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The Incredible Bulk

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The Incredible Bulk

As promised I'm starting a series of posts answering the questions from that recent email I sent out.


You all provided many interesting responses!


Here's the first I received to question 2, I warn you the response is a bit lengthy!


2. What do you think is the #1 question health and fitness seekers have?

"From a female perspective - I know many women are terrified of weight training as they feel they will become bulky rather than lean! "


It’s a common fear that is aired during consultations and good question because it's asked alot.

I often hear:

‘I want to be toned. I want lean muscle, lose weight and fit into my clothes better. But… I don’t want to be too muscular’

I’ll be honest I find it difficult to answer, I’m not going to lie.


Firstly, I think an athletic physique on a woman is pretty cool and attractive.


Secondly, the amount of work need by a man… let alone a woman to add ‘bulk’ is pretty insane.


Finally, I believe strength, athleticism and muscle should not be culturally frowned upon for women. What is bulk? What is Strength? Is Jessica Innis too bulky? What about Denise Lewis, Victoria Pendleton, Sharon Davies, Dina Asher Smith, what about Hollywood actresses that need to train for roles such as Jennifer Garner, michelle yeoh, Alicia Vikander or Gal Gadot?


Now I know when we think muscular our minds immediately go to bodybuilder women - that you’ll pick up a kettlebell and do a few curls and bang - out comes those guns. When I think muscular for a woman I think heptathlete, or lean strong track athlete. I think about some of the awesome female competitors on American Ninja or Ninja Warrior UK (those people blow my mind such as Kacy Catanzaro or Jessie Graff).


But the amount of work needed to get even close to serious muscle mass as a woman would overwhelm 99% of people. How many guys in any gym look like a bodybuilder? I’m sure plenty of guys want to look like Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, Tom Hardy, Chris Hemsworth… etc but seem to just stay the same even though they train 5x a week and bench press their bodyweight every day?


For most guys looking even close to a bodybuilder is a dream and the reality is so tough they’d never want to do it. Now remove the testosterone and you can see that for a woman we have an almost insurmountable journey towards the ‘hulk'.


I’m going to break down what it takes to build muscle, a training schedule that I think would build a bodybuilder physique, an athletes body and a schedule that will build a strong, lean physique for the average person plus corresponding nutrition plans.


First if you are genetically gifted as a woman and can bulk up you’d probably know about it. Perhaps you’d been professional at a sport, or been exceptional at school sports.

But let’s get into it.

Let’s start with the eternal quest: muscle tone - what is muscle tone?


Muscle tone is a nervous system response.


"The strongest lifters in the world have a secret that they use before they even lift a weight: They create tension in their muscles. ... Think of creating tension as getting your muscles “tight” before you do a big lift. It’s like towing a Trailer, If you don’t take the slack out of the tow line, it’s doesn’t transmit power efficiently. The same happens with your muscles. Tightening them before a lift leads to better transmission of power.”

Pavel Tsatsouline - Strength Coach


Tone is the brain keeping residual tension in the muscles. A state of readiness.

Muscle tone is a neurological phenomenon nonetheless reduction of body fat will give rise to the appearance of increased muscle hardness or tone.

So when we train strength as a skill - we train the brains ability to coordinate and contract the muscle you have. The more force you generate the more strength you can product. The more tension required = a greater training effect.

Now if we add more weight or leverage and increase volume we start moving away from the nervous system to building lean muscle mass.

Lean muscle is protective, it’s the key ingredient to ever lasting youth! Ha!


Not a supplement.


As we age we lose muscle, that means we lose the most metabolically active stuff in the body. As we age our weight may stay static but our muscle mass goes down…

What does that mean?


Less muscle means less force on the bones, which means less bone density, less muscle and the same weight = more fat.


Sarcopaenia (loss of muscle) is something we need to actively fight after the age of 30… younger people have more muscle. So if you want to look younger then strength train!

If Sarcopaenia is the loss of muscle, what is hypertrophy?


Hypertrophy is muscle growth:


Extracts from the following article:


"Muscle growth — sometimes known as hypertrophy — is the development of mass, density, shape, and function of muscle cells. This adaptation allows the muscle to meet exercise/function-induced stress.


• Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases muscle size by increasing the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell.
• Myofibrillar hypertrophy (sometimes called “functional hypertrophy”) increases muscle size by increasing the contractile proteins."


The article states:

"Some people in the fitness industry will argue that bodybuilders demonstrate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and that their muscles look “puffy”; while weightlifters demonstrate myofibrillar hypertrophy, and their muscles are “denser”.


Then it goes on to make another point:


"Although growth can occur in all muscle fibre types, different types of muscle fibres vary in their potential for growth. Fast twitch fibres are more likely than slow-twitch fibres to grow with intense strength training. This may be one reason why athletes such as sprinters tend to be bigger and more muscular than endurance athletes, and why heavier loads tend to stimulate more muscle growth than light loads.”


The question is how much stimulation to achieve the desired result?

So let’s say you want a toned, stronger, lighter body, with less fat and better posture.


Here’s a recipe book for this:


Train 2/3x per week at a moderate intensity
Focus on the quality of movement
Include squats, presses, deadlifts and a variety of movements which also include mobility.
Go as HEAVY as the skill of the individual allows - so focus on resistance training, but aim to lift heavier over time
Keep rest periods short
Be consistent and never less than 2x per week for optimal results within these parameters.
Walk frequently and include cardio as often as time permits - so run, cycle, swim 
Intensity based on the fitness of the individual but needs to get progressively harder over months.


Eat 3 meals a day
Meal construction - includes palm of protein, thumb of fat, cupped hand of carbs, and fist of veg
Snack when hungry
Moderate alcohol intake 
No extreme diet advice - instead focus on meal prep, consistency, food quality and making time.


