Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Review

Muscle Gaining Secrets

"Written in a straight forward, easy to understand manner, Muscle Gaining Secrets provides the road map to success which can instantly be applied by anyone."

- Jason Ferruggia

Who is this book for?

This book is primarily directed towards "hardgainers," but everyone spinning their wheels with the generic high-volume muscle magazine-esque pump-routines would be well off reading this.

What will I learn from it?

Basic weight training information and the stuff that really matters if you want to add muscle.

Strong points

* Great narrative interspersed with various anecdotes. A joy to read.

* Not bogged down by minutiae and hyperbole. Tells it like it is.

* Covers a wide spectrum of weight training and performance tops, including everything from exercise selection, rest periods and periodization to recovery techniques and training music.

* Includes a comprehensive list of the most useful exercises for various muscle groups, which is handy to have when composing routines.

* Great common sense advice all the way through.

Weak points

* Ferruggia ranks the most effective types of exercises being the ones that "involve moving the body through space" (i.e. gymnast rings) followed by compound movements and isolation movements. Can't say I agree with that and he doesn't really talk about that first type of training in the book. One wonders why he bothered to write a book about weight training if he believes body weight training is more effective (it's not). Body weight training seems to be one of the themes in his most recent book Triple Threat Muscle, though I'm not quite sure since I haven't read it yet.

* Covers many methods for strength and muscle gain, such as various periodization protocols and intensity techniques. This might paralyze the reader because there are too many options. When Ferruggia lists training splits he also leaves exercise selection up to the reader.


Before Ferruggia went crazy and started advocating vegetarian diets (!) he wrote this solid book on muscle gaining. This is a good and comprehensive book with many similarities to Stuart McRobert's Beyond Brawnwhich inspired my own training methodology. Like McRobert's classic, Muscle Gaining Secrets is full of good advice and pointers on how to put on muscle. It covers just about every important aspect of the iron game. It's a great starting point for the new trainer, or the ideal reset button for the person caught up in the minutiae of training.

Some may consider the lack of scientific references a weak point, but I don't. Beyond Brawn didn't have references and that book made a huge difference to me. Another improvement over Beyond Brawn: Ferruggia doesn't get quite as repetitive as McRobert did.

The only weak point in this book is the lack of concreteness regarding specific training splits. Some may disagree because Ferruggia gives you the option to personalize your routine a bit. But in my experience, this could lead a beginner to mistakenly mixing together the wrong exercises.

I can easily recommend this book with a straight face. Along with Beyond Brawnand Starting Strength Muscle Gaining Secrets is one of the best books on weight training directed towards the layman.


Neal W. said...

When you say that bodyweight training isn't better than weights do you mean it's equal or worse for hypertrophy?

I ask because of the significant hypertrophy of gymnasts.

Martin Berkhan said...

Worse. You can get hypertrophy from it but the reward per time unit invested isn't comparable to weight training.

Gymnasts is a poor example. The guys you see on TV are the cream of the crop. Spent most of their childhood training several hours a day. With such immense training volumes you're bound to get a good amount of hypertrophy. But the average joe wouldn't be able to tolerate that kind of training. Nor would he have time for it.

The gymnasts I've met were lean, but not very muscular.

Anonymous said...

While on some level it is far more than semantics, in a sense, weighted pull-ups, deadlifts, dips (for those without AC joint issues) and even squats still come under the bodyweight exercises umbrella, we just end up adding external load as progression (now having not read Mr. Ferrugia's Book, I don't know exactly how he frames his bodyweight argument). But a lot of the big bang movements we'd use are basically bodyweight "plus" exercises. And Handstand push-ups might have competed with OH presses to some degree if not for the fact that the learning curve (compared to an OH pres, at least) can make them more trouble than valuable for someone just wanting to develop a look.

Ring work of varying types can be a good adjunct for those with the time, but they're definitely not option 1 or 2 (or even 3 really) for the time-pressed individual whose primary concern is adding mass[and you pointed this out with the "reward per unit of time" comment], not relative strength as numero uno.......even though I agree when you've said this is a good metric for judging the quality of gains in advanced lifters, although that was within the context of more "stable" movements really, as opposed to something like ring movements)

Now for the most part, I am definitely a "less can be more" kind of guy, although this is still largely based on training age, degree of neural efficiency, and work capacity. For the beginner, with low work capacity and little ability to tap into the higher threshold fibers to any meaningful degree, keeping volume on the lower end and somewhat consistent and focusing on technique and increasing intensity is a certainly the way to go. As you become more experienced and can incur greater CNS fatigue but have a higher work capacity, progression by volume (albeit it not nearly to the degree shown in all of the popular muscle rags) may become a more regular thing depending upon how advanced we are talking (but then again a lot of guys may never get that far along the continuum, so it might be a moot point when speaking in general terms).

