Well, it’s that time of year again—you know, turkey dinners and family gatherings. The time when NOT putting on weight is considered a success. The time of year when buying new clothes to accommodate weight gain is the norm.
However, you are not like the rest of them. You have a purpose to use this time of year as your personal “off-season.” This is when you’ll make gains not only in strength, but in size. In order to make this a successful bulking-up off-season, during which you gain as much muscle as possible and minimize fat, you need to follow four simple rules.
Lucky for you, I’ve simplified the bulking up process.
Rule 1: Put on weight … slowly
Yes, you may gain weight. But that’s the point. You cannot put on muscle in a caloric deficit. Now repeat that to yourself. If you have abs, prepare to see them a little bit less, but the process will be worth it.
Since food will be available, and you’ll be covered in more layers (depending on where you live), saying hello to some weight gain will be OK. But regardless of what anyone says, gaining size naturally requires two things—calories and work—and not one without the other.
It is essential that your weight increase at a slow pace, to ensure that you minimize fat gain. Gains that occur rapidly will no doubt be virtually all fat (and no muscle). A good rule of thumb is to choose one day of the week (I choose Saturday) and weigh yourself only on that day, first thing in the morning. Chart your weight on your calendar and see your progress. Increasing by 1/2 a pound to a pound a week is a slow but good increase that will ensure minimal fat gain.
Check out the video above to learn from sports dietitian Leslie Bonci what you need to eat to build muscle.
RELATED: 3 Eating Secrets to Bulk Up
Rule 2: Build into your frame
This is a rule I have learned over the years. Instead of putting on a lot of weight in hopes that it will transform into muscle, slowly increase your weight and gradually increase the amount of resistance you use during training sessions.
By slowly increasing weight and resistance, you will build into your frame. Building into your frame is a complete paradigm shift from the old thinking, in which you simply destroy all the food you see. On the flip side, increasing your weight rapidly will only make you gain fat without growing your muscles.
Rule 3: Lift big
Yep, you heard right. BIG. If you want to be big you need to lift big. Does that mean avoiding hypertrophy rep ranges? No, but the focus of your program should be big lifts. Why? Big lifts translate into bigger gains. Big lifts activate the most working muscle groups and allow you to impose the heaviest loads on them. Combined, these factors lead to more muscle and strength. Also, big lifts should be the first movement you implement, since you want to be fresh. After performing your big lift, you can progress into smaller muscle group exercises.
Big lifts include the Bench Press, the Squat, the Deadlift, the Power Clean and the Barbell Overhead Press. The rep ranges for the big lifts should stay under 5 as your goal is to lift as heavy as possible. The smaller exercises should focus on hypertrophy, so keep your reps around 8-12.
RELATED: Heavy Partial Reps: When Cheating Actually Pays Off
Rule 4: Minimize cardio
For many people, this is the best rule. I am not saying you should completely avoid cardio. Cardio has its place in improving cardiovascular health, but doing too much can be detrimental to making gains. Your goal is to slowly put on size, and keeping your calories in excess is the key. So do cardio sparingly and with the intent of using it to improve your health and to make your lifting sessions more efficient by increasing your body’s oxygen delivery capabilities.
RELATED: Bulk Up and Get Strong During the Off-Season