How to Build Muscle and Gain Weight

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

How to Build Muscle and Gain WeightHave questions about how to build muscle and gain weight?

Then I’ve got answers…

Question: Someone walks into your gym with a fairly modest lifting past (a recreational lifter or a little above) and says “I want to start getting bigger, what are three things I should know or do?” You say…

To build muscle and gain weight you have to use big, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, military presses, dips, chin ups, pushups and rows.

You have to train with adequate resistance, meaning 6-10 reps on average and you need to strive to get stronger and do more work over time.

Progressive overload is a key component in making size and strength gains.

No matter how good your workout is you will never gain any appreciable size without adequate muscle building nutrition.

Shoot for about one .6-8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day and 2-3 grams of carbs depending on your bodyfat levels, training age, chronological age and the type of workouts you are doing.

The leaner you are the better your insulin sensitivity and thus the more carbs you can eat.

This is especially true if you are a teenager with a racing metabolism. A 17 year old kid with single digit bodyfat might need three grams of carbs per pound in order to gain weight, whereas a 35 year old might only need 1-1.25 grams.

Anymore than that and he’ll end up fat.

For the older guy, carb cycling is going to be a smarter approach.

The take home point is you gotta eat for size gains.

Question: What about rookie mistakes? Which are the biggest ones to avoid? In other words, DON’T do this stuff!

    • Don’t let your training sessions (minus warm up and cool down time) last more than 45 minutes.
    • Don’t waste your time with machines.
    • Don’t train for strictly for the pump if you are small and weak.
    • Don’t use body part splits.
    • Don’t train to failure on every set.

Question: What about some tips for injury prevention?

    • Always warm up properly by jumping rope or doing some type of callisthenic drills for 5-10 minutes before training. Follow this up with some mobility work and some joint prep stuff as well. This is also known as the dynamic warm up.
    • Don’t just jump right into your heaviest sets but rather work up them gradually by doing 3-5 warm up sets with 40-90% of your starting weight. For example, if you were going to squat 275 for 6 you would want to first do the bar for ten reps, then 95 x 8, 135 x 6, 185 x 3, 225 x 3-5 and maybe even 250 x 1.
    • Always do prehab work for the shoulders, as they are very injury prone. This could include YTWL’s and shoulder dislocations with a broomstick before each upper body session and some work on unstable exercises such as ring dips or Jungle Gym pushups.
    • Always do at least 5-10 minutes of mobility work for the hips and other tight areas of the lower body before squatting or deadlifting.  Static stretching may also be warranted here as well if the lifter is having a difficult time reaching the full squat position.

Question: What are your favorite three exercises that can help people put on size and why?

Squat- Because there is no better exercise to develop the lower body. They involve every muscle group from your sternum down and will build big quads, hamstrings and glutes along with strengthening your abs and spinal erectors.

Clean & Press- There is no more basic movement then bending down and picking something up off the floor. When you pick something up off the floor and put it overhead you’ve got a real winner. This exercise develops the shoulders, traps, upper, mid and lower back, upper chest, grip, triceps, abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings and quads. It’s all encompassing and brutally effective.

I prefer this movement with a log or The Renegade Bar.

Chin Up– This is an exercise we evolved to do (from primates) and should always be part of your program. It builds the lats, biceps, forearms, abs and even the shoulders and pecs. Plus, the ability to do a large number of chin ups is pretty bad ass and a requirement for all men.

If you enjoyed this please do a brother a favor and share it with others who might enjoy it as well.


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26 Responses to How to Build Muscle and Gain Weight

  1. Augusto Teixeira Martins June 27, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Jason, please, “talk” about the rest between the sets (30 seconds? 1 minute? More?) and the velocity (fast, slow) to do a exercise.

    I read about velocity in a past post you wrote, but I would like to know if you have a new opinion about it.


    A hug from Rio, Brazil!

    • Jason Ferruggia October 25, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      @Augusto Teixeira Martins: Rest will be anywhere between 30 seconds and two minutes on most exercises. Sometimes up to three on a squat or deadlift. And always accelerate the load as fast as you can.

      Will- Yes. I will fix that.

      Jason- Yes. Warm up for 10-15 minutes and then hit it hard for 45 minutes. You can get a lot done during that time. The max would be 60 minutes. You can get a ton done in that time frame.

      Steve- It depends on your goals but everyone should get some conditioning in. Ideally you want high intensity stuff on the same days and lower intensity stuff on off days.

      Greg- Not necessarily. Do the best you can and don’t get overly stressed about it.

      Abdiel- Haha.

      Martin- Don’t stress about it. Do the best you can.

      Winston- Get you testosterone levels checked and do what’s needed to bring them up.

      Blake- I don’t like since you’re only hitting everything once per week.

