The Muscle Gain Experiment

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Can you gain it and still stay cut?

25 pound gain in 4 months...

Reading through the morass of muscle-building and fitness articles on blogs, websites, and ezines on the web can be a lot like watching a train wreck, or a session of Korean parliament. There are very few corroborating opinions and far too much rehashed drivel utilizing the same routines, same old exercises, and same old tired dialogue.

Much of what I complain about revolves around the elusive and mysterious process of gaining muscle. Click here for the best “hardgainers muscle-building routine” you’re ever going to find.“Buy this dvd and I’ll show you how to gain 10 pounds of solid muscle in one month. Guaranteeeeed!” There’s even a site that has a forum for the safe use of steroids. This topic was so pervasive as I searched the web for original research on various strength and conditioning topics, that I began to scold myself for mocking the ads.

“Self,” I would say. “Who are you to mock these people? Since when do you know so much about muscle-building? Can you build 10 pounds of muscle in a month?” Well, you can imagine with a bold challenge like that I wasn’t going to back down. I didn’t want my inner self thinking myself …anyway, I was out to prove something to myself.

To be honest, I had no other good reason to embark on this journey over 4 months ago. Specifically, the goal was to gain as much strength and muscle mass as possible in a month long period, and achieve my power lifting goals in the squat, deadlift, and bench press at the same time. At the beginning of this ‘cycle’ I found it very difficult to choke down enough food, healthy or otherwise, to reach my initial goal of between 3500-4000 calories a day. Becoming sick was not the goal, so fast food was still only an occasional treat. Instead, the extra calories came from frequent meals, and especially protein shakes.

Eventually I got the hang of it, easily gained ten pounds in a month without having to buy new pants, and was still able to see my abdominal muscles. Um, it required a little more imagination to see them, but they were there! I continued this pattern for about three more months, gaining a total of 25 lbs. Some of it was muscle, but I'm guessing most of it was fat!

Finally, my body had had enough. I had been training very heavy, with the bulk of my workouts consisting of squats, deadlifts, and bench presses in various modalities (lookup Westside Barbell to get an idea.) Cardiovascular training had been reduced to a minimum to accommodate the additional and higher intensity strength-training. Ditto for flexibility and mobility work.

When I started my experiment, I weighed in around 195 at 6’ 0” I don’t know what my body fat percentage was, because I never measured it. (I check my abs in the mirror, and as long as I can still see a six pack, even a shallow one, I’m feeling comfortable in my, uh, skin.)

.I had become a 220 lb. tank, and moved like one too. Towards the final couple of weeks, I wasn’t even capable of high-volume training anymore. Fatigue would set in after a warm-up, a high intensity session of squats, as an example, and one assistance exercise. My weight-gaining experiment was over, and I felt like a weight had been lifted …well, I was relieved.

It’s been about 2 weeks since that final day of the experiment, and I’ve dropped about 5 lbs.. I’ve done this with the least amount of effort. After all, cutting out the protein shakes and 1 or 2 of my 6 or 7 meals a day was an easy task; maintaining that level of calorie consumption had been the hard part. What’s the takeaway here, at least from my experiment? It’s nothing that hasn’t been known for a long time:

-Consume several high quality meals throughout the day. 3500 calories=1 lb. Adding a few hundred calories a day to your diet, over and above what you need to maintain your weight, will put extra pounds on you. Here’s a great site where you can calculate your caloric intake:

http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm

-Train heavy with compound exercises. When I say heavy I mean 3-8 reps per exercise. Compound exercises that utilize your entire body to some degree to move heavy weight are going to alter your body the most. The classic power-lifts are a great start.

-Maintain flexibility, agility, and mobility. Make sure you are increasing your flexibility. If you don’t, not only do you invite injury, eventually your progress will stall. Agility and mobility? Think football practice. The biggest guys still have to be as quick and agile as they can be.

-Don’t overdo it, but don’t slack off. You know that feeling when you’re getting sick with the cold or flu? It’s time to give yourself a rest, right? Same with training. On the other hand, just because you’re a little tired and stiff from yesterday’s workout, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get up and get your body moving today.

Incidentally, I didn’t use any steroids or supplements for that matter; just hard work, hard eating, and plenty of rest.

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