Saturday, June 7, 2014

Gaining Functional Mass - Robb Wolf and Greg Everett (2006, 2008)

A Complete Training and Nutrition Program 
for Gaining Functional Muscle Mass

Part One - 2006
Hang around any fitness site long enough and the question of weight gain - or, more specifically, muscle gain - will be raised.

If you frequent the bodybuilding sites, the question, "How do I gain muscle?" will put you in the company of everyone from the pre-pubescent to the peri-andropausal; in other words, everyone. Make the desire to gain muscle known around a fitness-oriented site and you may be bet with equal parts disdain and confusion: disdain because it's obscene to want to gain muscle (most equate this desire with purely aesthetic motives) and confusion because few people have a solid understanding of how to gain functional muscle mass.

The question of how to gain muscle mass, whether for aesthetic or performance reasons, is one of the most common in sporting and athletic circles. The only close runner-ups I can think of are, "How do I get lean?" and, "What's the proper form for a reverse curl?" The answer to the lean question can be complex and is beyond the scope of this article, but the reverse curl answer is simple: perform the movement in the middle of a busy street so you will be removed from the gene-pool and neither sire nor bear demon spawn who also desire to "curl". Where was I? Oh! Gaining muscle . . .

The simple answer to the mass gain conundrum: perform some resistance exercise, eat prodigious amounts of food, and rest adequately. Trips to Tijuana can be an effective solution to this universal problem, but can also leave one with "huevos como pasas" as the guest of a federally sponsored sleep-over program called "Da Big House". What's a poor skinny dude to do if your last name is not Fragaso, Twardokens or Savage? Well, you need to get smart and use the best of what's available.

Le Programme
(or for non-French speakers, The Program)

As I mentioned above, the key elements of gaining muscle include resistance training (notice I did not specifically say weight lifting - various gymnastic movements can be quite effective in adding size and strength), nutrition and lifestyle. We have put together a training template using Olympic lifts and O-lift derivatives with a few gymnastic moves. Nutritionally we are offering several approaches, starting with the Zone and Cyclic low carb, and incorporating elements of intermittent fasting to optimize hormonal response. Finally we will crawl up your lifestyle hoo-ha (metaphorically, of course) to ensure you are doing everything possible to optimize recovery and growth.

Let's take a close look at the training first, work out way through the nutrition, and wrap it all up with lifestyle.

Train, Train, Train . . . Train of Fools

I want to make a point here, and some of my own training experience makes that point pretty well. For several years when I was powerlifting, I had floundered with my training as I took every workout, virtually every set of every workout, to huevo-busting levels of intensity.

I screamed, yelled, shook . . . and made very little progress. I had very poor sleep, a racing pulse and constant irritability. Yes, I was going through puberty, by my already dicey mental state was made far worse by my lame program and chronic overtraining.

Two guys who were former world champion powerlifters, either out of kindness or a desire to have peace in the gym, decided to apprentice me in the sport of powerlifting. My training was simple: move heavy weights and use looooooong rest periods between sets. It was normal to rest 3-5 minutes between sets when we were in a peaking phase.

Although most people would consider the training archaic, we used a simple linear periodization model of higher reps and lower weight cycling down to low rep, high weight work. Monday was squat day. Most of the year I squatted using an Olympic-style high-bar, narrow stance, ass-to-ankles squat. This type of squatting was very demanding and made the competition powerlifting squat seem like cheating! On Monday I also did some accessory movements for the bench press, abs and basic bodybuilding stuff. I benched on Wednesday and did pull-ups, rowing, shrugs and tripe like that. On Friday I deadlifted, but early in the cycle, I performed lots of power cleans to work speed off the floor. I used the same linear periodization on the bench and deadlift. The only other nifty stuff I can think of was using the power rack to target sticking points with isometric work.

The results? At 19 years of age, 5'9" and 181 lbs, I had a 565 lb squat and deadlift and 345 lb bench. The only supportive gear I wore was an Inzer level belt for squats and deadlifts. No hydraulic bench shirts or poly-metallic alloy exoskeleton. Now, I was not FIT by any stretch of the imagination. Walking up a flight of stairs put my heart near redline, but I was pretty strong and could dunk a tennis ball standing flat-footed under a basketball hoop. My nutrition was abysmal . . . high carb and low fat, and that put my body fat at about 15%. With what I know now, both with regards to nutrition and general physical preparedness, I could have been the same bodyweight with almost 20 lbs more muscle!

This trip down memory lane does have a point. The time in my life that I was the strongest and heaviest was when I had a VERY conservative training program that focused on putting more weight on the bar from workout to workout.I was also absolutely sure I had adequate recovery from one session to the other. If you are at all a hard-gainer  and/or have difficulty with recovery, a stripped-down program is critical to success.

If one has a goal of gaining muscle mass, a key point needs to be kept in mind: Stimulate, don't annihilate. In practical terms, we want to send ENOUGH of a stimulus to ensure a favorable adaptation. A workout that sidelines us for 3-5 days is in the annihilation category.

