T Nation

Former D1 Athlete Mass Program Design


A friend of mine began regularly coming to my gym after he graduated from college. He has been working out consistently for 4-5 days per week for several months now and has made no visible progress on his own.

Last week while we were talking, he finally asked me for help gaining some muscle since what he was doing has worked. I told him I'd do some brainstorming and get back to him, but that I'd be more than glad to help.

Here's the interesting part. For the last 4 years, he was a scholarship cross-country runner at a major D1 university. He's in phenomenal condition and is mentally tougher than anyone I know when it comes to physical exercise and battling fatigue. He's got the work ethic and drive, I just need to give him a little direction.

The goal is to add 10-15 lbs of lean mass, while still maintaining his ability to run 5 or so miles at a fast pace.

I'm hoping to get some input and bounce some ideas off of the vets, to try to formulate the most effective mass building program from someone with this unique type of background.

Right now, I would estimate that he is 5'8" and weighs somewhere around 140 lbs with single digit body fat. He has definition, but no considerable muscle mass; He is somewhat weak for his size.

His conditioning is phenomenal. When he was in college, he ran anywhere from 100-115 miles every week, which I think is unreal. His track coach did not have him lifting weights. He won a few races over the years, so he runs fast. I've seen him set the treadmill as fast as it can go and just cruise for 5 miles.

I'm putting him on a 5 day split, focusing on a single muscle group per day. I'm including all of the major compound movements we love (squat, dead, military press etc.), and I'm not too worried about determining the specific exercises.

I'm going to suggest that he rest no more than 90 seconds in between sets, so that he can work on maintaining his endurance while lifting. If you object to this rest interval, why and what would be better?

What sort of rep scheme and volume size do you guys think would be the best to force his body to grow? He is unique because all of the years of intense running have resulted in his muscles being primarily composed of slow twitch fibers.

Since he has accumulated a majority of these type of fibers, would it be best to have him doing a low rep program that is more geared towards increasing strength? Like a 5x5 style program? The idea here would be to challenge and improve his body's weakest factor: his lack of fast twitch fibers.

Or would it be best to have him working in the classic 10-12 range? If so, why? I'm suggesting this range for at least the first 2 weeks, with my idea being that more reps will give his CNS more practice recruiting the necessary motor units for each exercise and that he will get comfortable with properly executing each exercise.

Or would a combination of sets of 10-12 and sets of 5-8 be best?

For volume, I'm planning somewhere around 5 exercises per session with a minimum of 20 total work sets. Would you recommend a higher or lower volume and why?

Thanks in advance for the input and ideas!


It's interesting that in 14 paragraphs you didn't once mention diet.

He is 140 pounds at 5'8". Given that he has seen ZERO visible progress training 4-5 times a week for several months, and his work ethic and drive are as good as you say they are, you should address THAT before worrying about his muscle fibers.

Maybe carrots?


Incorporating a good diet is implied and I've spent some time discussing details with him. I don't think his athletic background makes planning for his diet unique, so I didn't bother asking.

Since he already is in excellent condition, i believe he eliminated the potential for the "newbie gains" that most people get when they start going to the gym, regardless of whether or not their training correctly.

I'm sure anyone will tell you that in order to be a D1 athlete, you have to have serious work ethic.

I'm looking for ideas, input and constructive criticism. Don't bother posting here again if your just going to be an ass.


Guy, I'm not a mind reader - if I see an obvious reason for your buddy seeing ZERO visual results from several months of training 4-5 days a week, I will point it out (and I wasn't trying to be an ass...except for the carrots part). Don't get pissy simply because you didn't bother to give enough information in your original post.

A shit diet is your buddy's MAIN problem. A 5'8", 140 pound person should be able to gain 10 - 15 pounds fairly easily simply because they are fairly underweight to begin with (I am assuming he is going to chill with the running for the time being...despite the fact that you did not mention this in your original post, either).

The fact that he has seen ZERO physical changes during this period means he was not eating enough, because even IF his training did nothing (because he wasn't "training for his fiber type"), he STILL would have looked different in the mirror because those excess calories would have gone towards fat instead of muscle. No changes whatsoever? Not enough calories = no anabolism taking place - good kind or bad.

Hence, my recommendation to focus more on diet than his muscle fibers - once again, I don't read minds over teh interwebz.


I always thought that the reason why people had newbie gains was from the act of challenging the muscles with actual weight training, not just being in good condition.

Anonym has a very good point. It seems like you are overlooking the diet you are putting him on given that you didn't discuss it much at all here. If he has good weight training work ethic then your major problem will be his diet and how much he will be running. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to assume that he is addicted to running so he's probably going to have to cut back on that if he's chasing mass.

You said you have discussed his diet with him, but most likely he is doing something wrong with it, so you really need to be going into great detail with him. Make it painfully clear that he needs the calories to build his physique.

The questions about the routine seem inconsequential to me since he will see results if he gets his diet right and doesn't run all of his calories away.



I agree that his diet has not be solid for the past months and is definitely a major reason why he hasn't made any gains.

I started talking about diet with him this past Friday, since it was the first time he approached me for help.

As a rule, I never offer people 'tips' or
'advice' at the gym because I do not want to come off as that guy who thinks he knows everything. I hate that guy.

I didn't think to originally post about diet because I was figuring it would be a standard bulking diet. Plus my original post was humongous and talking diet would have damn near doubled its size.

You could be right. Would be interesting to hear if any studies have been done on this.


I got 'pissy' because in your first post you didn't offer any advice, didn't mention why you thought diet was the culprit, and did come off like an ass.

This forum is supposed to be a bodybuilding think tank and threads like this are the whole reason that this site got started, so its annoying when posts like that pop up.

Anyways, I'm going take your advice to put more effort into explaining how important diet is to him and recommend that he cuts back on running.


I agree with the others that diet must be adressed. If this guy doesn't realize how much he needs to eat to grow, he should check out the physique clinic for that skinny air force guy from USC. That will show him the kind of dedication that needs to be made to supplying the building blocks before lifting a single weight.

For the weight training, I think a three day split emphasizing full body work would benefit him more than five days a week in the gym. He needs more down time to grow. The full body work in something like Bill Starr's 5X5 program stimulates more growth hormone production by hitting the large muscle complexes every workout.