Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body

My personal notes on the book Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body.

The 7 biggest muscle-building myths and mistakes

  • More is not always better in weightlifting. Many popular bodybuilder routines result in overtraining for a natural weightlifter.
  • As a natural weightlifter, you must emphasize heavy, compound weightlifting if you want to maximize your results. High-rep routines that emphasize isolation exercises are extremely ineffective in the long run.
  • Getting a huge pump doesn’t stimulate nearly as much muscle growth as you might think.
  • You don’t have to constantly change up your exercise routine to make gains. Instead, you want to progressively increase your strength on key compound lifts.
  • If you want to build an impressive physique, you’re going to have to work hard in the gym. Easy workouts don’t do much.
  • If you chronically undereat, you won’t grow any muscle to speak of. If you chronically overeat, you will build muscle but will gain too much body fat.

The three scientific laws of muscle growth

  • Progressive overload is the primary driver of muscle growth, not fatigue or pump.
  • Working primarily with 80 to 85 percent of your 1RM optimizes strength gains and muscle growth.
  • Recovery time is just as important as training time, and studies have shown it takes the body two to seven days to fully repair muscles subjected to weight training.

The 5 biggest fat loss myths and mistakes

  • The principle of energy balance underlies all weight loss and gain. The types of foods you eat have little to do with losing or gaining weight.
  • What you eat does matter in terms of body composition, however. If you want to lose fat and not muscle, a calorie isn’t a calorie.
  • Your body flips between “fed” and “fasted” states every day, storing fat from food you eat and then burning it once there’s nothing left to use from the meals.
  • If you store just as much fat as you burn every day, your weight stays the same. If you store more fat than you burn (by overeating), you get fatter. And if you burn more fat than you store, you get leaner.
  • Doing a bunch of cardio isn’t enough to get lean. You simply can’t outexercise a poor diet.
  • The best diet is the one you can follow. This is why a flexible approach to dieting is the only one that works in the long run.
  • The key to preserving strength and thereby muscle while losing weight is to lift heavy weights.
  • Training the muscles of a certain area of your body burns calories and can result in muscle growth, both of which certainly can aid in fat loss, but it doesn’t directly burn the fat covering them to any significant degree.

The 4 scientific laws of healthy fat loss

  • When you restrict your calories for fat-loss purposes, your body reduces its total fat stores to stay alive, but it also slows down its basal metabolic rate to conserve energy.
  • A calorie is not a calorie when it comes to optimizing body composition. If you want your weight-loss regimen to be maximally effective, you want to eat enough protein and carbohydrate so as to preserve muscle and performance capacity and enough dietary fat so as to maintain general health.
  • Increasing or decreasing meal frequency doesn’t help or hinder weight loss or muscle growth. Eat on a schedule that works best for you.
  • Eating at night doesn’t help or hinder weight loss or muscle growth.
  • Eating a slow-digesting protein like egg or casein (either from a powder or from a whole-food source like low-fat cottage cheese) 30 minutes before going to bed improves muscle recovery.
  • The addition of resistance training to a calorie deficit preserves muscle and BMR, and it provides a substantial “afterburn” effect.
  • The addition of cardiovascular training burns more energy and thus more fat.

How to become your own master: the simple science of willpower and self-control

  • What about those with higher levels of willpower? Well, they do better in school, earn more money, make better leaders, and are happier, healthier, and less stressed. They have better social and romantic relationships (they can keep their mouths shut), and they even live longer.
  • Your excuse for skipping the gym… again… is remarkably similar to the foodie’s justification for bingeing… for the third day in a row. How you talk yourself into putting off that important work just one more day is how someone else eases the guilt of giving in to his cravings for a cigarette.


  • Most people think of willpower as the ability to say, “I won’t,” but there are two other aspects to it as well.
  • “I will” power is the other side of the “I won’t” coin. It’s the ability to do something when you don’t want to, like grinding out the workout when you’re tired, paying the overdue bill, or burning the midnight oil on that work project.
  • “I want” is the ability to remember the “why” when temptation strikes—the long-term goal and thing you really want more than the fast food or credit card purchase.


  • Once you become aware of an opportunity to score a reward, your brain squirts out dopamine to tell you that this indeed is the droid you’re looking for. It plays up the sweet song of immediate gratification and plays down any chatter about long-term consequences.
  • When dopamine is released, it also triggers the release of stress hormones that make us feel anxious. This is why the more we think about the reward we want, the more important it becomes to us. The more we think we have to get it now.
  • Ironically, the ultimate rewards we’re looking for can elude us every time, but the slimmest possibility of payoff and the anxiety of giving up the quest can keep us hooked, even to the point of obsession.
  • Research shows that the dopamine release triggered by one promise of reward makes us more likely to pursue others. Look at pictures of naked women, and you’re more likely to make risky financial decisions. Dream about striking it rich, and food can become really appetizing.
  • If we’re to succeed in this new world, we must learn to distinguish between the false, distracting, and addicting “rewards” we’re enticed with every day, everywhere we go, and the real rewards that give us true fulfillment and that bring meaning to our lives.


