The 7 Most Basic Rules for Building Mass, According to One of the World’s Strongest Men


All novice weightlifters typically have one basic goal in mind: Gain mass. Then again, building muscle is a top priority for just about every young gun in the gym, and doubly so for thin guys who’ve just started lifting.

So who better to ask about mass-building than a bodybuilding legend? Stan “Rhino” Efferding is an IFBB Professional Bodybuilder and world record-holding powerlifter. Stan is known as the “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder” and is one of only six men in history in any weight class to have ever totaled over 2,300 lbsraw in competition, which he did at the age of 45.

Here, Efferding dishes out some cold, hard facts about getting big, strong, and lean. Apply these 7 principles and results are guaranteed.

#1: Sleep—a lot

Sure, everybody knows this, but do you do it? Pound all the protein shakes and pre-workout-riddled-Tasmanian-devil drinks you want, but if you aren’t getting your eight hours every night, you’re wasting your time and money. I slept up to 11 hours a day when I squatted 905 pounds in training and set three world records. That was 9 hours every night and a couple 60-minute naps after training and eating. You grow when you sleep—not when you train—and failing to get enough of it can seriously impede growth, recovery, mental acuity, energy levels and hormone levels.

#2: Eat healthy, protein-rich foods

This one is a no-brainer too, but how much and which foods you take in can make a huge difference in your progress. Start with 1 gram of animal-based protein per pound of bodyweight and gradually work up to 1.5 and eventually 2 as you progress. I prefer eggs, steak, whole milk, 4% fat cottage cheese, whole-milk Kefir, salmon, and at least 88 percent-lean ground beef. Bodybuilders are plenty familiar with boneless skinless chicken, tuna, and white fish, but save it for when you’re dieting down. You’ll need the saturated fats and cholesterol to keep testosterone levels high.

Stick with high-quality, protein-dense animal proteins, though. Heavy-fat foods such as hot dogs, mayonnaise, cheese, bacon, and fast food often yield inadequate quantities of protein and bog down your digestive system, preventing you from eating your next meal on time. The squeamish may not want to hear it, but fast food meats can be as much or more than 90% fat and chock-full of ground bone and tendon that your body can’t use. Five meals per day, each with 40-50 grams of protein, is a good starting goal.

Gradually train your metabolism to process all that food. You’ll have no better luck trying to eat 5,000 calories tomorrow than you will loading 500 pounds on the bench and asking for a lift off. Start with what you can eat and add calories every week or two, making sure that your training supports the increasing intake. After eating all your proteins and fats, toss in some carbs to fuel your workouts and to help prevent catabolism. Steer clear of white-flour foods and stick with healthy servings of oatmeal, rice and potatoes. In the powerlifting world, “mass moves mass”—so gradually increase calories to increase mass.


#3: Drink water with a little salt

Water is better absorbed with salt. You can drink all the water you want, but if you aren’t taking in enough sodium, then most of that water will go to waste right along with your worthless mega doses of vitamins (more on that later).  

Newer research shows higher levels of sodium are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. Salt is a bigger performance enhancer than creatine. Sodium increases amino acid absorption and improves carbohydrate storage. Remember neurons from basic biology? Then hopefully you remember that every muscle in your body is fired by a chemical reaction between those neurons called the sodium potassium pump.  

Most of us simply need to know that when consumed in moderation, at regular intervals, and together with a solid workout routine, salt can be a big performance enhancer. Your body can’t store sodium for future use, so you’ll need the recommended 3,000 mg a day plus your workload replacement which can be anywhere from another 1,000-2,000 mg. (NOTE: Those with predispositions to heart conditions or high blood pressure should talk to your doctor before upping your salt intake. Again, this number is for guys who train hard.)


