Posted by on Nov 14, 2014

Von Blanco is a Chicago-based personal trainer (NSCA) and nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition). When he’s not training, Von writes at where he talks about flexible dieting, minimalist training, and lifehacking. Want to train with Von? Check out his latest Fitocracy Team, No Nonsense Muscle Building.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a “hardgainer” like me who’s naturally skinny and genetically cursed: small joints, not a single ounce of muscle in your arms, and looked like a toothpick in the mirror.

I was really skinny and was always mistaken as a 12-year old.

I spent years trying to build muscle, trying a lot of different things and screwing up. As you probably already know, there’s a lot of different training programs, diets, and supplements out there. I bought into all the hype that I saw in magazines and thought that if I could just follow the bodybuilding routines I was reading, I could look like The Rock or something. I also bought hundreds of dollars worth of supplements falling into the marketing tactics that supplement companies create in order to get people to buy their products.

No luck.

Nothing seemed to work. It’s as if the universe was against me when all I wanted to do was put on an extra 10 pounds (I was only 105 pounds at the time).

But a few years and 55 pounds later, I finally figured it out. I wasted a lot of time, but when I learned the truth about building muscle, I went to work. And yes, it was all done steriod-free.


Not quite like this.


Let me save you years of your life.

Here are the only things you need to know about building muscle. Everything else out there is either 1) unnecessary or 2) minor details that don’t really matter much. Do these things below and you’ll be on your way to transforming your body.

Muscle Building Rule #1: Don’t Neglect Compound Exercises (Including Bodyweight Movements)

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. The problem is, we don’t actually act on it. I admit, I like doing isolation exercises just as much as you do. But in order to build muscle you need to do more of what works and what doesn’t. In this case, it’s the compound exercises that you need to put more focus on. If you’re unsure about what they are, compound exercises are basically movements that work on more than one muscle group. They stimulate muscle growth much more effectively than isolation exercises, so don’t underestimate them.

Trying to build up your upper body? Forget about doing bicep curls and start doing chin-ups, push-ups, rows, and dips. Trying to build up your lower body? Squat, sprint, lunge, and maybe do some famers walks instead of using the leg-extension machine.

Do these exercises with a proper training program, and you’ll be on step closer to getting to where you want.

Muscle Building Rule #2: Progress Every Week

You’ll only build muscle if you are constantly pushing your body to get stronger. And to get stronger, you have to continually add more weight or do more reps to certain exercises in your training program. This is called progressive overload.

Always strive for new PR’s. See those purple PR notes on your Fitocracy workout logs? Try and get more of those every week.

Muscle Building Rule #3: Train with Intensity

You can have the best training program or the best trainer in the world, but if you’re not training with intensity you’re not going to get anywhere.

But what exactly does intensity mean? It means training with proper weights, reps, temp, and “time under tension” to actually stimulate muscle growth.

Muscle Building Rule #4: Eat Big, Get Big

In order to put on muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus. After figuring our your maintenance calories, you have to eat 300-500 calories more than that in order to put on weight.

Just a warning though, the tradional way of “bulking up” is plain stupid. A lot of people make the mistake of just pigging out and eating junk every day. Big mistake.

First of all, this is completely unhealthy. You still want your diet to mainly consist of whole foods consisting of stuff like meat, eggs, fish, nuts, fruits, veggies, and starches like rice & potatoes.

Second, your body has a certain threshold and will start storing the excess calories as fat. There’s a certain range that you must follow for both calories and macronutrients.

Muscle Building Rule #5: The Only (Muscle Building) Supplements You Should Use…

Are creatine, protein powder, and beta-alanine.

These are not required, but they certainly do help. Don’t waste your time and money on other crap. Why didn’t I list fish oil and multi-vitamin? Because they’re supplements for overall health, not necessarily muscle building. You should already have them in your kitchen.


Protein powder helps with covering your protein needs. When trying to put on muscle, it’s important that you’re consuming enough protein every day. They are the building blocks of muscle and aid in muscle repair. Unfortunately, it can sometimes get hard to eat enough protein sodrinking protein powder will often help with that issue.

Best time to take it: 25g+ post-workout, and/or whenever you need the extra calories and protein.


Creatine monohydrate is the most researched supplement in all of sports science. While we all consume creatine from foods already like red meat, supplementing with creatine can have huge muscle-building effects on your body when taken around your workout. It will help increase maximal force production of your muscles; in other words, it helps you to lift more weight much more explosively.

Best time to take it: 5-10g pre or post-workout on workout days. People will tell you to “load up” on it. There’s no need for that.

Beta Alanine

Beta alanine is an amino acid that helps to improve endurance by delaying muscle fatigue. Just like creatine, it’s main use is to help you with your workouts. If you’ve ever taken a pre-workout energy drink before and have felt a tingling sensation all over your body, that’s the beta alanine working. Don’t worry though, it’s harmless.

Best time to take it: 2-5g pre-workout, which can be taken with creatine.

Muscle Building Rule #6: Take Days Off

I didn’t really believe this when I first heard it, but your muscles actually get bigger when you’re not working out (called recovery days) and not during a workout.

Recovery is crucial to building muscle, so you must make sure to take some days off. The 3 or 4 hours you spend in the gym working out is important, but the other 164 hours you spend outside the gym is much more important. Get your sleep, eat your protein and carbs, and take your supplements if you’re deficient in certain areas.

More workouts don’t mean better results. There’s no need to train more than four times a week if you’re doing everything right.


That’s all you need to know about building muscle, folks. All the other stuff out there is just hype and gimmick. Train smart, train hard, eat big, get your sleep, repeat. Supplement when necessary.

Otherwise, that’s all there is to it. Now go get big.

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