The 100 Laws of Muscle

Coauthor: Chris Shugart

Observe the laws. Build muscle, lose fat, and win the mind game. It starts right here.


  1. There is no perfect training program. In fact, very intelligent, very successful coaches often disagree with one another. That means you’re going to have to learn a lot, think for yourself, and experiment. Don’t like that? Take up jogging.

  2. The effectiveness of any training program is directly related to the effort you put into it. If a program “doesn’t work” it’s probably because you’re half-assing it. Effort trumps everything.

  3. Three words: Ass. In. Gym. Stop using “research” as a procrastination method. Yes, read articles and learn as much as you can, but most of what you learn will come from dedicated ass-in-gym time.

  1. Any workout can make you tired. But a good workout program will make you better.

  2. Working out to look great may be shallow, but so is wearing makeup, taking selfies, and grooming of any sort. Pick your shallow.

  3. When the average person thinks “I need to lose weight” they assume they need to start running. A better answer? Start lifting.

  4. Stop it with the sissy gloves. Calluses are your body’s way of saying, “Fixed it. More please.”

  5. Beware of gimmicks. Training that drastically changes your body won’t include many “functional” exercises with balance balls or wobble boards. You’re not in rehab. You’re building muscle and strength.

  6. Bodybuilding is functional. Its most obvious function is to make you look better. This is true for females just as much as it is for males. Big muscles aren’t weak muscles. And building them is not for the weak minded.

  7. Training may not always be fun, but it will always be rewarding. Lifelong rewards beat temporary fun.

  8. Balance brutal workouts with long slow walks, preferably outdoors.

  9. Long distance cardio makes you good at long distance cardio. Conditioning work – short, fast, and brutally intense – makes you good at everything.

  10. The cardio paradox: The more efficient you become, the less fat you burn with the same amount of work. Efficiency is great if you’re racing, not if you’re trying to lose body fat.

  11. Better to be “bulky” with muscle mass than to lose muscle mass, lower your metabolism, become weak, and then get bulky with body fat.

  12. The more muscular “bulk” you have the easier it’ll be to trim the fat. Working muscle is metabolically expensive. If you have fat to lose and no muscle underneath, it’ll take a lot more effort.

  13. Women who look great in yoga pants do more lifting than yoga.

  14. The best ab exercise is three sets of stop eating so damn much. That said, if you want obvious abs, you’ll need to hypertrophy them with weighted exercises.

  15. Strength and hypertrophy aren’t mutually exclusive. You can get stronger in the higher rep ranges that are proven to make muscles bigger.

  16. Hypertrophy promotes fat loss. By building more muscle tissue your body will produce more of the hormones that burn fat. Which means muscles become more visible as they grow and the fat on top shrinks simultaneously.

  17. Effective workouts can be a mix of violent powerful movement and controlled steady movement. Compound and isolation exercises, full body and split routines, 1RMs and burn-outs… there’s a time and place for everything and you’ll probably end up doing it all if you stay in this game long enough.

  18. Partials, iso-holds, super sets, drop sets, and mechanical drop sets are techniques that increase the time your muscles spend under tension. Employ a blend of them into your workouts for hypertrophy. Standard sets using full ROM are good, but noticeable hypertrophy requires more intensity. Some people call these bodybuilding techniques “bad form.” And those people are small.

  19. If your training and diet are causing you to burn up muscle tissue then you’re not getting leaner, you’re just getting smaller. And your metabolism is going to be slower as a result. Build or retain muscle, always.

  20. The easiest way to improve the appearance of your entire body is to build a strong butt. That’s also an easy way to improve your squat, deadlift, lunge, sprint, and kettlebell swing.

  1. People get great results and build impressive bodies with many different training philosophies. But they all have one thing in common: they bust ass. Working hard works. Period. Don’t forget that part.

  2. If there are a dozen pieces of workout equipment in your home gathering dust, just accept that you need a gym membership.

  3. Overcoming your own self consciousness at the gym is a sign you’ll do what it takes to overcome other obstacles standing in the way of your goals. This applies to newbies afraid of going to the gym and experienced lifters afraid of doing hip thrusts in public. Get over it. Be awesome.

  4. Apply your work ethic to your workout. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to think of you as lazy, distracted, inefficient, or weak… and don’t give yourself that opportunity either. Embrace the work part of your workout.

  5. Some of your favorite things to do in the gym are your favorite things because they’re easy. Do harder stuff. Or learn to make your favorite things more brutal.

  6. Don’t be so scared of injury and so obsessed with form that you forget to kick ass in the gym. But don’t be a jackass about it either and ignore obvious warning signs.

  7. When life gets hard, work hard. Fight back, kick your own ass before anyone else has the chance – you’ll steal their power and build armor.

  8. Are you in this for life? The test: Average people look for any excuse not to go to the gym, like a minor injury. Dedicated people find a way to work around injuries… and snowstorms, and holidays, and damn near anything else.

  9. Sprained wrist? Use machines that don’t require your grip. Busted knee? Great time to focus on your upper body. Don’t discount unilateral training either. Just be in the gym. Don’t fall out of the routine of kicking butt.

