by Jason Ferruggia
How to build muscle as fast as humanly possible. That’s what this definitive guide is all about. Getting big, strong, lean and built like a badass. It’s the summation of everything I have learned over the course of 25+ years in the Iron Game.
These techniques helped me overcome horrible skinny-fat genetics and gain 47 pounds of muscle. They’ve also helped thousands of other in-person and online clients of mine achieve similar results. If you work hard and smart, they’ll do the same for you. And, the great news is that the Renegade approach to building muscle is VERY joint friendly and doesn’t wreck your body like most typical methods do.
But I do have some bad news…You’re being lied to. You’re being fed a bunch of bullshit that’ll never work for average men and women like us.
I’m talking about all the typical nonsense you hear and read all the time like:
-You have to train every day
-You can’t get anything out of workouts that don’t last at least an hour
-Bodyweight exercises don’t build muscle
-You need a fully equipped gym to get a good workout
-You should do nothing else but the big power and Olympic lifts
-You should always go heavy, no matter what
-Crunches give you a six pack
-You have to eat 6-7 meals a day
-You should eat 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight
-Carbs are the devil and make you fat
-You need to spend a thousand dollars a month on supplements
-You should do tons of cardio
-High reps burn fat and “sculpt the muscle”
-All total and utter bullshit.
The only thing you’ll get from following that advice is a laundry list of nagging injuries, a skinny-fat physique, and an empty wallet. I should know. Been there and done that. Because I don’t want you to have to waste all the years and money that I did (not to mention visits to the surgeon) I came up with a method of training and eating that works way, way better.
It’s been tested on thousands of trainees, both at my private gym and online. It’s been tweaked, retooled, upgraded and perfected. I’m a genetic misfit when it comes to building muscle. I was frail and weak for the first 20 years of my life. I tried every training system and diet imaginable over the last three decades. I took what worked and got rid of what I didn’t. The result is an all encompassing training and lifestyle plan that is guaranteed to build size and strength without the typical injuries, burnout and plateaus that most programs have.
The Renegade Method is designed specifically for average, busy guys and gals who want to get built like a badass but…
-Don’t have a lot of time
-Aren’t on steroids and performance enhancement drugs
-Don’t have great genetics for building muscle and strength
-Are sick of getting injured from their workouts and feeling like crap all the time
Now, I’m not gonna promise you gains of 84 pounds of muscle in the next month if you follow what I recommend. You’ve still gotta put in the required time and effort. If you’ve followed my blogs, podcasts and social media long enough you’ve seen the incredible transformations and the features in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, ESPN and CBS so you know this stuff works.
If you follow the program and put in the work you’ll get results. But the reality is most people won’t even finish any training program that they start. They’re too mentally weak. They’ll keep looking for shortcuts and an easier way. Those people are sheep. They can’t get anywhere in life. Don’t be a sheep. Be a fucking lion.
Rule #1: To Build Muscle You Have to Get Strong
You can’t expect to transform your physique by doing the same workouts over and over. You have to force adaptation to occur. The easiest way to do that is by moving on to harder progressions of bodyweight exercises or by lifting heavier weights. Get stronger, primarily in the range of 6-10 reps, and you’ll get bigger.
Training heavy will always deliver better results than training light. That’s just common sense. If there is one thing I can’t stress enough it is the importance of setting rep PRs (personal records). Pick a few key exercises and write down what you can currently do for 6-10 reps on each of them. Now work your way, over the next few weeks/months, up to the point where you can either add 10-20 pounds to each of those lifts or do 3-5 more reps with the same weight. That’s how you force your body to grow.
Once you get to the higher end of the rep range add weight and start over with 6. Simple, brutally effective; no advanced calculus degree required. The bottom line is that to get big you have to get strong.
Rule #2: Bodyweight Exercises are King
The basics will always be the best. When it comes to building muscle, nothing will get you jacked like a steady diet of chin ups, dips and weighted pushups. Most people start out by going straight to the weight rack long before they have come close to mastering basic bodyweight exercises.
