Snow has begun falling in Washington D.C., so it must mean winter weather is upon us, and with it comes hoodies, sweatshirts, skullcaps, and long pants. 24-7.
As the weather changes, so do many exercisers priorities, especially among men. Thoughts of a shredded six pack begin to dwindle, and thoughts of bigger muscles flourish. Plates get added to the bars, as plates get added to the table as people seek to increase their calorie intake to support building new muscle.
This time of year has come to be known as : Bulking Season
Truthfully speaking, Bulking Season should be the name of a Netflix series that focuses on the lives of a few meatheads and trainers. Deadlifts, bicep curls, protein shakes and protein farts. Let's make this happen.
Yet, as most people work to bulk up over the colder months they find themselves gaining empty weight. This means that they are putting on more fat than they are putting on muscle. Excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates, saturated fats makes negative weight gain easy. Too much time is spent doing bicep curls and cable flyes, instead of the major lifts like deadlifts, squats, and lunges. Cardiovascular exercise halts completely, which makes them feel sluggish and slow.
When it is all said and done, most guys put on a lot of weight, but almost no real muscle! That isn't right, and it certainly isn't healthy. So, let's change that.
Here are 3 Great Tips to Help Build Muscle without getting fat!
1. If you aren't deadlifting, then you are dead in the water
I will gladly go on record as saying that the deadlift, and its variations, are the king of all exercise. Heavier loads, full body recruitment, and lots of neurological stimulation make it an elite movement. Deadlifts can be used for muscle building, strength gains, fat loss, and even rehab. A great deadlift will help make great bodies!
The deadlift is a full body exercise that requires you to utilize your entire posterior chain (backside of the body) to lift the weight from the floor. Tension is key, especially throughout the core as you work to pull the weights to your hips. Breathing mechanics, pelvic tilts, and core stiffening are all major parts of an excellent deadlift.
Glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps all fire in excess as you drive your heels into the ground. Your abdominals, lower back extensors, pecs, and arms muscles fire endlessly to maintain tension through the spine, shoulders, and hands. The lats and traps fire powerfully as you pull that bar into your body.
Pro Tip: Set up so that the bar is only an inch from your shins, bend your knees until your shins touch, and squat until your hands can grab the bar. Tuck your head into your shoulders, and rise with your chest first. Think of the barbell as a necklace. Push into the ground hard with your heels and squeeze your glutes as you reach the top of the lockout.
Here is a video of me finishing off a workout with a final set of 5 at 295 after working through a whole mess of other stuff.
Note: My last and final rep was a bit ugly, I know this...even trainers get tired.
2. You Need Calories, but Junk...will just be in your Trunk
Bulking season has for far too long served as an excuse to eat like a twelve year old having a sleepover. No science journal has ever credited Doritoes, Coke, and mozzerella sticks with having an amazing impact on your gains (or gainz).
It is almost common knowledge now that you need to eat more in order for you to gain muscle. However, this scientific fact isn't a license to eat junk food in place of quality, nutrient dense calories. It is crucial to increase caloric intake, but not simply by eating whatever you can get your hands on.
Build your diet around healthy meats, fish, and quality sources of carbohydrates such as quinoa, oats, vegetables, and fruits. Add in sweet potatoes, and rice to boost your caloric intake. As far as fats goes...be wise. Potato chips do not make muscles, but salmon and flax seed oil does!
If you are looking to build muscle, then go to your kitchen, and eat more. Just continue to eat smart and choose foods that would make your mom (and trainer) proud.
3. Lift Heavy, Turn up the Volume, but don't break your Body
Ok, so this one is sort of 3 tips in one.
If you want to have bigger muscles, then you need to lift bigger weights. No one is on the cover of Men's Health after doing a thousand reps of the shake weight, or strapping ankle weights to themselves and doing zumbaerobics.
I'm Calling Bullshit
Don't be afraid to attempt sets of an exercise that have you failing within 3-5 repetitions. This will help make you stronger, and break down the bigger, more powerful muscle fibers. Combine this with quality food and rest and you might find yourself feeling fuller and stronger in just a few weeks.
Yet, it isn't just about how much you lift. It is about how hard you lift. In scientific terms, intensity refers to how much weight is being lifted. Thus, intensity is measurable. In the gym; however, intensity is the ferocity that you attack your workout with. Intensity is synonomous with volume.
Volume is sets x reps x weight used. Thus, someone who benches 100 pounds 10 times for 3 sets has conducted 3,000 pounds of volume.
Don't be afraid to play with the variables and push that volume ticker up by doing 3 or 4 exercises for a muscle group, and doing a total of 12 to 15 sets. Mix up your weights and rep ranges. Feel fatigue and partial failure.
But don't break that damn thing. Take some down time every six to eight weeks and lift lighter, focus on form, and recover your body. Make sure that you aren't crushing a given muscle any more than 3 times per week. Foam roll, and do some mobility work in your down time.
Believe it or not, doing some low intensity, higher duration cardiovascular exercise can even be good for you. Boosting blood flow, and taking care of the heart and lungs simultaneously can better recover your muscles, and make you a healthier person overall.
Cheers to a happy holidays and tons of muscles!