How I Gained 25 Pounds of Muscle Training 3 Days a Week (Or a Guide to Recovery)
A science-based plan that got me more fit with less training
Three days a week? Surely you must be joking.
No, I’m not joking.
Furthermore, in the supreme irony of ironies, I actually trained two days a week on most weeks, and only added a third if I was really feeling like it.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
I grew up doing health and fitness, but overloaded my adrenals by overtraining, and had health problems that kept me from training for two years.
One of the biggest reasons I developed those problems is because I trained too often. Specifically, I was doing high-intensity CrossFit workouts and Olympic weightlifting sessions twice a day, five days a week.
However, while I was recovering and searching for both causes and solutions, I started learning a “less-is-more” mindset toward fitness and about the immense importance of recovery.
Some of these concepts include the idea that it takes at least 24 hours after a hard strength workout for a muscle to fully heal and then begin building. And that it takes 48 hours for your nervous system to fully recover.
When I was sick, I couldn’t work out at all, but when I started training again, I decided to do an experiment. I decided to see how quickly I could get back to my old weight and strength (227 pounds while actively competing in CrossFit) by only training three days a week and recovering for at least 48 hours between workouts.
Not only did it work, but it worked fast. I started this experiment at 198 pounds and lean, and by the end I hit 228 pounds while maintaining a visibly lean figure.
In this article, I am going to show you exactly how I pulled this off—by training harder but less often, prioritizing recovery, and optimizing lifestyle habits such as diet, sleep, and supplements to promote muscle gain.
A Bit of Science: Why Training Less Means Gaining More
OK, so before we get into the details of my experience, let’s talk about why I thought training less would be a better idea in the first place.
When I was competing in CrossFit, I trained close to 15 hours a week in the form of sauna work, yoga, Olympic lifting, runs, and CrossFit. Even on my “off” days, I’d go train, and ultimately I paid the price for it when I started having adrenal problems.
Fifteen hours is pretty extreme though. Most people probably train closer to five or seven hours (about an hour a day), yet even that much may be unnecessary. Although you might not run the risk of overtraining and causing a chronic health problem at that level, you aren’t likely to be recovering enough for the most efficient improvements.
To understand why I chose three hours of training for this project, let’s look at the physiology of muscle building.
When you exercise for the purpose of building muscle, you are damaging your muscles. That’s literally what is happening. As you lift weights, do push-ups, sprint, or whatever, your muscle fibers rip and tear at the cellular level. You’re doing damage.
The reason you don’t get weaker from this is because of the intelligence of your body. Exercise is something known as a xenohormetic signal. Basically, it is a stressor which signals your body to improve.
Though you are damaging your muscle in the moment during exercise, your body adjusts its hormones and makes adaptive improvements over the course of the next few days.
This is where the idea of training less comes in. In terms of exercise physiology, it is generally accepted that it takes 24 hours for muscle to fully “heal” from a bout of hard exercise, and then another 24 to 72 hours to improve in size and strength.
Furthermore, the central nervous system (CNS) is taxed by exercise, and it takes 48 hours for this to recover and another 24 to make improvements. This means that while you can make full recovery of your muscle groups while training every day, your nervous system will accrue fatigue.
And in fact, a less-is-more approach has been shown in studies to be just as effective for building muscle mass and strength training.
A study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that training very little per week still produced great strength benefits, and that at some point (somewhere between training two days or three days a week), training more often did not lead to greater gains.
Using this knowledge, I decided to try this training style myself and see how it compared to my days as a competitive athlete. Now for the workouts.
To keep things simple, I used the same training “skeleton” for all of my workouts. I got this training program from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Ben goes far more in-depth with his training and uses five other workout styles depending on his access to equipment. His article is awesome as well, but I got results by keeping things simple.
Here’s the set-up:
- 1 Upper Body Push Exercise
- 1 Lower Body Push Exercise
- 1 Upper Body Pull Exercise
- 1 Lower Body Pull Exercise
- 1 Total Body Exercise
For each category, I pick one exercise and perform three to five sets with an active recovery core or mobility move between sets.
I perform this workout two to three times per week, with at least 48 hours of recovery in between where I only do mobility, walking, or yoga.
