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How to look good all year round (3 simple steps)

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We answer all questions posted to our facebook wall. This one often comes in various forms:

Darren E.

Hi, hope all is well and you’re smashing training! Ive been on a cut while injured. I’m recovered now and want to get stronger, so I’m bulking now but I’m wondering whats the best way to maintain explosive power and sprint speed on a surplus. I want to retain this but still gain muscle? Is this possible or will i slow down as my bodyfat increases. Cheers and sorry to throw this random question at you


Hey Darren. This is a good springboard to discuss the idea of bulking as a whole. From a public health perspective, it’s a very damaging myth for the fitness industry to perpetuate that we need to go through extreme bulking and cutting cycles to gain muscle .

This is likely to lay down visceral fat, ruin your blood lipid profile, and crash your metabolic rate, all while wasting time and ONLY looking good at the end point, with some lovely stretch marks.


These pictures are not reversed:
These pictures are not reversed


We’ve also been duped into seeing ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ as a binary process. This is understandable given the way our minds prefer to categorise things, and that we eat and track in 24 hour blocks. So on the surface it would make sense to say ‘I ate a deficit today’. But a deficit over 24 hours is irrelevant. If we start to average our calorie intake out over a number of days and weeks, we see it more clearly.

We’re constantly fluctuating between surplus and deficit. Between meals you’re in a deficit. Does that mean you’re cutting between meals?

Only insofar as a smoker is a non-smoker between cigarettes.

Source: Weightology
Source: Weightology

This has 2 implications:

1) If you only eat 5 grams of fat today, it doesn’t mean all hormones in your body will immediately go into shutdown for 24 hours. brb hypogonadism.

2) When you’re looking to lose fat, we want the net effect over a number of weeks to draw on your energy stores. If you want to gain muscle, you want a (slight) net influx of nutrients to support muscle gain.

So an intelligently designed muscle gain program  will include just enough calories to support your muscle gains, with spikes in calories to support training quality and recovery.

In our darker ages, Jonny and I have made the mistake of massively overestimating the amount of muscle that can be gained in a month, and tried to hurry things along with a little McBulking. Often to the point of physical pain.

I became friendlier with the KFC staff than my own mother.

Because surely if calories produce muscle gain, then more calories = more gains. Biology bro. (if you’re wondering, this didn’t end well).

Luckily, Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald have outlined the maximum potential muscle gain per year in a drug free lifter.


Alan Aragon’s potential rate of muscle gain per year, reproduced from Eric Helms London presentation 2012
Alan Aragon’s potential rate of muscle gain per year, reproduced from Eric Helms London presentation 2012

Note this eventually slows down to 2-3lb per year.

That’s at MOST, 100g per month.

Lyle’s numbers are relatively similar, and assume that the stars are aligned: no injuries, intelligent programming, good sleep, no stress, good training environment, etc.

For women, we can halve these numbers:


The fact is, you cannot force muscle gain beyond this point, you can only coax it. So the good news is that fat gain is not inevitable during a ‘bulk’. In fact, let’s not call it a ‘bulk’ at all. Bulking is rationalising your premium membership to the Colonel’s club.




1) First, make sure you’re satisfied with how lean you are.


2) Add calories slo-o-o-lwly.

You should not be seeing drastic changes on the scale over time.

This is a fine balance: don’t get too afraid of bodyfat by undereating either.

You want to be eating as many calories as you can without shifting the scale: just enough to support your training quality.

You want to eat enough so that the scale stays stable but you’re able to add pounds to the barbell

This can be tricky when you consider daily movements in calories, expenditure, social events, missed training sessions, holidays and the odd weekend blow out, We can always help you fine tune this process.

Jonny’s progress over a year. Macros were 230g protein, 500g carbs, 70g fat at a stable bodyweight. He literally had his cake and ate it.

3) Maximise strength with respect to bodyweight

To answer the question on retaining your explosiveness: the key metric to use when ‘lean-gaining’ is whether you’re gaining relative strength in all of your lifts. If you’re improving relative strength, your explosive power and speed will also improve.

We’ve discussed checkpoints before, as has Martin Berkhan.

– At fixed intervals (e.g. every 3 months) perform a 1-3 rep max for your squat, bench, deadlift and chin up – (or equivalent, if you don’t routinely do those lifts: e.g. front squat, floor press, row, snatch grip deadlift, powerclean, etc.)

Basically, just not your reverse curl.

Total up these lifts and divide by your bodyweight. Improving this number is now your goal.

Grant Bibbly, 20 years old, 70kg, just finished a diet. Grant does the Propane Protocol for muscle gain over 4 months:


Bodyweight: 70kg
Bench: 100kg
Squat: 135kg
Deadlift: 175kg
Chin up: Bodyweight + 5kg = 75kg
Total: 485kg
Relative strength: 485/70 = 6.9


Bodyweight: 72kg
Bench: 115kg
Squat: 155kg
Deadlift: 190kg
Chin up: Bodyweight + 15kg = 85kg
Total: 547kg
Relative strength: 547/72 = 7.6

Bloody hell G-Bibbly, you must be on creatine.


A) Look good all the time, not just 2 days per year.

B) Continue to make consistent strength gains

C) More time actually enjoying food, as opposed to swinging wildly between deprivation and feeling stuffed.

Having to diet every 8 weeks is insanity. 


Hungry for specifics?

Jonny explains the process from start to finish in this comprehensive guide to transitioning out of a diet and into muscle gain.

Don’t be like Fat-Nick:


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