You have to realize that your muscles don’t know if you are holding a weight or moving your own bodyweight. They only know tension. A set of ring dips is just as hard as a set of heavy bench presses for most people. Probably harder.
When you move your body through space, versus just moving your limbs, there is a higher level of neuromuscular activation. That leads to the recruitment and activation of more muscle fibers. And that leads to more muscle growth and strength gains.
So build your workout around muscle building bodyweight exercises like:
-Single leg squat and lunge variations
-Plank variations for core strength/stability and to protect your lower back
-Glute ham raises
-Focusing on these exercises will produce an athletic, ripped physique that every guy and girl wants.
Rule #3: Compliment Your Bodyweight Exercises with Dumbbells & Kettlebells
The exercises that allow you to use the greatest amount of weight and also allow for the greatest percentage of increases in loading are the ones that will help you build muscle fastest. You’re not going to grow with a workout comprised of machine exercises and isolation movements. You have to overload your body with big, manly, testosterone producing exercises.
The best joint-friendly, compound weight training exercises for building muscle are:
-Military Presses– dumbbell, kettlebell
-Incline Presses– dumbbell
-Squats– single leg, goblet, kettlebell
-Deadlifts– single leg, kettlebell
-Rows– 1 arm dumbbell, chest supported, landmine
-Loaded Carries– farmers, bear hug, zercher, racked, shouldered
-Sled Work- pushing and dragging
-Get strong on those exercises and slowly add weight and reps.
When you can move big numbers on those lifts for sets of 6-10 reps you’ll be a big dude.
Rule #4: To Build Muscle Safely You Have to Use Perfect Technique
This should go without saying, but if you walk into any public gym you’ll see that’s not the case. The perfect rep has several components to it. They are:
-Get tight from head to toe. Squeeze the dumbbell or kettlebell like you’re trying to crush it. If you’re doing a standing exercise be sure to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs.
-Control the lowering or eccentric portion of the lift in 2-3 seconds.
-Stretch the muscle in the bottom position.
-But don’t go so deep that you cause damage. You shouldn’t feel any joint stress.
-Reverse the movement and start the positive/concentric portion of the lift by forcefully contracting the target muscles.
-Don’t use excessive momentum.
-To build muscle think constant tension and continuous movement.
-Never just go into the gym and start hoisting weight.
-Do that and you’ll get injured.
-You’ll also severely compromise your results.
Rule #5: Train with the Optimal Amount of Volume to Build Muscle
The best rep range to build muscle and avoid injury is 6-15, with 8-12 being the sweet spot that most of your sets should fall in. You can go heavier than that but you’ll increase the injury risk if you do.
When you get more advanced and over 40 years old you may want to spend a bit more time in the 10-15 rep range. That’s simply to protect your joints and reduce injury risk.
While the number of reps you do per set is important, of equal importance is the total number of reps you do per muscle group. Research has shown that around 30-60 total reps per muscle group is what is required to maximize growth. That means if that you average six reps per set you’d need to do at least five total sets and upwards of ten for that particular muscle group. I’d always recommend starting on the low end of the scale. Only increase volume if absolutely you need to. As you get more advanced you can work in phases of both lower and higher volume through a properly periodized training program.
Rule #6: Train With the Proper Muscle-Building Workout Split
The first point to add here is that 3-4 hard strength training days per week is perfect for most steroid-free, average, busy people.
The second thing you need to know is that more frequently you can train a muscle group the better your gains will be… to an extent.
The next thing to address is training frequency for each muscle group. You have to train with the frequency that:
-Allows you to recover properly
-Allows you to make the greatest strength gains
-Doesn’t start to wreck your joints and spine
-The frequency at which you can train each muscle group generally decreases as your training age increases.
If you’re a beginner you should train with three full body workouts. Do both a compound pushing and pulling movement for the upper body like a press and a chin up. Then do a compound lower body movement like a kettlebell front squat or single leg deadlift. If you want to add in 1-2 other exercises like loaded carries or swings as a finisher that’s fine.
