Muscle for life

The “Hardgainer’s” Guide to Guaranteed Muscle Growth

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:

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.

(And if you prefer a 13-minute video overview, just click below.)

You Have to Eat Big to Get Big, But…

how to gain muscle for hardgainers

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.


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.

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!”

muscle building for hardgainers

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 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”

hardgainer workout routines

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:

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!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my bestselling books.

Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

Bigger Leaner Stronger

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Leave a Comment!
  • Roy

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

    • 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. 🙂


  • Nikki

    Very good article, really enjoyed it! Thanks!

  • 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.

    • 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

    • 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!


    • Olly


      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!

      • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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 !!!

    • 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?

    • 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?


  • 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

    • 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?


  • 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! 😀

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

    • 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!


      • 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.

    • 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

    • 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.

  • It’s me

    Great marketing. Your affiliate commissions must be insane!

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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


  • 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


    • 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 [email protected]

    • 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


  • 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,

    • 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?


    • 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.



    • 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?



    • 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:


      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 😉

    • 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!


    • 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.


    • 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 😛

        • 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

    • 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

    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:

    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

    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


    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


    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Gareth! I really appreciate it.

      Yes, here’s a 2-day:


      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:


      • 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


  • 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.


    • Michael Matthews


      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:

      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:


      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!


        • 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


  • 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. 😀
    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


      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:


      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:


      • 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 😀 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


            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


      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


  • 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:


      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


      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:


      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.

  • Jonathan

    Hey Michael, what do you think an ideal weight would be for a male who is 5″7′, has a 6.5′ inch wrist, weighs 145lbs, and is 9%bodyfat? That is a weight that makes we look muscular.

  • mikey

    Great post. I came across a good supplement guide here: http://www.musclefast.info/bodybuilding-nutrition/ which goes well with this – helped me as a hardgainer.

  • rashid

    Hey mike, i am a 16 year old male. I am 64 inches tall and weigh 110 pounds. Its really hard for me to gain weight and i really want to grow taller. Please tell me what to do

    • Hey man!

      16 is a great age to start weightlifting. Could you do that?

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Salimingo Avocachraf

    hy micheal
    i was for the last few days hopeless about gaining size, since i’m an ectomorph “extremely-Hard-gainer” , as in the first 3 months i started working out i was doing every mistake a beginner could possibly do, my rep range was >50 , i was working out 7 days per week, i didn’t sleep enough BUT i was able to put on some size that i was happy about even so ,after that period my body just stopped growing up, i tried my best from very high volume with heavy lifts to low volume with high reps , none of them had results, my main goal here is to get size i don’t give a shit about strength or endurance just size, let me give you an example , just last Monday was my chest day , my routine was :
    – bench-press : 3 warm up sets – 50%1RM – 15 reps
    1- working set – 70% 1RM – 8 reps – [with a rest-pause]
    2- working set – 80% 1RM – 6 reps –
    3- working set – 80% 1RM – 6 reps – [with a drop set]
    4- working set – 80% 1RM – 6 reps – [rest-pause followed by triple drop set]
    – (flat to incline)dumbbell press : 1 warm up set
    1- flat dumbbell press – 12 reps

    2- 25 degree dumbbell press – 12 reps

    3- 35 degree dumbbell press – 12 reps

    4- 45 degree dumbbell press – 12 reps

    – incline barbell bench-press : no warm up sets
    3 working sets of 12,10,8 reps with drop set in each

    – cable flyes superset w/ pushups : 4 working sets -8 reps w/ 15 pushups

    i was feeling my chest soooo hard i couldn’t move my shoulders, and my triceps was screaming but i wasn’t happy because i didn’t see any results in size

    i’m just wondering what am i doing wrong here , i was looking around for any articles about hardgainers, i found this and i found also a “Science-made” program that looks like this :
    Monday: Squat
    Tuesday: Incline Press
    Wednesday: Chest-Supported Row
    Thursday: Deadlift
    Friday: Clean and Press
    Saturday: Pull-up
    Sunday: Rest
    [every day consists of 3 warm up sets , 10 pyramid sets , and a 50% 1RM set to failure]
    should i try it ?
    any reply from you guys can be so helpful

    • Hey man!

      Check out my reply to your other comment.

      • Salimingo Avocachraf

        oh i’m sorry, really sorry, i wasn’t able to see my first comment so i tough it wasn’t sent, thx for the help dude you’re awesome

  • Salimingo Avocachraf

    hy micheal,
    i should start by saying that i’m impossible-gainer ectomorph, and for the last few days i just push my body to the limits, really to the limits with the meaning the word was created for, and i never see results in size, i tried heavy lifts , i tried high reps, i tried german volume, i tried drop sets, rest-pause, pyramid , pre-exhaust techniques pretty much every session and every set, it just doesn’t work i don’t see any damn size increasing , the thing that annoys me is that in the first 3 months i started working out i was doing every single mistake a beginner could do , i didn’t sleep enough , i was working out 7 days per week, my rep range was >50 rep, my form was not even a form , was dancing while doing curls ! and i was still able to see results that i was happy about, and it’s just like if my growing system shutdown , i’m hopeless for these days and even thinking to stop working out, i was looking around some websites and i was this one , but i also found a “Science-Made” program for hardgainers wish consists of 1 compound movement every session,3 warp up sets, 10 pyramided sets [10,10,8,8,6,6,8,8,10,10 reps], and a 50% 1RM set til failure at the end: it goes like this :
    – Monday : Squats
    – Tuesday : barbell Bench-Press
    – Wednesday : Bent Over Rows
    – Thursday : Dead-Lift
    – Friday : Clean and Press
    – Saturday : Pull-ups
    – sunday : rest
    seems really interesting, i never tried giving all i have in 1 heavy compound exercise , the question here is should i try it ? should i add more exercises or take off some ? waiting impatiently your answer as you know better in bodies ,
    in this case dead ones 🙂

    thank you for this amazing post

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  • Dan

    Hi Mike I am on a bulk
    Monday Chest+Triceps
    Bench Press
    DB Flies
    Incline Press
    Triceps DB Extension
    Close Grip Press
    Triceps Pulldowns
    Tuesday Legs
    Calf raises
    Leg Extensions
    Wednesday Rest Cardio but usually legs are shot
    Thursday Back + Biceps
    Bent over Barbell rows
    One arm DB Row
    reverse grip Pulldowns
    Alternate dumbbell curls
    Ezi Bar curl
    Hammer curls
    Preacher curls.
    Friday Shoulders
    Military Press
    DB shoulder Press
    Side Lateral Raise
    Front Raise
    reverse Flies
    What do you think is it too much or too scattered

  • Kyle

    Hey Michael, great article! Read it a while back and incorporated everything into my own training!