Furthermore, when I do my workouts, I aim to make the workout as tough as possible while maintaining good technique.
Don’t be afraid to lean toward only doing two workouts a week. I found this routine to be more effective if I did two high-intensity sessions and recovered fully in between them. Just make sure to keep the high intensity.
For four out of my six weeks doing this program, I only did two workouts a week, but I made sure to train as hard as I could during those workouts. This felt more effective than trying to add a third workout, as that often meant reduced intensity.
For the warm-up, I just try to get my muscles feeling warm and primed without stiffness. This usually involves a couple exercises to raise my heart rate and a couple to prime for my workout.
I’ll usually do one, fast full-body movement, then a couple of slow movements, then another fast total body movement. For the slow movements, I’ll either do very low-weight strength exercises that resemble the training I’m about to do, or I’ll do range of motion (ROM) movements like banded distractions.
- Jump rope, either 30 double-unders with a speed rope, or 50 regular jumps with a heavier rope
- 10 air squats (with VooDoo floss if you have it)
- 10 strict shoulder presses with an empty barbell
- Run 50 meters at a fast pace or do 10 burpees
With the exception of the warm-up, I do three to five rounds of each exercise, with an active recovery move between sets, before moving onto the next exercise.
For example, I’ll start by doing an upper-body “push” move such as push-ups or bench press. Between sets, I’ll do something like cat-cow stretches, foam rolling, or an active hip stretch.
I do five to 10 reps for each round of the strength exercise, and 10 to 20 reps of the mobility/core exercise, if applicable. If you do a stretch or foam roll for the mobility/core exercise, just do 15–20 seconds per side.
For the strength movements, I try to increase the weight I’m using without losing my form or doing less than five reps.
For example, If I do bench press, I try to have round three onward be at the highest weight I can do with proper form and doing at least five reps. If I can’t lift with good form for more than five reps, I lower my weights as needed until I can.
I do not change the strength exercise or the mobility exercise each set. It stays the same. You can change the exercises from workout to workout, and you should, but not during.
So, an example of the Upper Body Push part of the workout would be:
- Bench press 95 pounds, 10 reps
- Swivel hips 10 reps
- Bench press 135 pounds, 10 reps
- Swivel hips 10 reps
- Bench Press 155 pounds, eight reps
- Swivel hips 10 reps
Follow this layout for every category.
You can pick and choose any exercise you want for each of the categories, and I’m sure you already know a few.
- Upper body push movements are any and all forms of pressing, such as push-ups or bench press.
- Lower body push exercises are all squats, lunges, step-ups, or things where you do the work by pressing with your legs.
- Upper body pull exercises are things like pull-ups, rows, and things where you resist force by pulling, usually with your lats, traps, back, and biceps.
- Lower body pull is any and all forms of deadlifts or picking something up off the ground.
- Total body movements are those which tax both your upper and lower body, like burpees, or the infamous “man makers” I will link to later.
- Mobility/core moves are for active recovery between sets of the strength exercises. Their purpose is to keep blood flow up and maintain your mobility. These can be any form of stretching, foam rolling, or light core work like mountain climbers or sit-ups.
A quick note: Do not attempt barbell work without a spotter if you are new to using this equipment. Barbell work is complex and requires a good understanding of the movements and of your body to perform safely without someone spotting for you.
A great intro to barbell work is the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
I will include links below for the more uncommon exercises but will assume you already know the more common ones — though they are very easy to find on YouTube if you don’t.
With all that in mind, here’s a list of example exercises that I typically choose from for each category.
1 Upper Body Push
Note that you can add weight to push-ups by placing a bumper plate on your back.
