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Bulk Rate

How much you bulk up in the off-season depends on what your physique goals are.

Q: I’ve been following your training diary on the Muscle-Link Web site,, and I really enjoy it. I just competed in the Natural Coast to Coast contest here in Florida and placed third. I noticed that you usually bulk up 30 or 40 pounds in the off-season. Do you think that would be a good idea for me, or should I try to stay lean? How high is your bodyfat percentage when you bulk up?

A: How much you bulk up in the off-season depends on what your physique goals are. If you’re a young bodybuilder or are new to competition and you need to increase your overall muscle mass, then gaining extra weight in the off-season is an excellent method of helping you add more size. In fact, it will be almost impossible to get much bigger by staying lean or in contest condition 12 months of the year.

Many bodybuilders misunderstand what’s meant by bulking up. It’s not simply gorging yourself. After all, we are physique artists, not sumo wrestlers. Your objective for bulking up should be to increase your overall muscle mass. You’re looking to add muscle along with a little bit of fat before you diet back down for your next competition.

Of course, the ideal thing would be to gain all muscle and no bodyfat, but the body doesn’t work like that. Putting on more muscle involves eating an excess of calories and nutrients required to fuel the body through very heavy and intense training. If you’re limiting the amount and types of foods you’re eating, how can you ever hope to recuperate properly?

How much weight you gain between competitions depends on your body. If you’re an ectomorph and find it very difficult to gain weight, you won’t have to worry about limiting the number of calories you eat in the off-season. You’ll most likely be able to eat anything you want in order to add some size.

If you have a slower metabolism, however, you’ll have to be very careful about gaining weight in the off-season. You don’t want to add so much extra fat that getting ready for your next contest requires a herculean effort. Trying to lose too much fat before a competition puts your muscle mass at a great risk. That’s obviously self-defeating. Endomorphs, or those with slow metabolisms, need to put on weight very slowly and really keep an eye on their waistlines.

Many professional bodybuilders weigh more than 300 pounds in the off-season and then compete between 240 and 250 pounds. That’s a 50-to-60-pound difference, but they’re also very big guys. The goal is to get as big as you can in the off-season without looking too fat. Always remember that your overall goal is to improve your physique for your next contest, not just to see how heavy you can get before you start your diet again.

My metabolism is pretty fast, so I can lose fat without killing myself if I bulk up in the off-season. I don’t keep track of my bodyfat percentage in the off-season, and I don’t even measure it when I’m getting ready to compete. I go by the mirror and the size of my waist. I routinely take measurements of my waist in the off-season and when I start my precontest diet. For me a 33-inch waist means I’m ripped. Some bodybuilders may get down to a 27-inch waist, but they probably compete at a much lighter bodyweight and/or have a much smaller hip structure than I do.

During the off-season I’m much more relaxed about the amount of food I eat. If I see that I’m putting on too much fat compared to muscle, however, I immediately cut back on my food intake. Again, my waistline is a sure indicator. When my waist starts to creep over the 37-inch mark, I limit my visits to the buffet.

I’ve tried it both ways, and I definitely make more improvements by gaining weight between competitions than if I stay lean. If I carry a low percentage of bodyfat all the time, my muscles tend to flatten out when it’s time to start my precontest diet. Bulking up, however, allows me to train heavier. My muscles also seem to look much fuller and thicker when I diet away the excess bodyfat. I’m committed to improving my physique, and bulking up seems to work best.

Q: I’m 5’5′ and weigh 170. I am trying to lose fat and gain muscle and am currently following the T/NT workout from the ‘Train, Eat, Grow’ series in IRONMAN. How do I develop my inner and upper chest? I can never get the inner part. Sometimes I do declines and feel it all over and in the middle too. I believe my bodytype is endomorphic. Every mistake you can name I’ve made, but I am learning. The most I have ever weighed was about 185 after trying the 10-Week Size Surge program. I work out in the morning on an empty stomach. I eat five or six times a day. Should I multiply my weight by 10 and then work my way down to that calorie intake and start cardio? What do I do when I want to bulk up?

A: For the inner pecs you need to do any narrow-grip chest-pressing exercise or an exercise where you can bring your wrists together. Doing bench presses or incline-bench presses with your hands about eight or nine inches apart will work the inner pecs effectively. Since that hand spacing also brings the triceps into play more than a wider grip, I recommend doing standard bench presses and incline presses with either barbells or dumbbells before doing three to four sets of narrow-grip bench presses. If you don’t feel the movement in your inner pecs, try doing the exercise on a Smith machine to isolate that area.

The other type of exercise that affects the inner pecs is one where you can bring your hands or wrists together so the pectorals can fully contract, such as cable crossovers. You can do crossovers standing or lying on a flat or incline bench. If you try to contract your inner pecs with dumbbell flyes, the tension on the muscles will drop off before you fully contract them.

You mentioned that you feel declines in your inner pecs, but decline presses and flyes are designed to train the lower pecs. You may be using a narrow grip on the decline press and feeling the contraction in your inner pecs. A narrow grip on the bar will hit the inner pecs in the decline, flat or incline position.

As for your other questions, you seem to be a little confused about what you are trying to accomplish. You mention that you want to lose fat and gain muscle. As you have no doubt already discovered, those are conflicting goals. You need to concentrate on one goal at a time.

If you currently weigh 170 pounds and want to increase your size, I suggest that you train no more than four days per week using the basic exercises. Use poundages that allow six to 10 reps. Keep the number of exercises and sets moderate to avoid overtraining. If you got great results using the 10-Week Size Surge program, perhaps you should go back to it.

You mentioned that you train in the morning on an empty stomach. In order to train with the heaviest weights possible, you should eat something at least an hour before your training session. A Muscle Meals protein shake with some oatmeal would be a good preworkout meal. You’ll really notice the difference in your strength and energy levels after including that morning meal in your routine.

You should also avoid cardio in the off-season. Cardio exercise is effective for losing bodyfat, but if you’re trying to get bigger, you need to concentrate on that first. Burning excess calories through aerobic exercise will compromise your primary goal of adding muscle mass and bodyweight. Remember, one goal at a time.

As for your nutrition program, you should begin by figuring out exactly how many calories, carbs, protein and fats you’re consuming right now. Make sure you’re eating at least 1.25 grams of protein for each pound of bodyweight and analyze what types of carbs and fats you’re eating.

Since you’re maintaining your bodyweight of 170 pounds with your present diet, you’ll need to increase your calories in order to get bigger. Forget about multiplying your bodyweight by 10. Simply add 300 calories to your current diet and then monitor your body from there. If you’re endomorphic, you want to gain weight very slowly so you don’t gain too much bodyfat. The intense training you’re doing should balance out the additional calories.

By writing down each workout and recording your diet every day, you’ll become more aware of what’s working as you sculpt your physique.

Editor’s note: John Hansen is the ’98 Natural Mr. Olympia and a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM

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