    I’ve seen great gains all over my body but my forearms are really lacking, I lift heavy and i’ll do reverse curls through the week but they don’t seem to be developing, got any idea’s on how I could change this?

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  • Oriol

    Hello Michael,

    I’ve been training for 35 weeks aprox. with 3 or 4 weeks of rest in betweem (never more than one week in a row).

    I’ve been evolving my routine, which has been the following from the last 2 or 3 months (when I found your blog).

    – PULL UP

    – DIPS


    3 sets, 4-6 reps.
    I’m 1.8 meters tall. I started weighting 135 pounds. I reached 150 pounds about 3 months ago. Then I got bogged down. Until a couple of weeks ago. Due to a job change I can’t eat whenever I want to. I lost near 2.5 pounds the first week, and now I’m still there.

    I’ve got a problem with pullups. I can’t do more than 4. I tried doing chin ups instead of pullups, in order to progress so I could finally do 3 sets of 4 pullups. Then I realised I was working harder my biceps than my back, so I stopped.

    After that, I tried doing the first set with a wide grip, a second one with a neutral grip, and a final set of chinups. I didn’t progress either.

    For the last 3 weeks I’ve been doing a first set of 4 pullups (wide grip), and the 2nd and 3rd set in an assisted machine, using a 60 pound load to help. Less help than that feels like no help at all.

    What do you recommend to me in order to progress?

    I’ve been thinking about working out a 4th day, splitting back and biceps (adding an exercise of each, that means 3 exercises each), but it’s quite hard with my current schedule.

    I usually eat a couple of shakes a day, containing basically:
    – 25 gram The Protein Works, Whey Protein 80
    – 40 gram oats
    – 1 orange
    – 1 carrot
    – 120 gram iogurt

    Apart from two complete meals, consisting generally of a salad, 15-30 gram animal protein, 100-150 gram rice or potatoes.

    Do you think I am in a right path?

    Thanks for your blog.


    • Great job on your progress! You’re having a really solid first year.

      Pullups are a bitch. They take time and if you wanted to really maximize your pullups, you’d want to do them a lot. Is that important to you?

      Check this out on the diet:


      • Oriol

        Thank you for taking the time to answer.

        My main goal is to gain muscle for an aesthetic purpose, but I’d also like to have more control over my body. That’s why I want to be able to do pullups. What do you mean by doing them a lot: would it be a good idea to include 3 sets of pullups every time I train? First or last exercise? And what do you think about the assisted machine: is it a good idea, or it’d be better to do pullups with a neutral grip or ever chinups?

        Regarding the training frequency, do you think I’d experience a big diference by working out a fourth day?
        In that case, I saw in another post you suggest to split legs and shoulders. However, I think I my legs are quite depelovep compared to my upper body, due to many years playing soccer. Could it be a good idea to split back and biceps instead of legs and shoulders in that case?

        And the last one. If you had to choose between rear dumbbell raise or another leg exercise such as barbell lunge (as I’m only squatting), what would you do?

        Thanks for the link on meal planning. I’m sorry for that many questions, I just feel I’m bogged down…

        • My pleasure.

          Yeah I would do 3 sets to failure 3 x per week to start. Could be at the end of your workouts or separate altogether, at home on a bar or whatever.

          Generally speaking 4 x per week is going to beat 3 x for gains. Yup you could split back & bis. Might as well split chest & tris too (make an arms day).

          Hmm depends on your body. If your legs are well developed I would go with shoulders because us natties can never get enough shoulders, haha.

          No worries. 🙂

  • Zan

    Tx man, good information!

  • pete

    Hey Mike,

    I’ve been lifting with different techniques/programs for about 5 years (on and off usually end up going 10 months on 2 off because i get bored or lazy) but have been going strong for the last year and a half. About 6 months ago i started stronglifts 5×5 and started to see some decent gains in strength but then for some reason felt like i wasn’t doing enough and went back to higher rep isolation work. Needless to say my growth has been pretty stagnant since. I’ve been reading all your articles and plan on giving your Ultimate (bodypart) workouts a try for the next 3 months. My problem is i cannot make strength gains when it comes to my chest and while i expect your workouts to help I’d just like to know what you think has been most detrimental to my growth. (I’ll post some things below I’d appreciate your feedback on.)

    I’m 5’11” and weigh 170-175lbs
    1RM Deadlift 375
    1RM Squats 255
    1RM Standing Overhead Press (guessing based on 4-6rep) 115-125
    1RM Flat Bench 215

    Now for what i think my problems are…

    I ignored shoulder work for a long time because 5×5 had me convinced the compounds would be enough and honestly for some reason even before that i wasn’t targeting them directly for awhile. Because of this my shoulders are disproportionate to my triceps/biceps which are rather large.

    My back (Lats specifically), i believe, is my strong point. Not sure if that were put me at a disadvantage as far as improving my chest goes but i figured i’d point it out.

    For awhile i didn’t do much incline work and when id bench i could never seem to get past 185lbs 4-5 reps. I Just keep stalling at this weight and eventually feel even weaker and go back to higher rep lower weight.

    I just figured out I’m not eating nearly enough even though i feel full. Even now that I’m counting calories i find myself missing my goals because i feel full but I’m working through it.

