by Martyn Ford April 12, 2018

My story of muscle gain

My introduction into the fitness scene saw me as the transformation master.  Many of you will have seen the transformation of myself from a scrawny teenager into the mass monster known as the “NIGHTMARE”.  I have been asked time and time again how I did this, so I figured what better place than here to go into depth on exactly what I did and how it worked for me.

I started life as a professional cricket player so my love for fitness has always been there.  For me a good gym session then would have involved plenty of cardio based activities such as rowing, sprinting, and cycling.  Anything that would see me dripping with sweat would allow me to leave the gym with a huge smile on my face.

My goal back then was to be fit enough to perform on the cricket pitch.  I would regularly be out in the middle for 2-3 hours a day.  As a fast bowler, my energy expenditure was extremely high.  This training was great for building up my endurance levels and would allow me to bowl over and over again.  However, muscle building friendly it was not. 

When I finished playing cricket I decided it was time to change things up. I had fallen out of love with the sport, but my passion for fitness was higher than ever.  I became extremely interested in how you could physically change the human body through the use of food and weights.  I had found myself a new goal, and that goal was to be the Ultimate Machine! I wanted to be the biggest, fastest and strongest man out there.  I decided to take my mental approach for the training I had for cricket and swap it over to the weight room. 

In the Beginning

When I first started out, I realised that although my muscles were very good at performing an exercise over and over again, my strength was very average.  This was to be my first priority.  I wanted to improve my strength gains and also master each technique with optimal form.  The importance of correct technique cannot be stressed enough. 

Below is the list of exercises that I used and that I would recommend to you in the first phase of training.  This first phase of training will last 4 weeks, after this it is key that we increase the intensity of the sessions alongside food intake. 

The aim of the first 4 weeks is to strengthen the ligaments and tendons, keeping the intensity moderate.  Phase 1 is all about learning and preparing the body for the next phase of attack.

Weeks 1-4 (Preparation phase)

Back / Shrugs

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Bent Over Row 15,12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Close Grip Pull Ups 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Dead Lift 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Low Cable Pull Row 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Upright Row 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Shrug 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec

 Chest / Shoulders

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Incline Barbell Chest Press 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Pull Overs 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Flat DB Chest Press 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Seated Barbell Shoulder Press 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Military Press 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Standing Lateral Raise 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec

Legs

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Leg Extensions 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Squat 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Leg Press 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Lying Leg Curl 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Straight Leg Deadlift 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec
Calf Raise 15, 12, 10 2:2 90-120 sec

I would ensure that each and every rep was done with perfect form.  To really allow me to focus on this, I would never work an exercise with a weight that I couldn’t control under a rep tempo speed of 2 seconds. 

This means it takes me 2 seconds to contract the positive concentric part of the movement and while performing the negative eccentric part of the movement I would also do so in 2 seconds.  The only exercise I wouldn’t recommend using this method on would be the deadlift.  This needs power and momentum for execution of the exercise.  The idea is that we hit the desired rep range here without a spot.  We are not trying to force the body past its comfort level yet. 

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Back   Chest/Shoulders   Legs    
  20 minutes power walk   20 minutes steady cycle   20 minutes cross trainer  
Core   Core     Core  

Weeks 4-8 (Muscle Mass)

Back

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Bent Over Row 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Close Grip Pull Ups (assisted if needed) 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Low Cable Seated Row (Wide Grip) 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Deadlift 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Single Arm Dumbbell Row 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds

Chest and Bicep

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Flat DB Chest Press 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Incline Bench Press 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Decline Machine Press 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Cable Flys 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Barbell Curl 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Dumbbell Concentration Curl 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds

Legs

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Leg Extensions 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Hack Squat 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Squat 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Lying Hamstring Curl 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Straight Leg Deadlift 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Seated Calf Raise 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds

Shoulders and Triceps

Exercise Reps/Sets Tempo Speed Rest
Lateral Raise 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Upright Row 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Rear Delts 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
French Press 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds
Tricep Rope Pushdown 12-10-8 2:2 90 Seconds

 

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Back Chest/Biceps Rest Legs Shoulders/Triceps Rest Rest
Post session cardio 20 minutes   Cardio 30 minutes   Post session cardio 20 minutes    
Core   Core   Core    

In phase 2 of the plan, we will focus on using drop sets and forced reps.  Working with a training partner or a good spot would be useful.  Be sure that when you are being assisted that it is just that, the spot is assisted.  Drop sets and forced reps are tremendous for muscle growth, we will be using these only on the last set of each exercise. 

