Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Tag: Mass

Time to bulk!

*UPDATED* - September 18th

Well, the summer has been fun, but with the imminent arrival of fall, I am excited to get back into bulking. Or, as Dom puts it, I want to be a Meat Titan.

Let's face facts: Human beings are extremely vain, and although I try to promote healthy living as much as possible to my team, I too like to look and feel good.

Vanity is a wonderful by-product of healthy living. It is a fantastic circle of self-glorification. I lift heavy weights, which makes me feel like a total badass. Lifting heavy weights, in my opinion, has also changed my appearance the most...well that and eating a shit-ton of food.

On top of that, even though lifting heavy weights improves physical appearances, it is also great for overall health. The body gets stressed in ways that promote tissue growth, and it also improves body composition.

To be honest, many of you reading this probably came from a similar background as myself. You grew up being a scrawny guy, never really having too much muscle. Maybe you played some sports, and never really worried about your diet because you never really gained any weight.

Then, as you started to become a bit less active, the extra snacks and beer start to catch up to you. Next thing you know, you have put on a nice little belly with no real muscle or strength. This is known as "skinny fat." That's where I was back in 2006. I still never really gained a whole lot of weight, but I wasn't going anywhere with my muscle mass either.

Fast forward a few years, and I started to get into P90X. I thought that I had to do what all the guys in the infomercials did. Exercise and eat well, even at a caloric deficit, so that I could shed that body fat and grow huge muscles. The problem was, I didn't really have a whole lot of muscle to begin with. I continued on with programs like Insanity, Asylum, more P90X, more P90X/Insanity/Asylum hybrids, etc. etc. etc. Sure, I was gaining some strength (how could you not?) but I was just spinning my wheels. Sound familiar?

I, along with many of you reading this, got stuck in this limbo area between not really gaining any weight, yet not really losing any body fat either. I didn't want to eat too much and get "fat," yet I didn't want to eat too little and lose what muscle/strength I had. If you are in this zone and are just interested in overall health and staying fit, then go for it, but realize that you will in fact stay right in that zone unless you change something about your current situation.

You see, a lot of these guys (and girls) in the infomercials had a lot of weight to lose. There are a ton of very inspirational stories, I will never take anything away from them. They cracked down on their diets, they exercised hard, were very diligent, and boom, fantastic transformation.

The thing is, these transformation stories are all (mostly) about weight loss. These people have been "bulking" for years now! They may not have been bulking the way they intended to, but they were putting on weight (fat AND muscle). Then, by doing a program like P90X, Insanity, Asylum, etc., they were able to shed their body fat and be left with well-defined muscles, at times appearing as though they "grew" their muscles in the process.

Here's what these testimonials and transformation stories don't tell you, however. It is nearly impossible to cut weight and build muscle at the same time. Don't get me wrong, it is very possible to gain strength and get stronger in a lot of ways, not to mention improving your overall cardiovascular health, but to actually build muscle requires a caloric surplus (eat more than you burn).

Anyways, so back to my story. Once I figured out that I needed to stop worrying about putting on more weight, I started eating more and lifting heavier and heavier weights (safely), then my body started to change for the better.

You see, if you eat at a caloric surplus, you will put on weight. If you eat at a caloric surplus and sit on your ass, most of those calories that you eat will pack onto your body as fat (adipose tissue). If, on the other hand, you eat at a caloric surplus (recommended 250-500+ calories over your TDEE) AND lift heavy weights and exercise, then you will build muscle. Sure, there will be some body fat added here and there as well, especially if you really don't have a care in the world about what you're eating, but for the most part, your energy will be put to good use in building large, glorious muscles.

What to expect:

  1. If you're working out hard and eating lots of calories, your weight will go up. Chances are, your weight will jump pretty quickly at the beginning due to glycogen (muscle sugar) and water retention from the get-go. Don't panic, this weight gain will level out.
  2. You are only going to gain maybe 1/4 - 1/2 pound of actual muscle per week under absolute optimal circumstances, so don't tell all your friends at how you "put on 10lbs of muscle after your first 3 weeks..."
  3. If you are a beginner, most of your strength gains in the first several weeks is due to neural adaptations. Basically, your brain to muscle connection is improving, so you are learning how to use your muscles more effectively. This does not necessarily mean that you are gaining a ton of muscle right away (refer to #2).
  4. Muscle increases your resting metabolic rate. This is the best part of all of this. If you are a skinny guy and/or girl that wishes to gain some muscle, realize that as you are adding muscle mass, your muscles are burning calories all the time, even at rest. So, even as you're sitting there watching tv, you are burning calories. A 180lb guy burns more calories on a day to day basis than a 160lb guy. This is important to realize for 2 reasons. 1, by putting on muscle, you will be more primed to burn body fat now and down the road if and when you wish to do a "cut." 2, you need to continually re-calculate your TDEE because as you put on mass, you will need to continue to eat more and more in order to continue to put on weight. As your weight goes up, you will be burning more calories day to day.
  5. When I am eating at a caloric surplus of good, solid foods, I find that I have no interest in "cheat" meals or junk food. My body is getting enough (and then some) calories from the foods that I am eating, thus feeling full nearly all the time, and I don't even crave junkier foods.