    Appreciate any feedback in advance 🙂

    • Cool on everything you’ve done so far. Those are solid lifts.

      Check this out:



      Also, what does your weekly chest work look like?

      • pete

        Well it was once per week but as far as specific exercises i was all over the place trying to find something that worked. Before i started with the Ultimate Chest Workout I would do something like the below on an average day. I’m also doing a warm up set and 3 sets 4-6 reps inclined on the third day after my chest day now too.

        For awhile i neglected incline work but my most recent workout looked something like this.

        3 sets 8-10 reps flat barbell bench
        3 sets 8-10 reps incline dumbbell bench
        3 sets 8-10 reps flat dumbbell fly
        3 sets 8-10 reps incline dumbbell fly

        Then i’d usually throw in either cable work, dumbbell hip press, or dips (unweighted because i tweaked my shoulder, not actually injured but something in it got inflamed… forgot what it’s called). I have no problem doing weighted dips i was just nervous for awhile. I also noticed that i think i put too much emphasis on how controlled my movements were. I did things much slower, specifically when it came to benching and it affected how much i could lift to hit my rep range.

      • pete

        And i don’t fully understand this.

        Tip #10 to Increase Your Bench Press:
        Try to Pull the Bar Apart

        I’ve tried to do it in the past but i’m not sure if i’m doing it right. Is it just about keeping your shoulders packed?

        • Yeah and actively pushing your arms out from your body (creating that tension).

  • Moe

    Hello Mike,
    thank you for the information, I’ll definitly use this during my training regimen now. however the Problem is I workout at home, I do have equipment but the weights only go up to 50 pounds in total. which is terrible for so called “heavy Weight traning”. Thing is too, there is no chance for me to join a gym due to age restrictions. My question is, is there anyway I can Get out of “hardgainer hell”? Using the weight I have on me right now?

    Thank you.

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  • phil

    I’m currently doing 3 full body workouts per week Monday, Wednesday, Friday with 8 compound exercises, each for 4-6 reps and 2 sets each so 16 sets in total. Is this too much or too little

  • zhouston0505

    How many times a week would you say you shouls train/train each body part for optimal gains?

  • SPQR

    Hey Mike ,
    I just bought your book, Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, and the Year one challenge for men. However I was looking in it and couldn’t find what exercises make up the calf workouts A,B or C, or the what exercises are in what ab circuits. Any help there or where I could find them?

  • Todd

    Hi Mike,
    My name is Todd, I’m 17 and I have only just started lifting seriously the past month, and my program is as follows.

    Day 1 – Chest/Back
    Day 2 – Shoulders/Arms
    Day 3 – Legs/Abs

    This is repeated twice a week, so all up i’m training 6 days per week.

    I have been told by body builders around my gym that I should be aiming for 10-12 reps per set. What I have been doing on particular exercises is lifting heavy for 4-6 reps, and then super-setting a lighter weight for 10-12 reps. I do this for 4 sets per exercise.
    Would you recommend this?

  • Brady Scott

    Hello, I’m 32 now 6′ tall and 174lbs. 3 years ago I was 232. I stopped drinking, started working out and eating clean. I got in really good shape compared to what I was, but not really. I just look like an average guy, not a guy who works out 5 days a week and eats almost only natural healthy foods. I got down to 164 a year ago, but still had a little gut and could barely eat anything to keep losing weight. So, for a year now I have been working my ass off to gain muscle. I fluctuated my diet and calorie intake, I followed the Dolce Diet principles, I tried the 5×5, I did the full 90 day Athena X program, and read endless articles on hardgainer workouts and diets. I’m not lazy, I worked my butt off. At one point I got up to 186, but just looked chubby. I am a busy father of 4, and a freelance artist along with my 8hour day job. I work until I’m exhausted and still don’t see results. Then if I take it easy to not “over train” and I just gain fat. I’m not an athlete, so I know I will never look super cut and muscular, but damn I wish I could see a little improvement for all this work. I do everything and eat clean and just look skinny fat. I can’t get rid of my gut or gain any muscle no matter what I do. Any ideas? I’ve pretty much given up on muscle gain and just trying to lose my damn gut for once in my life. Better to by skinny than be skinny everywhere, but with a gut. I know it will be 10x easier to lose weight if I could somehow gain even a little more muscle. I’ve attached a picture. This is a 3 month “results” from Jan. to March. I still look almost exactly the same and have worked out and dated constantly since then. I know you get this everyday, but if you could give me some idea what I’m doing wrong and how to improve that would be awesome! Thanks and keep up the great work!

  • Ian

    Hi Mike,

    I have 2 problems if you could help me out. I’m an ectomorph type and have been lifting heavy for the last 10 months, in accordance to your exercise plans (I am a dude). My problem is that 1) I can’t shove food down my mouth and 2) I have concerns on cutting…

    1) When bulking (as I am now), I just don’t want to eat, even though I’m packing as much calorie dense foods as possible (peanut butter, meats, etc) and eat 5 meals a day. I feel that if I eat more, I’d throw up or just feel disgusting. If I don’t eat enough as planned, my weight drops rapidly! Macros right now are 30%Pro, 40%Carb, 30%Fat @ 2700-2750 Calories (I’m 5’8″ 145lb). (Side note: I’ve also tried 25%Pro / 55%Carb / 20%Fat before but my body does not respond well to that). Feeling stuck and I can’t seem to gain more weight without feeling stuffed and horrible.

    2) I know you recommend cutting at ~15% to ~10% + fasted HIIT. However…

    Do you think it is okay to bulk to 160lbs (145lb & ~15% BF now, so this would take ~ 4 more months and make my bodyfat 20%+), and then rapidly cut till 7%?

    The reason I don’t want to cut is that 3 months ago, I was at 147lbs and cut to 135lbs in about 1 month. I’m now back to 145lbs, but I have the same bodyfat % as I did before the cut…

    Any guidance would be extremely appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hey Ian!

