So you want to get bigger and stronger, like this
Leopard print leotard optional.
Maybe you’ve always been the skinny guy and can’t gain
weight to save your life (trust me, I’ve been there).
Maybe you’re a bigger guy and you’d rather have broad
shoulders than a broad waistline.
Maybe you’re a female, and you’ve realized that lifting
weights with the right diet will give you that “toned” look
that everybody is after.
Maybe you just want to be stronger and faster.
No matter who you are or what your starting point is, I
want to help get you where you want to go.
Building muscle is something I’ve been obsessed with since
high school (okay, not obsessed, but it’s where the majority of
my fitness research and experience has taken me). After struggling
with building muscle for close to a decade, I’ve made significant
progress in the past few years, packing on 20+ pounds of muscle,
learning handstands, and adding 200+ pounds to my deadlift.
If you’re looking to start building muscle, getting
bigger, and becoming stronger, these are the things you need to
- Lift heavy things
- Eat a diet based on your goals
I realize doing those three things is much easier said than done
– I struggled with progress for a decade and know exactly what
you’re going through.
After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than putting in
effort for months (or years) and not seeing results. And
unfortunately, this is what I see from most people: Lots of
well-intentioned but misguided effort in the gym and no
You probably don’t have years to make the mistakes that I did,
and you just want to start getting results today. In addition to
the free resources below, we also offer 1-on-1 Online
Coaching, where you’ll get personalized instruction for your
body type and goals, and professional accountability from a Coach
on Team Nerd Fitness!
But enough of that, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to
get started with Strength Training!
How do you build muscle? Lift Heavy Things
If you are going to build muscle, you’re going to need
to lift heavy things. This means you’ll most likely need
access to a gym with a great free-weight section.
Body weight exercises can be fantastic for weight loss and
keeping the muscle you already have, but if you’re serious about
weight training you’ll need a gym with a squat rack, bench,
barbells, and a spot to do pull ups, chin ups, and dips to be most
access to a decent gym? Good, now we can started.
Because we’re looking to create functional strength and size,
we’ll be doing lots of full-body routines with compound exercises
that work multiple muscle groups at once.
They’re more efficient, they create solid growth and
stimulation, and they will keep you safe. Why is that?
Well, when you spend all of your time doing stupid isolation
exercises on weight machines (ugh), you’re only working those
specific muscles and not working any of your stabilizer muscles
(because the machine is doing all of the stabilization work). On
the other hand, when you do compound exercises like barbell squats,
you work pretty much EVERY muscle in your body, setting yourself up
to be strong and injury free.
Stay away from machines, focus on dumbbells and barbell
Each of your routines should have one leg exercise, push
exercise, pull exercise, and a core exercise:
Leg Exercises –
Deadlifts, or Lunges
Push Exercises –
Overhead Press, or
Pull Exercises –
Pull Ups, or Chin Ups
Core Exercises – Reverse
Crunches, Hanging Knee Raises, or Planks
That’s IT. Don’t worry about adding in any
ridiculous machine shoulder shrugs, iso-chest flys, preacher bicep
curls, calf-raises, whatever. Learn these few exercises, get really
good at them, and your entire body will get stronger and bigger.
Focus each week on adding more weight to each exercise. For
example, if you did 3 sets of 5 squats of 150 pounds this week, try
for 3 sets of 5 squats of 155 pounds next week.
If you do that, you’ve gotten stronger. Eat right, and
you’ll get bigger too.
what’s a sample routine for building muscle?
Using the principles I’ve laid out in my “how
to build a workout routine” article, here’s a routine
I’ve created for myself recently:
Monday – Squats, Benchpress, Wide Grip Pull
Wednesday – Deadlift, Overhead Press,
Inverted Rows, Hanging Knee Raises
Friday – Weighted Lunges, Weighted Dips,
Weighted Chin Ups, Reverse Crunches.
Each day has a leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and
some core work.
While it’s possible to build out the perfect routine
on your own, many of our Rebels end up spending hours and hours
building something custom – only to realize it isn’t what they
need (or isn’t effective) weeks and months later for their
For people who want to avoid that altogether, we built the
our uber-popular 1-on-1 Nerd Fitness coaching program pairs you
with your own Nerd Fitness Coach who will get to know you, your
goals, and your lifestyle, and handcraft a workout plan that’s
specific to not only your body, but also to your schedule and life.
