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The Art of Eating Big: Part 2- Stimulating Growth!

April 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Written by Steve Colescott

Following is a four-day a week training program that will pack muscle on the most-stubborn frame – provided you consume the needed protein and calories and get adequate rest. (See part one of this feature: Teenage Weight Gain: The Art of Eating Big). The routines seem basic and uncomplicated but are guaranteed to kick your butt.

In another article I have written, but which is in the process of being published, I quote noted Soviet strength specialist Vladimir Zatsiorsky as he explains how one should train to increase muscle size. In, Science and Practice of Strength Training, Zatsiorsky states that, “The main objective of such a training routine is the maximal activation of protein catabolism (breakdown of muscle proteins), which in turn stimulates the synthesis of contractile proteins during rest periods.” This simple, yet profound, statement so concisely describes the process of bodybuilding that it might very well be worked into EVERY future training article I write.

To maximally encourage protein breakdown, rep ranges between five and twelve are utilized with relatively short rest periods. For most exercises, this will be sixty seconds between sets. Sets of deadlifts and squats in which reps are higher than eight per set may require longer rest periods due to the fact that such large muscle groups may cause one to go into a temporary state of oxygen debt (a need to catch one’s breath). Once breathing and heart rate have returned to an acceptable (only slightly elevated) level, one may continue. Once one becomes conditioned to these short rest periods, there should be no loss in exercise poundages. Real world experience in the gym confirms the effectiveness of this strategy

For the younger and underweight (and presumable somewhat novice) lifter, there are also other considerations. First of all, these athletes also need to develop a base of general strength. This involves a variety of exercises to balance strength among various muscle groups with an emphasis on the “core muscles” of the abdomen, lower back and hip areas which act as stabilizers.

Secondly, younger lifters also may not have developed the ability to withstand grueling training sessions. For this reason, the use of compound exercises involving large muscle complexes (in this case, high rep deadlifts) is employed. In addition to improving a lifter’s general conditioning, these build “mental toughness” and MAY even sprout a little hair on your chest! Similar to the high-rep squatting which has been a popular method for weight gain, high-rep deadlifts, are so taxing that they have a noticeable effect on appetite and muscle growth.

In each workout, there is one exercise marked by an asterix (*). That is the KEY movement of that workout and the exercise that your efforts should be aggressively directed towards. Your primary workout goal should be to make some improvement in these key lifts on a consistent basis.

You will also notice the workouts are split, with “Phase One” sets and reps in the first column and “Phase Two” additions listed in a second column. One should consistently follow this program for at least four weeks, and made a gain of at least ten pounds in bodyweight, before considering the jump to “Phase Two.” The additional workload is necessary for continued progress but SHOULD NOT be attempted before the athlete is ready.

Once you are ready to add the sets, be cautious of shakiness and hand tremors toward the end of a workout. These could be signs that your nervous system was not quite ready for the increase in volume. If this happens, take a week off training before returning to the original set scheme. Also, honestly reassess whether you are giving your body the nutrients and rest it needs for growth.

“Of course, if the lifter does not lift heavily, the forced feeding will not show proper muscular results; the result will be too much excess fat.”

- Bill Seno (world champion powerlifter), Pushing for Power


Phase One

Phase Two

1. Seated Calf

2. Full Squat *

3. Frog Leg Press

4. Push Press

5. Seated DB Press

4 x 10-15

4 x 12/9/6/3

2 x 8-12

warm-up, then 3 x 5

1 x 8-12

(add one set)

(add two sets of 8 reps after heavy set)

(add one set)

(add a second set)

If you want to get big, learn to LOVE squats. Squats separate the bodybuilders from those that just want to look good in a T-shirt. Everyone starts out struggling with unimpressive squat poundages but, if given consistent attention, you’ll eventually built to squat weights that earn the respect of the veterans in the gym. Note that it says “FULL squat.” Start out from day one learning to lower down as deeply as possible. Deep squatting is the common denominator in the biggest and most thickly developed lifters.

On the full squat, we will be pyramiding the weights. Begin with a warm-up set with just the bar and possibly a second warm-up with a little more weight, if you feel you need it. The first “work set” consists of a relatively easy dozen reps. Increase the weight slightly to a weight in which you are able to do nine reps. Then increase the weight on your next set, to a poundage in which you can do a hard but still strict six reps. Your POWER SET will be a heavy triple. If you have been lifting for less than six months, stop here (at the novice workout). Those who have trained longer and have met the requirements for Phase Two can add two additional work sets of eight reps.

