Since last week's post below on Instagram, I've been getting inundated with questions about how to build muscle…including how I've been eating, supplements I'm currently taking, my workout program and more!
So I figured I'd put together a quick and dirty post to give the basics of my entire protocol. I hope this is helpful! You can feel free to leave your questions, comments, and feedback below the post!
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Operation get skinny guy Ben Greenfield muscle continues…up 10.4 lbs in 2 months. Lots of organ meat, circuit training with heavy weights, intermittent fasting and walking, bone broth, and that wonderful egg yolk ice cream and collagen you can see in my previous post. 20g of @kion aminos a day too. Anybody else out there trying to put on some muscle? Hope those little tips help.
How To Build Muscle: Ben Greenfield's Top 6 Workouts:
My weight training workouts are actually pretty simple. I find that from a cognitive fatigue standpoint and my hefty amounts of family time, work and travel, I can really only handle a maximum of about six different workout “options”—three for when I'm at home and three for travel. I do three such workouts per week, typically with 48 hours between, and my workouts take somewhere in the range of 50-60 minutes.
There's actually some evidence that hitting a muscle over and over again with similar exercise, movements, sets, and reps can actually be very good for muscle hypertrophy. If my goal were purely metabolic stimuli, I'd use quite a few additional workouts, but I keep things relatively simple for hypertrophy.
Home Muscle Building Workout 1: Basic Full Body Protocol
First, I perform a warm-up for about 5 minutes, preferably with a gymnastics routine, Animal Flow, a Core Foundation routine, or anything else that dynamically prepares the body for movement and elevates the heart rate. I usually finish my warm-up with a quick set of 100 jumping jacks or 30 burpees.
Next, I choose one exercise from the “Strength” list below:
- Upper Body Push (1)
- Lower Body Push (1)
- Upper Body Pull (1)
- Lower Body Pull (1)
- Full Body Move (1)
Then I pair each of the exercises above with one exercise from the “Core/Mobility” list you'll see shortly below.
Gradually adding weight and decreasing repetitions or maintaining repetitions with each strength set (if do-able with good form), I complete 6-10 repetitions of the first Strength exercise (e.g. Upper Body Push) in a slow, controlled fashion. Next, I complete 10-20 repetitions of a Core/Mobility movement of choice (for active recovery), preferably choosing a Core/Mobility movement that does not exhaust or work the same muscles that I used during my strength set.
Then I go straight back to the Strength set, do another set and follow it up with the same Core/Mobility exercise for active recovery. I continue this scenario until I have completed 3-5 sets for both the Strength move and the Core/Mobility move and then move on to the next movement category (e.g. Upper Body Pull). I then continue until I have finished all movement categories (one Upper Body Push, one Lower Body Push, one Upper Body Pull, one Lower Body Pull, and one Full Body Move).
After this workout, I jump into my cold pool for about 2 minutes to cool my body without staying in long enough (e.g. closer to the 10-minute range) to shut down any type of anabolic response to the workout.
Upper Body Push:
- Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
- Standing Overhead Press
- Standing Cable Press
- Loaded Pushup (with Weighted Vest, or Super Slow with bodyweight)
Upper Body Pull:
- Bent Barbell or Dumbbell Row
- Weighted Pull-up or Super Slow Pull-Up
- Weighted or Super Slow Horizontal Pull-Up
- Fast Single Arm Cable or Dumbbell Row
- Lat Pulldowns
- Seated Row
Lower Body Push:
- Barbell Squat
- Goblet Squat
- Front Squat
- Single-Leg Squat
- Front Lunge
- Reverse Lunge
- Barbell or Dumbbell Step-Ups
Lower Body Pull:
Full Body Move (This list is not exhaustive, and there may be others that you like.):
- Turkish Get-Up
- Bear Complex (power clean, front squat, push press, back squat, and second push press):
- Deadlift to Overhead Press
- Overhead Squat
- Torso Twists
- Birddogs (opposite arm/leg extension)
- Yoga Sun Salutation Series
- Banded Side to Side Walks
- Mountain Climbers
- Foam Rolling
- Banded Side Walks
- Lunging Mobility Exercises
- More ideas here.
This entire protocol takes me about 60 minutes.
Home Muscle Building Workout 2: NEUBIE Electrostimulation Full Body Workout
You can listen to my podcast about this extremely powerful Russian DC E-stim NEUBIE unit here. Garrett, the designer of the NEUBIE, was kind enough to create two separate full body options for me. Each of these workouts takes me about 40-45 minutes, and I typically begin or finish with some kind of high-intensity set on the Air Assault bike (usually a Tabata set of 20 seconds hard/10 seconds easy, 8x through). I only do this type of workout once every two weeks or so because it makes me very sore.
