Come wintertime, most of us excel at a few things: sipping whiskey-soaked beverages that make our insides warm and fuzzy. Trading AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts for AMHCAP (as many holiday cookies as possible) ones. And, in a possibly related story, putting on some weight. This can be a downer, regardless of your personal fitness goals, but especially if your 2019 resolution involved putting on a few pounds of muscle.
The bad news is that if you’re hoping to tone up and build size in the new year, you’ll need to do a lot more than just curtail your involvement in winter-induced gluttony.
1. Start with the basics
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a stellar physique. If you’re looking to put on a decent amount of size but you have no proficiency with basic movement patterns, make sure you fix that first. Focus on mastering things like loaded squats, deadlifts, lunges, and presses—all of which challenge a number of different muscle groups at once—to get started. Isolation exercises really shouldn’t be the heart of your program. In other words, biceps curls can wait.
2. Get strong to get huge
Muscle strength and muscle size are not the same thing, and if you don't pay attention to the former, you're never going to be successful with the latter. Most guys who want to put on muscle and not lose weight typically aren’t as strong as they could be.
To avoid this fate, start off with workouts that involve lower numbers of reps—between 6 and 12—and use a moderate to heavy weight. This will hit a pretty decent middle ground between training for strength and for size. Think of this phase as insurance for your body, which helps to prevent injury as you boost the intensity of your training and prepare for the serious hypertrophy (read: muscle-building) stage to come.
3. Eat, and then eat some more
When you're tearing down your body inside the gym, fueling becomes more important than ever; if you do it properly, you’ll have enough energy to recover, rebuild, and still get back in for your next workout. But we're not just talking about chicken breast, brown rice, and protein shakes. While you can salvage lean mass by eating a low-calorie, high-protein diet, you won’t see any explosive or noticeable growth.
Aspiring muscle growers prioritize nutrient-dense foods. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can tolerate, and shoot for unprocessed plant-based carbohydrates, including quinoa, amaranth, millet, and starchy vegetables like squash or sweet potato. Good lean proteins include beans, lentils, fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Yes, chicken breast is still fine. All meat is still fine! Just don't confuse a cutting diet, which are often low in calories and high in protein, with a muscle-building diet, which includes a fair portion of carbohydrates.
Two other pro tips: Chew your food thoroughly, which helps make nutrients available to the body immediately, and try to drink at least 50 percent of your body weight in ounces of water each day. Hydration is always your friend.
4. Don't cross-pollinate exercises
There are professional athletes out there who are great at more than one sport. But you, in all likelihood, are not one of them. If building muscle is really your top priority for 2019, take some time to focus on lifting weights and not doing a whole lot else. It’s possible to put on muscle while still including long endurance work, but for most people, that balancing act will be more trouble than it's worth. Those Saturday morning ten-mile runs, like biceps curls, can wait for a few weeks.
5. Consistency includes variety (and breeds success)
Routines don't become routines overnight; they become routines because people go weeks or months or years without changing a thing. To ward off boredom, it's a very good idea to mix up the weights, or change the occasional rep scheme, or combine several core movements into one. just to keep the body guessing. But always remember: proficiency before creativity. Don’t go hitting thrusters—that’s a squat into a press—before you’ve got the squat 100 percent down.
Why? “You’ll need to fall in love with the press, deadlift, squat, and more—and if you're going to do this over the long term, you'll need to fall in love with all those things more than once.