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The Fit 5: Bulking Up

Our fitness expert answers your questions about how to build muscle.

For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Twitter and Facebook Page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen.

This week, Marc Perry, C.S.C.S., ACE-CPT, and founder of Built Lean, answers questions about why you're not packing on the pounds and how to make it happen.

1) Joints and Heavy Weight — asked by @jsaucedo32

I'm very athletic and lean. How can I bulk up without putting tons of stress on my joints by lifting extremely heavy?

“You can use a two pronged strategy to reduce stress on your joints while maximizing your ability to build quality muscle mass. The first is using a proper warm-up comprised of 5-10 minutes of 'soft tissue work,' which means foam rolling and using a massage ball over your entire body. Then do 5 minutes of dynamic stretching warming up all your joints (hip, shoulders, etc.) followed by two warm-ups of your first exercise. Yes, this warm-up can take 15 minutes, but your joints will thank you and the quality of your workout will be better with significantly reduced risk of injury. Second, you can use a pyramid strategy where you start out with 12 reps, then slowly go down in reps as you progress in number of sets. Over time, you can increase the amount of weight you are lifting, especially on your last set, while minimizing joint strain. There is no dire need to go below six reps and if that sounds too low, you can keep the rep range above 8-10 reps and still build muscle by fully stimulating muscle cells with greater volume over time (either heavier weights or more sets/exercises).”

2) Running and Bulking — asked by @2austin21

I'm a runner and I know that's probably a problem but is there a way for me to bulk while still running as much as I do?

"You're exactly right in that doing a lot of cardio can make gaining muscle much more difficult, but it's still possible. Following the basic exercise principles of gaining muscle, which include lifting heavier over time and focusing on compound exercises a few times per week will help a lot. Most importantly, however, is the nutrition side of the equation. Because you are doing what I assume is a lot of jogging, which can decrease testosterone and have a catabolic effect (muscle wasting), a proper eating strategy will help you stay anabolic. The two components are (1) eating more calories than you burn, which is difficult, but not impossible and (2) focusing on pre- and post-workout nutrition for your runs and your lifts, which I discussed in another Fit 5 Q&A - Pre/Post Workout. Quick tip regarding upping your calorie intake: consider whey protein shakes with fruit, organic milk and healthy fats like almond butter. It's your own custom made muscle mass shake that can help boost your protein and calorie intake without making you feel stuffed."

3) Fast Growth Routines — asked by @jrich10108

What are the best routines for the fastest growth? I'm at 110 lbs. need to get to 140 lbs.

"That's the million dollar question! There are many different schools of thought, but the two that are most prominent are (1) full-body workouts 2-3x per week and (2) body part splits, which is completing exercises for 1-3 muscle groups each workout for as many as 5-6 workouts per week. Given that it sounds like you are just starting out, I would highly recommend following the former strategy of full body workouts 2-3x per week. These workouts help maximize your hormonal response to exercise by increasing testosterone and insulin-like growth factors, which I've seen work very well with my own clients. The frequency also allows your body to rest, which is when your muscles grow. No need to get fancy with the workouts, focusing on compound exercises like deadlifts (just be very careful and make sure you have proper form), squats, lunges, bench press, pull-ups, bent over rows and other basic compound movements as the foundation of your program will maximize your results. Quick workout example: Squats, Pull-Ups, Dips, 5 rounds with minimal rest between sets and 2-3 minutes rest between each round. Done!"

4) Muscle Gain with Fat Loss — asked by Tim O'Kelly

I'm 6'5" and I am having a really hard time gaining muscle mass. How do I gain the muscle without gaining fat?

"I get this question all the time as it's what every guy in the gym wants. The reality is that it's very, very difficult to do unless you have precision with your nutrition program. If you (1) estimate your calorie burn ideally using the Katch & McCardle method (2) track your calorie intake, assuming 250-500 calories more than you burn, (3) lift heavier weights over time, (4) focus on basic exercises, and (5) track your progress with weekly weigh-ins, you will be able to gain muscle without gaining fat. If for some reason you are not gaining any weight, then you up the calories another 250-500 calories until you start gaining some weight. As long as your lifting numbers are going up combined with a calorie surplus and ample protein (1+ gram of protein per pound of bodyweight), you will gain muscle! With all that said, if you are already lean and the sound of tracking your calories is more than you bargained for, I wouldn't worry too much about gaining some fat if you are also gaining muscle, because it's easier to lose fat without losing muscle than it is to gain muscle without gaining fat."

5) Marco-Nutrient Ratios — asked by Dan Arra

What's a good ratio for carbs, protein and fat when bulking for a 155-pounder?

“The typical bodybuilding ratio is 30/50/20 of protein, carbs and fat respectively, but I've found this ratio makes it very difficult to eat enough calories because fat intake is so low. Fat has 9 calories per gram compared to protein and carbs at 4 grams, so dietary fat is a very dense form of calories. I would recommend a 30/40/30 split to make eating enough calories easier. Another way to approach the ratio is starting out with a target calorie intake, and a set amount of protein and fat you are going to consume, then leaving the balance as carbs. For example, if you have a 3,000 target calorie intake targeting 155 grams of protein (1 gram per pound of body weight ) and fat at 30% of calories (100 grams of fat), that leaves 370 grams of carbs, which is 49% of calories. This example would be like the reverse ratio of the bodybuilding diet (20/50/30). At the end of the day, choose whatever ratio allows you to eat a calorie surplus while still keeping your protein relatively high."

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