Sooner or later everyone who trains regularly asks themselves the question “How can I gain muscle?” On the surface, this seems to be a relatively straightforward question. Yet, it is so difficult to find the answer, since there is so much information (and twice more misinformation) that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Often the best approach is to listen to your body. However, being tuned to your body is not always easy and in most cases it is hard to read the signs. So, let’s look at the basic principles and elaborate a bit on each one.
Choose a type of bulking – first of all, it is essential that you choose what type of bulking you are going for (yes, there is more than one). For simplicity we will classify them as heavy, mild and indefinite. Heavy bulking mode is when you bulk at the cost of anything and you do whatever you can to avoid being catabolic… even for a second. That means massive meals, eating every three hours and upping the protein to about 2g per pound (to be on the safe side). The downside here is that inevitably you will gain fat as well… sometimes more than you would wish.
The mild type of bulking is when you increase your calories slightly so that you are in a caloric surplus, but still minimise the amount of fat that you will be getting. Usually, this is increasing your caloric intake by about 500 calories (rule of thumb) and then working out whether you need more or less calories to gain muscle, while gaining very little to no fat.
Indefinite bulking is when you go for the “losing fat, gaining muscle at the same time” approach. This one requires you to be quite disciplined and split your caloric intake proportionately to your activity. The reasoning behind that is so that you are in deficit in the periods when you are not active and thus burn fat, while in the more active moments you are in a surplus so that you can add muscle.
Increase intensity – your body is an efficient machine and will adapt to whatever you tune it to. If you train heavy, you will give an indication to your body that it needs to pack some extra muscle to “survive” the tough period. And so it will. Bear in mind that training heavy does not necessarily mean lifting very heavy weights. It is all about increasing the amount of tension you create. Benching 70kg with a 1 second up 3 seconds down tempo will have the same effect, if not better than, benching 100kg with a 1 second up 1 second down tempo. Your joints will certainly appreciate your concern. Decreasing the time between your reps and sets also creates higher intensity.
Eat Enough – Let’s face it, 3 meals a day probably won’t do it… unless you are eating like a monster. You need to be consuming more calories than you actually need to provide your body with the extra material to build muscle. So, if your weight and measurements stay the same week after week, chances are you need to up the caloric intake.
Optimise Recovery – you start growing only once you’ve recovered. If you don’t provide enough rest for your body, it won’t be able to grow… regardless of how much you lift or eat. A good rule of thumb is 8 hours of sleep, but this might be more or less, depending on your daily work. For example, a construction worker will need more rest than an office worker. So, give your body the time to recover and rebuild that lost muscle tissue.
The bottom point here is for you to think and reflect on what’s going on with your body. Adding too much fat too quickly? Then lower the calories. Not progressing after a few weeks? Then up the calories. Make sure you train heavy and have enough rest and the results will follow.