  • Self-control is for relaxing the muscles, slowing the heart rate, elongating the breaths, and buying some time to think about what we really want to do next, whereas fight or flight is for speeding us up to react as quickly as possible.
  • Research has conclusively proven that nothing undermines willpower like stress—and not just the stress we feel when our brains are bathed in dopamine, but the stress of everyday living. The more stress we feel, the more likely we are to overeat, overspend, and do the many other things we regret shortly thereafter.
  • Anything that causes stress, whether mental or physical, drains our “reserve” of willpower and reduces our capacity for self-control. Thus, as a corollary, anything we can do to reduce stress in our lives and improve mood—both acutely and chronically—improves our self-control.
  • An effective way to recover from the stresses of the “daily grind” is to simply relax. If you want to see this in action, the next time you face a willpower challenge, deliberately slow your breathing down to about 10 to 15 seconds per breath, or four to six breaths per minute.
  • Research has shown that there are various ways to enter this state of relaxation, such as going for a walk outside, reading, drinking a cup of tea, listening to soothing music, doing yoga, lying down and focusing on breathing and relaxing your muscles, and even gardening.
  • If you sleep too little, too regularly, you’ll find yourself more susceptible to stress and temptation and lacking the “energy reserve” needed to keep your good habits in play and your bad habits in check.
  • Research has shown that exposing yourself to a constant barrage of bad news, scare tactics, and morbid reminders of our mortality increases the likelihood of overeating, overspending, and other willpower failures.
  • Research shows that regular exercise reduces cravings for both food and drugs, increases heart rate variability, makes us more resistant to stress and depression, and even optimizes overall brain function.


  • When we think about rewards, the longer we have to wait, the less desirable they become. Psychologists call this “delay discounting,” and the more someone engages in this behavior, the worse his self-control is and the more likely he is to behave impulsively and even have problems with addiction.
  • When you face a willpower challenge, if you think about the future reward first and how giving in now sacrifices progress toward some part of it, research shows that you’ll be less likely to discount the future and indulge.


  • Extensive psychological and marketing research has shown that what others do—and even what we think they do—has a marked effect on our choices and behaviors, especially when the people we’re observing are close to us.
  • When we’re not sure how to think or act, we tend to look at how other people think and act and follow along, even if subconsciously. We can pick up anything from temporary solutions to long-term habits this way, and people we know and even people we see in movies can influence us.
  • Research has demonstrated the contagious nature of habits and mindsets with many other behaviors, including drinking, smoking, using drugs, not getting enough sleep, and even feeling lonely and depressed.
  • Good behaviors and moods are contagious as well. If we hang around or even think about people who are generally goal-driven and happy with high levels of self-control, we too can “catch” these traits.
  • If you’re struggling with sticking to your diet or exercise routine, you can make it easier on yourself by joining forces with someone else who is on the same path and thinking about how others have successfully dealt with these issues.
  • Research shows that reflecting on your goals and how you might be tempted to go astray will strengthen your will and help you turn away from immediate gratification when necessary.


  • You see, when we assign moral values to our actions, they become fodder for our desire to simply feel good (enough) about ourselves, even when we are sabotaging our long-term goals or harming others. By being “good,” we reckon, we “earn” the “right” to be a little (or a lot) “bad.”
  • If we wander through life chasing “good feelings,” we’ll figure out plenty of ways to not feel bad about every “little” bout of procrastination, overeating, overspending, and what have you, and one day we’ll wonder why the hell we’re so fat, broke, lazy, and ignorant.
  • Escaping from this trap requires that we first stop moralizing our behaviors—that we stop using vague feelings of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” to guide our immediate actions. Instead, we need to remember why we’ve committed to doing the “hard” things, like exercising, following a budget, working overtime, and so on.
  • Whenever you’re struggling with a willpower challenge, review your whys.


  • Whenever people confront a setback and say to themselves, “I’ve already messed it up, so what the hell, I might as well have some fun,” they’ve committed themselves to the downward spiral of the what-the-hell effect.
  • What we definitely don’t want to do is get really down on ourselves when we do mess up. The tougher, stricter, and more abusive we get with ourselves, the worse we are in the end.
  • Instead, we should show ourselves the same compassion and forgiveness that we would show a friend. Several studies show that being kind to oneself in times of stress and failure is associated with better willpower and self-control.
  • Research shows that imagining how proud you will be once you’ve accomplished your goals, who you’ll tell, and what their reactions will be can increase your willpower and make you more likely to do what it takes to make those goals a reality.
  • Anticipating the shame and disapproval from others that comes with failure can also help you stay strong in the face of temptation, but it isn’t as powerful in this regard as pride.


  • One of our favorite ways to abandon our self-control is to justify our sins of the present with planned virtues of the future.
  • We’re too quick to assume that we’ll be more enthusiastic, energetic, willful, diligent, motivated, brave, morally strong… insert virtues ad nauseam… in a couple of days, weeks, or months.
  • Research shows that just thinking about the future—not even the rewards, per se—can strengthen willpower. For example, if you’re struggling with starting a diet, just imagining shopping and eating differently is enough to make it more “real” and appealing.
  • Another exercise is writing a letter to your Future Self about what you think he’ll be like, what your hopes for him are, what you’re doing for him now that will pay off later, what he might say about your Present Self, and even what the consequences of your present willpower failures will turn into down the line.
  • The final exercise is similar to the others and entails imagining your Future Self in vivid detail, which has been shown to increase self-control.


  • Research shows that a willingness to think thoughts and feel feelings without having to act on them is an effective method of dealing with a wide variety of challenges, such as mood disorders, food cravings, and addiction.
  • Trying to suppress negative thoughts and feelings, like self-criticism, worries, sadness, or cravings, can lead to greater feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, and even overeating.
  • When cravings hit, instead of trying to distract or argue with yourself, notice and accept the feelings. Realize that while you might not always be able to control where your mind wanders, you can always control your actions.
  • A simple rule of thumb for putting this into use is to wait 10 minutes before acting on a craving or other impulsive urge to do something you know you shouldn’t.