If you’ve trained longer than 6-12 months you can split your workouts into two different days. The most common is to train upper body one day and lower the other. If you train four days per week it’s super simple to set up.
If you train three days per week you can rotate upper and lower body days every time you train.
It will look like this over the course of two weeks:
Monday- Upper body
Wednesday- Lower body
Friday- Upper body
Monday- Lower body
Wednesday- Upper body
Friday- Lower body
I can’t recommend this rotating upper/lower split highly enough. I have made incredible gains on this split as have hundreds of clients I have worked with personally, and thousands of others online. If you train three days per week and prefer to have set training days each week instead of rotating them here is what I suggest…
Do a heavy upper body day on Monday, legs on Wednesday, and then a lighter upper body day on Friday where you bump up the reps slightly and use exercises that aren’t quite as stressful. So instead of a barbell incline press for sets of 5-6 reps you might do a dumbbell incline press or weighted pushup on rings for sets of 8-12 reps.
An upper/lower split can last you forever. A lot of massive, strong powerlifters stick with that throughout their entire lifting careers. However, if you’re older and/or have some recovery issues you may prefer a push/pull/legs split that has you training everything directly once per week.
A large number of big, strong men have used that split throughout history. That means you do exercises for chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday. You do exercises for back and biceps on Wednesday. And you do exercises for legs on Friday. As long as you plan it properly that can work quite well. And if you want to do an arm or “beach day” on Saturdays you can extend it to a four day per week program.
Rule #7: “Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate”
This is a quote from 8-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney. It means you should train hard but smart. Don’t kill yourself in the quest to get big and strong. When you leave a little in the tank, both at the end of each set and each workout, you increase your chances of making progress. So don’t take sets to the point of failure where you’re turning purple and screaming like you’re getting interviewed by Mean Gene before WrestleMania V. Work hard, but remember that you want to live to fight another day.
A great analogy that I once heard is that recovery is like a hole and each time you dig yourself deeper you make it harder to climb out. The only way to fill the hole back in is with more food and more rest. If you overdo it in the gym you’ll need more rest. That means you won’t be able to train as often, at a high capacity. That means you won’t build muscle quite as fast.
Rule #8: Keep Your Conditioning Up
Despite some prevailing myths out there, doing conditioning does not make you small and weak. Skipping conditioning, however, makes you a lazy, out of shape, fat ass. Conditioning work helps you stay lean and improves your recovery between strength training sessions. It’s hugely beneficial and has to be a part of your weekly routine.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been proven to be extremely effective at burning fat and boosting conditioning levels while preserving muscle mass. You should do a minimum of one 15-30 minute HIIT workout per week if you are in a mass building phase. If you are cutting you should 2-3 HIIT workouts per week. To do HIIT properly you go as hard and as fast as you can (I actually prefer about 90-95% of maximum effort) for 30-60 seconds. Then you take a break and coast/cruise for 60-120 seconds. You repeat the sequence for 15-30 minutes, total.
My favorite choices are:
-Sprinting up hills
-Sprinting while pushing or dragging a weighted sled
-Sprinting on a bike with the resistance cranked up
-Rowing (if your back can tolerate it)
In addition to the HIIT sessions it’s always a good idea to go for a 30-60 minute walk as many days per week as you can. I recommend using the tracker app on your phone and getting a minimum of 10,000 steps every day.
Rule #9: Make Recovery a Huge Priority
Training is just the stimulus for growth to take place. You can train your balls off, all day, every day but that doesn’t mean you’re going to grow. You grow outside of the gym when you’re recovering; not during workouts. If you can’t recover you won’t grow. Plain and simple. So how do you ensure that you will recover properly from workouts?
