In a society that often glamorizes thinness, it can be hard to imagine that there are some people who want to gain weight. All you have to do is open up a magazine or switch on the TV, and you’ll see ads that exclaim: “Do this and lose thirty pounds!” or “Eat these 3 meals a day and lose all that belly fat!” It seems that every commercial is about losing weight rather than gaining it.
Personally, I never thought gaining weight and muscle would be possible. I grew up always very tall and lanky for my age. As a male varsity swimmer in high school, my slim body helped me in the water, but outside of competition, I always genuinely felt like I was just skin and bones.
The question lingered: “Is gaining healthy weight and muscle even possible for people who are just genetically too thin?” The answer, I have now discovered, is “yes.” Through perseverance, long-term commitment and proper diet, I’ve been able to transform my body and see substantial strength and weight gains.
My Starting Strength Journey
Eight months ago, at six feet tall, I weighed roughly 149 pounds with a body fat percentage of fewer than 6%. I felt like a twig, and I thought that there was no way I would ever be able to change my body type. That’s when I began the Starting Strength program, one of the most recommended programs for beginners. The program focuses on only four different exercises a day, three days a week. That’s all it takes. It’s a common misconception that building strength means going into the gym and blasting your biceps or doing a bunch of ab work to make you bigger.
Just because you train your arms every day does not mean you will get bigger arms. How often do you see someone walking around who has huge ripped arms but the rest of his or her body is tiny? If you want to get bigger arms, you have to build a foundation for it. You’ll need a bigger back, shoulders and chest. Your arms will only grow as the rest of your body grows. The key to gaining muscle mass is to work out your whole body with proper form, sufficient weight and long-term consistency.
One of the most important things to remember from that list is sufficient weight. Never let your ego determine how much weight you’re going to lift. Lifting heavier weights does not mean you will become stronger. The only thing that gets you stronger is lifting weights correctly. The weight on the bar should always be secondary compared to how the exercise is performed.
Too often I see people boast about how they can bench press 225 pounds. They rack up four plates on the bar, grunt a few times making sure everyone is watching them and then proceed to lift the bar up, bring it down roughly and inch or two, and then re-rack the weight. Congratulations, you can successfully re-rack 225 pounds! But you cannot bench press 225 pounds. Those are two completely different things. You will never get stronger and gain weight if you’re trying to impress everyone else in the gym. The only person in the gym you should be comparing yourself to is you.
Never be afraid to unload weight because you don’t want to look like a weakling. The other day, I was doing an exercise and the strongest guy in the gym came up to my training partner and me and asked if he could work in with us. We both looked kind of stunned. “Sure,” I said, “but I don’t think this is going to be enough weight for you.” He looked at us and replied, “It has nothing to do with the weight.” He then proceeded to lift the same amount of weight we were with amazing form and a vicious amount of reps. He smiled, walked away and then let us finish our set.
We were stunned; of course, it was probably just a warm up set for him. But what I learned as I watched this 230-pound beast of a man shoulder press the same weight I was is that he never let his ego get in the way between him and his exercises. He knew that just as long as he was doing proper form, the amount of weight on the bar didn’t matter, as long as he was still pushing his body to its physical limit.
All good things take time
When I started training eight months ago, I had no idea where my journey would take me or what my results would be. Training is hard because people want to see results immediately. We want immediate results, but that’s just not going to happen.
I started lifting three to four times a week with a training partner at my university gym, but what I did outside of the gym was just as important as what I did on the inside. I eat healthy because I don’t like to put preservatives in my body. I try to eat things that will go bad within a few weeks. My motto is “If bacteria won’t eat it, then why should I?” That’s why I stay away from fast food and energy drinks. Fresh produce and meats will give you more energy than any of that stuff ever will.
One of the most important goals to gaining weight is to start eating massive amounts of food. If you’re too thin because of genetics and a fast metabolism, you have to eventually stop making excuses for how you look and take control of it. If you eat 5,000 calories a day, you won’t look thin anymore. It’s that simple. The trick is to slowly start increasing your calorie intake week by week and to stay consistent with your diet. It’s important to consume healthy calories in addition to keeping up with a proper exercise program if you wish to gain healthy weight and muscle.
Building muscle mass isn’t easy, but it’s important to understand that nothing worth working for in life will ever come easy. After eight months of dedicated work and consistent meal prep, I shot up from 149 pounds to more than 180. My clothes fit better, my face feels fuller, my body looks healthier, and I’ve never felt happier. I still consider myself an amateur weight lifter; I have a long journey ahead of me if I want to continue to gain healthy weight and muscle. But the most important part of my journey is that I actually started it. At first I was terrible at it, but being terrible at something is the first step to being somewhat good at something.
If you’re interested in gaining healthy weight and muscle, know that you’re not alone. There are many people like us out there. And, there are people to help, too. Frank Nagle, a personal trainer at ProMedica Wildwood Athletic Club, often deals with clients looking to gain healthy weight. “Some people want to put on more weight because they’re a high school athlete and they know strength gains will help them on the field,” Nagle says. “But we also get people who need to gain strength for their jobs, such as firefighters.”
Nagle helps people gain weight by having them perform compound lifts: “Squats, bench press and dead lifts are the most important exercises to do be doing if you want to put on mass. But it the most important part of it all is good form. Form is the key to building muscle.”
Through long-term work, proper diet and exercise with good form, you can transform your body for the better.
Maxwell Charney is a Marketing Communications major and was an intern at ProMedica in the marketing communications department in spring 2014. He attends Bowling Green State University and enjoys cooking and fly fishing.