  • Research shows that people who simply don’t believe that using self-control results in mental fatigue or a weakening of the “willpower muscle” don’t experience the same gradual deterioration in the strength of their willpower seen in those who do.
  • The next time you feel “too tired” to say, “I will” or “I won’t,” toughen up and push past it. Challenge yourself to go beyond that point, into discomfort, and you’ll likely find you can without consequences.


  • Research shows that we can, at some point, “run out” of self-control juice, leaving us susceptible to temptation. Resisting sweets, fighting emotional impulses, keeping distractions at bay, compelling ourselves to do difficult tasks, or even making trivial purchase decisions all seem to pull from the same willpower reserve.
  • We can increase our overall willpower by performing regular, small acts of self-control, like eating fewer sweets, tracking spending, correcting our posture, refraining from swearing, squeezing a handgrip every day, and using our nondominant hand for various tasks.
  • Another highly effective way to train your willpower is to use a strategy called “precommitment,” which entails taking action now to strengthen your position and commitment to a behavior and ward off any underhanded attempts at sabotage from Future You.


  • Research has shown that some people use progress toward a goal as an excuse to let off the gas and indulge in some self-sabotage.
  • Instead of patting ourselves on the back and pondering all the progress we’ve made, which increases the likelihood that we will act contrary to it, we should view our successes as evidence of how important our goals are to us, or of how committed we are to see the process through to the end.

The simple way to set health and fitness goals that will motivate you

  • Building a killer physique is not a matter of jumping on the bandwagon of some new fad workout program for a few months—it’s a matter of adopting a disciplined, orderly approach to how you handle your body.
  • Anyone who has the type of body that you aspire to has specific, realistic health and fitness goals and is driven by them, progressing slowly but surely every day.
  • The first step of establishing your goals is to determine what your ideal body would look like. Find pictures of exactly what you want to look like and save them for future reference.
  • Work out a health goal that you find motivating as well.
  • What are the reasons for achieving those goals? You know you’ve got it right when you feel pumped up—when you want to get into action and start making these things a reality.
  • Keep your write-up in a safe place and refer back to it regularly. It’s a great way to stay excited and on track

Going beyoind clean eating

  • The nutritional aspect of fitness is incredibly powerful, and it either works for or against you, multiplying or dividing your results.
  • Proper nutrition boils down to supplying your body with the nutrients needed to efficiently recover from your workouts and manipulating energy intake to lose, maintain, or gain weight as desired.


  • Regardless of the sources foodwise, 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories as well, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.
  • Many factors determine the total amount of energy that your body burns every day, such as body size, total lean mass, body temperature, the thermic effect of foods (the amount of energy it “costs” to process food for use and storage), stimulants such as caffeine, and the level of physical activity.


  • A high-protein diet is absolutely vital for building muscle and preserving it when you’re dieting for fat loss.
  • Regular exercise, and weightlifting in particular, increases your body’s need for essential amino acids and thus protein.
  • Your best choices are meat, dairy products, and eggs, and second to those are certain plant sources like legumes and nuts, and high-protein vegetables like peas, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Protein from meat is particularly helpful when you’re weightlifting, as research has demonstrated that eating meat increases testosterone levels and is more effective for building muscle than vegetarian sources.
  • If you’re vegetarian, while it’s true that you would do better if you ate meat, don’t despair—you can still do well on the program, so long as you eat enough protein every day and stick to high-quality sources.
  • It’s hard to put an accurate cap on how much protein your body can absorb in one meal. It’s definitely a hell of a lot more than the 20 to 30 grams that some people claim.
  • Eating protein more frequently is likely superior to less frequently; each protein feeding should contain at least 30 to 40 grams of protein, and feedings can contain quite a bit more protein if necessary to hit daily targets.
  • Whey protein can be taken anytime, but it’s particularly effective as a post-workout source of protein because it’s rapidly digested, which causes a dramatic spike in amino acids in the blood (especially in leucine).


  • Carbohydrates (in all forms) aren’t stored as body fat as efficiently as dietary fats are.
  • Carbohydrates play an essential role in not only muscle growth but also in overall body function.
  • Monosaccharides are often called simple carbohydrates, because they have a simple structure.
  • Oligosaccharides are molecules that contain several monosaccharides linked together in chain-like structures.
  • Polysaccharides are long chains of monosaccharides, usually containing 10 or more monosaccharide units.
  • All forms of carbohydrate we eat are either metabolized into glucose or are left indigested, serving as dietary fiber.
  • High, long-term intake of simple carbohydrates (disaccharides like sucrose and HFCS) has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Overweight, sedentary bodies don’t deal with simple sugars nearly as well as lean, physically active ones do.
  • If you exercise regularly and aren’t overweight, your body can likely deal with simple carbohydrates just fine.
  • Eating a lot of foods with added sugars can reduce the amount of micronutrients your body gets and thus cause deficiencies.
  • The glycemic index (GI) is a numeric system of ranking how quickly carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body. A GI rating of 55 and under is considered “low GI,” 56 to 69 is medium, and 70 and above is high on the index.
  • Get the majority of your daily carbohydrates from nutritious, unprocessed foods, which will incidentally be lower on the GI, but don’t be afraid to include a few higher-GI foods that you like.
  • Insulin tells the body to stop burning its fat stores and instead absorb some of the fatty acids and glucose in the blood and turn them into more body fat… but that’s not what causes you to get fatter over time—overeating does.
  • When protein intake is high and matched among low-carb and high-carb dieters, there is no significant difference in weight loss.
  • When insulin levels are elevated, the rate at which muscle proteins are broken down decreases. This, in turn, creates a more anabolic environment in which muscles can grow larger more quickly.