- Bench Press
- Strict Press
- Bosu Ball Compression Push-ups
- Incline Bench Press
- “Soccer Ball” or One Armed Push-ups
- Dumbbell Chest Flies
- Handstand Push-ups
- Diamond Push-ups
- Cable Flies
1 Lower Body Push
- Goblet Squat
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Pistol Squats
- Weighted Step Ups
- Weighted Lunges
- Barbell Lunges
- Bosu Ball Compression Squats
1 Upper Body Pull
- Slow Pull-ups
- Upright Row
- Dumbbell Back Flies
- Barbell Upright Row
- Cable Row
1 Lower Body Pull
- Barbell Deadlift
- Suitcase Deadlift
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Kettlebell Deadlift
- Sumo Deadlift
1 Total Body
- Kettlebell Turkish Get-ups (I start from standing)
- Man Makers
- Bear Complex
- Dumbbell Clean & Jerk
- Overhead Squat
Mobility/Core Active Recovery, 1 per Strength Category
If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend reading my Better Humans article: “How to Master Your Mobility in 15 Minutes a Day.”
The mobility techniques there are perfect for using in the warm-up, as mobility exercises between strength sets, and as an optional “cool-down” after you finish training.
Recovery: Where The Real Magic Happens
Now that you have the workout, you can pretty much get started on building some muscle, namely by optimizing your recovery when you’re not working out.
Exercise is when we damage our muscles in order to signal to our bodies that we need to become stronger, but it’s during the time in between that we actually make this progress.
Therefore, while the training program above is necessary to tell your body what it needs to do, it’s actually recovery that is the most important.
When I think of recovery from workouts, I optimize across five categories. These are:
- Movement & Active Recovery
- Stress Management
Each of these topics could become a 10,000 word article in their own right, so what I’ll do instead is provide three things I do to optimize these areas and a brief description of why I think it’s important.
Recovery Category 1: Sleep
The reason sleep is the first category I’ll address is because it may be the most important. The primary function of sleep is repair, not only of your body, but also your mind.
During sleep is the only time your body uses the glymphatic system, a mechanism whereby your body cleans your brain.
If you skimp on sleep, the effects are quick and powerful. Reaction time slows, focus wanes, and risk of both mental and physical illness increases.
The second reason I like to address sleep is because there are many ways to optimize your sleep for free.
You can improve your sleep by using sunlight, making your room colder, blocking your windows and keeping electronics out of the bedroom, and with many other quick and easy techniques.
I do a lot to optimize my sleep, but the following techniques are the most effective:
1. I go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning
Research on shift work has discovered that when you vary your sleep patterns often, it affects your sleep quality negatively and powerfully.
At the same time, even with deeply unnatural sleep schedules such as hospital night shifts, sleeping at the same time consistently improves sleep quality significantly.
While I was training in this program, I went to bed at 10 p.m., and woke at 7 a.m. every day, including weekends. When I am feeling crummy, the first thing I do is re-optimize my sleep habits, if necessary.
You should sleep 7.5 to 9.5 hours a night if possible, and training in this manner may increase your needs. Regardless of how much you sleep, try to prioritize and maintain a specific schedule for it.
2. I write a to-do list before bed
Actually, I do a full-blown evening ritual where I review the day, meditate on my goals and who I want to be in the future, and then I plan out my next day.
However, if I’m pressed for time, I’ll often skip this ritual. With one exception: I always write my to-do list for tomorrow.
Not only is this habit backed by research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, but I literally felt the benefit on day one.
When I write out a detailed list of what I am going to do, and when I am going to do it, I fall asleep faster and don’t feel anxious or uncertain. If I don’t write my list, thoughts tend to bounce around my head as I lie there, staring at the ceiling, without a clue what I’m doing tomorrow.
According to research on this technique, the more detailed your to-do list, the more effective the effects.
I try to write down what I will be doing during every hour of the coming day. It’s not important if you actually stick to your list when the morning comes. The important thing is just to get a plan for the day out of your head and onto your journal pages.
Here’s an example of what I might write down:
Tomorrow’s To-Do List
- 7 a.m.-9a.m.: Feed Dogs, Hydrate, Cold Shower, Morning Movement and Morning Ritual
- 9 a.m.-1 p.m.: Work session 1, write for Medium
- 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: Make lunch and take a quick nap or do a guided meditation
- 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.: Work session 2, finish any unfinished tasks
- 4 p.m.-5 p.m.: Workout
- 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.: Read, play guitar, and foam roll while cooking dinner
- 6:30 p.m.: Eat dinner
- 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.: Do what you want. Watch TV, play more guitar, walk the dogs, hang with friends.
