Struggling to gain size? I started lifting weights in my mid-teens. I was a skinny kid, got picked on a lot, and couldn’t gain weight to save my life. I I loved working out but I didn’t feel like I was growing. Not fast enough anyway. But is it ever fast enough?
Since the early 90’s, I’ve been weight training consistently. I learned a lot through bodybuilding magazines and books with guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dorian Yates (to name a few), gym mentors, and my own trial and error. I’m going to share some of my own tips on how to get big based on my experience.
Lift Heavy to Get Big
If you want to gain size and strength, you have to lift heavy weights. There’s no substitute. You must overload the muscle in order for it to grow. This is especially true if you’re on the thin side or a hardgainer.
The types of exercises you do are important for getting big as well. Compound movements are going to be your goal for size and strength. Exercises like bench press, squats, deadlifts, military presses, and barbell rows will allow you to build a solid foundation.
Compound exercises are best for gaining mass because you’re using multiple muscles. The deadlift is a perfect example. Your back and legs are your core muscles working to pull the weight up. And those are your two biggest muscles (at least they should be!). The deadlift is a true overall mass builder.
Below are a list of mass building exercises. Sure, there are more compound exercises but to me these are key to getting big.
Mass Building Exercises:
- Bench Press
- Seated Barbell Press (Military Press)
- Dumbbell Press (for chest and shoulders)
- Dumbbell Rows
- Barbell Rows (Bent-Over Rows
Volume and Reps for Muscle Mass
I just talked about lifting heavy weights to get big. But I don’t want you to get this confused with powerlifting. Powerlifting is great, and may bodybuilders built the foundation of their physique with powerlifting. But you’re goal is to gain muscle mass, not just get strong.
Heavy weights with compound exercises are important. But if you really want to get big, those alone are not enough. In order to make the muscle grow, you have to pump it full of blood. This is where more volume training and reps come in.
I prefer to start my workouts with heavy compound movements. But after one or two of those exercises, it’s time to put out some reps.
Many think of isolated exercises when doing more reps. But you can do higher reps with compound movements too. Let’s look at chest as an example. You can start out with heavy bench press and your next exercise could be 4 sets of 10-12 reps for incline bench press (a compound exercise for upper chest).
I also mentioned volume training. This is simply doing multiple sets. My suggestion is 4-5 exercises for major muscles, and anywhere from 3-5 sets for each exercise. High volume workouts help pump more blood into the muscle.
Below is an example of a back workout that mixes together what I’ve talked about above, heavy weights with volume and reps. This workout starts out with a heavy compound movement and using a strength training technique called ‘5-3-1-1.’ You’ll see that we start adding more reps to every exercise thereafter.
Example of a Back Workout:
- Deadlifts: 4 x 5, 3, 1, 1
- Barbell Rows: 4 x 8
- Dumbbell Rows: 4 x 10
- Lat Pulldowns: 4 x 12
Overtraining? I personally don’t believe in overtraining (I’m not saying you should work the same muscle everyday). Rather, I believe in under-eating. And we’ll get to that next.
Eat Big to Get Big
You’ve heard people say ‘Just eat, bro.’ I’m probably going to catch some flack for this but I’m on that page. The primary reason why most people can’t get big is because they simply don’t eat enough. So yes, just eat!
I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating a poor diet. I’m not advising you to eat junk food, fast food or have pizza, ice cream and beer every night (although that sounds good!). Food is fuel. So you need high-octane fuel that your body will use to give you energy to train hard and help you recover so you can get big.
If you’re eating and not gaining, then you need to eat more. And there’s not a one-size-fits-all diet plan. I was a hardgainer so I could literally eat everything in site and it was still difficult for me to gain weight. But looking back, I wasn’t eating enough of the right foods to grow. That may be the case for you as well, or it may not be.
You really have to experiment to find out what types of foods your body responds best to. For some it may be eating more foods like pasta. For others, you may need to eat more red meat.
At the end of the day, your calories need to be high enough to pack on size and get big. Here’s a list of foods below that helped me gain mass in my younger days.
- Whole eggs
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
I had a friend in high school who ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich several times a day between classes. He was huge and super strong! PB&J’s are a good way to get in those extra calories.
Supplements to Get Big
Supplements are part of the game to get big. This doesn’t mean they work like magic. Allow me to stress that if you’re not training hard and heavy, and if you’re not eating enough food, you simply won’t grow. Period.
If you’re eating and training are on target, there are some supplements that can help you get big. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know I stick to the basics when it comes to supplements.
One of the cheapest and most effective supplements you can take to get big is creatine. And I’m not taking about any of the new fancy creatines. We’re going old school here, back to the original creatine monohydrate.
Mixing creatine monohydrate with carbs (I used to mix it with grape juice) will definitely put some size on you. You’ll get strong as well. A very small percentage of people don’t respond well to creatine but most do. It’s worth a try.
I like the idea of protein powders because you can make high calorie protein shakes with them. Try two scoops of whey protein mixed with milk, banana, and peanut butter. That’s a mass meal. Or you could go with the weight gainer powders.
Basic Mass Supplements:
- Protein Powder
You can opt to take more supplements but don’t break the bank for them. If you can afford it, BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are good to take during your workouts. A premium test booster can also be effective at helping you get big.
It’s Time to Get Big!
I say this to my gym buddies almost everyday when I walk in. It’s time to get big! We all kind of laugh, but it’s true. And we love it. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.
I challenge you to read this a few times and save it so you can refer back to it. Getting big isn’t rocket science. But sometimes we forget the basics and we can overcomplicate things. With all the new workout theories, diet plans and supplements thrown in our face daily, it’s hard not to jump on the band wagon.
The bottom line is there are some core principles to get big. And it all revolves around the weights and food. There’s no secrets; only the advice that’s stood the test of time.
Train with Passion,