  • Dietary fat is the densest energy source available to your body, with each gram of fat containing over twice the calories of a gram of carbohydrate or protein.
  • Healthy fats, such as those found in meat, dairy, olive oil, avocados, and various seeds and nuts, help your body absorb the other nutrients that you give it, nourish the nervous system, help maintain cell structures, regulate hormone levels, and more.
  • While we now know that saturated fat isn’t the danger we once thought it was, we don’t quite know what the optimal daily intake should be either. The most recent report of dietary guidelines published by the USDA (2010) maintains the 2002 recommendation that we get less than 10 percent of our daily calories from saturated fat.
  • Research has associated trans fat intake with a variety of health problems: heart disease, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, female infertility, diabetes, and more.
  • The best way to avoid trans fats is to shun the types of foods that commonly contain them, regardless of what the Nutrition Facts label says. WATER
  • When your body is dehydrated, just about every physiological process is negatively affected.
  • The National Academy of Medicine reported in 2004 that women should consume about 91 ounces of water—or three-quarters of a gallon—per day, and men should consume about 125 ounces per day (a gallon is 128 ounces).
  • Make sure the water you drink every day is filtered and not straight from the tap.


  • Your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to perform the millions of physiological processes that keep you alive and well.
  • Ideally, we’d get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we eat, but this is easier said than done.
  • Get the majority of your calories from nutrient-dense foods.
  • The National Academy of Medicine recommends 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day as the adequate intake level for most adults and an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams per day. A teaspoon of table salt contains a whopping 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
  • According to the National Academy of Medicine, we should be consuming sodium and potassium at about a 1:2 ratio, with 4,700 milligrams per day as the adequate intake of potassium for adults.


  • The evidence is pretty clear: eat enough fiber and you’re more likely to live a long, healthy life.
  • According to the National Academy of Medicine, children and adults should consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food eaten.
  • Only insoluble fiber can’t be processed by your body and goes right through you. Soluble fiber turns into a fatty acid in the gut and contains somewhere between 2 to 4 calories per gram.
  • Play it safe with food products that promote “net,” “active,” or “impact” carbs and just count all the carbs listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

How to maximize your gains with pre- and post-workout nutrition

  • Eating protein before working out, and especially a quickly digested protein high in leucine like whey, can help you build more muscle over time. I recommend 30 to 40 grams of protein 30 minutes before training.
  • Eating carbohydrate before working out, and especially a quickly digested form, will improve your performance. I recommend 40 to 50 grams of carbs 30 minutes before training.
  • Eating dietary fat before working out provides no benefits.
  • The goals of post-workout nutrition are minimizing post-workout muscle breakdown and maximizing protein synthesis. And similar to pre-workout nutrition, you achieve these effects by eating protein and carbohydrate after training.
  • Eating protein after working out, and especially a quickly digested protein high in leucine, like whey, can help you build more muscle over time. I recommend eating at least 30 to 40 grams of protein in your post-workout meal.
  • Eating carbohydrate after working out, and especially a quickly digested form, raises insulin levels faster and keeps them elevated longer, which in turn keeps muscle breakdown rates low. I recommend 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight in your post-workout meal, which you should eat immediately after exercise.
  • Research also shows that eating about half of the 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram amount two hours later can help further replenish glycogen stores, but this is optional as the effects aren’t nearly as pronounced as the initial post-workout meal.
  • It’s smart to have some protein before a cardio workout to counteract any potential muscle loss. Post-workout protein or carbs would only be needed if the cardio were particularly long and intense (longer than one hour, with a fair amount of sprinting).

Build the body you want eating the foods you love: The Bigger Leaner Stronger “Diet”

  • Cutting is “fitness speak” for feeding your body less energy than it burns every day to maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss. Generally speaking, you can’t build muscle when you’re cutting.
  • Bulking refers to feeding your body slightly more energy than it burns every day to maximize muscle growth. You also gain body fat while bulking.
  • Maintaining refers to feeding your body the energy it burns every day, which enables you to make slow muscle gains without adding any fat.
  • Restricting calories hinders your body’s ability to build muscle, and eating a slight surplus of calories maximizes it.
  • The only people who can effectively (and naturally) build muscle and lose fat simultaneously are newbies, who have a fair amount of fat to lose and people who used to be in great shape and are now getting back at it (“muscle memory” allows you to rapidly regain muscle you once had).
  • I recommend that you juggle your cuts and bulks to remain in the 10 to 17 percent body fat range until you reach a point where you’re absolutely satisfied with your overall size at 10 percent, and then cut below this point.


