Tis the season for plenty of layers in the gym. Ready to make the most of “bulking season”?
Does your training change with the seasons? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it should, especially when you live in a climate like the UK! Let’s get bulking… and here’s how to make the most of the gaining season.
Why Bulk Over Winter?
For several reasons, you might choose to focus on gaining mass over the winter months. It makes sense. The weather is colder, so you’re less likely to want to be outside doing cardio (whether that’s long walks or team sports). There’s more food around, which lends itself to being in a calorie excess. And the cold weather and dark evenings invite a kind of “hoodie on, head down” approach to hard and heavy training.
You don’t have to bulk over winter. It’s entirely your choice (and if you’ve got a show or a shoot early in the year, you will have to be in a diet phase now anyway). But if you’re on the fence, it’s worth knowing that winter lends itself to eating more, lifting heavy, and adding mass.
Is Bulking right for me?
Not everyone chooses to bulk over Christmas. Look at your goals over the next 3-6 months. If you want to get leaner, and if you have a show/shoot (or any goal in the calendar), then a bulk isn’t the right choice for you.
But if you are already relatively lean, if you want to add more muscle mass, or if you simply want to focus on training hard with plenty of energy then a winter bulk could be right for you.
The Benefits of A Strategic Gaining Season
Just remember that nobody should stay lean all year round (and certainly not for several years in a row) if the focus is muscle gain and physique improvement. If you want to get stronger, add mass, and improve your shape over time then can’t be in a diet phase all the time.
If the idea of bulking worries you, bear in mind that bulking does not have to mean adding masses of body fat and going completely off track. Bulking simply means gaining, and you can do that as slowly with as much control as you want. Whatever your approach, the focus should be on increasing your training volume, intensity, and/or load and adding muscle mass (with the caveat that a little body fat will naturally come along for the ride).
Smart Training for Winter Gains
You will need to add calories for a winter bulk, especially if you have been in a calorie deficit for a diet. 200-500 calories over maintenance is enough to encourage new muscle tissue, but you may feel that you need more than that. Cold weather and heavy training will put demands on your body too. It’s really your call. Do you want to control your mass gain phase, stay as lean as possible, and track your food? Or are you happy to gain a little more body fat, have plenty of extra energy, and have a break from tracking? Make sure your extra calories come from decent sources as much as possible, but don’t forget to enjoy some festive treats too! Keep your protein at reasonable levels (around 1g/1lb) and increase calories from carbohydrates (for performance) leaving some wiggle room for calories from fats (which will naturally increase with the extra food choices).
Mass gaining means intense training, so you will also need to pay attention to rest and recovery. Winter is a good time to sleep a little longer, and use gentle cardio like walking to support recovery. Get your recovery strategies on point now, and you will set up good habits as a foundation for 2018 training.
During your winter training phase, focus on form, technique, and mind/muscle connection to really squeeze the most gains out of every extra rep. Adding weight to the bar is important, but it’s pointless if your technique isn’t on point. It’s a good time to go back to basics and re-learn the key movements: squat, hip hinge, press, row, vertical pull.
If you want to add mass, you need to increase the intensity of your training. You can do this via training frequency, increased volume, more load (weight), and decreased rest times between sets. Manipulate training principles, including reps, sets, range of motion, and exercise selection. It’s time to push your body to make some real gains. You can strip back the fat to reveal them in 2018!
About the Author
Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here www.nicolajoyce.co.uk and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.