Useful Links: One Month Update
Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
At the beginning of 2019, I switched from three full-body workouts per week to an upper/lower body split, with four sessions per week. This change required an increase in caloric intake that I was less prepared for than I anticipated.
As a result, in Month 2 I lost nearly 2 lbs. Being already quite lean and small, I estimate that shedding over a pound in such a short time could be due to a decrease in muscle mass, unfortunately. Moreover, if I’d lost a considerable amount of fat, my waist and hip measurements would have matched that change, but, alas, the difference was minimal.
Throughout Month 2, I experimented with small, gradual increases in my intake until I found I needed about 150 calories more than before to maintain my weight. In Month 3, I finally started growing again, eating around 10% above maintenance.
I’m still prioritising high protein consumption in my macronutrient breakdown, but I’m trying for 1.3 gr of protein/lbs/day instead of 1 gr/lbs/day. Keeping in mind that I do count the protein from vegetable sources (like starchy carbs) if the quantity in the portion of food I’m eating is above 5 gr, I’m striving to make sure 1 gr of protein/lbs/day comes from animal protein sources (fish, eggs, meat, and dairy).
The two main reasons for my current approach are as follows:
1. Now that I’m not in a deficit, I’m eating a much higher amount of carbs. As a result, I was getting a lot of my protein from wholegrain sources at the expense of animal protein.
2. Due to personal food preferences, I was genuinely struggling to eat enough by increasing only carbohydrates and fat. Therefore it made sense to attempt to increase protein as well.
Lastly, I’ve been having three to four meals per day on average. However, like during my fat loss phase, I still lean towards three meals. When I plan an additional snack, I find myself thinking about it all day, scheduling it, and looking forward to it; I’m also less satisfied by at least one of the three remaining meals, which needs to be smaller to make space for the snack. This is a little too much food focus for me, so I prefer to stick to three meals more often than not.
Half of Month 2 and Month 3 have been devoted to a 6-week hypertrophy-focused block, working out legs and abs on Mondays and Thursdays; then back, chest, and shoulders on Tuesdays and Fridays.
I’ve been practising one major lift per muscle group, with one accessory lift for the upper body and two for the lower body because my legs can handle more volume.
3 sets of 9-10 reps
1 heavier set of 6-7 reps
Once 10 and 7 reps are achieved with good form, increase the load during the following session.
Here are the lifts I’ve chosen to focus on for this block:
Barbell back squat
Flat barbell bench press
Smith machine overhead press
3 sets of 11-12 reps
Once 12 reps are achieved with good form, increase the load during the following session. Where this isn’t feasible (for example, if using dumbbells or machines, the increment may be too much), perform more reps or more sets.
In Week 5, I switched to 2 sets of 9-10 reps and 2 sets of 6-7 reps on the main lift. In Week 6, I changed again to 3 sets of 6-7 reps and 1 of 9-10 reps. The purpose of these two weeks has been to transition into a 4-week strength-focused block, where I will prioritise a heavy load and low reps.
In addition, varying exercise order and pairing together different movements has allowed me to address some weaknesses, especially in my upper body. In Weeks 1-3, I wanted to focus on shoulder development, so I performed the Smith machine overhead press first on upper body day, in a superset with the assisted chin-ups. As a result, I gained almost two inches of shoulder width.
From Week 4, I decided to start my upper body workout with the flat bench press, on which my performance was starting to decrease, in a superset with the T-bar row. Since then, I’ve been able to increase the weight on the bench almost session to session.
Lastly, I’ve only been doing one cardio session on Wednesdays. This usually comprises a short burst of HIIT and a kickboxing workout, totalling 50-75 minutes. Doing cardio twice per week as I did on a three-day split proved too taxing on this four-day programme.
During the four weeks of the hypertrophy block, before the two weeks of transition into strength, I gained half an inch on both chest and upper arm in addition to two inches of shoulder width. I haven’t seen a noticeable difference in thigh circumference, which I believe may be because that’s where I tend to shed fat when losing weight.
As for my training, my 10RM has improved on all the main lifts, most notably on squat, deadlift, assisted chin-ups, and T-bar row. The achievement I’m most proud of is completing a set of squats at 45 kg for 6 reps. 45 kg was my bodyweight when I set my training goals for 2019, which include squatting 2.1 times that load (94.5 kg)!
I did realise I was ego lifting on the bench press, though, resulting in bad form and reduced muscle activation, so I had to decrease the weight and start over again, practising proper form. Thanks to that, I’ve been feeling my pecs work a lot harder as of late. (If you want more details, next week’s article will be all about the consequences of ego lifting on squat, deadlift, and bench.)
In Future Episodes:
Come back next week to hear all about ego lifting!
What’s your current training goal? Let me know where you’re at!
An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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