How big and strong can you expect to be after your first year of lifting? I wrote a newsletter about this and it got a lot of positive responses, so we decided to publish it as a blog post as well. If you like this kind of content, though, I’d recommend signing up for our newsletter at the top right of the page. (We send out around four newsletters for every blog post that we write.)
There’s a lot of research looking into rates of muscle growth and rates of strength gain… but what if you’re a naturally skinny guy, a hardgainer, an ectomorph? Does the answer change for us? After all, we’re starting off with far less muscle mass and strength.
In this article, we’ll go over two main questions from a hardgainer’s perspective:
1. How much lean mass can a guy expect to gain in his first year? The typical answer is that someone can gain around two pounds of muscle per month while making newbie gains, and then after a few months the rate of muscle growth will slow to about a pound per month. So in his first year, a drug-free guy can expect to gain around around twenty pounds of muscle. That begs the question, then: if that’s true, how can our program guarantee over twenty pounds within just a few months?
2. How strong should a beginner be after a year of lifting weights? The typical answer is that after a year of lifting, a guy should be able to bench press 225lbs (100kg), squat 315lbs (140kg), and deadlift 405lbs (180kg). This begs another question: why do so many skinny guys fail to get anywhere close to those numbers during their first year of lifting?
These typical answers are wrong for naturally skinny guys, both in good ways and bad.
Let’s dig into the science.
When I first started lifting weights, I was absolutely crippled by muscle soreness. People cringed when they saw me try to sit in a chair. I loved it. I was sick and tired of being skinny, and I thought the muscle soreness was a sign that my muscles were growing. But was that crippling muscle soreness a good thing?
A couple months later, my soreness had faded away to almost nothing. Not only could I sit down in a chair without everyone in the room grimacing, I could even hold myself upright in it. I started to feel less like a burning puddle of oil, more like a human being. It was awful. My gains had started to slow down as well, and I was convinced that my waning muscle growth was connected to my fading muscle soreness. Was my fading muscle soreness causing my plateau?
Muscle soreness is intimately connected to muscle growth, but most of us have no idea how it works, making the whole process that much more confusing. So in this article let’s go over a few of the more common muscle soreness questions that we get:
- Should you work out if you’re still feeling sore?
- What’s the link between muscle soreness and muscle growth?
- Can muscle soreness interfere with muscle growth?
- What can you do to reduce muscle soreness?
- Can you build muscle without becoming sore?
- What if a specific muscle isn’t getting sore?
- What if your joints or tendons are getting store?
- What if your lower back is sore?
Inflammation is an odd beast. We’ve been getting some questions about it in the community, but most members are approaching it dead backwards. I don’t blame them—it’s totally counterintuitive.
I mean, inflammation is bad… right? Unhealthy foods cause inflammation, and if we eat too many of them, we can wind up chronically inflamed. Healthy foods, on the the other hand, are rich in antioxidants, and if we eat enough of them, it reduces our baseline inflammation.
Similarly, being obese can cause inflammation, and is linked with higher risks of morbidity. Being lean, however, reduces inflammation and is linked with improved long-term health.
We’re interested in building muscle, though, and lifting weights causes inflammation. In fact, lifting weights causes a lot of inflammation. So much so that lifting may become your main source of inflammation.
And inflammation is bad… right?
In this article we’ll discuss why inflammation exists and what role it plays in building muscle. Once we have the general principles down, we’ll cover common questions, such as:
- Is inflammation good or bad?
- Should we try to reduce inflammation?
- Are antioxidants good for muscle growth?
- Do Advil, Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs affect muscle growth?
- Do post-workout saunas boost muscle growth?
- Are ice baths good for building muscle?
- How can you fix inflamed forearms (tendonitis)?
- What about shoulder pain and inflammation (shoulder impingement)?
To close off 2018 and kick off 2019, let’s take a closer look at the most important bulking research that was published last year, including studies looking into:
- How important are bicep curls for big arms?
- Does muscle memory really exist?
- How long should you rest between sets?
- What happens if you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
- Are high-protein diets healthy?
- Does casein before bed speed up muscle growth?
- Are 5×5 routines good for building muscle?
