It was March 2020 and my country of residence announced a seriously tough lockdown because of the virus that shall not be named.
We were prisoners in our own home; allowed out for groceries only if we brandished our quarantine pass. Everything else was off limits.
At the time of writing this (some 18 months later), we're still in lockdown.
While one of the toughest periods of my life, I've managed to garner a few quick life wins along the way. One of the most notable ones is getting my lard ass back into somewhat decent shape.
The difference between the two pictures is pretty much exactly 3 months. When I started I was around 170lbs after waking up and a trip to the bathroom. Afterwards I landed at around 163lbs.
Obviously I'm not a fitness model but I'm happy with the improvement in body composition. It's not bad for an IT nerd at his desk most of the day and no sport for almost two years.
How I Got into Shape
1. Macro Management - 2200kcals and at least 160g protein per day
Nothing ground breaking here.
In the past I've really struggled with cooking healthy meals at home. It's a lot of work and I don't particularly enjoy it. So this time I outsourced the whole lot to a meal delivery service.
This was a gamechanger for me.
As they say, if you want to build consistent positive habits then find the path of least resistance so that it's easy as possible.
Four meals are delivered to me each day. I know they're healthy and have exactly the macros I need.
When I'm hungry, I slam them in the microwave and 2 minutes later I'm eating. It's perfect.
Here's what they look like:-
Each meal has around 450kcals and about 35-40g of protein.
If I fall short of my protein requirement or I've had a hard workout then I'll supplement with a whey, strawberry, almond milk and peanut butter shake.
2. Progressive Overload and Volume Cycling
All my weights went up fairly significantly over the first 3 months of training.
- Bench - 205lbs to 231lbs
- Squat - 220 to 264lbs
- Overhead - 125lbs to 154lbs
Some of my other lifts increased in that time too (row, incline press, power clean) but I haven't tried any 1 rep maxes.
One of the reasons they increased so much is due to the progressive overload structure I put in place.
Here's a high level overview of my overload plan:-
Hypertrophy phase (4-6 weeks)
- Increase volume every week (important)
- Volume increase would usually be extra reps or sets
- 60-75% of 1RM
- Leave reps in the tank on all sets (usually around 2)
- If I manage high reps (12), I increase the weight
- The last weeks are pretty brutal in terms of volume
Strength phase (2-4 weeks)
- Lower volume, higher intensity
- Mostly in the 3 - 5 rep range
- Increasing weight each week if possible
- First week is really low volume to recover
- Working up to moderate volume over the phase
Max phase and Deload (1-2 weeks)
- Test maxes in all lifts
- Barely any volume
- After testing maxes, take a week or so off for full recovery.
As a short summary:-
The first 4-6 weeks is increasing the amount of lifting progressively until the end of the cycle where I'm fairly beaten up. The sessions in the last week of this phase are literally 90 mins long.
Then I'll move into a strength phase. Increase the weight to 75% to 90% of 1RM. First week is much lower volume and serves as a mini recovery from the last few weeks of the hypertrophy phase. Then volume progresses up to a moderate amount towards the end of the phase (still nowhere near the volume of the hypertrohpy phase, though)
In the final phase, I take a bit of a break, test my maxes and then force myself to take time off from the gym to recover.
Then I'll repeat the whole thing again, starting with the hypertrophy phase, but this time with higher volume and weight than last time (macro progression).
I've probably done a bad job of explaining, but if you want to learn more then I recommend these guys. There's a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to packing on size and strength, but JTS are the most science driven source I've found alongside Greg.
3. Keeping Track of Weights Lifted and Macros Consumed
If you know me at all (from reading my other posts, for example) you won't be surprised to know that I had spreadsheets for both my diet and training.
It sounds dull but there's really no other way to learn what your body responds to and to make minor adjustments over time.
In order to continue to make progression, you have to slowly modify both training and diet to force adaptation and growth. Without writing things down, you have to guess.
4. Recovery Management
I'm only a few years shy of 40. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm not the raging testosterone degenerate bull that I was in my early 20's. So I have to taper my enthusiasm at times.
Practically this means:-
- Taking a deload week every 4-6 weeks
- Listening to my body and cutting volume back if I'm wrecked
- Not going to failure very often
- If I do go to failure, I only do it once or twice every 12 week cycle
- Instead of always adding weight... add volume and sets first
As a young guy I'd always go to failure, always add weight and practically destroy myself every workout. That was clearly less than optimal even at that young age. Now I just get injured and completely burnt out. These burn outs can take a long time to recover from, so I've found that it's really important to just take it easy sometimes.
5. Smaller Calorie Adjustments over Time
I still remember my first bulk. I was 21 years old at university and decided I wanted to turn into a mass monster. I went from eating let's say 2000kcals to something like 3500kcals pratically overnight. I ate everything I could find thinking that, as a naturally skinny guy, I'd never get fat.
Well, that was a mistake. I ended up massive.
And not a good massive either.
I've tried similar approaches many times in my life and it's always ended up the same way - I gained muscle but also got too fat to ever look good.
This time, I took a different approach. I kept a real close eye on my calorie and protein count.
During my hypertrophy phase when I'm doing more volume, I'd add 100 to 200kcals per day - that's it! This has allowed me to "lean gain", something I've never really managed before.
The leasson to be learned is that calorie progression should be slow and steady. In my experience, even increasing by 500cals overnight will lead to unnecessary fat gain.
There you have it...
In summary, here's how I made the mini transformation:-
- Calorie control with high levels of protein
- Progressive overload
- Weight and food tracking
- Recovery management
- Smaller calorie adjustments over time
Good luck to you if you're going for a similar transformation!