The stimulus should ideally have two features. The first is a mild to moderate amount of protein degradation caused by training volume. The second is to try to add resistance to each movement in a consistent manner. This ensures development of the neurological aspects of strength and it encourages growth of muscular contractile elements, not satellite cells and edema due to excessive volume. These factors considered, our training plan includes alternating mesocycles of moderate weight, moderate volume hypertrophy-specific training and moderate-high volume, heavy strength work. We are including a dash of metabolic conditioning and active recovery not only to enhance performance, but to also make those long climbs up two flights of stairs a little easier.

The Little Things

The training program is fairly straightforward. It's based on 1-week microcycles, each of which belongs to either a hypertrophy or strength mesocycle, each which ends in an unloading microcycle. A single 7-week macrocycle consists of 3 hypertrophy microcycles, 1 unloading hypertrophy microcycle, 2 strength microcycles, and 1 unloading strength microcycle. One-Rep maximum (1RM) testing is built into the schedule for both the measurement of progress and calculations of training loads.

Let's address some details:

Set/Rep Notation

The sets and reps when following a weight or percentage are in the order of reps x sets, e.g. 90% x 2 x 10 means 10 sets of 2 reps at 90% of the 1RM load. If a load prescription is absent, the format is  the conventional sets x reps, e.g. 3 x 10 means 3 sets of 10 reps.

Prescribed Loading

Training loads are prescribed by percentage of 1RM. Most are based don the 1RM of that movement itself, but some are based on the 1RM of an associated movement - this is noted where applicable. Not a single rep in this entire training program is to be taken to failure. Don't do it. During the first hypertrophy microcycle, in fact, the loads should feel almost too light.

The template calls for the addition of 2%/week to the loads. What increases are actually possible is dependent on a number of variables, so it will range greatly both among individuals and movements. This will be something that requires some flexibility and experimentation by each individual. Some may find that greater increases are possible, and others may find 2% far too large of a jump. In the case of the latter, bump up the weight as little as your equipment will allow and/or perform less than all prescribed sets with this increased load, then drop down to the last microcycle's load for the remaining sets.

The loading percentages listed in the descriptions of microcycles are the percentages for the first microcycle. For example, the hypertrophy microcycle description lists 60% x 6 x 6. This is for week 1. Week 2 would be 62% x 6 x 6, and week 3 would be 64% x 6 x 6. If you find the initial percentage too heavy for a particular movement, drop it. Remember, if you're approaching failure in the first sets during the first microcycle, you're going to struggle to make it through. Start lower and make sure you're increasing the load each week.

Interset Rest

During the hypertrophy phase, rest between sets should be 1 minute, except when performing circuits, in which case rest should be limited to only that which is necessary. During the strength phase, longer interset rest is appropriate, from 1-3 minutes. You should feel well-recovered before jumping into the next set.

Abs-Back Circuit

In both the hypertrophy and strength phases, the prescription calls for "Abs-Back Circuit". During the hypertrophy phase, this should be higher volume work, such as a circuit of an ab movement, such as GHD situps, hanging leg raises, knee-to-elbows, etc., and a back movement, such as GHD back extensions, reverse extensions, etc. During the strength phase, this work should drop in volume but increase in intensity - that is, where applicable add weight to the movements and perform fewer reps. Or this can mean using a movement like the hanging leg raise, of which you may be capable of only doing 5-6 reps unweighted. During the unloading microcycles, this circuit should follow the same format, but with about 50% of the volume used during the rest of the mesocycle.

Push-Pull Circuit

On Fridays of the hypertrophy microcycles, you'll see "Push-Pull Circuit." Like the abs-back circuit described above, this is a circuit of one pushing movement with one pulling movement performed in moderate to high volume. An example would be alternating between 10 kipping pull-ups and 10 clapping push-ups as many times as you can in 10 minutes. Change this circuit each week for variety and try increasing volume each week.

Strength Cycle Max Days

The strength cycle is based on Coach Mike Burgener's training template.

Training articles from Mike's Gym:     
WOD - 10 years logged:

Saturdays are contest days; that is, you'll work up to your heaviest snatch, clean and jerk, and front squat. Remember, these are your maxes for the day, you may not always get a new record.


Unloading microcycles appear at the end of both the hypertrophy and strength mesocycles - these lower volume and lower intensity weeks will allow you some periodic recovery while preventing detraining. 

Rest Days

Rest days should include some active recovery efforts such as light sled pulling, wheel barrow walking, boxing technique work, O-lifting technique work with PVC. This work should be non-taxing - no lactic acid production, vomiting, tunnel vision or anything related - keep in mind, this is rests. Follow it if you can with a cold plunge.

Testing Days

Testing days are scheduled at the end of unloading microcycles. This is when you'll determine your 1RMs to calculate your training loads for the following cycle. Remember, you're testing 1RMs for the movements you'll be using in the NEXT cycle - not the one you're finishing.

Record Keeping

Record keeping will be a critical component of success with this plan. Because it's predicated on consistent load increases, knowing the loads you've used from cycle to cycle will be important. Unless you're Rain Man, don't make the mistake of thinking you'll remember all the numbers. Pens are neither expensive nor difficult to find (speak to your local pharmaceutical rep for complimentary writing implements).

