It’s a pretty big deal when I stick to someone else’s training program for a solid month. Back in the day, it was fairly common; for example I stuck with the Standard Template based on Louis Simmons’ Westside articles for a couple of years when I first got into Powerlifting. I stuck with 5/3/1 for a similar length of time. But since then, I’ve been freewheeling along the path, picking and choosing forks in the road as I desired. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed it and certainly learned quite a bit, but with a newfound determination to be an actual Powerlifter who goes to competitions and so forth, this methodless means of training must be discarded.
I’m fairly convinced right now that powerlifting specificity is the one key component to getting better at this that I was not employing. Progressive overload with volume, frequency and intensity are foundational principles obviously, but where I have not focused sufficiently is on specificity. I was trying to do a little of everything, which is fine for general weight training and just trying to muscle up some and have some fun in the gym. Over the last month though, I have dramatically improved my technique in the three powerlifts, and while I haven’t seen my work translate yet into increased 1 RM’s, it’s very early in the process. I’m still setting fairly regular rep PRs (although this last session, only the Squat was a PR) just training the lifts themselves twice a week. I see no reason at this point to alter anything I’m doing, and that alone is really something.
The next week or two may be a bit more challenging as I sprained my neck during bench presses yesterday and it’s being a bastard right now. I considered not training GPP today, but ultimately decided I’d go in and move around and see what it felt like, and it was fine. I’m glad I did. I just did cable rowing and lat pulldowns, along with hammer curls and ab work, a few kettlebell swings for conditioning type work that shouldn’t interfere with my lifting since it’s fairly close in movement pattern, and then a little mobility work. I feel pretty good except for not being able to turn my head.
So now we turn to my ongoing diet/body comp/weight class dilemma. Being a methodical type, I broke out a spreadsheet, my food app and my weigh-in app and got some very useful data. Between May 8th and July 2nd, my body weight fluctuated between 173.7 lbs and 174 lbs. Not much of a fluctuation! So we can determine that whatever calories I’ve been consuming in that time frame are roughly my maintenance calories at this body weight. While my calories varied on a daily basis, they didn’t vary much at all on a weekly basis. There was one week in there where I did a couple of PSMF days that stand out as being outside the average, but over that time period my average daily intake was 2,279 calories.
There are two issues under consideration:
- I’d like to move up closer to the limit of the weight class I’m in.
- I want to add lean muscle through hypertrophy vs. just adding fat to get there.
Putting on 6 or 7 lbs of fat would be remarkably simple, and wouldn’t take me very long. But putting on 6 or 7 lbs of muscle would be essentially miraculous, and there’s no such thing as miracles. That’s how hard it is.
I went through some interesting data and calculators designed to predict the maximum amount of muscle one can actually build before reaching a genetic limitation. These things are very speculative but at least give us something to talk about. An interesting side note is something probably more determinative of one’s muscular potential but not one we can get at easily: Myostatin. Look it up sometime. It’s actually the thing people mean when they talk about genetics for muscle growth and strength. Myostatin is the genetic limitation on muscle growth. If you don’t produce much, you’re going to get big and strong. If you produce a lot, you aren’t.
Anyway, back to the calculators and how much muscle one should be able to carry around naturally if one does everything right; i.e. the training and the eating and the sleeping and such. There is the Fat Free Mass Index which took a look at a lot of successful bodybuilders and found that a FFMI of 25 is probably the peak of what can be achieved without performance enhancing drugs. You can calculate yours pretty easily here.
There’s also the anthropomorphic calculation, which is based on your bone structure. That’s probably pretty solid too as it uses wrist, neck, and ankle measurements, along with your height, to give you an idea of how much muscle your frame can handle. There are several other methods but ultimately, using all of these calculators and taking the average of what they’re all telling me, I should be able to add 10-12 lbs of muscle before I’m capped out. Again, speculative since I don’t know how much myostatin my body produces and I’m 53 years old. Not exactly in my prime muscle building years. I’ve also been messing around with weights for a long time, so while not all of that was the ideal productive means of training, it still has an impact on how willing my body is to build new muscle. It’s an energy intensive process and not necessary for survival. The most effective way of forcing your body to grow muscle is to expose it to stress. If it’s a stress it hasn’t experienced before, you will disrupt the status quo, also called homeostasis, and adapt to it through a recovery process. The adaptation will be neurological and muscular and hormonal and all kinds of cool stuff, and then you do it again. Stress the body again to force the cycle to repeat itself. Do this over and over again until you become the most muscular you possible.
- So I’m fairly certain I can accomplish my two goals from above: Gain weight to move closer to the top of my weight class, and have that weight come from muscle, not blubber.
Next up: how? Well, I think I’m doing the training part quite nicely right now. I’m using a very specific progressive overload protocol, with recovery time built in to allow for adaptation. I also have a very specific plan to broaden the stress, recovery and adaptation process when the need arises. So the diet is the component to tinker with next. Given enough protein and overall energy, muscle protein synthesis will increase as a result of the stress induced from training. The energy comes from the food we eat, and the energy we have stored in the forms of glycogen and fatty acids. In theory we can build muscle by providing the stimulus in the gym and getting enough protein. If we don’t supply enough overall energy, our body has plenty of it stored to do the job. We can grow muscle and actually get leaner at the same time because our bodies will use the stored energy in adipose tissue to do the muscle building.
It’s not just theoretical as there are tons of studies showing this is exactly what occurs. It’s likely not the optimal way to grow muscle, but it demonstrates that it’s not necessary (or wise) to consume a lot of extra food to fulfill the energy requirements for hypertrophy. In my case, I’m pretty lean already and while I still have lots of stored fat to pull from, there’s at least some inkling that the body becomes resistant at a certain percentage of body fat. I don’t know what the percentage is, but I have no need to try to find out. I’m going to ensure I never eat below what I’ve established as my maintenance calories, as there’s no need for me to ever eat less than that, and I’m going to increase calories just a bit on the days I train. I’ll continue monitoring my weight as always and look for modest increases in body weight. If all goes according to plan, I can be a little closer to 180 lbs by year’s end, without being too much plumper.