If you want to gain significant amounts of muscle, you need to modify your training and your diet. In gym-speak, that’s called bulking.
Bulking can often seem like a complex process, but it’s pretty simple. Nutritionally, you want to eat plenty of quality protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. This is easily summarized – steak and potatoes.
Bulk training is all about sticking to well-known mass-building exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead rows, dips, and chins. Reps are relatively low, and the volume is high – five sets of five being a very common bulking approach.
Regarding cardio, this should be kept to a minimum; do enough to be healthy but not so much you waste energy that could be better used for muscle growth. Twenty minutes, three times a week is plenty. This is not the time to try and stay super lean!
Most bulking programs follow this basic outline and it’s the sort of thing that’s ideal for the winter. That way, when summer rolls around, you can lean out and reveal your increased muscle mass just as the beach weather arrives.
This bulk and cut cycle approach is very common in bodybuilding, and yet some people still get it wrong. Common mistakes include:
Not eating enough
Gaining too much fat
Bulking for too long
Eating too much junk food
Not training hard or heavy enough
Neglecting abs training…
Because bulking usually involves gaining fat, your six-pack abs can all-too-soon disappear, and this often leads to “out of sight, out of mind.” In other words, abs training is all but forgotten about. While you might not recognise this problem during your bulk, you’ll soon spot your mistake once you start dropping fat and discover that your abs are woefully under-developed compared to the rest of your body!
Abs need love too
Your abs are just like any muscle – they respond to intense, regular training. If you stop working them during your bulk, they will shrink and get weaker. As a result, when you drop your winter fat, your midsection will not look as impressive as it could. In fact, if you want deep, defined abs, they need to be thick and strong, and that means you need to train them all through your bulk. If your abs are weak, you are going to have to get a lot leaner for them to show and, for many, that means a longer cut, and potentially losing a lot of muscle along the way.
Some people will tell you that squats and deadlifts provide your abs with all the stimulus they need to grow but, while that might be true for a few genetically blessed individuals, it’s not the case for the rest of us.
Not training your abs because they are indirectly worked when you squat is like saying you don’t need to train your biceps because they are indirectly trained when you do lat pull downs. Bodybuilding sacrilege!
Abs for function
Aesthetics aside, you need to continue working your abs during your bulk to maintain and even improve core function. Your abs contribute to spinal stability – something that is crucial when you lift heavy weights.
For example, during squats and deadlifts, your ability (or lack of it) to stabilise your spine could limit the amount of weight you lift or the number of reps you can perform. Yes, these compound exercise indirectly involve your abs but, if your abs are the weak link, you’ll never be able to work as hard as you otherwise want to.
Neglecting your abs during a bulk means your bulk may not be as effective as it should have been because your ability to perform the best bulking exercises may be diminished.
So, don’t neglect your abs!
Whether you are bulking or cutting, you need to work your abs. Focus in intensity rather than volume and don’t be afraid to work them with heavy weights and low reps. Do your abs work at the end of your main training session and perform a variety of exercises including planks, side bends, hanging leg lifts, weighted crunches, and cable twists. Train them twice a week on non-consecutive days and, definitely, do not neglect them!
Don’t ignore your abs during a bulk – it’s a recipe for functional and aesthetic disaster. Instead, work them hard so that, when it’s time to drop the fat, you will reveal a waistline to be proud of. After all, your abs are just another muscle group, the same as your calves or triceps, and you wouldn’t ignore them during a bulk, would you?