It is important that we add in cardio.  Many will argue that we are focusing on building muscle and that cardio will be counterproductive.  However, I see the benefits of a balanced amount of cardio far out weighing the negative effects.  As long as we don’t do excessive amounts of cardio or at incorrect times, cardio will actually help you gain muscle size.  When we perform cardio it has many effects on our system depending on how we perform it.  As we are looking at cardio to help with muscle growth, we need to figure out our point of attack.

Cardio helps build the effectiveness of our circulatory system.  This consists of the heart, blood vessels and veins. The healthier and stronger the system, the greater its ability is to function.  The circulatory system delivers nutrients and oxygen to all cells in the body, while also removing the de-oxygenated blood at the same time.

The arteries carry blood away from the heart, while the veins pump it back in.  The heart is a muscle. The stronger the muscle, the more effective this muscle will become.  We train our heart with cardio so you can start to see the importance of cardio tailored at building heart strength.

When we exercise with weights it is vital that we pack our muscles full of oxygen rich blood pre-set and likewise post-set, as we want as much of the old de-oxygenated blood taken away.  This will have a massive impact on how your muscles perform.  The bigger and stronger your muscles get, the more nutrients are needed by that muscle to function. 

How much cardio and how hard?

The ideal amount of cardio for a healthy heart is 3-4 times per week.  It is really important to be very careful at this point and remember we are not using the cardio for fat loss, so maximum 30 minutes per session at this point of the plan.  You want to be performing this at moderate intensity so you build up a sweat, have a raised heart rate throughout and are a little short of breath but still able to hold a conversation. 

Core training

This is an area of the body that many neglect.  Needless to say, we won’t be.  The importance of a strong core to me is a no brainer.  Everything we do comes from our midsection.  We generate power from here so the stronger your core, the stronger your lifts.

A strong core is not only important for performance but also vital for injury prevention.  As your core is a base for all movements, it makes sense that this area will be most stressed.  If your external muscles are stronger and can handle more load than your core, it will only be a matter of time before you pick up a serious injury. 

Bird-Dog Crunch 20
Standing Bicycle Crunches 20
Seated Leg Lifts 20
Sit Ups 20
Modified Bicycle Crunch 20
Spider Plank Crunch 60-90 seconds

Nutrition

Food is very much our friend during the whole of this plan.  Let me try and explain just how important this area is.  Imagine if you will, muscle representing a destination on a road map.  In order for us to reach a destination we must jump in the car and drive there.  When we arrive, we arrive to destination muscle.  In order for us to travel from point A to point B we must put fuel into the car’s engine.  Our body is the car and the fuel is our food.  No food, no travelling, hence no final destination of muscle. It really is that simple. No amount of supplementation or self-drive and determination will build muscle if the workouts are not fuelled and repaired correctly. 

Now, I could go on forever about this topic, but I want you guys just to take the basics from this plan and start to introduce and develop your understanding in time.  Many trainers try to over complicate and confuse clients.

All you need at this stage of your development is a basic understanding of how much you should be eating, what times of day you should be eating and the importance of macro balance and what macros do. 

How is food broken down?

We have two types of food groups to contend with.  Macronutrients and micronutrients.  Macronutrients are in the form of protein, carbohydrates and fats.  Micronutrients are found in fruits and vegetables.

Macros are loaded with calories that are used to provide energy and aid in recovery.  The energy cannot be released however, without the vitamins and minerals from the micronutrients.  Imagine again the macros as the car and micros as the car keys.  Without the keys, the car will not work.  This is why a balanced diet is so important, not only the correct amount but the variety of foods are essential. 

We will need a base line here.  It is important that during this stage we figure out exactly what your body needs to function and also allow for the amount of muscle growth expected at this time.  As we are not going at full steam here, calories should be conservative. If we over load the calories at this stage, we would only be adding fat and not muscle.  If a muscle is not stimulated adequately, there is no need to over compensate with food. 

How to Work Out Your Daily Macro Needs

First step is to weigh yourself and get a body fat reading and then work out your lean body mass by deducting your fat weight from your overall body weight leaving you with your overall lean body mass.

  1. Body Weight (Use the scales)
  2. Fat Weight (Use callipers or machine)
  3. Body fat – body weight = Total body mass.

