It’s a pretty big deal when a big Hollywood star like Emma Stone gains muscle for a role. There are so many messages in the media that are constantly telling woman that their only acceptable goal is getting smaller. It’s cool that we’re starting to see little bits of new options breaking through.
We live in a world where a women working out to get stronger or to gain muscle is a little bit subversive. The message, essentially, is often “don’t look too strong.” I know women who are amazing athletes doing everything from powerlifting to rock climbing to rugby to partner acrobatics. The number of stories I’ve heard of these woman being told “don’t get too muscular,” usually by someone who doesn’t work out at all, is unbelievable.
Personally, I want to live in a world where all of those different kinds of athletic bodies are just as valid, and people are allowed to feel good in their skin doing whatever they want to do. I think Emma Stone gaining muscle for a role is really important, to show — on a national level — that women have other options other than just smaller. I know so many women who are athletes, and look like athletes, and that’s awesome. It’s still weird to me that some of the fittest people I know take crap from people constantly, on and off line.
So, how amazingly cool to is it to pair an actress gaining muscle with a movie about a famous feminist vs. a famous misogynist battling it out on the tennis court?
Some Cool Reasons to Gain Muscle
- You like how it looks
- You like being strong
- You get to eat more food at the same level of leanness
- Because you want to
If you’re noticing a theme it’s this: You should look however you want to look and do whatever you want to do. What matters to you. Based on your values. Do those things.
One Bad Reason to Gain Muscle
- Because someone else told you to need to
Because, lets get real, someone telling you that you have to gain muscle to look good is just as bad as someone telling you that you can’t gain muscle to look good. Basically screw those people.
*Note: Ok, so I know Emma Stone probably didn’t get to choose gaining muscle, it was probably mandated for the role to look more like a pro athlete. But I assume you probably don’t have a movie coming up, and get to choose.
How to gain muscle?
Muscle gain has two primary components:
1.) The volume of work each week
(Volume is the number of sets x the number of reps, for each muscle group, each week)
2.) Eating more food
The primary consideration is protein (the primary building block of muscle),
It also requires simply more calories, coming from protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Brad Schoenfeld’s research has shown that dose-response relationship between the volume and work and muscle gain. Unlike fat loss workouts, which can be relatively low volume, if someone wants to gain muscle quickly, it often just requires more time strength training. Jason Walsh had Emma Stone do 5 strength training workouts per week, and 3 thirty minute cardio sessions.
If you really want to nerd on muscle gain, read:
- How Many Sets Do You Need to Perform to Maximize Muscle Gains?
- What Is the Best Rep Range for Muscle Strength and Size?
- Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy
- Hypertrophy Range, Fact or Fiction?
- More is More
How Emma Stone Gained Muscle
She did the three things above:
- She increased the volume of work she was doing (upped her strength training to 5 days per week)
- She increased the amount of weight she was lifting (see below)
- She increased the amount of food she was eating (with a special emphasis on eating more protein)
Basically, it’s hard to gain muscle without more weight, more sets and reps, and more food.
Components of Emma Stone’s Workout Program
If these seem familiar, it’s because they’ve been the same components of every celebrity workout program we’ve discussed here this year:
- Deadlifts (with 185 pounds)
- Sled Push (“hundreds of pounds”)
- Barbell Hip Thrust (with 300 pounds)
- Farmer’s Walks (with 70 pounds in each hand)
What we see, over and over again, is big movements and just getting stronger in the gym. She both got stronger and did more volume.
Eating More, How Do I Gain Muscle Instead of Fat?
So, the first thing is that increase in work volume. More sets. More sets. More sets. Muscle gain has a lot to do with your workout program, and how much work you can do. Again, I defer to Brad Schoenfeld. Essentially, muscle takes a lot of work in the gym, impacting three factors: Mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. And again, the simplest way to do that is to do increase the volume training per week (more sets per muscle group, per week).
The next thing is, that the increase of food can’t just be straight crap. Your primary increase is going to be protein — getting enough of the nutritional building blocks of muscle (the amino acids in the protein) to gain muscle.