Good Eats!

If you want to grow you will need to eat . . . an amazing amount. That may be an enjoyable scenario if pizza and donuts are your main food groups, but we actually care about body composition and health a little, so expect to get the preponderance of your foods from meat, fruit, nuts, oils and yams. If you are in a serious hurry, you can use the Ido Portal method that we will look at later. I have some trepidation with this approach as it involves some serious insulin spiking . . . but it does appear to work very well. Before we get to that, let's look at how to use the Zone and cyclic low carb to best effect. Put on your feed-bag!

The Zone

The advantage of the Zone is that you know EXACTLY how much food you are eating and thus can assess your situation critically and subsequently make informed decisions. You can dial up or down protein, carbs or fat to run as lean as you like. This regimentation virtually guarantees success, as you will be able to alter your nutrition to continue to move towards your goals. For an in-depth how-to for the Zone, you can check out Issue Two of Performance Menu [see link above] or you can get help with the calculations direct from Barry "I Don't Follow My Own Diet" Sears.
Clear explanation and intro for the Zone diet here:
Robb Wolf answering questions on the Zone diet:

As an example, I weight 173 lbs and am about 8% bodyfat. That means I have 159 lbs of lean body mass. My activity level is a 0.8 considering I O-lift, kickbox a little, and do about 2-4 WODs per week. That 0.8 multiplier leaves me with a unit-less number of 127, which I divide by 7 to get my block allotment of 18 blocks. So that is:

 - 173 lbs x 0.08 BF = 13.8 lbs fat
 - 173 lbs - 13.8 = 159 lbs LBM
 - 159 x 0.8 = 127
 - 127 / 7 = 18 blocks

If that process doesn't make sense, check out the material I mentioned for a more patient and thorough discussion.

So my base Zone is 18 blocks, but to support my activity level, I have ratcheted up the fat content by a multiple of 5. Since our goal is mass gain, an appreciation of how many calories we are taking in might be helpful. Each Zone block has approximately 90 calories (trust me), so that puts my base level caloric intake at 1640 calories. petty skinny, and that's why people on the base Zone drop fat like crazy. That's also why I need to ratchet up my fat content so my energy intake approximately matches my output. When I have ratcheted up my fat blocks to 5X, I am taking in 2610 calories per day. That is some pretty serious eating, but again, that is a maintenance level. If you want to add muscle, you will need to eat more! The easiest way to do that is to add another block . . . or two. If you are at 5X for your fat multiplier, add 1 block every 2 weeks. That represents approximately a 200 calorie increase. Even if your fat multiplier is 2-3, it might be a good idea to just step things up one block every 2 weeks. This will allow your digestion to adapt to the increased food intake and it provides you an opportunity to monitor your progress.

This brings me to two digressions. The first digression relates to the ability to digest fat. Some people have reported they do not handle the ramped up fat content very effectively. These hearty souls have mentioned digestive problems and the condition steatorrhea [the presence of excess fat in the feces]. If fat absorption is an issue, a high-fat diet can be, shall we say, unpleasant. One can investigate what the issue is, such as potential parasitic infection or lack of adequate bile salts from the gall bladder, or just eat less fat! If you find the ramped up fat level to be too much, simply find the fat level you are comfortable with, typically baseline to 2X, and then add 2 blocks every 2 weeks instead of 1 block every 2 weeks for the 3-5X fat crowd. Okay, that's digression number one.

Digression number two has to do with fat gain. I have in the past endorsed the plan to get as lean as possible before trying to gain muscle. The argument for this is that with a low bodyfat level, one will tend to partition excess calories to muscle instead of fat. If one is at a lower body weight, the amount of testosterone that is aromatized to estrogen tends to be minimized. Sounds like good stuff, and for certain I am not advocating the classic powerlifter approach to mass gain: 1 gallon of chocolate milk and 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches IMMEDIATELY before bed! The reality, however, is that when one is gaining muscle, it is fairly normal to gain some fat in the bargain. Your abs may soften up for a while, but there is a reality that a higher body fat level CAN be a highly anabolic environment due to elevated IGF levels. My main point is that if you REALLY want to gain a significant amount of muscle, you may need to temporarily take a small hit with regards to body composition. A common obstacle for people trying to gain mass is the inevitable meltdown they experience at the realization that their body fat level has increased (although usually nowhere near as much as they believe), and their consequent cessation of increased eating - this results in a lot of time wasted in a 1-step-forward, 1-step-backward routine. The way we are structuring our programming, you should be able to keep fat gain to a minimum, and the smart use of intermittent fasting may help to keep insulin sensitivity rocking. More on that later.    

