T Nation

Beginner Routine for 20lb Muscle Gain


Hey all I have been looking for a beginners routine to help reach my short term goal of gaining 20lb of muscle. I have been looking through the site the past few weeks and found lots of great information with regard to nutrition and training.

However, since my goal is to gain muscle I was wondering if I should start with something along the lines of 5x5 or a standard BB split? Obviously BB split for building muscle sounds like the way to go, but I have also read that something like 5x5 linear progression is a good place to start to build a foundation of strength. any and all suggestions are appreciated.

I am 24 years old, 5 foot 11 inches, 160lbs.(no idea on body fat
I used to be really athletic (Middle distance track in high school 4:31 mile and 1:55 800 PR)
but in college i drank a lot and started smoking cigs (worst habit ever). I have quit cigs (3 weeks since my last one) and i am looking to gain muscle and get back on track with my health.

Looking on the My Pyramid website i currently need 2200 calories to maintain weight. So what would you all suggest to help me gain, along with what routine i should start with.

Also what would/should be my realistic 1 year goal? 20lbs? more? less?

Anyway, sorry for the long post, i just found so much conflicting advise for beginners routines
Maybe someone could point me in the right direction based on my specific situation?

On a side note, i bought Starting Strength and read it cover to cover the last few weeks to help with technique since i am so inexperienced.

I also attached a Before picture if that helps in some way?

Thanks in advance for all the help


what probably matters most is that you pick a non-stupid program and train really hard and eat accordingly.

some will say that something like starting strength will provide a good foundation of strength, yes, and that you will gain muscle on it if you eat accordingly.

others will say that if you plan to get into bodybuilding then you should get started as you mean to go on - on a bodypart split program.

as a beginner (someone who stands to make beginners gains) i think it matters most what you have the most faith in and what sort of program has most appeal to you. pick something non-stupid work your ass off and make sure you are eating enough food especially protein to gain.


Thanks for the advice. I think i will go with the 5x5 routine. When i was training for track way back when the right way to do it was to build a base/foundation to start then work towards your goals after.

I realize i need to eat like i never have before in my life, but can i get a rough estimate? 3000 calories of clean whole foods? 4000? How much protein? 160g(body weight)?

Also what is a realistic goal for those "beginner gains" in the first year?


whatever 5x5 you decide to go with, don't make your own version of it. just follow the program as written and milk it for all it's worth. expect to be on that program for 6-12 months (at least for SS). if you decide to concentrate more on aesthetics, then you can follow a BB split. just keep in mind that you will also get stronger and bigger on a BB split.

you need to eat however much it takes to put AT LEAST 1-2 lb on the scale a month AND keep putting weight on the bar as your program dictates. for some people that's 2600 kcal, for others it's more. start with 3000 and adjust accordingly. dirty food is ok if that's what it takes, just know that you'll probably end up a bit softer in the end (which is easier to get rid of the more lean mass you have).

that being said, don't freak out if you gain 10 lb in a month or if you can't see your abs all of a sudden. that's a good way to cheat yourself of progress.

start with 1g protein per lb BW. you can still grow on that amount. just keep in mind that if you're trying to pack in 3000 kcal, 160g protein is only 640 kcal, which leaves you 2360 kcal to make up for in carbs and fat. there isn't anything wrong with that in the beginning per se, but as you go along maybe you'll see that you grow more or recover better with more protein.

a minimum 10-20 lb weight gain over the first year is to be expected. like anything else, you get out of it what you put in. I've gained 35 lb since June. if I limited myself to that 20 lb number over a year, I don't think I could've progressed as much as I have.


The average male body can synthesize .25 to .5 lbs of dry muscle tissue/week if everything is done right. That equates to about 12 to 20lbs of muscle over 1 year...if everything is done right.

As it's been said, start near 3,000 calories and make adjustments every two weeks or so if it is not working (eat more if growth is slow or eat less if fat gain is resulting). For protein, I shoot for 180-200g on off-days and 240g on training days; don't worry about getting huge amounts in one sitting, exception: pre-peri-post workout.


ok great thanks. I am not too worried about adding fat since i have a cardio background, so losing any unwanted should be easy. I will be following the program to the T since i have no idea how to design my own. And i have read enough about SS that i trust it.