What If I’m Afraid of “Bulking Up?”
So, this is one of those things that makes trainers cringe. You don’t need to be worried about accidentally “bulking up,” because it takes a ton of work. It’s likely that you aren’t lifting often enough and you aren’t strong enough to gain muscle.
You can’t weigh more — either more muscle or more fat — without more food. Period.
Mostly, when people feel like they are “bulking up,” the problem is that they are gaining fat and not muscle. Repeat after me: When people say they feel “bulky,” it’s almost always fat. When someone points someone out that is lean — and more muscular than they personally would like to be — it’s likely that the person you think is “too muscular” has done more work to get there than you or I will ever do in our lifetimes.
If you feel “bulky” (in other words, you are gaining fat and not muscle), it’s usually: Not enough sets and reps, not enough weight, and a little too much food.
If you want the weight you gain to be muscle — more sets, more reps, more weight, more protein.
If you are working out 2-3 days per week, and you aren’t one of the strongest people in your gym, you don’t really have to worry about getting too much muscle by accident. You’ll never accidentally become an Olympian, professional bodybuilder, or CrossFit Games Champion. None of these are things you need to worry about happening by accident.
As you can see from Emma Stone’s program, gaining muscle took a ton of work, a ton of strength, and just the right amount of more food/protein. And I still can’t imagine anyone accusing her of looking “bulky.” She just looks more athletic.
Emma Stone’s La La Land Program vs her Battle of The Sexes Program
La La Land
- Strength training 3 days per week
- Ate less calories
Battle of the Sexes
- Strength training 5 days per week
- Ate more calories and especially more protein
Obviously, gaining muscle takes more gym time than just getting lean. You could really simplify it as — less and less vs. more and more. It’s actually really nice when things are that simple. You get to choose whatever you want for your body, and adjust accordingly.
Also, I’m totally guessing, but I would imagine that her La La Land workout program was 3 full body lifting days (as is most common for 3 day per week programs).
On the flip-side, it’s safe to say that her Battle of the Sexes program was some sort of split (where you focus on either different muscle groups or different movements on different days). A split could look like 2 lower body days, 2 upper body days, and 1 day of “sixth movements” like sled pushes and carries, and/or isolation movements. Or, a split could be something like a pushing day, pulling, and leg day, and have those three days in rotation. Full body workouts are far, far less common in 4, 5, or 6 day per week programs. We won’t dig on on this here, because we really can’t guess exactly what her split was.
Your Body, Do Whatever You Want
Emma Stone, in a celebrity world where “smaller is always better,” gained 15 pounds of muscle to look like an athlete. In Hollywood, that used to be, practically, an act of rebellion. Now, we’re coming into a new world, where actresses are regularly adding muscle for action roles and sports roles.
I know I’m going to get emails saying that we still need more variety. I know. We totally do. There are so many more versions of what healthy and even lean can look like on real people, and they aren’t represented. I totally know. Even still, I think it’s a step forward. Even the slightest hint coming from the media that people can have multiple options for what their body can look like, is a good thing.
Most of us don’t have a movie coming up where we need to look a certain way or look like a certain person. Most of us, though we are always going to have thoughts echoing in our heads given to us from popular media, can still choose our own actions.
- You can choose what is going to work best for you, and plan your training and food around that.
- You can base your workouts off of your values.
- You can base your food habits off of what matters to you.
- You can balance all of your (sometimes conflicting) values and commitments in your life, any way you want, and you can change that balance any time you want.
- You actually have complete autonomy to pursue whatever kind of movement and food habits you want.
So don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t look.
You do you.
And if what you decide that what you want to do is gain muscle, refer back to what Emma Stone did to gain that 15 pounds of muscle:
- Increase the number of sets and reps you are doing (think 5-6 lifting sessions per week)
- Increase the amount of weight you are lifting
- Increase the amount of food you are eating (with a special emphasis on eating more protein)