Something you are likely wondering is how much do you increase your food intake? That is difficult to say. For some people muscle gain may come in a fairly linear fashion. Add 2 blocks, and a month down the road they will have gained 1-2 lbs of lean body mass. Other people will add 3-4 blocks of 5X fat (600-800 calories) and still not see change in the scale, performance, or measuring tape. A good standard is to increase your intake approximately 5 blocks (1,000 calories) and stay at that point for at least a month. See how your body reacts to this, and if you need to add more weight to reach your goal, you can start this process again. If you are gaining too much body fat, you might try dropping 25% of the carb blocks and replace each carb block with 3 blocks of fat. Don't multiply that fat by 5! Just add in another 3 blocks of fat for every carb block you delete.

Okay, let's shift gears and look at another approach to this whole process.

CLC: The Revenge

If the Zone is not to your liking, you can use a cyclic low carb approach. The strength of the Zone is that you know exactly how much food you are taking in, but there is no reason we cannot have that precision with other approaches. Let's look at my situation again as an example If you recall, my maintenance level Zone is 18 blocks at 5X fat. That means I am taking in 18 blocks (126 grams) of protein, 18 blocks (162 grams) of carbs, and 90 blocks (135 grams) of fat in a given day. Most cyclic low carb programs recommend somewhere between 20-60 grams of carbs per day. The Metabolic Diet recommends that you ratchet your carbs up to match your recovery needs, plus occasional high carb days. That seems like a good approach, and it looks a bunch like following the Zone, but it does appear that a caloric excess more from fat than from carbs will likely result in less fat gain. Sounds to me, to let's run with this.

Since a block of carbs is 9 grams, you can dial in your carb level pretty easily. And for every block of carbs you delete, just add 3 fat blocks to your day's total. So let's say that I am doing a fairly liberal carb level and am taking in 7 blocks of carbs. Keep in mind all of your carbs should come from multi-colored, low-glycemic-load vegetable matter. That leaves 18 blocks of protein since we have not altered that, and since I have deleted 11 blocks of carbs, I need to add 33 blocks of fat to my daily total, which puts me up to 123 blocks of fat. Let's see what that looks like with regards to both calories and grams.

 - 18 blocks protein = 126 grams protein = 504 calories
 - 7 blocks carbs = 63 grams = 252 calories
 - 123 blocks fat = 184 grams + 27 grams in protein = 1899 calories
 - Total = 2655 calories

This is almost identical to my ramped-up Zone calorie level. Another way to do it if you are deleting 11 blocks of carbs is to add 5 blocks of protein and 18 blocks of fat (11 - 5 = 6; 6 X 3 = 18 blocks of fat). A nice way to step up the calories is to add 2 blocks of protein and 11 blocks of fat every 2 weeks. One additional carb block every month would likely be fine as well.

Since we are discussing cyclic low carb, we need to look at the carb load phase, which can be approached a few different ways. The first way is to have a full day of high carb intake with a total of 300-500 grams of carbs every 3-5 days. Alternatively, you can simply do 1-2 meals every third or fifth day and again take in 300-500 grams of carbs. Choose sources like yams, sweet potatoes, turnips, berries, melons and grapes. These sources are all either starchy or have a high glucose:fructose ratio and thus will preferentially fill muscle glycogen. You can also drop protein intake on your carb load day to very low levels: this will allow more room to accommodate your carbs and it makes your system a bit more thrifty with regard to protein usage. Make sure to keep fat intake low (base Zone block levels) on your carb load day or at least high carb meals.

Low Carb by the Seat of Your Pants

The previous was a very detailed plan and perhaps a bit stifling for some. Here is a seat of the pants approach for the free spirits: 4-7 meals per day, each containing 20-50 grams of protein, loads of fibrous, nutrient-dense vegetable matter, and as much fat as you can stand. Every 3rd to 5th day, implement a carb load as per the recommendations above. Pretty damn simple, no? This is the method I have typically gravitated towards. It does not provide one the level of detailed information to follow progress, but it works remarkably well. This is the first time I have mentioned meal frequency but I need to look at that topic separately . . . so let's get to it.

Fast and Grow Big

Sorry about that heading. It either sounds like very bad grammar or some kind of oxymoronic-hippy, but the smart implementation of intermittent fasting may be a key to success in your mass plan. If you are interested in a detailed account of intermittent fasting (IF), you can check out issues 6 and 8 of Performance Menu. If you are not interested in the details of IF, shame on you, and here is a minimalist explanation: Brief fasts appear to enhance insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammation, enhance performance, improve anabolic status, favorably alter nutrient partitioning . . . and possibly increase lifespan. There are two main methods that have been employed: alternation of fasting and eating days - fast day; eat like crazy day; repeat - or, compression of daily eating into a 5-9 hour window (eat all your meals in this time frame and fast the remainder of the day).

Intermittent fasting is in stark contrast to the standard bodybuilding dogma that advocates 6-8 small meals per day and even waking up in the middle of the night for one extra slug of nutrients. That method undoubtedly works, but at what price, and is it really optimal? If one can get that same number of calories in during a six-hour feeding time, are there benefits? We think so. Several people have reported gaining a significant amount of muscle mass on this approach. These same people have had limited success on the 'eat all day' plan. You might consider a hybrid approach in which you intermittent fast every second or third day. The benefits of improved insulin sensitivity are remarkable. Give some consideration to this technology.

