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The Best Way To Build Muscle?

muscle builder


All through my younger days, I wanted so badly for there to be magic formula or pill that would help me sprout muscles in an instant. I had this vision of myself swaggering into choir class–as if anyone could swagger into choir!–with my arms and legs bursting from my clothes.

Instead I played a lot of video games, guitar, and did a whole lot of hanging out. I also ate a ton of candy and drank soda like it was water. A lot of the coaches and some of my friends who were more muscular told me I was a “hardgainer.” That’s someone who can’t seem to put on weight or muscle no matter what they do.

I assumed it was true. It was easier that way. I didn’t have to work hard and I could pretend that there was nothing I could do about it. Like just about everything in life, it’s easier (and more natural, some might say) to talk and wish than to take action.

In the last few years I’ve gotten a lot more serious about my strength training, as you know if you’re a regular reader. And I know that some of you regular readers are ironheads like I am, so I would like to quickly share what I’ve learned about building muscle in the last year. I’ve put on over 30 pounds of lean mass since September of 2009. The funny thing is, it wasn’t hard! It wasn’t a magic pill, but it doesn’t feel like it took much more effort than a pill would have.

The best way to build muscle, according to the anecdotal evidence of yours truly, rests on these three points:

1. Eat!

Really muscular people have a different relationship with food. Lots of guys who try to pack on weight think they are eating a lot. But if they could see what some of the bodybuilders eat, they would realize how wrong they are.

I generally eat between 4,000 and 6,000 calories a day. I drink about half of that. The greatest thing ever is this shake:

  • 16 oz of whole milk
  • 1.5 cups of oats
  • a banana
  • some protein
  • peanut butter

Each shake is about 1100 calories. You have to eat or you can’t grow. It’s that simple.

2. Lift more weight

The only major thing I changed in my lifting was to focus on how much I lifted during a session. The total pounds lifted during a workout. Once I quit worrying about how much weight was in my hands or on the bar or how big of a kettlebell I was using, things got a lot easier for me. Whether I trained for 10 minutes or 100, I just tried to make sure that I lifted more total pounds each session than the one before it.

And I got bigger and then some.

3. Sleep sleep sleep

This is the hardest one for me. I have a toddler, I have Tourette’s, and I love caffeine. I’ve always been a night person. I don’t like to go to bed. But there is no denying that I have made my best progress–both physically and mentally–when I am getting 8-10 hours a night. Lots of guys are able to do #1 and #2, but they leave out sleep. If you don’t rest as much as you can, you won’t grow as much as you can. You can still make progress–I have–but not the maximum possible, or so my legend goes.

Is this new, earth-shattering news? Probably not. There simply aren’t that many ways to build muscle. But this works. It really does. Are any of you training specifically to gain weight right now? How is it going?


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andy Fogarty July 30, 2010, 7:43 am

    I’m right there with you on the sleep. I have a very hard time getting myself to sleep. Both my wife and I have always been night owls. I generally get around 5 hours a night, which i know is terrible. It’s hard to shut down when I get so much done though, ya know?

    I’ve never been much for shakes, but I get enough daily calories for my type of training.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 30, 2010, 10:27 am

      I’m not doing much better than your 5 hours…

  • Ben (From TIC) July 30, 2010, 7:46 am

    Josh, you’re right–#3 is the toughest! I wake up at the same time every morning. I just need to get to bed earlier. I remember reading an article years ago about a bodybuilder who slept every chance he got (when he wasn’t lifting or eating). He said that was his big secret.

    In #1 I’d throw in some mixed nuts in the mix, even though you already have peanut butter:)

    Congrats on your gains! Man, I’ve got to get me some kettlebells.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 30, 2010, 10:27 am

      I hate going to bed. I hate it. I don’t know why. I’m like a fussy toddler, but I’m trying to do better.

      • Ben (From TIC) July 30, 2010, 10:51 am

        Josh, do you drink caffeinated beverages? I stopped drinking coffee. The only caffeine I consume is from black loose leaf tea I drink only in the morning (not afternoon etc.) I sleep much much better since making the switch.

        • Dustin August 1, 2010, 6:42 pm

          I second that. I used to drink a lot of caffeine and I paid no attention to when I was drinking it. I only get caffeine from tea these days. Not only is it easier to fall asleep, but I sleep much more soundly. Magnesium oil helps also. Great post.

          • Josh Hanagarne August 1, 2010, 6:49 pm

            Thanks Dustin. I’m trying to cut out all caffeine after 12 noon.

  • Craig Brown July 30, 2010, 8:20 am

    You speak the truth! I went from 175 (when you saw me in Utah) to 200 and am now dropping fat- so I’m a little better than at Dan’s BF wise and now at 190 with my food back to normal. It’s about the consistant food and consistant work with some kind of plan behind it. I kept it simple with a novice program from Rip. Didn’t PR on anything. Put on 25# in three months at 43. Works. Like Gant Grimes said, the eating is the hard part.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 30, 2010, 10:27 am

      Awesome! Summer has made it harder for me to eat more. (well, I’ve allowed it to make it harder). I don’t want to eat when it’s hot, and I sweat so much in the hot garage gym right now that I lose a lb a minute it feels like. But I’m so glad to hear that about your progress. I bet you’re looking fierce:)

  • Todd July 30, 2010, 10:12 am

    It just doesn’t get any simpler than that, Josh. Eat, lift with intensity, and get lots of sleep. I’ll be linking to this one in a post that I’m working on.

  • Niel July 30, 2010, 12:22 pm

    I decided to gain back some weight this summer since I lost 5lbs. when the school year started. Finishing up the 2nd 4 weeks, but weight myself Sunday morning. After the 1st 4 weeks I gained about 3-4 lbs. so if I can keep that progress every month until end of August I’ll be happy with it. Although the training is geared towards building strength, it’s been helpful nonetheless.

    Do you have a end goal in mind Josh or just get as hyoooge as possible?

  • Jenn July 30, 2010, 12:45 pm

    When I read about you guys eating that many calories I turn green with envy. Grrrr….I would weigh 400 pounds if I ate that much. I’ve been working on building muscle for 2 years and it’s going well despite having less testosterone and all. 😀 I will say I have the MOST DIFFICULTY with # 3. I eat well and and I’m increasing my weight consistently but sleep….not so much. Especially as of late, I know it’s been hindering my progress. It seems like I tell myself every night…”okay TOMORROW I will go to bed early”. I frustrate myself.

  • Craig Brown July 30, 2010, 12:54 pm

    Jenn- Have you read “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival”? I can’t claim to do all she says or get the sleep I should, but it’s a good read for inspiration to try a bit harder…

  • Daisy July 31, 2010, 3:03 pm

    I’m still smiling at the vision of swaggering into choir class. I was a Gleek long before Glee, and I even have a music education degree! Many local “choir guys” wear a t-shirt that says “Real Men Sing.” I love it.

  • Okc August 5, 2010, 8:57 pm

    Try NOW Sports brand ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and B6) 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep. The body needs it all after a long workout and it also works as a great aid in getting to sleep.