The Can't-Fail Mass-Gain Triad: Eat Big, Train Big, Sleep Big (Part One)
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
If you've heard the expression "eat big, train big, sleep big" before, you've already been exposed to the key components of all successful mass-gaining programs.
If you've taken this advice to heart and acted in it, you've already experienced the synergistic power of reprogramming your metabolism.
If you haven't tasted the Kool-Aid yet, what are you waiting for?
The rationale behind the "Big 3" philosophy is rooted in simple evolutionary biology. If you consider the essential components necessary for successful species-propagation, you arrive at a few inescapable conclusions:
1) In order to pass on your genes to the next generation, you need to survive long enough to reach sexual maturity. This means (among other things) having the ability to create a portable energy supply in the form of excess fat deposits.
2) In order to create an excess layer of bodyfat, you've got to be able to taken in more calories than you need, on a consistent basis.
3) A big part of this equation is carrying a minimum amount of muscle (relative to your survival needs), since muscle is metabolically expensive to create and maintain.
As you flesh through these 3 points, you quickly arrive at the idea physique for survival purposes: "skinny-fat." So first off, congratulations are in order, because I'm guessing (by virtue of the fact that you're reading this article), you've got the perfect physique for surviving to mating age!
OK, I get it- you just want to be bigger.
Been there, done that- at age 18, I weighed 148 pounds at 6'2", and I wasn't particularly lean either (today at age 49 I'm about 213 pound at that same height, and still not particularly lean, but I'm currently carrying about 177 pounds of lean mass, which is more than my total bodyweight was as a skinny 18-year old)
Hopefully I've managed to adequately explain the problem- mother nature doesn't really buy into your plan to get all big and jacked.
Which leads to the solution- you've gotta fool ol' mother nature. And we're going to do that by convincing her that 1) you actually need more muscle in order to survive ("train big"), and that you're taking in plenty of food- on a chronic basis- to justify those muscles ("eat big").
And along the way, we're going to further pacify your survival safeguards by sleeping big, which serves the purposes of reducing your energy expenditure enough to allow even more additional muscle growth.
Let's discuss each component of the "Big 3" equation in more detail…
When I speak of training "big," I'm really talking about adhering to a handful of tactics and principles. These concepts are not controversial, cutting-edge, hard to understand or implement. In other words, they're not "sexy." (If you're among the 87% of readers who just closed this browser window- SEE YA!).
For the rest of you, let's explore the tried-and true components of successful mass-gaining programs:
1) Restrict your training to multi-joint movements performed with free weights.
All forms of squats, deadlifts, presses, and pull-ups fulfill this requirement. The "non-approved" list is much larger: any & all forms of exercise machines, including pec dec, leg curl, leg extension, and leg press.
Don't do curls, ab exercises, or calf movements. Also avoid all forms of running, swimming, cycling, aerobics, stretching, and/or dance classes. Refrain from any form of pilates, functional training, spinning, tae-bo, yoga, body pump, and/or any device/method you see on a TV infomercial, including Total Gym, Bowflex, P90X, Hip Hop Abs, The Perfect Pushup, Iron Gym, etc. If I've missed anything (and I have, trust me), simply line up the questionable exercise you're thinking of with the first sentence above: "restrict your training to multi-joint movements performed with free weights."
2) Train 3-4 days per week.
Not 1, 2, 5, 6, or 7, or any number higher than that (no two-a-days, in other words). Can you train 3 days one week and 4 the next? Yes. This should be the most simple recommendation to understand and follow, so I'll move on to the next point…
3) On your "work sets," use weights that are heavy enough to prevent the performance of more than 10 reps in a single effort.
Yes, that means you have a lot of flexibility in the weights you select, and the set/rep brackets you use, all the way from singles with super heavy weights to 10 reps with more moderate weight. There is no single "ideal" set x rep equation- anything in the "10 reps and under" category will prove effective.
What really matters is how many "quality" repetitions you perform in a session. By "quality" I mean reps where you expose large muscles to high tensions. Let's explore that in just a bit more detail…
Creating High Tensions: Load VS Speed
If you load up a bare to a weight that's just slightly less than you can lift, and perform one rep, you'll have exposed your muscles to a very high tension- that's probably obvious. What's less obvious to a lot of people is that you can get similarly high tensions by lifting lighter weights.
The way you do this is with acceleration. Using between say, 65 and 75 percent of a weight you could lift only once, performing sets of maybe 2-5 reps per set, using as much controlled speed as possible on the "positive" (concentric) phase of the lift, creates as much tension as a very heavy weight would.
And it's both safer and more fun to boot. So in your mass-training, use a variety of weights, but always move every rep as fast as possible.
4) Limit (And Time) Your Training Sessions.
Most experts would say that 60 minutes is a maximum ideal length for a weight-training session, but I'll go out on a limb and use 90 minutes instead.
The reason for my recommendation is that if you're using effective exercises (as described earlier), you'll need a relatively large number of warm-up sets before you can tackle your work sets for that exercise. So for example, you don't need to do much of a warm-up for tricep kickbacks or the adductor machine, but you do need a significant warm-up for a deadlift workout or a heavy bench press session. This is especially true once you get stronger- which you will.
5) Limit each training session to no more than 4 exercises.
The reason for this recommendation is dictated by the previous suggestion regarding workout length. If your total session is limited to 90 minutes, and assuming that you're using effective exercises as recommended earlier, you'll only have 22.5 minutes per exercise, and that includes warm-up sets. That's not a lot of time if you're working hard. So remember, the recommendation is no more than 4 exercises- in many cases, 3 is even better, and very often 2 exercises per session is absolutely ideal.
It's not about hitting the muscle from all angles, muscle confusion, or any other bullshit you've picked up on the internet somewhere- it's about picking 1-2, or maybe 3 big, hard movements, and working the piss out of them.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
About The Author
Charles Staley...world-class strength/performance coach...his colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results.
Click here to visit Charles' site and grab your 5 FREE videos that will show you how to literally FORCE your body to build muscle, lose fat and gain strength with "Escalating Density Training," Charles' revolutionary, time-saving approach to lifting that focuses on performance NOT pain.