  10. Think like a machine, not an emotional wreck who needs permission and approval and happy feelings at all times in order to be consistent.

  11. Embrace movement. You’re really going to train hard in the gym, then take the escalator and roll your luggage?

  12. The newer you are to weight training and fitness the more important it is to follow conventional rules. Learn the rules so that you know how to bend and break them to your benefit in the future.

  13. Bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, strongman. All of these involve people training hard with weights. It’s a small community. Maybe it’s time to stop hating on those who decide to lift weights a little differently than you do.

Diet & Nutrition

  1. When it comes to fat loss, genetics may somewhat “load the gun” but you don’t have to pull the trigger and reload twice.

  2. If the way you eat is working – body, mind, and ease of effort – then ignore diet trends that complicate things further. Rely on the knowledge you’ve gathered from prior experiences.

  3. Change your diet if it’s not working. If you’ve become so steeped in the culture of your particular diet that you continue to use it even when it stops working, then you have drank the Kool-Aid. Practice saying “baa baa” because you’re a sheep.

  1. You can find a study to support any dietary strategy you want to believe in. But can you be honest with yourself and admit when what you’re doing has stopped working? Be open to other possibilities. Find what works, then evolve.

  2. Start conservatively with your fat loss efforts. Diets that work long term don’t make you feel like crap. If yours does then you’ve gone overboard and you won’t be able to maintain it.

  3. If your diet makes you act like a bitch, it’s not going to last for long. You’re going to fall off the wagon. Unless of course you were a bitch before you started.

  4. Carb-phobia is a great way to stop building muscle. Working out without building muscle is a great way to look average. Don’t be average.

  5. Having flat, carb-depleted muscles may make you look smaller, but it’ll also make you weaker and lower your work capacity in the gym. Being weak and unable to work harder for longer periods of time is a recipe for stagnation.

  6. Minutiae only matters when all the obvious pieces of your diet are in place. Focus on mastering one thing at a time. Start with the major stuff. Worry first about that package of cookies or chips you’re killing every night instead of your Vitamin C intake.

  7. The term “beer belly” was created for a reason. There’s an obvious way to avoid getting one.

  8. Don’t sacrifice year-round leanness for special-occasion leanness. If a competition diet makes you fat after the competition is over, you did it wrong.

  9. Know a guy who can eat whatever he wants and still look shredded? Don’t eat like him, unless he’s you.

  10. You are not your family. Nor are you locked in to your genetic predisposition. You can choose differently. You can transform your body and your appetite by consistently making better choices.

  11. Keeping a food log is the best way to learn how your body behaves with different diet plans. That said, if you have to track every calorie and every macro every single day in order to stay on target, then you’re not learning anything anymore. You’re not controlling your diet. It’s controlling you.

  12. The lean people who never feel deprived are the ones who know how to cook. Know your way around a kitchen and you have an immediate advantage over those who don’t.

  13. Learn a handful of recipes that are fast, easy, filling, adaptable and packed with nutrition. Use them often.

  14. The people who have the best physiques year-round are conscientious of the quality and quantity of their food. That doesn’t mean they starve and only eat kale. It means that when they do eat low-quality food, they have boundaries in place that keep them from making their meal a downward spiral into weeks of bingeing.

  15. Find your boundaries. And don’t be an ass to those who have different ones. Some of us need to abstain from hedonic food. Some of us can achieve our physique goals by indulging in a calculated manner.

  16. Counting macros and choosing quality food aren’t mutually exclusive behaviors. Basic conscientiousness doesn’t have to be neurotic.

  17. Be picky about where your macros are coming from and what purpose they serve. Sure, you can make kid’s cereal fit into your nutritional allotment before bedtime, but is it taking the place of insulinogenic workout nutrition that would’ve made you kick ass at gym time and build more muscle?

  1. If your diet is your religion you’re going to feel like a fool when it fails you. Know what works for you now, but be open to other options.

  2. Only master what’s manageable, then expand. If you make a dozen major changes at once, you’ll crash and burn.

  3. To crave nutritious food, eat mostly nutritious food. Studies say junk food makes nutritious food less appetizing. To stop craving junk completely, eliminate it completely. It’s not unheard of. You just have to display some balls for a few weeks.

  4. Don’t do a low carb diet. Don’t do a low fat diet. Do a low shit-food diet. Lower your intake of the things you know for sure aren’t helping you.

  5. If you’re used to eating junk, then yes, when you remove it you may feel deprived at first. But it’s not actually deprivation and it won’t lead to malnourishment. Would you call a person who quit smoking deprived?

  6. Organic junk food is still junk food, hipsters.

  7. Research, then commit to something to reap the benefits of experience. Stop trying to gather secondhand diet information from other people. They don’t know what works best for you, and you won’t either without experience.

  8. A diet that causes you to lose a lot of fat but leads to rebound, regain and poor health did not “work.”

  9. Don’t obsess over scale weight. Lose 10 pounds of fat and gain 10 pounds of muscle and the scale will say you made “no progress.” The mirror beats the scale.

  10. To guarantee the greatest gains from training, fuel, protect, and reload muscle immediately prior to, during, and after training.