The Frog Leg Press is done with feet spread slightly wider than shoulder width and pointed outward. The weight carriage is brought down deep with your knees going out to the sides of your ribcage. It can be done on a 45-degree or vertical leg press machine.

The Push Press is a standing military press with a slight cheat to allow for use of heavier weights. The bar is pressed from the upper chest to an “arms-extended-overhead” position. A slight (about 2-inch) dip in the knees will allow you to drive the weight overhead powerfully. I recommend placing one foot about 4-5 inches further forward than the other (alternating the lead leg each set) as the increased stability will translate to a stronger press. Make sure you perform one or two light warm-up sets so that the delicate shoulder joint isn’t expected to move heavy weights before it is ready.

We finish off with a very strict overhead press with dumbbells, using higher reps for one or two sets. Because it is done seated and with dumbbells, this exercise is performed strictly and requires more coordination (balance) which causes greater activation of muscle fibers.


Phase One

Phase Two

1. Ab Bicycling

2. Incline DB Press *

3. Pec Dips

4. Floor DB Triceps Extensions

5. Close-grip Bench

6. Wrist Curl

2 x 60 seconds

warm-up, then 3 x 8-12

2 x max

3 x 6-10

2 x 8-12

3 x 10-15

(add a heavy set of 4-6 reps)

(add a set)

This workout focuses on chest and triceps (pushing muscles of the upper body) with some work for forearms and abs. Ab work is important because it balances the lower back and hip exercises we do in order to build “core strength.” Core strength involves strengthening the muscle of the midsection and hips used to balance the torso, which allows for overall body power. If you blow-off ab work, you limit your progress.

Ab Bicycling is done by starting in a crunch position and alternately lifting first the left, then the right knee toward your head in a pedaling motion while slightly lifting the opposite shoulder from the mat. In addition to the abs this exercise activates the obliques.

Incline Dumbell Presses emphasize a deep pectoral stretch at the bottom and should be done on a low incline (about 25-30 degrees). Pec Dips should also emphasize the stretch position, only lifting up about 2/3 of the way to full arm lock-out (since the last portion of this movement is mostly triceps). These should be done with the torso bent forward (like the contracted position of a crunch), with your chin down toward your chest, elbows spread wide out to the sides, and feet forward under the face.

Floor Dumbell Triceps Extensions are done lying on the floor with two dumbbells extended overhead. The weights are lowered to either side if your head, being careful to keep the upper arms perpendicular to the ground and stationary throughout the set. Close-grip Benches are done with a grip about 6-8 inches between your thumbs. Your arms should stay in towards your torso and the bar is lowered to the mid- to upper pecs. Forcibly contract the triceps at the top.


Phase One

Phase Two

1. Standing Calf

2. Deadlift Shrug *

3. Leg Curl

4. Glute/Ham Raise

4 x 10-15

2 warm-ups then, 3 x 12

2 x 12

3 x 8-12

add a set

add a set

We’re training the “posterior chain” in this workout. The posterior chain is aptly named because it includes the lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings and calves – the large collection of interrelated muscles that make up about a third of your muscle mass and establishes your base of power. The major muscles of this group cross over more than one joint and rarely work without assistance from neighboring muscle groups. Like the squat workout, this session is short in order to allow you to go in there and hit it hard. Once you leave the gym you should be tired and insatiably hungry. Pound a double dose of protein and watch yourself grow!

Deadlift Shrugs are quite simply a traditional deadlift in which the rep is completed by a strong shrugging of the shoulder girdle by the trapezius muscles. The one difference we will be making from a powerlifting deadlift is the use of wrist straps on heavier sets since we will need to be holding onto the bar for a dozen reps. Use of straps will also allow us to use a double-overhand grip.

The Glute/Ham Raise is done on a special piece of equipment which looks like a hyperextension bench with a large curved hip pad on it. The foot rollers should be adjusted so that they close enough to the hip pad to allow you to lift your body by allowing your knees to drop, with the pull coming from your hamstrings. This targets that muscle group better than any leg curl EVER could. If you do not have access to a glute-ham raise bench, substitute either Reverse or regular Hyperextensions.