NEUBIE Workout 1:_HOME WORKOUT – STRENGTH #1 (FULL w_ HOLDS)
NEUBIE Workout 2:HOME WORKOUT – STRENGTH #2 (FULL w_ REPS)
Home Muscle Building Workout 3: “Garage” Strongman Workout
My third muscle building workout is probably the most functional and usually takes place in my driveway or garage. It is simply a mashup of “strongman” style exercises using a half-filled keg, a mace, a sandbag, medicine ball slams, kettlebells, monkey bars, a tire, etc. I try to include some running with this workout to keep my obstacle course racing fitness tuned.
- Warm-up run up and down the driveway (approx 200 yards total) or Air Assault bike 2 min
- Complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) circuit of the following for 45-60 minutes:
- Medicine ball thrusters
- Keg carry 50 feet
- Medicine ball slams
- Sandbag clean and jerk
- Tire/mace slams
- Monkey bars to failure
- 4 heavy tire flips
- Down and up the driveway again or Air Assault bike
- 1-minute plank for “recovery”
One handy book for learning this type of workout approach is Zach Evenesh's The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning
Travel Muscle Building Workout 1: Body Weight Training To Failure
The nice thing is that, based on good research by Brad Schoenfeld, you can still build muscle with lightweight or bodyweight training, provided that you complete each set to absolute failure with a maximum amount of time under tension. So I can still build muscle when I'm, say, in my hotel room and have only my body weight or elastic bands.
Here's my routine.
- 1-minute each:
Repeat as an AMRAP for 45-60 minutes (I include the burpee warm-up each round for an added challenge) with minimal rest. You can also use blood flow restriction bands around your arms and legs for an amplified growth hormone response and even a bigger muscle-building effect, which I often do.
Travel Muscle Building Workout 2: Hotel or Health Club Full Body Workout
I'm at a hotel or have access to a gym, is to perform back-to-back “supersets” for each body part, with each superset followed by two minutes of cardio performed as hard as possible. For example:
- 2 minutes on a cardio machine such as an elliptical trainer, bike, rowing machine, or stairmill.
- Chest press to failure (8 to 15 reps)
- Row to failure (8 to 15 reps)
- 2 minutes on a cardio machine
- Squat or leg press to failure (8-15 reps)
- Deadlift or leg curl to failure (8-15 reps)
- 2 minutes of cardio
- Shoulder press to failure (8-15 reps)
- Pull-down to failure (8-15 reps)
- 2 minutes of cardio
- Core exercise #1 of choice to failure (e.g., side plank rotations)
- Core exercise #2 of choice to failure (e.g., low back extensions)
Repeat 4 to 5 times through with minimal rest.
Travel Muscle Building Workout 3: X3 Bar
X3 Bar 10 minute workout (this workout is for when time is tight). You can read or listen to the full details on the X3 Bar here, and if you get a bar it includes a handy quick cheat sheet with demos of each exercise below. If I have more time available, I'll do this routine 2-3x through.
- Chest Press
- Overhead Press
- Squat To Overhead Press
- Tricep Pushdown
Other than these workouts, I include the following basic movement protocols:
- at least 30 min/day walking/hiking for low-level aerobic fat loss without much muscle catabolism
- 60-90 minute hike on weekends
- family tennis for an hour on Sundays
- 30 min Clearlight infrared sauna 3-4x/week, always followed by a 5-minute cold soak
- 10-15 minutes foam rolling and mobility work each morning
My Muscle Building Diet
I'm largely following a “bastardized” version of the carnivore diet, which you can listen to full details about in this podcast. My total dietary intake is about 5000 calories per day, even on recovery days, approximately 30-40% protein, 30-40% fat and 20-30% carbs and is comprised of the following:
- Primarily organ meats and fish, mostly in the form of ribeye, liver, heart, braunschweiger, headcheese, bratwurst, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon and some amounts but not much of poultry. I do plenty of orders from USWellnessMeats for this (code: GREENFIELD saves 15%), and also Wild Planet for canned fish. I typically dress up my meat with mayonnaise and sauces from Primal Kitchen (code: BEN saves 10%).
- Small amounts of root vegetables such as yams and sweet potatoes, always steamed or mashed, along with canned pumpkin and sweet potato purees, preferably skipping the skin of these compounds and any excess fiber. I save nearly all my carbohydrates for the very end of the day, at which point I consume about 150-200g of carbohydrates. Occasional white rice too.
- Homemade fermented yogurt made from coconut milk and L. Reuteri strain probiotic as described with full instructions here.
- Raw, organic honey as a sweetener, especially with dinner. Often served on top of the tubers.
- For desserts, egg yolk/collagen/coconut milk ice cream described on my Instagram post here
- Small, anti-oxidant rich, low sugar berries such as blueberries, lingonberries, bilberries, and blackberries. Usually, these are sprinkled on top of my egg-yolk keto ice cream above.
