Friday, February 24, 2012

Pre-wedding workouts: Bulking (plus a few tips)

February is drawing to a close, and that means a lot of people are preparing to start leaning down as temperature increases.  I, on the other hand, have decided to bulk up as much as I can before July, which is three months before my wedding to my wonderful fiancee.  At that point, I will have 12 weeks to lean down, but for now my goal is to gain as much strength (and lean mass, hopefully) as possible.

Since I haven't updated my workout routine on the blog since I was doing body weight circuits, I figured it was time that I laid it all out on the table for others to read about.

Previously, I had trained at a commercial gym with loads of equipment and during that time I managed to get fairly strong.  However, my form on most exercises was atrocious and I didn't really understand how my training was affecting my body... other than the basic "train, eat, sleep, grow" philosophy.  After a long break from training, I decided to restart from the ground up, training as a beginner and perfecting my form at first, then moving on to a more advanced routine.  The terms "muscle memory" seems very real in my mind, as I noticed my physique was getting better and better even though I was using much lighter weights than in my old routine.  Muscle memory is basically the idea that someone who takes a long break after training for a while can (re)gain muscle much easier than someone who has never trained at all.  No one is exactly certain why this occurs, but on a personal note it really seems to be the case.

So, after doing the beginner routine outlined by Lyle McDonald for about two months, I decided to jump into his bulking routine.  Right now I'm about six weeks into my first cycle of the program.

The first thing I needed to do was determine my training frequency.  McDonald's article on training frequency shed some light on the subject, and he personally recommends an upper/lower split, training four times per week for this program.  After some experimentation (and battling a terrible head cold), I have found that four days per week is just a bit too much for my body to handle.  My immune system was lowered and I came down with a bug that hit just about everyone at my job.  Because my job is a one that is fast-paced, high heat and very physically stressful at times, I decided to cut back my training to my beginner-style three days per week.  McDonald also condones this, as it hits each body part every fifth day, which seems to be the minimum frequency for optimal growth.  So far, this frequency seems like a good choice for my body.

Next, I needed to decide one what exercises to use.  Having minimal equipment, I based my workout routine on McDonald's "generic bulking routine" posted on his support forum.  I won't outline it here, but click on the link if you wish to see the unmodified version.

Lower body
1. Deadlifts: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
2. Squats: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
3. Split-squat: 2-3 sets x 10-12 reps
4. Calf raises: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
5. Planks: 2-3 sets x 45 second holds

Upper body
1. Push-ups: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
2. Rows: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
3. Overhead press: 2-3 sets x 10-12 reps
4. Pull-ups: 2-3 sets x 10-12 reps
5. Tricep extension: 1-2 sets x 10-12 reps
6. Bicep curls: 1-2 sets x 10-12 reps

The main differences between this one and McDonald's routine are mostly equipment related.  For example, McDonald recommends flat bench press as the main chest exercise, but I don't have a bench.  Instead, I do push-ups with a backpack full of iron weights.  The same thing goes for seated calf raises and leg presses, except in the case of seated calf raises I just eliminated them entirely.  I replaced leg presses with split-squats.  The rest of the program is essentially the same.  I like this program because it incorporates a mix of heavy, low-rep work along with (still heavy) higher-rep work instead of just one or the other.  It's pretty well balanced as well.

As far as workout nutrition is concerned, I usually train fasted.  I've noticed that I am more likely to skip workouts if I "require" myself to eat before hitting the weights.  If I feel like it, I will make some eggs and toast before working out, but usually I just get right into it without eating.  It doesn't affect my performance and my strength is steadily going up.  Most of my research indicates that workout nutrition is essentially pointless anyway, as long as you hit your daily macronutrient requirements for the day.

Diet-wise, I am not really counting calories, although I try to be aware of calorie-dense junk food.  Most of my diet includes chicken, beef, turkey, bread, some vegetables, tons of fruit and berries and milk.  I like to indulge with cereal and ice cream as well, but I limit my portions most of the time.  Oh yeah, and I drink a lot of beer.  Probably not helping my cause, but I love relaxing with a frosty beverage after work.

Lastly, my cardio routine generally consists of walking for 30 minutes or nothing at all.  Fortunately for me, my job keeps my general conditioning up pretty well.  My job involves a lot of walking around for hours so even if I miss a cardio session, it won't matter too much.

So there it is in a nutshell.  Hopefully, I will have some new material before June, which is when I plan to start a cut for the wedding (and, more importantly, the honeymoon).  Until next time...


  • Four-day-a-week training programs can provide great gains, but depending on your daily life activities you may have to scale it back to three days per week to keep your recovery up and your immune system working well.
  • There are a multitude of exercises that do pretty much the same thing.  If you are lacking equipment to do a certain exercise, improvise with common household items (for example, a backpack with weights inside, or buckets of water/sand/rocks/whatever).  You can still get a good workout without fancy equipment.
  • Train using a variety of rep ranges if possible.

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