Before you get all worked up and start telling me where to shove it (hey, that's my wife's job, pal, not yours), bear with me a moment. I've been at this for eighteen years myself, so I know how slow the gains can be after a certain point. Sometimes it seems as if looking for changes in my physique is as fruitless as waiting for vinyl LP's to make a comeback and stomp out these newfangled CD's. If a lot of this sounds familiar, it's because you know you must do something drastic to get back on the path to growing again. These winter months give you the perfect opportunity to bulk up.
Bulking up has almost become a dirty word in bodybuilding, as staying lean and sporting a ripped six-pack of abs has supplanted the quest for greater body mass. But don't be fooled by the stay-lean trend, much of which is popularized by high-metabolism types who compensate for lack of muscle by dazzling you with their cuts. Staying lean is not going to help you break past the plateau you've been stuck at. Take this winter to do something extraordinary and take your physique to a higher level of size and strength. Here are some guidelines for bulking up that you can start implementing right now.
Increase Your Calories - A Lot
It has been my experience that most of us drastically underestimate the amount of calories we eat, or at least underestimate the amount of calories it will take to foster any meaningful gains in bodyweight. This winter, or at least for a designated eight-to-twelve week block, make an effort to increase your protein and overall calories substantially. Before you assume I'm giving you a free license to inhale boxes of Whitman's assorted chocolates and dozens of Krispy Kreme donuts here, think again. Only nutritious, high-quality meats and starches are going to contribute to new muscle mass, not junk. Odds are that your intake of regular food won't be enough, so add in protein shakes or MRP's, protein bars, and possibly MCT oil. People thought guru John Parrillo was crazy over ten years ago when he advocated that hard-training bodybuilders should eat as much as 10,000 calories a day. He also predicted at the time that we would soon be seeing 300-pound bodybuilders, and that was also met with ridicule.
Lo and behold, bodybuilders began to experiment with the anabolic effects of such a shocking quantity of food and supplements, and indeed we now have thousands of men who have broken the 300-pound barrier. It was an extreme leap in muscular development that hadn't been thought possible before, but it became a reality through extreme nutritional methods. If you're stuck at 175, 200, 220, or even 250 pounds, you absolutely must treat your nutrition the same way as your workouts. You wouldn't expect to keep lifting the same weights and grow, so why would maintaining the same number of calories help you gain weight? Don't be afraid of carbs, either. You need plenty of them to fuel workouts and recover. Systematically increase your protein and calories until you are gaining weight. Aim for a minimum of two grams of protein daily per pound of bodyweight.
Emphasize The Heavy Basics
With your training during this special growing season, we want to get the most anabolic bang for your buck. It should be obvious that cable crossovers and concentration curls aren't going to cut it. The majority of your time and energy in the gym while bulking up should be dedicated to exercises that allow you to use a lot of weight and involve large volumes of muscle mass. The best of these are squats, deadlifts, bench presses, barbell rows, military presses, chins, and dips. Your goal should be to become at least ten percent stronger in each of these lifts during this time. Going from a 300-pound bench press to 330, or raising your squat from 400 to 440, will make a big difference in the amount of muscle on your chest or legs. Don't be tempted to tack on all kinds of cable, machine, and isolation movements after you've already worked the basics hard. Save that stuff for after the bulking up process is over. If you really apply yourself to moving some seriously heavy iron, all those extra calories you're eating are going to have no choice but to help form a lot of new muscle tissue.
Bulking up isn't always a pretty sight. Gaining pure muscle isn't a realistic scenario for most people, not does it need to be. Do you think Dorian Yates and Lee Priest care about having a chiseled face in the off-season? Their sole concern is adding muscle, and with it will come a bit of adipose tissue. If you gain one pound of fat for every four or five pounds of muscle, you're doing very well. You can always get rid of the unwanted fat later. A lot of you who are used to being tanned and lean all the time are going to have psychological problems with this. I have known some guys who abandoned their bulk-up plan at the first sign of blurry abs or losing sight of their favorite vein (we all have one - I won't tell you where mine is). This is a mistake, as they shortchanged themselves from what could have been the best gains, maybe the only gains, they had experienced in years.
The answer is to put all the tank tops and shorts away until spring, and get yourself some big, baggy clothes. Not only will you look bigger in them, but they will keep you from fretting over your precious cuts and striations that may be temporarily fading away. You might even find that you can actually focus more completely on the lifts when you're not secretly checking out the way your muscles look in the mirror. Oh please, like you don't do that. Another added bonus is that you will stay warm and be less susceptible to injury, especially if your gym is drafty in the winter.
And that's what I want you to do during these cold months if you've been stuck at a certain weight since the first George Bush was President. I started my bulking cycle a little early, and am already at the highest muscular bodyweight of my life. I've been 230 before, but this is the first time I've hit that weight with just one chin and no dimples on my ass. I know you can achieve a new high point too, if you follow the suggestions above. Of course, it's up to you. When it's time to start showing skin again next spring, do you want to display the same exact physique as last year, the year before, and so on? Or have you finally decided it's time that you put the "building" back in bodybuilding? Only you can give the final answer to this million-dollar question, and you shouldn't have to phone a friend. So, tell me. Are you done growing yet?