Vail Daily column: Survival guide for the skinny guy
There may come a time in a man’s life in which he wants to get rid of the skinny jeans and forget about his abs for a few seasons. In a country that places such a value on physical beauty, even men are now trying to become too skinny and this can often rob a man of his natural stature of brawn and virility. Disclaimer: I earnestly encourage you to accept your body image exactly as you are.
Our society puts unrealistic expectations on how we are supposed to look, and I venomously oppose this attitude. I mean this with the deepest sincerity regardless of age, gender and genetic predispositions. Social physical norms notwithstanding, this article is simply a tool for those men (and women) who feel that for whatever reason they want to gain weight. This article is the first of two that will describe how to become a monster quickly.
Benefits of gaining muscle
A common reason for desiring weight gain among scrawny lifters is often the same for overweight exercisers; insecurity and concerns of declining health because of poor fitness markers, in this case muscle mass and strength. The benefits of gaining muscle weight for the average gym goer are numerous and beyond the scope of this article. Two benefits worth mentioning: Muscle weight can greatly improve self-esteem for the underweight, and it will greatly improve your strength because all else being equal, a larger cross sectional area of muscle produces more force. This is important because force production is the most general of the fitness qualities that carries over to the development of other qualities.
For example, strength increases can improve endurance performance, but endurance training directly hinders force production. If you get stronger, every other fitness quality improves up to a point. Regardless of your need or reasons for wanting to bulk up, here is how to do it.
HOW TO BULK UP
The first priority is to train with heavy weights, for enough repetitions, to cause a necessary systemic stress on your body to invoke an adaptive response to grow larger muscles. What exercises allow for the trainee to use heavy enough weights to increase muscle size? Although I advocate single limb exercises, kettlebells, pushups, bands, TRX, pilates, etc., these tools will rarely, if ever produce enough of a stimulus to gain muscle weight and absolute strength because they don’t allow the whole kinetic system of muscles and bones to use a heavy enough weight to stimulate growth.
The ideal medium for gaining muscle weight is for the trainee to use large, complex motor movements using a weighted barbell. The barbell is ideal because it allows the skeleton to handle the heaviest loads as it can be balanced very easily over the mid foot and allows for very small, precise increment load increases up to over 1,000 pounds. The only exercises needed are the full squat, bench press, deadlift, and standing overhead press. three sets of five repetitions, three days per week. Done. No curls, dips, triceps kickbacks, drop sets, super sets, monster sets, fanny packs, first aid kits or Kool-Aid. Forget everything else. These four basic exercises rule because they use all of the muscles in the body to move the heaviest loads over the largest range of motion causing a seismic homeostatic disruption in the body signaling it to grow. This signaling disruption (lifting the weights) is only the beginning of the process.
HECTIC LIVES MAKE IT HARD
Your body grows bigger and stronger because of the recovery processes that restores the damage you incurred from heavy barbell training. Your muscles grow when you stop fiddling around with everything else. Most underweight people I have met are one of two things: Underweight people often cannot sit still long enough to grow any appreciable muscle mass even when they try to put their best foot forward. They go like the energizer bunny all the time. Or, they go all the time and therefore don’t have time to eat and sleep because of the chaos. All the other small exercises that put icing on the cake are actually detrimental because the skinny trainee is burning so much energy in the first place because of the hectic lives they often live.
Supplemental exercises waste additional energy that should be reserved to repair the damage already sustained from the heavy barbell training. Disrupt the system with heavy weights and get out of the gym! It is imperative to minimize all the other stuff. Additional activity burns calories, and the underweight doesn’t need to burn calories, they need to slow down and recover. Next week’s article will walk through the recovery process and how to eat and sleep for optimal muscle growth.
A closing disclaimer: For what it’s worth, muscle weight or not, gaining mass can be a liability in the mountains because the extra weight and tissue puts a strain on the cardiorespiratory system and requires more strength to move the now heavier body system up and down the mountain. For a lot of the activities that we participate in such as cycling and trail running, optimal weight and building muscle can fight against each other, so tread lightly in your quest for weight gain if you take endurance activities seriously.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.