How Oren Gained 20 Pound of Muscle

Meet Oren. He’s 23, 5’6, and 140 lbs. When he started working with us, he was 19, and 120 lbs (he’s still 5’6).

In this article, I’ll tell you the precise methods and nutritional strategies we used to get him to build 20 pounds of solid muscle, as well as any challenges we encountered along the way. But hold on! Don’t stop reading this thinking “it doesn’t apply to me.” It might not, but you probably know someone trying to build muscle. Forward this article to that person. Please and thank you 🙂



Oren has always been a skinny guy. He’s been doing martial arts since he was 4 or 5 years old, playing some recreational basketball, and a bit of soccer here and there. All good fun, but definitely not conducive to gaining muscle.

On top of it all, he has a super-fast metabolism. So he never gained fat, but the flip side of that was that he never gained muscle, either.

To add fuel to the fire, he is a car mechanic, so he burns a ton of calories throughout the day too.

Exercise Strategies 

The traditional advice given to people who want to gain muscle is to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. That’s all well and good, and that’s advice that works well for people with a medium or large frame. But it doesn’t work so well for naturally skinny guys with a small frame and a super-fast metabolism.

So we started Oren off on what’s called the “Russian Bear” program, that I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book, Power to the People. It looks like this:

Step 1: Take a weight that you can lift about 6 or 7 times, and stop at 5 repetitions. Rest 3-5 minutes.

Step 2: Take 10% off that weight, and do another 5 repetitions. So if your first set was 200 pounds, this set is 180 lbs. Rest 3-5 minutes.

Step 3: take another 10% off that weight, and continue doing sets of 5 repetitions, with 30-90 second rest periods. Do this for as many sets as you can before your technique starts to deteriorate.

This program was done 1-2 times per week.

But of course, no program lasts forever, and eventually progress stops, so a program has to be changed. After about 3-4 months on the Russian Bear program, we needed a new one.

Throughout the almost 4 years that we’ve been working together, we’ve stuck with the 3-8 repetition range, using anywhere from 2-8 sets.

On two occasions during those 4 years, we ventured into the higher repetition ranges (8-12), but had to stop those programs very quickly, because he was losing muscle.

As you know from previous newsletters (or if you’re a client yourself), we measure our clients every 2 weeks, so that we can detect any changes very early. The changes that we saw with programs that used higher rep ranges, we didn’t like (namely, muscle losses).

Hence the value of regular measurements. Because conventional wisdom says that to gain muscle, you need to do sets of 8-12 repetitions. And sure enough, it works for the majority. But what about the minority that doesn’t respond to that? You just don’t know, unless you measure. Remember, if you’re not assessing, you are guessing. If you want to figure out whether your exercise program is working for you, and you want to see if you qualify to get assessed, let me know.

Nutrition Strategies 

People are often jealous of skinny guys who can eat whatever they want without putting on body fat, but they don’t quite realize how hard it is to eat for muscle gain, especially when you have the metabolism of a hummingbird.

For our weight loss clients, we recommend that about half to two third of their plate consist of veggies, about a quarter consist of meat, fish or seafood, and the remainder is starches. That’s because our weight loss clients don’t tolerate carbohydrates very well (they spill over into fat stores).

With Oren, the ratio was different, and the quantity was different. For him, we recommended that half of his plate consist of starches, one quarter should be meat, fish or seafood, and the remainder is veggies.

I also instructed him to eat right before bed, which is something we never recommend to our weight loss clients.

Another instruction was to eat until he was uncomfortably full.


The supplements we recommended were a multi-vitamin, a protein/carbohydrate mix, and creatine.

The multi-vitamin is fairly self-explanatory, but why the protein/carbohydrate mix? Because for the super-skinny, protein is not enough. In these people, carbohydrates tend to be even more important than protein, because again, these guys are extremely carbohydrate-tolerant. Carbohydrates will build more muscle than protein in these folks. That’s not to say that protein isn’t important (it is), but carbohydrates are even more so.

Creatine has been used for decades as a muscle-building, strength-building supplement. Creatine is naturally found in muscle, and it’s simply an energy source that helps you speed up recovery in between sets. One nice side effect of it is that your muscles store a lot of water when you use it, giving you bigger muscle size. Pretty cool.


If you’ve been counting, Oren gained 20 pounds, but it did take 4 years. That’s not very fast, and under perfect conditions, we could have probably done that in a year to a year and a half.

So what were the challenges?

Challenge #1: Eating enough. Super skinny guys will swear up and down that they eat a ton. In fact, they swear that everyone around them is amazed at how much they can eat without putting on body fat (and unfortunately, muscle). Liars.

Yes, occasionally the super skinny guys will put away an entire pizza in one sitting. But that happens extremely infrequently. The vast majority of their meals are too good. I once asked Oren what a typical meal for him would be, and he said “chicken, broccoli and rice.” To which I responded “that’s a great meal… if you’re trying to lose weight.” He needed WAY more rice, and way less broccoli. He also needed to increase the overall quantity in a big way.

But yes, eating enough is a big challenge for these folks, especially since their appetite isn’t the same as the appetite of those who are naturally overweight. Life is cruel.

Challenge #2: Needing to get a ton of calories. This is related to challenge #1.

Oren had 3 big things working against him:

  1. He naturally had a fast metabolism
  2. He trained (and still trains) in martial arts 2-4 times per week. Martial arts is great fun, but it sure doesn’t build muscle.
  3. He has a very active job. He works as a car mechanic, so he burns a ton of calories throughout the day anyway.

So he had a bunch of factors stacked against him. To meet his caloric requirements, he needed to eat as much as 4000-5000 calories per day. You think you’d love to do that, but it truly is a challenge to get that much food in.

Challenge #3: Injuries. As you can imagine, when you do martial arts, you’re a car mechanic, and occasionally get together with your friends for a game of pick-up basketball, injuries can happen.

So at times, he’d have to take extended breaks from exercise. But for someone like Oren, gaining muscle was very difficult and slow. Losing muscle was crazy fast.

As I mentioned earlier, we measure our clients every 2 weeks. So Oren was doing great, and for a series of measurements, he’s been increasing, eventually ending up at 132 pounds. Then, 2 weeks later, he was 128 pounds. I asked in shock “what happened???”

He said “I’m not sure. My exercise is the same, I’m still eating just as much.” I asked him “how’s your sleep?” He said “I’ve probably been sleeping half an hour less per day compared to usual.” Something as small and insignificant as 30 minutes less sleep per day caused a drop of 4 pounds of muscle in him. Those 4 pounds took about 8 weeks to gain, but 2 weeks to lose.

Eventually he got those 4 pounds back, and then some (like I said, we got him up to 140 lbs.), but it was a tough battle.

This is one of my longer articles, and I still feel like I barely scratched the surface with the strategies that we used with Oren. Nonetheless, if you or someone you know is having a hard time gaining muscle, it’s important to figure out what’s missing. You can see if you qualify to work with us by emailing me.

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