Now that the temperate has dropped and people are spending less time outside, at the beach, and tend to wear more clothing, many of us take this time to build muscle. The reason we do this is because it is much easier to achieve successful winter bulk and grow muscle when you don’t have to worry about maintaining low body fat and can increase your calories to ensure you’re are growing. Plus, the cold weather seems to make those hearty meals look very appealing!
The ideal goal for the winter bulk is to increase as much muscle mass as possible while minimising fat gain, which is a balance many of us do not achieve, and often see this time as an excuse to eat poor quality, high calorie food, making it so much harder to get back in shape for the warmer months.
So here are our 5 tips for a successful Winter bulk so that you get to summer in your best shape yet!
TRAIN RIGHT – NOT A LOT
Training for muscle growth requires you to breakdown your muscles, then allow adequate time and nutrition for the muscles to repair and grow. To achieve this there are 4 training concepts you need to adhere to:
- Compound lifts- These include exercise that use multiple joints, for example squats use your knees and hips, bench press uses shoulders and elbows. These movements us a larger amount of muscle mass, which have been shown to increase your testosterone and growth hormone levels, key hormones for muscle growth (1, 2).
- Reps and sets- For muscle growth it has been shown that keeping your reps between 6-12 are most beneficial for muscle growth, but the weight must remain above 65% of your 1RM (1 rep max) for that movement (3, 4). This means that you must choose a weight that is heavy enough that you can get at least 6 reps but will not be able to lift more that 12 reps, meaning you must lift to absolute failure. You should also do multiple sets of these lifts, as they have been shown to be superior to single set exercises when it comes to building muscle (5, 6).
- Rest time- Short rest between sets does not allow your muscle enough time to flush lactic acid and regain strength for the next set, and long rests limit your muscles metabolic stress (key factor for muscle growth), so getting the correct rest between sets can be a balancing act. It has been shown that a rest time of 60-90 seconds between lifts offers that maximum results for muscle growth and hormonal optimization (7, 8).
- Rest- Because your muscles grow outside of the gym, you need to ensure you are giving your body enough time between workouts to fully recover. So, if your muscles are still sore, don’t train them again, let them recover and grow.
SLEEP TO GROW
Sleep is crucial for protein synthesis, the key component in muscle repair and growth, and if we are not getting enough sleep we can actually restrict our body’s ability to grow muscle (9). For adults between 18-64 years old, 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night is considered adequate for all biological functions and repair (10).
It has also been shown that if we use a protein supplement before bed, such as a slow digesting Micellar Casein, we can increase our ability to increase our muscle mass (11).
SET SOME NEW PR’S
Because you will be consuming more calories during this bulking period you will also be able to lift heavier weights, so this is a perfect time to start increasing your maximum strength which will increase your body’s testosterone and growth hormone production (1, 2). So, we recommend every 4 weeks at the start of your training session, try for a new PR before your workout (warm up adequately).
The reason you don’t want to do this every week is that you want to focus on muscle growth which is 6-12 reps, plus 4 weeks of a strict muscle growth program will give your muscles enough time to adapt to the gradually increasing weight you use for each set, meaning your base line strength should be increasing each week.
KEEP IT CLEAN
This is where so many people get it wrong. They use a winter bulk as an excuse to eat as much food as they can because they want to ensure they are giving their body enough macronutrients and calories to grow, but as a result, their gut grows just as much as their guns. But by the time they end up cutting all the fat they put on, they end up losing all the muscle they gained also because they had to go on such an aggressive diet to get in shape. A better approach is to ensure you are consuming enough calories to maintain an internal environment of growth while ensuring these calories are from food sources that will promote muscle growth and not fat gain.
An easy way to achieve this is to simply avoid these 4 foods:
- Bread and pasta
- Fried foods
- Soft drinkS
If you avoid these you will be forced to eat foods that are of higher nutritional value and less likely to promote fat gain.
Your abs are muscles just like any other muscle in your body…so why wouldn’t you want to grow these muscles! Most people only start training abs once they start cutting, this makes no sense, you want your abs to grow while you are bulking so that when you drop your body fat they will stick out more once you are lean.
If you don’t build your ab muscles than you will just have a flat stomach, not massive abs like most of us want. You wouldn’t only start training your arms once you start dieting because you would just be left with thin and lean arms.
So, these 5 tips are our top picks to make your winter bulk successful, obviously, they are directed for anyone wanting to build muscle, and some people may have their own preferences and routines that work better for them. But as a standard guide, these 5 tips will work!
- Hansen, S., Kvorning, T., Kjaer, M., & Sjøgaard, G. (2001). The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: the importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 11(6), 347-354.
- Kraemer, W. J., Fry, A. C., Warren, B. J., Stone, M. H., Fleck, S. J., Kearney, J. T., … & Triplett, N. T. (1992). Acute hormonal responses in elite junior weightlifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 13(2), 103-109.
- McDonagh, M. J. N., & Davies, C. T. M. (1984). Adaptive response of mammalian skeletal muscle to exercise with high loads. European Journal of Applied
- Fry, A. C. (2004). The role of resistance exercise intensity on muscle fibre adaptations. Sports Medicine, 34(10), 663-679.
- Krieger, J. W. (2010). Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1150-1159.
- Wolfe, B. L., Lemura, L. M., & Cole, P. J. (2004). Quantitative analysis of single-vs. multiple-set programs in resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 35-47.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
- Kraemer, W. J., Marchitelli, L., Gordon, S. E., Harman, E., Dziados, J. E., Mello, R., … & Fleck, S. J. (1990). Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Journal of Applied Physiology, 69(4), 1442-1450.
- Dattilo, M., Antunes, H. K. M., Medeiros, A., Neto, M. M., Souza, H. S. D., Tufik, S., & De Mello, M. T. (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses, 77(2), 220-222.
- Max Hirshkowitz et al. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010
- Snijders, T., Res, P. T., Smeets, J. S., van Vliet, S., van Kranenburg, J., Maase, K., … & van Loon, L. J. (2015). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men–3. The Journal of nutrition, 145(6), 1178-1184.