Tag Archives: mass gain

Do Work Son!

Anyone that has been following my training style knows that I preach training like an athlete.

But aside from rapid muscle building and raw strength gains, what does training like an athlete do you for that will carry over to any other kind of training regimen and into real world functionality?

Two words.

Work Capacity.

It is the most overlooked concept in strength training regimens, but it could be the one thing holding you back from making the gains you want.

So what do we mean by work capacity?

It can be defined as the ability to repeat high quality efforts and is directly tied to your preparedness level.  The higher your work capacity, the more prepared for training you are, the more prepared for training you are, the more work you can do, the more work you can do, the more muscle you can add, and so on and so on.

Now when you look at it, most people use strength training to A) get stronger and/or B) to get bigger.

Very few people work at the “conditioning” part of “strength and conditioning” with the same vigor and determination that they do with lifting weights.

But the bottom line is, if your work capacity is too low, you will not be able to incorporate new training volumes or crank up the intensity of your workouts while operating at the same strength levels.  This is a recipe for hitting a plateau.

Having a low work capacity plays hell with your recovery times too.  The longer you take to recover, the less you can train, limiting your opportunities to improve.

Now I know what you are thinking.  Cardio sucks, I get it.  But improving your work capacity has to become an integral part of your routine, and it doesn’t have to be spent on a treadmill or stair climber.

training like an athlete

Decrease Your Rest Times

I know there are prescribed rest times in between sets depending on your training goal, but throw all of that out the window.  They can be a good rule of thumb, but they can be a crutch as well.

Don’t be afraid to crank out a top end work set on 30 seconds rest.  Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell in his Book of Methods made a great point by saying that if you fully rest in between sets, your body will just keep using the same muscle fibers and no adaptations will take place and no new growth will occur.

Less rest = more work = higher work capacity.

Hill Sprints

These are ass kickers, no doubt about it.  Many of the greatest athletes of all time swear by them.  Who the hell wants to run on a treadmill for an hour anyway?

I have never met anyone trying to pack on serious muscle that likes epic cardio sessions.  Get outside, breathe some fresh air, sprint up a hill 6-10 times and be done with it, all in less than 20 minutes.  Do this a few times a week and not only will your work capacity improve, but you will burn some serious fat in the process.

training like an athlete


For a while, box jumps were the only cardio I did.  I jumped for height, for distance, for speed, for everything.  Box jumps are great for conditioning, balance, explosive power, leg/core strength and stability, and overall athletic performance.

You can hit these during your workout or as a high intensity finisher.  Done properly, you can probably make some serious progress very quickly.

Broad jumps and various tumbling exercises are great alternatives as well.

Sled and Prowler Work

These are a must.  Pulling a sled and pushing a prowler will beef up work capacity in a hurry and are great for total body strength.  They offer a ton of variations to try, each with their own distinct benefits.  Sled work is a staple of Primal Strength Camp.

Vary your pushes/pulls between heavy weight and short distances and light weight and long distances.  At a minimum start with 100 feet.  Dragging a heavy sled for a few miles is not out of the ordinary for the elite.

For those of you training at home, I’d recommend getting one.  They are simply too good to pass up.  You can get one here.  Add a few 45lb plates to it and start walking.

Circuit Training

Just about any kind of quick hitting circuit with roughly 5 exercises can do the trick.  Try this one out:

  1. 10 Pushups
  2. 10 Squat Jumps
  3. Bear Crawl 25 feet
  4. 10 Bodyweight Lunges
  5. 10 Kettlebell Swings

Perform this for 3 rounds with no rest in between exercises, and only a minute rest in between rounds.

Wrap Up

training like an athleteBuilding work capacity is not the most glamorous work in the world, but if you want to get to that next level, you have got to improve it. Getting stronger is a grind, my friends, and you’ve got to put in the dirty work to achieve greatness.

In the words of Big Black, “Do work son!”


— Tank

Ditch the Body Part Split!

I’d venture to guess that most of you landing here at Primal Strength Camp for the first time train using some kind of body part split.

Does your routine look like one of these?