- 8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.: Avoid screens and turn off phone. Take a shower, plan the coming day, do 15 to 30 minutes of mobility work.
- 9:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.: Listen to a fiction audiobook or read in bed until too tired to focus, then sleep.
3. I take an alternating hot/cold shower 2 hours before bed
Cold showers have become pretty popular recently for their ability to give you an endorphin rush and also lower inflammation. One of the lesser-known uses for cold showers is as a way to go to sleep.
Endorphins are often called “feel-good” hormones and are the same hormones released during exercise that creates the “runner’s high” where you just feel good.
This feeling is great for going to bed, however, many people get an energizing effect from cold exposure as well.
Most people, myself included, will feel just a bit too awake after a cold shower to go straight to bed. However, when I use cold showers at two hours or more before going to bed, the effect is perfect.
I also avoid becoming too energized by a cold shower by first starting with hot water. Alternating between water that is as hot as you can bear, to water that is as cold as you can bear, has a somewhat exhausting effect. You should feel your body relax every time you alternate between hot and cold water.
I typically do one to two minutes with hot water, then finish with one to two minutes of cold water.
Always finish on cold, as lowering your core temperature before sleep improves sleep quality by creating melatonin.
For a complete deep dive on optimizing sleep, see my article, The Everything Guide to Getting Good Sleep.
Recovery Category 2: Movement & Active Recovery
While doing this training program, you don’t want to train or “workout” on your off days between workouts. However, you don’t want to just sit around and do nothing either.
For one, the negative effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time or being stagnant are incredibly harmful, but two, you can recover better and faster by doing mobility work and low heart-rate movement on your off days.
Three ways I do this are:
1. I do 15–30 minutes of targeted mobility work every night before bed
We all have mobility restrictions, even if we are elite gymnasts. There is always room to improve. These restrictions can raise our risk for things like chronic back pain, or prevent us from being able to train with good form.
Regardless, consistent mobility work is one of the most powerful things you can do not only for your health, but for recovery from training.
I spent a month and a half practicing and learning from the famous mobility guide: How to Become a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett. However, you can learn to make your own mobility routines much more easily simply by joining his program: MobilityWOD for $9.99 a month.
All you need is a lacrosse ball or a foam roller, and you can start working on your mobility every day. In general, you want to focus on tissue-mashing techniques such as foam rolling. These help to relax the nervous system and release tension in tissue.
This has a bonus effect of making it easier to go to sleep. I try to do mobility work upon waking, before, during, and after workouts, and also at night before bed.
If I only have time to mobilize once during the day, however, I do it at night before bed. Like the techniques mentioned in the last section, this helps me immensely with my sleep quality and is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
I mentioned earlier that a great place to start is my article “How to Master Your Mobility in 15 Minutes a Day.” You can find a lot about these techniques on YouTube, too.
2. I change body positions at least every 20 to 30 minutes, especially if I’m spending a lot of time sitting down
I wrote about this extensively in my article, Solving Sitting: A Guide to Optimizing Your Movement for Health, Longevity, & Performance.
Basically, stagnation such as that of sitting for long periods of time is pretty bad for your health. This isn’t just conjecture either. Dr. Joan Vernikos of NASA has spent decades researching this subject.
Thankfully, however, combating the effects of stagnation is as simple as changing your body position often.
Dr. Vernikos found that standing up every 20 to 30 minutes, even if you simply sit back down right after, is enough to completely negate the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
The theory is that stagnation is bad for us because our bodies are tuned to react to the effect of gravity. When we don’t move, we don’t feel the effect of gravity.
When we stand up or change our posture in a major way, it “activates” our biology, which has evolved to manage things like our balance and blood pressure in response to gravity’s effect on our changing body positions.
3. I do some kind of movement every morning upon waking
One of the primary components of our biology is our detoxification system — in particular, your liver, kidneys, and the lymphatic system.
These organs work together to shuttle toxins out of your body, be they the product of food, environmental exposure, or the result of biological processes like exercise.