That last one, wow. It’s not just a single study, it’s a massive meta-analysis looking into every single study published on the topic. It’s not a total surprise given the research that has been trickling out over the years, but seeing them all together in one place like this—wow.
Anyway, all of those answers and more inside.
Your pecs are some of the largest and most powerful muscles in your body, but they’re also notoriously difficult to develop, making it rare to see a man with an impressive chest. In this article we go over the best overall chest exercises, as well as the best chest exercises to bring up your upper, mid, and lower chest. Some are heavy compound lifts; others are light isolation lifts. If you want the best results, we recommend using a mix of all of them. That’s the only way to build a truly strong, full chest.
It’s also common for guys to have trouble activating their pecs when doing chest exercises, which not only makes it impossible to grow their chests, but will also limit the amount of weight they can lift. So we’ll also teach you how to do each exercise properly, which should not only speed up your chest growth, but also instantly boost your bench press strength.
(Last updated on January 29, 2019) Once upon a time, I was 23 years old and 130 pounds at 6 feet tall. I was dangerously skinny and clinically underweight, with a BMI of 17.6. I stood hunchbacked from all my time spent hunched over my desk studying graphic design. I was not a beacon of health.
My roommate and business partner, Shane, was in a similar situation, so we made a pact to change our skinny ways. We called it Muscle May and spent much of April preparing for it. But even before I started lifting weights or eating more food, my body was already transforming.
In preparation for the start of Muscle May, I had started taking creatine monohydrate a week early. I wanted to load up on creatine beforehand so that my levels were optimized for my first workout in the gym.
I would mix in 5 grams of Allmax Creatine into blueberry Fruitopia juice. The creatine was grainy at the bottom of the dark purple juice, but it was tasteless. Unless you count taking some multivitamins as a kid, it was the first supplement I ever took.
Every morning I’d faithfully drink my grainy purple drink. And by the end of the week…
I had gained 8 pounds. I hadn’t even started working out. I hadn’t changed what I was eating. And I had gained 8 pounds of totally lean weight. I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy.
If you’re a skinny guy and you’ve struggled to gain weight, this might sound incredible—maybe even unbelievable—but this is a common “side-effect” of creatine. It draws more water and sugar (glycogen) into your muscles, making them look bigger and fuller, giving them extra strength and endurance, and, in my case, adding 8 pounds to the scale.
This initial success with creatine is what set the stage for our transformations. In our four-month experiment, I had gained over 30 pounds. Shane gained 25. We had such extreme results that random people on BodyBuilding.com were commenting that our transformations were either photoshopped or that we were using steroids. Neither of which was true. Oh boy.
Obviously eating a bulking diet and lifting weights were the keys to building rapid amounts of muscle (see our how-to article about gaining weight here), but creatine played a meaningful supporting role.
So, what exactly is creatine? How can it help build muscle easier—faster? How much does it improve our strength and muscle-building potential? Perhaps the skeptic in your head says that anything this effective and this cheap must ultimately be bad for us, right? Is that true? And if you do decide to try it, how exactly should you take it?
Have you ever wondered if intermittent fasting was good for bulking? After all, it helps you produce more growth hormone, which could help with muscle growth; it increases increase in insulin sensitivity, which could help make your gains leaner; and research shows that it helps preserve muscle when losing weight. This could theoretically make intermittent fasting a good bulking diet… right?
On the other hand, most bodybuilders bulked up by doing the exact opposite of intermittent fasting. The guys with the most famous physiques in history all ate at least a few meals per day. Why?
Furthermore, we hardgainers and ectomorphs are notorious for having tiny stomachs, raging metabolisms and small appetites—all of which make bulking up way harder. Will intermittent fasting work for our naturally skinny body type?
There are good arguments to be made for and against intermittent fasting. In this article we’ll go over the muscle-building advantages and disadvantages of intermittent fasting, then take a look at some studies that compared it against a traditional bulking diet. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if it’s a good approach for you while bulking.
It’s rare to want to learn how to eat more calories. Most guys feel like their stomachs are too big and their metabolisms are too slow. And they’re right. Their stomachs really are too big, and their metabolisms really are too slow.
