The Keys to Getting Bigger, Stronger and Better at the Olympic Lifts Part 2 – Muscle Gain Challenge


In part 1 of this series, we shared some tips on how you can get bigger, stronger and better at the Olympic lifts.

In one year, current Barbell Shrugged Coach Kurt Mullican moved up from 128-pounds bodyweight to about 160-pounds. He has also added over 100-pounds to his back squat, which has improved his performance in just about every movement. All it took was committing to a focused strength program, and putting some new habits and behaviors in place.

If you missed it, make sure to go back and watch video 1 if you haven’t already. Many of the points made are fundamental and essential if you want to grow stronger and perform at your best. In part 2 we’re going to focus on the specific changes Kurt had to make, not only to gain over 30-pounds of solid mass, but also to become a national-level Weightlifter.

Get ready to take some notes. There’s no reason why you couldn’t do it too, if you’re willing to make the same changes.

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1. Try committing fully to Weightlifting. 

If you want to see big improvements in your lifting ability, you must commit to becoming a better Weightlifter. Make it your primary training objective.

You can still condition and perform WODs, just as long as you understand that your job, first and foremost, is to move heavy barbells. Just to give you an example, as a 128-pound dude, Kurt was spending at least 4-days a week busting his ass doing Crossfit stuff.

He did plenty of barbell work, but admittedly, most of it was with lighter metcon loads. Only 2 days a week were actually devoted to strength work. This all changed once Kurt joined our Muscle Gain Challenge. Now, an hour of focused strength work per day is routine.

That’s a huge shift in training focus, and it has certainly showed in the results. Kurt didn’t get fat, he didn’t lose any conditioning, really. And of course, his strength went through the roof. That’s huge.


2. Forget the kipping for a while.

Focusing too hard and for too long on hard conditioning will keep you from developing a proper foundation of muscle and strength.

Likewise, if you rush your progress on gymnastics movements so that you can start kipping and butterflying as quickly as possible, you will never develop the core musculature and body control required to achieve mastery in the pull-up. Also, you are almost guaranteed to experience injury and regression in the future.

Take the time to focus on strict pull-ups, handstand push-ups, ring dips, etc. You will perform much better, but you will also start to look much stronger too. There will be plenty of time for kipping later on.


3. Train hard, but fuel and recover HARDER!

Everyone tends to focus primarily on the training when the switch into a strength building phase. But this is only half of the battle, so to speak.

Learning how to eat properly and time meals is huge. You have to put just as much effort in here as you do with the barbells. Prepare your meals ahead of time (the Crock Pot is your best friend!). Fill your fridge with tupperware containers of meat, rice, eggs, you name it. There are no secrets, you just need to eat.

If you get nothing else right, do this…

  • Drink a protein shake while you train that includes some decent carbohydrates. You’ll be surprised by how much stronger you feel, and how much batter you train.
  • Right after your WOD, pull out a handy-dandy tupperware meal rich in protein and high-quality carbs and eat up. It’s no exaggeration, that might make you feel like you’re fully recover in half the time!
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. On days you really train hard, go for 9. I know you feel like Superman after 5-6 hours, but you are wrong! 8 is about 100% better.
  • No amount of supplements can replace poor diet and recovery.  They are nothing without real food. BCAA’s are great, sure, but it’s still just a little pile of powder in your shaker bottle. It’s nothing like a plate of steak with sweet potatoes and a tall glass of whole milk on the side. That’s real food!


4. Don’t skip the conditioning!

If you want to get bigger, stronger and better in the gym you have to focus on strength for a while. But that doesn’t mean that you should skip your conditioning work and get fat, far from it.

You should still WOD pretty damn hard. The only difference will be that you should include some movements that build work capacity AND support strength grains. You can still do thrusters and double-unders, but you should also include plenty of barbell rows, dumbbell and kettlebell presses, lunges, all that. Also, when gymnastics movements are at play, remember, keep them strict. That’ll only make it harder and more effective anyway.

Trust us, when you’re ready to return your focus to progressive metcon work later on down the road, your conditioning will fall right into place. The added strength, muscle mass and body control will only allow you to see new records on the whiteboard.

You will not die during Fran. Hell, Kurt managed to shave about 2-minutes off his old time, all because he came into it so much stronger. That makes sense. When you move your clean up 100 pounds over bodyweight, a 95-pound thruster just doesn’t feel as heavy as it used to feel, you know?

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5. Finally, don’t sweat the fluctuations.

Your goal should be to gain about 1 pound per week. Now, that said, you definitely WILL NOT hit that week in and week out, it’s impossible.

Weigh yourself daily, same time, same place, and record the numbers. One thing you’ll notice is that your weight will fluctuate 2-5 pounds or so during the course of a day, or between days. No, you won’t always follow a straight line of forward progression, but that’s not realistic to begin with.

