It’s winter time! You’re most likely trying to ‘bulk up’ but what if I told you that you were not doing it optimally? I’m gonna hit every angle of building muscle to take out the guesswork for you and help you make some gains this winter.
I’m crazy right?!? “Don’t bulk? How the hell am I supposed to gain muscle!”
For me, this sounds all too familiar, this thought racing through my mind as I continue to stuff my face with enough food to feed a small village. The reality is; there are two extremes: you’re eating way too much trying to gain as much size as possible or, on the other end of the spectrum; eating way to little in order to keep your lean physique.
Both of these are going to cause major headaches later down the road. I ate everything in sight for 3 months, granted I did put on 12kg but most of it was water weight and a bit of fat. Drastically changing my diet as to not look like a puffer fish that had just been stung by a swarm of bees, I cut my calories by a crazy 50% straight off the bat only to look like a string bean at the end of it. Learn from my experience and never, I mean never hit these extremes! We more so want that happy medium whereby we can gain a solid amount of muscle in our winter period without gaining too much fat (yes you will gain a bit of fat, that is inevitable but it is also something we can monitor and control)
A few tips to not blow out:
- Monitor your calories: This goes without saying, as I previously mentioned, the absolute worst thing you can do is eat everything in sight. A caloric surplus of 5-10% works in most cases. This works out to be 150 – 300 calories in most scenarios. For example: if your maintenance calories are 2800 then you’ll want to increase them by 280 calories at most. Monitor for 1-2 weeks then adjust as necessary, monitor the new intake for 1-2 weeks then adjust, so on and so forth. There are no prizes for rushing this crucial aspect. Take your time and learn good eating habits from the get go to avoid major headaches later on.
- Don’t rush the process: Building muscle is a slow and tedious task which can very easily be sabotaged by your dietary habits. Trying to rush muscle gain will likely lead to excess fat gain in which you will only have to shred later. Better off lean gaining whereby you stay within the caloric restrictions that I mentioned above in an effort to stay relatively lean whilst gaining a reasonable amount of muscle.
- Start lean: This tip is not necessary to follow in order to achieve mass gaining success but on that I would highly recommend for insurance in case things do get out of hand ( which they shouldn’t if you followed my guidelines above). By starting at a relatively lean level of body fat (around 8-10% is ideal) you are able to bulk for longer without employing any sort of mini cuts.
- Utilize mini cuts: If after even all this you still manage to get a little too soft and cuddly then I do not want you to pull the emergency plug and abandon all food intake. Rather, we will taper down calories for a small period (2-5 weeks: depending on how much fat we have gained) by putting in place a rather aggressive caloric deficit for this period (anywhere from 500-1000 below maintenance). This brief period of restricted calories and most likely reduced carbs will allow our body to enter a fat burning state without it metabolically adapting to this new intake therefore mitigating any type of rebound or muscle loss during this period. At the end of this mini cutting period you can reverse diet (slowly bump calories back to maintenance before proceeding to a surplus) or jump right back to maintenance for a week or so before going back into a surplus. The choice is ultimately yours because either which way rebound is mitigated or reduced because of the such small amount of time this mini cut was undertaken.
Training? Do your homework
I have briefly touched on how important form is in a previous article but there is a lot more that goes into your weight training than simply lifting the weight from point A to point B. Such things as mind muscle connection, mechanisms of muscle growth and intensity techniques all play a role in building muscle. Knowing how to incorporate these into your workouts can make a huge difference in your overall physique. Do not, however use all of these in one workout, switch it up and you will have plenty of techniques to play around with
Mind muscle connection: Unless you are a powerlifter or Olympic weightlifter whose goal is to move the weight from point A to point B, then this should always be your number one priority in your muscle building efforts. I mean it makes sense that if you’re not working the target muscle but instead working every other muscle in your body; then your target muscle is not going to grow or have very limited growth. Focus on your form and feel your target muscle working. A little trick that I like to do is ( if you have a training partner) to get your partner to put two fingers on the muscle you intend to work in an effort order to help you consciously focus on that muscle. You can also do it with unilateral exercises ( one side at a time) by using your free hand to feel the target muscle. Also, slowing down the negative will help you control a crucial part of the lift imperative to muscle growth in which I will touch on later in this article
Mechanisms of muscle growth: There are 3 main mechanisms that, most of the time we unconsciously implement just by focusing on our mind muscle connection. These 3 mechanisms are as follows:
- Mechanical tension: This basically refers to lifting heavy. As we lift heavy or apply a force to our muscles against a resistance (I.e weight) mechanical tension occurs breaking down our fibers in such a way that they have no choice but to become bigger and stronger. As our muscles become bigger and stronger, the amount of resistance needs to increase in order to match the force required to produce this tension. In simple terms: the stronger and bigger you get, the more weight you will need to apply (within reason taking form into account) in order to achieve the same result. This is usually achieved in a rep range of 3-8 whereby you’ll be lifting 85% plus of your 1 rep max. (want to know your one rep max? check out this free calculator). Note: This calculator is to be used as a guide only and I would not recommend lifting at your 1RM for any length of time.