      1. This is a common issue among “hardgainers.” Whereas I could eat 4000 calories per day with ease some people would literally throw up doing that.

      I am going to make a note for looking into some various tips and tricks for building up your appetite.

      In the meantime, I know that many people find caloric beverages help a lot, like fruit juices, milk, rice milk, weight gainer shakes, etc. Have you tried incorporating things like that?

      2. IMO it’s not ideal but I do understand why you would want to try it. I would say going from 20 to 10% is a more realistic goal of a cut before having to reverse diet to prepare for the 10 to 7% journey…

      • Ian

        Hey Mike,

        Thanks for the response!

        1. Yes, I have tried high calorie beverages. When I first started bulking, I had 2 cups of rice milk with 2 scoops of whey with a tablespoon of flax seed early in the morning. Pretty heavy duty drink – totaled ~ 500Cal, but it takes me forever to gulp it down. It did help, but I noticed my body does not respond well to whey, and I had trouble eating breakfast… I ended up phasing it out a few months ago, but now thinking about it, I might try adding more high-cal liquids again when bulking. Not quite sure what though.

        2. Woah, I just looked at your reverse diet article and noticed that was exactly what happened after my cutting phase. After the cut, I dramatically increased my calories directly to bulk, and gained back most of the bodyfat lost.

        I did not remember you mention reverse dieting in your cutting article, so I assume this is just for the absolute final phase? But I have a feeling this could be the culprit… what do you think?

        I am willing to give cutting another shot. Just re-read your fasted cutting article, and it seems that you’ve removed l-leucine from the list of muscle breakdown supplements. I mainly used that for my previous cutting phase. Do you no longer recommend it?


        (Btw: I think there was a typo in “reverse diet” article as a bolded section said “read meat” instead of “red meat”)

        • YW.

          1. Ah okay. Have you tried fruit juices? Mixing stuff like peanut butter into shakes? Adding honey?

          2. Yeah it happens.

          If you manage your cut properly you won’t lose any muscle to speak of. That I can guarantee.

          Yeah I no longer recommend leucine because my product Forge is just all-around better.

          Doh thanks I will fix.

  • Kevin Bejar

    Mike just sent you a Instagram message with my detailed problem. It would mean the world if you could take a look and help me out. God bless bro.

  • Jibriel

    Hi Mike,
    So I have been lifting for 4 months now and I have seen some decent improvement. I realize how important diet is to gaining, and I am going off to college next year. Do you have any recommendations for how to eat next year? I won’t be able to make meals as easily as I could as I would at home. I would really appreciate it if you could give me a really easy meal plan for the day, as this is my biggest problem going into the next year. I have just turned 18, am 5’10” and 168 lbs. Thanks!

    • I email with quite a few college students and what we’ve worked out is larger breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, with little on-the-go snacks like protein shakes, fruit, almonds, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.

      We also stick to foods they can quantify with an app like My Fitness Pal. We avoid stuff with sauces and other “hidden calories,” you know?

      If you’re interested in a custom meal plan, check this out:


  • mohammed irshadh

    Hi mike,
    I have 2 questions:

    1) Can we increase weights on every set.
    2) How long should we do the above following routine?

    • 1. You want to be working with the heaviest weight you can for 4-6 reps on each set. So, unless you underestimate the weight on the first set, the weight shouldn’t be going up.

      The goal is progressive overload though. So your goal should be to gain reps and/or weight each week.

      2. You will always focus around the points in this article. However, if you want a plan to follow for the next 12 months, download this:


      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Greg

        I think the guys who are just starting out need to know about warming up too, don’t go straight for the heaviest weight you can lift. I can guaruntee you’ll get an injury. Just to let everyone know I have been doing Mikes routine from his book Bigger, Leaner, Stronger and now on beyond bigger leaner stronger. All I can say is they work, but correct form adequate sleep and eating the right food will increase your gains 10 fold. Good luck, and cheers Mike.

  • Boo

    Please tell me how many sets. This seems to be something missing from EVERY article of yours I have read. Almost as if specifying the amount of sets is something you’re trying to avoid like the plague. I just want to know the amount of sets. I get that it’s heavy lifting of about 4 -6 reps, but nowhere does it tell me how many sets of these reps I’m supposed to be doing. In one article someone asked you the same question, you directed them to another article of yours, of which, once again, the number of sets appeared to be absent. All I want to do is go home and try out your methods. So I just have one question…..

    How many sets??
    How many sets??
    How many sets??
    How many sets??
    How many sets??

    • Haha, sorry man. I recommend 9-12 working sets per workout. You can also see more on this here:


      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Boo

        Lol dude, you nailed it….am a very happy man. The link you provided has just answered everything I need to know. Well, I mean it directs me to more links with information I’ve been wanting for a while.

        Thanks mate, you are now my exercise Bible 😛

  • Maruf Al Mehrab

    Hi..i am only 42kgs,height 5ft6inch,i am small frame..i am having so hard time gaining weight..i recently gained 2kgs though,but its been 18-20days its the same i have not gained a bit since then,should i lift weight?and what work out should i do?how much weight should i lift?

  • Visatio (tio)

    Hi, im 62kgs. my height is around 5.5ft, and i hv checked the machine in the gym, i chose athletic body type and the result said my body is “ideal” ..the fat, muscle is all ideal.. But for me, i think my muscle body still not shows so much / gain.. i have been workout for 7 – 8 months, when i started working out in the gym, i was 53kg, but now i gain so much with my weight.. But, the muscle wont grow big enough or lean or ripped… should i continue training with my current workout exercise (body building exercise) which is: chest day, shoulder day, tricepsbiceps day, back day… or should i change my direction to follow the workout exercise for skinny guy (lifting weight) or maybe there’s some exercise that might be able to fit with my hardgaining… and how long should i do cardio to start the workout… Thanks…

  • Davey McCrazy

    Hey Mike,
    Wanted to run something by you…

    When I’m using my chest & tris (bench, DB chest pressing, weighted dips), then 4-6 rep work feels great and rewarding… obviously a spotter is nice for bench. But importantly, all those exercises feel like pass / fail movements, where you can give maximum effort & either the weight goes up or it doesn’t.