The Last Straw

This final approach is a recommendation from our good friend, Ido Portal.
Ido is an amazing strength coach and a hell of an athlete: he boasts a low 3 minute Fran 3X BW deadlift, 5% BF level, planche pushups and does workouts like 130 standing backflips for time - he knows what he is doing.
Ido's plan involves using the seat-of-your-pants low-carb approach: protein, fat, and greens at every meal, carb load every 3-5 daysl Protein at a level of 2-3 g/lb of body weight/day . . . that's a lot! And one small tweak: Ido recommends a post-workout shake that includes 150 ml grape juice, 40 b of branched chain amino acids, and 40 g of protein powder, preferably whey protein isolate. It's not paleo, and it may spike insulin to amazing levels, but he guarantees its efficacy. Ido is NOT a fan of intermittent fasting (IF), so he recommends many meals throughout the day. I think IF could improve this situation due to its effects on insulin sensitivity, but Ido is frankly aghast at the idea. The bottom line is that his plan is effective - but it requires participants recognize and accept potential consequences of regular, enormous insulin spiking. It's not the healthiest approach, but as a temporary means to an end, it will likely not kill you before you reach your goal weight.


Recovery is something that is generally dismissed as inconsequential, but I find that those who ignore this topic are either gifted themselves or focus their efforts on those who have extraordinary natural recovery. What about the genetically average? I saw this in the Capoeira group I was formerly a part of. Super long classes, late hours, after practice parties . . . lots of fun to be sure, but what this selected for was the young and the strong. If you were a little older or of average recovery, you were burnt to a crisp by the shedule.

Stay tuned for a thorough accounting of recovery in a future issue, but for now here are a few things to keep in mind:

Sleep: Get 8-10 hours per day if you can. If it gets you fired or divorced, go for less, but try to awake sans alarm.

Fish Oil: Take 3-10 grams per day with meals. Keep capsules frozen to prevent oxidation.

Cryotherapy: Fancy term for sitting in a cold body of water. Eva Twardokens got clever and bought us a watering trough used for livestock. Fill it with cold water. Jump in. If you want it to be very effective, dump a bag of ice in with yourself. Jump in as soon as you can post workout and stay in as long as you can stand. Do not pass out. Do not drown.

Stress: Don't do it. It'll kill ya.

Wrap It

All right, folks, there you have it. Four different nutritional strategies and even some help with your rambunctious lifestyle. Remember that this is a long term commitment to make significant progress, and that you may need to temporarily sacrifice some aspects of your fitness like extreme metabolic conditioning to save energy for growth and repair. Once this process is over, however and you find yourself much heavier and much stronger, you can shift gears and see what you can do with the bigger engine.


The hypertrophy mesocycle is a series of 3 hypertrophy microcycles and 1 unloading microcycle (4 weeks total). Push-Press % is based on standing press 1RM. Deadlift high pull % is based in clean 1RM.

Hypertrophy Microcycle

Monday - 
Front Squat: 60% x 6 x 6
Standing Press: 60% x 6 x 6
Weighted Chins: 60% x 6 x 6
Abs-Back Circuit

Tuesday - 

Wednesday - 
Push Press: 75% x 6 x 6
L-pull-up: 60% x 6 x 6 
Abs-Back Circuit

Thursday -

Friday -
Deadlift High-pull: 80% x 6 x 6
Push-Pull Circuit
Abs-Back Circuit

Saturday -

Sunday -

Hypertrophy Unloading Cycle

Monday -
Front Squat: 60% x 6 x 3
Standing Press: 60% x 6 x 3
Weighted Chins: 60% x 6 x 3
Abs-Back Circuit

Tuesday -

Wednesday -
Deadlift High-pull: 80% x 6 x 3
Push Press: 75% x 6 x 3
L-pull-up: 60% x 6 x 3
Abs-Back Circuit

Thursday -

Friday -
Testing Day: Find 1RM for movements to be used in the next strength mesocycle.

Saturday -

Sunday -


The strength mesocycle is comprised of 2 strength microcycles and 1 unloading microcycle (3 weeks total). Front Squat % is based on 1RM clean. Pull % is based on associated lift 1RM. Sotts Press % is based on standing press 1RM. Rope Climb % is based on weighted pull-up 1RM.   

Strength Microcycle

Monday - 
Front Squat: 85% x 2 x 10 sets
Snatch Pull/RDL: 100% x 3, 105% x 3, 110% x 3
Snatch Balance: 5 x 1 (work up to heaviest single for the day)

Tuesday - 
3 Position Cleans: 60% x 3 x 3
1-Arm Sotts Press: 30% x 2 x 10
Weighted Pull-ups: 80% x 2 x 10
Abs/Back Circuit

Wednesday - 
Back Squat: 75% x 2 x 10
Clean Pull/RDL: 95% x 3, 100% x 3, 105% x 3
Rack Jerk Behind the Neck: 5 x 1 (work up to heaviest single for the day)

Thursday - 
3 Position Snatch: 60% x 3 x 3
Push-Press: 80% x 2 x 10
Weighted Rope Climb: 10% x 2 x 10
Abs/Back Circuit