- Metabolic stress: You’ve heard of the term ‘chasing the pump’ right? well this is basically what metabolic stress is. Metabolic stress is achieved by dabbling in the higher end of the rep range (namely 12-20+ reps). The aim here is to pump as much blood into the muscles as we can resulting in that painful skin splitting, lactic acid inducing pump. We can also achieve metabolic stress by: implementing pause reps, or simply but shortening our rest periods to less than 60 seconds. An example of this type of training would be fst-7 (fascia stretch training. The 7 represents seven sets). At the end of our workout we are going to be doing one exercise for 15+ reps implementing 30 second rest intervals for a total of 7 sets. Make sure to stretch as well to get the most out of this training style.
- Muscle damage: Muscle damage occurs when we slow down the negative (lowering phase) portion of our lift. The best way to do this is to be constantly focusing on your mind muscle connection naturally resulting in a nice controlled negative. We can also take this one step further and deliberately slow our negatives down even more. I only recommend doing this once we can no longer do a clean concentric. Here’s how: grab a weight slightly heavier than you would normally do and have a partner help complete the concentric phase. Next you will want to control that negative for a good 4-6 seconds (no cheating here!) complete for anywhere between 1-5 reps (again this may vary)
Just a quick note: focus on your compound movements like squats, deadlifts and bench press. Utilizing multiple muscles is more time efficient and optimal. Isolation exercises definitely have their place but should not be the sole focus of your workouts.
You’re sweating like no tomorrow, gassed out of your mind. You had a pretty good workout, only took ya 3 hours (OK maybe not that long). Point is that some of my best workouts have been under 60 minutes and intense as all hell. There are way too many intensity techniques to list (I may do another article specific to this) but here are a few of the common ones that you can start implementing into your workouts today:
- Supersets: Supersets have been around for ages and have been made popular by legends such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vince Gironda. A superset is categorized as usually two exercises for two separate muscle groups done back-to-back with no rest (e.g bench press supersetted with lat pulldowns). This induces a certain level of metabolic stress by flooding the area with blood for a crazy pump. I usually do these for antagonistic or opposing muscle groups: I.e chest and back, biceps and triceps etc
- Giant sets: These are very similar to supersets whereby the aim is to group 3 or more exercises together but this time for the same muscle group without rest (e.g bench press + db flies + pushups). Again this will create metabolic stress and is a great to add as a finisher to your main workout. I would not use this at the start for the simple fact that most of us use compound exercises at the start so it doesn’t make sense to possibly compromise the weight we are able to lift on these.
- Running the rack: One of my favorites but not seen all that often in your local gym. Running the rack is exactly how it sounds. Start at a weight you can do for say 15 reps then without rest proceed to a weight you can do for 12 reps, then 10 and so on until you hit 6 or so. Now run back up the rack increasing the reps until you hit your starting weight. This is one set. Use this one with caution and mostly for isolation exercises as it is very taxing. Also, obviously don’t do this in peak times at your local gym
As I said there are many more techniques, too many to list. But if you want to find out more head to my homepage and pick yourself up a copy of Arnolds Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. The most complete guide available on the web today!
Building muscle is a very simple but very complex task to set out and do. Above all these tips I have covered today it requires hard work, dedication and consistency. Hopefully with the knowledge that you have gained here today, you’ll be well on your way to achieving and exceeding your muscle building goals. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember: we rise together!