Chest                                               Chest and Tri’s
Arms                                                Back and Bi’s
Legs                                                Legs and Shoulders
Back and Shoulders                        More Legs

I bet it is fairly similar.  What I’ll also bet is that you are not a professional or aspiring bodybuilder.

So let me break the bad news to you; unless you plan on getting on that stage any time soon to compete, you are sabotaging yourself.

Body part splits are “gain killers”.  Stop doing them.  You can’t keep working out the way these awful muscle magazines or the meatheads at your local gym tell you.

Recruit More Muscle to Build More Muscle

Seems like a straightforward concept right?  The more muscle you can stimulate in a given period of time, the more growth you can trigger.

The key to accomplishing this is through total body workouts, or for the intermediate and advanced lifter, an upper/lower split.  Instead of just training your chest and triceps in a given workout, using your entire body recruits far more muscle resulting in much bigger gains.

body workouts

Want a real world example?  Think about male gymnasts.  Ask any dude out there if he would want to look like a gymnast and I bet he can’t tell you no with a straight face.  Those dudes are jacked!

Think they look like that because they focus half their gym time in a given day on their biceps?  No!  They train total body each and every day.

By recruiting more muscle, you will make far bigger strength gains than you would training with isolated body parts as well.

Eliminate the Garbage 

Workouts consisting of squats, clean and presses, pull-ups, and pushups are going to recruit far more muscle than one consisting of lat pulldowns, bent over rows, preacher curls, and concentration curls.

Cramming a total body workout into a single training session forces you to eliminate the crap and choose your exercises carefully.  Ditch the isolation movements and feed yourself a steady diet of compound exercises and plyometrics.

Most of us aren’t bodybuilders so there is no sense in training like one.  You will get far better results training like an athlete.


Looking at the split routines I laid out in the beginning of this post, you will see it takes 4 days of work to fully train the entire body.  Add in a prescribed two days of rest, and your week of training is over.

Now let me ask you, who ever got good at anything by practicing once a week?  Because that is exactly what you are doing if you are following a body part split; the way the spit works out, you hit your chest once a week, your back once a week, etc.

With total body workouts, or upper/lower splits, you are hitting your muscle groups with at least twice as much frequency meaning you are triggering twice as many growth phases. In any given year, if you are only training each body part once a week, that is 52 growth phases.  Lose the body part split and you are already up over 100 growth phases. That should blow your mind!

Now ask yourself, who is going to be bigger and stronger at the end of the year?  The person growing 52 times a year or 100?

And since you are not spending inordinate amounts of time on any one body part, your recovery times for muscle groups are cut in half, leading to more growth time and avoiding a possible onset of overtraining.

strength training body workouts

So what is the best training split?

I’d start with none!  If you are experienced, switch to an upper/lower.

If you need a jumpstart, check out this post on a full body or upper lower split.

Implementing a Full Body or Upper Lower Split

If you want an entire 8 week program based on using an upper lower split, then join the thousands of others in Primal Nation and download Uncaging Your Primal Strength from the right hand side of this page.

Have questions, feel free to email me via the contact form or drop a comment here on this post and I’ll be glad to help!


— Tank

Hybrid Primal Training

Anyone who has been around the weight lifting game for a while knows that you work with different rep ranges depending on what your training goal is at the time.

  • 6-12 reps for muscle mass gain (hypertrophy)
  • 2-5 reps for strength
  • 12-20 for endurance

When you train with me, you can bet that we will live in that 3-5 rep range.  But who’s to say we can’t train for multiple benefits at once?  As long as you follow the rules of the road and don’t add too much volume for hypertrophy during the same session that you are trying to train for strength, or try to do so much in a workout that it lasts for over an hour, we can mix and match strategies to achieve a variety of benefits.

When training Primal, the name of the game is getting strong.  We will always emphasize that.  But damn, we all want to look good too.  Why not throw some bodybuilding in there?  And if you can’t move, what’s the point of being strong?  You have to train like an athlete.train like an athlete

Check out this sample workout to see what I mean.  Start with your big, compound strength lift.  Add in a few supplemental exercises that will either help you in your strength lifts, or help pack on the size.  And I’m a big fan of finishers to increase work capacity and cardiovascular strength and endurance.

