Successful body building can be an enormous confidence booster for trans men. In this post we offer useful tips to help you get the most out of your weight training, and succeed in building a more masculine body.
Get Your Mind in the Game
Your workout time is for working out. You need to be very focused on what you are doing. It’s not a time to practice your multi-tasking skills!
Instead, focus strongly on each exercise as you do it. Focus specifically on the muscle you are targeting. Building this mind-body connection will help to grow your muscles.
Perfect Your Form
Good form will help you avoid injury, and help you maximize your muscle gains.
With each exercise, go slow. Pause at the top and bottom of each movement, so that you are not simply rebounding.
Watch endless YouTube videos about the exercises you choose. Your mission is to get your form as close to excellent as it can be. I have noticed that the better my form gets, the faster my muscles grow. I have been doing this for decades now, and I still watch videos to keep improving my form continuously.
Learn from the Experts: YouTube Channels I Recommend
There are literally thousands of YouTube channels about weight training. Of course, they vary in quality. Of course, most of them are trying to make some money, but that is fair enough. We all have to make money. Many of them offer an enormous amount of excellent advice for free.
YouTube is well suited for education about body building, because you can see how exercises being demonstrated. This will help you to achieve good form, which is essential to avoid injury.
My top recommendation for YouTube channels is Jeff Nippard, who makes excellent videos. He bases his videos on a thoughtful combination of personal experience (former national body building champion) and academic research.
One interesting thing about Nippard is that he is only 5 foot 5, yet looks jaw-droppingly impressive. This makes him more inspirational for many trans guys, as we can relate more easily to him than to body builders who stand more than six feet tall.
Here is one of Jeff Nippard’s videos, so you can see his style for yourself:
My second favorite body building YouTuber is Jeff Cavaliere, the physical therapist who runs the Athlean-X channel. He will help you as you go beyond the beginner stage and start looking for more interesting exercises and challenges. Here is one of his videos that I found especially interesting:
I am not affiliated in any way whatsoever with either of these YouTube channels. I do watch them pretty compulsively, though!
Get your Ego Out of the Way
If you cannot do an exercise with perfect form and stop for a second or two at both the top and the bottom – then the weight is too heavy.
You will get more benefit out of doing the exercise correctly with a lower weight. When the weight is too heavy, you will be recruiting other muscles to move the weight, and not actually getting the benefit in the muscle you are targeting.
Even if you have to start with just a bar, do it. Moreover, it is fine to start with no weights at all. For example, most people who are just beginning will struggle to do a complete squat just with their own body weight. It could be months before you start adding any weight to your squats. The same is even more true when it comes to pull ups and chin ups.
The Challenge of Pull-Ups
I know from personal experience that a lot of trans guys would really like to do pull-ups, but find them a struggle. However, there is a way to safely build up your strength so that you can eventually do pull-ups.
Try Gymnastic Rings with Cables for Modified Pull-Ups
The way I did it was to buy gymnastic rings. Then, I started off with modified pull-ups. This makes way more sense than trying in vain to pull yourself up, and just dangling there feeling silly. Or jumping up and then trying to lower yourself down. Even though this is recommended by many YouTube videos. The reality is that if you can’t do it, you can’t do it – and you run a real risk of injury.
The reality is that you don’t learn how to bench press 200 pounds by starting off with lowering 200 pounds. Or trying in vain to lift 200 pounds, and only getting it two inches off the ground. Instead, you start with a smaller weight.
The same can be achieved by using rings to decrease the amount of weight you are pulling up. By using rings, you can do a sufficient volume of modified pull-ups to build the strength you need to one day impress yourself (and the world) by doing full pull-ups.
Check Out this Video that Shows you How to Use Rings to Progress to Doing Pull-Ups
I have used this progression with friends learning to do pull-ups, and it really does work. The key is that the height of the rings can be adjusted to make the exercise easier, and then progressively more difficult.
Nutrition for Body Building
To put on muscle, you usually have to be eating extra calories. Except if you are a new body builder and you have a lot of body fat. In that situation, some people can build muscle with a calorie deficit. I did it myself for many months. It is harder than putting on muscle while eating surplus calories, but it is possible.
However, whether you are in a calorie deficit or not, you do need a lot of protein. Prioritize protein in your diet above all else. Don’t fuss too much about taking in enough carbs (especially if you have abundant body fat to burn). Experts debate the fine points, but the general consensus is that you need at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight for muscle growth. So if you weigh 160 pounds and are fairly lean, you need 160 grams of protein per day. However, if you have a lot of body fat, you don’t need to be eating protein to preserve your fat. In that case, another way to calculate protein needs is 1 gram of protein per centimeter of height.
It can be very hard to get enough protein. I track my macros on MyFitnessPal, and I notice that it is close to impossible to get my protein numbers high enough. So, apart from eating a reasonable number of whole food proteins, such as eggs, chicken, and meat, consider a good, clean protein powder.
And absolutely ditch the junk carbs and processed foods. Your body development depends on what you fuel it with. Feed yourself garbage, and the way you look will reflect that. And the way you feel, too. I personally recommend low carb, moderate to high protein, and high fat (but no vegetable oils at all).
The only times in my life I have ever lost weight and improved my health numbers were when I was low-carbing. Which is why I am now not only the oldest I have ever been, but also simultaneously the fittest I have ever been. However, I know this is personal, and what works for one guy will not necessarily work for another guy. You need to research and experiment to determine what works best for you.
Supplements for Body Building
There are very few supplements in the world that do all they are cracked up to do. And most supplements are very contentious, or at best, unproven. However, there is ONE supplement that everyone agrees on, AND which is cheap: creatine monohydrate. A tub like the one below will last you for many months. This supplement will help to make your muscles look bigger within days, and will help you to build strength and muscle in the short, medium and long term.
Start with 20 grams a day (usually 4 teaspoons) for a week to load up your muscles, then scale back to 5 grams (1 teaspoon) per day. Be warned that the scale will show a small increase in your weight initially, but that is purely water in the muscles.
But Wait – There’s More!
This is the second in a series of posts about weight training and body building for trans guys/FTMs. This is the complete series:
- Why Weight Training is Important for Trans Guys/FTMs
- Tips for Success with Body Building for FTMs/Trans Men (This post)
- How to Set Up Your Own Body Building Program
- How to Set Up Your Own Private Body Building Center in Your Home
- The Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men/FTMs – Complete Guide