      John- Great results!

      Markku- You could do that.

      John- THat works

      John- Medium grip pushups

  2. Will June 27, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    ‘The pushup is the most highly overrated exercise in existence and believe it or not, most people can’t do it properly.’

    You like it, so don’t you mean most underrated?

  3. Jason June 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I guess I am a still a little old school. I would have a tough time feeling good about a workout that lasted 45 minutes. Some days when I bench I spend close to 30 minutes there alone. The heavier I go the longer it takes.

    I see what you are saying, but can you really get a full body workout don in 45 minutes?

    A full body workout I would do would look something like this
    1. clean/snatch
    2. lower body
    3.a upper body push
    3.b upper body pull
    4. arms
    5. core

    If I throw in some extra assistance work in there I can’t get that done in 30 – 45 minutes.

  4. Steve June 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    What are your views on getting stronger and staying lean (I mean, it is summer and all). What is your conditioning work like? I have experimented with many methods and am just curious. I am currently following 5-3-1 and Wendler is a fan of getting in conditioning whenever you can. Do you feel the same way?

  5. Greg June 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    If the workout (minus warm up and cool down) should be less than 45 minutes, does that mean the entire warm up should be before the workout? I’ve noticed my workouts have been taking longer because I’ve been doing 2-3 warm up sets before each exercise. Is there a way to get all of the warming up done before I start training or should I take it one exercise at a time?

  6. Abdiel Rodriguez June 27, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    My 3 favorite exercises: 1) bench press to the neck with 5-2-3-1 tempo, 2) leg extensions, one set feet turned out, another set feet turned in and the last set feet neutral with assisted reps after failure and 3) a tie between cable for 8 sets of 15 and barbell curls with a lot of lumbar lordosis at the squat rack! Of course I am just kidding ;)

    Great article as always!

  7. Martin June 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    I would agree with Jason, what he said. Cause Jay, im following ur Muscle Gaining Secrets workout routine(for beginners). Even tho, there are 4 exercises per day , i still cant manage some days in 45 minutes, etc. when i got squats and bench press on the same day, they will already cost me 30 minutes(because i gotta make warm-up, to make them properly). So im kinda worried, is it very bad if im going on one hour or a bit more.And when im thinking about the future, if ill take ur another workout(Maximum mass) then there will be more exercises, then how the hell should i manage this in 45 minutes. But thanks for a great post again Jay !

  8. Phillip Schlueter June 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I agree with Jason of “Muscle Building and Fitness Workouts”. When I do my serious core workout I’d have a real hard time doing it in less than 30 minutes. Heck, my conditioning workouts are 45 minutes right there. Sometimes I even do abs stuff between other exercises. Maybe I need better focus and less time to spend in the gym, but I really like my time spent there and it’s my time – no cell and clients to bother me. I set the time aside and it’s ALL mine! My gym is not very busy so I almost never have to wait for a station to open but I usually am in the gym 1 1/2 hours and that’s sweet in my book.

    I’m just coming off of a 545 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles and was consuming somewhere in the 5,000 to 6,000 calorie range a day. Many folks commented on my awesome calves (as they said) and a couple ladies asked to take my picture ’cause they liked my abs :) and at 62 years old that was awesome!! I didn’t gain or lose an ounce and I wanted to gain, I do think my legs grew though on the many quad busting hills!

    Now I’ve enter a contest and the winner will be the one who gains the most muscle in 30 days. Any chance anybody out there has some spare testosterone for this old geezer??

  9. Winston June 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    How can the older bodybuilder( over 50) build muscle and gain weight?

  10. Blake June 27, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Jason, does a 3 day upper push/upper pull/legs split constitute as an overly body part style split for your liking?

  11. Tim Yuhas June 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm #


    I can’t speak for Jason F but I would get rid of the arm stuff. If you are going hard on your UB Push and UB Pull you are getting plenty of arm work. Think compound exercises that give you more bang for your buck and forget the curls and tricep pushdowns. If you do that you should be able to get your strength session done in 40-45 min. I do an explosive exercise (clean, snatch, jump, MB throw etc.) with a Lower Body lift and an upper body push and pull with my clients/athletes and we are always done in 40-45 min. We do our core work right after our warm-ups before our speed or explosive lift of the day. You may also try eliminating the lower body lift on a day you do your cleans/snatch and save it for another day when you maybe just do a MB throw for your explosive movement. I hope that helps.


    • Jason June 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

      @Tim Yuhas:

      Thanks Tim. I am kind of a meathead so to ditch the arm work would kill me. I have done that in the past and the compound exercises are not enough volume for my arms. I need direct arm work or they shrink.

