How to get in shape – 3 styles to consider: Muscle and weight gain

Body builder

Last time, I wrote about the 3 styles people should consider when deciding how to get in shape. This article is part 2 in a 4 part series. In this article, I will be going into greater detail about what it means to completely focus on muscle and weight gain. I will talk about the pros, cons, and what you should focus on instead.

Quick Disclaimer: If this style of getting in shape is your true passion, then that’s awesome. I have nothing against it. I simply believe there’s a much healthier and sustainable way to get and stay in shape.


Research is the first step people typically take when deciding how to get in shape. Whether the internet or magazines are used for research, seeing pictures of huge body builders is inevitable.

It’s easy to see pictures of these people and conclude that’s the ideal physique to shoot for. The reality is that rarely is a physique like that healthy or sustainable. Many body builders put their bodies through an immense amount of strain that can have long-lasting effects.

 The only 2 instances where it makes to focus on muscle and weight gain

There are really only two instances where it’s beneficial to put complete focus on muscle and weight gain.

  1. Training for a sport or competition that requires it.

    Example 1: Football coach tells linemen they need to put on significant muscle and weight to be competitive.
    Example 2: Some variation of a body building competition where size and “bigness” of muscles matter.

  2. Muscle and weight needs to be put on to get healthy. In this case, the person may have been told by a health professional that they’re extremely underweight and are risking permanent damage as a result.

That’s it.

I wish I was the guy to tell you how to safely and effectively accomplish those 2 things. The truth is, I’m not. I’m not that guy partly because I believe there’s not much point in living solely for muscle and weight gain, and partly because I’ve never had a need to.

Risks unique to this style

There’s risks with everything in life. Even if you lock yourself in a padded room so you never get hurt, you run the risk of mental illness. However, focusing completely on muscle and weight gain has a few unique risks to be aware of

The Risks

  • The first and most obvious risk is any performance enhancing supplement that does lasting damage to the body. The pressures of always trying to gain more muscle sometimes pushes people to use supplements that aren’t the best for them long-term.

  • The second risk is the eating aspect of this style. Focusing on muscle and weight gain requires eating a lot of food. There’s no way to avoid that. The risk isn’t eating a lot of food. The risk here is that many people use this as an excuse to eat a lot of bad food. All that bad food does more damage internally than simply adding a few pounds.

  • The last risk is the strain that extra weight puts on the body. The body doesn’t care that the extra weight is muscle. All the body knows is that it’s joints are now experiencing more stress.

What should I focus on instead?

I will be posting an article about this in a week, but the short answer is that you should focus on a mix between muscle gain and weight loss. Complete focus on muscle and weight gain is one extreme. The other extreme is losing weight at all costs, which will be talked about next. Somewhere between those two is where the ideal style of getting in shape is

Stick around for the next article about losing weight at all costs!



How Not to Get Toned

There’s a big problem out there when it comes to “getting toned” that I see quite often and this is my attempt to curb the issue. Getting more toned has just as much if not more to do with your diet than how exactly you’re working out.

Besides, you don’t want to end up looking like this guy in the gym, do you? (ok, maybe you do, but here’s some reasons why you should at least choose a heavier pink weight)

The Problem:

It bothers me when I’m at the gym and I see people doing what seems like endless curls with a 1 pound weight in an effort to get toned muscles. The reasoning goes something like this. “I don’t want to get big bulky muscles and I don’t care about being able to lift a truck but I want to get in shape. Conventional weight lifting wisdom says that to accomplish this I should do more reps and less weight”

The problem is, most people stop there and decide that if more reps and less weight equals getting in shape without being a body builder, then even more reps and even lower weight is better. Thinking like that, you might as well just do cardio. At a certain point you’re better served to increase the weight instead of the amount of reps.

The Science:

First and foremost, getting your diet in check and cutting down on body fat has much more to do with getting more toned than your method of lifting weights.

Outside of your diet though, there are different methods for training for specific things in the gym. The method that gets blown out of proportion in this instance is the last one in the list, training for muscular endurance:

  1. To increase maximal strength, each set should be lower in amount of repetitions but higher in the amount of weight you use. Ideally you should be using 80-90% of what your one repetition max is and doing between 4-8 reps per set. This puts more of the focus on using heavier weights and not on doing more repetitions.
  2. To cause muscles to get bigger (hypertrophy), you should be using a weight that is still fairly heavy but allows you to do 8-12 repetitions per set. This results in a longer lasting set, time wise. The extra time spent on each set gives blood more time to pool up in the muscle being used. The result of the blood pooling up in the muscle is what causes the muscle to get bigger.
  3. To increase the endurance that muscle has, you must focus on sets that last longer so you can build up the stamina your muscle has. The focus is in doing sets that take approximately 75-100 seconds to complete. While making sure to control each rep, each rep should take about 6 seconds. This works out to a set that is between 12-16 repetitions.

According to the American Council on Exercise one of the “objectives of muscular-endurance training is to work the targeted muscles to fatigue in the end range of the anaerobic energy system. For most individuals, this requires an exercise set that continues for about 75-100 seconds. Given a training speed of 6 seconds per repetition, this is a range of 12 to 16 repetitions.”

In a nutshell, this says if you can do more than 16 reps with any given weight, then the weight you’re using is too light and needs to be increased. You‘re better off increasing the weight you‘re using and doing between 12 and 16 reps.

The key here is to make sure that each rep is slow and controlled. Too often, people are using explosive movements by jerking and swinging the weights around. Using explosive movements like that isn’t bad by any means if you‘re doing it purposefully, but it isn’t the most effective when you’re trying to build endurance. Using explosive exercises is another post for another day.

The Solution:

There’s a few major keys here to help make your training work. This is in no way an exhaustive list but certainly will help improve some aspects of your workout.

  1. Know exactly what it is you’re training for. Training for pure strength, bigger muscles, or endurance all need to be approached differently. You’re not going to get good endurance out of your muscles by doing a few heavy reps per set.
  2. Get your diet in check. Diet makes a bigger difference than people like to admit, probably because it’s such a hard thing to change.
  3. If you’re training for endurance, make sure you’re controlling each movement. The rule of thumb for endurance is 6 seconds per rep, so your set takes between 75-100 seconds.
  4. If you’re training for endurance, make sure the weight you’re using is light enough to be able to get at least 12 reps, but not so light that you can do more than 16 reps. If you get to 16 reps and it’s possible that you can do any more, go up to the next weight.
  5. You should never buy these weights for lifting. 

What do you think is the most effective way to train for endurance and a more fit physique?