The lymphatic system in particular is very interesting. On anatomy graphs, the lymphatic system resembles the circulatory system in that it weaves throughout our body and moves toxins via fluid. However, unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system has no “pump” (the heart is the pump for the circulatory system) and instead relies on your body’s movement to create circulation. Because of this, one of the ways you can improve your recovery and your health is by stimulating your lymphatic system first thing in the morning.
There are a few ways to do this. Any amount of sustained movement will stimulate lymph movement. I personally enjoy morning yoga, as it allows me to work on my mobility, but if I’m pressed for time or just not in the mood, 30 simple jump ropes are very effective.
Jumping rope is a form of “rebounding” which is a popular practice among biohackers for activating their lymphatic system. Basically, you want to stimulate your lymph by moving your body up and down very rapidly.
Some people use expensive gear, like the $1,500 vibration plate by Bulletproof labs, whereas others use a simple mini trampoline or just a jump rope. Whatever you choose, 30 seconds to a minute of rebounding is plenty to get a recovery benefit from your lymphatic system.
If you don’t have a jump rope, you can also just hop in place or around your house for a minute or two. I find that when I am consistent with this practice, I not only feel better during my workouts, but I also have improved focus while writing.
This makes sense. Improving bodywide detox should allow your body to be more efficient in every way, as there are more resources available and less toxins.
Deep Dive Article: Solving Sitting: A Guide to Optimizing Your Life Through Movement
Recovery Category 3: Nutrition
This wouldn’t be much of a fitness article if I didn’t tell you how I eat. The fact is, exercise alone will not create results. You’ve got to be eating right to support your body in this process.
Now, this topic is both the most simple and the most complex. It’s simple in that I personally only followed one diet during this exercise program. It’s complex because I followed a modified version of the oft-misunderstood ketogenic diet.
I personally do a ketogenic diet with 200 grams of carbs in my evening meal. This diet takes advantage of the muscle-gain effects of ketosis while keeping my glycogen stores high from the nightly carbs.
I also ate carbs more freely on weekends.
Keto is a big subject, and there are many ways to do it wrong. Also, even though this is the diet I chose to adhere to during my training program, it may not be the best for you.
Because of that, instead of talking about keto, I’m going to instead discuss a set of guidelines I follow for any diet when trying to gain muscle:
1. I eat real food
I personally believe that 90% of the success of diets is not what they have you eat, but what they have you stop eating.
People love to bash the newly popular carnivore diet, whereby adherents eat only meat and animal products. But, though the research is sparse, many people notice incredible benefits from this all-meat diet. Tribes throughout history have subsisted on solely animal-based diets, so it’s not exactly a new thing, but I suspect there is another effect that is contributing to these benefits.
They stopped eating all the other crap.
Think about it: How often do you eat something that has 10 or more ingredients that sound like lab chemicals or construction materials?
This is why I think the best first step for anyone who is trying to improve their nutrition is to start eating real, whole foods.
Robb Wolf of The Paleo Podcast says it well: If it didn’t have a face, don’t eat it. Now, obviously plants don’t have faces, but the key to this phrase is to get you to think of eating only things that were recently alive.
Eat plants that look like they are still plants and eat meat.
Don’t eat partially hydrogenated packaged foods, filled with weird ingredients like ammonium sulfate or isinglass.
2. I eat a lot of food
One of the best nutrition tips I’ve ever heard is the three-part mantra: Eat real food. Not too much. Mainly vegetables.
This mantra is great in that it promotes eating things that are natural and meant to go into your body from an evolutionary standpoint, while also getting the well-proven benefits of calorie restriction (eating not too much) and the nutritional power of many leafy green vegetables.
However, when you are trying to build muscle, you need to modify this mantra just a little bit. Instead of restricting your calories, you actually want to increase them.
Building muscle requires, to some extent, a calorie surplus, as well as adequate protein.
Now, personally, I don’t like counting calories, but for the duration of this exercise program, just try not to ever be hungry. If you feel hungry, you are not eating enough.
This is where a keto or low-carb diet can be beneficial, as fats are high-calorie food sources that will help you eat less often. If you go the other way and stick with a higher-carb diet, just try to stick with healthy sources of carbs.
It can be difficult to get high calories from carbs only eating whole vegetables as your food source, however, tubers can really change the game.
