Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bulking Up A-Z - By Sean Toohey

Most folks turn to the RT after having paid a king's ransom to the nutritional supplement stores, and failing on mainstream training programs. Well, the RT is clearly a home for hardgainers, and for some of us, a method of marrying the old with the new. I fall into that second category. I'm an old school trainer, and that is where I choose to stay. I do find quite a bit of value however, in some of the newer dietary practices… particularly those used to shed fat.

Old methods actually worked quite well, and I was always a fan of John McCallum's method of choice: drop all carbs, eat all protein (as much as you want) and don't sweat the fat. Look under "The Definition Diet" for details. Anyway, I sat down and figured out a diet based on the plan McCallum outlines, and then for kicks I figured out the nutritional content. As it turns out, the fat grams were nearly three times the protein grams. Hello Ketogenic Diet.

So I looked into CKDing and realized that McCallum's logic could be refined a bit. As it turns out, the high calorie CKD sheds fat like crazy and leaves plenty o'muscle behind. So the question then becomes, "What is the fastest way to gain muscle, regardless of bodyfat?"

The answer is, emphatically, bulking. Why? Because it is a near sure-fire way to ensure that all (and I mean ALL) the nutritional requirements are met (read: exceeded). So let's roll up our shirtsleeves and talk about bulking. What it is, what it ain't, and how you do it.

For starters, bulking is NOT binge eating. You do not "wing" it on a bulking program. There are very clear rules that must be followed and if you don't follow them, you are going to wind up very fat, and lose a tremendous amount of muscle when you diet down. You can't just say, "eat everything there is in your house, then repeat" day in and day out. There are limits! The warning has been issued, so I'm not going to worry about you any more if you don't listen! Now, on to what bulking is.

Bulking is, essentially, a method of super-saturating your body with all the available nutrients for building mass. Combined with a proper workout to "trigger" those gains, and plenty of rest, the results are that your body will gain muscle at an incredible rate. How incredible? Once you tweak your routine and diet so that it fits YOU, gains of 30 pounds in a month or six weeks are quite possible, with a solid 20 pounds of that being pure lean tissue. I know that is a fact. I have bulked myself, I have taught bulking to others, and I have witnessed the results of bulking many, many times. I have well over 10 years experience bulking up and training down, so I'm not new to it.

You cannot bulk non-stop. Everything needs to be right before you do it. The best time to bulk is usually about a month or two after maintaining a new body weight… usually after dieting down to lean tissue. You have to be mentally ready to gain like this, which means you need to be prepared for an all-out onslaught with the weights, you must be primed for new pr's (meaning that you have to be training at a peak) and you must be in good condition.

Coming back after a layoff is NEVER a good time to bulk. Why? Because you aren't training at peak levels yet. Peak level training is when you are stimulating the most growth. If you aren't stimulating the most growth, you will be short-changing yourself and some of the nutrients that you consume will be unnecessary, thus leading to an excessive fat gain. If you aren't 100% mentally ready to gain, you aren't going to get the most out of your program.

For this reason alone, I suggest a maximum of 3 bulking sessions a year, and probably 2 is best. Done properly you can easily pack on 30-40 pounds of lean tissue in a year or a year and a half… compare that to the 5-10 pounds of lean tissue promised by the "gain lean mass" crowd and you will see why people love bulking!

Training for bulk is really just a method of advantages. What I mean is that you take advantage of some of the little nuances that you notice as "training phenomenon." None of these little techniques are necessary, but they do help. Let's say that you have been training on a standard 20 rep squat routine for the last 2 months after having dieted down your fat levels, and you are now at an all-time high. Great! Time for some subtle changes in your routine to help stimulate the growth!

First, I would recommend switching to two sets of 15 reps. Perform a set of 20 rep's (very light) as a warm up, concentrate on the breathing aspects during the first set (taking advantage of the breathing as outlined by Roger Eells) and hammer the first set of 15 reps HARD. Then drop a full 100 pounds, and perform a second set, while concentrating on the breathing again. This is, of course, just an example, but it should give you an idea of what I'm referring to when I say "slight modifications" and how to seize the advantages offered by a new routine. In this case, you isolate a major growth factor (breathing) and drop the reps a bit to throw some extra iron on the bar. Incidentally, McCallum himself was a staunch advocate of 2 x 15 as a squatting protocol. Basically, concentrate on a slight change in what you are doing - preferably one that allows you to "add iron."

Be prepared for some very hard work, albeit for a short duration. Bulking should never really last longer than 2 months, and 6 weeks is probably best. After this period of time, your body will have a tendency to adjust to the protocol and diet, and you will tend to get fatter rather than continuing to add new muscle. If you have been hitting a series of PRs throughout the entire bulking period (as you should) you will also be primed for injury and over-training, so backing off is a good idea.