      I have done 4 day splits in the past where I do upper body one day and Olympic and lower body the next day. I do find that spilt is better for time but sill does not allow me to get it done in 30 minutes. If the reps are high and the weight is low I do not need as much of a warm up so things tend to go faster. But the days That I go heavy the warm up sets take me forever.

      But thanks for the suggestions.

      @ Phillip Schlueter – I am right there with you. Love my time in the gym

  12. John Phung June 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Excellent article! Progressive overload (stimulus via resistance training) and adequate recovery (through nutrition/sleep) are necessary if you want to get big and strong.

    Personally, “Starting Strength” followed by the “Texas Method” worked for me.

    November 29, 2010

    Age: 30
    Height: 5’4″
    Body weight: 182.6 lbs
    Squat: 225.5 lbs (3 sets x 5 reps)
    Bench:214.5 lbs (3 sets x 5 reps)
    Military Press: 121 lbs (3 sets x 5 reps)
    Deadlift: 313.5 lbs (1 set x 5 reps)

    June 24, 2011 (note: all 1RM)

    Age: 31
    Height: 5’4″
    Body weight: 195lbs
    Squat: 423.5lbs
    Bench: 319lbs
    Press: 214.5lbs
    Deadlift: 500.5lbs

  13. Isaac June 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Awesome Jason!!!! Solid info. for sure.

  14. Niel Rishoi June 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    For those who say they can’t limit their workouts to 30-45 mins: I used to be a TWO HOUR max workouter, 3-4 times a week. When I read Jason’s book “Muscle Building Secrets” and his recommendation to cut it to no more than 45 minutes, I thought whaddaya kiidin’?? It was a REALLY difficult order to change; the old saw old habits die hard is true. Gradually, though, over much time, I found myself cutting down. Doing set after set is so counterproductive – and not effective. Those 2 hours workouts were DRAINING. I didn’t feel good. Now I can’t imagine going past 30-45 minutes – and I find myself now right at about 35-40 mins. I leave the gym feeling energetic and exhilarated. Even on days where my motivation is low, I look at the clock and wind up having an effective workout. Also, you tend to be brisk and productive when you have a time limit; I don’t dawdle between sets. Never did I think I’d be in the gym LESS THAN 3 HOURS A WEEK. Chest, back shoulders one day, legs and arms at day number two; and that’s my alternation, with 3 full days of rest between. I do arms on leg day because…you’ve exhausted them on upper body day.

  15. Markku June 28, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    How about doing two or more workouts a day? Then you can have shorter workouts.
    I do a short workout of about 20 minutes and a longer one later during the day.

  16. John June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    What about building mass using sandbags and barrels? Is it quick as using barbells and dumbbells? Superb article. Brilliant work.

  17. sam June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I’ve found that squats develop all of the body.
    Nutrition just can’t be overlooked.
    Great article.

  18. Sam June 29, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    I definitely agree with the points you made. It wasn’t until I reduced my workout time from 2 hours down to under 60 minutes that I started seeing better results. Of course it wasn’t a few years in to it that I learned this thanks to the advice of a fellow gym goer. The sad thing is personal trainers at my gym led me on when I was a rookie that more was a good thing. The truth is that sometimes less is better.


  19. Michael July 1, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    I think it’s important to remember that increasing muscle size can be great, but we need to do it with a plan. What do you think of the ideas of say Vince Gironda, who was against squats and deadlifts as potentially ruining the look of a physique?


  20. Codey Paulsen July 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Ive been trying this out in the gym lately. I really like it, but I dont see how to warmup, workout, and stretch in 45 mins. Unless i only do three excercises (lower body, push, pull) Can you give me a little advice on a timeline?
    Also, Im in the army, can you give some advice on getting big while still keeping up on my 2-mile time, and other cardio. Such as: Cardio in the morning, lifting in the afternoon?
    Love your stuff Jason

  21. John July 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Hey everyone!
    Just wanna know, what will stimulate the triceps more? Standing Press or Medium-grip push-up?

  22. Kevin Guzda April 13, 2012 at 8:51 am #


    Not too long ago and in minimalist training, you had stated The 4 day split training three times per week is your all time favorite , programs like upper/lower old school periodization with programs like the 70`s strength and mass set up is what I currently use and the big 4, squat military press, squat and trap bar deads are hit once over 9 days.

    Yet, you told Blake you do not like routines where everything is getting hit once per week. Now I am confused? Should we not do any programs from Minimalist training now?

  23. Steve Truglia March 19, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Great pic of Serge Nubret, truly one of the greatest Bodybuilders ever

  24. Kristiyan March 19, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Jay, your latest articles suck. You write the same thing over and over and over again, we get it, ok?? Big compound lifts, some bodyweight stuff, renegade conditioning, good nutrition blablabla. These are the most important things, but it’s definitely not all of it and you know it pretty well.