Hacking Exercise - Gaining Weight

Authored by Robert Chen • 
January 2, 2017
 • 2 min read

This page should serve as a starting point to goals in gaining weight, and is tailored to those who do not have ample experience with a dedicated weight and mass gaining program before. While there are other ways to gain mass, this protocol is centered around barbell lifts.


Workout programs involving barbell lifts are a very effective way to increase muscle mass. The best weightlifting programs consist of compound barbell lifts including the bench press, squat (front and back), and deadlift. Barbell lifts are effective because they employ large groups of muscles working simultaneously in order to accomplish large amounts of work (moving lots of weight over a distance). Starting Strength, a program developed by coach Mark Rippetoe, is one of the best programs for gaining mass quickly, especially for people who have not undergone a dedicated weight training program before.1

Barbell exercises are handy because you can accomplish a wide variety of goals with them. You can gain weight, lose weight, improve your metabolic profile, and even help to improve quality of life in older age. This piece will focus on the goals of gaining weight.

Beginners: Linear Progression Workout Program

An example of a good program that has been popularized as Starting Strength, consists of two workouts, to be alternated for 3 days per week.

	Workout A: Back Squat (3x5), Bench Press (3x5), Deadlift (1x5)
	Workout B: Back Squat (3x5), Military Press (3x5), Row or Power Clean (3x5)

The exercises are listed as (sets x repetitions per set). In each successive workout, 5 pounds (2.5kg) should be added to the weight from the previous workout. This linear progression approach should be followed until progress plateaus, at which point the athlete should "deload" (cut the weight by 15%), and continue linear progression from the deloaded weight. Ideally this program should be run until 2 deload cycles are completed, at which point a more intermediate barbell program can be employed.

A worksheet that you can use to track workouts can be downloaded here.


One of the places where people typically fail with weight gain goals, is in eating enough. Simply put, weightlifting is difficult and requires energy to be able to perform well. A typical diet should consist of adequate amounts of carbohydrates, which are essential for performing complex barbell lifts, in increasing intensity (weight) over time. A typical individual (male weighing 70-80 kg or female weighing 48 to 65 kg), should aim to eat at least 1000 calories over maintenance (measured by basal metabolic rate). One of the best ways to help obtain enough calories, is to drink a gallon of whole milk per day.1

It is very important that a balanced diet with sufficient adequate intake of key macronutrients be maintained in order to gain weight. This is crucial not only for gaining mass but more importantly for becoming equipped with the ability to perform well in your chosen sport.


Supplements can help your recovery and help you to sustain the workouts. Caffeine (in the form of coffee) can be taken before the workout, to help with general energy levels. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) can be taken during and after the workout. Electrolytes (potassium, magnesium and sodium) can be taken during the workout as well (e.g., in sports drinks). Outside of the workout period, creatine may be helpful for maintaining energy levels, and omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for recovery (joint mobility and otherwise!)

Editor's Choice
Emails worth reading.

Once a week, we'll send you the most compelling research, stories and updates from the world of human enhancement.