The Contrast

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Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ask The Opera Bro 2: Tips for skinny guys trying to get big.

The other day I received a message from a colleague via The Facebook (that's Facebook classic. The original taste of our generation) and I felt like I could share information that would be helpful to all in his similar circumstances.

Here is an abridged version of the message:

"I was wondering if you know of any programs/websites for really skinny guys trying to bulk up, thanks!"

I have some experience being skinny. I was skinny for a short period of time and went about "bulking up" all wrong and ended up getting crazy fat. If you're interested in the story, scroll down to the bottom red warning marker.

Now, if you're a skinny guy, you have either always been skinny, or you became a skinny dude after being overweight and don't have any muscle from having it all sucked away from starving yourself or crazy excessive cardio. I will give you methods to approach if you're from either camp.

The Method/The Formula for Success

Strength Training + High Protein Diet + Moderate Fat + the basic amount of carbs needed to get you to the gym and conquer your workouts every time x Consistency = A bigger, more muscled version of yourself.

NOTE: Putting on size and muscle takes time and work. Real work. Real concentrated hard work consistently over time. You can't just work hard for a week and expect results that will stick. To gain muscle that will stay on your body, you've got to at least commit to two years of solid consistent lifting and eating. If you're looking for a quick fix, you've come to the wrong place. Maybe consider hopping on some form of anabolic steroid, I hear they can help with short cuts. I dunno, I've never used them and my research is limited at best in that area. The following method is only useful if you're wanting to commit some parts of your life to working hard and eating purposefully. 

The Diet:

How much protein should I eat?

Well, for most people trying to gain size, I say eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For skinny guys, that is your basic requirement. For you naturally skinny fellows, you should really try to get 1.5 times your body weight. So, I weigh 200lbs (sometimes), if I ate 1.5 my body weight in grams of protein I would eat 300 grams. Is this overkill? Yes. However, this is what I call a protein insurance policy. You don't need that much protein, but muscle is built through the process of protein synthesis which is primarily achieved with ingested proteins. Carbs and fats will only help facilitate this process by giving you energy to complete your workouts and keep you healthy and your hormones regulated. And in my experience, most people, even skinny guys don't have trouble getting their daily carb and fat goals. The extra, overwhelming amount, of protein will help facilitate and insure protein synthesis is taking place.

Once you've built up your body and can see the progress of the method taking place, you can start seeing what protein numbers are best for you. Meaning: convenience, desire for the foods, and the expense of eating that much protein based foods.

"But Ol' Yeargain, I get plenty of protein! I eat a lot of *insert "high protein" food choice*!

Actually, you probably don't. Are you keeping track of it? Eating a lot of protein takes conscious effort. Trust me, I know. Eat 2 cups of Greek yogurt and cottage cheese on top of a pound of chicken and 8 egg whites every day for a year and you 'll get where I'm coming from. If you're not getting your basic amount of protein required to build muscle, you might as well stay home instead of getting to the gym. You can't just eat things you think have lots of protein in them. You're going to need to count. Either get good with looking at nutritional facts and labels on food, or download myfitnesspal onto your phone or make an account online.


The Naturally Skinny -

If you're a naturally skinny person. Like, you find it impossible to put on any kind of weight at all, fat, muscle (bone?) And, you are constantly eating and can eat absolute (commonly considered) crap foods without any effects to your body composition, AND you can always see your abs, then you're probably safe to do what some call a "Dirty Bulk." That means you get your protein in and then you just gorge on whatever you feel like. Especially after your workout. You probably aren't that hungry, so you may have to reach for liquid nutrition in the form of protein shakes and mass gainers to get those calories in, but the principle is basically "eat way past the point of being full." If you find this to be too much, then you're already dead in the water. If you can't eat the necessary amount of calories to grow, then you won't succeed. Bottom line.

The Rest -

Alright, now for the other types of skinny guys which includes: The skinny fat (skinny limbs, but has a pot belly), the averagely non muscular guy (no abs, but not considered to be fat) or the skinny guy who was once fat (stretch marks and all, just like Ol' Yeargain.)

Most people looking to build size are told by people "you need to eat more!" Which is true, but that doesn't mean gorge on everything in sight, that's a good way to just get fat. Your primary concentration should be getting your protein goals in EVERY DAY! Don't miss a day when you don't get your protein in.

