These three "secrets" transformed me from scrawny hardgainer into a massive, muscular natural bodybuilder.

How I Packed on MuscleFor over 23 years, natural bodybuilding has been my hobby and passion. I have made amazing changes to my physique during that time, and I am now as strong as a bear.

But these changes didn’t come easy. I had to learn a few lessons along the way.

In 1981, at the age of 14, I received my first plastic and concrete weight set. I really had no clue what I was doing. But somehow, through osmosis or instinct, I developed a routine.

I would bench press, incline bench press and curl. And of course I did sit-ups. That was about it. I had no plan, and never tried to use more weight. I did what I thought was best to grow muscle, but I failed miserably. For 4 years I lifted weights in my bedroom. Nothing changed. I was still the small-boned, skinny/fat teen I had always been.

Prisoner of Bad Genetics?

My genetics were brutal. Research into natural bodybuilding reveals that the larger your bones are, the more muscle mass you can generally pack on. If I would have known that reality back in 1984, I might have stopped lifting on the spot.

I have tiny wrists and fingers, small ankles, and an extremely miniscule waist. But I also carried around fat. I didn’t have any noticeable muscle on my entire body. Everything sagged from my skinny bones. I had man-boobs at the age of 12. In clothing, I didn’t look fat. But with my shirt off, I looked like a skeleton with blubber.

Looking at me, you would have guessed that I hated exercise. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I loved – and lived – to exercise. I would spend most of my days jogging, sprinting, playing baseball or basketball, doing push-ups, step-ups, jumping rope, and lifting weights. I mean this is all seriousness – I doubt there are few teens on Earth who exercised more then me. When I entered college in 1986, I looked pathetic as ever. Thin. No muscle. And fat.

Then my life changed.

I attended a small college in a tiny city in New Mexico. I had no car, and there was never anything to do on campus (that didn’t involve drinking alcohol). On top of this, the guys outnumbered the women 8 to 1.

So, with those horrible odds, boredom set in. I began walking; exploring the campus. And I stumbled upon a weight room. A very nice weight room. And the weight room was empty, so I started working out.

Determined to take advantage of an empty weight room with tons of equipment and free weights, I purchased several bodybuilding books and magazines. I learned new exercises, developed a routine, and never looked back.

In 6 months time, people began asking me if I was taking steroids. In my first year, I gained over 25 pounds of pure muscle. By the end of my second year of training, I had gained a total of 40 pounds of muscle, and was benching over 300 for reps. Not bad for a guy that couldn’t bench press 95 pounds for reps a few years earlier.

How did I gain mass and strength? Was I a closet mesomorph? No, I was far from being an easy gainer. But enough about me…you came for my secrets.

The 3 Big Secrets

Secret 1: The Squat

I hope this isn’t a let down for you, but the squat packs on muscle mass. I attacked the squat during my first year of training. I went from never having performed the movement, to deep squatting over 315 for reps after 6 months.

It turned my body into an anabolic machine. Not only did my quads grow like a mutated animal zapped with gamma rays, but my entire body also grew like a weed.

It is often claimed that one exercise can’t force the entire body to grow. This is not my experience. A heavy, progressive regiment of squats changes your body’s hormonal balance for the better. Nothing induces a testosterone flood into the blood stream faster then an insane squat workout.

Common sense would indicate that slapping 400 pounds on your back is much more anabolic then a set of bicep curls. In fact, I rarely perform more then 3 sets of biceps a week, and my arms are 18”.

Secret 2: Progression

This shouldn’t be rocket science. Try for more reps and/or more weight on each set of every workout, and you will get big. End of story.

Progression trumps all other training techniques. It should be mastered first, and placed above all other training tactics. Never waste a set. Always push for more!

Secret 3: Food

During college, I had access to the school cafeteria. Every day was a buffet. I could eat as much as I liked. And I did.

Growing up, my family was very poor. This is no exaggeration. My father left when I was 8. My mother worked hard to support our family, but brought home very little money. We had to make do with food, and there wasn’t always much to go around.

So when I hit college, I ate like a madman. It was like living in paradise. And something miraculous happened: I gained muscle and lost fat. After a year, I was muscular and ripped. I looked nothing like the small-boned, skinny-fat guy that entered college.

You have to learn to eat enough to grow. I’m not telling you to eat like a hog. What I am telling you is this: you will never grow if you under-eat.

23 Years Later

In total, I have gained over 58 pounds of muscle in the last 23 years. I have deadlifted 530 pounds, squatted near 450, and benched 430. I look nothing like I did 23 years ago, and I attribute it to the 3 simple secrets in this article.

I am not telling you that there aren’t other factors involved in gaining muscle. If I said that, I would be lying. Supplements help, and proper rest is needed.

Master these 3 secrets, and you will grow. I promise you.

Posted on: Fri, 09/06/2013 - 09:46

Mr. Shaw

Would something like BBB from Jim Wendler build strength and muscle mass all over my body.
If i would follow his guideline lets say for a year and eat enough clean foods, would it change my body compensation?

Posted on: Fri, 08/23/2013 - 21:41

Hey Steve,
I was wondering what routine did you use to get huge?

Posted on: Fri, 08/23/2013 - 21:41

Hey Steve,
I was wondering what routine did you use to get huge?

Posted on: Thu, 08/22/2013 - 21:28

Hey Steve,
What do you think of this workout.

Bench Press 4 sets 8-12 reps
Scott Press
Barbell Rows
Close grip bench press

Bar Squats
Stiff legged deads
Seated Calve Raises

Reverse crunches
Trunk Twists

Charles Lowe
Posted on: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 00:01

I was slim as a teenager, at 6'0" and right around 135. So I guess you could say I was small boned, but I was slim not skinny. I could bench press 185 with ease, even though my chest wasn't very big. The one thing I hated, was that was calf muscles measured 15.5". So I had more weight in the lower part of my body. I would have to say I have weird genetics. I carry most of my weight in my legs. Now at almost 6'2", my arms from figure tip to figure tip only measure 71". My guys my height, their wing span is from 75" to 79". I look like a T-Rex now.

Mayank Parekh
Posted on: Mon, 08/06/2012 - 08:04

Hi Steve,
I am 32 yrs old from india, I started body building 6 mths back.
I want to do heavy squat, but i've piles problem and after lifting
heavy especially after squat my piles increase. any alternative for that.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 08:12

Matt...I recommend slotting deadlifts with upper back. Deadlifts hit the back the most.

Posted on: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 02:29

hey steve, if i was to do an upper / lower split to allow more time for recovery would i slot deadlifts into my upper or lower days? it works so many different muscles i wouldn't have a clue as to what people classify it as. thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 07:31

Dan...I'm well versed in the science behind training frequency. I learned much from Dr. Casey Butt, who has studied the subject. I think the AB split is a great way to train. Just remember the key is to always push for more strength. That will determine success on any program more than anything. Regarding rep totals, there is a sweet spot, and I believe Jason's assessment is within reason. I use a rep range of around 18 to 30 per exercise in my AB split. This is a good range for beginners. But if you have more experience, and aren't exactly a beginner, you can do up to 2 more sets for the exercises in the program. My advice is to not worry about magic ranges. While Ferruggia provides reasonable numbers, the real magic is in progression of weight.

Posted on: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 07:16

Sorry Steve, but do you mind if I ask something totally different to/about this article. I've looked everywhere and haven't been able to find any info on frequency of training depending on job type and i'm wondering if you could help me out on this .. i've started to lean very heavily towards your A / B full body workout twice a week rather than 3 because I work as a manual laborer and I am thinking 3 days a week full body would be too much, what do you think? And also, i've heard on Jason Ferruggia's website (not sure if you've heard of him) that the "magical" number of reps per body part is roughly 17-33 2 times a week or 25-50 3 times a week to elicit growth.. anymore than this could cause overtraining and any less won't be enough for most people except for "absolute beginners" he says.. I was wondering if you could help me with these two things? Don't get me wrong, he has some great info and 99% of the stuff he has on his site is good stuff, but i'm not too sure on this one. Thanks for your time man! Appreciate it.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 02/02/2010 - 12:15

Chuck...great reading about your story! Always inspirational to see another natural learn the great "mysteries." Stay safe and train hard!

