From String Bean To Brick House: Bulking 101

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Ever bought a T-shirt that when you put it on, you mistaken your arms for two lone dangling threads? Do some of your shirts, jumpers and hoodies feel like you’re wearing a wind sock that you either have to boil wash them or you end up shopping in the kids isle just to get something that fits you snug.

Yeah I have been there before (perhaps not shopping in the kids isle, but I know what it feels like to be scrawny and skinny) I know it’s not all about getting a physique like Arnie back in his Mr Olympia days, but having a good size chest and arms that your girl just loves to nestle into rather than a concave chest with ribs that stick with stick insect arms would definitely be an advantage.

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So if you’re like me back in the day struggled to get some meat on a wire frame then this blog will most definitely help you achieve that, providing you put in the work.

I will be splitting this down into three sections:

1. Weight training. What the best methods would be, how to pack in volume, when to pack it in and how to taper it off allowing your body to work it’s magic

2. Nutrition. This is vital for you to understand and actually implement otherwise everything else you’re doing is going to become a lot harder to achieve.

3 . Recovery. Another cornerstone to adaptation and development. Something that when left out could potentially halt your results.

So without further a due my noodle armed friends lets get into it.

Hitting The Gym

I am writing this at a time where there has been a lot of speculation around volume, weight and intensity and the best methods for muscle gain (hypertrophy) Fortunately there has been some fantastic studies and reviews done by James Kreiger r from “Weightology” and Brad Schoenfeld PHD from “Look Good Naked” which has really help pinpoint the sweet spot to optimally building muscle.

Fundamentally building muscle comes down to volume and sets. I won’t go into the specifics of the research, instead I’ll provide you with some cliff notes on what they found and how you can implement those findings into your training to gain the best advantages.

It used to be said that you shouldn’t train a certain muscle group any more than once a week. Well if building muscle is your goal then personally I think you could seriously struggle to add in the necessary volume and recovery to make that happen. Now. What I am not saying is, it’s not possible. It could very well be possible but certainly not optimal or beneficial long term.

What James Krieger and Brad Schoenfeld found was the turning point in making sense of what advantages particular volume sets had. I recommend you either read the whole article which I’ll post a link to, or you join James Krueger’s “Weightology” The Science Of Body Metamorphosis and get the full breakdown of their findings.

So what is the best prescription for increasing muscle and mass to your wire frame in the quickest time and without burning yourself out?

If you’re a newbie or been lifting less than 12 months then let’s kick things off with you by recommending what to start with.

Firstly you want to be hitting the bigger compound exercises like incline barbell bench press, barbell shoulder press, assisted chin ups, barbell bent over row, squats, deadlifts. My best advice would be to target these early on into your training week and hit moderate volume with them. Because they can be energy demanding and taxing on your central nervous system, recovery can often take a little longer. Later in the week you want to target the small muscle group again with some slightly easier exercises that require less weight but you can of course ramp up the reps.

By the way when we’re talking reps, we’re not talking in the 20-30’s we’re ideally wanting to aim for minimum of eight, maximum of 12-14 (14 being at the very top end) These exercises would include more dumbbell work, still using a moderate to heavy load but nothing that could potentially screw you up like a heavy barbell exercise when you’re already fatigued and tired.

Over the week you want to be aiming for roughly 12-18 sets per week for each large muscle group.

Let’s say for example you were doing chest. You want to pick three to four exercises that target that muscle group and then you would be hitting anywhere from 2-3 sets per exercise depending on how you want to play it out.

Typically I would go for something like this:

Chest Workout #1

3 x Incline wide grip barbell bench press

3 x DB flies

3 x Flat bench either dumbbell or barbell

2 x High incline DB press or seated barbell press

Chest Workout #2

3 x Low incline DB press

3 x Cable flies

2 x  Shoulder press

( I would focus on my rep ranges being between 8-12 every exercise)

from string bean to brick house: bulking 101 incline bench

Turn Up The Volume

That would typically bring me up to 19 sets per week, just for chest. I would the replicate the same method for all other major muscle groups. What the study by James Krieger and Brad Schoenfeld found was that anyone who is doing 2-9 weekly sets were not quite hitting the thresholds to building muscle, but by increasing it from 2-9 weekly sets up to 12-18 sets found a 71% increase to hypertrophy.

That is one heck of a jump, all by increasing your weekly sets, you can increase hypertrophy by 71% So looking at your training program with the idea of increasing weekly sets can make all the difference, especially if building muscle is your thing.

I would recommend you structure your training plan that allows you to focus mainly on your bigger muscle groups like a Push, Pull, Legs then adding in two extra sessions of a push split which targets the larger chest muscle as well as quads, calves and core and the same with pull split, which targets your back muscles and hamstrings.

