My Approach to Building Muscle

by Brad Pilon

I’m always amazed at the ‘carpet bomb’ way of thinking that most people use to approach building muscle.How to Build Muscle

“Eat 10,000 calories a day, train hard with lots of rest, don’t do any cardio and sleep 12 hours a night and you will build muscle”

Which to me is very similar to telling people the secret to getting rich is:

“Work 5 full times jobs, live in a shack for 8 years, only spend 3 dollars a day on food and have no possessions and you’ll get rich”

OK..maybe not the best analogy, but you get the idea.

The fact is by adding a ton of body fat you can’t really tell how or where you are gaining your muscle.

And if you are a skinny guy (or girl) to begin with, it’ll actually FEEL like you are adding muscle.

But this is an aimless way approach to building muscle. There’s no true road map, no goals other than ‘weight’.

I’m not a fan of this approach (Obviously)

I’ve bulked up from 190 to 216 when I was in my twenties, just to cut back down to the low 180’s.

I didn’t gain, nor lose any muscle during this entire process (measured by BodPod & Skin Calipers)

To me, bulking is nothing more than a great way for a personal trainer to make you think you are making progress, when’re just getting fat.

So here’s my alternative.

Let’s use a hypothetical situation.

You are a 31 year old male with 8 years training experience who wants to build some more muscle.

You are 6’2″ and weigh in at 205-208 pounds, not lean, not skinny. People can tell you workout, but your right in the middle of being ‘big’ and being ‘lean’, you’re probably around 16-17% body fat

Meaning you have about 170 pounds of Lean Body Mass of which 85 to 90 pounds would be Skeletal Muscle

Old way of thinking would be to eat 5,000 to 10,000 calories every day for the next couple months, then spend 3 months dieting preparing to display your new muscle in the summer.

New way of thinking is a bit more….Tactical.

From the principles from the Adonis Effect I can say that at a natural 6’2″ with an average build (nothing freaky):

You should be able to hold about 180 pounds of Lean Body Mass (of which, 90 to 100 pounds would be actual muscle).

Which at about 10% body fat would put you roughly at 200 pounds.

(So you would need to increase your skeletal muscle mass by about 10% and decrease body fat by about 40%.)

At this Height, weight and body comp you should have a waist that is roughly 33 inches, and a shoulder circumference that should be above 50 inches and closing in on 53.5 inches.

Lastly assuming a ‘drop’ of 7 inches from your shoulders you should be looking at about a 46 inch chest.

So I’d use that as your ‘body road map’ – something to aim for while doing everything possible in the gym to gain strength.

Remember Muscle mass follows strength. For anyone other than beginner athletes, you can’t get stronger at a lift without the muscle involved in that lift getting at least a little larger.

So take your measurements now, then test some basic lifts in the gym..shoulder press, squat, bench, dead, weighted chin, maybe weighted dips… Then Track and test and test and track.

When it comes to overeating, it would completely be up to you.  You can get as fat as you like…but it won’t change the facts that this is most likely what will be ‘underneath’ everything.

At this age and training experience I”m just not sure that eating a massive surplus is going to help (unless you plan on taking steroids, then overeating and high protein may do the trick).

But the very easiest solution is to take your waist measurement now, maybe 2 inches below belly button, at belly button and 2 inches above…and then track.

If these measurements start going up you know you are eating more than you need to and you can dial back a bit (it doesn’t make sense that you would need to store fat in order to build muscle –> they are two completely different physical processes)

Now this road map is by no means perfect…you could be a genetic freak who can hold 210 pounds of lean mass at 6’2″, or you may have naturally narrow shoulders and will never be able to hit 53.5 inches…but it’s a start, and it’s better than having no direction at all.

That’s what the Adonis Effect is all about…tactical muscle building.

Same goes for the Venus Effect for women.


PS- Click the pic of Below for a special “Holiday discount” on the Adonis Effect..

Adonis Effect

John Barban Creator of the Adonis Effect


Ed Marriott December 22, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hi, Brad.

You say “If these measurements start going up you know you are eating more than you need to and you can dial back a bit (it doesn’t make sense that you would need to store fat in order to build muscle –> they are two completely different physical processes)”.

Obviously completely correct as far as it goes. But you can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus and unless you have a brilliant P-ratio (which you likely won’t as you’re not on steroids) you can’t therefore gain LBM without fat.

Appreciate the calorie partitioning effects of ESE and IF obviously change this a bit.

Emailed you separately this morning about something else- could you please reply?



Brad Pilon December 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hi Ed,

I’d question the statement “You can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus”

sanjosesean December 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Dang! W/JB’s new cut look, he could actually pass for the model in the AI exercise pix! 😉

Yeah, I fell for that eat 3000-4000 cals or more to grow muscle… it only kept me fat.