Friday - 

Saturday - 
Work up to 1RM Snatch
Work up to 1RM Clean & Jerk 
Work up to 1RM Front Squat
Abs/Back Circuit

Sunday - 

Strength Unloading Microcycle

Monday - 
Front Squat: 90% x 1 x 3
Snatch: 60% x 1, 70% x 1, 80% x 1, 85% x 1

Tuesday - 
Rack Jerk: 90% x 1 x 3
Snatch: 60% x 1 x 5

Wednesday - 
Back Squat: 90% x 1 x 3
Clean & Jerk: 60% x 1, 70% x 1, 80% x 1, 85% x 1

Thursday - 
Snatch Balance: 90% x 1 x 3
Clean and Jerk: 60% x 1 x 5

Friday - 

Saturday - 
Testing Day: find 1RM for movements in next hypertrophy mesocycle

Sunday - 

Part Two (update)

Part Two - 2008

Way back in June 2006, Robb Wolf and I collaborated on a mass gain training and nutrition program. That issue quickly became one of our most popular and has remained so since. After a couple years of reader feedback and consideration on all sorts of related items, I've decided an update was in order.

The Nutrition

The nutrition component of the program requires only a quick note regarding macronutrient composition. PM readers are of course familiar with our longstanding preference for diets comprised of as little carbohydrate as will sustain an individual's chosen activities. Accordingly, our recommendation adhered to this and achieved caloric surplus through elevated protein and fat exclusively. Since, more research and experimentation has suggested that in some cases individuals will find it nearly impossible to gain any considerable weight without the effects of insulin brought about by the consumption of carbohydrate.

The fundamental principle of bodyweight - and the one that is so frequently neglected - is the First Law of Thermodynamics: Neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed. The two can be converted, but there is never any net change in the total quantity. What this means in terms of bodyweight is that weight cannot be reduced without a deficit of energy, and weight cannot be increased without a surplus of energy. No amount of heavy back squatting will make a skinny kid huge if said skinny kid refuses to eat more energy and material than his body is using simply to survive - as remarkable as the human body is, it cannot create muscle tissue from thin air. Likewise, no amount of physical activity will cause a reduction in bodyweight if the individual is consuming more food energy than is being used in a given period of time. These things seem obvious, but they're ignored to an exasperating degree. When evaluating a bodyweight plan, always return to and rely on this fundamental principle to guide your decisions.

The above said, it's unfortunately not such a simple equation - human metabolism manages to be remarkably complex. The first consideration is the second law of thermodynamics - entropy. Entropy is the transfer of a percentage of the energy during a chemical reaction to the realm outside the reaction - commonly this transfer is referred to as a "loss", but because, according to the first law, energy cannot be lost, it is simply being relocated, usually in the form of heat. Macronutrients ultimately provide different net calories because of the variation in the efficiency of their metabolism. For example, protein has fewer usable calories per gram than carbohydrates because the greater number of chemical reactions required to use protein as energy result in a lower net amount of energy with the increased entropy (this idea was first brought to my attention by Dr. Michael Eades). This of course does not alter the fact that a calorie is a calorie - it only forces us to consider calories in terms of net instead of gross. And it certainly does not change the fact that an individual cannot gain weight without a net calorie surplus, or lose weight without a net calorie deficit.

However, to complicate things further, it turns out that the basic energy balance equation that's relied on for most bodyweight recommendations is widely misinterpreted:
 - Change in energy stores = Energy intake - Energy expenditure

This is nearly invariably understood to meant that the change in bodyweight is entirely a product of the relationship between calories consumed and calories expended. In other words, it's assumed that by increasing energy intake, bodyweight must increase, and by reducing energy intake, bodyweight must decrease, because the equation has to remain balanced or the universe will fall apart - the calories in and calories out are the cause of bodyweight status.

However, real-world evidence demonstrates clearly that this is not in fact the case. Instead, the body apparently has a fairly well-established bodyweight set point that it attempts to maintain - changes in energy intake will cause the body to make changes in its energy expenditure in order to maintain that set point. For example, if an individual increases his calorie consumption, the body will find ways to expend more energy through largely unnoticed movement and internal heat-producing activity. This is precisely why dieting of the basic calorie-reduction form fails so much - the dieter's body simply reduces its energy expenditure to match intake (this and much more information regarding bodyweight and composition can be found in the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes).

All this said, pursuit of bodyweight changes is not hopeless, just more complicated. In the case of weight gain, it appears that the body can only increase its energy expenditure so much - this simply means that calorie surpluses will often need to be even greater than expected to exceed the body's ability to compensate. After existing at a greater bodyweight for a period of time, the set point seems to be adjusted upwards, making further gains easier. In regards to weight loss, the issue appears to be one largely of macronutrient composition and its effect on metabolic status. That is, management of insulin coupled with less dramatic calorie reduction seems to be far more productive than extreme calorie restriction. Again, with time at a new bodyweight, the set point seems to be readjusted. In all cases, slower changes are more effective than attempts at rapid ones.

While in theory gaining weight is no more complex than either maintaining of losing it, in practice it invariably proves difficult for a variety of reasons. Foremost of those reasons is that the discipline required by the pursuit of functional mass surpasses that of even aggressive weight loss. Nearly all will be quick to argue that the deprivation alone of weight loss eclipses weight gain in difficulty; these  individuals have never attempted to gain large amounts of quality weight and have no basis for comparison, and consequently may be dismissed.

The fundamental principle of weight gain is merely the opposite of weight loss: create a surplus of energy and material while attempting to prevent compensatory metabolic adjustment in the body to maintain its set point bodyweight. In cases of aggressive weight gain, simply consuming the necessary weight gain, simply consuming the necessary quantity of food is uncomfortable at best and seemingly impossible at worst. Contributing to the difficulty is the great importance of food quality and macronutrient composition.

A great enough calorie surplus of any composition will produce at least some weight gain - but the role of additional weight is to provide additional functional capacity, and body fat is incapable of contributing in any direct or significant manner to strength and power. The difficulty lies in encouraging the body not to simply increase in mass, but to do so through the hypertrophy of the functional components of muscle and connective tissue - this demands the control of food quality and macronutrient composition.       

As is the case with weight loss, the longer the period of time over which weight is gained, the better the quality of the added mass can be controlled. There are limits to the rate at which the body's lean mass can grow, and reaching for beyond these limits will result in greater gains in body fat relative to muscle mass.

For gradual weight gain, the process is in essence no different than gradual weight loss, the difference being only that the daily calories will be incrementally increased instead of decreased. Accurate record keeping is equally important - the same ease of self-delusion during weight loss applies to weight gain. Protein intake can be adjusted up to around 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. How well the higher protein intake accelerates muscle gain seems to vary among individuals, but it has certainly never hurt. Vegetable and fruit consumption should be maintained, and fat intake can be adjusted to account for the necessary caloric increase after any increases in protein are considered.

For more aggressive weight gain, the rules must be changed somewhat. The rule standing high above all is eat more. More than you ate before, more than what you want to eat, more than what you think you can eat. quality and macronutrient composition are irrelevant until quantity has been taken care of. This is by no means intended to dissuade attempts to maintain quality and composition, but to more forcefully underscore the importance of a large and consistent calorie surplus. In other words, if the only options are eating fast food and eating nothing, the choice must be fast food, and more than is appealing. Always remember - if you're not uncomfortable, you're not eating enough, and if you're hungry, you're failing miserably.

With gradual weight gain, the body is allowed time to adjust to progressively larger quantities of food; with rapid weight gain, there is no such luxury. In order to mitigate this problem, foods with the greatest possible caloric density will become necessities. Fats will be instrumental considering that a given quantity has over twice the calorie content of the same quantity of either protein or carbohydrate. Nut butters, olive oil, and coconut milk are relatively easily stomached but extraordinarily calorie-dense. For those who eat dairy, whole milk can replace its reduced-fat counterparts. In the same vein is supplemental protein, which will provide an extremely helpful service considering the physical difficulty of eating enormous quantities of meat.

Fitting in another meal in the middle of the night has been a successful tactic for many. Typically this meal is in the form of a shake consisting of supplemental protein, nut butter or coconut milk, and possibly fruit. This can obviously increase the number of quality calories in a 24-hour period, and will consequently be successful if eating the rest of the day is in order. However, the quality and quantity of sleep, particularly during times of weight gain, is of great importance. Because of this, the recommendation is to prepare a shake and place it in the refrigerator. If you wake naturally during the night, drink the shake. If not, you can drink it the next morning. Intentionally disrupting sleep is potentially more detrimental than night feedings are beneficial. If you're the kind of individual who can be awakened, drink a shake, and fall immediately back to sleep, this may not be an issue. But for some, a five-minute task can result in multiple hours of lost sleep.

Macronutrient composition in cases of aggressive weight gain does not necessarily need to be modified any further from the relative increases in protein intake described for gradual weight gain. Some have suggested as much as 3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day and swear by its efficacy. However, real world practice of this for already large individuals is remarkably difficult and the effect is questionable. It can certainly be experimented with to gauge individual response; just be sure to continue consuming large amounts of fat and eating as much vegetable and fruit matter as possible to prevent any sickness from too high a percentage of calories from protein.

Just as with weight loss, individuals will respond very differently during weight gain. That is, with a given calorie surplus, athletes will gain different amounts of weight. Again - if no weight is being gained, not enough is being eaten. Individuals with extreme difficulty gaining weight will generally find that an increase in carbohydrate intake will help through the effects of insulin on the metabolism. This is not an invitation to put away a bag of Oreos each night - as always, higher quality food will translate into higher quality gains. Grains should remain limited as much as possible and yams, sweet potatoes and other tubers and starchy vegetables relied on as the primary dense carbohydrate sources. Milk can also be a source of carbohydrate in these cases.