Phase One

Phase Two

1. Lying Leg Raise

2. Cable Ab Crunch

3. Front Lat Pulldown

4. Under-grip Barbell Row *

5. Alternate Dumbell Curl

6. Hammer-grip Dumbell Curl

2 x 15

2 x 8-12

3 x 8-12

3 x 6-10

3 x 8-12

2 x 8-12

(add a set)

(add a set)

This workout will seriously work your upper back, biceps and abs. Cable Ab Crunches are done kneeling in front of a triceps pushdown station, holding a “rope handle.” From a kneeling upright position, curl your torso down to a strong ab contraction. Both the pulldown and rowing exercises for your back cause a greater growth response when there is a strong two-second pause in the contracted position. In the Front Pulldown, this is when the bar is pulled down to the collarbone. In the barbell row, this takes place when the bar is pulled in to your belly-button area and your shoulder blades are squeezed inward. Don’t worry about using heavy weights for your Dumbell Curls. Your biceps have been hit with heavy resistance during your back exercises. Concentrate on good form and resisting the weight on the negative. This will cause biceps soreness (and growth) in the days to follow.

There is your complete diet and training program. All that is left is for you to put it into practice. Be consistent, train hard, eat as often and well and YOU WILL GROW! Good luck!

On the Trail of the Elusive “Hardgainer”

I’ve known dozens of lifters that refer to them selves as “hardgainers.” At least a hundred articles in major muscle magazines have been directed towards this group. In fact, an entire newsletter/magazine has been published just for people that consider themselves “hard-gainers.”

“Hardgainers” refer to someone who feels that they have a genetic disadvantage for muscle-building. This very term is one of the most self-destructive concepts in our sport. I do not argue that the genetic predisposition for strength and muscle size varies widely within our population. In fact, when it comes to picking my spot on the bodybuilding genetics “bell curve” I admit to being on the lower end of the scale. But anyone calling themselves a “hard-gainer” might as well throw in the towel!

Nine out of ten of us have to struggle to put on muscle. Even the genetically-advantaged one-percent struggles with growth plateaus in which their size and strength come to a standstill for weeks or months at a time. We cannot all be Mr. Olympias or world powerlifting champions but each one of us can make amazing increases in muscle size and strength. If, like me, you have been in the sport for a couple decades, you will have met hundreds of lifters with average genetics have accomplished amazing things. Claiming that you are a hard-gainer is a coward’s excuse.

If you are eating and training correctly, you WILL grow. It’s all a matter of doing what is required for that growth. Will you eat six big protein-rich meals a day if that’s what it takes to grow? What about ten meals a day? Will you squat deep with enough weight bouncing around on your back to give you three days’ worth of deep muscle soreness? Will you lock out that “personal best” deadlift even though you can feel the knurling of the bar tearing a thick callous from the palm of your hand? Can you do without that weekend getaway or big screen TV because you know you’d be better off directing your finances towards solid nutrition? Will you drag yourself out of bed at 5:00 AM to train before work, if that’s what it takes? When you have hit a plateau where your weights seem to have all stalled and a glance in the mirror seems to only show flaws, will you reassert yourself towards your goals or will you take the day off and plop yourself down in front of the television?

If you cannot answer a resounding “yes!” to each of these questions, then instead of being a “hardgainer” perhaps you are just weak-willed?

After reading this article, “not knowing how” will no longer be an excuse. You WILL grow. You merely have to give it time for the ounces to add up to pounds. Decide if you really want to make your bodybuilding dreams a reality and, even more importantly, if you are ready to pay the price to make them happen. Bodybuilding is not a battle of degrees. Half efforts do not ensure half gains. Its more likely that giving it 50% will net you a whopping 0% return. Don’t chalk up non-existent gains to being a “hardgainer.” Commit yourself to giving everything it takes to reach your individual potential

“Old School” Bulking

There are two schools of thought, as far as weight gain. The most popular currently is to gain weight at a slow rate, keeping bodyfat levels in a certain acceptable range. The thinking here is that if one allows oneself to gain too much bodyfat, the extreme dieting needed to strip away that flab will cause the loss of whatever muscle was gained in the bulk-up period. A number of case studies have shown this to be true.

From a health and social standpoint, this is also a sound strategy. Excessive bodyfat obviously puts a great deal of strain on the body. Cardiovascular health is severely compromised and day-to-day functioning (such as jogging up a flight of stairs without becoming severely winded) is impaired. Your age, personal and familial health history (heart attacks, strokes, blot clots, diabetes, etc.) and current condition must be seriously scrutinized before beginning a bulking regimen.

