Experimenting with Mass Gain

In my last post I discussed that I was in the process of getting myself back into shape.  I decided to follow a program called Mass Made Simple, which is technically a “bulking” program.  The program was an absolute success as I gained almost 15lbs in 6 weeks to a weight of 175lbs…the heaviest I have ever been!

Here’s a pic of my new beefy self from this past weekend (now wearing a large tshirt I might add), although, I have to give it up to Martina for taking the overall weight gain challenge title!

My rock climbing partner, who is also a runner, wanted to know why I would want to purposefully put on weight.  For him, that is a fair question, if climbing rocks and running were your primary athletic pursuits, it makes sense to be as lean and light as possible.  Check out Adam Ondra, arguably the best rock climber in the world or Mo Farah the 5k/10k gold medalist from the 2012 Olympics.

I believe that form follows function and that fitness is an ongoing journey.  I chose this bulking program because it addressed my specific short term goals of improving my squatting strength, muscular endurance and I wanted to test my mental fortitude.  The aesthetic aspect of “getting bigger” was not the priority.

The Mass Made Simple program is six weeks long and included 14 workouts.  One hard workout every 3 days or basically just twice a week!  The exercises stayed the same throughout the entire program, with variations on the reps, sets and loads only.  The infamous aspects of the program are the barbell complexes and high rep back squats.

Now I want to take a second to bring this back to all of you.  No matter if you are interested in gaining muscle mass, losing excess body fat or simply improving performance, a program is about more than just the physical exercises or how hard you train.  The real gains are made by having a complimentary nutritional program and allowing your body to rest and recover between training sessions.

Everyone will have their own personal challenges here, but that is what following a program is all about.  A quality program and coach should take the time to recommend how to approach all of these aspects to ensure success and accomplishment of your goals.  Remember why you are doing this!  Its not just out of the pure joy of exercising…for most of us:)

When I looked at the program, I had the mobility and form to be able to perform the barbell movements safely and effectively.  I had no problem sticking to the program and prioritizing my rest.  I knew the nutrition would be the biggest challenge.  I was going to have to increase my daily caloric intake to almost 3300 calories for the next 6 weeks.

My primary concern was to continue enjoying my meals, focusing on quality food sources and not to feel like I was overeating or force feeding myself.  The best tools for this were to up my liquid calories through protein drinks and dairy.  I added more beans, nuts and nut butters, as they are a dense source of calories that contain both protein and carbs.  I also included more rice, root veggies and corn to gain additional calories and carbs.  Here is what a typical day looked like throughout the 6 weeks:

  • 3 eggs, large glass of grassfed raw milk, bacon, sweet potato and some fruit
  • SFH Fuel protein pre-workout, 1/4 scoop Maltodextrin intra-workout, SFH Recovery protein post-workout plus 3/4 scoop Maltodextrin
  • 4 tacos or burrito bowl first meal post workout from Tacos pro Favor or Freebirds
  • Large portion of wild caught seafood or grassfed beef/lamb/bison served with any combination of veggies, rice, beans and/or root veggies
  • My favorite snack was meat and cheese rolls with mustard, but also had a lot of Siggi’s yogurt and even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every now and then
  • As per the recommendation from the program, I would have another protein drink before bed every night

Now lets get into the fun stuff…

The program would rotate through 3 days:  Workout, rest and recharge.  The recharge days are designed to get the blood flowing, reduce the stiffness or soreness from the previous workout and get your body ready for the next workout the following day.  The rest days I prioritized prepping my food and sleeping as much as possible.  The following is an outline of the workout days:

Each day would begin with pressing.  It was designed to be bench press, but I performed advanced gymnastics pressing variations instead, along with static holds and single arm overhead presses in sets of 2-3-5 reps.  This is the “fun” part of the day.  By the end I was able to press the 70lb dumbbell for 3 reps on each arm, which I was pretty happy with.

Then came the barbell complex.  In the beginning, this was by far the most dreaded aspect of the day.  Without putting the bar down, you would perform 2-5 sets of 2-5 reps in each movement of bent over rows, power cleans, front squats, strict press, back squats and good mornings.  That means up to 30 reps without putting the bar down on some days!  This is where the mental toughness started to come into play.  Sometimes I would have to rest about 5 minutes between sets because it destroyed me so much.  Depending on the specific instructions for the day, I would perform this with 95-150lbs.

The last part of each workout day were the infamous high rep back squats.  The weight squatted was dependent upon bodyweight.  Like any program it starts out nice and easy, but by the 6th workout we had to perform 50 reps at 135lbs…and it keeps going…just two workouts later, you have to perform 50 reps at 185lbs!  With the 6 remaining workouts, you have to perform this protocol 3 more times.  The goal is to perform the set unbroken.  You can stand and rest at the top as long as you want and keep grinding out single reps.

The idea of both the complexes and the high rep squats is time under load so the body will adapt to become stronger to deal with this stimulus.  That is the crux of the program, it is incredibly effective in developing size and strength, but just thinking about having to squat a heavy weight 50 times repetitively will make you nauseous!

Here is a video of my first attempt at 185lbs…

The total time under tension was about 4:30.  I honestly had no idea if I would be able to complete it, but this was that mental component I was “looking forward” to testing.  This is something for another post all together, but developing mental toughness and tools to deal with physical challenges is something that needs to be developed as well.

So that was the program…just like that!  My focus for 6 weeks was to perform these 14 workouts, eat a lot, sleep and recover.  Now its time to take that strength, move on to set new goals and establish a new training regimen.

That’s where we will pick this up next post.  Understanding how to develop and apply short term goal setting to your health and fitness goals.  This is the primary philosophy that underlines the approach at Paradiso CrossFit.

If you are interested in checking out the full Mass Made Simple e-book, its just $10 here.  Otherwise, I highly recommend reading up on Dan John at his website, great stuff!  

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