But irrespective of the philosophy a lifter subscribes to, using the simplest and easiest means of progression and never adding volume just for the sake of volume (especially since many guys simply facilitate pattern overload by including so much redundancy when drastically upping the volume- if you're going to add it, at least use some variety to make it somewhat beneficial)or as a complete substitute for intensity are solid rules of thumb.

Sorry for going off there a bit, Martin........sometimes I tend to think out loud in the comments section of blogs.

-Nils Ekman

John said...

Good and fair review. MSG is a great book despite the faddish title.

I also thought the tidbit about gymnastics was odd btw.

Martin Berkhan said...

Good stuff, Nils. I agree with everything you wrote.

Anonymous said...

I know a few gymnasts and they are wiry and athletic looking but not muscular.

Beck said...

I am a woman and Olympic Weightlifter who would like to be competitive nationally in the next 5 years. I am a Crossfitter and Oly lifter. Mostly Oly. Crossfit covers gymnastics, Oly lifts and bodyweight exercises.

"Muscle Gaining Secrets" is distinctly marketed to men. Martin, do you think a women, such as myself, can glean anything useful from the book? I'm not an ectomorph by any means but am petite. And I don't want to look like a bodybuilder or a dude.

Do I want to really stimulate my testosterone and HGH? Yes, but know it will be at a lower level than a man because I'm a chick. I don't know enough about all the hormones to create a plan. We ladies just don't get the info.

BTW, I tried to email the author and his website forbid it unless I had a "receipt number". Lame.

Thanks. Love the blog.


Martin Berkhan said...


"The myth that women should not lift heavy is advanced only by women who fear effort and men who fear women." Said by an olympic weightlifter named Eric Midkiff. There's a lot of truth in that.

No, you're not going to look like a dude if you train like one. That's a heap of horseshit on par with the myth that six meals a day stokes your metabolism.

Note that MSG covers weight training specifically and not Crossfit or olympic weightlifting.

Beck said...

Thanks Martin! I read T nation and hope to squat BIG someday. I need a plan to pack on the muscle - not in a body builder way but in a way to make me stronger than the other lifters. I'll be sure to check in when I make it to National lifting.

Anonymous said...

What kind of background does the author have?

Does he have some professional sportbackground?


Martin Berkhan said...

No, not really. I found this quote on his background:

"I have been working in this field for 14 years as a professional fitness coach. I ran my own private training facility in New Jersey for ten years where I trained over 700 high school, college and pro athletes. I also consult for various college and pro teams and organizations. "

Rick said...

I think Ferrugia brings a lot of experience-based knowledge to the table, but a while back I had to stop following him on twitter because all the proselytizing for veg*n diets was wearing me out. I just can't look past that kind of thing. If he can be that far off in one area, perhaps he might lead me astray in another where I didn't have as much knowledge.

Martin Berkhan said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. His hard-on for vegan diets is hard to look past.

gm said...

Can you cite your data on veg diets please?

Martin Berkhan said...

What "data" would that be more specifically? That vegetarian or vegan diets are not equal to an equicaloric meat based diet when it comes to muscle growth?

There's no such data unless you use common sense.

A non-vegetarian diet with an optimal protein intake to stimulate muscle growth, which is 2g protein per kg body weight assuming energy balance, according to numerous studies, will be superior to a vegetarian dito since the non-vegetarian diet will contain a greater % BCAA as protein.

BCAAs are what stimulates protein synthesis and other growth factors. Could that be overcome with a higher overall protein intake or BCAA-supplemented vegetarian diet? Maybe, but it doesn't make my point any less valid.

cubby said...

I think Martin is right on with this comment. I am actually vegan, and boosted my protein intake by over 50% recently, to 3g/kg, and it has made a lot of difference with my training. High protein intake becomes even more important as a vegan, since the quality, specifically BCAA content, is lower. To get a similar amount of BCAAs, the average vegan diet would need to be about 25-33% higher in protein. So, moving the recommended intake from 1.4-2g/kg to about 2-3g/kg makes quite a difference in vegans, whereas with meat eaters, the extra protein would mostly just help with its "metabolic advantage." The usual lower digestibility of plant protein also ups the requirement.

zaki said...

In the muscle gaining secrets book he talks about not needing anywhere near the normal recommened amout of protein that is normally advised and says anything more than 0.8 grams per lbs is not needed.

what is your view on this Martin?

Martin Berkhan said...

Ignore Ferruggia's nutritional advice. It's completely retarded. Thankfully, it's kept to a minimum in the book.

atcglobal said...

cubby mentioned something about METABOLIC ADVANTAGE, is there such a thing as anthony colpo went in to war with dr.eades to prove that there was no such thing eating in a certain way as mentioned in dr.eade's book & that must be the exhume report of diet wars. what do you think Martin? i love your posts. amazing insight. sham

Martin Berkhan said...

High protein = metabolic advantage (because protein has a much higher TEF than carbs & fat). So it's not about low carb (as Eades claims), it's about protein.

Christophe said...

Hi, when are you writing a book/paper on bodybuilding and nutrition? I'd love to read it :)

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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