By adhering to the following:
-Not doing more than you can handle in the gym
-Not training for more than an hour
-Not using extreme levels of psyche on every set
-Not stressing out about nonsense
-Getting 8-9 hours of sleep per day
-Doing at least 15-20 minutes of mobility and self myofascial release work per day
-Doing some low intensity conditioning and/or restorative work on off days
-Taking contrast baths and showers
-Getting a massage once a month or as often as you can afford to
Rule #10: Eat For Health and Longevity First and Foremost, to Gain Muscle Optimally
Even if you’re a skinny dude you should never go on one of those all-you-can-eat, junk food diets. The old school approach to bulking up is dead. It has failed countless times and simply doesn’t work. It’s unhealthy and makes you fat. No organism that is unhealthy will grow at an optimal rate. The healthier you are the faster you will make progress. I used to believe in the old school bulk approach for young, skinny hardgainers. Then I smartened up. You have to fuel your body with high quality, real, wholesome food. Eating pizza, burgers, ice cream and fast food is a really bad plan. Junk in, junk out. If you put shit in your body you will look, feel and perform like shit. Your recovery will be slower and you will be riddled with inflammation. So don’t let “bulking up” be an excuse to consume boatloads of crap. You know that cotton candy and soda isn’t healthy. You know that salmon and sweet potatoes are. Most of this is common sense.
Your diet should consist of a lot of the following foods:
-Grass fed meat
-Wild caught fish
-Starches like white rice, potatoes, and quinoa
Start with 16 times your bodyweight for total calories. So if you weigh 165 you’ll eat 2640 calories per day. If, after a few weeks, your weight isn’t budging, up it to 17x bodyweight. If you’re gaining more fat than muscle drop it down to 15x bodyweight. Always give things at least two weeks to assess.
Eat around one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. That’s more than enough. You could probably even get away with less (studies show .82 grams per pound to be sufficient).
Eat 1.5-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight (depending on bodyfat levels, insulin sensitivity and activity). Keep most of them around your workouts and at night.
Eat around .4-.45 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day. Fat is essential for hormone optimization, brain function, and joint health. But don’t go overboard. I’d never recommend more than 30% of your total calories come from fat if you are eating a decent amount of carbs (which you should be to gain muscle).
Breakfast should be protein, greens and maybe some fruit. Eggs, yogurt, meat, a shake, steamed broccoli, strawberries, whatever.
Lunch should be be pretty much the same- protein and greens. Chicken, fish or steak and salad is perfect here. Have some fruit if you want.
Dinner should be protein and all the starch you can handle. A huge piece of meat, a pile of potatoes or rice with some steamed veggies.
On training days consume an extra serving of protein and starchy carbs about 60-90 minutes before training, then eat again afterwards. Have some more protein and carbs in that meal. If you can’t get enough carbs in around training and at night add some more to lunch. Then breakfast as a last resort. But this would be pretty rare. It’s very easy to eat a lot of white rice at night.
And one thing most people overlook is this…
The first step in the muscle building process is to get lean. You should be at least as low as 12% bodyfat before you change your diet up to focus on mass gain.
If you’re fat and you start eating for size you’re only going to gain fat. So get rid of the excess blubber first and to the point where you can see your abs, then worry about getting big.
Bonus Rule: Consistency Is King
All the above information is completely useless if you don’t apply it consistently. I’m not talking about a week. Or two months. The person who makes the greatest progress is he who is consistently getting in 3-4 workouts per week. The guy who never misses a meal. The guy who always gets to sleep on time. The guy who spends a few hours per week on recovery techniques at home. And does all of these things 52 weeks per year, year after year. That’s how real progress is made.
You have to commit and you have to believe in what you are doing. You can’t be second guessing everything all the time. You can’t change your routine every other week. You can’t be on the internet constantly searching for a better program. There is no magical supplement or yet-to-be-discovered secret training technique that will help you build 100 pounds of muscle in the next three months. Those things will never exist.
The only things that get results are passion, commitment and hard work. Every. Damn. Day. There you have it; everything you need to know about building muscle.