ARE YOU STRUGGLING TO BULK UP?

Something a lot of us guys want when it comes to physique goals is to fill out our tshirts with a thick chest, round shoulders and dense arms that hug our sleeves. Classic superheroesque kinda torso. Whilst some guys can be more genetically predisposed to slapping on muscle tissue quicker, many struggle adding that extra size. Typically known in the industry as  hard gainers! Is this you? If so, read on for my five commandments to bring even the skinniest of you the best results possible...

1/ DECIDE WHAT BODY COMPOSITION YOU WANT - If you just want size, size and more size and body fat isn't really something you're bothered about (within reason) then congratulations you can get bigger, quicker. On the other hand if you want to keep body fat gain to a minimum, then you're going to have to play the longer more gradual game of making 'lean gains'. Although this longer more steady process requires more patience, in my eyes it is the superior approach. It's better news for you hormonally (the fatter you get the worse your hormonal profile will become). It's also going to reduce the chance of you developing any physiological and psychological food issues from over eating/bingeing on junk, which is typically what happens when people go on a no holes barred, aggressive bulk. 

2/ GET STRONGER - Getting stronger on all your big compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, lunge, pull up etc) is going to help massively when it comes to laying down new muscle tissue. The process of getting stronger requires you to get better at essentially 'turning on' muscle fibres and the better you get at this, the better you can break them down to allow them to adapt and grow back bigger and thicker.

3/ BE PROGRESSIVE - Don't keep doing the same workouts with the same weight, exercises, sets, reps etc and expect drastic change. Your body responds to changes of stimulus so be sure to track your training shooting for progression week in week out. Try to change up your program every 4-6 weeks as a general rule.

4/ CALORIE DENSE FOODS - If you struggle to get in enough calories because of a modest appetite 1. I'm very jealous of you! (closet fat boy) and 2. You need to be wise with your food choices opting for foods that contain a lot of calories without being too much of a chore to get down your neck. Snack on nuts/nut butters, use a little oil in your cooking and incorporate fruit juice and full fat milk into your diet if you're looking for some easy calories. Making your own mass building shake is a great idea in between meals. 1/2 pint full fat milk, 1/2 pint coconut milk, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 40g whey, 1 banana, 50g oats. Blend. Done. 

5/ ARE YOU WORKING AS HARD AS YOU THINK? - Adding muscle takes intensity. I drone on about this all the time, but if you aren't training hard enough, you simply will not build muscle. Period. A great training partner or a well equipped personal trainer should take your training to the next level. Having someone else there allows you to really get stuck in and leave nothing on the table. You can start throwing in techniques like negatives, forced reps and AMRAP sets much more effectively when your right hand man is there to make sure you don't squash/decapitate yourself.  

Address those five points, be patient, and you will grow!

6 THINGS I WISH I KNEW WHEN I STARTED TRYING TO GAIN MUSCLE

For anyone who is at the start of their health and fitness journey I can completely understand if you're a little puzzled as to what direction to turn when it comes to building muscle. Just google "how to build muscle" and you'll be bombarded with over 8 million search results! So here's a couple of key things that in hindsight I wish I had got to grips with sooner when I made my start.

1/ CALORIE SURPLUS - Without this you won't build muscle. It's as simple as that. What this means is you need to be eating more calories than you are burning for a sustained period of time. It works a little like this... Imagine a house (your body right now) and it's made of a certain amount of bricks (calories). If you want to build a bigger house, you're going to need more bricks right? Very simplistic analogy but you get the picture. 

2/ MUSCULAR DAMAGE - This is something you're looking to create through training. Not in the same way that you would tear a muscle and end up with an injury, we're talking about tiny micro tears within the muscle tissue. Causing these microscopic tears is one of the goals of weight training when trying to build muscle. Again, lets use the above analogy... If you're going to build your bigger house, you're going to need to chip away a few bricks and cement (muscle damage) to be able to add on more bricks (new lean muscle tissue). 

3/ PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD - This is crucial for making progress in whatever the aspect of fitness and building muscle is no exception. The term progressive overload simply means progressing your training over time. This might mean adding extra weight on certain movements or maybe more total reps and sets of specific exercises. The key is to log your training so you know your numbers to then push forward on as the weeks move on.

4/ PROTEIN - Being in a calorie surplus is important but if you don't have an adequate amount of protein in your diet then it's all for a lost cause. Aiming for 2/2.5g protein per kg of bodyweight puts you in a great position. If you don't want to get lost in the maths of it, another good gauge is to include a palm sized protein source in every meal (based on three meals a day) and then supplement with a standard whey protein shake once a day too. 

5/ FEEL THE BURN - If it ain't hurting it ain't working. You need to understand that the dull ache you get towards the end of an exercise, that's important! I'm not saying you need to yourself into the ground killing yourself 7 days a week, especially in the early days, but you do need to get your game face on and get comfortable being uncomfortable. It isn't a social event and it will require effort.  

6/ IT TAKES TIME - Building muscle is a long steady process. There is absolutely zero chance of you waking up and seeing superman's torso after a week of bench pressing. If only it were that simple! One week you might notice your a couple of pounds up on the scales, the next month you might notice your t-shirt sleeves getting a little snug and next year you might be looking back at holiday pictures and getting some clean cut perspective of the gains you have made over the year. 

Building muscle isn't easy, if it was everyone would be walking round looking enviably good! But the benefits of carrying a little extra muscle mass than the average guy or girl definitely make it worthwhile. In fact, they deserve a post all of their own, so i'll leave this one here for now!

7 REASONS YOU'RE NOT BUILDING MUSCLE

1/ ARE YOUR REST PERIODS TIMED? - Speaking generally, anything more than 90 seconds rest isn't doing you any favours for building muscle.

2/ DO YOU HAVE A PLAN? - If you go into the session without a plan, odds are you'll lean towards the exercises you want to do but chances are there's a lot of gains being left on the table in the stuff you don't like doing! 

3/ ARE YOU PROGRESSING? - Aiming to improve your numbers week in week out is vital to laying down new muscle tissue. Be it more reps, more weight, more sets.. there must be a step up in stimulus. We've all seen the guy that trains the same way with the same routine, week in week out. Cool if he's maintaining where he's at, not if he wants to keep progressing.

4/ DO YOU FEEL LIKE AN IPHONE BATTERY? - You want to be coming into the session fully charged but training at an intensity that cuts into your battery pretty damn quick. Don't turn power save mode on when it starts getting tough and pussy out of reps. Don't take extra rest unnecessarily. You should be finishing the session well and truly in the red.

5/ HAVE YOU GOT SOMEONE IN YOUR CORNER? - Be it a coach or a training partner, that person will be the difference in getting the extra 10% out of you. For myself I have just started getting put through my paces by another trainer once a week and train with a partner on average twice a week. It will also allow you to utilise advanced training techniques like negatives, forced reps etc. 

6/ CHILL OUT WITH THE FRILLY STUFF - Mobility, warming up, intra-set stretching.. All cool but don't let it take over your session. Yes it should be involved where required but if you spend 5 minutes or 50 minutes on a foam roller, it's not making the world of difference to slapping on another 10lb of muscle. 

7/ FOCUS - If you are to attack a session with some serious intensity your focus needs to be on point. Use your phone strictly for timing, music or following a program. Leave the 9 that's squatting alone, if she wants a spot she'll ask. Try to train outside of peak hours, you're far less likely to get caught in convo and have your rhythm disrupted