Maximise your Gains – 5 tips to go from Skinny to Stacked

Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Do you ever think that more can be done to maximise your gains?  It took me 15 years to realise everything I was doing in the gym was wrong.  Following the age-old convention of 3 sets of 10 reps, taking a protein shake afterwards and being somehow convinced that my diet would turn me into a WWE superstar, gains in muscle were nearly impossible to come by.

A mindset shift allowed me to change all that.  I researched more programs.  I adapted my goals and tried things the professionals suggested.  Some of it has worked, some hasn’t, but it’s fair to say that I’ve seen more improvements to my physique over the last 2 years than I had in the previous 15.  As Bruce Lee said above, I’ve absorbed what works for me and got rid of what doesn’t.  Here are my top 5 tips that have allowed me to maximise my gains in strength and size.

maximise your gainsChoose the Correct Supplements

First of all, no amount of supplements can make up for a crappy diet.   The old saying  “you are what you eat” is definitely applicable.  I work unsociable hours and eating a Big Mac due to a 9pm finish has been far too tempting in the past.  My body showed the results of that temptation, even though I was working out 5 times a week.  Supplements are exactly what they say they are – supplemental to your diet, not replacements.

Choosing the correct supplements can maximise your gains by up to 10%.  This is a sizeable gain for those looking to push their bodies to the limits.  It is important that the correct supplements are chosen.  As a skinny fella with 10% body fat, choosing a fat burner such as L-Carnitine or Green Tea extract is not that beneficial.  For those of the skinny-fat variety, they could very well be.

I have had my best results in building strength and muscle by using the following


For the longest time, I put off using creatine.  I wasn’t convinced that it would be beneficial.  When I finally bit the bullet and started to take it on a regular basis, the results have sworn me to never not take it again.

The role of creatine is to replenish the anaerobic power of the body after lifting heavy weights.  Simply put, it allows us to push harder and faster through workouts without letting fatigue affect us.  As a result, we can lift heavier and stress the muscles even more than usual to promote additional muscle growth.  Creatine also has the added benefit of promoting fat loss, by aiding insulin sensitivity.  This ensures that what you eat is being used for muscle growth and not fat gains.

A study that took place over 2 months showed that consuming creatine post-workout can lead to a near 50% muscle increase compared to if you didn’t.  If that’s not a figure to tempt you, I don’t know what is.

Though creatine is is apparent in red meat, you would have to eat a cow a day to get maximum benefits.  I don’t know about you, but my appetite couldn’t handle that.  Tablet or powder form creatine is the most realistic way of hitting your target amount per day, with neither having a benefit over the other.  I prefer taking tablets, but I know people who get on better with powder.  It’s all preference.

Casein Protein

Every man and his dog who goes to the gym has a whey protein shake ready to go post-workout.  It’s understandable.  Whey is a fast acting protein that get’s straight to the muscles, aiding growth and repair.  It’s chosen by the masses for good reason.  If you want to maximise your gains but only want to choose one supplement, you won’t go wrong with whey.

Casein protein doesn’t get anywhere near the same amount of press as whey, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important.  In comparison to whey, casein is a slow digesting protein.  Whereas whey attacks your muscles quickly and is most effective post workout, Casein allows your muscles to receive a steady state of protein during your recovery phase.  This is especially beneficial when sleeping (study).

Casein is found in a lot of dairy products.  Milk, cottage cheese and greek yogurt are all primarily made up of casein.  I will usually consume one of these about an hour or so before bed, with a shake immediately before the lights go off.

Creatine, casein and whey are readily available from many nutirion shops and online.  Personally, I order my supply from (Optimum Nutrition brand) or (own brand).  Both having the highest content of protein (study) compared to what they advertise out of all brands and are very reasonably priced.

maximise your gainsPose like a Bodybuilder

Nobody likes the guy who poses in the mirror at the gym.  At least I never did.  Admittedly, I was incredibly insecure in feeling that way, jealous due to the size of their guns while I struggled with my pea shooters.  Little did I know that flexing the muscles at the right time during a workout can truly maximise your gains.  Thankfully, I now know to incorporate this.

Iso-tensions involve contracting the muscle group you are working on for 10 seconds, post-set.  For example, after performing a set of tricep pushdowns, you then straighten your arms and put as much tension on your triceps as possible for the suggested 10 second period.  The idea here is that it allows  you to reach failure in a safer way than continuing to lift.  One of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a big believer in performing iso-tensions.

