Lessons learned from a year of bulking

In 46 weeks, I managed to add 39 lbs of body weight, with over 21 lbs of that coming as muscle. And topping the scale at 209 lbs was a huge achievement for me. But what did I learn from almost a year of bulking?

First, a little context.

There’s nothing exceptional about my genetics. I’m an average 5’9” and my natural set-point is a soft welterweight. I’ve played sports casually over the years and spent my entire working-life sitting behind a desk. But I’m certainly no bodybuilding noob, and I definitely know my way around the gym with many years of training under my belt. I’m also in pretty good shape considering my forty-six years. In the realm of physique transformation, I’ve been as low as 148 lbs and single digit body fat, and previously topped the scale at 187 lbs.

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Final body composition test of the year

I had my final hydrostatic test of the year yesterday at the FitnessWave mobile testing unit that visits my office. It was my tenth test in almost exactly two years, and it’s been a fun and informative process.

The numbers from this final test are not all that impressive when considered in isolation, but when I add a little narrative and consider the longer journey, they stack-up pretty well.

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What I learned in the last three months

It’s been 75 days since the last time I posted, and frankly, a lots happened.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that what I put up here is somewhat of a mixed bag; part journal, part training log and probably two-parts waffle … and no, not the good kind. Still, I’m not making you read, that’s on you.

So, given I could cover a lot here, we’ll keep it focused on training, diet and what I’ve learned in the last three months. And for those of you that want to bail early, here’s the summary:

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Lord of the flys

IMG_20150530_082241Now that the bulk is complete, I’ve switched over to a three-day split routine run six on, one off. The splits are back, traps and biceps, legs, and chest, shoulders and triceps.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning was the final chest workout of the new cutting program, a chest, shoulder and triceps routine oriented around flys and cable work to counter the heavier pressing work of the previous session.

Overall, the workout went well, although the volume does eventually get to my left shoulder. I’m on the fence with this one, so I’ll be playing with it a little more.

Here’s the breakdown:

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The journey to 190lb is over… for now

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 10.51.46 AMAs most of you are are now painfully aware, I’ve been pushing hard on this latest bulk to reach 190lb. Alas, my window closed this morning with 187.75lb showing on the morning scale.

Still, I’m not disappointed.

I’ve learned a lot about my body this last six months and managed to add quite a bit of size to my frame. Said differently, I’ve created a really solid foundation for the upcoming cut, and ultimately for another run at size in the new year.

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Tenets of my upcoming cutting program

Helmut Strebl
There are few leaner than Helmut Strebl!

Just three weeks or so now until the next weigh-in, and unless something changes between now and then, the plan is to up the density of my workouts and start a cut. Hence, my attention is slowly shifting to what that workout and diet will look like and how I’ll approach the overall process.

Based on what I’ve learned over the last year or so of training, here’s what I’m envisioning as the key tenets of my cutting regimen:

  • Build an enjoyable program
  • Focus on density
  • Eat as much as possible while still making progress
  • Minimize cardio

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Finally able to eat more

picZLz4xFIt’s taken weeks, perhaps even three months or more, but I finally seem to have increased my capacity to eat. Sure, I still can’t sit and eat a single, blow-out meal, but I can at least now eat at a decent clip every two hours and not feel like I am dying.

When I first started this latest bulking cycle, increasing my intake to the point where I could hold and make gains was brutally hard. Gut was permanently distended and I was not remotely hungry from the point I finished breakfast right up until I’d hit the sack. It was really pretty depressing and I wanted to bail on the bulking process more than once.

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