* the rubric below does not count warmup sets.  Set x Rep numbers are representative of high-end working sets only.  During the initial strength exercise, you will rest up to 5 mins between sets, and for all other exercises, no more than 90 seconds *

  • Dynamic Warmup (pushups, bodyweight squats, lunges, animal walks, band pull aparts, etc.)
  • Bench Press: 5 x 5
  • Pullups: 4 x AMRAP
  • High Pull: 4 x 8
  • Sled Drags
  • Battle Rope

Boom!  Total body workout, multiple rep ranges, great conditioning finisher.  We’ve covered all of our bases.

Now, this template isn’t for everybody, and looking at it, it’s a big workout.  Something like this is geared towards a more experienced lifter, or someone who is in a maintenance stage or transitioning to some other period of a specific goal.  Beginners could steal from this workout by taking 3 of the exercises plus the warmup and probably get damn good results.

Want more workouts like these?  Follow our daily workouts on the homepage.  Come to Strength Camp Saturdays if you are in the Charlottesville area!

The best and only way to reach new levels in your training is to get stronger!


— Tank

How to Build A Bigger Back

A well developed back can be one of the biggest indicators of someone disciplined in the strength game. Your back contains a ton of musculature and there are a ton of different ways to attack it, so the key is knowing how to make the most of your back training.

Using compound exercise are key and working in a lot of different variations will help ensure you are hitting all of the different muscles in your back. The following exercises should represent your foundation.

muscle building back

Top 5 Back Building Exercises

  1. Pull-Ups – This classic exercise narrowly missed being in my overall Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises,  but it can easily be argued as the best back builder of all time.  If you are serious about any kind of strength training program, this is a must!  Be sure to try the dozens of variations out there (wide grip, neutral grip, overhand, underhand, static holds, etc.).
  2. Farmer Carries – This is one of my favorite exercises, not only for its effectiveness but also its versatility.  You can carry anything!  You don’t need a gym to do these.  Try performing a couple heavy rounds of these and your back will be crushed.  And not only that, this will develop your gripping power like none other, which will help you in any other heavy lift you do at the gym.
  3. Deadlift – While some may initially think of this as a leg exercise, nothing puts meat on your traps like the deadlift.  Pulling up heavy sh*t off the floor and holding it there is a killer workout.  Nothing measures overall strength like the deadlift, and its full body benefits make it the #1 muscle building exercise of all time.
  4. Hang Cleans – Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research.  It’s an easy lift to learn and one of the most effective exercises for building your shoulders and upper back.  They also develop your explosiveness, which will carry over into your other lifts and directly translate to increase athletic performance.
  5. Bent Over Rows – You can perform these a number of ways, but my personal favorite is using dumbbells.  Barbells allow you to really stack the weight, but can put greater stress on your back and also opens the opportunity for your stronger side to overcompensate for your weaker side.  Dumbbells may expose your weak side, but will also force you to isolate it, making sure both sides get equal work.  This is also a great arm builder and grip strength exercise as well.muscle building back

You should be training your back at least multiple times a week on your upper body days. These 5 exercises should be performed at least once during your weekly training schedule.

With pull-ups and rows, there are so many variations to choose from, so make sure you work them in. Many times I work farmers carries into my conditioning drills on lower body days to get additional back work in. On your active recovery days, pull-ups make a great option as light bodyweight work that will build a ton of muscle.

— Tank

Why Women Should Lift Heavy

Ladies, you can’t be afraid of the weights!  

I get questions all the time from girls like “Tank, how do I tone my arms” or “How do I get a tighter butt?” or “How do I lose weight but put on muscle?”

My one and only answer?  Lift weights and lift heavy.

The generic is response is “But I don’t want to get big muscles and look like a linebacker.”

Girls are always afraid of this, but let me be the first one to tell you that this is nothing to be afraid of!

If it was that easy to pack on muscle, you would see many more jacked dudes walking around.  Trust me, it isn’t that easy.

Why is it not that easy?

Most of it can be attributed to two key differences between men and women: hormones and diet.