I recently discovered, and subsequently fell in love with the Japanese Sweet Potato. These things taste sweet like a yam, but have the texture and consistency of a flaky, chunky regular potato.
Bake ’em in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and a half, then drown ’em in coconut oil, and you’ve got one of the most delicious sources of healthy carbs I have found to date.
3. I mainly eat lean meat and fats from vegetables
Most of the meat sold in stores here in the U.S. has poor fat composition. Due to the high-grain diet, which is often unnatural for these animals, their fat has high amounts of inflammatory Omega-6 fat and low amounts of Omega-3.
To avoid getting this same situation in my own body, even though I do the high-fat ketogenic diet, I only eat lean, low-fat meat cuts. Then I get my dietary fat from vegetable sources, especially from extra virgin olive oil and avocados.
This extends into simply eating a lot of vegetables in general. A very common day for me is to eat a large, fake “chicken confit” meal consisting of a high amount of grapeseed oil, bok choy, which is a form of oriental cabbage that increases testosterone, and lean chicken breast.
At dinner, when I am restoring my muscle glycogen by adding carbs, I’ll do a sous vide chicken dinner with dinosaur kale and a large Japanese sweet potato. I lather the chicken with Primal Kitchen Avocado Mayonnaise and douse the potato with coconut oil.
During the day I might throw in some snacks in the form of macadamia nuts, or Wild Planet Sardines.
If you can stomach it, grass-fed, grass-finished (do not get any other kind) beef liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet, and I try to eat it at least once a week. If you can’t stand the taste, there are some great recipes for making it more palatable using apple cider vinegar or lemon.
Bonus: I do a modified ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet has been shown in studies to spare the amino acid leucine, which leads to increased muscle gains during weight training compared to high carb diets.
As I mentioned earlier, keto is poorly understood by many people, so I really can’t give you enough info to start keto in this guide alone. However, you may know already that I have written an extensive article on the ketogenic diet already that is posted here on Better Humans.
To use keto for this purpose, and truly follow my personal training plan, go read my guide at: Myths and Mistakes of the Ketogenic Diet, but apply my rules here.
The only difference in what the keto guide suggests and what I do for muscle building is that I don’t restrict calories, and I eat 200 grams of carbs from Japanese sweet potatoes with dinner.
This is so I have enough calories to gain muscle without injury and so that I have enough muscle glycogen (which is just sugar stored in your muscles) for high-intensity exercise that cannot be supported by fat as a fuel source.
You don’t have to do keto as long as you follow the three tips I mentioned here, but I like it better personally.
Recovery Category 4: Stress Management
Elite athletes often train 20 to 40 hours a week without suffering the consequences of overtraining syndrome or adrenal fatigue. How could this be?
Well, elite athletes aren’t simultaneously working a full-time job. Mark Sisson, creator of Primal Kitchen, describes it well in his book “Primal Endurance.” While an elite athlete may train ungodly amounts of time, they get to laze around and chill much more than if they worked a full time job.
The typical day of such an athlete might involve a training session in the morning, where they can casually arrive when they want and spend another 30 to 40 minutes shooting the breeze with their fellow athletes after their session.
Then they can go get some lunch, take a nap, and recuperate before the next session of training for the day.
The reason I’m bringing this up is to give you a little perspective on how stress factors into training. We are only training three days a week, so we don’t have to worry as much about how work stress effects our ability to train, but you can still benefit from managing your stress levels.
If you are implementing both the sleep and movement habits from earlier sections, then you are likely already lowering your stress, but I like to use a few additional habits.
Here’s how I manage stress to recover faster:
1. I meditate every morning and night
Meditation has become a hot topic for good reason, but it can be a little vague to understand for the newcomer. I find that it is a lot more simple than people give it credit for.
Every morning, I journal to affirm my plans for the day, and then I meditate for at least fve minutes by doing something called “box breathing.”
Box breathing is simply the practice of using a four-sided breath technique.
- Inhale for four to five seconds
- Hold your breath for four to five seconds
- Exhale for four to five seconds
- Hold for four to five seconds
I personally do five seconds per part, which allows me to know that every 15 cycles is five minutes of time breathing.