  • You’re looking to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week when cutting, and if that sounds low to you, remember that rapid weight loss is undesirable, as it means you’re losing a fair amount of muscle as well as fat.
  • If you have quite a bit of fat to lose, you might find you lose more than 2 to 3 pounds per week for the first few weeks, and that’s fine. As time goes on, though, you should see it slow down to a rate of 0.5 to 1 pound lost per week.
  • During your first week or two of cutting, you can expect to be a little hungry at times and to run into some cravings. This doesn’t mean that you’re losing muscle or that anything else is wrong.
  • When I’m cutting, I try to be within 50 calories of my daily target. Some days I’m a little higher and some a little lower, but I don’t have any major swings in my intake.
  • Generally speaking, if your weight is going up on a cut, you’re eating too much or moving too little.
  • Your waist measurement (at the navel) shrinking is a reliable sign that you’re losing fat, so if your jeans feel looser, that’s a good sign.
  • Although it can be tough to observe changes in your body when you see it every day, you should definitely notice a visual difference after several weeks of cutting. You should look leaner and less puffy.
  • We all have high- and low-energy days, but if you’re having more lows than usual, then chances are you’re not eating enough or are relying on too many high-glycemic carbohydrates.
  • If your strength drops considerably, chances are you’re undereating and need to increase your food intake.
  • If your heart is beating quickly at night and you’re anxious, tossing and turning in bed, and if you wake up more often at night, you might be overtraining, or undereating.
  • The best way to avoid hidden calories is to prepare your food yourself so you know exactly what went into it.
  • If your weight has remained the same for seven to ten days, and you haven’t gotten any leaner, and you’ve stuck 100 percent to your numbers, you simply need to move more or reduce your calorie intake.
  • You don’t want to reduce intake below your BMR, as this can cause too much metabolic slowdown.


  • As you know, if you’re in the 10 to 12 percent body fat range and looking to put on muscle as quickly as possible, you want to bulk.
  • Based on my experience working with thousands of people, the average guy on a proper bulk will gain muscle and body fat at a ratio of about 1:1 (1 pound of fat gained for every pound of muscle).
  • In terms of weight gain while bulking, you want to see your weight going up at a rate of 0.5 to 1 pound per week. Any more than that, and you’ll be gaining too much fat. If you’re new to weightlifting, however, then you’ll probably gain 2 to 3 pounds per week for the first few weeks, while your muscles fill up with water and glycogen.
  • When you have your bulk dialed in, you should be increasing reps on your major lifts every week and weight on the bar every three to four weeks. You can also expect to hold more water than normal, as you will eat a substantial amount of carbohydrate every day.
  • When I’m bulking, I try to be within 100 calories of my daily target, and I err on the high side (it’s better to be over your target than under).
  • Don’t think of a bulk as a license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want it. As you know, this will result in rapid fat storage, which will slow down your gains in the long run.
  • You can have a cheat meal every week, but keep it moderate. Remember that a high-protein, high-carbohydrate cheat meal is preferable to a high-fat one.
  • I recommend eating plenty of meat while bulking, because it’s particularly effective for building muscle. Generally speaking, I eat two servings of meat per day (lunch and dinner) and alternate between various types, such as ground turkey, chicken, lean beef, and fish.
  • You can reduce your calories to a maintenance level on your rest days if you want, or you can stick to your bulking numbers.
  • If, after seven to ten days, your weight hasn’t gone up, despite pushing yourself hard in your workouts, you’re just not eating enough. Increase your daily intake by 100 calories (by adding more carbs, preferably) and reassess over the next seven to ten days. If this doesn’t result in weight gain, increase again, and repeat the process until you’re gaining weight at a rate of about 0.5 to 1 pound per week.


  • You should be bulking and cutting until you’re happy with your size and overall development, and then you can use a maintenance diet to stay lean.
  • Generally speaking, I like to see 0.25 to 0.5 pounds gained per month when maintaining, depending on how lean I’m trying to stay.
  • You can still cheat once per week when maintaining so long as you don’t go overboard. If you do, I recommend that you reduce intake to a cutting level the next day or two to lose the little bit of fat you’ll have gained.


  • I recommend sticking to nutritious foods, but beyond that, there are no rules besides hit your numbers every day.
  • Get at least 80 percent of your daily calories from healthy (micronutrient-dense) foods that you like.
  • So long as the vast majority of your daily calories come from healthy foods full of micronutrients, feel free to include some treats if you so desire.
  • Eat as many or few meals per day as you’d like, although I recommend eating every three to four hours, as you’ll probably find this most enjoyable.


  • Eating protein more frequently is likely superior to less frequently, and each protein feeding should contain at least 30 to 40 grams of protein.
  • Eat 30 to 40 grams of protein and about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrate 30 minutes before training.
  • Eat 30 to 40 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight after your weightlifting workout.
  • Consider eating 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight two hours after your weightlifting workout.
  • I like to make my meal plans in a spreadsheet, and I use formulas to calculate the “CALS” and “TOTALS” automatically, so I can easily see how things are looking as I play with the various foods and meals.
  • Once you have your pre- and post-workout nutrition in place, you have free rein to “spend” your macronutrients however you please.
  • Don’t forget to account for the calories in any supplements you take.


  • If you follow a strict diet and exercise program, you can expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. And if you get too crazy with your cheating, you can gain it right back (and more!) over a weekend. And if you’re bulking, you can gain double the fat you normally would have that week.
  • I want you to think in cheat meals, not days. No sensible diet should include entire days of overeating, but a single bout of moderate overeating every week is advisable when you’re dieting to lose weight.
  • A good cheat meal is a high-protein, high-carbohydrate, low-fat, and alcohol-free meal that doesn’t put you in a large calorie surplus for the day.


  • The net effect of a refeed is that you feel better both physically and psychologically, you’re much less likely to give in to temptations and set yourself back, and you can even experience a nice acceleration of fat loss over the following three to five days.
  • I recommend that you plan your refeed on a day that’s followed by a training day. Many guys plan it for the day before they train their lagging muscle group(s), because the boost in carbs results in higher energy in the gym.
  • The refeed requires self-control. If you abuse these controlled bouts of overfeeding, then you will simply gain too much fat as a result to make them effective weight-loss aids.