- Bitter and tannin-rich teas and organic Kion coffee throughout the day. I often blend my coffee with cinnamon, MiCacao, sea salt, and stevia, but not many other added fats or calories.
- Lots of Kettle & Fire organic bone broth (code: GREENFIELD for 10% off), typically one to two boxes per day served as my beverage with meals or especially as a nightly cocktail alternative since alcohol can blunt muscle-building significantly. I usually add sea salt to my bone broth.
- An occasional nightly glass of organic red wine such as FitVine (code: GREENFIELD10 for 10% off) or DryFarms (click here to try a bottle for a penny) or gin with bitters on ice with a squeeze of lemon (3-4 days/week).
- Small amounts of easy-to-digest skinless seeds and nuts or nut butter (mostly walnuts and cashews). These are usually sprinkled on the purees or served beside the meat.
- Nutrient-dense vegetable powders that offer plenty of phytonutrients without excess roughage and fiber. I mostly use Dr. Thomas Cowan’s heirloom vegetable powders (and Kuaui Organic Farmacy blends (code: GREENFIELD saves 10% ). These get sprinkled liberally on all meals.
- 12-16 hour daily intermittent fast to ensure that mTor pathways aren’t excessively activated
- Consumption of my friend Dr. Joseph Mercola’s “autophagy tea” before my nightly fast to also limit mTor activation and increase autophagy:
A large serving of coconut yogurt with cashew or walnut butter and a cup of Kettle & Fire bone broth (code: GREENFIELD for 10% off). A small amount of raw honey drizzled on top or sometimes small handful blueberries.
One USWellnessMeats (code: GREENFIELD saves 15%) bratwurst with several slices braunschweiger or head cheese along with a can of Wild Planet sardines. Half can of pumpkin puree on the side. Plenty of the spices listed above. Box of bone broth (code: GREENFIELD for 10% off) for a beverage.
Dessert After Lunch
- 6 egg yolks
- 4 scoops Thorne Mediclear SGS (chocolate flavor)
- 8 droppers-full Omica Organics vanilla stevia
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 can BPA-Free full-fat coconut milk
Dessert After Dinner
Sample Power Coffee
I'll sometimes add extra calories to my organic coffee if I want more calories after breakfast. A typical mix for me is a heaping tablespoon of ghee or coconut oil blended with organic coffee, cinnamon, stevia, sea salt, and MiCacao.
- 2 capsules Kion Lean before dinner to control blood sugar from evening feed.
- 2 capsules Thorne Biogest before each main meal of the day to assist digestion.
- 20-40g Kion Aminos per day, usually mid-morning or mid-afternoon on empty stomach. This is probably the most potent supplement in my muscle building arsenal.
- 2 scoops Colostrum per day for added growth hormone.
- 2 Kion Omega in the morning.
- 4 tablets BPC-157 (BEN for 15% off) oral peptide from Dr. Seeds for muscle recovery.
- 3 Kion Flex at night for muscle recovery.
- Tesamorelin injectable growth hormone peptide – 2mg per day 5 days/week
- 2x/weekly self-administered vitamin cocktail push IV from Dr. Craig Koniver for recovery.
- Weekly NAD patch from NAD injection clinic for recovery.
- Nighttime CBD oil at 60-100 grams (lately I've been using the brand Element Health Supply CBD because it's so concentrated but warning: it's extremely powerful stuff – a lower potency alternative is Thorne Hemp or BioCBD (code: BEN10 will save you 10%))
- 4 capsules Dr. Kirk Parsley's Sleep Remedy (code: BEN10 for 10% off) pre-sleep when traveling
Finally, I kicked this whole thing off with this stem cell procedure with Dr. Chen, which likely also helped and would be something I consider to fall into the biohacking/supplement category.
OK, those are the biggies! As you can see, it's not that complex. You just need to be very, very consistent. Aside from the occasional handful of polenta fries with my ribeye steak or a taste of my wife's sourdough bread here and there, I have no major cheat days or days on which I skip movements.
Sure, there's a few extra recoveries or mitochondrial supporting “biohacks” I throw in, but I don't think they're 100% necessary and are actually kind of expensive. Namely the big ones:
- Pulsecenters PEMF table for home recovery and Flexpulse for travel recovery
- Joovv light each morning to enhance collagen synthesis and testosterone
- Water and Wellness Hydrogen water morning and evening to enhance recovery
- LiveO2 hyperbaric oxygen during some of my Tabata sets
Again, these are nice-to-have, but in my opinion not really necessary to gain significant amounts of functional muscle while maintaining high-end cardiovascular fitness and keeping any fat gain to a minimum, which is really the focus of my entire protocol.
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about this muscle building protocol? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!