Because you probably have a taste for food and have a fairly decent metabolism, you shouldn't just gorge on whatever. Eat 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight and eat .40 times your body weight number in grams of fat and then the left over calories you have to put you in a surplus should come from carbs.

Allow me to explain with numbers:
If I weigh 180lbs I would consume:
180 grams of protein
180 x .40 = 74grams of fat.

Carbs are your variable. I'd probably start off with 250 grams and then slowly raise it until I was gaining 1/2 to 1 lb a week.

*Fat Warning*

If you're gaining more than 1 pound a week, you're putting on a lot of fat. If you're a drug free (no steroids), every day joe trying to put on size and you're gaining 3 - 5lbs a week, you're gaining lots of fat, water weight, and a little bit of muscle. You can't really gain more than 1/2 a pound of muscle a week, and that's if you're training is effective and your diet is on point. If you don't mind getting a little "fluffy" by all means, eat to your hearts content. It's going to make lifting weights really satisfying because you'll have plenty of food in you for energy, but, if your goals are aesthetic like Ol' Yeargain's, then you're setting yourself up for one hell of a fat loss phase after you've done the damage. Which, if you're well versed in the ways of flexible dieting, doesn't have to be insanely painful, but it requires a big mental switch, and in my experience, it really sucks going back and forth from bulking and cutting, and it develops a really strange, awkward relationship with food and your body image.

Training for all:

The Basic Movements that are going to get you bigger and stronger are:

The Bench Press
The Squat
The Pull Up
The Dip

If you're adventurous/fearless


That's all you need. If you do these 4 exercises for 5 sets of 5, three to four times a week with deadlifts thrown in there once every week, you will get bigger, you will get stronger, and people will notice. You will gain ample amounts of muscle, assuming your diet is on point.

Here is a basic outline of this program:

Squat 5x5
Bench 5x5
Pull Up 5x5
Dips 5x5

Bench 5x5
Squat 5x5
Dips 5x5
Pull Up 5x5

Dips 5x5
Pull Ups 5x5
Squat 5x5
Bench 5x5

5x5’s Explained

5x5 means five sets of five reps. For this to be beneficial you need to use a weight that is heavy enough where you’re only able to get out 5 clean reps. You may need a spotter for the last couple of sets. Start off with a weight that you’re able to complete the exercises easily, then every week, increase the weight by 5lbs. At least every week, if not every day you're in the gym at the beginning of the process.

Start off small:
If you're a skinny guy, you're more than likely not going to be able to throw 135lbs onto the bench press and rock out 5 reps. So, you're going to have to start off, really really small. Maybe as small as the bar alone without reps. And you know what? That's okay. That's awesome. That means for several weeks, you're going to be constantly adding more and more weight to every lift, breaking PR's and having proof in front of you that your methods are working. Don't be proud and put yourself into a situation where you're either gonna hurt yourself or you're gonna stagnate and plateau on the second workout. Start off small and continue to conquer for weeks and months.

Replacement Movements:

Leg Press for Squats:
There is no real replacement for the squat. It is a massive full body compound movement that is going to insure that you will build an incredible physique...however, I know it's hard to do. Trust me, I know it's hard to do. I exist in that life, y'all. Especially for someone just beginning, the squat can be immensely intimidating. If you absolutely cannot do squats, do The Leg Press machine (some of us have fused bones, very bad back health, it's very much a reality.) It will allow you to use a lot of weight and build up some strength and muscle. Not as much as the squat, nothing can replace the squat.

Lat Pull Downs for Pull Ups:
Pull ups are hard. They very are hard. There is no getting around that even being able to do one body weight pull up requires you to be fairly strong. Lat pull downs are not a perfect replacement, but they hit similar muscle groups, and it's a good way to work your way up to being able to do pull ups.

Dumbbells in place of barbells for bench:
I understand there is a big fear that you are going to cut your heads off with a barbell, but it's really overly exaggerated. You should probably have a spotter. Safety first and what not, especially If you're tossing around your body weight over your face. My issue with Dumbbells is that they rarely come in 1/2 lb intervals, so you're forced to jump to that next big weight right away, rather than crawl up.