The Bigger Leaner Stronger training philosophy


  • While a small number of machines are worth using, such as the leg press machine or cable setup, the vast majority are inferior to dumbbell and barbell exercises in terms of producing bigger, stronger muscles.
  • The average guy needs to build a strong overall foundation of strength and muscle, and there’s only one way to do that naturally: you have to do a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting.
  • To achieve maximum overload and muscle stimulation, you will train one or two muscle groups per workout (per day).
  • You’re going to be working in the four- to six-rep range for nearly all exercises.
  • The workouts on this program will call for 9 to 12 heavy (or working) sets per workout.
  • Due to the amount of weight you’re using in Bigger Leaner Stronger workouts, you should rest for three to four minutes in between your working sets.
  • You should be able to finish every Bigger Leaner Stronger workout in 60 to 65 minutes.
  • Between each of its eight-week phases, the Bigger Leaner Stronger program includes a choice between what is known as a deload week and several days, or even an entire week, off the weights.
  • I recommend that you start with deload weeks, but if you don’t feel reinvigorated by the end of them and physically and mentally ready to hit the heavy weights again, then I recommend that you try no training whatsoever for at least four to five days before getting back to it.
  • The Bigger Leaner Stronger program has a simple method of progression: once you hit six reps for one set, you add weight for your next set. The standard increase is a total of 10 pounds: 5 pounds added to either side of the barbell or a 5-pound increase in each dumbbell.
  • So long as you keep hitting the weights hard, your muscles will grow, and as your muscles grow, you’ll get more and more of a pump from heavy lifting.
  • The rep timing I recommend is either the “2–1–2” or “2–1–1” timing. This means the first part of the rep should take about two seconds, which is followed by a one-second (or shorter) pause, which is followed by the final portion of the rep, which should take between one and two seconds.
  • Training heavy is especially important when you’re cutting because the name of the game is muscle preservation, and you need to keep overloading the muscles to accomplish this.
  • A high-intensity workout is one where you feel like you didn’t leave anything in the tank. You didn’t settle for a lighter weight when you felt you could’ve gone up. Your mind wasn’t wandering elsewhere while you were lifting. You weren’t just robotically going through the motions—you were consciously, but calmly, pounding out every rep and every set with determination.
  • By focus, I mean mental concentration: having your mind on your lifts and not on the TV show you watched last night, the party later that night, the argument with your girlfriend, or whatever else.


  • Cardio can help your body repair muscle damage more quickly, because it increases blood flow to various areas of the body.
  • Cardio improves insulin sensitivity and, in this way, can help your muscles better absorb the nutrients you eat, which can mean more muscle growth and less fat storage over time.
  • By keeping regular cardio in year-round, you can maintain your metabolic conditioning and prevent the systemic “shell shock” that many people experience during the beginning of a cut.
  • The muscle-related benefits of cardio are especially true if the exercise closely imitates the motions used in exercises performed to build muscle, like cycling or rowing.
  • HIIT not only burns more fat in less time than steady-state cardio, but it preserves muscular size and improves performance as well.
  • If you’d like to do a different form of HIIT cardio, such as rowing, sprinting, swimming, jump roping, or anything else that permits it, go for it.
  • If you want to include some steady-state cardio in your routine, that’s fine as well. Just know that it’s not as effective for fat-loss purposes and that if you do too much of it, you can impair muscle growth.
  • I recommend that you separate your weightlifting and cardio sessions by at least a few hours if at all possible. If there’s no way that you can split up your cardio and weightlifting, do your weight training first, as cardio first will drain energy that you’ll want for your lifting.
  • When I’m bulking, I do two, 25-minute, HIIT sessions per week. When I’m cutting, I do three to five, 25-minute, HIIT sessions per week. When I’m maintaining, I do three, 25-minute, HIIT sessions per week.
  • I never do more than five cardio sessions per week, as I’ve found my strength begins to drop off in the gym if I do.
  • You don’t have to do cardio to lose fat, but if you want to get down to the 10 percent range or below, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have to do at least two or three sessions per week.

The Bigger Leaner Stronger training program

  • Out of the hundreds and hundreds of exercises you could possibly do, four reign supreme: the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press.
  • Heavy half-reps, whether on the bench press, military press, or squat, put large amounts of strain on your joints, tendons, and ligaments—much more than if you were moving less weight through a proper, full range of motion, gradually strengthening the muscles and supporting tissues.


  • As long as you use proper form, the squat does not put your back or knees at risk of injury.
  • If you can avoid it, don’t squat on a Smith machine.
  • Don’t use a powerlifter’s wide squatting stance unless you’re actually powerlifting.
  • If you feel the need to squat with blocks or plates under your heels, it’s because you need more hamstring and/or ankle flexibility. Check out Dr. Kelly Starrett’s work on improving hamstring and ankle mobility, so you can do the squat as described in this chapter.
  • By squatting in shoes with flat soles or proper weightlifting shoes with a slight, rigid heel elevation, you’ll find it much easier to sit back onto your heels and engage your hamstrings and glutes more effectively.
  • The front squat emphasizes the quadriceps and core and creates less compression of the spine and less torque in the knees, which makes it particularly useful for those with back or knee injuries or limitations.


