Progress

I started my PropaneFitness forum log on January 21st. At that time I had been eating at a maintenance level, following an intermittent fasting (IF) protocol. I’d stumbled on IF unintentionally, some time in November, after a few weeks of waking up late and not eating until the afternoon. Initially I was afraid of wasting away, and losing all my muscle, but after about a month I realised that wasn’t going to happen. But I was still sticking to my usual meal frequency, eating every 2.5-3 hours religiously, like I had done for the last 1.5 years. Eventually I gave that up too, and by Janurary I was eating 2 meals a day, one large lunch and a smaller dinner. I started training fasted in the morning at 8am, and I used BCAAs before, during, and after, eating nothing until lunch at 12am. I felt great doing this, and I got leaner and stronger while still eating 3000+kcals a day. I was following my standard push/pull/legs split.

From my log post on 2nd February:

I’m 91.8kg at 13% bodyfat according to calliper measures. Apparently I am carb tolerant, have good testosterone levels, but cortisol and estrogen are responsible for fat on my thighs and love handle region. Going to try and tan the broccoli and see if it helps.

And here’s what I looked like:

I bought a blood glucose meter to see what was going on when I did fasted training, and what effect amino acids were having. I also experimented with coconut oil in my coffee before and after training.

After a couple of weeks of consistent readings I noticed no effect on blood glucose after taking coconut oil. BCAAs seem to lower blood glucose slightly, although some days there was no significant difference in readings before/after training.

Eventually, I found that on some days I would be unable to eat my lunch at the usual time, or it was simply inconvenient to eat at all during the day. I would pulse BCAAs a few times, keeping a shaker bottle in my bag, and then eat a massive meal when I got home, typically around 6-8pm. Even after training legs hard in the morning, with lots of volume, I felt fine.

In May I was still following the push/pull/legs split, but with different exercises and rep schemes than at the start of the year. I experimented with Myoreps, and DC style rest-pause sets (I’d tried a couple of DC blasts before, and enjoyed it). I switched to reverse grip bench press because of shoulder issues, and used dip shrugs for upper chest and shoulder health. I learnt about dead-stop DB rows and trap-bar rows for back, and I started using front squats as my main quad movement.

On 3rd May I looked like this:

Here’s a sample of my training:

16/5/11

Push press – bar x 5, 40kg x 5, 50kg x 5, 60kg x 5, 70kg x 5 + 1 x 7 or 8 (Myoreps)
Incline DB press – 30kg x 5, 36kg x 5, 40kg x 5, 45kg x 5 + 2 + 1 (RP)
Reverse-grip bench – 60kg x 5, 70kg x 5, 80kg x 5, 90kg x 5 + 1 x 8 or 9 (Myoreps)
Chest dip – max reps (about 20), no rest then
Dip shrug – max reps (about 12)

17/5/11

Standing calf raise – 30kg x 15, 40kg x 15, 50kg x 12, 60kg x 12, 20kg x 20, 80kg slow negative and 15sec stretch All reps were slow negative, pause at stretch position. I did tibalis anterior contractions in-between sets, got that idea from Meadows (my hero).
Standing ham curl – 20kg x 15 Toes pointing up on the contraction, squeeze, 3sec negative with toes pointing down.
Leg press – 50kg x 15, 100kg x 15, 150kg x 15, 200kg x 12, 240kg x 12, 280kg x 12 + 6 + 4 (RP)
Standing ham curl – 25kg x 15, 30kg x 15, 35kg x 12
SLDL – bar x 30, 60kg x 15, 80kg x 15, 100kg x 20 Toes pointing up, slow negative, focusing on squeezing with hams. Didn’t really feel my lower back working at all.
Bodyweight lunge x blah

18/5/11

Deadlift – 60kg x 8, 100kg x 8, 140kg x 8, 160kg x 5, 170kg x 5, 180kg x 5 Hams are absolutely hammered after yesterday, didn’t try and grind anything out here.
Lat pulldown machine – 20kg a side x 8, 30kg x 8, 40kg x 8, 50kg x 6 + 2 + 1 (RP)
Pinwheel curl – 16kg x 8, 18kg x 8, 24kg x 8, 28kg x 6 + 2 + 2 (RP)
Alt. offset DB curl – 10kg x 8, 14kg x 8, 18kg x 5 + 2 + 1 (RP)
Rope pulley row – 60kg x 20 1sec squeeze, 2sec negative.
DC lat stretch – 60secs a side
DC bicep stretch – 14kg x 60secs

My diet looked like this:

Eating around maintenance basically. Right now I’m eating one big meal in the evening, starting with protein, followed by vegetables and fruit, then protein fluff, and whatever I like after that. I’m not really counting calories, I’m just getting enough protein and eating until I feel full.