Chuck Green
Posted on: Tue, 02/02/2010 - 11:57

Good article. I too was a thin guy when younger. Now at 53 years old I'm 230 lbs. of muscle naturally. I powerlift-squats,deadlifts,bench, some close-grip chins, hammer curls, close grip benches, lots of forearm work with a hand crusher. I stay away from all the shiny machines in the gym and spend all my time in the power rack. Squats, squats, and more squats, starting with just the bar and then building up in sets to my heaviest. Reps 1 to 4. After my heaviest set I do walkouts with 50 to 75 more lbs. than the last set and do 3 partial reps. After this I drop back down to 315 and do reps,4 to 5, then drop again to 225 for 5. Then I go hang from a chinup bar for as long as I can-builds the grip and stretches the back after having 400 to 500 pounds on it. Same with deadlifts. 85 to 90% of max for 3 to 4 reps for a couple of sets and then heavier doubles and singles. Then rack work with 100 lbs. more than the last set, bar at knee height for 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps.I never use wrist straps-always chalk on my hands. It builds a very strong grip. Bench 85 to 90% of max for 2 to 3 reps, then rack work with heavy overloads, than some pump out close grips for 2 sets. I train Monday squats, Weds. bench, Fri. Deadlifts and either Sat. or Sunday very light speed bench 50 to 60% of max, some hammer curls, closegrips, decline bench light,chins. I've found that the strongest powerlifters generally only train 3 times per week. It worked for me too. Also I eat and eat and eat. Lots of homemade shakes with raw eggs, kefir milk, good yogurt(live cultures),many different fruits,especially wild blueberries(best anti-oxident fruit) ice cream, milk, creatine, whey powder. 2 to 3 shakes a day, 3 to 4 smaller meals a day. Lots of meat, chicken, fish vegetables. Very little bread or pasta. I take a multi vitamin, lots of b-complex, and fish oil, flax seed oil. I work a hard physical job-landscaping, and bring 2 quarts of milk with chocolate whey powder and hersheys chocolate syrup mixed together for quick energy and protein throughout the day, plus a couple of meat and vegetable meals and nuts and fruit. I've been traing 37 years and have fine tuned this over that time. I have found if I don't squat and deadlift heavy, I don't keep size and strength. They are key. In my gym club, I'm pretty much the only guy who trains this way. All the other guys are hammering away on the shiny machines and light isolation movements, and they look the same or quit working out. The guys on the "juice" gain from almost anything, but when they go off their cycle I see them lose size and strength. Training heavy and eating a lot and well, I've found are truly the keys to size, power and health. In strength and peace.

Posted on: Mon, 12/07/2009 - 03:08

Hi Steve,

Firstly, very interesting article!

I have a question regarding the kind routine you used in your first year of college. Did you do full body workout? split? you mention the squat as a mass builder exercise but how often did you squat and what kind of sets/reps format did you use?


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 12/08/2009 - 12:20

Hi AT,

Thanks for the questions.

"Did you do full body workout split?"

I started college in 1986. There wasn't much media at that time on the topic of bodybuilding. It was primarily Joe Weider, split training type materials. So, no, I did not train fullbody. I did use almost all heavy, compound lifts, and my split was very simple. If I had to do it all over again, I would do a fullbody, or at least an AB split for the first year. It's best to master a handful of good lifts then to worry about too many isolation movements. Get strong on the basics.

"You mention the squat as a mass builder exercise but how often did you squat and what kind of sets/reps format did you use?"

I performed squats every 4 days. My focus was always on progression. This is key to building mass as quickly as possible. I generally performed 4 to 5 sets of squats per workout. I enjoy doing the heaviest sets first, and then moving on to lighter sets. But this is only personal choice. After heavy work, the bar feels lighter then normal when you drop weight. I would do several low rep warm-up sets first though. A typical set structure for me at that time was:

Warmup, 135x5 reps
Warmup, 135x5 reps
Warmup, 225x3 reps
Warmup, 275x2 reps

315 x 4-6 reps
315 x 4-6 reps
275 x 7-10 reps
275 x 7-10 reps
225 x 10-12 reps

When you work with a rep range, always move up in weight when you hit the "rep ceiling."

Also, were I to squat 2 times a week as a beginner, knowing what I know now, I would have a heavy day and a light day. The light day would generally be 1-2 fewer sets with the same rep ranges, with - maybe - 30 fewer pounds.