  • If you don’t know what you’re doing and try to bench press large amounts of weight with poor form, it’s very easy to hurt your shoulders. Bench press properly, however, and you’ll keep your shoulders safe and your chest growing bigger and stronger.
  • Don’t bounce the bar off your chest. Lower it in a controlled manner, keeping everything tight. Then let it touch your chest and drive it up.
  • When you’re lowering the weight, think about the coming drive up.
  • Make sure to finish your last rep before trying to rack the weight.
  • The best way to ensure your “upper chest” doesn’t fall behind your pec major is to do a lot of incline pressing.
  • As you narrow your grip on the bar, the triceps have to do more of the work.


  • The deadlift is the ultimate full-body workout, training just about every muscle group in the body.
  • The sumo deadlift uses a wide stance (1.5 to 2 times the width of your shoulders) to shorten the range of motion and shearing force on the lower back. It also can feel more comfortable in the hips than a conventional deadlift, depending on your biomechanics (if you walk with your toes pointed out, the sumo might be better for you).
  • The hex bar—or trap bar—deadlift is a great way to learn to deadlift, because it doesn’t require as much hip and ankle mobility to get to the bar, and it puts less shearing stress on the spine.
  • The RDL is a variation of the deadlift that targets the glutes and hamstrings and minimizes the involvement of the quads and hip muscles.


  • The military press is the best all-around shoulder exercise you can perform. It’s a simple, easy-to-learn movement that allows for the safe lifting of heavy weights.
  • The standing variation requires tremendous core and lower back strength to maintain balance, which in turn limits the amount of weight you can lift.
  • I find that heavy deadlifting and squatting every week builds more than enough core and lower back strength and thus prefer the seated variation.


  • Forget cable work, dumbbell flys, push-up variations, machines, and every other type of chest exercise out there for now. They just aren’t nearly as effective as the core, foundation-building lifts and are only for advanced weightlifters who have already paid their dues with the heavy pressing to build big, strong pecs.
  • Due to its reduced range of motion, decline pressing causes less stimulation of both the pectoralis major and clavicular pectoralis.
  • A major part of building a great chest is focusing on your incline pressing more than anything else.
  • I usually rotate between dumbbell-centric and barbell-centric routines.


  • In terms of programming your own back workouts, I highly recommend that you always start with the deadlift.
  • From there, move to a wide-gripped pulling movement like the barbell or T-bar row, front lat pulldown, or wide-grip pull-up (weighted, if you can), followed by a more narrow-gripped pulling movement, like the one-arm dumbbell row, close-grip lat pulldown, close-grip seated row, or chin-up.


  • In most cases, the medial and posterior deltoids need the most work because the anterior deltoids get worked pretty intensely with proper chest training. The other two heads don’t, however.
  • As with the chest, you just can’t beat heavy pressing for developing your shoulders. And as a natural weightlifter, you’re going to need as much help as you can get in this department.
  • If all you do is press, however, you’ll find that your middle and rear heads of your deltoids fall behind in development. This is why a good shoulder workout trains all three heads of the muscle by having you press as well as do side raises and something for the rear delts.


  • The bottom line is that every leg workout should begin with either the back or front squat.
  • Next, I like to focus on the other major muscle group of the pair with the back squat—my exercise of choice for hamstring emphasis—and the front squat, hack squat, leg press, or a lunge movement for the quadriceps.
  • I usually finish with some hamstring-centric work, like the Romanian deadlift or even the leg curl.
  • Unless you’re blessed with great calf genetics, you’re going to have to work your calves quite a bit to maintain proportions with your thighs and arms.
  • Research has shown that the muscle fibers of the gastrocnemius—the calf muscle we see and are primarily concerned with developing for aesthetic purposes—can vary in composition from person to person.
  • Like the abs, the calves seem to recover from workouts more quickly than other muscle groups and thus can be trained more intensively.
  • The calves seem to respond particularly well to periodized training that includes high-rep work.
  • Proper form with calf exercises is simple: At the bottom of a rep, your heels are as low as they’ll go and you feel a deep stretch in your calves, and at the top of a rep, you’re up on your tippy-toes like a ballerina.


  • In terms of programming, you have quite a bit of flexibility. What I like to do is at least one barbell and one dumbbell exercise per workout for the biceps. Most of the time it’s the barbell curl followed by the hammer curl.
  • I like to start my triceps training with something I can push some weight on like the close-grip bench press or seated triceps press.
  • You might run into some pretty intense forearm soreness with the arm workouts in this program and with the biceps training in particular. If you experience this, simply reduce your working set weight to the six- to eight-rep range (enough weight to allow for six reps but no more than eight) and build your strength here for the first couple of months.


  • The full six-pack look requires both low body fat levels and well-developed core muscles.
  • The squat and deadlift, even when performed with heavy weight (80+ percent of 1RM), just don’t involve the “show” muscles of the rectus abdominis, the transversus abdominis, and the external obliques as much as people think.
  • The abs are like any other muscle: they require progressive overload to grow, and that can only be accomplished by adding resistance to exercises. You don’t have to add weight to all of your ab training, but you must do some if you want abs that pop.

The Bigger Leaner Stronger workout routine


  • Lift weights three to five times per week, with four being better than three and five being better than four.
  • In terms of which days to train on, most people like to lift Monday through Friday and take the weekends off, maybe doing some cardio on one or both of these days. This works well. Feel free to work your rest days however you want, though. Some people prefer to lift on the weekends and take off two days during the week.
  • Work your cardio in as needed. You can lift and do cardio on the same days without an issue.
  • You want to do the exercises one at a time, in the order given. So, you start with the first exercise and do your warm-up sets, followed by your three heavy sets (with the proper rest in between each, of course), and then move on to the next exercise on the list, and so forth.


  • Warm up incorrectly, and you can reduce your strength and set yourself up for muscle strains or worse.
  • A proper warm-up routine has two simple goals: to introduce blood into the muscles to be trained and to progressively acclimate them to heavy weight without causing fatigue.
  • In your first warm-up set, you want to do 12 reps with about 50 percent of your heavy, 4- to 6-rep set weight and then rest for one minute.
  • In your second warm-up set, you use the same weight as the first and do 10 reps this time at a little faster pace. Then rest for one minute.
  • Your third warm-up set is four reps with about 70 percent of your heavy weight, and it should be done at a moderate pace. Once again, you follow this set with a one-minute rest.
  • The fourth warm-up set is the final one and it’s simple: one rep with about 90 percent of your heavy weight. Rest two to three minutes after this final warm-up set.
  • Generally speaking, you don’t need to perform any more warm-up sets beyond the four laid out above. That said, I do like to do a 10- to 12-rep warm-up when moving on to an exercise that targets muscles that aren’t sufficiently warmed up.
  • When warming up for an arm day, I like to do a warm-up set for biceps immediately followed by a warm-up set for triceps, followed by a 60-second rest.


  • Feel free to use your warm-up sets to get acquainted with the exercises and feel free to work in the 6- to 8- or even the 8- to 10-rep range for these first few weeks to get a good feel for everything. Then, once you’re comfortable, move into the four- to six-rep range.
  • Aches and soreness are to be expected, but sharp pains while lifting mean that something is wrong. Don’t try to muscle through a sharp pain.


  • Finding your starting weights on the various exercises is more or less a matter of trial and error.
  • As a general rule, for every 10 pounds you add to the bar, you’ll lose about two reps. The same goes for each 5-pound increase on the dumbbells.


  • A spotter isn’t necessary, because you should always use weights that you can perform clean, unassisted reps with. That said, if you do have someone to spot you on certain exercises, like the bench press and military press, it has a couple of advantages.
  • Don’t accept poor spotting, as this can seriously put a damper on your gains. The worst mistake most people make when spotting is to take weight off the bar when it’s unnecessary.
  • If no spot is available, I recommend that you do your bench and military pressing and squatting in a power cage, as it allows you to set safety bars and thus do your sets without having to worry about getting stuck with the weight on top of you.


  • The key to building muscle and strength isn’t merely changing the types of stimuli (new exercises) but increasing them. And the most effective way to do this is to force your muscles to overreach and perform more than the last time.
  • An easy, effective way to program a workout is to do three to six sets of your “nonnegotiable” exercises followed by three to six sets of your “negotiable” exercises and to change the “negotiables” every 8 to 10 weeks, after your rest or deload weeks.
  • If you find that you generally need to rest/deload more frequently than every eight weeks, just follow the pattern of three normal weeks followed by one strength week.


  • The purpose of the strength week is to give you more practice doing the key exercises (the more you do them, the better you get) and help you get stronger faster.
  • Make every fourth training week on the program a strength week. That is, for every three weeks of normal workouts, you do one strength week.
  • If you normally rest/deload every eight weeks but, for whatever reason, need to do it early—let’s say after six weeks of training—just start your next training cycle anew.
  • If you’re able to go longer than eight weeks before needing a rest/deload week, follow the 3:1 ratio between normal and strength weeks until you need to take a break.
  • Your strength week working sets should be done with the same weight as your working sets in your normal workouts.
  • You progress in your strength workouts in the same way as your normal workouts—once you get six reps, add 5 to 10 pounds to the bar and continue working with that weight.
  • Rest the normal three to four minutes between sets.
  • You can continue doing cardio (or not) as usual.

Tracking your progress: if you can’t measure it, you don’t know it

  • One of the most effective ways to prevent getting stuck in a rut of no gains is simply to track your numbers.
  • When you step up to the bar, you don’t want to be trying to remember what you did last week. You want to know exactly what you’re going for. Hell, some people like to even visualize themselves performing the set successfully and say it helps.
  • A successful workout is one where you made progress—where you got one more rep than last week or moved up in weight. If this doesn’t happen, don’t despair, but you need to push harder the next week. If you’re stuck for several weeks or even moving backward, you need to check your nutrition and rest, because something is off.
  • The bottom line is that if you don’t keep a training journal, it gets real sloppy really quick. Lifting random amounts of weight for random numbers of reps every week doesn’t work nearly as well as an accurate, linear model of progression driven by real data.

How to prevent workout injuries

  • Weightlifting isn’t a dangerous activity. You’re far more likely to get injured playing just about any sport than you are lifting weights.
  • Those with injured joints might need to dial back the intensity of their weightlifting to preserve their joint health.
  • If you can’t get full reps, you’re using too much weight, and you’re increasing your risk of injury. Simply lighten the load, do full reps, improve your strength, and only move up in weight when you can keep it fully under control.
  • Pushing yourself in the gym is good, so long as you always maintain proper form as well.
  • Static stretching before exercise has been shown to impair speed and strength. Not only can it fail to prevent injury, but it might increase the risk of injury due to the cellular damage it causes to muscle and its analgesic effect.
  • If you experience pain, stop your set. If an exercise always bothers you, do something else. The key to dealing with pain is treating it like an injury until it’s better. Avoid exercises that aggravate it and let it heal.