He's a nice guy. Really, he's the kind of guy you would let watch your house and take care of your dog. He asked me a good question:
"Dan, what's the secret to getting big?"
Ah. That question. I really think (put on your Sarcasm Ears, kids, in case you miss it) this is the very first time the question has ever been asked!!!
The questioner has a great life and a lot going on for him. He's in a desperate pursuit for mass gains but he misses terribly. Oh, he has the powders, the protein bars, and the programs littered all over his apartment and small gym.
So what's he missing? Well, I'm going to tell you the "secrets" in just a moment, but I had to remind him of a couple of things first.
I explained to him how we're all lucky to have made it this far. I'm convinced that each of us ignores the role of just good old-fashioned luck in our survival. If some of the new DNA research is true, there were, at one time, only 600 individuals that would eventually develop into humanity.
The numbers were, and continue to be, against our survival. I can think of many small moments in my life where someone pulled me out of a pool or ocean, or convinced me to do something besides the idiotic thing I was about to do. And, I hate to tell him this, but survival seems to favor the skinny. It's easier to pull you out of the pool when you don't weigh much.
So you're lucky. Most people don't ever acknowledge the amazing number of fragile moments that came together to make you "you." I once confused a rather confused young man with the phrase: "Did your parents ever meet?" He replied: "I think so."
How you approach the rest of your life, your attitude about your future, is one of the keys to lifelong fitness. So, while I applaud the goal of getting "big," take a moment and enjoy your health, your wealth, and the sun rising in the morning.
Having said that, let's help my friend get big.
My buddy could be the 97-pound weakling pictured in the ads for the Charles Atlas course that defined strength for a few generations, but he wants to live life BIG! So, I gave him my Big Five of Getting Big. They're old, dusty, rusty and moldy ideas, but I can bet most guys don't follow them.
1. First, stop with all the plates.
There we were trying to get a workout in and he slaps those 2 1/2 pound plates at the end of the bar for his next set. "What are you doing?," I asked.
"I'm going up."
Not very damn quickly, I can tell you that. If I can make one suggestion that'll do wonders for most guys, it's to stop using 2 1/2s or fives or tens. Just use the bigger plates. My good friend, Pavel Tsatsouline, recently told me that I was wrong about suggesting using 35s as, as he put it, "the math is too hard."
Okay, just use 45s and 25s. Yes, it is going to be harder and heavier and you're going to be nervous sometimes making the big jumps, but once you begin doing this you'll notice that you're becoming bigger and stronger.
Now this may shock you, but it's true:
Strong guys are often big guys.
You may or may not like this advice, but at least try a few workouts without using your calculator and spreadsheets and move some iron. It may shock you.
2. Eat some damn food!
There are two issues here. First, I always remember a quote I heard during a weightlifting workshop: "Never have there been so many gathered together to discuss lifting and so few that looked like they ever had lifted weights!"
But they must have been legitimate weight lifters! After all, I kept hearing the snap and crackle of protein bar wrappers being torn apart every two hours.
You see, these guys ate every two hours on extremely rigid schedules but never actually looked like they ate anything! Was it too little nutrition or did they need to eat at one hour and fifty-eight minutes? I have no idea, but it was fun to watch them eat twenty dollars a day in bars and then, later that night, not spend any money at the bars!
This generation saddens me, I must say.
My second point on food is simple. The following is from my upcoming book on gaining size:
Honestly, seriously, you don't know what to do about food? Here is an idea: eat like an adult. Stop eating fast food, stop eating kid's cereal, knock it off with all the sweets and comfort foods whenever your favorite show is not on when you want it on, ease up on the snacking and, don't act like you don't know this, but eat vegetables and fruits more. Really, how difficult is this? Stop with the whining. Stop with the excuses. Act like an adult and stop eating like a television commercial. Grow up.
Here you go: eat food and drink water and, if you take supplements, buy quality stuff. Food should be something that you can imagine where it came from originally. There are no Twinkie Trees. Sorry.
Oh, and that "Twinkie Diet" that's hitting the news about the professor losing 27 pounds? Let me comment: he was eating 1800 calories a day. 1800 calories is called a "snack" to someone who wants to attain "bigness."
3. Start living "big."
You need to sleep big. Seriously, you need to learn to go to bed early, wake up late, lounge around, and take naps. I remember learning that the Cuban National Weightlifting Team slept nine hours a night and took three-hour naps.