There is something that does need to be pointed out, you don’t need to go HAM and hit 12-18 weekly sets on all your muscle groups. Ideally every four to five weeks you want to change the focus a little so work on the largest muscle groups and in four weeks time change your workout out a little to work on something like shoulders or any other body part you feel is lagging.

You can of course go higher than 12-18 weekly the research shows weekly sets up to 45 week;y sets. Something I am experimenting with now. This is not recommended if you can’t find the time or if your body is taking too long to recover. So start off small watch the changes and reap the rewards.

NUTRTIION

I am going to keep this short because it can often lead you into a rabbit hole when you start to think too much about nutrition methods and strategies. Because this post is predominately around building size, I am going to keep this relatively simple.

Calories

Weight gain or weight loss only works when you have the right amount of calories going in also known as CICO (Calories In, Calories Out) Now you don’t need to do what all the other “Bro’s” do when they’re trying to put on size, by eating everything in sight and basically eating like an “asshole” what you can do is even simpler but more effective.

Eat at your maintenance calories, keeping protein high and don’t cut back on any of your macronutrients. So make sure you’re getting in sufficient carbohydrates and fats. What I would predominately focus on is keeping protein as high as possible and then allowing your carbs and fats to fall into play by preference. So if you like high carb go for it, if you don’t and you prefer more fat then that’s cool too. Just as long as your daily calorie intake is met.

What you could do to compliment the added volume is increase your calories just by 250kcal and get this from protein alone. By keeping protein high you’re at a greater advantage of creating a better environment for MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis) the building blocks to creating, building, repairing and maintaining lean muscle mass.

This doesn’t mean you have to cut out all your favourite foods. Nor does it mean you have to keep eating boring and bland foods. Adopt a flexible approach to your diet, this will benefit you much more in the long run.

from string bean to brick house: bulking 101 eating

RECOVERY

What you’re doing in the gym is just as important as what you’re not doing in the gym. Recovering from each workout is essential, you need to create the best possible environment for your body to adapt and to change. When you inhibit that you’re slowing down any progress. What I mean by that is sleep, rest, de-stressing and finding some space to kick back and relax. Something I think we all struggle with in this day and age.

SLEEP

Absolutely crucial to recovery. If you neglect this, you’re making things harder for your body to recover too. It will be constantly playing catch up. Catching up on sleep, catching up on your gym time, catching up on down time. You will always be in an energy deficit until you can sort it out.

By focusing on sleep quality is just as important as duration. There is more and more evidence coming out on sleep and how to not only improve it but also the benefits to it.

Here are my four go-to tips to help improve sleep quality something I have found has made a big difference.

1. Aim for at least eight hours. Think quality not quantity.

2. No electronics an hour before bed (admittedly I cut off electronics 30 minutes before bed but I will be doing it an hour before bed)

3. Read a good book, allowing your brain to soak into words is better than watching crap reality TV read something of interest, a novel, biography or a self help book.

4. This has been an absolute game changer for me. I downloaded an app called 10% happier and for the last 57 days I have meditated almost twice a day. One on an evening and once every morning before I get out of bed. This has really made massive shifts and has helped me become a lot more productive at work and actually I do feel a lot happier about that.

Nutrition wise. Drinking a protein shake (ideally casein) has been shown to help the recovery stage as well. Although if you’re getting adequate protein intake throughout the day, a casein shake has little benefit to achieving gains. So with that being said if you do feel you could benefit by taking a casein because protein is low throughout the day then go for it. But if you’re someone who has a high protein diet, drinking casein pre bed won’t have much of an effect or benefit.

from string bean to brick house: bulking 101

Summary

To add more muscle to your wiry frame you need to increase weekly volume via sets. Target specific muscle groups and switch it up every 4-5 weeks to focus on other lagging muscle groups.

To build optimal muscle you need to have an optimal diet. Don’t eat like an asshole bro with all the pop tarts, pizza and donuts. Focus on eating at maintenance calories, get your protein high, allow carbs and fats to fall in to play via personal preference. Increase calories by 250kcal. Try to ensure those extra calories are all protein

To get the best out of your workouts, you need to be feeling it. Don’t neglect your sleep. Achieve a minimum of eight hours and try to improve the quality of your sleep by improving your sleeping environment.

About the Author

A nutritionist for the last five years. I’ve worked with pro athletes in the USA, worked with pro. MMA fighters in the UK as well  as bikini models and the general public. My main expertise is to coach and guide people to help them improve their quality of life through a healthier and more active lifestyle. Basically coaching them to life and not fall into the dieting vortex and end up spinning their wheels. Connect with Stephen through his Facebook. 

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