#4: Work hard

Shouldn’t this have been first? Nope. All you do in the gym is break down muscle tissue. All the growth comes from the recovery phase (eating and sleeping), so lifting weights is not the most important part of a mass or strength program. The great thing about being a beginner is just about any weightlifting program accompanied with the proper recovery (eating and sleeping) will yield results. There is no best program—it all depends on your goals. Lift heavy weights for a few sets of about five reps using basic, multi-joint mass building movements like squats, deadlifts, dips, chins, bench, T-bar rows for an hour a few times a week and you’ll get bigger and stronger. Don’t overthink it. Just be consistent and work hard.


#5: Be careful with cardio

There’s an old saying in the Bizarro world of 300-pound bodybuilders and powerlifters: “Don’t run if you can walk, don’t stand if you can sit, and don’t stay awake if you can sleep.” That pretty much sums up my opinion of cardio.

Either you want to be huge and strong or you want to run the New York Marathon. Pick one. There aren’t many (if any) Olympic marathoners who can bench press 600 pounds, and there aren’t many Olympic powerlifters who could run a marathon.

Having said that, some brief high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training sessions here and there can help accelerate recovery by increasing blood flow, clearing lactic acid and reducing latent muscle soreness. On mornings after a huge leg day, I’d often do about eight brief (20 seconds), fast (130 rpm), moderate resistance (15) intervals on the stationary bike to aid recovery. And don’t worry about your cardio—if you’re not gasping for air after a big set of squats then you’re just not working hard enough. Interval training and heavy lifting have both been shown to increase metabolism higher and for longer than traditional steady-state cardio. 


#6: Be smart about supplements

No can of pills will ever replace food. After nearly 30 years of competing and having access to all the free supplements I could ever want, I’ve found that there’s very little that actually helps your progress, assuming you’ve got your meals right. Dieting is a different matter, but on a well-fed mass program, save your money for food.

The most important aspect of supplementation is correcting any vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which are rare but can exist. A blood test can help identify those. On the other hand, mega-dosing a bunch of vitamins is not only worthless, but also potentially harmful. Nearly all the scientific research touting the benefits of vitamins has been done on vitamin-deficient subjects, so claims are made based on those results. Very little evidence exists showing any benefit of mega-dosing for non-deficient subjects. However, even scientists who have read and agree with the research still take a basic multi-vitamin (100% RDAs) just because it’s hard to know where the deficiencies may lurk. I do the same thing for no particularly good reason. Beyond that, I focus most of my supplementation around my workout.

My pre-/intra-workout drink is a cooler full of ice water, carbs, BCAAs (20 g), creatine (10 g) and a mineral/electrolyte tablet (Nuun tablet). My post-workout drink when I was competing was whey isolate and carb powder, but now it’s just a large shaker of chocolate milk, which serves about the same purpose. I always have some quick post-workout nutrition and then eat an hour after I train. I’ll also admit to being on the bandwagon for a few other supplements that I’ve convinced myself will benefit my long-term health, so I take 4,000 mg vitamin D3, 300 mg CoQ10 and 2,000mg of Omega-3s daily. I also used to take ZMA before bed when I was competing. That’s about the extent of what I’m willing to admit I spend my money on, although I often question the value of the investment because when I miss a week or two of any of the above, I don’t notice any difference in performance.

But if I miss a meal or two or have a short night’s sleep, then I immediately feel it in my workouts. 


#6: Set goals and track your progress

I literally have years of spreadsheets with days of the month across the top and a long list of daily requirements down the left side. I cross them off every day. Its purpose is to keep me honest. Everything I wrote about above is on that list. I weigh myself every morning and record the results. I write in how many meals I ate that day, how much sleep I got last night and if I was able to nap. I check off every supplement I’ve taken, write down my best lift if I trained that day and on and on. I do this because I know that my success is entirely within my control and if I do everything I’m supposed to do, I will succeed. 

When I do blood tests and find an area to improve, whether it be low or high iron or Hemoglobin A1C or cholesterol climbing during certain phases of training, I can quickly make adjustments for that in my diet and supplementation program and track it until the next test to verify that I’ve solved the problem. 

Never underestimate the value of setting goals and tracking your progress. I want to be able to measure my progress daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to make sure that I’m succeeding at my goals and I want to hold myself accountable.

Source: Men’s Journal