Articles

Illustration of a muscular bodybuilder climbing through the mythical anabolic window.

The Anabolic Window: Both Fact & Fiction

The “anabolic window” is an old bodybuilding term. A few years ago, it was pilloried by the evidence-based fitness community, and perhaps rightfully so—the requirements were woefully strict.

As so often happens, the backlash was overly harsh. There’s some merit to the idea of the anabolic window. The truth is that most people can benefit from taking advantage of it. That’s even more true for naturally thinner people.

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And illustration of a beginner going rucking to improve his cardiovascular fitness.

How to Ruck—The Complete Beginner Guide

Rucking is walking with a loaded backpack, also known as a “rucksack,” hence the term “rucking.” The term comes from military training, but its origins go back far further. We’ve been carrying heavy loads over long distances throughout all of human history.

Hunter-gatherers carried spears and shields and baskets full of forage. Men would lug large game home after successful hunts. Women would carry their young children strapped to their backs. We’ve always been rucking, just without the rucksacks.

Rucking is still popular. It remains one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. Here’s our beginner guide explaining how to do it.

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Illustration of a bunch of men deadlifting.

Hypertrophy Training Volume: How Many Sets to Build Muscle?

How many sets should you be doing per muscle group per week to build muscle? If you train efficiently, optimizing every factor for muscle growth, you may be able to maximize your rate of muscle growth away with as few as 9 sets per week.

On the other hand, if you’re training for other goals—strength, power, fitness, or endurance—you might gain less muscle per set. In that case, you may benefit from higher training volumes.

So, we’ll start by reviewing the best type of training volume for building muscle. Then we can discuss how much volume we should do to maximize our rate of muscle growth.

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Illustration of a skinny guy who's worried about diabetes and insulin resistance while bulking up.

Can Bulking Cause Insulin Resistance & Diabetes?

Whenever we talk about how carbohydrates can be good for building muscle, we get comments from people worried that if they eat too many carbs, they’ll produce too much insulin, and their bodies will become desensitized to it, causing insulin resistance and potentially even leading to diabetes. Can that happen?

The other concern is that bulking means eating in a calorie surplus to intentionally gain weight. Can that calorie surplus cause insulin resistance?

The first thing I did was reach out to Dr. Karl Nadolsky, an endocrinologist who specializes in diseases like diabetes. Then, I reached out to Danny Lennon, a nutritionist on the Advisory Board of the Sports Nutrition Association. I asked them both the same question: Should skinny and skinny-fat people be worried about eating too many carbs while bulking? Could that lead to insulin resistance and diabetes?

Their answers surprised me.

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Illustration of a guy tracking his calories with the MacroFactor calorie-tracking app.

A Review of the MacroFactor Macro-Tracking App

We’ve spent nearly two years reviewing MacroFactor, comparing it against all its major competitors, and had over 100 clients use it to build muscle, lose fat, or recomp.

MacroFactor is a calorie-counting, macro-tracking app created by two of the most respected research reviewers in the fitness industry. It’s built on good muscle-building and fat-loss principles, it boasts a clever algorithm, and it’s impressively precise.

However, there’s more to a good calorie-counting app than good science. How easy is it to use? How much of your time will devour every day? And perhaps most importantly, how does it compare against industry giants like MyFitnessPal?

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Illustration of a weight lifter doing compound exercises to gain muscle and strength.

The 5 Best Compound Lifts for Gaining Muscle & Strength

All the best muscle-building programs are built on the idea of progressively overloading the big compound lifts. If you aren’t able to progressively overload those exercises, then you won’t build muscle. And if you can’t build muscle, then you won’t be able to progressively overload your exercises.

Most bodybuilding programs prioritize effort. They emphasize doing more sets and reps, pushing harder, and focusing on the pump, the pain, the burn, and the strain. After all, pain is the feeling of weakness leaving the body, right? It can be, but it can also be an illusion. Your effort is only productive if it adds up to actual progress. That’s where strength training shines.

Strength training is rooted in powerlifting, where your strength is determined by how much you can squat, bench press, and deadlift for a single repetition—your total. If you’re getting stronger at the big compound exercises, you’re improving. If you aren’t, the problem is immediately evident, allowing you to fix it right away.

However, strength training has its own problems. Low-bar back squats aren’t the best compound exercise for building muscle. Neither are wide-grip bench presses or wide-stance sumo deadlifts. The emphasis on progression is fantastic, but the exercises aren’t ideal.

We need to combine both approaches, choosing the best compound exercises for our goals, then attacking them with the vigour of a bodybuilder and the focus of a powerlifter. If you can grow gradually stronger at the best muscle-building exercises, you can consistently build muscle.

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Illustration of a weight lifter doing shoulder exercises to build bigger front, side, and rear delts.

The Best Exercises for Your Front, Side & Rear Delts

Your shoulders house the biggest muscles in your upper body (study). They’re 50% bigger than your chest, lats, and triceps and 300% bigger than your biceps. As a result, building bigger shoulders is one of the best ways to build muscle, gain strength, and improve your appearance (study).

Your shoulder muscles are made up of three different heads—the front delts, side delts, and rear delts. Each of those heads performs a different function, requiring a different shoulder exercise. You need a mix of pressing exercises, lateral raises, and pulling exercises.

In this guide, we’ll go over the best shoulder exercises for each head, then combine them together into a balanced shoulder workout.

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Illustration of a weight lifter flexing his shoulder muscles after a Shoulder Day workout.

The Best Shoulder Day Workout for Building Muscle

Shoulder Day is a workout designed to bulk up your shoulders, making them bigger, stronger, and broader. You can also use it as an opportunity to sneak in some extra chest, back, or arm work, rounding out your workout routine.

In return, you can sneak some shoulder exercises into your other workouts, increasing the training frequency for your shoulders and provoking even faster shoulder growth.

You can do Shoulder Day once per week as part of a Bro Split or twice per week as part of a shoulder specialization program. We’ll show you how to do both.

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Illustration of a weight lifter flexing his chest muscles after his Chest Day workout.

The Best Chest Day Workout for Building Muscle

I have a fond spot for Chest Day workouts. I started bulking with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I gained my first 20 pounds while following a workout program that was little more than a push-up challenge.

When I finally started following a real hypertrophy training program, I could bench press more than I could squat or deadlift. As you can imagine, that made me love Chest Day even more.

I soon came into contact with Marco. He’d just gotten back from training under Eric Cressey, the head strength coach for the New York Yankees. He’d started up his own training business, where he was helping professional and Olympic athletes bulk up.

He switched me over to a full-body workout routine, which helped me gain another 40 pounds. However, my bench press soon got stuck at 250 pounds. So I brought Chest Days back into my workout routine, and lo, my bench started moving up again. After a few months, I accomplished my lifetime goal of 315 pounds.

Fortunately, Chest Days aren’t difficult to program. We’ll teach you how to make your own. We’ll also give you a few workouts you can use.

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Illustration of a weight lifter flexing their leg muscles during a Leg Day workout.

The Best Leg Day Workout for Building Muscle

Leg Days work all the biggest muscles in your body, giving you chiselled thighs, round glutes, and muscular calves. They’ll also give you a thicker torso, making you sturdier from head to toe.

We’re coming at this from a hypertrophy training angle. These workouts are designed to help you build muscle. Still, leg training always works best when it’s built on a solid foundation of strength-training principles.

If you understand the basic principles, it isn’t difficult to program a good Leg Day workout. Your legs are full of big, simple muscles that respond well to big, heavy exercises. Unfortunately, those exercises are notoriously intimidating, and the punishment for skipping them is severe: you will come to physically resemble a chicken.

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