For example, one day of eating looked like: 1kg chicken thigh; half pineapple, half honeydew melon, two oranges, an apple, some strawberries, blueberries, with greek yogurt; 400g chocolate brioche loaf. Yesterday I did something similar, following a 20+ hour fast; I added in more protein with the fluff, and added some powder to the yogurt.

I had a couple of weeks eating 5-6000 calories on training days, drinking a lot of whole milk and eating junk. I realised I don’t want to go back to that, I felt way too bloated and I don’t feel I need to rush to build muscle at the expense of fat gain.

In June I was still following the same kind of split, but moving more weight on everything:

4/6/2011

Flat DB bench – sets of 5 ramped from 32kg to 45kg, bumped the incline up and did another set of 45kg for 5
Hammer incline – sets of 12 ramped from 15kg/side to 55kg/side, 60kg/side for 8+4+1 (RP)
Dips – BW x 15 + 5 + … + 5, 50 total (MR)
Cable flys – 20kg x 12, 30kg x 12, 25kg x 12
EZ-bar preacher curls – +20kg x 8 for two sets, then one more set of 6
Overhead rope extensions – 20kg x 12, 30kg x 12, 40kg x 12 + mechanical drop set to failure

6/6/2011

Dead-stop trap bar rows – 65kg x 5, 105kg x 3, 135kg x 3, 155kg x 3
Chins – BW x 5, +5kg x 5, +10kg x 3, BW x 30 total
Push press – 50kg x 5, 60kg x 5, 70kg x 3, 80kg x 3, 90kg x 1, 95kg x 1, 100kg x 1
Reverse-grip bench – 60kg xc 5, 70kg x 5, 80kg x 5, 90kg x 3, 100kg x 1, 105kg x 1
Dips – BW x 5, +15kg x 5, +30kg x 3, +45kg x 3
Alt. offset DB curl – sets of 5 up to 22.5kg
Face pulls – sets of 6-8 up to 60kg, 30kg x a bunch, followed by external rotations w/ cable

7/6/2011

Front squat – sets of 3 ramped from 60kg to 120kg, 130kg x 1, 140kg x 1
Deadlift – overhand 100kg x 5, 140kg x 3, 170kg x 1, then mixed grip 180kg x 1, 200kg x 1
Hack squat – +40kg x 5, +80kg x 5, +120kg x 5
Lying leg curls – sets of 5 from 40kg up to 70kg
Standing calf raise – sets of 5 from 40kg to 110kg

On 25th June I looked like this:

In July I switched to a Layne Norton style template, with an upper body strength day, a lower body strength day, and additional hypertrophy days for shoulders and back, legs, and chest and arms. My diet approach was carb cycling with refeeds. I did some fasted walking, which was inevitable because of my schedule, but the only direct cardio I did was some barbell complexes and occasional prowler and sled work. My refeed days were really fun:

Here’s a shot from the start of July:

On July 20th I looked like this:

This was after a week or so of alternate-day fasting (ADF). I’d outlined my approach on the forum:

 I’m training three times a week with a push/pull/legs split, and eat on training days from 8am to 8pm (or as close to this as possible). On rest days I will fast all day (as close to 36hours as possible), and on Sunday I will have a shorter fast and a small feeding window with some cardio, like hill sprints or complexes. So Monday/Wednesday/Friday are eat days and Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday are fast days.

Last night I woke up to go the toilet, having consumed about 6-8L of water all day. I felt so hungry I had to eat something to sleep, so I think my fast was 26hours+ (conservative estimate). But at least my first fast was a solid 36hours, and Jonny did warn me that this was difficult, so I will be more prepared on Saturday.

I am aiming for 36hours, but no more than this because I believe that 24-36hours is the sweet spot for fat loss. I may write an article on EOD fasts now, because there’s lots of interesting research indicating that EOD fasting makes muscles more efficient at mobilising glucose and lipids and has an anti-inflammatory effect, to mention just two concrete examples.

At the 24hour mark you see the biggest increase in plasma FFAs, and insulin levels drop by 70%. I don’t see enough additional benefit beyond 36hours of fasting to warrant it, but if you feel happy doing that then go ahead.

So I’d gone back to my favourite push/pull/legs split again, but with a far more extreme diet. I wasn’t really counting calories, and I ate pretty much whatever I liked. A week later I looked like this…

…and set a deadlift PB, and equaled my front squat and bench PBs:

25/7/11

Front squats – bar x warmup, 50kg x warmup, 80kg x 8, 110kg x 5, 120kg x 3, 130kg x 1, 140kg x 1, 160kg x dumped forward (going to blame the bent bar), 150kg x 1 (=PB and went up easy), 155kg x fail

Next time I’m going to throw 160kg up, I can feel it.