I am usually a fairly healthy eater and i know that is probably the best way to go, but i am also not super strict about it either. I realize there will be plenty of opportunities to eat dirty.(holidays, social events, eating out, etc)

35lbs since June is impressive, and that is good advice not to put a cap on it and limit myself. I really appreciate the help.


thanks for the compliment.

start a log on here. the added accountability is a nice bonus, and you can get direct input on whatever seems to be off at the moment.

i learned this from scj119 (thanks bro): when things get tough and you start doubting yourself, you can look back at the beginning of your log and get a reality check of how far you've really come... or give yourself a kick in the ass if you've been slacking.


Yeah that is a good idea i will start a log once i get my routine in order, i think that will help me stick with it. Great advice.

OK here is what i found for 5x5 (there seems to be many variations?)

Workout A
Squats 5x5
Bench 5x5
Overhead Press 5x5

Workout B
Squats 5x5
Barbell rows 5x5
Deadlift 1x5

Alternate workouts for 3 per week. Starting very conservative since i have read the load can burn you out/injure you if you do too much too fast or have bad form. Looking to add 5-10 lbs per workout to each exercise.

Only accessory exercise i will do is Pullups/chinups Which day should i do them? or both days?


I'd say do them both days as long as they don't negatively impact other lifts, namely rows. on the day with rows maybe do them after rows since you will be trying to progress with rows on that day.

if you find that progress on rows is stalling despite eating more/resting/longer rest periods, then you can think about cutting back on pullup/chinup volume a bit. but tbh I do rows one day and then do pullups/pulldowns the next with a lot more volume than a 5x5, and I'm progressing fine.


Smithompson - that one is a bit pants. Two pushing movements on one day and three posterior-chain heavy movements the next? I wouldnt even consider it at your level
Try (in order):

Bench 5x5
Pendelay Rows 5x5
Squat 5x5

Clean+OHP 5x5
Pullups/Chins 5x5
Deadlift 3x5

Either way, stick with the plan till you have put 50-100lbs on every lift

Otis rush - get the flying fuck out. If one could only absorb 20g of protein 'per meal', I would shit an entire chicken every day. Do you really think your digestive system only functions during the 20mins it takes to eat a steak?


Hey Caveman101, thanks for the response. I did a little research and i think you are right. The workout i posted will probably work for a little bit, but once the weights go up i can see the problem with it.

I see that you took squats out of the second workout completely. Would you not suggest doing them 3 times a week? Would a 4x5 squat and 1x5 deadlift that day work? I am much more comfortable with my form on squats than deadlifts. Then again, i am a complete novice so i assume i should shut the fuck up and just learn to do the deadlift properly. Anyways thanks for the help, it is much appreciated.


Pssh... Noobs
He probably took nutrition 101 in college and they told him that protein is the enemy and to eat 11 servings of grains each day, blah blah blah.

A half-wit could do the math on this and realize that 20 grams per meal at 6 meals a day is only 120grams of protein per day. And that's even if you eat 6 meals a day.

Show me someone that eats 120 grams of protein a day and I will show you a weightlifter that doesn't understand why he is stuck at a buck-60.



From Lonnie Lowery: "For me, not that much really. Twenty to thirty grams every few hours, spiked with leucine. I'm getting between 180 and 210 grams per day."


"For instance, one study found that whey protein-induced increases in protein synthesis post-resistance exercise peaked at 20 grams of protein, with larger amounts not increasing the response any further."

Notice how I said "evidence." it's not like I presented it as an immutable fact, and my own lower limit is 200/day. Lighten up....


Just do the program as is for the first 12 weeks (1 cycle). After, you can reassess. Download the spreadsheet from the web site, go to the gym prepared with what you are doing and have fun.


Otis - im going to quote that quote back in your face in context:

"Proteins act synergistically with weight training to stimulate protein synthesis, but just as there's an upper limit to how much exercise we can productively recover from, there also appears to be an upper limit to how much protein we can eat to max out protein synthesis.

