Summer's coming. Summer is always coming, man, it doesn't matter what time of year it is. And if you get swole enough? Any time you flex the pecs or take someone to the gun show, it'll heat up so much it'll be like summer. Only you'll be the one bringing the fire. Straight.
So You Wanna Get Swole…
Who doesn't? You only have one body, so you might as well invest in it. Nothing says "I care about myself" like having a ripped physique. And everyone digs that—self-care? Very in these days.
And it is self-care—care for your entire self. The time you spend on proper nutrition, adequate workouts, and appropriate rest will pay dividends like whoa. It's not just about looking good, my dude.
It's about feeling good, being good, achieving your absolute best. Getting jacked isn't just something you cram in between rock climbing and looking good at the beach.
It Is Totally a Way of Life
The quest to get swole doesn't end. You can—and should—have rest and recovery periods, but taking care of your body when you're not moving metal? That stuff never goes away. It's a full-time, no kidding, be your apex self, way of life.
You have to eat right, for starters. Some of you might want to slim down and lean out before you build up, and hey, there's nothing wrong with being an optimal weight. But gains?
Mostly rely on diet. Not just more of it—though you do need to be sure you're feeding the fire enough fuel. It also has to be high octane nutrition, the right stuff in the appropriate measures.
A lot of would-be Greek Gods and Goddesses start out with just wanting fat loss. Fair enough, but you might find yourself taking the slow road to swole when you could be amping (and pumping) it up. Way up.
Your body wants to hang on to those last few pounds of fat, so dieting to get your BMI adjusted in the right direction and then working out like you're getting paid for it is just giving your body mixed messages.
Fat Is Fuel
Those few extra pounds of fat are survival insurance, a mechanism left over from when we might have needed the energy to sprint those last few yards to get away from the bear or catch up with the bison. It's not the enemy, but it does need to be put to work for you.
Fat stored in the body is like nitrous on a street racer: it gives you the biggest jolt of energy when you need it, but just like nitrous, it needs oxygen to burn. That means aerobic workouts.
Fat needs oxygen to be transformed into fuel. If you're determined to drop a few pounds of fat before you work on gaining a bunch more in muscle, then focus on anything that gets your heart pounding, like interval workouts, running, or cycling. But if you really want to get swole? You're better off lifting.
The fat might take a while to burn off, but more muscle mass means more calories are needed just to keep that extra bulk fueled up, so you really do see better results from putting in the work.
But let's talk diet, the way it should be approached if you want to get swole. Seriously, a lot of what you're going to read is going to be focused on food, because it is just that important to getting big and staying big.
Eat Right, Be Right
Diet is critical to seeing big gains. We'll get to the nitty-gritty on all that, but the basics are that if you eat too much, your body has to put it somewhere, and you may have noticed: your birthday suit doesn't come with pockets.
That's not so much of a problem when you're working for bulk, because the goal here is to do so much work, your body is burning fuel just as fast as you can shovel it in. You want to be sure to eat the right things, but sometimes less is not more.
What about the routines? What kind of workout, how many reps, how often? We'll get to that, yo. But this is about the entire animal, and if you want to engage beast mode? You've got to eat like one. A lot of advice focuses on the mechanics, and it's not wrong: it's just half the picture.
Taking the time to do it right means taking the time to focus on diet and nutrition. You run into two problems here: meal prep time and basic costs. It can take a lot of just to fix all that food, and when you look at the price tag for eating right? Ouch. Is it worth it? You bet. But it can be expensive, both on the clock and in your pocket.
Learn to love being in the kitchen. Don't just tolerate it—think of it as your launch pad for largeness. It's just as important as the gym—no lie. Being big means eating big, and it's going to take some time to get that food ready, so get used to that room and get comfortable in it.
Start with some quality basic items to make your time there more profitable and pleasurable. It's also a great opportunity to listen to podcasts or workout music to get your brain focused on where you want your body to be. Feed your head and your body so you can be a mad scientist of muscle mass. We'll get to that, too, but food first.
The Right Gear Isn't Just in the Gym
You'll want a non-stick pan, a slow cooker, and plenty of storage containers. And don't get the cheapest stuff at Bed, Bath & Beyond, broheim. Spend a little here, because these are essentials. Investing now means your tools will last longer and make meal prep faster, easier, and more enjoyable.
Next, plan your week out. What kind of training are you doing on which days? Make a list of foods that will support the kind of workouts you're planning, and then plan your meals around that. Lots of protein for the big muscle mass days, more carbs right around workout time.
Quick tip: eat before you go shopping. You're less likely to opt for stuff that's not on your list when your stomach isn't pointing you at the nearest frozen burrito.
If we only had three words to tell you how to get swole quick, those three words would be: protein, protein, protein. Protein not only preserves muscle mass, it stimulates new growth with essential amino acids (whoa, science) and you're going to need to stock up to bulk up.