I close my eyes and do 15 cycles of box breathing while listening to an ambient music track like “The Mighty Rio Grande” by This Will Destroy You or “Night” by Ludovico Einaudi.
I do this every morning sometime before I start my main work session. It works well either right after waking, or as the last thing I do before working.
The morning meditation is the most effective for me, but I also do another five-minute meditation before bed if possible. This blends well with the sleep habits mentioned earlier for unwinding after a long day.
2. I walk my dogs without my phone
At least once a day, I take a long walk with my dogs and leave my phone at home. I don’t know about you, but my phone distracts the hell out of me.
I can even remember noticing this when I finally switched from a flip phone to a smartphone. The apps, permanent access to the internet, and the ease of use make cell phones addicting to a person like me.
I’ve always been good at going without my phone when forced to or as needed. When I used to work as a lifeguard, it was a welcome and pleasant reprieve to just not have my phone on me, and when I did a 30-day backpacking trip in Wyoming, the other participants and I constantly talked about how nice it was to be in the moment without electronic distractions.
Personally, I try to keep my phone on airplane mode or turned off as much as possible, but I’m not very consistent. As I work throughout the day and my mental energy wanes, it becomes easier and easier to just hop on Instagram. However, I never take my phone with me when I walk my dogs. This is an unbreakable rule for me, and I find it does wonders for unwinding and doing just a little bit to center myself among a busy and distracting life.
3. I have a social community I connect with at least once a week
Whether it’s going two-stepping at Cowboy’s Red River, getting two of my best friends together in one place to play Call of Duty (with all of us in the same room, not online), or going to a sand volleyball court with my CrossFit gym community, I try to do something social as often as possible.
Independent of any research or science, keeping a community of good people and trying new things just helps me feel sane. I’m a very grounded person, and I deeply enjoy my time alone, but the moments in my life that I remember are those spent with friends.
In this day and age of office jobs and online interactions, it can be all too easy to disconnect from personal interactions and lose your tribe. If you are feeling stressed, or just off, connect with some good friends, arrange a date to go do something new and fun that you love, and just enjoy it.
We are social creatures, and I personally believe that lack of community and social interactions is a major contributor to chronic stress.
For a phenomenal book on the importance of social interaction, read Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. This book goes in depth on the social interactions of humans, as well as how a lack thereof contributes to mental illness such as PTSD and even the suicide rate.
If you don’t have a network of friends to connect with, I strongly suggest trying a new group physical hobby. Not only is this a great way to become more fit, but the communities involved in such hobbies are tight-knit.
The best thing about CrossFit, in my opinion, is not the exercise but the community. Same goes with dance, rock climbing, martial arts, paddleboarding, yoga, and other such group activities.
If you live in the South and have access to two-stepping bars, this is an awesome and inexpensive way to meet new people and also get some great dance moves. Many of these bars offer free dance lessons, low cover fees to get in, if any, and most people will dance with strangers throughout the night so you don’t need a date. It’s also a great way to build confidence. Most people are afraid to go do something like that solo, especially as a beginner, but people will support you.
Nothing is cooler than seeing someone bravely get into an uncomfortable new hobby, and in my experience, people will line-up to make you feel welcome.
Recovery Category 5: Supplements
I’m a biohacker. As much as I try to use ancestral wisdom and nutrition to optimize my life, I am also all for leveraging a little better living through science, and there are some awesome supplements I use personally for muscle building.
Simply eating well and recovering using the techniques in this guide should be enough for you to see results from your training. However, these supplements helped me turn the dial up to 11, and I’m confident they can do the same for you.
1. I take Essential Amino Acids by the company Kion
Kion is a supplement company created by my favorite source of health and fitness information: Ben Greenfield.
Of all the things they offer, their amino acid supplement is by far my favorite and the most effective for recovery that I use.
Amino acids are the building blocks used to create muscle and protein in the body. When you eat protein, your body has to first break it down into amino acids before it can be used to build muscle or tissue.
There are tons of amino acid supplements out there, but many of them are cut with bad ingredients or are low-quality. Furthermore, many of them only contain branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) rather than the full spectrum of all essential amino acids.
If you only get one supplement to use while you are doing this training program, I think it should be this one.