Whether this is true or not is not the issue, it supports a point. Later, of course, I found out what taking a "siesta" really meant (knock, knock, wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and maybe that's not a bad idea either.
I'm convinced that for whatever reason the hours of sleep before midnight are "better" than the hours after midnight. Now that I live in a quiet area that gets dark early, I have noticed that it's easy to go to sleep earlier.
Oh, I should note that I don't watch reality television nor do I have an ongoing chat relationship with a really hot girl on the Internet that lives several states away. After dinner, I have a "tipper," read a book, or talk and ease off into the night. Sadly, I now wake up early in the day ready to work and take on the world. I sure do miss waking up crabbing and barking at everyone and needing six pots of coffee.
Big strong guys have a unique ability to sit. They lounge at a high level. They can turn lunch into a marathon. Ease off, Twitchy, and let yourself grow.
4. Technical Mastery.
Most people ignore the fourth principle of getting big. "Technical Mastery" is a key to true life in bigocity. Oh, before I get going, PLEASE don't tell me that you follow this principle because you follow the instructions on the leg extension machine for technical mastery.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to any spa or facility with machines. Here in my complex, we have about five machines with detailed directions on how to adjust the machine to your height, leg length (I'm not kidding), how to grip the handles (when working your legs), how to breathe, and warnings about exertion.
Each machine has a list of about ten things to do before attempting to move.
Compare this to a 600-pound squat. In my prime, I don't remember seeing a checklist near the rack, the platform, or the bench. If you don't take the time to learn to squat correctly, to bench correctly, and to move the big iron correctly, you won't survive to move the big iron correctly. There are dozens of sites, DVDs, books, and resources available for you to learn these lessons. It's then up to you to master the technique.
Listen, this isn't an "Agree to Disagree" issue. It's more like you telling me that you count to ten like this: "1-2-5-3-6-4-7-9-8-10." That's wrong. If you don't have technical mastery, you won't survive moving big weights. Learn it early and then pile on the plates.
5. Rest Periods.
My fifth and final point is something I've been trying to explain for years. It's rest periods. Skinny weak guys are obsessed with rest periods.
Oh, they definitely have value in some workouts. Ten seconds is hell in the Tabata front squat workout. The classic "30/30" workout where you alternate thirty seconds of movement with thirty seconds of rest can be a killer. When I do my "Transformation Program" and map out 1-minute rests between sets of eight, I'm dying by the third set.
Those are all "conditioning" workouts, whatever that means in this day and age. If you want to get big, well, toss all of that out. Seriously. Out.
Years ago I was preparing for a local lifting meet with my good friend Dave Turner, and we'd settled on a last attempt in the Clean and Jerk with 385. Dave's idea was to start with 363, jump to 374, and then take the new personal record on the last attempt.
"Um, Dave," I said, nice as can be, "I'll be the only guy left in the meet then, right?"
Then, let's go to Plan B.
You see, at the time, lifters were given three minutes, if they had to "follow themselves." That meant that I could possibly have to make three maximal lifts in around eight minutes. It just wasn't going to happen. We decided on 308 (to ensure a total), 341 (the original "last warmup"), and 385. I made them. It was still eight minutes, but I could easily recover from the first two loads.
That's what my skinny friend doesn't understand. He thinks that 100% for him is the same as 100% for someone really big and strong. As a young lifter, I could never understand why the Olympians would take weeks off after the event.
As I grew older and stronger, it made more sense. It takes time to recover from the big iron. It might be measured by the calendar, but not by the stopwatch. If you don't understand that yet, you will when you start lifting big.
I have some simple rules yardsticks regarding what I call an Advanced Beginner (males) in the lifting world:
Bodyweight Bench Press
Double Bodyweight Deadlift
You should also be able to clean and front squat your bodyweight, too.
Folks, that's a pretty low level of strength. Although you "could" play high school football at this level, I'd still suggest you keep coming back to the weightroom.
You can time all the rest periods you want with your timer, your calculator, and your application that you got off the web, but until you get to at least the Advanced Beginner stage, you have to worry more about weight on the bar then rest periods.
Skinny guys do "forced reps" with 135. They also do that workout where they strip 10s off the sides of the bar and keep repping out.
Listen, add more plates. Rest more. Grow. Get stronger.
For the record, I got an email a few days ago that my young skinny friend had put on a lot of bodyweight in a few weeks by "eating everything in sight" and lifting heavier.
And, yes, it can be that simple.