Vegan? Eat tofu. Extra health conscious? Chicken's a good bet. Hardcore carnivore? Beef it is, baby. No matter where you fall on this list, you'll want to think about the kinds of protein you'll want to eat that week and plan accordingly. Chicken thighs are a good, cheap alternative to chicken breasts, and different, cheaper cuts of meat in the form or round or shoulder roasts are great for that slow cooker you picked up.
Don't forget eggs—you can buy them 18 at a time or in some stores in a three dozen flatpack, and they're worth it. To be further cost conscious, beans are a great source of protein and a good option if you don't want to consume anything that used to have a face.
Seriously, Vegans? Get ready to part with some cash. Unless you're planning on surviving on beans and lentils (and remember: you're gonna be eating a lot of them), tofu can get pricey, as can most meatless alternatives. Your best bet here is something like a Trader Joe's, which has decent prices on meat-free meals.
Now that you've got all that protein in one place, it's time to prep it all. Batch-cooking can be a life- and time-saver here, which is why the slow cooker is really so essential. Or you can fire up that non-stick and cook up a big batch of steak, chicken breasts, or fatty fish like salmon or tuna (or, you know, that tofu) and you're ahead of the game.
Dump a flatpack of chicken thighs or a roast or two into a crockpot with some veggies and canned stock or soup for a couple of hours and go do something else (like reps, bro, reps) while it's cooking. Once you've got your protein meals cooked, weigh them out, put them in containers, and you're done.
Don't Forget the Greens
There's a saying in the restaurant industry: if it's not green, it's obscene. It means there should be something green on every plate. Same holds true at home. Cooking up leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, or spinach takes about no time and they're packed with vitamins, fiber, and energy. Same with root vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes—which are also great to throw in the crockpot with your meats.
Fats are your friends—healthy fat intake is essential for overall health and gaining mass, so don't skimp. Olive oil, whole nuts like walnuts (packed with Omega-3 oils), nut butters, and whole milk are a good way to add some extra fat and calories to your routine.
Input, Output: How to Eat to Get Swole
And don't forget to carb up, son. While you want to eat most of your meats on heavy muscle days, you'll want to space your carbs out right around your training time—before and after—to give you the energy you'll need during crunch time and to help you recover more effectively.
You'll want complex carbs like pasta, potatoes, oatmeal, and rice—are all good, cheap bets. You can cook large batches just like with the meats (you may even want to invest in a rice cooker), and then store them to add to meals later.
And at meal times, keep it basic, broseph or brosephine. Pick a protein, a healthy serving of fats, a handful of veggies, and the right amount of carbs. While you're out shopping, you'll want to pick up some spices (turmeric, ginger, and garlic are all awesome for you and taste great), and incorporate those into your meals at cook time.
Get Swole—Body and Brain
While you're in the kitchen (we'll get to the workout routines next, dude), take the time to listen to some podcasts or music that will inspire you to live a life devoted to largeness. If you listen to music while you work out, listen to the same stuff at home. Everyone's workout jam is different, so you do you, but here's a list of some great podcasts to check out if you're dedicated to living the swole life.
Finally, The Workouts!
Alright, my dude, you've been waiting for the word on the weights, and here it is, the second step in your journey to get swole: putting in the work.
Swole can be simple. It really can. It's easy to over-complicate this with an infinite number of specific exercises, sets, reps, splits, and programs to get big, but it doesn't have to be that hard.
The golden rule here is: know pain? Know gain. You don't want to set out to injure yourself, but you are looking to rip your existing muscle fiber up. It is the only way to make it grow. So, you want to work with weight that's going to be a little challenging. Keep it heavy.
And keep it simple. Do not over think this, that's just going to demotivate you. There is no one "best workout," but rather a collection of simple routines that you can remember, stick with, and go to time after time. You'll have variety in working the different muscle groups, but in general you want to know your workout like the back of your sweaty hand.
So keep it simple, swolehead! Pick a full body routine that you can see yourself accomplishing two to three times a week, with recovery periods built-in for the days after a really strenuous sesh.
The simplest thing is warming up. Five to ten minutes on a bike or rowing machine at low resistance, some jumping jacks, a quick jog—anything to get your heart going and the blood moving to your muscles.
When you get down to doing the serious work, you're going to want to work target different muscles. Check out the chart below for the basics.
Muscles to Target During Workouts:
Work the back of your legs—your hamstrings and butt. Then work your quads—the front of your legs. You can do both on a single day, but do not skip "leg day." Don't be that guy.
Next up, the "push" muscles: your chest, shoulder, and triceps, all muscles engaged when you push a weight up or away from yourself.
Then, your pull muscles—your hands and forearms for grip, your back and biceps for brawn. These muscles are engaged when you lift or pull a weight toward yourself.
Lastly, work that core: your abdominals, obliques, and lower back. These muscles will help you stabilize everything while you're going for the big gains in the more visible muscle groups, and they are critical. The stronger your core, the more weight you can manage with your extremities.
It really is that simple. And you'll want to use compound movements—movements that involve your joints and target more than just one muscle. By recruiting multiple muscles at the same time, you can build a full body routine using only four or five exercises, leaving you free to concentrate on moving that weight.