Hack squat machine – sets of 5 from 15kg/side up to 60kg/side, 30kg/side x 20
Standing leg curls – 25kg x 8, 50kg x 13+5+3 (RP)
SLDLs – 100kg x 15, 140kg x 8, 180kg x 7
Standing calf raise – 65kg x 5, 120kg x 5

27/7/11

Bench – up to 120kg x 1 (=PB), 125kg x fail, 100kg x 6 (rep PB)
Incline DB bench – 32kg x 5, 40kg x 5, 28kg x 15
Lateral raises – 8kg x 15, 12kg x 10, 18kg x 10 + 5 + 3 (RP)
Face pulls (neutral bar) – 40kg x 8, 80kg x 6 + 3 + 2 (RP)
Rear delt machine – 100lbs x 20, 160lbs x 15
Dip shrugs – 40kg x 15, 80kg x 25 + 8 + 3 (RP)
Dead-stop tricep extensions – EZ-bar + 10kg x 12, +20kg x 8, +30kg x 6 + 3 + 1 (RP)
Cable flys – 20kg x 25
Smith close-grip pushup dropset

29/7/11

Deadlifts – 100kg x 3, 140kg x 3, 180kg x 1 (again double overhand for a laugh), 200kg x 1, 230kg x 1 (PB), 200kg x 1, 180kg x 3
Chins – 6+3+3
Neutral grip lat pulldowns – 40kg x 8, 60kg x 8 + 4 + 3 (RP)
Straight-arm pulldowns – 20kg x some
Rope pulley pulldowns – 40kg x 8, 60kg x 8 + 6 + 3 (RP)
Standing straight-arm rope pulldowns – 20kg x some
Alt. offset db curls – 10kg x warmup, 20kg x 9 + 3 + 1 (RP, PB)
Machine preacher curls – 30kg x some, dropset, negatives
Dante reverse cable curls – 10kg x 8, 15kg x 8

From August until September I was training with fellow editor Jonny. We experimented with high frequency, high volume training, and ADF. We often trained on fast days, sometimes twice. Neither of us really counted calories or ate clean food, we just hammered carbs every other day! Here’s a small sample of the way we were training:

6/8/2011

Back squat – set of 3 ramped up to 160kg, 150kg x 5 (cluster set, 10secs between reps)
Active rest with plate squeezes and incline flyes.

B1: High box squat – 180×6, 210×8
B2: Squat – 140kg x 3, 3
B3: Jump squat – 50kg x 8, 8
B4: Vertical jump series – until height decreased.

C1: alternate dumbell lunge 22kg x 8
C2: Dumbell squat: 32kg x 8

Bailed after one round of that superset, destroyed.

7/8/2011

Deadlift – sets of 3 ramped from 60kg to 160kg
Front squat – sets of 3 ramped from 70kg to 130kg
Military press – sets of 3 ramped from 40kg to 70kg

Row (twitch reps) – 100kg x 10, 70kg x 10, 60kg x 10
Supersetted this with sets of bench ramped in sets of 3 up to 90kg. Then 2 sets of 80kg x 6.

A1. Row (twitch reps) – 60kg x 10, 10, 10, 10
A2. DB row – ??kg x 8, 5, 5, 5
A3. Medicine ball slam – 5, 5, 5, 5

B1. Straight-arm rope pulldown – 15kg x 8, 12kg x 8, 10kg x 8, 10kg x 8
B2. Kneeling straight-arm rope pulldown – max reps
B3. Kneeling rope rows – max reps

T-bar rows – bar + 25kg, 3 sets with 12/10/9/7/5/3 second pauses.

8/8/2011

Ridiculous chest session with J. Broz.

Rope bicep pulls/donkey calf raises while we waited for the rack.

Floor press – sets of 3 ramped from 60kg to 100kg, 3 clusters sets of 95kg x 1/1/1/1/1
Active rest – rope bicep pulls/sets of 5 chest plates squeezes with 2x5kg

A1. Pin press – 110kg x 5, 3, 100kg x 5
A2. Flat bench – 80kg x 6, 5, 70kg x 6
A3. Band bench – medium bands + 70kg x 8, 6, 65kg x 6
A4. Lying medicine ball throws – 8kg x 10, 10, 10
A5. Pushups – max reps

Side-on hammer incline – 2 sets with 20kg doing bottom partials x 8, top partials x 8, full range x 8, static hold

Cable flyes – “3” on the cable machine x 12, “4” x 12 + 10sec hold at peak contraction
Bodyweight dip shrugs between sets.

