Today’s blog post is coming from my good friend and personal coach, Ryan Faehnle. Ryan earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science while serving in the United States Air Force. After college, he moved on to become an NCAA Division I strength and conditioning coach at Miami University, where he helped athletes from 20 different sports (from football to ice skating to powerlifting) to achieve their physical goals.
His abilities were acknowledged from the highest level when famed international Olympic strength coach Charles Poliquin welcomed Ryan to his staff. Ryan lectures internationally on fat loss, training athletes, hypertrophy, nutrition, energy systems, and supplementation. Ryan has been running a private consulting business for 4 years and has coached both athletes and coaches in the professional ranks and the Olympic Games. I believe in Ryan so much that he is the man designing my own training and nutrition “comeback” program to take me to the next level of my physique and performance.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce Ryan and his 10 Principles for Massive Muscle Gains. ~Vince
1. Use indicator reps to improve your physical performance within various rep ranges.
To do this, you need to take just a few minutes to record exactly what you are doing within your workouts and also set up certain indicators. I have indicator lists for major compound moves in order to track progress and map out progressive goals. For instance, you might do one for barbell squats. To do this, at the end of your workout, grab the weight that you think is your 6rm and do as many reps as you can. You may get 4 or you may get 10. Write that number down. Then periodically (every two or four weeks) test yourself again so that you know whether you are actually making progress. You should be getting more reps out of that weight. Once you are getting 20 reps out of that weight, it’s time to up the weight. You cannot realize maximum gains if you stay in one place for too long. The key to massive muscle gain is constantly challenging those muscles.
2. Train correctly for your training status.
This may seem like common sense, but I see a lot of people doing the opposite. What I mean by this is that if you’re a beginner, you probably won’t see good gains by following the training program of a professional bodybuilder. A beginner should be more focused on the “main” movements, the basics such as deadlifts, squats, barbell curls and so on. The beginner then progresses by adding five pounds to his weights every other day or so and will see excellent progress this way. If a beginner is loading up with all of those very specific, 360-degree type-movements that a pro is doing, he’s going to burn out really fast and see very little gain. By the same token, if a pro added five pounds every other day, he’d burn out quickly and see slower gains as well. So always train according to your training status if you really want to see progress in the form of massive gains.
3. Understand what volume is and work to build it over time.
This is another simple principle that many people miss. Many people believe volume is sets x reps. But volume is actually sets x reps x load. 3 sets of 10 with 200 pounds is not the same as 3 sets of 10 with 220 pounds. The important thing about this is that when it comes time to up the intensity of your workout, you have three variables to work with. You can increase sets, increase reps or increase load. Increasing your volume is always your main goal if you’re working toward massive gains, but you can’t manipulate the variables if you don’t understand what those variables really are.
The correct definition of intensity is how close to your 1 rep max you are actually working. A single rep at 90% of your 1rm is actually more intense than two sets of 6 at 70% of your 1rm. Increasing your intensity over time is essential to truly seeing massive gains. As we’ve already discussed, you need to track and periodically test your 1rm so that you know when you need to increase your load.
5. Understand what density is and work to build it over time.
Density is basically volume per unit of time. The best way to increase density is to decrease your rest period between sets. If you start out at 60 seconds rest between sets and decrease it by 10 seconds every week, you’re increasing your density at a very good pace and will start to see real gains. You can also increase your total workload per workout. To do this, use a stopwatch and set it for 30 minutes. Then see how many sets of 2 you can do in 30 minutes and track that from one workout to the next. I’ve found that you can double or even triple your density over a period of four weeks or so and this can have a profound effect on your gains.
6. Spike insulin at the right times.
Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in your body and you can control it by choosing the right foods. If you’re trying to gain mass, you need to spike insulin immediately after training when your cortisol level is high. Have a high-glycemic carb food immediately after your workout in order to boost insulin, stop cortisol and change from catabolic mode to anabolic mode.
7. Time your carbs correctly.
The right timing for your carbs depends on your body fat percentage. If you’re at 20% body fat or more, you don’t need carbs for fuel at all. You have enough fat to burn for fuel and you want that fat to be utilized, so it’s important to limit carbs to a once a week treat. I suggest a shake of whey, glutamine and glycine. Limit that glycine to 1g. It flushes out the liver, but can cause diarrhea and other issues if you take too much.
If you have less than 20% but more than 15% body fat, limit those carbs to 30g and have them immediately post-workout. 30g has been shown to be enough to stop catabolism but not enough to promote fat storage.
If you’re at 10-14% body fat, I recommend bigger carb servings within one hour of your workout. That could mean anywhere from 50-200g depending on your body fat percentage. If you’re around 14%, you might start with 50g, but if you’re as low as 10% you can go as high as 200g post-workout.
If you’re at 10% or lower body fat, you can eat carbs all day long, but you want to have fast-acting high-glycemic carbs post-workout and low-glycemic, slow-acting carbs the rest of the day.
8. Forget about the concepts of bulking and cutting.
I know, this sounds insane. However, the fatter you get, the more you impair your insulin sensitivity. If you’re insulin sensitive, it only takes a tiny bit of insulin to deliver glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. But if you become insulin resistant, it takes much more insulin to deliver that glucose. The other problem is that your body partitions the use of glucose.
When you’re higher in body fat, your body sends that glucose to your fat cells first. In other words, you are prompting your body to store even more fat. When you are lean, your body sends glucose to your muscles first, which is what you want. But if you’re spending months bulking up, you’re spending months making your body less and less sensitive to insulin.
If you’re trying to gain mass, I recommend that you stay around 10-15% body fat. If you’re heavier than that, you need to lose some fat before you try to focus on muscle gains.
9. Change your program frequently, but not so often that you can’t track your progress.
You need to allow time for progress to be made and tracked before cycling to another workout. The more advanced you are, the more frequently you can change up your routine. But at the beginner level, you need to avoid the temptation to change your workout from one day to the next or even one week to the next. When you do this, you’re basically taking a shotgun approach to gains and that’s a very ineffective method. You also make it impossible to track your progress and tweak your program effectively.
10. Manipulate your frequency parameters every 12-16 weeks.
This means changing the frequency with which you train a specific body part. Right now you may be training your biceps twice a week, but in 3-4 months you may want train biceps four times per week. In another 3-4 months, you’ll change again, either increasing or decreasing frequency. What this does is continuously stimulate the muscle fibers in those muscles and spur new, massive gains.
Some of these principles may be new to you and some may be variations on principles that you’ve heard many times. All of them have been proven to be effective in my own coaching, my own body and in my training of Vince. You don’t need to implement every principle all at once. Try implementing one or two per week as long as they apply to you and make sense for where you are right now in your training. If you follow the plan you will see dramatic changes in your physique and realize gains much faster than you may think possible.
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