Sticking with the order of our table above, here are the basic exercises you want to do for each group.
Pick just one exercise from each category above for each workout and you'll work almost every single muscle in your body. Each movement will make you that much stronger, and you will get swole in no time.
A sample workout that keeps it simple and still hits every muscle:
3 sets of 15 repetitions each
3 sets of 8 repetitions each
3 sets of 3 repetitions each
3 sets of 3 repetitions each
3 sets, each plank held for 1 minute each time
If you're not sure how to do each exercise above, there's a wealth of information online about proper form—we want to give you a general overview here, not run you into the ground with technicalities.
The infographic above is just a sample. You'll want to pick one exercise from each muscle group and put that in your workout every other day.
Once you get those moves down, it's time to mix it up a little. Variety is important here, as you'll want to "confuse" your muscles by varying the way they're called on to perform your workouts. This leads to bigger gains, faster, by tearing and rebuilding your muscles in different areas.
You'll notice that the above suggestions leave weekends free and a day in between each workout. This is because the work you're doing in the gym isn't really building muscle.
Say what? No, my man, you're demolishing muscle. The real gains come when you're recovering. A Monday/Wednesday/Friday workout schedule generally gives you sufficient time to recover, especially if you're just starting to get serious about getting big gains.
And if you train particularly heavy one day? Good for you, dude. Now give a solid forty-eight hours to rest and recovery. Your muscles actually get bigger as they heal, so cherish that sore feeling you have on days between workouts—and save the heaviest days for Fridays.
Ready, Sets, Go
You're wondering how many sets in general you want to be doing. Another blissfully uncomplicated answer: a couple of warm-up sets at around 20% of your lift weight, and then three to five sets per exercise.
Each set should be made up of repetitions (we'll get to that next) of movements that you do without stopping. Bench a weight five times and rest, you've just done one set of five reps. Simple, right?
Right. Don't make this harder than it has to be, don't worry about the exact number of sets. Aim for between three and five, just pick a number, see how you do with it, and if you need to adjust for your next workout, adjust.
As you do these workouts, your body will let you know what it needs or how it's doing. You can add more sets or more weight—but when in doubt, add more weight. You don't want to do a bunch of exercises for each muscle group with, like, ten to fifteen sets each—that's not only overkill, it's not efficient.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
How many reps? Again, don't over think it. If you're just staring out or recovering from an injury, you'll want to do more reps with lighter weights to give your body a chance to learn or re-learn the movements.
The stronger those muscles get, the lower rep range you'll want to go, even down to a single rep per set for a movement like a squat or a deadlift. This is how you get swole: by tearing that muscle down and allowing it to rebuild.
If you find yourself being able to do more than about twelve to fifteen reps without pushing it, it's time to make that movement harder. You can do this by increasing the weight or by making the movement more difficult for things like lunges, pull-ups, and push-ups.
Here are some basic guidelines for rep counts and what you're trying to accomplish.
The amount of time you should wait between sets is, again, a really simple proposition. As long as it takes to feel like you can safely and completely accomplish your next set.
That will change with the type of exercise, your basic level of conditioning, and with your health. If you catch the sniffles, big guy, then your wait between sets is going to be greater.
Here are some rough guidelines:
Vary it according to your individual needs. A lot of things can affect this—your hydration level, how well you've slept, things like that. Do the best you can, keep track of how long you rest between sets, and try to make that downtime shorter and shorter each time.
Big Question: How Much Should I Lift?
As much as you can. No, really—lift no more than you can manage to get through your set, but not so much that you find yourself bailing out in your targeted mid-rep range.
This can be tough to figure out at first, because chances are you're not going to guess right the first few times. Time for trial and error—mostly error here—but that's how you figure it out.
While you do want to always be pushing yourself, err on the side of caution, because trying to lift too much, too fast leads to injury, which leads to a lot of down time, which is not how you get swole. It's how you get hurt.
How Long Should I Train?
This one's easy. Keep it under an hour, but more than half an hour. If you're doing a total set count of between fifteen and twenty sets of different exercises, there's no real reason you shouldn't be able to get it done in around forty-five minutes. Add time—say five or ten minutes on the front for warmup and the same amount of time on the back end for stretching, and you should still be under an hour.
Why under an hour? Because if you can go for more than that and you're not ready to drop, you're just not doing enough work with that amount of time. Less time plus more weight equals bigger guns.
The Last Word
Nighty-night! No, seriously, get an appropriate amount of sleep. Most people need around eight hours—women may find they need more. Anyone doing especially hard training? You may need eight to ten hours. Why?
One simple reason: most of the growth hormone that our bodies release happens while we're sleeping. Who knew that two of the big keys to getting massively big and monstrously strong were eating and naps? Good stuff, man, good stuff.
That should get you well on the road to swoledom. Remember, go slow, aim for big gains and not injuries, and make sure you're getting enough rest and protein.
Now go get your swole on.