I’m about to do something REALLY different on the Internet; I’m going to dispense “weight gaining secrets” for which you won’t have to pay. And when I say “won’t have to pay”… I mean you’ll not even need to give me your email address in order to access the “secrets.”
Won’t that be refreshing? I mean, how many online guys are there now selling “weight gain programs?” It seems that an internet version of a modern-day Charles Atlas pops up every month. He reveals the same tired-out weight gaining secrets that the previous half dozen did. Much of the information that’s provided by these overnight experts has already proliferated to the point that it’s trite. But that doesn’t stop their nerve in calling them “weight gaining secrets” and only sharing them if you’ll hand them your email address.
How hackneyed are these typical free reports?
I can give you a quick bullet list off the top of my head of what every one of these guys will tell you in their ‘weight gaining secrets’ reports:
- Lift heavy weights using big compound exercises (i.e. squats, bench presses, military presses, bent-over rowing, dead-lifts, etc.)
- Don’t over-train; your body grows from rest between workouts – not during the workouts themselves.
- Eat more calories… but make sure it’s clean, wholesome food – not junk food.
- Keep workouts short… because anything over an hour at the gym raises your cortisol level while reducing testosterone.
- Get plenty of sleep… because it will help bolster recuperation hormones and recovery between workouts.
- Increase the weights that you’re training with whenever you can.
- Train hard. You’ll need to use enough intensity to stimulate growth.
- Don’t work out too often. It will lead to overtraining and lack of progress.
- Eat frequent meals. Don’t allow yourself to go hungry.
- Stay in calorie surplus. Take in more calories than you’re burning off.
There you go. That’s ten ‘weight gaining secrets’ that have been written in the “free” reports of online bodybuilding gurus… ad nauseum.
I can hear the question already: “Yeah… but Scott, aren’t they written about repeatedly because they’re true… because they’re effective?”
My own experience with natural bodybuilding reveals a nuanced answer to that. Some of the above cited ‘weight gaining secrets’ are bullet-proof advice. Others of it are effective only when combined with important caveats. And some of it is just downright fluff – things that have been repeated so long that purveyors have accepted them without question, but the triviality of which cannot be negated.
“Oh reeeeally”… you find yourself saying. “Just name one of those that’s ‘fluff.’”
Okay… how about bullet number two – keep workouts short. Following this piece of advice typically requires at least two of three options:
- Limit the selection of exercises for a given body part.
- Restrict the number of sets used per body part.
- Keep rest time between sets relatively short.
There’s definitely a tradeoff that needs to occur here. The assumption among those who claim bodybuilding workouts need to stay short (under an hour) is that the benefit will outweigh the drawbacks.
So what are the drawbacks of short workouts?
I’ll name three drawbacks that can possibly impede a person’s attempt at enjoying the results of using ‘weight gaining secrets’:
- Limiting exercise selection can thwart attempts at a balanced physique.
- Restricting the number of sets can result in inadequate stimulation for muscle growth.
- Using short rest between sets can cause nervous system and VO2 fatigue at the expense of ATP-CP system fatigue needed for muscle growth stimulation.
In regard to drawback #1: How desirable is gained weight if it throws the body’s proportions out of whack? For years, I did ‘big compound movements’ while eating lots of food in an attempt to “get BIG.” For my efforts, I ended up appearing like any other fat guy… with no rear deltoids.
With regard to drawback #2: I was once sold on the idea of Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty system – performing one or two intense sets per exercise. I’d be a current proponent of that system if it weren’t for the experience of gaining very little muscle while using it.
And drawback #3: My longtime excursion into doing workout sets with one minute’s rest between them resulted in cardiovascular stamina and even some glances of respect from fellow gym members, but very little muscle growth.