So here's what my next bulking schedule will look like for the first 3 (possibly more) weeks, as well as the thought process behind it:

  1. 3x5 Bench Press
    Chest/Tris
     
  2. Cardio Option* + Core-mageddon
     
  3. 1x5 Deadlift
    3x5 Barbell Row
    Back/Bicep
     
  4. Cardio Option*
     
  5. 3x5 Military Press
    Shoulders
     
  6. Recovery Day
     
  7. Legs

*Cardio option will and can include almost anything. I have a huge library of cardio workouts, not to mention more standard cardio options like going for runs. I also have a 30 minute cardio routine planned for my YouTube Channel.

My basic split (for the most part) of this first phase is based on a Chest/Tris, Back/Bis, and Legs/Shoulders split. For phase 2, I will more than likely switch to a Chest, Legs/Back, Shoulders/Arms split. I will post details about that when I get there.

Diet

I know a lot of people ask me all the time for diet advice/ideas. What can I say, I have tracked my diet in the past and have had some success with it, but I have always despised counting calories and entering them into an app, or worse, using a paper system.

I lead a busy lifestyle as it is and like to put what free time I can manage into my training rather than focusing on counting every last calorie. In fact, counting calories and trying to calculate calorie burn is, in my opinion, guessing at best as it is.

Having said all of that, I am really quite confident in my knowledge of what I need to eat as well as how much I need to eat, so I will base my diet on that. Dieting should be trendy anyways, and what I mean by that is you on average you should eat more if you wish to gain weight, and eat less if you wish to lose. You are going to see fluctuations up and down on a daily basis regardless if you are trying to do one or the other so I don't weight myself every day.

If, however, I weigh myself once a week and notice that I am not gaining or not gaining as much as I want to be, then I will add some extra food in. If you are looking for ideas on what to eat, however, you can check out my meal plan from my first round of Body Beast to see how I crushed my calories. I will say that I am a big fan of eggs, dairy, healthy fats (avocados, peanut butter), peanut butter, peanut butter, and oh yeah, peanut butter.

I do have some new ideas that I wish to try out with this round, so if they pan out well then I will blog about them at a later time. Also, if you wish to see my "supplemental" work planned out, let me know by either commenting below or emailing me and I can put something together.

Final Thoughts

Last winter I had a goal of reaching 200 lbs. for the first time in my life. I ultimately fell a bit short of my goal due to a number of reasons, including several rounds of strep throat, so this year I am sure I can hit my goal.

I maintained weight throughout the summer at 188 lbs., and weight usually packs on rather quick at the start of a new bulk round due to glycogen and water retention, so I should shoot up to the mid-190's within a few weeks and then just progressing from there to reach 200!

Stay tuned for progress as I go. Getting started on Sunday September 14th.





How to: Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the greatest strength exercises of all time. Although primarily targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back, this compound exercise recruits muscle from nearly the entire body.

All of my explanations during this guide will refer to the use of a standard barbell and plates. Because the deadlift is essentially just lifting weight and putting it back down, these actions can be mimicked with dumbbells or other forms of resistance, although, the barbell should be the resistance of choice when possible.

Setup

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If you have a setup that uses olympic weight plates and an olympic barbell, then your bar at starting point should be approximately 9 inches off the ground. A few inches higher or lower than that should not be a problem, although be aware of the ramifications due to the height differences. Lifting weight higher than a 9" starting position could activate less muscle fiber due to less distance for the resistance to travel. However, lifting from a deficit, or having the resistance start closer to the ground may activate more muscle, form may be compromised due to a further distance the resistance has to travel.

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Note: Not all weight plates are the same diameter. If you are fortunate enough to have plates that are the same diameter, then you will be able to begin practicing the deadlift with a lower weight yet have the bar start at the same distance from the floor every time. If, however, you are unable to start with 135 pounds for your deadlift (45 lb. bar + 2x 45 lb. plates) then you can use other plates to stack and create a desired height for the bar's starting position.