Click on the image below to schedule a call with our team to see if
we’re a good fit for each other!
How many sets and reps should I do?
That depends on your goals. If you’re just
interested in getting stronger, you can do 3-5 sets of 5 reps, with
a focus on lifting heavier and heavier each week. If you’re
looking to add more size along with strength, mix up your rep
ranges. Sets of 5 reps will build compact explosive strength, while
sets of 6-12 reps will build more size but less concentrated
I try to mix it up. This week, I might do 3
sets of 5 reps for each exercise (other than the core exercises),
adding enough weight to each exercise so that it’s incredibly
taxing. Next week, I’ll do four sets for each exercise, adding
weight each time and doing less reps. For example, I’d do 12 reps
of an overhead press at 100 pounds, then 10 reps at 105 pounds,
then 8 reps at 110 pounds, and finally 6 reps at 115 pounds.
The good news is that no matter which path you take (pure
strength, size, or a mix of both), as long as you are adding weight
each week you WILL be getting stronger.
ANY path will work, provided you are getting progressively
stronger with it! So if you do 5 sets of 5 squats at 140 pounds
this week, aim for 5 sets of 5 of 145 pounds next week. Or 3 sets
of 10 at 100 pounds, then next week try for 3 sets of 10 at 105
Get stronger, which is 20% of the puzzle. The other 80% is
nutrition (which I cover later)!
If you want even more info, you can head to our article
the Correct Number of Reps and Sets” for a deep dive into the
Any other weight-lifting tips?
exercising – don’t walk into a gym, slap 45-pound
plates on the bar, and then start your routine. Get your heart rate
up and muscles warm first by doing a dynamic warm-up of jumping
jacks, lunges, bodyweight squats, hip raises, push-ups, leg swings,
jumps, etc. After that, always start with doing a set or two of
lifting JUST THE BAR. Only then should you start adding weight for
some warm-up sets before moving into your real sets.
Have focused form – if you’re
doing a bodyweight squat incorrectly, you might develop bad
habits. However, if you do a squat incorrectly with 405 pounds on
your shoulders, you could do some serious damage. If you’re just
starting out, check your ego at the door: start with a VERY light
weight and make sure you are doing the exercise properly. There is
NO SHAME in starting with just the bar. You can always add more
weight next week if this week is too easy.
Stimulate, don’t annihilate – I try to
always have one more rep left when I finish a set. Some trainers
will preach working your muscles to annihilation, but I think
that’s just asking for an injury, poor form, and beyond-sore
muscles. Your muscles get built while resting, not in the gym, so
don’t worry about destroying them completely each day you step in
the gym – it’s not worth it.
Change up the time between sets – if you’re
doing 3 sets of 5 reps of a really heavy weight, it’s okay to
wait 3-5 minutes between sets – you’re focusing on pure
strength here. If you’re doing sets up in the 8-12 range, try to
keep the time between sets around a minute or so. This will affect
your muscles in different ways. Just be consistent between sets and
when doing the same workout between weeks to track your
Don’t overdo it – More does not mean better
in weightlifting. You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym,
you don’t need to do 15 different kinds of chest exercises. My
routines last no longer than 45 minutes, I only do three or four
sets (after warm up sets) for each exercise, and it’s enough to
stimulate muscle growth. Three routines a week is plenty too –
you shouldn’t lift every day, as you need to give your muscles
time to regrow bigger. Less is more – just make your routines
really intense and exhausting.
down everything – Keep a training journal, and write
down exactly how many sets and reps you did for every exercise.
That way, you can compare how you did this time with how you did
last time. You’ll know how much more you need to lift this week
to make sure you’re stronger than last week.
Follow a routine, have a plan. The best thing
you can do is have a plan to follow and stick with it! We provide a
free bodyweight routine, and a comprehensive gym training routine
to get you started with strength training in our free guide,
Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. Grab your guide
when you sign up in the box below:
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Okay, what about diet?
skinny and trying to bulk up, this will be 90% of the
If you’ve been lifting weights for a while “but can’t seem
to gain weight,” then you are not eating enough – it’s that
I thought I was one of those people who just could never gain
weight…and then I learned it was all diet, started eating 4,000
calories a day, and
I put on 18 pounds in 30 days. Yeah, I wanted to throw up from
always eating along with three Muscle Milk shakes a day, but it
worked. Looking back I would have done things differently (so many
calories and so much sugar/carbs), but after 6 years of exercising
without putting on any weight, it was great to see so much progress
in such a short period of time.
