Superman’s muscles don’t keep him from crushing a Turkish Get-up
One of the toughest things to do in sports is add appropriate size while maintaining the skills and movement ability necessary to compete at the highest levels in sports. There is a reason why countless athletes have been told not to touch weights because they will make you “muscle bound”.
Enter exercise science and the evolution of the performance enhancement specialist.
Every off-season I sit with athletes and their support systems explaining the benefits and process for which strength and conditioning can provide. Almost always an athlete will say to me “How do I get bigger/jacked/huge fast”.
Through these countless conversations I have worked to develop a plan that takes into account the needs of my athletes, while also catering to their wants. At the end of the day, the best program in the world is only as good as the effort someone will put into it. If the workout is boring or isn’t hitting the wants, we have a disconnect with the results.
Here are my top 4 tips for adding size while improving performance
1 – Make Eating A Second Job
If you are lifting 3 or more days per week and aren’t getting any bigger, you are either trying to lose weight, or aren’t eating enough food. Too often I see athletes who tell me how they have plateaued, then with a simple look at their diets, you can see why.
Proper consumption of food is essential to gaining mass. The analogy that I often give my athletes is: “If we want to build a three story house, but only buy enough materials for one story, it doesn’t matter how hard we work, we’re never getting to three stories”
Cliche as it is to say, the first step in any process for mass gain is appropriate consumption of food.
Eat for your goals.
2 – Assess Your Starting Point
An athlete that weighs 110 lbs and wants to gain 30 lbs in 4 months and has never lifted is a vastly different animal than a 180 lb athlete that wants to do the same thing. Understand where you are starting, figure out your training age or the amount of time you have already spent under the bar. This will dictate exercise selection and appropriate goal setting moving forward.
For performance though, we also need to understand the needs of the sport and the desired athletic improvements. A basketball player interested in gaining weight, who also needs to improve their vertical jump and lateral quickness, is going to attack things differently than a wrestler that is interested in moving up a weight class and wants to improve upper body strength.
Understanding these points is key to getting the proper size added, while increasing the needed performance improvements.
When assessing, always make sure to ask these questions:
– What sport am I looking to perform in?
– What are common needs for my position?
– How long have I lifted?
– How long do I have till I need to perform?
– What are my physical limitations?
– What are my equipment limitations?
Understanding these questions will go a long way to designing a program that promotes mass gain while keeping the focus on the performance results desired.
3 – Don’t Forget To Get Stronger
Not Just Bigger!
The biggest mistake most lifters make is not dedicating enough time to getting stronger. The idea that the body needs time under tension has long been spoken about in regards to improving size. This has lead to lifters spending inordinate amounts of time doing high rep work to improve size.
This works of course, for a little while. Eventually the amount of tension being applied to the body has met the current amount of lean mass’ requirement for building. More simply, your body doesn’t need to grow to handle the work you are doing, it is already capable of supporting that effort level.
From here an athlete has two choices, increase the sets in order to add new muscle, in turn lengthening the workout and decreasing sport specific training time, or increase the weight and cause the body to get stronger.
Sadly, most will choose the more is better option, and progress will be slow and time consuming. Instead, athletes should look to improve the amount of force they can create with their muscles. Improving your strength will increase the potential tension stress that you can induce in future training sessions. We also increase the force output of the athlete, increasing performance in the long term
Here is an example:
Athlete A: 4 Sets of 10 reps at 135 lbs
Athlete B: 4 Sets of 10 reps at 135 lbs
Athlete A: 5 Sets of 10 reps at 135 lbs
Athlete B: 4 Sets of 5 reps at 175 lbs
Athlete A: 6 Sets of 10 reps at 135 lbs
Athlete B: 4 Sets of 10 reps at 160 lbs
Athlete A: 4 Sets of 10 reps at 155 lbs
Athlete B: 4 Sets of 5 reps at 195 lbs
Athlete A: 5 Sets of 10 reps at 155 lbs
Athlete B: 4 Sets of 10 reps at 180 lbs
Athlete A was only interested in more sets and time under tension, while athlete B spent time improving strength. At the end of the program, athlete B was doing significantly more weight than athlete A, while both were doing the same rep range.
Not only will athlete B add more weight to their frame in the long term, there performance will also be greater do to an increased base of strength and thus greater power potential.
4 – Do Less To Build More
12 hours of practice a week
3 hours of individual instruction
5 hours of strength training
3 hours of conditioning
5 hours of self preparation
When we start to look at the amount of time athletes spend training in it’s various forms, we start to understand why some have trouble gaining mass, and it comes back to our first topic: eating.
Eating enough food is a process of understanding the amount of energy expenditure that you are using every day. When we take an athlete that needs 2500 calories a day just to maintain weight, add in 500 calories to gain lean mass we have only figured out half the battle.
Add in the activity energy needs and things start to unravel. For most athletes, spending 20+ hours a week training takes an extraordinary amount of food to combat. When gaining muscle becomes a priority I often am forced to tell my athletes to do more of one thing.
Your overall weekly energy expenditure needs to go down in order to gain mass in the fastest time possible. This isn’t to say I want an athlete to get sloppy and fat, but if we aren’t gaining lean mass and we are eating food to the point of sickness our only option is to decrease activity levels.
If your body is always in a state of flux do to constant training our body will have to not only recover from work, but get through it.
One of my trainers was a lean 132 lbs when he started with me. He did 7+ hours of exercise a week, his workouts were fast paced and high rep. His six pack popped and his muscles were chiseled. He wanted more size though. Training that way made it hard for him to eat enough food. His prescription. Cut down to 3-4 hours a week, no more high effort conditioning and lets spend some time getting strong.
His vertical jump improved, his squat improved, and he is now towing the line around 150 lbs. All within 3 months.
Get Big. Get Better.
If you are trying to get big while trying to play better, we want to remember to keep the goals in mind. Performance is the key, the mass is the driver for performance. If something detracts from the primary goal we need to ditch it and try something else. With these 4 tips in your possession, you now have the knowledge to get bigger and better like never before.