Bulk Season: Halloween to Super Bowl

Between Halloween and the Super Bowl each year there should only be one thing on your mind – How big can I possibly get in the next three months?

 

This is the most wonderful time of the year for several reasons – great weather, holidays, football – but most importantly, because it’s time to grow! Summer is officially over, and it’s time to pull out the jackets and hoodies, so there’s no strong motivation to be as lean as possible. Football is on 5 days a week (and hockey is on the rest of the time, if you haven’t figured that out yet) which makes it harder and harder to pass up the beer and chips.  You’ve got to make it through the one holiday that is pretty much based around how much food you can eat, followed by how long you can nap. You know you’re not going to pass up that dessert your grandma makes just for you every year.  When you and your family are gathered around the yule log, or roasting chestnuts on an open fire, you can’t feel too guilty about having a little too much egg nog.  You also don’t want to let any of your Christmas ham go to waste. Once New Year’s rolls around, everyone around you will decide they need to shed some of that holiday weight, but not you.  You can just keep plugging away. Let everyone else get the new year’s motivation out of their system first. Then in February, when you get ready to drop some of the fluff, the crowd at the gym will have gone back to normal.

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BEFORE

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AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat Heavy

Halloween is the final reason every year to lean out, so let that kick off the season of gains.  The next few months will have incessant opportunities for indulgence, sure, but don’t let that get out of hand. Cookies and candy and cakes and pies will be available in abundance for the next few months, but you still want to avoid that garbage food as much as possible. All of the highly processed, sugar-packed “deliciosities” you have at your disposal will put on weight, but it’s not the weight you’re looking for. At the end of the day you still want to meet nutrition goals – it’s not just about calories. If you’re making about 20 different food choices each day (20 servings based on your body size), make sure 16 of them are in line with your ideal diet. Then a few choices can land outside the ideal to bring in some extra calories and satisfy some cravings.

 

It is beyond me why anyone would go straight for pop tarts to add carbs to a diet or as a cheat food, so focus on bringing back some more natural (and better tasting) sources of carbohydrates. If you’ve followed any sort of “Eat Heavy” plan, you may have cut back on milk, or taken potatoes out of your regular dinner rotation.  Bring ’em back!   Use milk with your morning shake, drink chocolate milk after a workout (regular milk works fine too), or have a glass with dinner.  It’s a good way to get in extra calories, even when you’re already full. Plus, those awesome muscle-building proteins that you buy at the store (whey and casein) are built right in. Potatoes should be your second diet addition during this season of bulk.  Both white and sweet potatoes will add some carbohydrates to your diet that will give you the fuel to power through your lifting routine.

 

The final diet addition is simple – eat more of everything.  You don’t have to compromise the quality of food you’re eating, you just need to eat more of it.  Eat until you’re full, then have a few more bites.  Keep eating vegetables, pile on some more fruit, and add a few ounces to your steaks.  You can probably stand to ease up on some of the foods you’ve been avoiding like the plague, too.  If there’s an opportunity for free pizza (or just really good pizza), take advantage.  If you’re going to go to Chipotle, do it big (don’t skip the rice and beans). Go ahead and eat that entire pint of ice cream in one sitting – you deserve it!

 

Lift Heavy

You also need to consider a new lifting plan. Still focus on hitting all of the major movement patterns a couple times a week, but spread muscle groups out over 3 or 4 days and add in more isolation lifts.  Your goal here is to wear out the muscle and break it down so that it has to grow back bigger.  This is different from trying to move more weight or trying to burn more calories. We’re not gauging the quality of a session on the amount of sweat we produce – we’re just trying to wear out the muscle so that it feels useless for an hour or two afterward. Start your workouts with the bigger, heavier lifts – bench press, squats, rows, and overhead presses, and then work your way down toward isolation lifts like curls, leg extensions, pushdowns, and lateral raises. 13 is your magic number for goal reps on pretty much every exercise, and you should be able to exhaust a muscle group in 3 or 4 exercises.  If not, you weren’t working hard enough on the first few.

 

A hint on what “exhausted” should feel like: at the end of your chest routine, push your palms together as hard as you can.  It should feel like there is no way you could crack an egg between your hands.

 

You’ll ultimately spend more time lifting since isolation lifts are a bigger focus, so conditioning can take a back seat. Shift your focus to your muscles (not body fat, not conditioning, not strength) and make sure everything you do is focused on hypertrophy. Put all your eggs in the hypertrophy basket.  One conditioning session each week shouldn’t hurt your progress, but steady-state cardio is the enemy of growth. You might feel “fluffier” than normal eating more and conditioning less, but you’re goal here is not to stay lean – it’s to get big.  It is possible to put on muscle size and maintain a low body fat, but you certainly won’t maximize your muscle growth if you’re also working to keep your body fat down.  Burning body fat and building muscle is mixing catabolic and anabolic processes, and those just don’t mix well.

 

Stay Heavy

Bulk Season culminates with the biggest game of the year – the Super Bowl.  You can stroll into the party wearing your favorite Cowboys shirt, which you now completely fill out (the way t-shirts were intended to fit). Take full advantage of the snack spread before you head back down the road to a larger, leaner, more pool-ready physique. This is the time to celebrate a successful season of gains, and a time to treat the pounds of muscle you just packed on. Load up some nachos until they fall off the plate, see how many wings you can polish off, and have a couple of those little football cookies the girls made. Laces out!

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