    Deadlifts too, feel best with low reps… High reps are just exhausting & annoying… Although with deads it can be your lower back that’s in pass / fail mode!

    However, most other movements feel too heavy in that 4-6 rep range, either because some small muscle group quits first (prolly biceps when pulling & the lesser delt heads in shoulder work) and then form starts to compensate… or else the whole movement, that’s enjoyable with lighter weight, feels awkward with heavy weight, ie Pendleys or heavy squats.

    Soooo… Is this a normal part of lifting and I just need to suck it up? Or is there something off with me (imbalances, tightness etc) that’s causing me to feel this way about lifts that aren’t shit simple presses?

    Perhaps to put it another way, I’m not exactly sure what your numbers are so I’ll just throw some out… does rowing 250, benching 300 and squatting 350, all feel equivalently “good & natural” to you?

    • I know what you mean and as you get stronger it becomes less and less awkward.

      That said, some people DO like to train in the 6 to 8 rep range on movements like side late raises and I’m cool with that.

      Those are VERY achievable naturally. I’d say pretty much anybody should be able to get there.

      • Davey McCrazy

        I’m gonna guess that “side late raise” was an autocorrect error for “side delt raise”? Or mebbe you thought I’m a real foo-foo lifter & doing “side latte raises”? Ha.

        But I’m pretty happy doing those little complimentary isolation movements in the highish rep range & ” feeling the burn”, so to speak.

        It’s the big compound movements I was asking about & finding that they all don’t seem to be equal, in terms of comfortability & enjoyment as the weight approaches your ORM.

        • Whoops hahaha yeah meant to say side LAT (lateral) raise. Meh.

          Yeah that’s cool. IMO do work toward including some heavier stuff even on the isolations.

          No doubt that some movements are TOUGH with heavy weight but that doesn’t mean you’re increasing the risk of injury or should go light.

          Pendlay rows are a good example of this. Sure it’s more “comfortable” to go lighter but you’ll get better results from heavier work.

  • Jennifer

    Hey Mike,

    Do you have a variation of this for women?


  • newy219 .

    Mike you say that you can gain 15 lbs of muscle in 3-5 months max, yet in your videos you state that the most anyone can gain in a year is roughly 20-25 pounds of muscle mass, so wouldn’t a more realistic expectation of putting 15 pounds of muscle mass on to be like 6-8 months? ….or were you just saying 15 pounds of total weight in 3-5 months?

    • 15 pounds of weight in 3 to 5 months is very doable. It probably won’t be all muscle though.

  • ChasBono

    Hey Mike- Ive been in that 8 rep range rut you talk about. I’m going to try to 5 rep range idea after reading your stuff and the starting strength stuff too. But Mark Rip says to bench twice per week and squats three days per week. I absolutely could never handle that. In fact I used to bench 3 days per week and I never recovered – I was sore all the time – and I actually got weaker.

    I got dramatically stronger when I switch to benching and squatting once per week. Today ten years later I actually have to alternate heavy weeks and lighter weeks. If I don’t the soreness never seems to go away. I wish it weren’t the case or If you have an idea how to reduce that soreness and help me improve gains sure. I figure the test of weather a program is working is – “Are you making gains in lifts ?” If you are it’s working.

    Also what happens when you hit a wall like everyone does and your increases stop?

  • Ryan

    Hey Mike, I’m the typical hardgainer type of person (6’2″, 148 lbs) and I can’t seem to get away from this size. I used to be 135 lbs 2 years ago until I really started working out and eating more food throughout the day but now I’m stuck at the 146lbs – 150lbs range.

    I do chest Monday (barbell bench, inclined dumbbell bench, pushups, dips), back Tuesday (deadlift, barbell row, wide grip chin-up, barbell shoulder raise), rest Wednesday, arms Thursday (close-grip bench press, incline dumbbell curl, thumbless reverse barbell curl, alternating dumbbell curls, rope pulldown), rest Friday, legs Saturday (squats, split leg dumbbell squats, calf raises), rest Sunday.
    I primarily aim for 8 reps but with inclined dumbbell bench and incline dumbbell curls I do 4 reps at very high weight so I can barely finish the 4th rep followed by 8 fast reps at half the weight (a tip from a body building friend of mine). I also change up the order of my exercises so that I don’t get too used to them and try to increase my weight when I can easily complete the number of reps.

    For carbs I eat primarily potatoes, pasta, and brown rice. Protein is mostly chicken, ground beef, and pork. With my meals I go for small and spaced out throughout the day because I’ve always had a hard time eating large amounts of food in one sitting. Right before bed I drink 2 scoops of a weight gaining protein shake with a scoop of glutamine, a scoop of creatine, and all mixed with 500ml of whole milk.

    It feels like I’m doing everything that I can but can’t seem to put on any additional muscle or weight at all. Any advice or articles to point me in the direction of would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks for your time.

    • Ryan

      Sorry, that’s 3-5 sets and 8 reps for each exercise with a few exceptions of 2 sets for 15 reps.

    • Hey Ryan!

      Thanks for all the info. Good job on the weight you’ve put on in the last couple years!

      First, let’s get you training properly. Check these out:



      As for the food, you simply have to eat more. The goal is to gain 1/2-1 pound a week. So, if you’re not gaining at that rate, increase intake.

      I’m not a fan of weight gainers because they’re just full of junk calories (mainly carbs). I much prefer eating real food, and just stick to calorie-dense foods. Here are my favorites (some of which you’re already eating):

      Red meat

      Grains like brown rice and quinoa

      Oils like coconut oil and olive oil


      Whole-fat dairy

      Multi-grain pasta and bread

      Almonds and almond butter


      White and sweet potatoes

      Let’s start with that. My pleasure! LMK how it goes!