Now let’s build an athletes body - say a track athlete:

Training frequency: 5-6x per week (2x a day plus mobility and stretch session alongside physio or complementary services such as massage)
Strength Training component x3 per week (60 mins sessions) - focus on big compound lifts and ad progressive load and volume based on training cycle and peaking strategy. This will be heavy squats 1.5 bodyweight plus, deadlifts (bodyweight 1.5plus), military press/bench, unconventional tools like the kettlebell, Bulgarian bag… gymnastic strength training.
Some isolation exercises and plenty of working on weaknesses
However most time should be skill work: So doing the activity they compete in e.g. 400 metre sprint.
This is assisted by plyometric training to increase explosiveness.
Then include 45mins-1.5 hours mobility and flexibility
Total daily activity 4-6 hours very very consistent over years not just months
Never push to exhaustion as need to train next day or later that day.



Meal frequency: 4-6 meals per day

Focus on meal timing and macronutrient timing (i.e. when to eat protein and carbs)

Much more focus on portion control: 1.5 palms of protein per, high quality fat, carefully chosen carbs, and quality veg

Recovery aids used - Whey protein, BCAA’s, Creatine, Beta-Alanine, full spectrum vitamins - research in to marginal gains in food

Meal prep key (potentially done for them)

Have a team assisting them in every aspect


Finally let’s make a bodybuilder:


Training 5x per week (2x 1.5 hours per day) before work and after work or as a profession if they are successful.
Training type - bodybuilding split - chest back (Monday/thursday) , shoulders abs (Tuesday/Friday), legs… Wednesday) This is a conservative plan (might train two areas a day)
High volume, low recovery between sets, heavy weights. Go to exhaustion of the muscle, maximal fatigue
Very very consistent training


Eat 5-7x per day - small meals laid out in advance - same meals each week - chicken, cottage cheese, rice and veg boxed up with you at all times.
Include finale drink before bed - casein supplement
Wake up at night - have protein shake

BCCAAS - during every workout or straight after
High water intake

Cycle food intake based on phase in lead up to competition - typically dropping carbs very low in final week or two.

What Is a Good Body Fat Percentage for a Bodybuilder?

"The average man has a body fat percentage of 18 to 24 percent, while the average woman has a percentage of between 25 and 31. For elite athletes, the numbers slip to 6 to 13 for men and 14 to 20 for women. And then there are bodybuilders who push these numbers to extreme lows. According to the American Council on Exercise, men's body fat should never fall below 2 percent and women's shouldn't fall below 10 percent. Based on that, an acceptable range for a male bodybuilder is 3 to 8 percent and a female bodybuilder should aim for around 10 percent. Going lower than these numbers, especially for long periods of time, can cause kidney and liver problems."

Article HERE: https://www.livestrong.com/…/76114-good-body-fat-percentag…/


Pharmaceutical Aids (yep let’s not forget that one!):

Without some kind of chemical help there is no way to build that much mass, hold on to it, keep low bodyfat and recover that fast.


Here's the ingredients list:

Growth hormones and Steroids - these let you recover at a pace we can’t imagine as clean individuals… they do insane things to people - as a woman… you will need to take these to look even close to an average man.
Loads of interesting stuff you’ve never heard off…
Smelling salts


Now looking at these regimes we can quite obviously see what category the average fitness enthusiast sits in.

Category one can produce the ideal body, lean, toned, strong, enduring, confident and can move with skill. You will struggle however to build an overly muscular physique on that plan as woman, actually really struggle… there just isn’t even close to the volume or intensity you need. It'd happen so slowly that you'd be able to avoid it!


Are you as consistent as category one? If not building large muscles is a distant dream.


The forces that professional athletes and bodybuilders can generate are huge… their muscles grow in response to that. Typically an athlete will be even stronger than a bodybuilder and have smaller muscles…. Their type of training develops skills first then they look to specialise and generate as much force as possible to be the fastest for example.


A bodybuilder’s main goal is the aesthetic. They are typically very strong, but their choice of exercises does not build a more athletic or skilled individual necessarily.

As a general population individual with an interest in health we need to learn from both the athlete and the bodybuilder.


I take these points as key:

Consistency - it is the single biggest predictor of results
Skill / movement quality - it produces performance and a high functioning body
Heavy weights - they build muscle - muscle is good.
Quality food that is prepared and includes adequate protein, fat and quality carbs

Bodybuilders are masters at maintaining muscle whilst dropping fat, it’s incredibly hard so there’s plenty to learn from them.


I leave you with the question of what we find attractive in society and why there is a fear of muscle in women.

Being physically strong should not be the domain of men, nor should it be seen as unattractive. An athletic physique looks great in clothes, feels great and can do things - I had a conversation with one of you guys this week and they loved the fact they could pick their kids up and run with them to catch a plane! Muscle does that!


Would you be happy to stay the same weight, replace your fat with muscle, bone density, tendon and ligament strength? 
You eat a lot, but you have to plan and prep good food. Consequences of this being you can flex your biceps, do a pull up, press up, run a 10k, squat your bodyweight, fit into most things, but find trousers a little tight around your bum and your upper back?

Most clothes fit you but sometimes you need a size up, because your proportions are slightly different. You have a low body fat percentage


Drop weight, in the process lose muscle, bone density, reduced tendon strength and maintain inflammatory levels. Your energy is ok… you are always hungry and going on diets, you can run a 10k but don’t feel great doing it BUT you fit into your dream dress size, in fact on a night out you look awesome, your friends comment and say you look well.

Your body fat percent is mid to high.


These things are never black and white. What you value will be based on what you feel is important.

You need to be happy. Happiness is good for health.

Just don't be scared of muscle! Love your body, invest in it, and your mind will also be trained.

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