Thanks to ESE and AI, I’ve been losing (albeit on a roller coaster due to self inflicted peaks and valleys) and have been south of 200 for a while for the first time since before 2000. Thanks guys (my wife thanks you too!)

eric December 22, 2010 at 11:06 pm

With all the photos you guys have, you never show your legs. I suspect your focus is on upper body as leg work is pretty hard and most people avoid it. The guy in the photo doesn’t appear to have very big calves, I suspect he doesn’t do much leg work either.

malcolm scott December 23, 2010 at 1:36 am

This awesome information went twofold for me considering I’m 6’2″ as well. (so all the ideal measurements have been included in your blog for my height). Right now I’m doing p90x (skipping the cardio) and i’m up to 183 with 12% body fat…i started out 165 so that’s kind of cool but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever had more than 10% body fat and my abs are starting to disappear. I’m going to finish the program because i need closure for some reason. But after this I’m definitely getting with this Adonis Index thing because 200lbs and 10% body fat (with the correct shoulder/waist ratio) would be a dream come true for me. Thanks for the post!

Alan December 23, 2010 at 5:32 am

**”I’d question the statement “You can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus”**

I’d second that statement. I’m presently maintaining a calorie deficit (IF) and still building muscle. I’m positive BCAA/EAA help greatly too.

Brad Pilon December 23, 2010 at 10:37 am

I’d argue it’s because most people aren’t interested in seeing legs. If you read through the blog you’d realize I do legs for a week straight every other week…if you consider squats ‘leg work’..and you are correct I don’t have big legs (proportional, not big) but JB does.

gary December 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Disable & Wanting To Workout

Hi and Thank You ,I have a rare brain situation,
I’m only able to lift light weight dumb bell with out shaking and going out of from and hurting myself.I use 15-10-8 lb weights. I have use drop down sets,German volume training trying to push myself to the max,
I kept reading you have to use heavy weight ,
Would your program work?

Brad Pilon December 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Hi Gary,

Unfortunately your situation is outside of my realm of expertise. My suggestion would be to find the very best physical therapist / kineseologist (sp?) you can find and work one on one with them.


James December 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm

As far as building muscle goes, Brad’s pointed it out before, and i’ve read articles that are similar, and that since stored body fat is stored energy, as such it most definitely can be used in the process of building muscle, and unless a person is very lean, the whole idea of building muscle without a surplus is false. I think the big thing, and i’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone else, and again Brad has mentioned this too, is comparing are selves to the people in the magazines, and getting a unrealistic view of what is possible to accomplish

Barry December 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Of course you need a calorie surplus to build muscle. The question should be how long you have to be in a surplus.

We know that protein synthesis peaks at 24 hours after workout. So assuming your body sees itself as hypercaloric for that 24 hours, you’re probably building some lean mass.

Over the NEXT 24 hours if you’re hypocaloric you’re probably losing some fat.

So, a proper cyclical diet can build muscle and lose fat, but to say that you don’t need a calorie surplus to build muscle is crazy.

Brad – you should define for us all what you mean by “calorie surplus”.

Brad Pilon December 24, 2010 at 9:58 am

Barry while the process of building muscle tissue does require calories, this does not mean the calories need to come from a surplus of caloric intake.

Protein synthesis peaking at 24 hours after a workout is also a bit of a misleading statement, and I don’t see a cyclical diet as an answer.

The processes of building muscle and burning fat can happen at the same time, and do constantly throughout the day.


Tomek December 24, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Great post! I’m also in the camp that would question the statement: “You can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus”. And I think the whole point of this post is to not believe what others say that you can or can’t do, just measure yourself regularly, try things for yourself and see what works for you. That’s the approach I try to take 🙂

Roberto December 24, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Brad you are right on maintaining I train hard but less often and less time on gym most of the time. I do intense workouts with more frequency and more time spent, 2 times a year for 2 to 3 months each, for competition and summer vacation. And my approach to nutrition is some what controversial from what my trainers say. For maintaining I just eat until I feel a bit full so my got dont expand and when I competition state I just eat very small, because I feel supercharge and light, my muscles still expand, I get stronger and very lean. I think having a great workout and constantly pushing your limits every time hitting the gym or whatever training is preferred will determined the muscle size and strength.
So much for having to eat hmmmm I dont think so

Best regards,
Roberto Rodriguez Fonseca

John December 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm


The example you used was:

“You are a 31 year old male with 8 years training experience who wants to build some more muscle.”

I am 20 year old college student, 6’2, 220lbs, and a competitive powerlifter. Would your advice be the same? I don’t need a caloric surplus? (even though everywhere I read regarding strength increases, it says you need a caloric surplus…or rather that that it makes it much easier to gain strength).

What’s your take?

Brad Pilon December 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Nope, John my advice for you would be completely different based on your age, and goals.

John December 25, 2010 at 2:48 am

So let’s say I would like to keep competing but I wanna be pretty lean (~10%).

What would you advise? Btw I’ve been lifting for about 2-2.5 years now.

John December 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Brad, I hope you can find time to respond. I’d appreciate it a lot (as I’m pretty confused right now on what to do…I wanna get leaner but bring my numbers up too, but I really do feel like other than my bench (because I have long arms), my other lifts are still going up pretty fast even if I do eat at a calorie deficit for a lot of the days).

Feel free to delete this post…I just thought I’d write it, so you wouldn’t forget my previous comment. Thanks again!

Goro December 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Hey Brad excellent article.

It cleared up a lot about nutrition and muscle building for me but can you give me your opinion about eating right after you finish working out is that really necessary?A lot of people say it is really necessary for the muscle tissue to not eat itself.I find this stupid what do you think about it?


{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: