• Matt Ferrara BS C.S.C.S

Chocolate Cake and Building Muscle

If we were baking a chocolate mass gain cake, we would only need two other ingredients besides chocolate.

Volume and calories.

No eggs, no milk, no water. Just good old fashioned volume and calories. This is the ultimate instant baked good.

But, just like baking, we do need to get the measurements right.

However, unlike it’s culinary counterpart, training for mass does not have to be quite as exact in the beginning.

In the earlier stages of training, we can approach training like I approach baking....

Throw a little bit of each ingredient in until we get impatient, then add a lot more and hope we get it right.

When in doubt, just a bit more...

This isn't me, but, it basically is...

Unlike my baking, this will actually produce good results for quite some time in the gym.

Your body is new to the training process so it will respond to almost anything as long as your calories are high enough and the stimulus is somewhat decent.

You are also quite weak relative to your true potential, so the weights you are moving are necessarily going to kill you. This is good.

As time progresses, things get trickier.

You need to maintain a minimum amount of volume to make progress, which is known as the minimum effective dose. If your total volume is under this, you aren’t going to get bigger. It’s that simple.

You also need to stay below your maximum recoverable volume, which is the total amount of training volume that you can recover from.

If you train past this threshold for too long, bad things start to happen. Usually these bad things show up as overuse injuries or aches and pains, sometimes even a cold or other sickness.

When you train to the point of injury or illness, you eventually have to take time off which brings you below your minimum effective dose for volume. Yes, that’s right, you start to lose your gains. This is why more is not always better, but in the beginning it may be.

So if the mass gain equation has only two factors, we simply need to focus on each one of those. Simple right?

Credit Goes to the BarbellPhysio for this Graphic

Step 1: Volume

Let’s talk volume. Volume can be calculated by multiplying sets x reps x weight. The total volume moved on each exercise of the workout summed up is the training volume for that session. Training volume can also be looked at in terms of a week, month, or whatever other length of time the coach breaks the cycles down into.

You need enough volume to grow, but not too much that you start to push past the maximum tolerable dose. 

For beginners, this is pretty easy. You are mostly limited by the load of the weights you can lift, so you will accumulate volume automatically by increasing those numbers. The relatively low nature of these numbers in comparison to your true potential keeps you from having to worry about doing too much. That being said, don’t be stupid.

For intermediate lifters things start to get trickier and we need to start thinking a little more about how much is too much. Depending on the goals of the client, I will determine how close to either end of the minimum and maximum dose for volume we get.

Determining volume can be done by feel, or we can get fancy. A good place to start is by tracking your total weekly volume. Once you get a baseline, try and slowly increase this over time.

If you aren't getting stronger, add a little more volume. If you start to feel beat up or like you're doing too much, back off a bit.

The more advanced you are the more difficult this can be. If you need help, we can set you up for three months of hypertrophy focused distance coaching to find your volume sweet spot.


Step Two: Calories 

You can train all you want, but if you don’t eat enough calories you aren’t going to get bigger.

So how do we find how many calories you need to eat?

First we need to find your basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories you would burn if you slept all day.

Unfortunately you don't get to sleep all day, so from here we need to extrapolate that information to include your activity level using the Harris Benedict Equation.

From there you need to add 350 calories and start with that as your baseline. Run with this for one week, and if you don't gain weight add another hundred calories. If you do gain weight, don't change anything!

You are going to need to track you calories and macros with this approach. I highly recommend downloading the myfitness pal app and using that. Their food database is the most expansive.

Doing this is a lot of math and I hate math, so I have attached a link below that will calculate it for you.

You're welcome.

Now Eat Your Cake!

This is the beginning. There are a few more steps we need to take, but these are the foundation.

If you get your volume right and your calories right, good things are going to happen.

Stay tuned in the future for more mass gain tips and programs.

If you need my help, you know where to find me.

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