Now that you have your total body mass number in lbs, you simply add a 0 to the end of this figure and that will give you a base line for your RMR (resting metabolic rate).  Your RMR is what your body needs to consume in order for you to just maintain your current body weight. 

For example if my total lean body mass was 250lb my daily RMR would be 2500kcals. When you start to take into consideration your daily activities, it is vital that you compensate their expenditure with kcals.

Therefore, if I was to burn 1500kcals doing daily tasks and activities, I would need to take my daily calories up to 4000kcals.  Now if I wanted to gain muscle, which is the objective here, we need to add more calories still.  The objective here is to have excess calories that the body can utilise for muscle building needs.  As a general rule of thumb, I like to add between 300-500 kcals either way depending on my goal. 

Protein

I consume 1.5g of protein per pound of lean muscle mass.  If you were to weigh 200lb lean muscle mass at 1.5g per lb, you would have a daily protein requirement of 300g.  You want to split your total daily protein requirement over the 6 meals.  This works out at 50g per meal of protein.

Fats

Fats are essential; however, we don’t want to overload them.  As they are so high in calories, be careful on volume.  I like to consume my fats through oily fish, nuts, seeds, whole eggs, avocado and steak. 

It is vital you are consuming your good fats such as Omega 3, 6 and 9.  Omega 3 helps to fight inflammation and helps the health within the joints.  They also create an anabolic environment in your body by helping to hold on to glutamine in the muscle which helps speed up the recovery process.

Omega 3 can also help increase your receptor sensitivity in the muscles to hold on to more glycogen in the muscles and this makes your body release less insulin and helps store more of the carbs that you eat in the muscles rather than as fat. 
Good fats also help to raise the testosterone levels and helps support the higher growth hormone levels.  Cutting out all of your fats will give you a negative effect on your health and will shut down your hormones.  Once your protein and fats are set, you don’t need to change these until your lean body mass changes.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the only calories in which we play around with.  Everyone has different genetics and some people will require a lot more carbs than others.  A good guideline is about 3g per pound of lean muscle mass.  For example, a 200lb guy (lean muscle mass weight) would need 600g of carbs per day to begin with.  If you find you easily store fat, you may want to drop to 2.5g or likewise, if you are a hard gainer, take it up to 4g.  I would recommend that the main 2 servings of carbohydrates in the day should be breakfast and post training as these are the two meals where your glycogen stores are the lowest.  I try to aim for 50% of my carbs split between these two meals and the rest spread evenly through the day.   
Each macro is vital to the human body.  Many foods will actually have a mixture of 2 if not all 3 macros.  Here is a basic list of food groups:

Carbohydrates

  • Dairy – Milk, Yogurt, Ice Cream
  • Fruit – Whole fruit and fruit juice
  • Grains -  Breads, rice, crackers, pasta, cereals
  • Legumes - Beans and other plant based proteins
  • Starchy Vegetables - Potatoes and corn
  • Sugar - Sweets and drinks

Proteins

  • Eggs and Dairy - Egg, Yogurt, Milk, Cheese
  • White Meat - Chicken, Turkey
  • Meat - Beef, Pork, Lamb, Venison
  • Fish - Cod, Sea Bass, Crab
  • Oily Fish - Salmon, Trout, Sardines

Fats

  • Nuts - Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts
  • Seeds - Chia, Flax, Hemp, Sunflower, Pumpkin
  • Oils - Sesame Seed, Avocado, Coconut, Macadamia, Grapeseed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Walnut
  • Fish - Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Sardines, Mackerel, Herring

Now that you have an idea of what you should be eating, we need to build a plan that works for you.  This plan should follow some basic rules:

  • Meal 1 needs to be consumed within 30 minutes of waking up, it is key we start the metabolism working as soon as we can.
  • Never go more than 2-3 hours without food
  • Aim for 5 solid meals per day
  • Eat a balance of all 3 food groups at every meal
  • Protein should be the same amount at every meal

 

Here is a base plan that I follow. I will leave my values out as they are irrelevant to yours.