Studies have shown that the strength increase when iso-tension training is similar to that of conventional dynamic training.  With this in mind, it makes sense to add this technique as part of your routine.

I have also found that by performing these iso-tensions after each set, it allows for a greater mind-muscle connection when performing working sets.  This is a principle I am a big fan of and it has allowed me to become fully engaged with the muscle.

maximise your gainsAchieve Mindfulness with Meditation

Speaking of the mind-muscle connection, nothing has helped me to achieve this more than spending 10 minutes a day meditating. I was first introduced to the idea of trying meditation after going through a break up.  Someone recommended I try practicing meditation as a way of helping me be able to focus on the present rather than what had been and I haven’t looked back.

The idea of meditation is to be aware of what is happening around you at that moment in time.  You become aware of your breathing, the sensation of your body against the chair you are sitting on and the sounds around you.  It teaches you to let thoughts come and go as your mind is focused on the here and now, not what has been or might be.

To achieve a true mind-muscle connection when working out, this is a great tool.  By using meditation techniques, I can zone in on my target muscle group working.  I can feel the stress and the breaking down of the tissue with every rep.  As a result, I find this really helps with my form.  If I can’t feel the the muscle working, then I must be performing the motion incorrectly.

A study has also shown that regular meditation can provide a reduction in cortisol (a stress hormone than contributes to wide hips and moobs) and an increase in growth hormone (what we need to grow muscle).

I recommend downloading the Headspace app if this is something you want to try.  You can pay for it, but there is a free version available that provides eerything for beginners.  Make sure you set aside 10 minutes everyday, preferably in the morning.  This makes sure that your mind is still fairly clear and not cluttered full of the days events.

maximise your gainsMix up your Reps

There are is a train of thought that say all skinny men should lift heavy.  Nothing but compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses.  There is also the conventional thought that by utilising a high rep (20+) and light weight routine, you will stay skinny.  In my experience, both aneed to be combiined to maximise your gains.

I should say, I am all for performing heavy weight, compound exercises if you are starting on your quest to build muscle.  In a previous post, I talked about how I struggled to lift a medicine ball up off the floor when I was a kid.  I also remember being given my first set of dumbbells when I was 11 or 12 years old.  The heaviest set was 5kg in weight.  I remember trying to lift them and just about getting one of them onto my shoulder.  The stronglift 5×5 program, which follows this theme (heavy weights for 5 sets of 5 reps) really helped me build my base strength.  However, although there was some size gained, there wasn’t much actual muscle building and physique definition.

During the muscle building program designed by Kris Gethin, the final 6 weeks relied on high rep sets.  During this program I gained 10lbs of mostly muscle and changed the shape of my back, shoulders, arms, chest and legs.  However, the program also included sets that were only 5 reps, highlighting the need to perform a mixture of heavy lifts and lighter lifts to build size.  Bony to Beastly, a website that offers a training program specifically aimed at skinny fellas like you and I, uses a combination of both compound and hypertrophy rep ranges.  The results their clients have received says everything.

Incorporate heavy compound lifts into your program by all means, but don’t hold back on isolation activities where you can use a higher number of repetitions to produce a more sculpted look.

maximise your gainsSleep your way to Size

I’ll own up, I’m cheating here.  I get nowhere near enough sleep.  Especially as I’m in the UK, prepping my body for US time yet having to operate day to day errands in GMT.  My sleep pattern is a mess.  Therefore, this isn’t really a tip that helps me to maximise my gains.  But there is enough evidence to suggest that not only does sleep aid mucle growth, it is essential for it to happen.

In the UK, it is reported that the average adult sleeps for 6 hours & 40 minutes per night, which is down on the recommended 8 hours for adults over the age of 24, according to the National Sleep Foundation.  This causes issues when it comes to rebuilding muscle.  Firstly, growth hormone is released to it’s maximum when we sleep.  Combining a dose of casein protein prior to 8 hours of sleep allows for maximum repair.

Secondly, a study determined that sleep deprivation can affect testosterone levels.  A decrease of 10-15% was proven for a group that had received an average of 5 hours sleep a night compared to a group that had received 10 hours of sleep.  As testosterone helps provide energy and plays a role in muscle growth and strength.  Those with lower testosterone levels are more likely to suffer muscle wasting and an increase in estrogen.

Not all of these options will work for you.  Everyone’s body is different.  Meditation might not be an option due to time constraints.  Your body might react poorly to high rep training.  As the opening quote said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

Do you have any tips that have helped maximise your gains?  If so, share them in the comments box below.

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