First of all, a lot of the muscle growth in men is attributed to hormone production.  Since you ladies have much lower levels of hormones like testosterone, you need not be afraid of looking like a science experiment.

Diet is another contributing factor.  A lot of jacked up dudes are consuming far in excess of their maintenance levels.  You rarely need to force feed yourself calories, especially since it is not your goal to get huge in the first place.  Eating a balanced diet with proper nutrition will yield you great results.

Want to look like this girl?

tighter butt

Think this girl looks like this because she lives on a treadmill and does set after set of crunches?  No!  She lifts weights and she lifts heavy.

The normal female desires of getting toned and losing weight really just translates to building muscle and losing body fat.

Weight lifting does both of these for you.

The “toned” look is the by-product of having a good amount of lean muscle mass.  You can’t actually tone a muscle.  If you want better arms, you can’t bicep curl and tricep kick-back your way into success.  You need to work your entire body by lifting weights and putting more muscle onto your frame.

Lifting weights not only builds muscle, but it boosts your metabolism long after you have left the gym, putting you in prime fat burning mode.  If you develop a routine and lift weights with regularity, you will be a fat burning machine 24/7!

How do I do it?

Start by budgeting at least 3 days of your week to lift weights for 1 hour.  Workouts should consist of total body movements.  Compound exercises are king; avoid isolation exercises.

Don’t know what exercises to do?  Pick from this list.  Perform 4 per session.

Make sure to do a proper warmup and keep the number of sets per exercise to 3-4 in the beginning.  Each set can be performed for roughly 6-12 reps, depending on the amount of weight you are using.

Lift as heavy as you can in this prescribed rep range.  Lifting heavy burns far more calories than really high rep programs and is a major metabolism booster, burning even more fat during your recovery periods.

Make sure you increase your intensities each set (progressive overload).  As you get stronger, you can start with more weight and progressively go for heavier weights.  You should be improving each week in the beginning.

Rest periods should be short, no longer than 90 seconds in between sets.  The reality is that females require shorter rest periods than males, so 90 seconds is being generous.  You should be able to perform sets with as low as 30 seconds of rest in between sets, depending on how hard you are working yourself.  Do not rest too long!  You must challenge yourself and crank up the intensity to get results.

Strong is the new skinny!  Don’t be afraid to pick up some weights and lift with the boys.  Truth is, I’ve seen girls that can outlift a lot of guys these days and they look good doing it.  Plus it will be a big boost to your ego by seeing the stunned looks on guys faces around your gym after you dominate them!


— Tank

Make the Time

What is the #1 answer people give when asked why they do not regularly exercise?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Not to be too harsh, but that is total bullsh*t.

That is an excuse, not a reason.

Everyone has time to lift some weights at some point in the day, I don’t care who you are.

Some of you may have legitimate “reasons” as to why you can’t make time for the gym.  Listen, I get it.  You have kids and baseball practice and homework and laundry and groceries and cooking and happy hours and television shows and all kinds of other responsibilities.  The list goes on and on.

But the bottom line is, despite it all, you have to make the time.  If you truly want it, you will make the time.  If you don’t, you will find another excuse and you won’t ever change.

muscle building

Getting in at least 30 – 60 minutes a day in the gym 4 times a week isn’t a lot to budget for.

What does that break down to?  1-2% of your week.  That should be eye opening!

So are you still telling me that you can’t invest 2% of your week for a lifetime of healthy living, new found confidence, and an overall better well being for both you and your family?

Sure as hell sounds like a no brainer to me!

Wake up earlier, go to bed later, find a babysitter (a lot of gyms have on-site care), spend less time watching tv.  Sacrifice something for a healthier, stronger you!

Don’t know where to start?  Check out this list of awesome muscle building exercises here.  Pick a few of these and get started.  Follow my blog posts.  This is all free coaching for you to take advantage of.

No more excuses.  Make the time.  


— Tank

Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  For part 1, click here!

