It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.
Following a maintenance phase, in the last month I have resumed high-volume training and a calorie surplus to induce hypertrophy and gain more muscle.
I feel like I am in a better mental place to welcome this process than ever before, as I find myself better equipped, from a psychological standpoint, to deal with the inevitable fat gain and the increasing number on the scale.
Sharing my thoughts on the topic on Instagram, I received some great comments about the relatability of the fear of weight gain. So, in this article, I aim to provide some strategies that have helped me and might aid others in the mental struggle against the scale and the mirror.
1. Make an informed choice
If your goal is to increase your current musculature as close to your genetical limits as possible – in technical terms, to maximise hypertrophy – then gaining weight may be your most profitable strategy.
This process is not without its drawbacks, just like dieting for fat loss. In the case of voluntary weight gain, you may experience some or all of the following:
If your goal is not to maximise hypertrophy, but to improve your appearance and get fit, you could argue that you don’t need to “bulk” like a bodybuilder and gain an excessive amount of weight, then embark on a fat loss diet, a “cut,” to uncover the muscle under the layers of added fat.
In fact, especially if you are still quite new to resistance training, it may be possible to replace some fat mass with muscle mass when eating at maintenance calories or in a very small surplus, and thus only gain a minimal amount of weight over a long period of time.
If you have several years of experience, you may have already built a physique to be proud of, therefore all you need to do is maintain your current weight and musculature.
In both cases, you may not increase your muscle mass to the same extent as if you were training and eating for hypertrophy, but you will also experience less fatigue from exercising and less discomfort from forcing the body into a surplus.
Whichever option you choose, make sure it aligns with your goals and particularly with your current lifestyle. A muscle-building diet and a high-volume training program are a commitment, so think about whether you have the time to make the best of both.
2. Focus on performance, not looks
When I decided I was going to “bulk” for the first time, I was obsessed with “looking good.” I told myself I was ready to accept the changes in my appearance that this phase would bring about, but I was not.
What happened was that I was stuck in an awkward limbo for months. I would gain a tiny amount of weight, dial back my calories because it was happening “too fast,” and lose the weight again. Furthermore, my strength increased at a slow pace because I kept holding back on upping calories.
In summary, I was not experiencing any of the upsides of a surplus, not putting on much size, and not getting shredded, either.
When I began gaining weight for real, I was struck by the improvements in training performance. As a result, my attention shifted away from what I looked like and towards what I could do. And, lo and behold, I actually started to increase my muscle mass, too.
The take-home is, in a calorie surplus, try to worry less about bodyweight and more about gym weights.
Not only will you make faster progress; over time, you will also repair a relationship with food and body image that might have been damaged by an obsession with leanness.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the purpose of your training and nutrition is to build your body, not to shrink it. And spending too long at an unreasonably low body fat percentage is going to take time away from building muscle.
3. Understand the process
Between leaning out and gaining mass, the latter is the most productive time for a trainee, for the reasons mentioned in previous paragraphs.
Unfortunately, this is also the phase that may make you look “worse.”
As a result, you may have to face the temptation to end a muscle-building phase when you still have plenty of room to increase mass before your body fat level becomes excessive. In your eyes, your current body fat level is already excessive.
However, every time you cut a weight gain phase short, you miss out on some gains.
Whenever you feel like you should go on a fat loss diet, ask yourself: “Would I stop dieting for fat loss before I got to the body shape I wanted?”
I don’t think so.
You can reframe the process of gaining mass in the same way. Would you stop it before you had accumulated the most amount of muscle you could without putting too much of a strain on your performance and overall health?
The blunt truth is, you need to look a little worse before you can look a little better. In the end, you will lose that fat and uncover what you have worked so hard for. However, if you never accept that fat to begin with, you might work yourself into the ground and still build very little.
Enjoy the gains!
In Future Episodes:
My next article will be on the ins and outs of flexible dieting: what it is, how to do it, how to calculate your macros and calories, and more!
What is one of your strategies to approach weight gain mentally?
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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