Every year, high school athletes try all sorts of crazy things to get bigger, faster and stronger for their sports. They take all kinds of supplements and different strength-training programs, yet many still fail to gain weight.
So what does it really take to put on muscle mass? Here are three quick tips.
1. Stop doing so much cardio
Nearly all athletes enjoy playing sports more than lifting weights, so they spend a lot of time honing their skills on the field or court. But if you want to put on muscle mass, playing your sports for hours on end probably won’t help.
Strength and endurance compete directly against each other. Sports like basketball and soccer are cardiovascular in nature, so if you’re playing one of them all the time, you’re facing an uphill battle if your goal is to gain size.
Research has shown that lifting weights concurrently with cardio has negative effects on both muscle growth and strength development. That’s because in order to perform, your body requires a certain amount of energy from food. When you exercise for extended periods of time and your body doesn’t have enough energy from the nutrients you consume, it pulls from something else to get that energy.
What’s that something else? Often, it’s muscle and bone. Not good.
If you’re serious about gaining weight, you’ve got to take time off from playing and focus strictly on strength training. Take at least a couple of months off from doing anything heavily cardiovascular in nature. That means no playing sports—period.
If you’re a basketball player and you want to work on your shooting a bit, that’s OK. If you’re a soccer player and want to practice your ball-handling skills, no problem. Just make sure such sessions are short and at low intensity.
Then, when you go back to competing in your sports, you’ll be bigger, stronger and more likely to dominate your competition.
Don’t listen to coaches and parents who tell you playing your sport year-round will make you a superstar. And remember, exercising for hours on end won’t earn you a badge of honor, but it will make you tired and weak.
2. Eat a big breakfast
If you want to gain weight, you’ve got to eat. A lot. And it all starts with your first meal of the day.
According to a survey conducted by Kellogg’s, only 36 percent of high school students eat breakfast. Say what? Nearly two-thirds of students aren’t eating breakfast? That’s not only an obvious concern from a health standpoint, it’s also a huge missed opportunity if you’re trying to put on some size.
To gain weight, you need to be in a positive energy balance, meaning the amount of energy you take in must exceed the amount of energy you expend. And you probably need more food than you think.
Precision Nutrition says physically active 15-year-old girls need between 2,900 and 3,000 calories per day, while physically active 15-year-old boys need between 3,500 and 3,600 calories per day. And that’s just to maintain muscle mass. If you want to grow, you’ve got to eat lots of food, and that starts in the morning. Instead of hitting the snooze button, get up a little earlier and make yourself a big breakfast.
We’re not talking about one or two eggs. If you’re serious about gaining muscle, eat between six and eight whole eggs, one cup of oats mixed with berries and peanut butter and a tall glass of water.
Skip the cereal and pop tarts. They won’t help you build muscle, but they will give you a sugar crash an hour or two later.
3. Slow down your lifts and focus on form
As you move from the freshman and junior varsity teams to the varsity level, the speed of the game increases tremendously.
You definitely need to move faster to compete at the higher level, but you’ll also notice that the athletes on those teams tend to be bigger. And if you want to get bigger, you’ve got to put on some muscle. There’s no question that lifting heavy loads in the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift will get you bigger, but that’s not enough. To build muscle, you need to do more.
You’ve seen guys in the weight room who don’t look like much but push pretty good weight, right? That’s because they’ve improved the efficiency of their movement without actually increasing their muscle size.
When you lift heavy, you’re focused on balancing the weight, and tension is distributed throughout your body instead of on certain muscle groups. To expedite muscle growth, you’ve got to perform exercises in a controlled manner. After your big lift of the day, complete your assistance exercises with a slower tempo, focusing on perfect form.
Sample Full-Body Workout
The tempo is listed after the exercises. The first number represents the negative part of the lift, the second signifies the length of the hold, and the third indicates the positive portion of the movement.
- 1. Back Squat – 3×5
- 2A. Push-Up – 3×8 (3/0/1)
- 2B. Single-Arm Row – 3×10/side (3/1/1)
- 3A. Romanian Deadlift – 3×10 (3/0/1)
- 3B. Split Squat – 3×8/side (3/0/1)
Because performing a lift more slowly can create muscle soreness, use eccentric-focused training during the off-season. If you don’t have an off-season, you may want to consider having one. Your body will thank you.
- Breakfast in America. Kellogg’s, n.d. Web. 18 July 2015.
- Wilson, Jacob M., Pedro J. Marin, Matthew R. Rhea, Stephanie M.C. Wilson, Jeremy P. Loenneke, and Jody C. Anderson, “Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance, the University of Tampa. Aug 2012. Web. 20 July 2015.