Milk is commonly endorsed among old school strength coaches and athletes as the ultimate weight gaining food. There is no question that milk offers a generally easily consumed and inexpensive source of potentially enormous amounts of protein and calories, and consequently can help encourage rapid weight gain. Whether or not milk actually produces gains in muscle mass any better than the equivalent totals of quality protein, fat and carbohydrates is not clear.

Recommendations tend to be between one half and one gallon of whole milk each day - this would supply approximately 1300-2600 calories. It's not surprising weight gain would be the result of this practice when supplementing continued whole food consumption.

For those unconcerned by potential but generally minor health drawbacks of dairy consumption, this is certainly worth evaluating. Even for those who normally wouldn't consume dairy, this can be considered temporary - adequate gains in weight will probably be achieved in several months, after which time a return to a healthier diet to maintain the new weight will be possible. Lactose intolerance can be managed with inexpensive lactase supplements.   

Raw milk is another option that will itself supply some of the needed lactase enzymes, as well as some colostrum, both of which will reduce the cost of supplementation for these two items. whole milk with 100% of the lactose removed is also available.

The Training

The following program of course intends to help the athlete gain functional weight. For this it uses greater volume per session in the core exercises, but a lower frequency and overall lower volume to allow the greatest possible recovery. Instead of somewhat higher reps such as 5s and 6s, we're instead using 2s and 3s but with a greater number of sets to achieve the wanted volume while encouraging as much as possible myofibrillar hypertrophy.

The loading will be increased 2-3% per week (or less, according to each athlete's gains) for 4 weeks, then backed off for a week, the increases resumed for 2-3 more weeks as tolerated (starting at the weight used the week prior to the back-off), and the cycle finished with a taper week to allow 1RM testing of any exercises the athlete wishes.


Exercises are followed by the prescribed loading, reps and sets in that order. For example,
Snatch - 75% x 2 x 5 indicate snatching 75% of the athlete's 1RM for 2 reps for 5 sets. If a loading prescription is absent, the sets and reps will be in the reverse order. For example,
Box jumps - 4 x 5 would indicate 4 sets of 5 reps.

The prescription 'heavy single' indicates that the athlete should take the weight up to the heaviest he can manage for a single rep without any misses, unless due to obvious technical mistakes.

'Max' would indicate instead a genuine attempt at a 1RM, with an allowance for as many as 3 attempts to achieve it.

Core Training 

Trunk stabilization training should  be performed 4-5 days per week. This training should include isometric stabilization, trunk flexion, lateral trunk flexion, and rotation work. Each of these categories of movement require training with both heavier loads for stabilization and lighter loads with greater volume for stamina. Core training can be included on every training day provided the type of work is sufficiently varied among sessions. That is, it's generally best to alternate heavy and light emphasis training to provide recovery time for each. Additionally, more taxing core training is best performed during heavy lifting sessions to allow recovery and prevent reduced trunk stability in the next heavy session.


Mass Gain Program   

Weeks 1 to 4 and 6 to 8.

Monday -
Back Squat: 75% x 3 x 10
Clean and Jerk: heavy single
Push Press: 75% x 5 x 5

Tuesday - 
Power Snatch: 60% (of snatch) x 2 x 3
Power Clean and Jerk: 60% (of clean and jerk) x 2 x 3
Pull-ups: 3 x max

Wednesday -
Deadlift: 80% x 3 x 3
Bench Press: 75% x 5 x 5
Pull-ups: 3 x 75% of Tuesday

Thursday -

Friday -
Front Squat: 75% x 3 x 5
Snatch: heavy single
Press: 75% x 3 x 5

Saturday -
2 position Snatch: 60% x 4 sets
2 position Clean: 60% x 4 sets
Push jerk and Jerk: 60% (of jerk) x 4 sets
Pull-ups: 3 x max

Sunday -

Back-off Week.

Monday -
Back squat: 85% of last week x 3 x 6
Clean and Jerk: 85% of last week x 1 x 1
Push press: 85% of last week x 5 x 3

Tuesday -
Power snatch: 60% of snatch x 1 x 3
Power clean and jerk: 60% ( of clean and jerk) x 1 x 3
Pull-ups: 3 x 85% of last week's reps

Wednesday -
Deadlift: 85% of last week x 3 x 1
Bench press: 85% of last week x 5 x 3
Pull-ups: 3 x 75% of Tuesday

Thursday -

Friday -
Front Squat: 85% of last week x 3 x 3
Snatch: 85% of last week x 1 x 1
Press: 85% of last week x 3 x 3

Saturday -
2 position Snatch: 60% x 2 sets
2 position Clean: 60% x 2 sets
Push jerk and Jerk: 60% (of jerk) x 2 sets
Pull-ups: 3 x 85% of last week's reps

Sunday -

Final Week.

Monday -
Back Squat: 85% x 1 x 2
Clean and jerk: 75% x 1 x 3
Push press: 85% x 1 x 2

Tuesday -
Snatch: 75% x 1 x 3
Bench Press: 75% x 1 x 2

Wednesday -
Power snatch: 60% x 1 x 3
Power clean and jerk: 60% x 1 x 3

Thursday -

Friday -

Saturday -
Test 1RMs

Sunday -




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