This subject has been studied numerous times, but the amount of protein or amino acids used in the research may not directly apply to real-world scenarios. Scientists have rarely used a training stimulus that comes even close to what most guys are doing in the gym, making it difficult to extrapolate and make specific recommendations as far as how much protein is needed.

For instance, one study found that whey protein-induced increases in protein synthesis post-resistance exercise peaked at 20 grams of protein, with larger amounts not increasing the response any further. Similar dose-response studies have been done to determine the maximal requirements for leucine.

It's important to realize that the kind of intense, balls-out training most T NATION readers do probably activates protein synthesis to a greater degree than what researchers are using in the lab. Therefore, it's possible that more than 20 grams may be needed for most people to get a maximal response."

Im sorry i told you to fuck off earlier, but im tired of that fact being blown around. you go eat 20g of protein post workout for a year and tell us how that goes


aren't those studies usually conducted with <50% 1RM on an isolation exercise like a leg extension.

so, according to my BroMath calculations in a squat, I can easily double that since I'm using a higher % of my 1RM, then double it again because
I'm also using my hams/glutes/entire torso right??? so 20x2x2x4 = 320?????

lol Otis take it easy with the articles man. that stuff's good to know but as Caveman said the way it was conducted just doesn't apply IRL.

just lift big, improve over your last session and eat big. making progress isn't complicated.

btw Caveman your avi looks tasty. are those ribs?


I guess I'll clarify again (should have been more detailed earlier, which I'll edit) and hopefully get back to the original focus. My point was that TC shouldn't worry about downing huge amounts at once [except for the training window]. And I don't actually advocate "small amounts," all that I meant was if 20-30 is used for synthesis, then any extra protein will be converted to energy or other uses, that's all.

PS Caveman...in the 1-hour PWO window, I get 60-70g, it's working well so far.


I respect the fact that you referenced Meadows and Lowery's work.
Both people I believe to have a good heads on their shoulders.

What is not taken into account in lab testing is that they are looking for the results of one variable. In these studies they are testing protein synthesis in a peri-workout "window." To do this they give protein solutions of egg, whey, etc or a placebo. Some times they will look at adding sugars into the mix as a third variable but most tests are run with just one variable.

Since whey or egg solutions digest quickly they can see immediately how the protein synthesis spikes. What if however I simply sat down at my dinner table and ate a 12oz sirloin steak (approximately 65grams of protein). Since it is meat I would assume it would digest slower and give my body a longer release of amino acids when compared to protein solutions.

I am no expert when it comes to digestion but I do know when something just doesn't make sense. Think about our ancestors, is they killed something I would assume they ate until they were stuffed as it probably did not happen every day. Do you think their digestive system can only handle 20grams of protein at a pop? Doesn't make any sense to me.

This method of 20 grams of protein at one sitting would also have a hard time explaining all the intermittent fasters since they only eat once or twice a day.

Not only that but each of these articles say that they do not have definitive evidence to back up the claims they are making.


Thank fuck someones got some friggen sense, bloody good reply!

If the body could only absorb that small amount of protein, than my mate is a fucken freak of nature. The lazy prick eats 1 big monster meal a day that is around 3500 cals. he eats this at night after our training. Hes fucken huge, strong, trains hard as fuck and hes as ugly as a hat full of assholes lol (sorry mick if you read this lol). Perfect example of the 20g of protein is bullshit.

@OP: Do 5x5 as the program is written, don't listen to shit like "don't train this movement with that one" OH NO we better run and hide arrrgh. Seriously, do 5x5 as written and progressively add weight, eat around 3000 cals a day as others have said and keep an eye on adjusting if you feel worn or tired/not recovered. Train hard, train heavy, be consistant and you will get strong and grow.
Good luck


The illeal brake slows gastric emptying to ensure most of the nutrition we consume is adequately absorbed by the small intestine and doesnt pass straight through.

From what i've read the actual amount of protein required to muscle stimulate protein synthesis is fairly small. This doesnt mean that the rest is wasted as it will be used to restock the bodies amino acid pool and assist in recovery.

OP just do starting strength, it will be a good choice.