However, there are also a small minority of guys—guys like us—who are naturally underweight. We struggle against our small stomachs and fast metabolisms, and most people have absolutely no idea how insanely difficult it can be for us to eat enough calories to gain weight.
People will tell us to “just eat more calories.” Yeah, sure, that’s technically true, but we know that already, and it doesn’t help. How can we possibly eat more calories when we’re so damn full all the time?
But the thing is, if we want to bulk up, we need to find a way to eat more. I know that’s a tough bite to swallow, but that’s just the science of bulking up. It takes roughly 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound, so if we want to gain around a pound each week, we need to find a way to eat around 500 extra calories per day.
That’s what we need to do to gain weight, but it doesn’t teach us how to do it. And the “how” is actually quite complicated for guys like us, especially since our problem is so rare.
So that’s what this article is about—about how to eat more calories.
We’ll go over:
- How not to reduce your appetite by accident
- What makes a food filling
- Whether you should be clean or dirty bulking
- How many meals you should be eating per day
- What the best bulking foods are
- Tips to improve your bulking diet
Shane, Marco and I all built muscle. But our reasons for building that muscle in the first place couldn’t have been more different.
For Marco, as a teenager, his initial reason for getting into lifting was that he wanted girls to like him and he was dealing with injuries from sports. For Shane, he wanted to feel like a protector, instead of shyly taking jokes about being the one protected.
For me, at 23 years old, building muscle (45+ pounds) wasn’t even on my radar.
But pain was.
More specifically, my tendonitis—chronic tendonitis—or the newly coined term, tendinosis…. whatever name you’re familiar with. Well, my heavy computer use was keeping me up at night and kept me worried about work.
Long story short, I had tendinosis in my right arm by the time I was 18 years old. Shortly thereafter I became ambidextrous to continue to support my heavy computer use. I was spending all day on the computer building and running websites. It wasn’t long until I had tendinosis in my left arm. My physiotherapist said she had never seen tendinosis in someone so young, let alone someone who was suffering in both arms.
Whatever you believe about destiny, materialist chance, or providence—I feel so incredibly blessed to have been to be connected to Shane with his passion for bodybuilding, and his connection to Marco with his passion for helping people reach their full potential with athleticism and fix their injuries.
Because of lifting and eating well, I no longer deal with crippling tendonsis. It is a non-problem for me.
With this huge burden removed, I’ve come to discover some of the less talked about benefits of lifting weights that I didn’t know about when I was skinny. And my own hope would be that perhaps this article could play a minuscule part of passing these same blessings I experience onto you in your own story.
Did you know that being skinny means you can’t use the normal way of measuring your body fat percentage?
Or that being just a little bit too skinny-fat might sabotage your ability to build muscle leanly?
Or that most body fat percentage charts are ruined by a fatal flaw?
In this article we cover why your body fat percentage matters even as an ectomorph, how to measure it properly, and then we’ll run through some real-life examples (with pictures) so that you’ll know exactly what to do next.
But first, let me show you just how ridiculous this can be for skinny guys.
Let’s take a totally average guy in this study. He goes to get a DEXA scan, and he’s told that he has a body fat percentage of 20%. Then he goes to sit in the BodPod, which puts him at 22%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident that he’s between 20–22%. Moreover, both of those body fat percentages have the same implication for his health and appearance: he’s a decently healthy guy who looks a bit out of shape.
The overweight guy goes in next. DEXA puts him at 34%. BodPod puts him at 32%. Now it’s DEXA that’s estimating high, but the discrepancy is still just 2%. Again, not a big difference at all. He’s overweight either way.
Now you walk in. DEXA puts you at 9%. Amazing! Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. Next, you get your BodPod done. They tell you that you’re 16% body fat…
Huh? 16% is a high enough body fat percentage that you shouldn’t even be bulking at all yet. You should be cutting.
You’ve spent a few hundred dollars and an entire day getting two of the most accurate body fat percentage tests in the world, and you can’t even tell if you should start bulking or not. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%. Totally useless.
So what should you do?
…and wait a second—why shouldn’t you bulk if you’re 16% body fat?