Top 10 lists are the clickbait goat
You can’t NOT click and find out
But I promise to use it’s power for good
Here’s the bottom line:
If the idea of eating more, gaining some weight, and not immediately looking “better” in the short term sounds totally fine to you and doesn’t make you feel the least bit uncomfortable…
You’re in the minority
If all of that sounds at best counter-intuitive and at worst scary as FUCK
Join the club. For most people, this is the case.
Intentional weight gain can be a mindfuck
Intentional weight gain can be scary
But there’s hope.
You can arm yourself with tools, strategies, and structure to make it the empowering, strengthening, and (probably) necessary part of your journey that it should be!
Muscle gain phases should be fun
Muscle gain phases should be empowering
Muscle gain phases shouldn’t make you feel like you’re going in the wrong direction.
1- Focus on the stuff you want to see improve
No shit sherlock…
But stay with me.
This is by FAR the most important part when it comes to having a productive, enjoyable gain phase
Let’s use fat loss as a counter example.
When you’re in a fat loss phase…what are you using as a measure of “is this shit working?”
- Scale weight
- Progress photos
- Clothes fitting
Which makes perfect sense….
Those are the exact things that will indicate that a fat loss phase is working
You’re focused on the things you want to see improve
As you should be.
In that same vein, what is something that you might not want to obsess over in a fat loss phase?
Mayyyyybe lower your expectations of hitting PRs every single week and getting a fuck ton stronger
A deficit isn’t the “best” time to use that as a marker of improvement
It’s a fat loss phase
Yes you should still be lifting hard and progressing over time…but it’s not the main focus nor will it happen as fast as in a surplus
So you measure, prioritize, and put emotional stock in the things you want to see improve *most*
Pics, measurements, scale weight, clothes fitting etc…
And you put “Maximizing muscle and strength” temporarily on the backburner…even though you should be working out with intent to at least maintain what you have.
So what about in a surplus in a muscle gain phase?
Well…we want to focus our intention and attention towards the thing we want to see improve
In a muscle building phase that is…
*mind blown, I know*
What’s the best way to do that?
You guessed it: a Muscle biopsy!!!
We just cut out a little bit of your muscle with a knife an examine….
The most practical way we have to monitor muscle growth is actually strength improvements within hypertrophy rep ranges
Something like the 6-20/30 rep range
Yes, the goal might be maximizing muscle growth, not necessarily strength…
But getting stronger in those rep ranges is an EXCELLENT proxy for muscle growth
If you’re getting stronger in the 6-20 rep range week to week, month to month, you can be pretty damn sure you’re more jacked
Could be making neural adaptations that allow you to get stronger without having bigger muscles?
Yeah, but that typically happens in the lower, ~1-5 rep range
If 8 weeks ago you did 135 on the bench for 10, and now you can do it for 16…you can be pretty sure you gained muscle
Short of a muscle biopsy, this is our best measure of muscle growth over time.
Plus it’s super easy to measure!
So how do we measure this?
(duh): TRACK. YOUR. WORKOUTS.
You track the thing you want to see improve.
Track your weight, sets, and reps to make absolutely sure you’re getting stronger over time
If you are…you’re gaining muscle
Something to note: this is one of the reasons that doing the same workouts over the course of 4-8 weeks is so beneficial
It creates opportunities for measurable progress…
If you go in and do something random every time, it’s much harder to actually know you’re improving and thus gaining muscle.
Does this mean we don’t use the scale, progress photos, measurements etc??
Well…that’s sort of up to you
You can absolutely use those things, and the scale definitely has a part to play, but the point of this first tip is they no longer carry the weight of “something I’m really worried about or focused on”
Use those tools in so far as they help you stay on the right track and not gain too much/too little weight (we’ll discuss that soon)
Your goal is building muscle
Make sure you’re measuring that.
2- Less is more
Gone are the days of the dreamer bulk
Dreamer Bulk – unlimited amount of eating like an asshole and if anyone asks you what you’re doing you just say…
“Bro, I’m bulking, it’s cool”
Is it though?
Or are you just gonna eat like an asshole for a couple weeks, gain a bunch of fat, and then decide
“Brah, I’m feeling thiccccc. It’s time to cut”
We’ll go over this flip flopping later
When it comes to your surplus, less is more.
