best thing you can do to build overall size and strength.

    • Wing Ding

      you need to work your glutes to lift though as if you have weak glutes you will be lifting incorrectly, most people who don’t work out there legs have troubles doing these things, also if you think dead lifts are a waste of time then how do you move furniture or tables when you move house?

  • yungtraplord

    should i give arms their own day?

    • Michael Matthews

      I like to.

  • Wing Ding

    HI Michael i was wondering as a person who has an intolerance to dairy i have tried lactose intolerant milk but still affects me what could i substitute as milk doesn’t agree with me and the amount i should be drinking i might be spending more time working out my abs on the toilet then working out side :P, also what brand of protein powder do you recommend for bulking i make my own protein shakes which will help me bulk as they have all the ingredients i need, also what can i substitute banana for as i am allergic to that as well lol.

  • GQ

    Hi Mike. Just wondering if you’re doing any warm up sets or exercises before going heavy without taking away the energy needed for the real lifting?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I definitely warm up first.

      • GQ

        Thanks! Two more question. What’s your rest time in between sets? And also do you use this same method on ab workouts? For instance, when you use cable machines to do kneeing ab crunches or decline sit-ups with weight, ect? Thanks!

  • Brian Giffin

    Mike I’m on my bulk right now but feeling sort of bloated from time to time. I’m noticing I haven’t been hitting my fat macros for a while now meaning they have been lots lower than suggested in the BBLS plan. Could this be related? What are signs of low Insulin resistance? I’m wondering If I’m one of those folks who do better with a higher fat intake VS carbs. On my first bulk I was using carbolin and I didn’t seem to feel this way so I’m not sure which way to go.

    Also how often should I re evaluate my TDEE and BMR? Should this be checked before a new cut or before a new bulk?

    Thanks Man!

    • Michael Matthews

      Bloat while bulking is normal simply because you have to eat so much. Regarding your macros, let’s compare against this:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      It’s hard to know insulin resistance by feeling. It requires medical testing to really know.

      Your BMR won’t change much over time (it will go up slightly as you gain more muscle) and your TDEE will fluctuate with physical activity levels, so you just play it by ear and recalculate when you start moving more or less.

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