  11. The biggest supporters of a diet style are those who are new to it. Don’t pay too much attention to them until they’ve been doing it successfully for over a year. Everyone who’s adopted a fad eating style is all googly-eyed about it the first week or two.

  12. Don’t make your diet your religion. Don’t make your diet your identity. You are not what you eat. You are not what you don’t eat. Also, your vegan T-shirt is lame.

The Mind Game

  1. Weak people face life’s obstacles with an excuse in their hand. Strong people carry a hammer.
  1. Self-improvement never begins with whining, complaining or feeling sorry for yourself. Accept responsibility. You caused this and only you can fix it. Take action. Get shit done.

  2. Unsuccessful people are always talking about what they deserve. Successful people look around for opportunities to earn it.

  3. Every time you overcome something difficult, the next challenge is that much easier.

  4. When you’re 80 you’re going to wish you had spent more time naked when you were 30.

  5. If your biggest critics are toxic assholes, then you’re on the right track.

  6. You know what’s worse than a critic? People who tell you to be average – well-meaning folks who enable mediocrity. Be passionate. Be a freak.

  7. The truly dedicated lifter doesn’t need constant motivation to hit the weights. Motivation is for newbies. Veteran lifters grind. The motivation comes after a set or two.

  8. Strive to be more than “the big guy,” the “strong guy,” or the “lean girl.” Be an ambassador for fitness and muscle. Lead by example. Help others when you can.

  9. Build your willpower muscle, but use it wisely. Anorexics have great willpower, but it is misapplied.

  10. Train at your worst. Go to the gym even if you feel fat. Worrying about what other people think about you is the route to inconsistency. And it means you’re sacrificing your fitness for the worthless opinions of other schlubs.

  11. Practice violence in the gym. Practice kindness everywhere else.

  12. The best way to transform your body is to increase your appetite – for health, energy, strength, self-discipline, resilience – and muscle too if you want to look good naked.

  13. Get off your high horse. You don’t have all the answers. There are stronger people with better bodies than you – and they probably don’t do things the way you think everyone ought to.

  14. Train and sweat when you have a difficult decision to make. The zone-like nature of training can take your mind off the problem just long enough to give you a better perspective when the workout is finished.

  15. Brief gym conversations are fine, but only with those who are there to actually train. Don’t get cornered by someone looking for a therapist. You’re at the gym to better yourself, not solve other people’s problems.

  16. The more consistent and experienced you become with your fitness, the more “extreme” your regimen will appear to outsiders. Realize that if you’re healthy and strong and proud of your accomplishments, then it’s not extreme. It’s progress. And other people won’t understand it if they haven’t seen all you’ve done to build it.

  1. Don’t let social pressure undo what you’ve built with your dedication.

  2. There are many examples of successful physique competitors with three kids and two jobs. So let’s cut the crap about you “not having time” to train, shall we?

  3. The bodybuilding tradition of off-season chubby and in-season shredded is outdated. Build muscle year round. Don’t get fat on purpose. Be smart about it and you’ll stay lean without the pressure of getting in a bikini or posing trunks.

  4. The easiest person for you to fool is yourself. Be brutally honest. If you think you’re strong, test that strength regularly. If you train to look good, take regular pics – front, side, and back. Photos tell the truth, whether your ego wants to hear it or not.

  5. Sometimes the best person to ask for advice is the big, strong or ripped person in your gym. And sometimes they don’t actually know shit because they rely on great genetics or drugs or both. You’re going to have to be a thinker and a tester. Your body is your laboratory. Try stuff, evaluate that stuff, adjust the stuff, try stuff again.

  6. Building the body you want will take longer than you think it will and it will be harder than you think. The results are worth it.

  7. Realize that the moment you decide to better yourself, other people will often try to stop you. This is sometimes disguised as subtle behavior. Don’t worry, after they try to sabotage you, dissuade you, or politely get you to stop getting better, they’ll come to you for advice. Give it to them kindly. People are weird.

  8. There are some people in this world who have decided to destroy themselves, often with inactivity and food. When you reach down to help them up, they’ll often try to drag you down with them. Don’t let them.

  9. Be your own worst critic. Set high standards. Push yourself. But don’t live in a constant state of self-criticism. You’ll hopefully be 90 years old some day. Take some pride now.

  10. With any diet or training plan, ask yourself this question often: “How’s it working for me?” Now, honestly answer that question. This will be harder than you think.

  11. Sometimes when you think life is kicking you in the ass, it’s actually just moving you quickly to a better place.

  12. Get professional pictures taken if that appeals to you. Why the hell not? Celebrate the way your body looks if you’re proud of those changes. And screw the prudes who say working out is only about what your body can do. We all know that the appearance of an athletic body is an achievement to be celebrated.

  13. Instead of wearing a T-shirt that says how hard you work out, why not just build a body that reflects it? Show, don’t tell.

  14. Brush off all stupid compliments and criticisms about your body from people who aren’t into fitness or building muscle. They’ll never get it unless they’re into it.

  15. If it’s not too late, marry someone who’s just as into training and healthy eating as you are. Otherwise, you’ll drive each other nuts.