The overly-hyped reason for short workouts is that they’re purported to allow higher testosterone levels to be maintained by the body. But it’s never been proven that acute hormone levels have any positive effect on muscle growth, even if short workouts improve those acute levels by a significant degree. Consider the following question:
Have you ever noticed that those who claim short workouts create higher testosterone never reveal HOW MUCH net testosterone you’ll spare/create by keeping workouts short?
It’s likely because they have no friggin’ idea. Even if they did, they’d not know if it were enough to make a difference to anabolism.
Moreover, if you’re young (and most guys who want to “gain weight” are), you’ve got plenty of testosterone for muscle growth. Manipulation of your hormone levels at an age when they’re already typically raging will likely result in effects that are imperceptible.
“Weight Gaining Secrets”: Adopt what’s useful and dump the rest
Some of these ten “weight gaining secrets” are good advice, but only when tempered with some caveats. For example, taking in more calories than you’re expending is necessary for gains. However, consuming more than a low few-hundred more daily calories than are used up is bad. Remember, you’re really not trying to “gain weight”; you’re working on gaining muscle. Since muscle is only gained at the pace of inter-workout recuperation, stuffing down mega calories will mostly make you fat.
Likewise, using compound movements is a good idea; I’d never design a muscle building routine without them. However, using them exclusively can be both limiting and overtaxing at the same time. They’re limiting in their ability to build a well-balanced physique. They can be simultaneously overtaxing as they systemically exhaust the body beyond its recuperative abilities.
Compound exercises are sold on lists of “weight gaining secrets” for the same reason short workouts are – they purportedly improve testosterone levels. But how much more testosterone will the body produce just because we opt for sets of bench presses over sets of dumbbell flyes? Has anyone determined this? Is it an amount that will significantly augment anabolism? I sincerely ask this question because I’ve just happened to build more pectoral mass over the years with heavy flyes than I have with bench pressing. Moreover, I believe I could train anyone to perform an isolation exercise with enough intensity so as to cause maximum testosterone-releasing effect. Currently, I’m making outstanding muscle building gains with routines that are no more than one-fourth compound movements.
The advice to “not train too often” is terrific. But it’s only useful if the seventh bullet tip on the list (‘Train hard’) is followed. You must train with enough intensity-of-effort to stimulate growth. However, (and this is a BIG ‘however’) if your intensity-of-effort is adequate, you’ll likely need more recuperative rest days between workouts than are commonly prescribed.
I believe that natural bodybuilders need more than a week’s rest for a thoroughly worked muscle to fully recuperate. Sometimes they need much more than a week.
Think about this: If you’re a member of a gym, how many people do you see training there who are ‘training hard’ but appearing the same – month after month, year after year? They don’t improve because they’re training too often. They’ve been so conditioned to believe that missing a week of training will cause their precious muscles to atrophy that they never give the obvious solution a try. It’s a slight tragedy in my opinion; if there’s anything worse than not getting desired results – it’s not getting them and also wasting time.
‘Increase the workout weights’ is also a needed bit of instruction in any ‘weight gaining secrets’ list. However, haphazardly piling on weight without adherence to other workout parameters is ineffective over the long term. You must be sure to systematically add on more workout weight within the confines of other measured guidelines. I cover these in detail within the pages HardBody Success.
‘Weight Gaining Secrets’: Don’t get too hyped up about ‘body weight’
I realize it’s nearly futile to give this advice to any young guy who’s insecure about his body weight. But it really needs to be said more often, so I’ll provide this overarching suggestion:
Focus on muscle gains rather than on overall weight gain.
Too many online gurus are using the terms ‘weight gain’ and ‘muscle gain’ interchangeably. But fat, water weight, and muscle are three very different types of weight one could gain and each is acquired in a different manner.
Take it from a guy who’s been there: Going from a skinny guy in his late teens to a fat guy by the time he’s thirty only raises a new set of challenges. Steer clear of that mistake.
There you have it: Fantastic ‘weight gaining secrets’ (with a bonus tip)… and you didn’t even have to give me your email address. Cheers!