Subtle alterations in training protocol are one thing, but all the training in the world isn't worth a plugged nickel without a diet strategy. And make no mistake - bulking has a special diet strategy. Two words need to be in your diet vocabulary 24 hours a day: Protein and Calories. Fats would run a close third on the list, and carbohydrates bring up the rear.

I don't care how many nutrition experts tell you that any excess of any nutrient above a certain calorie level will be stored as fat. I don't care how many of these experts also say that carbohydrates are "protein sparing." The fact is that carbohydrates make you fat, and protein builds muscle. If you don't agree with that, then don't bother bulking… ignore me and go back to the method that you find works best for you. NOBODY is going to twist your arm to bulk, and nobody is making a claim that bulking is the "only" way to build muscle. It is my opinion that bulking is the best way to build muscle fast, but it can backfire if you screw up. So make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Anyway, the dietary rules are the following:

1. 20 x bodyweight in calories is the minimum. Adjust upward as needed. Below this number is a "high calorie diet." If you don't break 20x, you ain't bulkin'.

2. 2 x TARGET bodyweight in protein. The disclaimer here is that you shouldn't be aiming for a 50 pound gain on one bulking cycle, so 2.25 x CURRENT bodyweight is a solid guide. That equates to a 25 pound gain for a 200 pound man.

3. Arrange the remainder of calories after protein in an equal portion of fats and carbs. For purely unadulterated bulk, start eating all the carbs you want AFTER you get all the other elements (protein/fats/micronutrients). You will get fatter that way, but face it -- you will also get bloody strong as well. The disclaimer to carbs is below. Pay attention to it. Carbs without protein is a recipe for disaster.

As you can see, the rules strictly adhere to protein and calories as the key to the whole thing. Make no mistake… if you try to bulk using calories and carbohydrates, you will turn into a fat-ass overnight, with little to show for your efforts. Carbs cost less than protein. Think of a carbohydrate based bulking plan as "cheap" and you will soon figure out that you get what you pay for.

You cannot eat this way forever. But you can do it for a couple of months without a problem. If you are due for a big weight increase, this is your ticket… no question. I would be remiss if I didn't point out things that people do to fail on a bulking program, so here you go.

1. Eating too many carbohydrates compared to other nutrients. This is the number one mistake. If your carbs are too high, you will get fat. I feel like tatooing that on everyone who bulks. Preferably in reverse, and right on their forehead so they can't miss it when they look in a mirror. Carbs will add to bodyweight. IF you want to gain lots of everything (fat and muscle) then add more carbs. IF you want leaner bulk cycles, keep the carbs equal to the fats you ingest. Either way, protein is king.

2. Winging it. If you think you can just "eat heavy" you will fail. You actually have to sit down and plan out your attack on the food. 20x bodyweight in calories and 2.25 x bodyweight in protein just don't happen "by accident." It also doesn't do the job as fast as 25-30 x bodyweight.

3. "Easing into it." When you bulk, you are trying to take advantage of the body's natural reactions to sudden stimulus. Part of this is nutritionally… so eat heavy right from day one. Your body will react by flooding you with hormones and building some impressive muscle. Ease into it and you allow your body to "get used" to what you do. Great idea when eating normally. Not a good idea when bulking. In this case, the shock works in your favor.

4. Thinking that they can get away with a "glossy mag" routine. Weider workouts don't work, so don't think that merely eating heavy will change that. When bulking you need to stimulate a muscular increase. Overtraining will occur even if you have all the optimum nutritional levels. Design a program that would work on any diet.

5. Leaving nutritional gaps. Don't neglect vitamins and minerals. Supplement them if you must.

6. Forgetting to sleep. You need 8 hours a night. If you are working particularly difficult hours, don't waste it by trying to bulk too. Wait until you are ready in all aspects of your life.

7. Bulking too long. You really need to pay attention to this. Guys think they will gain like this forever… no way buddy. Just bulk for 6 weeks or so, and never more than 2 months.

8. Training down too quickly. Keep your new mass for a month after you bulk. Let your body have a chance at "holding" weight. Then diet it off, and take your time doing so. Hold the lighter, more muscular you for a while too before bulking again.

9. Not treating fat loss as important. If you really don't care how big your gut gets, fine. If you do care, get a good checkup from the doctor, and diet off that belly. Once you are lean, start preparing to bulk again.

10. Not fine-tuning the bulk cycle. Take careful notes, and modify as you see fit. The bulking I have listed here is a great place to start, but you may react differently… experiment as you need until you find the formula that works perfectly for you. Mind you, the alterations from what I have outlined here will be slight…. Don't go thinking you will react "differently" to high carbs….

That pretty much sums it up. It ain't the only way, but it is a great old-time method of adding some substantial mass and strength. Give it a shot if the time is right.

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