Most people only need a ~5-15% surplus to maximize muscle growth (beginners can get away with that higher end)
So if you eat 2000 calories, 2200-2300 would be a good place to start for muscle gain calories
Mr. Dreamer bulk over here eating 3000 calories isn’t putting on any recognizable amount more muscle…
Just more fat
When you consider “Well… it’s only ~200 more calories”
And it takes ~3500 calories to gain a pound of fat
You realize you’re probably not gonna wake up like the michelin man tomorrow
If you’re hesitant about raising your calories above maintenance…take comfort in the fact that you don’t need to be gaining a lot of weight to maximize muscle growth.
The bodybuilders you see gaining and losing 30-40lbs in the offseason….
Is not you.
Less is more.
3- Set a target rate of gain
Here’s where the scale becomes a useful tool.
So you used the 5-15% calculation to decide your surplus calories
Now…how do you know if what you’ve chosen is too much or too little?
Here’s where the scale comes in
When you’re in a surplus you are 100% going to put on fat
It’s impossible to ONLY put on muscle
But…by creating a proper sized surplus and monitoring your weight gain over time (by using the scale), you can optimize what’s called the “P ratio” or the ratio of muscle to fat that you gain with each pound
Basically…for every pound you gain you want to maximize how much of that is muscle…aka gain as little fat as you NEED to
How do we do that?
Set a target rate of gain at ABOUT ~1% of total bodyweight per MONTH
Sometimes up to 2% for beginners.
~.25% per week.
If you weigh 160lbs, this would be ~1.6lbs per MONTH, ~.4lbs per week.
It’s not much. It shouldn’t be.
Remember, you should be weighing in multiple times per week and taking averages across the week as to wash out water fluctuations that can come from everything from salt to extra carbs to stress and just needing to take a good po
If you’re gaining MUCH faster, you can bet your P ratio isn’t where it could be and more % of the weight you’re gaining is fat
Might want to lower cals a bit.
If your gaining much slower than that or not at all, you’re likely not maximizing muscle growth
Which might be totally fine….but consider why you’re doing this in the first place.
4 – Set a tentative phase length + weight ceiling
Simple human psychology…
Part of the fear of going into a gaining phase is this hypothetical scenario where you just blink and magically ride your surplus off into the sunset and gain all your weight back
Let’s get out in front of that.
Before your muscle gain phase starts, it’s probably a good idea to set a tentative phase length cutoff and/or weight ceiling that if you hit, you’ll consider turning things around
Set a tentative end date as well as ceiling weight to help psychologically remind yourself this isn’t forever, and you won’t just gain all your weight back
Can you always pivot if things are going great?
Should you accept or embrace being a little uncomfortable and not being your 100% leanest during a gain phase?
But by putting a ceiling on it, both time-wise and weight-wise, at least let’s you know you won’t just gain into oblivion.
Psychologically you’ll be able to enjoy the process better knowing there’s a (tentative) cap
It’s very similar to the mentality of diet breaks improving adherence and enjoyment during a cutting phase
knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes the process more sustainable
5 – Consider your use of the scale
As previously discussed…
Using the scale to monitor an average of 1% of your bodyweight increase per month can be a really helpful tool to make sure you’re maximizing muscle growth without unnecessary fat gain
But I’ll level with you
If it’s becoming more trouble than it’s worth and you think you’d do better without it…
And you keep your surplus on the conservative side…
And track your workouts
And focus on getting stronger week to week, month to month…
And you’re staying cognizant of your body image as well as biofeedback…
You could theoretically take a break from the scale, or use it less frequently.
The best thing I can say if you’re nervous about the scale…
Is that you should 100% come to terms with the fact that your weight will go up if you want to build muscle
Muscle weighs something
You can’t maximize muscle growth…and stay the same weight AT THE SAME TIME.
Set your expectations, keep your surplus relatively small, set your weight ceiling…and you’ll be better equipped for the inevitable scale increase.
6 – Use logic to combat emotion
The goal isn’t to “not have emotions” when it comes to this stuff.
If you’re having emotional responses to the scale going up, or clothes fitting different etc…
You’re totally normal
The goal is to not let your emotions dictate your actions
The goal is to use logic in your self talk to remind yourself what’s really important…why you’re doing this
Some of that logical self talk you can use might sound like…
- “Building muscle takes way longer than losing fat so I gotta pay my dues. I can always cut later”
- If the body/lifestyle I want has more muscle than I do right now……..This is the best way.
- Muscle weighs something!!! If the scale is going up at the right rate and I’m getting stronger in the 6-20 rep range I can be pretty sure I’m gaining maximum muscle
- After being in restriction for so long, adding more calories + potentially body fat will actually make me metabolically healthier, regain my energy, sex drive, hunger cues etc.