2. I Eat L. Reuteri Probiotic Yogurt (self-made)
In short, L. Reuteri is a strain of bacteria that lives in our upper digestive tract and keeps us healthy.
However, the levels of L. Reuteri in our bodies has been declining here in the Western Hemisphere.
Beyond the health benefits, which are many, finding a way to supplement with L. Reuteri increases the hormone oxytocin, lowers inflammation, and may increase testosterone in men.
These factors combine to make L. Reuteri a great training aid, as oxytocin accelerates wound healing and recovery while testosterone lends itself to muscle building.
The only caveat with L. Reuteri is that to use it, you need to make probiotic yogurt out of it. The best strain of L. Reuteri is owned under patent by the company BioGaia. Not sure how they pulled that off, but unfortunately, their product that contains the strain is relatively weak.
To make the yogurt, you mix 10 crushed Biogaia L. Reuteri tablets into a quart of organic half-and-half or cream, with 6 tablespoons of inulin in an oven-safe bowl. Then you “cook” it at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 36 hours. If the temperature ever exceeds 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the culture will die, so be careful.
I use a food dehydrator with temperature control for this purpose, but you can also use an oven.
To do this, turn the oven on until it feels like a hot summer day inside (takes about two minutes for me,) then turn it off and close it for four hours with the yogurt inside.
Reheat the oven every four hours during the day. Don’t worry about it overnight.
You can find a more detailed description of the recipe in my article Beyond Probiotics: 3 Incredible Tools for Healing The Gut Biome.
3. I take magnesium malate, and I drink a glass of water with a half teaspoon of sea salt every morning
Electrolytes are minerals in our body that are involved in biological interactions. When we work out heavily, sweat, eat poor food, or drink alcohol or caffeine, we lose electrolytes more quickly.
Most people in the U.S. are deficient in the electrolyte magnesium, which is involved in an estimated 700 bodily enzyme interactions, and chloride, which is an electrolyte lost heavily in sweat and during exercise.
For these and other reasons, I always take at least 500 milligrams of an absorbable form of magnesium every day, and I drink a glass of water with half a teaspoon of sea salt in it upon waking. This practice helps me avoid cramping, as well as increase recovery speed.
Recently, a friend of my dad’s stayed at our house while working a software contract here in Dallas. He decided to bike to work 11 miles every day, despite the 95 degree temperatures. After about a week, he started getting bad calf cramps.
I turned him onto taking a half teaspoon of sea salt daily in water, and voilà, his cramps were erased.
If you want to make this salt drink into a delicious beverage you look forward to every morning, squeeze a quarter of a lemon into it. You can either drink it all at once, or mix it into a large water bottle that you sip over the course of your morning or day.
For the magnesium, I use the magnesiumSRT product by jigsaw health, which costs $40 for a two-month supply. This magnesium is the most absorbable form I’ve found and is particularly good for exercise.
For more information on magnesium, such as other forms to use for different purposes, as well as the science behind how important magnesium is, check out my Better Humans article How and Why to Supplement with Magnesium for Health, Fitness, and Performance.
You may have come into this article expecting much more of the material to focus on, well, exercise.
If so, then I feel I have done my job well. You see, I gained 25 pounds of muscle in six weeks not because of anything special I did regarding exercise, but instead by exercising less and optimizing my recovery.
Merely training for three hours a week, at high intensity, was more than enough for me to gain muscle. The real magic came from optimizing my sleep, nutrition, movement, stress management, and taking a few targeted supplements.
Now, to be clear, I didn’t try this training to save time. I have been training at least an hour a day since I was a 14-year-old in high school, with the exception of a two-year period where I had health issues from overtraining.
I did this because I came across health and fitness professionals who suggest that training less is just as effective, if not more so, than training all the time, and I wanted to test it out.
There is some good research supporting this topic, however, and independently my experience has been that training two or three times a week resulted in the same progress I’ve felt in more comprehensive programs but without the burnout, perpetual soreness, or injuries.
So, if you’re looking to put on some muscle, are feeling overtrained or burnt out, or just want to experiment with less-is-more, I invite you to try this approach.
As always, thank you for reading, and good luck on your health and fitness journeys!