By now you’ve heard my sermon on training for strength.  I generally talk down on the “bodybuilding” approach; I passionately believe that the majority of us should be training for strength, not strictly for mass gain and appearance.  See my post on training like an athlete; it is one of my favorites and I bet it will change how you look at your training regimen.  However…

Bodybuilding has it’s place.  For bodybuilders (and I mean people who are competing or have aspirations to compete), it’s the logical, standard approach.  And it may even work for the average Joe (which is the majority of the people in the gym, whether or not you want to admit it) for a little while…but it will never work permanently; just like my approach for training for strength won’t either.

**Note** If you aren’t familiar with the concept of linear periodization, google it and make yourself smarter.  It is the foundational rule of strength training and one that everyone should know.strength training

Anyhow, back to this post.

Bodybuilders stop here.  Read my post on training like an athlete and part 1 of this series, and work those styles into your regimen when you need to switch it up.  I can guarantee it will work wonders for you.

Now, average Joes, gym rats, and about 90% of the gym population, LISTEN UP!  This post should really hit home for you.  You should be doing the direct opposite of my bodybuilding friends; aim to increase your base strength and mix in the bodybuilding only as a short period of your overall routine.

Just using a bodybuilding approach is great for beginners;  if you’ve never picked up a weight before, I bet you can make some serious gains quick.  I am a prime example of that.  Using a high volume, body part split routine I gained 40lbs in just over 4 months as a rookie.

But I quickly hit a plateau.  Boom!  My gains came to a screeching halt.

Now I’ve completely reversed my training style.  Now the bodybuilding/hypertrophy period of my training is relatively short compared to my strength period (roughly only 3-4 months of the whole year).  That means that about 75% of the year I’m training strictly to get stronger, while bodybuilding and time off make up the remaining 25%.  A lot of times I’ll work in a bodybuilding type movement into my daily workouts, while sill doing a majority of compound type strength exercises in low rep ranges.

This approach has served me and my training partners well; it allows you to make significant and systematic strength gains, while allowing you to put mass on your frame without getting that “puffy look” that a lot of guys get from doing too much volume.

You can also use this style to bring up your weaknesses and help improve your big lifts.

Lets say I want to add some weight to my bench press; taking a bodybuilding approach and doing some direct triceps work can help build my synergist muscles and help me put up bigger numbers.  My deadlift is slacking?  Time to attack the hamstrings.  Get the idea?

You may also hit a time in your training where your actual size prohibits you from advancing your strength gains.  I’ve reached sticking points to where I needed to get physically bigger for me to achieve the strength goals I had.  I only weigh 175lbs, but I routinely squat over 400lbs.  Not a bad feat, but I have reached a limit to where my body just simply cannot handle the load I put onto it.

Powerlifters often talk about “eating past their sticking points”, meaning they simply try to gain weight to improve their lifting ability.  Using the bodybuilding approach for part of your training regimen to concentrate strictly on mass gain can help you get stronger.  Get bigger to get stronger.

strength trainingBottom Line

Bodybuilding is a great supplemental training style to add to your regimen.  But do not do it all the time if you are not an aspiring competitor!

Add some bodybuilding to your daily strength workouts, and you can do a few months of bodybuilding per year to help bring your mass gains up to par if you are not happy with your progress.  Use bodybuilding to bring up your weaknesses and synergistic muscles that will help you in your big lifts like the bench press or deadlift.

Mass gain from bodybuilding will also help you get stronger in the long run by making your body more capable of handling huge weights.

Just remember, the stronger you are, the better off you’ll be.  Even if you want the bodybuilder look, the stronger you are, the more weight you can use, the bigger you will get!


— Tank


Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 1 of 2)


I will always promote the idea of getting stronger, first and foremost.  This requires me to show normal gym rats why they should train to get strong, and why they shouldn’t emphasize the high volume bodybuilding approach that they mimic off other dudes in the gym or read in all of the muscle magazines.  I am not slamming bodybuilding routines; in fact they can be very valuable and I still use them in my program. But what I am saying is that for those of us not trying to compete in a bodybuilding show, high volume training sessions should only be a very small portion of our training program.

Alright, now that that is out of the way, lets kick this thing off!

Base Strength

Training for strength kinda seems like a no-brainer.  After all, lifting weights at the gym is allegedly called strength training.