4,000 calories sounds freaking insane right? I
know. It makes eating a full-time job, as you’re always either
cooking, eating, or cleaning up after yourself. But if you really
want to get bigger and you’re struggling to do so, then all of
your effort is going to have to go into eating more, eating
healthier, and eating ALL THE TIME.
Here are a few different techniques for weight
Eat a lot of whatever – this was my first
plan years ago: it’s cheapest, the fastest, but probably the
least healthy. Just make sure you get 200+ grams of protein a day
and 3,500+ calories in any way that you can: pasta, rice, pizza,
milk, hamburgers, chicken, protein shakes, muscle milk shakes,
whatever. This is how I went from
162-180 pounds in 30 days. I’m not proud of how I ate, but it
produced results and I remained healthy and strong.
Eat a lot of “healthy”
stuff – I did this once and put on about 10
pounds in 30 days. Lots of oatmeal, brown rice, chicken,
my home-made big-ass shake, almond butter sandwiches on
whole-grain wheat bread, beef, eggs, fruits, veggies, and some
milk. Still not optimal, but it works and is better for your
insides than the previous method. Still relatively cheap, as tubs
of oats, brown rice, and bread are inexpensive and can add on a lot
of calories quickly.
Paleo – I’ve tried this strategy too, and despite
my best efforts to GAIN weight I managed to lose five pounds (all
of which was fat). It’s certainly possible to gain weight on the
paleo diet (try adding in three
big-ass Primal Shakes per day), but it is tricky and very
expensive to get 4,000 calories of paleo-approved food daily. LOTS
of nuts, eggs, sweet potatoes, shots of olive oil, and yams along
with tons of chicken, grass-fed beef, fruit, and veggies.
GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) – Obviously
this method will only work if you’re not lactose intolerant. Oh,
and it has to be whole milk. You’ll definitely put on some fat,
but you’ll build muscle and get really strong quickly – and
then you’ll adjust the diet to thin out. I’ve attempted this
diet occasionally, as whole milk is certainly a fast path to tons
of carbs, fat, protein and calories. Be prepared for your stomach
and body to constantly feel bloated. Note: you can adjust the
amount of milk you consume daily based on how your body
How many calories should I eat to build muscle?
That’s going to depend on your situation –
your age, how much you weigh now, how much you want to weigh, and
how fast your metabolism is. For some, just 2,500 calories and
strength training will be enough to build muscle. For others, you
might need to eat 4,000+ calories in order to put on weight. The
only way to find out is to track your normal calorie intake for a
few days, and then start adding on 500 extra calories per day for a
week or two and see if you notice any changes.
Want a rough idea of how many calories you should be eating?
Head right here for our calorie requirement calculator.
Bottom line: If you don’t see any change,
then you need to eat more. Yes, it will feel excessive. Yes, you
will feel full all the time. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass and
expensive. But if you really want to be bigger, then you are going
to need to really dedicate yourself in the kitchen. Unless you’re
a genetic mutant, it’s incredibly tough to build muscle and
strength without overloading your system with calories and
Just keep eating.
Won’t all of this eating make me fat? I don’t want to get
I get this question all the time in emails, usually from
guys who are 6 feet tall and 130 pounds.
Don’t worry, if you can’t gain weight now, putting on this
extra weight is going to be great for you.
Yes, you will put on SOME fat along with the muscle you’re
building if you’re running a calorie surplus. This is why picking
the right amount of calories per day is important.
If you can build muscle at 3,000 calories, but you’re eating
4,000 calories, you’ll put on a pound or two of fat per week
along with your muscle. However, if you need to eat 4,000 calories
to build muscle and you’re only eating 3,000, you won’t see any
changes. Everybody is different, so you need to experiment and find
out what works best for you.
Source: FS – All-FitnessBlogs
The Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle and Strength