  • Ivy

    Hey Mike, find your website really interestng and really hoping if i could find something here. Im 23 and a 90 lbs and 5’5. i know thats bad and want to change it!
    Please help me and my diet is not good either with it i have a very hectic schedule.
    would appreciate your help!

  • Mark


    I have been working out in the gym for a few years now and never really getting the gains I had hoped. I know now I was probably just not doing heavy enough weights, and doing too many reps and not resting enough.

    Last week I was 149 lbs and 13.9% body fat. I had been on a diet of probably over 3000 calories a day as I was trying to bulk up, but I wasn’t doing it right, I was just eating a lot of everything and not tracking what.

    I started with the formulas in the book thinking that 2340 calories a day and the right macros would be a good starter, since I had been doing it wrong, however after 5 days, I am already down 2 lbs and down to 13.1% body fat.

    I’m trying to get to the 15% mark to the start cutting but it feels like the current “bulking” diet is more like my cutting one. Would you recommend that I go back to eating 3000 calories a day but with the right macros now? Is this likely to be my sweet spot for bulking? Is there any different advice for people like myself who are coming straight off of trying to bulk the wrong way to moving to this controlled bulking and workout plan?

    Thanks for your time

    • We’ve all been there, Mark! Now you know. 🙂

      Thanks for the info. Glad you’ve decided to track your cals and macros.

      Let’s increase the carbs by 50g and see how it goes for the next 7-10 days. Keep increasing carbs until you’re gaining 1/2-1 pound a week.

      We just need to find that sweet spot.

      My pleasure! Talk soon.

      • Mark

        Hi, so I have upped carbs a few times now. I have gone from start point of 2340 daily calls to 3000. I still am not putting on weight and my body fat % is still dropping. At what point do I need to up protein/ fat and not just carbs?

        Can I also ask that when I eventually do get to cutting after bulking, how do I tweak the cutting plan based on the amendments from base plan I have had to make to bulk?

        Thanks again


        Ps the training plan is great and my strength has rocketed but not my muscle growth.

        • Damn! Alright let’s add 20g of fat to your daily intake and see how you do.

          When you’re ready to cut, we can just subtract 10% from the intake it took to gain 1/2-1 pound a week to find your TDEE and then subtract 20-25% from that to determine your cutting intake.

          Sound good?

          Welcome! Happy to hear it! We just need to get the weight moving. Once that’s happening, you’ll be building muscle.

          • Mark

            This has worked, finally the weight is going up! Thanks, I’ll let you know how I get on.

          • Awesome! Sounds good!

  • Nerenahd Dhaneren

    Mike, do you recommend the 4-6 rep range for beginners (I’m 40 now, at 14% body fat, and it’s been 3 years that I don’t work out seriously). Or should I start in the 10-12 range, than move gradually to the smaller range? I really respect your fitness approach. Thanks a lot.

    • It’s alright if you want to spend the first couple weeks going higher rep to get the form down and get comfortable with the weights. Otherwise, yep, I recommend even beginners to work in the 4-6 rep range.

      My pleasure! Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Nerenahd Dhaneren

        You’re the man, Mike. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  • Berik

    Hi Mike, First of all thank you for that great article, it sure explains a lot. I’ve been training for maybe a year and started at 63kg, while my height is 186cm (in US system it’s something like 6’1). I did just base exercises, so deadlifts, squats, bench presses, dips etc. After a year or so I went to a max of 70-71kg bodyweight. Then due to circumstances stopped training for like a year. Now i wanna start over. But I don’t want to work like i did before (8-10 rep range) because I got stuck at 70 kg and the amount I could lift plateaued basically.

    My question to you is, and I would really appreciate your advice, you mention only 4-6 rep range, 80-85% 1 rep max and adding about 2,5 kg weight as soon as we can do 6 reps…But I’m still confused, how many sets do I do? Is it a pyramid system? Like do I still start with a warm-up set with a stank and then add bit by bit till i reach my 80% 1 rep max and do 4-6 reps? I guess my question is, how many sets should I be doing? Or I just show up, add 80% of my one rep max and do 4 reps, 3 mins later another 4 reps etc? Please clarify.

    thanks in advance

    • Rob Moody

      In Mike’s book he recommends 9 heavy sets per workout, 3 heavy sets per exercise. Biceps for example, do warm ups sets then 3 heavy sets of Barbell Curls, Hammer Curls, and Standing Dumbell Curls (all doing 4-6 reps).

      Hope that helps, and sorry for butting in ahead of Mike!- Rob

      • Berik

        Oh no, Rob, i really appreciate you answering, thank you. So ok, 3 heavy sets per exercise. That’s 3 times a week I’m assuming. Cuz I’m thinking for example of leg day looking like this: start with 10 rep empty stank warm up set, add 50% of my max do another 10 and then do 3 sets of heavy sets with 80% of 1 rep max in the 4-6 reps but then without adding any more weight, right? I add only if i can do 6 reps at least once? How long would a training session be then? An hour? Thank you very much once again. Berik

    • Hey hey! My pleasure.

      Cool on the training you were doing and the gains you made.

      I agree with doing it a little bit differently this time around.

      Just to make clear what Rob said, it’s 3-4 exercises per workout, at 3 sets per workout which comes out to 9-12 sets per workout.

      Yep, 2-4 minutes rest per set is correct. To warm up properly, check this out:


      Hope that clears everything up! LMK.

  • John Faulkner

    Hi Mike,
    I’m interested in purchasing your book. Would this book be good for an ectomorph like myself or is it more for someone who is trying to lose weight while building muscle?
    I am going to follow your advice in this article, I was under the impression that more was better when it came to reps/sets. I can see by my results so far that I was wrong.