But how I see people train most of these days is far from it.  In reality, what I usually see is people lifting like bodybuilders (85% or less than their one rep max in high volume sessions) in order to get a more visually pleasing body.  The vast majority of us are not bodybuilders!  So why are you training like one?!?!  Nothing wrong with trying to look good and get bigger, but there is a better way to go about it.

strength training

Increasing your “base strength” levels will lead to long term mass gains and can be accomplished by simply training to get stronger.

Base strength is the low end level of any given person’s strength ability, like the weight a person can do, for say, 20 reps without warming up.  So if a guy can squat 600lbs at max effort, his base strength may be squatting 300lbs.

Ok, so what does having great base strength mean for mass gain?

Well, if you are like most smart lifters, you follow some form of periodization, usually a strength phase followed by a hypertrophy phase.  And if you are simply trying to get bigger or get a more impressive physique, you are probably emphasizing the hypertrophy phase.  Perfectly logical.

However, lets think about this in a different way.  Training for mass gain you are operating at 85% or less of your one rep max for reps of 6-12 a set for the most part.  But what if your 85% could be done with much more weight?  Wouldn’t you put on more mass because you are using more resistance?  You betcha!!

At the end of a 12 week cycle, who is going to have a bigger chest?  The guy who can bench 225 for 12 reps a set, or the guy who can bench 185 for 12?  The 225 guy obviously because his base strength levels are much higher.

Make sense?  This is why I emphasize training for strength.  The more we improve our base strength, the more weight we can use during hypertrophy training, meaning the bigger we can get.

Lesson learned?  Do not neglect the “strength” part of strength training.  Cut down the reps, crank up the resistance, and train like an athlete.  You must train to get stronger, regardless of your overall goals.  Strength is the foundation for which all fitness achievements are built upon.

Stay tuned for part 2 over the weekend, where I give bodybuilding its credit as a supplemental tool to your training program!  I will also give you a pro-con list to these 2 vastly different training approaches.



Food For Thought

There is also a flip side to this concept but I have yet to see it tested or proven one way or another.  If an athlete can improve his base strength levels by 50lbs (for example increasing his bench from 200lbs to 250lbs), will his absolute max strength improve as well?  Will training for base strength lead to an ability to surpass previous one rep maxes?

I suspect the answer is no, but the body is an amazing thing.  This may be something I evaluate in the future and try on myself.


Train Like An Athlete

One of the first things I ask people when assessing how and why they train is to ask them who they want to look like.  The answers I get are almost 100% the same.  Yet, the way they train is completely out of whack with the goals they have.

Let me illustrate.  Take a look at the pics below.  Who would you rather look like?  Jay Cutler or Vernon Davis?

train like an athletetrain like an athlete

Now Jay is huge and impressive, but I’d still venture to guess that most of you picked Vernon Davis on the right.

So let me ask another question.  If you want to look like the guy on the right, why is it that you train like the guy on the left?

The majority of people I see walking around gyms these days are still doing the same sh*t they read out of bodybuilding mags that were idolized decades ago; body part splits, isolation movements, high volume.

If you are a bodybuilder, have at it.  But most of us aren’t getting on that stage any time soon.  We simply want to get bigger, and stronger, and look good with our shirts off.  Most of us want to look like our favorite athletes.  If you want to look like an athlete, you sure as hell better be training like one.

Compound exercises are king.  Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, Olympic lifts.

Sprint, jump, move!  No more isolation, no more 80 reps of one body part training session.  Total body training, or for the intermediate to advanced lifter an upper/lower split, is where you should live.

Do you think Vernon spends his time doing bicep curls and lat pulldowns?  The dude is training for strength and power.  He’s doing pull-ups, heavy squats, clean and presses.  He’s doing total body training sessions.  And guess what?  He still looks good doesn’t he?

Choosing a training plan and exercises that recruit more muscle per movement builds more muscle.  Simple right?  Plus you can work with heavier resistance on the compound movements that will boost your strength, and eventually your mass, for you vain pretty boys…

Ditch the bodybuilding routine.  It’s time to train like an athlete.