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Name: Steve

Question

Hi Coach,
I'm an Asian. My height is 5'11" and weight is 120 pounds. My extremely thin build has been bothering me for a long time. Could you recommend some methods of gaining mass?

Answer

Don't be too frustrated with how you look. As long as you are physically healthy how you look is not of much concern - Sure everyone want's to pleased with their appearance but you probably know where I'm going with this - avoid becoming compulsive about how you look. If you are frustrated with a lack of results in gaining mass despite trying, this seems pretty normal. Who wouldn't be frustrated with trying but not achieving? The trouble with the emotions surrounding frustration over the long term though is we might tend to devalue ourselves and even feel guilty, and that starts to become unhealthy.

Short term frustration is part and parcel of moving through challenges, but we can be our own worst enemies if we don't move on.

Setting more realistic goals and focusing on long term gains while allowing room for the occasional setback will help reduce feeling frustrated.

Although medical research shows some degree of variability between humans with different ethnicity for development of high blood pressure, cholesterol, type two diabetes and other ailments, there does not seem to be any strong data that suggests our ethnicity predetermines ability to increase muscle mass or decrease fat mass.

Increasing muscle mass can be achieved by any person at any age. The errors that I see repeated most often leading to failure to gain mass are:

  • Expectations of gaining muscle mass are too high and beyond the normal healthy rate of mass gain.
  • A short term approach with only weeks or months is considered instead of the reality of the years that are required.
  • The misunderstanding that the simple consumption of protein will result in increased muscle mass (it doesn't).
  • Person becomes frustrated with lack of results and "try's everything" - meaning they never stick with a long term plan but rather do many short term plans spaced apart from each other.

Go to this article to figure out how many calories per day you need. I also suggest making an appointment with a registered dietitian.

Muscle mass appears to be increased most effectively with 3 to 5 or possibly more sets with reps of 8 to 12. If the individual is very well trained and is very diligent with recovery protocols a greater volume can be used, but most people should stick to 3 to 4 and occasionally 5 sets if they are not completely committed to serious training as a major part of their everyday life.

While mass can also be increased with more intensive lower repetition sets or exhaustive higher repetition sets, 8 - 12 reps appears to have the best balance of mass and reasonable strength increase while avoiding excessive stress to connective tissue that may be present with lower repetition higher weight models. Three to four training sessions per week will be enough.

While I am unable to provide you with a specific program in this forum, I can suggest that you stick to your program for years with a Periodized approach. This means no long term layoffs or significant diversions from your training goal.

In terms of specific exercises to gain mass, there aren't any. The stimulus for muscle growth is not within a movement pattern but comes from the intensity of muscle contraction and how many times that intensity is repeated. Having said that, in a general sense it will be more productive to make the core of your weight training exercises be compound or closed chain exercises like squats, dumbbell bench press, seated row and one arm row, overhead press, and lat pull down. Always do core stability exercises and be sure not to make the number one mass building mistake of focusing on "beach muscles" - chest and arms only - it is imperative that your exercise lends its self to correcting and supporting correct posture and biomechanics.

Avoid overdoing it. When you train harder and harder, you ultimately exceed your ability to adapt to training.

The most lean mass a male can build in one year is about 10 pounds so don't expect more than this.

I can share with you personal experience. I'm 6'2" and used to weigh 160 lbs. Moderate weight training brought that up to 170 lbs over about 2 year period. Over the next few years of regular weight training three times per week I gained another 15 pounds of lean mass. In about 1997 after being out of competitive cycling for a while I decided to put on some more muscle mass. I went from 185 to a peak of 197 lbs in about 14 months with 7 pounds being put on in the first 7 months. How did I do it? I'll tell you there was no secret program or diet. I increased my protein intake to 1.8 grams per kg of body mass per day, while also increasing my total calories from carbs. My diet remained at about 60 to 65% carbs 15 - 20% protein, and 20 to 25% fat. I trained weights 3 times per week with once or twice per week training quite hard - mostly 5 sets of 12 reps, although I did go through a phase where I did 10 sets of 10 (German volume training). The 10 sets of 10 gave me a great initial response of strength and strength endurance, but I started to burn out. German volume training is supposed to be used sparingly anyway so I knew the initial gains could not be maintained from the start.

While it felt great to weigh 197 lb and finally have an actual biceps muscle, when I returned to competitive cycling I looked intimidating but totally sucked performance wise. No doubt about it, I had to drop at least 20 lb of muscle in order to even think about being a factor in the peleton - even in the lowest category which is where I started out again.

Now I'm back to 170 lbs and my performance is finally starting to feel like I can put the hammer down. I lost 2 inches off my arms, two inches off my chest, and nearly three inches off my thighs- all muscle - all gone. Now my shirts fit loose again.

If I ever decide to pack on some muscle again it won't be a big deal, I'll simply focus more on mass training and eat more - 12 months later I'll have another 10 pounds or so of muscle - no hassles, no worries.

I don't think I'll be doing that any time soon as I'd like to spend another 5 years or so with serious competitive cycling.

Take it from me, if a guy who's nickname used to be "bonerack" can put on 37 pounds of muscle mass, anyone can! Also consider how unimportant having that extra mass can be; I had to drop most of it to suit my performance needs for the sport of cycling. I'm still as ripped as ever, just a little more.. svelte.

 

- Cris LaBossiere

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This page was last updated on October 30, 2007