Approach

  1. Approach the bar and stand so that your mid foot is directly beneath the bar. When you are squatted, your shins will then come in contact with the bar.
  2. Your feet should be parallel to one another, approximately hip distance apart. Your feet should be slightly more narrow than shoulder width to allow room for your hands which will grab the bar outside of your knees.
  3. As you squat to grab the bar, your hands should be shoulder-width apart so that your arms are hanging straight down, or perpendicular to the floor.
  4. When squatted, shoulder blades should be directly over the bar.
  5. A flat back should be maintained throughout, maintaining a curve in the lower back. This can be achieved by sticking your butt behind you and driving your chest up.
  6. You should be squatted with these key points in mind:
    1. Bar over mid foot
    2. Shoulders over bar
    3. Bar touching shins
    4. Flat back, maintaining natural curvature

Execution

One of the key things to note during the movement of your deadlift is to keep your back flat (naturally curved) throughout the movement. Your goal is to lift the bar by extending at your knees first, followed by the hips. This is accomplished by maintaining a constant torso angle as your legs are extended first. Once the bar passes the height of the knees, your shoulders then begin to rise as your hips are driven forward by engaging your glutes.

One common mistake, especially when people try lifting more than they can, is for the hips to rise too soon and rise quicker than the shoulder, causing the lower back to bear most, if not all of the load. This can lead to injury.

Keep the bar centred over your mid foot throughout the movement as if the bar is "scraping" your shins on the way up. One of the primary goals of the lift is to extend the hips forward by flexing (squeezing) your glutes at the top of the lift.

Your chest should be up, which should come natural with the proper alignment of your spine. As you lift the bar, your head will move as your spine does. Once the bar reaches about knee high, think about driving your hips forward.

Do not, and I mean do NOT arch your back at the apex of the lift. Your goal during the deadlift is to lift the weight up and place (or drop) it back down. There really isn't anything to be accomplished by arching your back at the top of the lift besides herniating a disc in your back. If you wish to add a shrug or other trap work, I suggest doing that separately.

If you are deadlifting at a proper lifting station, you have the option of simply dropping the weight to the floor once you have completed the lift. However, if you are lifting on any other surface, reverse the actions of the lift by breaking at the hips first by pushing your butt back.

Grip

Overhand Grip

Overhand Grip

As long as your grip can muster the strength, I recommend gripping the bar with an overhand grip. This way, both arms are exercised in the same way. However, as you begin to lift more and more weight, you will notice that your grip strength may be holding you back from maxing out your lifts.

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

What happens is that the bar will "roll" out of your hands. The solution to this is a mixed grip, where one palm is facing forward and the other is facing backwards. This allows you to keep the bar in your hands by preventing it from rolling out of your grip. What happens is that the bar may begin to roll out of one hand, but will be kept in place by subsequently balanced out by the other hand facing the opposite direction.


Dumbbell Deadlift

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A lot of people do a dumbbell deadlift by placing the dumbbells out in front of their feet or at a slight angle. This is fine and may work well, but I actually prefer placing the weights beside my feet (dumbbells parallel to each other) to better align the load over my mid foot, similar to a barbell deadlift. By placing the dumbbells out in front of your feet, you are putting extra strain on your lower back and can therefore increase the risk of injury in my opinion. 

Chances are, you are going to be squatting a bit deeper with a dumbbell deadlift as well since the handles of the weights will be closer to the floor than when using a barbell. Either make the adjustments to drop your butt closer to the floor during your squat, or use a sturdy platform or riser for each dumbbell to better mimic the height of a barbell deadlift.

Preferred

Preferred

Other than that, make sure to use (for the most part) the same setup and technique used during a barbell deadlift.

I was actually going to do a quick video on all of the cues, tips, and advice to a proper deadlift, but I came across Alan Thrall's video and felt that there was no point trying to top what he has done, so enjoy!

Q&A, Miscellaneous Facts/Tips

Body mechanics and genetics actually play a pretty big part in strength training. What I mean by that is varying body types have advantages/disadvantages based on the lift being performed. For example, individuals with longer arms generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to the bench press due to the greater distance the bar must travel.

On the other hand, someone with longer arms may outperform someone with shorter arms on the deadlift because of the way their body aligns when doing this lift. By keeping the bar centred over mid foot, and under the shoulder blades (as described above), someone with longer arms has less depth that they have to squat down in order to grab the bar, and therefore get it off the floor.

Q: Should I deadlift in bare feet?

A: That is up to you. I prefer bare feet, or at least "minimalist" shoes because I feel like I have a better feel for the floor beneath me. If your shoes are too soft then you may actually have a bit too much instability to really plant yourself comfortably. Instability training may have some benefits to other forms of exercise, but lifting as much weight off of the floor as you possibly can at once is not a good time to practice that.

Did I miss something? Do you want to ask a question? Do you have a specific "How-to" you would like to see in the future? Please fill out the form below:

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