Other Big Movers:

Some other lifts that you might like more than the options I gave you above are:

Overhead Press

This isn't a perfect replacement for Bench Press, and frankly it's a lot more difficult than the conventional Bench Press. However, there is no better shoulder builder than the overhead press and it does hit your upper chest quite well.

Bent Over Barbell Row

This might be a good replacement for Pull Ups, seeing that it is a very effective back building tool.

Front Squat

I've noticed a great deal of relief from back pain doing this lift instead of the back squat. It also has allowed me to go deeper into the squat and thus stimulate more Quad strength and development, but it also hits my lats a lot less, and therefore is less of a full compound movement. Good for the guy who can't figure out the back squat quite yet.


Additional Work

Feel free to throw in whatever additional exercises you want to each of these workouts. If you're like me, you're a workaholic and like to put in lots of time in the gym. If you really want to do your bicep curls, tricep extensions, and (god forgive me for saying this) leg curls and calf raises *shudder* then by all means, do them. HOWEVER, don't let these movements take over your big primary movers, do them after you've completed your compound movements. Never replace your compound movements with these small muscle group focused accessory lifts, and never put them before. It will only take away from your overall progress. You should always try to apply progressive overload with these lifts as well, but again, not at the expense of your other primary lifts. I cannot repeat this enough. These are accessory movements that are additional work. Remember the primary objective: Get bigger, stronger, and more good lookin. Doing bicep curls and calve raises alone ain't gonna do that.

Alright, that's pretty much all I got. You may look at this and think "That's a lot of work." You bet your ass it is. It's hard work that builds muscle, confidence and mental toughness. If you're looking to change your body as well as your physique, then this will do it. I promise you it will. But, it ain't easy, and it ain't gonna happen overnight. It may be easier for some of you than others, but if you stick to a program like this one, you will develop immense strength and some quality size.

Alright, here is story time if you want it...

Warning: The following is just a long ass story about me. Feel free to enjoy it or say, "Fuck it, I got the information I came for."

Guys, some of you may not know this, but at one point in his life, Ol' Yeargain was skinny!

187lbs. I was a cardio freak. I ran a shit ton, and I practically lived on my bike for an entire Oklahoma summer. Fuckin hot here in the summer. Although, really, I wasn't cut, I wasn't "toned", I was what many people in the fitness industry impolitely call "skinny fat." It basically means you're skinny, you have skinny limbs, but you still have either a pot belly, or you can't see ab definition and you have some love handles. This often happens to people who do a lot of cardio and don't lift weights and are sloppy with their dieting.

For a whole summer, I basically biked or jogged an hour every day, I worked a job waiting tables, so I was on my feet all the time, and I also stopped eating because I had developed heart palpitations from being fat and wanted that to stop, so instead of doing real research and trying to figure out how to be healthier, I just stopped eating as much. I was eating actually a third of what I eat now...maybe a fourth, I don't really remember. I was too scared of food.

However, the magic worked. I lost weight. Probably around 40lbs. Not bad for a fluke.

However, I then thought to myself. Now that I'm skinny, I want to build muscle. So, I started going to the gym...but I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I had no rhym, no reason, no program. I was throwing shit against the wall, and I was still doing shit tons of cardio. Around this time I heard some small rumblings of research and heard that you should eat lots of protein and whole grains in several small meals a day to make yourself gain muscle. 

"Yeah! I thought! I can eat again!"

So, with my engines going full retard at the gym, doing absolutely no real work, and my cardio destroying my shins, and my diet being hilariously awful, I soon crashed out of that routine and came down faster than a hydrogen blimp. 

Cue me gaining a shit ton of weight really quickly. This mostly happened because I'm an idiot and once my heart palpitations went away, I was no longer afraid of eating food. So, I decided to go fulllll retard on a pretty hefty mcdonalds based diet. Their mcdoubles are cheap and delightful.

Combine this with being in a relationship that made me fat and happy, and I developed an awful understanding of nutrition, how to cope with my insecurities and a distaste for physical activity.

Now that I'm looking back on it. It took me 4 or so years to put on that much weight, but it only took me 8 or so months to lose it. Once you have the method, you can literally reverse almost all the bad decisions you've made. However, it was a huge pain in the ass to do so. It was exhausting to change that many behaviors, but I'm a smarter, prettier, much more successful Ol' Yeargain because of it. Fuck it. Life happens.


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