Meal 1. Egg whites
Whole Egg
1 scoop Whey Isolate
Oats
Blueberries and Strawberries
1 Tablespoon Sunflower Seeds
8:00am
Meal 2. (Pre Training Meal) Chicken Breast
Brown Rice
Broccoli, Asparagus, Spinach
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds
10:30am
Training 11:30 am: Resistance Session: Pre and Post Drink as Required:
Meal 3. (Post Training Meal) Lean Steak (Rump, Fillet or Sirloin) - all excess fat removed.
Sweet Potato
Large Green Salad
Avocado
2:00pm
Meal 4. White Fish
Brown Rice
Kale, Carrots, Cabbage
5:00pm
Meal 5. Chicken Breast
Broccoli, Cabbage, Asparagus
8:00pm
Meal 6. Casein Protein Powder
Natural Yogurt
Handful Mixed Nuts
10:00pm

As you can see, I like to really mix up the foods I eat daily.  I find it’s very important to get a variation of food in the diet for a number of reasons. It keeps food interesting and it allows us a wide array of nutrients and amino’s. The body needs a balance to achieve optimal perfection and variety is the key in achieving this.

Basic Supplements to Consider for Muscle Build

1. Creatine

Creatine is the most effective supplement to use when looking to increase muscle mass and strength.  It is a fundamental supplement in the bodybuilding and fitness world that has been used with great results for many years.
This is not just a myth as scientific research shows that supplementing with Creatine can double your strength and lean muscle gains when compared to training alone.  Creatine works by allowing you to go longer during the intense phases of exercise.  The body can perform at its ultimate intensity level for 8-10 seconds before your body must rest and produce new ATP to go again. 

  • When using Creatine we can prolong the body’s ability to use its ATP stores, increasing the 8-10 seconds of duration.
  • Creatine increases the body’s ability to store phosphocreatine, which is used to produce new ATP.  
  • Creatine increases the water content of your muscle cells, which is known as cell volumisation or swelling. 
  • Creatine also helps prevent the breakdown and retains muscle during exercise.

As you can see, Creatine is a must use product during a growth phase of training. 

2. Glycogen (Carbohydrate) Drink

The main reason to consume fast acting carbohydrates post workout is to replenish the muscles glycogen stores that will have been depleted during the workout.  When we train we use muscle glycogen for energy.  The glucose break from the glycogen chain is needed in order to generate ATP which transports chemical energy and is crucial for muscle contractions.

Research confirms that the best way to replenish glycogen stores is with fast acting carbs immediately after training.   It has been proven that delaying your carb consumption by just 2 hours post workout can delay the replenishment rate by 50%.  Therefore if you are looking at training more than 3 times per week, replenishment speed starts to become a huge factor and one that should not be missed. 

  • An intense workout will deplete your body’s glycogen stores up to 60-75%
  • Delaying your carb consumption by just 2 hours post workout can delay the replenishment rate by 50%

Replenishing your muscles post workout is very important for muscle growth.  Stored glycogen in the muscle cells pulls water into those cells.  This increases muscle cell volume and increases muscle fibre fullness.  Keeping the muscles full of glycogen is important as it has been proven that greater muscle cell volume instigates changes in the muscle that will lead to long term muscle growth. 

Carbs and insulin release 

This is massively important.  When we spike the body with high GI carbs, we cause an insulin spike.  This spike plays a vital role in the uptake of Amino Acids, Creatine and Carnitine.  Insulin attaches to specific receptors on muscle cells allowing the ingredients to be up taken in the muscle.

The type of carb for this to take affect is key. Dextrose is one of the best forms as it is pure glucose and the body doesn’t need to absorb it. 

Aim for between 20-60g of carb post workout, depending on training intensity, lean mass size and your desired goals. 

3. Whey Protein, Isolate, Casein  

For maximum recovery benefits post training protein should be a mixture of Whey, Isolate and Casein.  The reason for this is to have a combined time release blend.  The 3 formulas will enter the blood stream at different speeds. 

Whey Protein Isolate and concentrate are considered the best post training sources we can take.  The whey sends the aminos quickly to the muscles to kick start the recovery process so growth can take place.  Due to the fact that Whey protein can be pre-digested in the labs for even faster absorption, these are seen as the ultimate in recovery drinks. 

However, this is not a complete drink.  In order to really get on top of recovery protein, you need to look at adding a Casein blend also.  Casein is slowly digested due to the fact it forms multi-layered clumps of proteins in the stomach that are digested sequentially over time. 

Aim for a combined total protein of around 30-50g per serving.  Ideally made up from a mixture of all three to be consumed with the other recovery agents straight after the session is complete. 

Be sure to track all of your training and progression though the 8 week plan.  Increase your food intake as your body weight increases and endeavour to weigh yourself once a week.  If you don’t increase your calories you will not be able to grow muscle as it’s the food which is key in muscle development.

GOOD LUCK and I look forward to seeing some of your progress pictures. 

Martyn Ford
Martyn Ford



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