  • Joe

    Hey Mike, I need help big time. I’ve been weightlifting for 15 years (the first 12 years using Stuart McRoberts “Hargainer” program, and the last 3 using BLS). The problem is I don’t look like i workout and can’t get stronger no matter what I do. I’m a 6’1″ 170lb ectomorph at around 20%bf. I struggle to incline bench press 135lbs and am “up to” 6 reps of bodyweight pullups. This is ridiculous. My macros are in line with what you recommend and I try to increase the weights every workout. When I gain weight, the only thing that gets bigger is my gut and when I cut, I lose muscle no matter how slow I go. I’m currently cutting and have lost 5lbs in 6 weeks and I’m getting weaker (125lbs on the incline bench press). It’s like no matter what I do, nothing works. This is very frustrating. Could there be a medical explanation for what I’m experiencing, like a hormonal issue? It’s like I’m an extreme hardgainer. Please help.

    • Joe

      Oh, and i forgot to mention that I don’t even do cardio anymore, other than walking, cuz it was making me even weaker.

      • Hey Joe! I hear you. Let’s get you some results.

        What does your training look like currently? How about your cals/macros? Pre-workout nutrition/supplementation? Are you gaining weight weekly?

        LMK on those, and we’ll get you moving in the right direction.

        Smart moving on taking out the cardio.

        Oh and for your cut, to help make sure you lose fat and not muscle, take a look at this:


        • Joe

          Hey Mike,
          I’m following your BLS program – lifting 5 days a week (focusing on compound lifts with the only accessories coming on shoulder and arms day) with the only cardio being walking. I figured out my cutting macros should be 1828 cals with 183g protein, 183g carbs, and 41g fat, but since my strength is dropping I temporarily increased my cals to 2000 until I figure out what to do. My pre-workout includes 30g protein and 30g carbs. The only supplement I use is protein powder. Creatine gives me insomnia.

          I read the article you suggested and I do what you suggest, but I’m getting weaker, so I’m assuming I’m losing muscle. The only thing I can think of that may be the problem is that I don’t sleep well.

  • Robert Sale

    Hey Mike,
    I bought Bigger, Leaner, Stronger off Google play Books and have been following the program off and on for about 2 years now. I say off and on because during 6-8 months a year I spend my time working on ships as a marine engineer and can only seriously apply the meal program when I’m off the ship. On the ship we go out to sea for months and I am forced to eat whatever the stewards cook, so I can’t accurately measure the ingredients and establish any sort of proper macronutrient ratio scaling. I have been making serious strength gains, but manage to stay about the same size. It could be that the ships I work on have up to 9 decks and using the stairs as often as I do keeps me burning more than I can consume. My job is very physically demanding, sometimes more than my gym sessions. Any idea why I’m getting noticeably stronger but not bigger? Are there adjustments I should make to my routine because of my job?

    • Hey Robert! Thanks for picking up my book!

      Understood on the difficulty in sticking to the program exactly with the kind of work you do. I email with a lot of guys that have a similar problem when it comes to estimating intake. What we do is stick to the clean foods served that they can actually quantify nutritionally (using calorieking.com), and work in a lot of snacks and such that are trackable. Things like protein shakes, almonds, fruit, yogurt, etc.

      Would that be possible for you?

      How active you are definitely does make it harder to eat enough. But, simply put, if you’re getting stronger, but not bigger or heavier, it’s because you’re not eating enough. So, I recommend you weigh yourself weekly, and if you’re not gaining weight, you know you need to eat more. The goal is to gain 1/2-1 lb a week.

      Nah, let’s stick to the routine.

      Hope this helps! LMK how it goes.

  • Jan

    Hey Mike,

    I am trying to bulk. I started with a calorie intake of 2700. But I did not gain any weight. So I increased my intake more and more reaching 3100 calories (hoping that’ll be enough to gain 0.5-1 pound). Since I weigh 160 pound I eat 480 g carbs, 60 fat and 160 g protein. It’s getting quite hard to eat so many carbs i wonder: If I have to increase my calories even more, should I rather increase my fat and/or protein intake, instead of increasing carbs?

  • RZammit

    Hi, really interesting article. I am 29 years old and I am new to the gym. I am skinny weighing 64kg. Is it ok to train from Monday to Saturday (one muscle group each day). Or it is better to train 3 times per week and focusing on all muscle groups? thanks a lot!

  • Tim Rager

    Hey Mike, so I’ve been doing a 5×5 program and I’ve gained weight from 150-165. I have increased weight on all my workouts dramatically since I’ve started. The program that I’m on is only a 12 week and this is my last week of it. Should i continue to see if I can keep gaining weight and strength? And if not, what workout plan would you suggest next? I want to hit at least 180 by the end of the year. I’m a 5’10 ectomorph.

  • Austin21Skinny21beginner

    Hey Mike, I am a skinny guy and I Have never gone to gym in my life. So can you suggest a workout routine for skinny beginner. Please keep in mind I am skinny and beginner. Please help me brother

  • RagingSloth

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks in advance for any advice you have.

    What does the ectomorph bulking sweet spot look like and what kind of rate of muscle loss is normal for a cut? I was impatient to gain muscle after my cut and went up a bit faster than 200 calories a week. I wasn’t gaining any noticeable weight at 3000 calories (I was 152 lbs at the bottom of my cut I’m 165 now ,) so I jumped to 3500 calories and now I am gaining weight. It’s pretty hard for me to judge how much of the weight is muscle and how much fat. definitely at least some of each. I’ve lost some definition in my abs but haven’t gained any waist circumference and my caliper reading hasn’t gone up by much. If I cut down on calories to extend the bulk (and to be honest 3500 is just a lot for my stomach and intestine size I need a break…) can I go as low as possible as long as I’m gaining some weight? I recall that in BLS there is talk of a 1:1 muscle to fat ratio when bulking does this get adjusted for ectos?

    Also if I have overshot my sweet spot how bad would the additional fat gain have to be to cause a later cut to give me marginal or negative net muscle gains (net as in bulk + cut muscle change)? My old 8-12 rep range cuts just meant I stopped trying to eat more and I’d slim down to 17%ish with no effort I did an aggressive cut when I started BLS but I think newbie gains and recouping old muscle gains (I had been off weights for a couple of years due to some injuries and a busy work schedule,) allowed me to gain muscle during the cut.