And here’s how I looked after our photo shoot:

I’ve been pretty relaxed (well, lazy) with my diet from September until now, and currently I’m preparing for a bulk in January. I intend to make even better progress in 2012, and I have learnt a lot from my successes this year (and perhaps even more from my mistakes).

Summary of My Approaches

Intermittent Fasting and Carb Backloading

IF was the key to getting lean for me. It allowed me to free my mind from unhelpful beliefs about meal frequency and allowed me to be more social! Fasted morning training was like a revelation, feeling really energetic and alert, accomplishing something at the beginning of the day before even going to work. Carb backloading, essentially just extending my fast, was a minor tweak, but it was more a matter of convenience. It felt great cooking up one huge meal in the evening, avoiding the rush of preparing food and carrying it around with me during the day. Having the occasional coffee and cream was enjoyable too, and it helped me get through the day without feeling tired at all.

Extended Sets, Rest-Pause, and Myoreps

I think that varying your training stimulus is a great way of keeping things fun and allowing continued progress. If you always train in the 8-10 rep range, try training with 3-5 reps on compound lifts. Or use extended sets and Myoreps instead.

High Training Volume and Frequency

When I started training, the first bodybuilding DVD I watched was Dorian Yates’ Blood and Guts. Ever since then, I had difficulty adopting a high volume approach. I felt like if I wasn’t training with a few heavy working sets, then I wasn’t really training properly. Doing more high rep and pump type training helped me see that there’s a place for higher volume, and that it’s more important to adjust your training volume based on what you are capable of, rather than leaving the gym after one heavy set because that’s what your plan says you should do. I learnt that high frequency training can work too, provided you recover adequately.

Specialisation Phases

Something I tried on fast days was following a specialisation routine for a bodypart I wanted to improve. There were a few weeks where I trained chest 3 or 4 times, and I didn’t feel like I was overtraining. I think to some extent that was because I was eating a LOT of food on feeding days, and training for feel on fast days. I think this is an incredibly useful tool for working on weakpoints.

Super-high Carbs and ADF

I learnt that eating a load of carbs is OK, provided you work hard! ADF is a fantastic way of getting lean quickly, with loads of potential health benefits… But the real enjoyment came from being able to pack away sweets, pastries, and whatever I craved all day without having to stop and worry about macros or calories. And there’s something really powerful about combining fat loss and muscle gain in a shorter period, instead of the traditional bulk and cut cycles. I think that by introducing fat loss days, or extreme fat loss days in the case of ADF,  you can stay leaner and improve your nutrient partitioning on days focused on muscle gain. I don’t believe in eating a surplus or a deficit for prolonged periods any more. Toggling between them seems to give me better results.

 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you can take something from what I’ve learnt and apply it to your own training. 

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9 responses to “Ben: What did I learn in 2011?

  1. Thanks for this insight Ben, very intradesting.

    I’ve stopped ADF and will switch to a much cleaner diet IF-ing and back-loading carbs in 2012. Going to eat around maintenance as Christmas has been quite fat for me and don’t feel I can justify much more weight gain just now. Brb gaining a stone in a week.

  2. Really enjoyed reading your lessons Ben :) I think as a whole it’s so important to experiment and forget what you believe and just see if there is something better out there that can work for you. I have also been playing about with longer fasts, recently on holiday having a big breakfast and big dinner and lost weight and maintained muscle mass, that was with eating a lot more freely too with alcohol many nights, I just kept breakfast low carb and dinner high carb. Look forward to seeing your progress in 2012…

  3. Not a chance, I may dabble in being leaner (read not fat) though

    I agree with the stimulus adaption, for example I think you see improved recovery when you are gaining weight, but not when you reach a higher weight and remain there, so assuming you don’t continue gaining weight forever there is a limit to how long that bulking period is effective for. A short cut could feasibly go some way to reset that.

    I think to some extent the same is true with training, but I think I’m still at a stage where I could just keep going and my progress wouldn’t stall any time soon, although I do perceive an increase in efficacy when I change around the way I’m doing things, i.e. swapping from 5×3 on squats to the ali template, the first 3×10 session was really hard. then after doing the ali template a few times it got much harder to complete every time and was less effective (think about 7% gain first time, 5% second time, didn’t get to test the last) then the jump in volume from smolov base cycle, well, shit, +20kg in a month.
    thats just for squat though, I found actually laying off deadlift and going harder on assistance made that go up much faster than it has before, so I think it varies lift to lift and depends what your focusing on.

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