Shoot for that magic 1-pound per week number, but track the overall trend week to week, month to month. If you start falling behind, just add more calories and recovery time. What you’ll soon notice is exactly what Kurt noticed – Cumulative weekly progress is very powerful. In this case he changed his body and life forever, just 1-pound of progress at a time.



Check it, we’ve got a 100% free, 100% awesome strength eBook for you.

Got questions for us?

We know we didn’t get to everything you might want to know. So, just leave a question in the comments below. We’d love to help you train better and get stronger.

Happy gains,

The Barbell Shrugged Team


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16 Responses to “The Keys to Getting Bigger, Stronger and Better at the Olympic Lifts Part 2 – Muscle Gain Challenge”

  1. Ian

    I’ve listened to your podcasts about the muscle gain challenge and I’m interested in the program coming up, but I do have a question. One of the keys to success seems like the weight gain needed. I’m 184lbs right now and this weight seems like the optimal weight for my frame but I would like to increase my numbers on my lifts and this program seems like it could help me reach my goals. Would you suggest this program for someone like myself who doesn’t want to increase their weight much?


    • Kurt Mullican

      Hey Ian, that’s actually pretty common. There are a lot of people who do the challenge to increase strength and maintain focus, and learn better technique etc. without wanting to gain the weight. If its solely weightlifting you want to do, we have Flight, a program that starts youas a lifter from day 1. The MGC is an all around strength and conditioning program, with an emphasis on overall strength. Let me know any questions you have!!

  2. Mark

    I was wondering how specialized the programming was in terms of the movements and required equipment. I ask because I travel for work. if I need to be doing a lot heavy c/js and snatches that will involve dropping weight I’m obviously not going to get away with that at Globo gyms and boxes tend to offer precious little open gym time.

    • Kurt Mullican

      Hey Mark, There is a lot of O-lifts in the program, but a large portion are squats, presses and pulls. I had to do several of the workouts in a globo gym as well. I usually just did high pulls or pulls on days there was squatting and clean and snatch deads on the days there wasn’t squatting. Then while at home stuck to it religiously.

  3. Brett

    Hey guys,
    Hoping to start up the muscle gain challenge next month but I am a college kid on a budget and I was just wondering if someone could email or reply to me on how much the MG-Challenge costs? Thanks a lot guys and I really love the podcast, Ive learned so much from y’all that I could not have learned from anyone else.

    – Brett

  4. Evan Brown

    A lot of the articles I’ve read about strength training talk about how you should not try to do too much. Crossfit Football for example lists usually no more than two strength movements and one WOD. Wendler advocates one main lift and no more than two or three assistance exercises. So how do I know if I’m doing so much that it is actually detrimental to gains? If I feel recovered then can’t I keep pushing it? Some days I do a main lift with low reps, a WOD, and then 3-4 assistance lifts.

    • Chris

      Are you getting stronger? If so, hard to argue with your approach. If progress is slow, however. or you’re weaker than you should be, you could be doing too much, yes. Doesn’t matter how you feel about it. The barbell is the truth meter.

      • Evan Brown

        Well, I’ve only been lifting heavy for less than a year, around 10 months, so Ive probably got some beginner gains left. I’m certainly not losing strength, but I don’t want to be inhibiting progress that could be faster. Right now I squat up to a daily max, followed by 5/3/1 as back off on Sundays with 3×5 box squat & 3×15 split squat, 3×5 after the daily max on Mon and Thurs, front squat daily max with 5×10 after on Wednesday, and just front squat max on Friday and Saturday with 5×3 cleans on Friday after the squats. Everyday has a press or pull with 3-4 assistance and a WOD, except Sat. Just rest after the squats.

        • Chris

          If you did half that amount of work I bet you’d be twice as strong, Evan. That’s too much. For example, for the squat, 5/3/1 alone is sufficient, if diet and recovery are locked in.

  5. Aaron

    As usual your solid information is very appreciated, I have a quick question about the protein shake during workout: “◾Drink a protein shake while you train that includes some decent carbohydrates. You’ll be surprised by how much stronger you feel, and how much batter you train.” What do you mean by decent carbs? 30,40,50 grams?
    really hope to join the Muscle Gain Challenge this go around, I have been stuck around 170lbs for too long.
    thanks again

    • Chris

      Dextrose is what we had in mind. You can buy on Amazon. A small scoop in with your protein powder makes for a cheap, quality Post-wod shake.

  6. Dennis Herndon

    I understand that 26 lbs in 26 weeks is just a goal, to me gaining 26 lbs would be crazy. I am only 5’4″ and currently weight 155 Lbs (i have some fat to loss) and the idea of being 180 is crazy to me. With that being said I am interested in gaining strength, would this still be a good program for me to follow.



  7. anja

    fine website and articels I really love to read. But I’m confused f.e. cause I’m a woman. For a woman, tell me, was is realistic in gaining muscels over a month while training hard? txu anja

    • Chris

      You might gain less, but 0.5 pounds of quality muscle mass gain every week or so is quite possible. Overall, women in our programs do great. No huge differences.


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