    • Hey Dave! Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about your body-type. The principles of building muscle, losing fat, etc. are the same regardless of your predisposition. Check this out:


      I’d recommend a small, 5-10% calorie surplus, aiming to gain 0.5 – 1lb per week. Everyone’s calories will be a bit different, so you’ll need to adjust based on your results. Check these out:



      As far as the cut goes, if you’re lifting weights, eating enough protein, and not eating too little overall, you shouldn’t be losing much muscle to speak of. I’d recommend giving this a read:


      Let me know if I can help with anything else!

      • RagingSloth

        Thanks Mike,

        Good to hear there seems to be a good deal of margin for error in the approach. I suppose I’m just a bit impatient after years of plateauing with my old techniques. I did try the 5-10% surplus approach at first and stripped out all cardio I just got tired of weeks going by with no gains and I started increasing by larger numbers of calories than the recommended 200 ending up at 3500 (I actually started only increasing by 100 then jumped from 2600 to 3000 and then 3000 to 3500 when there were no noticeable gains at those levels,) 3500 is a lot to sustain with my digestive system so I’m going to do a cut for a few weeks as a break and then reasses starting around 3200 or so I think. The cutting approach you outline worked like a charm when I was at this weight on the way down I was wearing jeans with a 31″ waist and now 30s are loose on me on the way up.

  • Jarrod

    First, I would like to thank Mike and team. I am currently reading Bigger Leaner Stronger and it explains the dynamics of training, dieting and the mind-set.

    I aim is to lose the belly (muffin top) before the December 31st (got to be beach ready). I am 32yo, 72kg, 20% bodyfat.
    I would like some advice on my routine, am I on the right track and what can I tweak?

    My calorie intake is 1750 (lower due to my aim is weight loss). I track my daily intake on MyFitnessPal.
    I try doing high protein, medium carbs and low fat.

    I gym 5/6 days in a week. 45 – 60 minutes sessions.
    On a given day I would 2 muscle groups ie. Back & Biceps, Chest & Triceps, Legs (gets its full gym session), Shoulders & Core/Abs, Full body.
    Per muscle group, I do 5 exercises on a given day. ie. 5 Back and 5 Bicep exercises.
    Per exercise, I do 2 sets of 6 reps and the last set being push to failure (6 – 10 reps).

    • RagingSloth

      While I’m not on the BLS team I had very similar numbers to you when I started BLS.

      How tall are you? Do you normally have a tough or easy time losing weight? Are you losing weight right now with what you are doing?

      If you’re an ecto morph like me you might be better off with a 3 day split though it looks like you don’t spend that long at the gym each time you go so your split might be ok. You also don’t appear to be following the BLS recommended 4-6 rep range for exercises. For years my trouble gaining muscle was because I was doing an inefficient rep range and because when I plateaued I’d push for more and more and more exercise so I wasn’t over training to injury but I was over training to a point that destroyed my gains.

      If you’re an endomorph (are you short with thick wrists? At your weight I sort of assume you’re an ecto,) the extra time in the gym might be better.

      You should be doing cardio if your main goal is to lose weights but hold your weightlifting as the more important aspect of working out.

      Anyway if you’re an ecto like me what worked is pretty much straight BLS. I bought the 1 year challenge book and followed the 3 day split (I’m actually still on it but I cut down by around 20lbs in about 2.5 months at the beginning and I’m bulking now,) I tracked everything I ate very closely in a spreadsheet and met the macros from the legion calculator https://legionathletics.com/how-many-calories-should-i-eat/ pretty close to exactly.

      I found I didn’t care that much about what I ate and I was happier with the consistency of eating exactly the same thing every day at exactly the same time. As an ecto I eventually had to add a cheat day once a week but other than the cheat day I could graph my weightloss on a daily basis (in retrospect I think I needed 1.5-2 cheat days as I cheated on Saturday felt amazing until Wednesday then had no energy at all until the next cheat meal. When I added it in the metabolic change also counteracted the extra food and my weight loss didn’t slow down. Also I didn’t feel I needed it at all at first during the cut.)

      The legion calculator was spot on for me to lose 1.5-2 lbs a week doing a 3 day lifting split combined with 3 days of high intensity cardio sprints and then as much walking as I could stand to put up with. Make sure to hit your macros really closely on an aggressive cut. When I started trying to get my protein right I inadvertently eliminated too much fat and my toenails peeled a bit… I added 300g of costco nuts every morning and everything went back to normal.

      • Jarrod

        Thanks for the reply RagingSloth.

        I’m 1.75m In terms of losing weight, I think I’m average.
        Just finished the book last week and I have adopted the suggested workout patterns.
        I have changed my workouts since.
        1)4-day-split, warm up technic and the 4-6 rep range.
        2)6 exercises and ending in a 5 minute cardio exercise and core. My gm session is normally 1 hour.
        3)I run 5km 3/4 times a week, at 5am.

        The gym sessions now seem more productive and I feel great.

        I have lowered my calorie intake a little to accommodate for hidden calories, 1500/1600. This gives me a break because I don’t count every single extra 10grams:-).

        • RagingSloth

          1.75m… so European? I’m Canadian and I had to use google to convert that to feet and inches 🙂

          You are only marginally shorter than me and a similar weight so unless you’re skin and bones already you’re likely a small framed fat burning ecto machine like I am I bet you’ll have no trouble cutting. Make sure you track your weight super close if you’re cutting below the recommendations you don’t want to risk your health by losing more than 2 pounds a week.

    • Hey man, you definitely seem to be on the right track!

      For a specific routine you might like this article:


      Let me know if you have any questions and keep me posted on your progress!

      By the way, how are you liking the book?

      • Jarrod

        I’ve finished the book and did a quick recap, lol. I’m now following the proper workout.

        The book is amazing that I even got the Shredded Chef.
        BTW, the Peanut butter protein smoothie is awesome. I have it 3 times a week for breakfast.

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