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About Michael Matthews
Michael Matthews is the bestselling fitness author of Bigger Leaner Stronger, Thinner Leaner Stronger, and The Shredded Chef. He is also the founder of Legion Athletics. His simple, science-based approach to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy has helped him sell over a million books. His work has been featured in many popular outlets, including Esquire, Men’s Health, Elle, Women’s Health, Muscle & Strength, and more, as well as on FOX and ABC.
Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body focuses on the best tips for building muscle and losing fat. Michael Matthews gives you a blueprint for how you can start eating and exercising your way towards a bigger, leaner, and stronger body. He claims this book should offer the advice required to gain 10 to 15 pounds of lean mass in just 8-12 weeks.
StoryShot #1: Progressive Tension Overload
Michael Matthews believes that progressive tension overload is fundamental to growing and sustaining a highly muscular body. He defines progressive tension overload as the practice of incrementally increasing the heaviness of the weights that you are lifting. As your muscles grow, using the same heaviness of weight will lower the tension placed on your muscle fibers. But to continue to grow your muscles, you must continue to increase this tension level by increasing the heaviness of your weights. Michael Matthews advises that even if you listen to all the other advice in this book, you’ll still fail to build muscle if you do not progressively overload. So always add another rep or a little bit of weight compared to your last workout.
Matthews explains that the concept of progressive overload is not solely a modern one. Instead, the ancient Greek hero Milo was said to have carried a cow on his back daily from childhood. But over the years, the cow grew in size. Crucially, as the cow grew, so did Milo’s physique. Milo’s strength grew in proportion to the increase in weight he had to carry.
Finally, progressive overload can be a highly effective motivator. If you notice progress in the weight you can lift, you notice progress even if progress is not yet visible on your body. Track what you lift, so you beat that weight every workout. Achieving incremental goals activates the reward center of the brain, which releases dopamine. Over time, these regular dopamine releases can change neural pathways to signal the expectation of rewards when it comes time to work out. This rewiring of the brain can improve workout stamina and motivation to hit the gym even on a tough day.
StoryShot #2: Use Free Weights and Compound Lifting
Resistance machines are commonly used because they seem less intimidating than holding dumbbells, bars, and plates. That said, Michael Matthews argues these machines are less effective at building muscle. By using free weights, you are better able to perform compound exercises. These exercises recruit multiple muscle groups rather than isolating a single muscle group. Although isolation exercises are valuable, they are only valuable for strengthening certain muscle groups.
One of the greatest benefits of compound weightlifting is that it is associated with a greater release of anabolic hormones than resistance machines produce. These hormones, like testosterone and growth hormone, are essential for improving muscle growth.
StoryShot #3: Feed Your Muscles With Food and Rest
Matthews believes the majority of weight training programs do not offer enough rest. Weight training, if done correctly, should create micro-tears in your muscle fiber. Muscle growth occurs when these fibers are repaired. But if you do not provide your body with sufficient rest, it will not effectively repair these micro-tears. The author suggests it can take between two and seven days to let your body fully repair itself. This does not mean you should leave seven days between workouts. Instead, rest specific muscle groups before training them again.
Michael Matthews also debunks the myth that engaging with more sets during your workout will produce more muscle. Matthews adopted this approach early on in his training days, but found that he obtained little growth and was left with several negative repercussions. He was exhausted after every workout and would get injured, which prevented effective long-term growth. Matthews believes that spending two or more hours at the gym is not a healthy way of trying to build muscle. Instead, he suggests spending a maximum of 60 minutes a day in the gym.
Finally, sleep is one of the most important activities to remember when seeking to build muscle. Sleep is characterized by growth and repair. So, Matthews suggests ensuring you get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.
As well as resting your body, you also need to feed your body properly. This means you need to ensure you plan out your diet correctly (which we will get to later on in this analysis).
StoryShot #4: Cardio Can Also Help You Build Muscle
One of the biggest myths within the fitness world is the belief that all cardio exercise leads to muscle loss. Matthews agrees that excessive cardio can cause muscle loss. But he also highlights the fact that moderate amounts of cardio performed appropriately can aid muscle growth. For example, cardio exercise can facilitate muscle-fiber repair by increasing blood flow to the relevant muscle areas. This blood flow transports the minerals that are essential for muscle repair and carries away waste products. The result is shorter recovery times and improved muscle growth. That said, since cardio exercises mainly employ the legs, as in running and cycling, these benefits mainly serve to build leg muscles rather than upper body muscles.
StoryShot #5: The Bigger Leaner Stronger Ultimate Workout Plan
Michael Matthews summarizes his advice by offering a specific formula to adhere to while weight training.
1–2 | 4–6 | 9–12 | 2–3 | 45–60 | 5–7 | 8–10
- Train 1–2 Muscle Groups Per Day.
- Do Sets of 4–6 Reps for Nearly All Exercises.
- Do 9–12 Heavy Sets Per Muscle Group.
- Rest 2–3 Minutes in Between Sets.
- Train for 45–60 Minutes.
- Train Each Muscle Group Once Every 5–7 Days.
- Take a Week off from Training Every 8–10 Weeks.