Socially, the extreme bulking philosophy can be limiting as well. In a society which prizes lean, muscular “fitness model” physiques, your bulked-up frame will often earn negative comments. Even those in the gym will question your strategy. For social reasons this isn’t for the guy training to impress the girls (but then none of my articles will be aimed at this halfhearted audience).

The “old school” strategy entails getting as big as humanly possible. This involves gaining huge amounts of bodyfat and water weight. You may even gain up to two pounds of flab for every pound of muscle. The heavy calorie intake while increase your insulin output, which means you will be in storage mode, with amino acids and glycogen being driven into muscle tissues. Therefore, your recovery from training will be at a high level, making over-training less likely. Unfortunately, you will also be adding to fat storage. On the positive side, the added bodyweight translates to improved leverage and therefore HUGE increases in strength. It also means that your body will be constantly super-saturated with raw materials for building muscle.

A well-known proponent of this technique is 1959 NABBA Mr. Universe Bruce Randall. At a height of 6′1,” Randall bulked up to a monstrous 401 pounds. During his bulking period, his strength climbed in proportion to his bodyweight. He was known for performing a 680-pound squat, half-squats with well over 2100 pounds on his shoulders, a 340-pound cheat curl, a 771 deadlift and good mornings with an amazing 685 pounds! After carrying around elevated bodyweight, he dieted away the excess bodyfat to win the NABBA Universe at a lean 220 pounds.

Anther example of an athlete benefiting from “old school” bulking is powerlifting legend Pat Casey. Casey was the first man to bench 600 pounds. Even more impressively, his lifting career was in 1967, long before the triple-ply steel-belted heavy duty bench shirts that add an easy 90-pounds on an elite lifter’s bench. It is highly likely that his bench press records would still be standing if modern lifters did not resort these support devices. In later years, he whittled his bodyweight back down to a healthier 225 and trained on a higher-rep program aimed at health and longevity.

An excellent modern-day example of “old school” bulking is current IFBB pro and overall loudmouth, King Kamali. At the 1997 Collegiate Nationals in Pittsburgh, Kamali was in the audience weighing what I would guess to be creeping towards 300 pounds. He had won the overall at the Collegiates three years earlier, as a light-heavyweight. I had seen contest photos of him in NPC News and the walking doughnut I saw sitting near me barely caused a glimmer of recognition. He was fat, bloated and looked more like a sumo wrestler than a bodybuilder.

Over a year later, I saw Kamali attending another show and he was still carrying plenty of deadweight. The general consensus was that his bodybuilding career was over and he would most likely end up as a bouncer at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

History tells us that King Kamali shed the fat a few years later, to win the 1999 Nationals as a heavyweight. Not only did he display a much bigger, vastly improved pro-level physique, but he had caused quite a buzz over for his ripped condition. Its doubtful that he would have made the impressive gains displayed had he not spent a couple years eating big.

Dorian Yates is another athlete that spends a majority of his training year, bulked up. He is also known for being one of the few top bodybuilders to consistently gain significant muscle mass at an advanced stage of his career. Also note that tossing around huge training weights is also something of a Yates trademark. Obviously, the improved leverage advantages that come with heavier bodyweight lead to huge gains in strength, which in effect, lead to muscle growth.

So why did “old school bulking” work for Kamali and Yates while other bodybuilders felt the experiment ended with no net gain in muscle after the extra bodyfat was stripped away? Quite simple. Rather than bulking up just to whittle down, Kamali (and the old school disciples of bulk) got big and STAYED THAT WAY! It wasn’t a month of extra weight set off by a big Thanksgiving dinner and wrapped up before Easter came around, it was YEARS of eating big, training big and letting their bodies adjust to a new bodyweight.

So which route of weight gain is best – gradual lean muscle gain or “old school” bulking? Both methods of weight gain work. Decide for yourself which route is for you based on your goals. If you decide to bulk-up, it has to be a serious decision, with a full understanding of the sacrifices involved.

Once you’ve chosen your strategy, the information in the “Art of Eating Big” portion of this feature applies to both strategies. For bulking, you will simply continue to gradually increase your calorie levels to keep your bodyweight increasing. Make sure that you are pushing your gym poundages hard, especially in the big power movements, in order to take advantage of your improved leverage and maximize muscle growth. Continue to increase your protein level (at a minimum of two-grams per pound of bodyweight) as your weight climbs. Carbs and fats should be consumed liberally to fulfill the rest of your increasing calorie levels.

Tags: BodyBuilding · General

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