As of a few days ago I have completed my bulk that has lasted from the start of October until the end of March. This is by far the longest I have ever spent in trying to get bigger: and stronger. I used to want to get big but always try and stay trim. Now I realise that though it is possible, it is incredibly slow and no real gains are made.
To bulk I decided to take an approach that is different to what a lot of fitness buffs preach: instead of having workouts that are aimed at putting on size, I tried to get as strong as possible. I followed a couple of simple rules for the few workout cycles that I devised; lift heavy, lift frequently. What this basically means is that instead of doing high reps for a few sets, I would perform low reps for a few sets for many exercises. All of these might not have been in the one day, as I generally trained body parts anywhere between 2-4 times a week at varying degrees.
Something that I discovered during my bulk (strength) phase was the importance of taking deload weeks. As a beginner these really aren't needed except in the most exceptional of cases as you body is adapting so quickly and the weights usually aren't too heavy. When you starting lifting heavier your lifts have an ever increasing burden on your central nervous system (CNS). After a few months - even a few weeks, depending on lifting frequency - your body begins to get run down and sluggish, and you perform a lot worse than usual. Your muscles may take up to 72 hours to recover, but your CNS takes a lot longer.
By incorporating a deload week into your program, or taking one when your body tells you, there are incredible benefits to be reaped. Firstly, you will feel refreshed for when you next hit the gym, and will feel better in day to day life: this really cannot be understated. Secondly, a phenomena known as supercompensation takes place. I will not go into great detail as to what it covers, but it essentially means that your body will have enough time to adapt to all of the stimuli you have been giving it and by taking a week out you will actually be stronger than you were at the end of the previous week with no serious training done.
How to perform a deload
There are two basic approaches that I have come across.
- Still do your main lifts (these should be deadlift, bench press, OHP, squat, Olympic lifts, etc) at the same weight, but perform less reps. Say you usually perform 5 reps of 100kg for bench for 5 sets, perform 2 reps of 100kg for 5 sets instead. Some people claim this helps them more as they need a heavy weight on the bar to keep up strength.
- Use much lighter weight. When I say lighter, I mean about 50-60% of 1RM at most: and you don't go to failure. This is just to keep your CNS used to performing the movements for technical proficiency. This is the technique that I used in the last 3 months for very good effect. I focused on perfecting my form and speed. Both of which served very useful purposes when I went back to my heavy lifting.
Some basic lifting stats - October to March
- Weight: 174lb to 185lbs
- Bench: 231lbs to 281lbs
- Squat (Olympic): 220lbs to 281lbs
- Deadlift: 308lbs to 396lbs
- OHP: 176lbs to 198lbs
Some size stats - 30th November to 1st March
- Thigh: 23.6" to 24"
- Forearms: 12.2" to 12.65"
- Calves: 14.5" to 15.4"
- Arms: 15" to 15.3"
I will try and upload a picture soon to show the before and after of the bulk.
What this post is trying to get across is just how useful the off-season can be for your longer term goals. As Ronnie Coleman used to say, "Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder but nobody wants to lift heavy ass weights!" When its not summer and your shirt isn't off, take the time to better prepare yourself for next year. Planning is the key to success.
I hope this was helpful for some of you. If it isn't, please let me know what you would have found more helpful.
I'm not a fitness expert. If you hurt yourself in any form or fashion, I am not liable for any damage; emotional, physical or otherwise.