Drilling down into details, Matthews also recommends four specific exercise types:
- The bench press
- The military press
- The squat
- The deadlift
Matthews suggests adopting a specific exercise routine including these moves, if you want to train three days a week.
Day One – Pulling
- Deadlift – Warm up and three working sets
- Barbell Row – Three working sets
- Chin up – Three working sets
- Barbell Curls – Three working sets
- Weighted Cable Crunch for Abs – ten to twelve reps
- Air Bicycle to Failure
- Decline Crunch to Failure – Repeat for three cycles
Day Two – Pushing
- Incline Bench Press – Warm up and three working sets
- Military Press – Three working sets
- Bench Press – Three working sets
- Side Lateral Raise – Three working sets
- Standing Calf Raises – Three working sets
- Seated Calf Raises – Three working sets
Day Three – Legs
- Barbell Squat – Warm up and three working sets
- Leg Press – Three working sets
- Romanian Deadlift – Three working sets
- Ab workout from day one
StoryShot #6: Eat Less Energy than You Burn
Let’s say your base level of calories burned in a day is 2,000, and you decide to take in only 1,500 calories per day. If you stick to this regimen, you will lose weight. This is a scientific fact. So, track the energy you ingest in your diet and make sure it is lower than the energy you have spent (if you want to lose weight). If you keep to this approach, you will lose weight even if you are eating terrible food that adds up to only 1500 calories. Importantly, you should only be in a calorie deficit if you need to burn fat and lose weight. If you are already slim and want to gain muscle, then you should be consuming 2200 to 2500 calories a day.
StoryShot #7: Use Macronutrients Properly to Optimize Body Composition
You will lose weight no matter your diet composition as long as you are in a calorie deficit. But the composition of your diet is still essential for optimizing your body composition. Mathews explains that you are at risk of becoming “skinny fat” if you are not paying attention to what you are eating. If you are eating too little protein while cutting calories, you will lose more muscle than you gain. Additionally, if you eat too few carbs, your training will suffer. Specifically, your muscle recovery will be impaired, and you will lack energy. Finally, if you eat too little fat, you will experience a significant drop in testosterone levels and other undesirable effects.
Aim to balance out your macronutrient levels. In doing so, you will maintain your energy levels, gain muscle, and maintain hormone levels and cell functions. If you want to gain muscles, you will also need to feed your body more energy than it is burning. These energy stores are crucial for repairing your damaged muscles and packing on lean muscle.
StoryShot #8: Choose the Right Protein Sources
Proteins will be a hugely important part of your diet. That said, it is essential for you to choose the right foods from which to obtain your protein. Whole food protein is a protein that comes from natural food sources. So, the best forms of whole food protein are chicken, turkey, lean red meat, fish, eggs, and milk.
StoryShot #9: Eat Carbohydrates in the Medium-High Range
Sugar is a class of sweet-tasting carbohydrates that comes from various plants, fruits, grains, and other sources. The danger of sugar is that it’s fast-absorbing and leaves you hungry soon after. Glucose is a sugar that occurs widely in nature and is an important energy source in organisms. Glucose is a component of many carbohydrates. Eat carbs in the medium-high range of the glycemic index (70–90 is a good rule of thumb) about 30 minutes before you train and within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
StoryShot #10: Get Most of Your Fats from Unsaturated Sources
It is difficult to build any muscle while in a fat loss calorie deficit. The goal while on a fat loss diet is simply to preserve muscle. Get most of your fats from unsaturated sources like olive oil, nuts, peanut oil, avocados, flaxseed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, or cottonseed oil.
StoryShot #11: Eat Less Salt
Most people consume too much sodium (salt), which causes bloating. You should aim for a 1:2 ratio of sodium to potassium. Therefore, about 4,600 mg of potassium a day is about right if your salt intake is high. It’s better to just cut the salt.
StoryShot #12: Block Eat on a Schedule
Another myth associated with training is that you have to eat six smaller meals rather than three larger meals a day. This myth implies that eating more frequently increases your metabolism. Matthews points out that small meals cause small, short metabolic spikes. Comparatively, the usual three meals cause a long metabolic spike. When you take these spikes over the course of the day, you cannot identify a clear difference. Matthews argues you should focus far more on planning a diet you enjoy and benefit from rather than caring too much about when you eat.
Matthews believes the only times you should schedule your meals are pre- and post-workout. Specifically, you should consume protein before working out to obtain a spike in amino acid levels and protein synthesis rates. This intake means you will be more efficient at building muscle during the workout. You should also eat carbohydrates before a workout to provide the fuel boost required to power your muscles. Then, having completed a workout, Matthews recommends eating more protein to stimulate protein synthesis. Eat some more carbohydrates to inhibit protein breakdown.
StoryShot #13: The 5 Biggest Fat Loss Myths and Mistakes
- Counting Calories is Unnecessary
- Doing Cardio = Weight Loss
- Chasing the Fads
- Doing Low Weight and High Reps Gets You Toned
- Spot Reduction of Fat
Final Review and Rating
Bigger Leaner Stronger provides an outline of how you can shape your diet and exercise routine to achieve the body you have always wanted. Some of the guidance is well known advice, while other tips challenge common guidance. By dispelling these myths, Michael Matthews lets you focus on what’s important.
We rate this book 4.6/5.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This content was first published in 2020.
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