7- Potentially embrace higher calorie foods
No…don’t throw away your eating patterns and start over with fast food and ice cream
But after about a decade of helping clients go through gaining phases, I’d say I see way more clients struggle to consistently eat ENOUGH as opposed to eating too much.
Like we talked about before, we’re way more comfortable with restriction
And sometimes when it comes to eating more, we hesitate
We’re so used to eating for fat loss or weight maintenance…
(stuff like high protein, high volume, high fiber foods)
Which of course, generally speaking, is obviously a health-promoting eating pattern…
That we actually get too full before hitting our surplus calories
that being said…
YES…I would definitely suggest starting out by “just eating more of what you normally eat”
That would be my recommendation
Don’t take a 180 on your eating habits
Because remember…you’re only eating a couple hundred more calories
However, if you find yourself struggling because you’re so fucking full from all the veggies, chicken, and greek yogurt…
Embrace some of the foods you’ve previously avoided, demonized, or thought “I can’t eat that”
The truth is, you’re struggling because you still think you’re not allowed to have them
Besides helping you with your physical goals by allowing you to actually achieve a surplus, it can help undo some of the deep-rooted stigma behind some of these foods.
You’ve told yourself “I can’t” for so long…
But maybe you should.
The 80/20 principle still applies.
80% whole, minimally processed foods
20% whatever you want
The truth is, even if you know/agree with this, many of us still feel guilty or “wrong” for that 20%
Once you have “mostly whole, nutritious foods and enough protein and fiber…” what you do with that 20% will have no negative impact on your health
(studies have shown this…)
In this context, those foods might be the foods that help you achieve your goals.
Some foods that have been helpful for clients in gain phases who are struggling to eat enough…
Baked french fries
Olive oil vs. oil spray
If you’re wondering how in the world someone could struggle with eating enough…
Or you think I’m crazy for recommending any of this…
It happens more often than you’d think.
8- Commit: Avoid the week to week jitters
Day 1: “Yessssss it’s GAIN TIME BABY!!! Let’s GET IT!!!”
Day 9: “Ugh the scale’s up a pound. I feel fuller. You know what?? It’s time to SHREDDDD”
-Person who will literally never make progress
Commit for at least 6 weeks…up to 16 weeks
Commit to tracking the things you want to improve
Commit to being a little uncomfortable at times
This shit takes time
It takes CUMULATIVE weeks and months
Flip flopping between gaining and cutting will get you nowhere
9 – Lift with enough volume
This one seems obvious…
If you’re going into a gain phase
And you’re going to gain weight
And you want the best P ratio (ratio of muscle:fat per pound gained)
Make sure you’re sending that growth stimulus!!!!
Imagine being in a surplus and not working out lol…
You’re literally just gaining fat (technically some LBM in there but negligible)
The only thing telling your body to put on muscle is the training stimulus…and then hitting adequate protein.
Now what about being in a surplus but training infrequently or with not enough volume?
Cool..maybe a little muscle gain but still mostly fat gain
You should lift with the INTENT to build muscle
That means enough volume and intensity
What does that look like?
8-20 sets per muscle group per week
Sets within a few reps from failure.
That will send a signal to put those calories to work where you want them.
10 – Keep getting steps
You’ll be able to better understand the process if you only manipulate one factor at a time
If your steps are adequate and sustainable, let’s say 6-12k, and you feel good there…
Get into a surplus with your nutrition
Don’t all of a sudden stop getting steps because you’re in a muscle gain phase
Sometimes I’m staring at the elevator in our building during a gain phase like…
“ya know…I’m in a gain phase why not”
Not a huge deal but it’s easier to know if you’re doing it right if you change one variable at a time
Besides…getting steps is about more than just burning calories
They’re good for overall health and actually assist in recovery between exercise sessions
Becoming a couch potato during a gain phase doesn’t do you any good.
Could you argue if you’re getting SO many steps that it’s making it hard to get into a surplus that you could potentially benefit from lowering them?
But don’t make that your knee-jerk reaction.
Just like in a fat loss phase, adjusting your nutrition will almost always be the most practical lever to pull on
You’re in a muscle gain phase
Not a couch potato phase
My normal recommendation is to keep your steps where they are and only modulate one variable so you can know for sure how that variable is affecting your goals.
Intentional weight gain can be a mindfuck
But depending on your goals it’s likely necessary
Arm yourself with the tools, mindset, strategies and structure to make it the enjoyable and empowering part of your journey that it should be.
Thanks so much for reading 🙂
Always here if you need me