Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: ‘Tis the season to gain muscle!

Winter is round the corner. It is the time when most people naturally up their calories as the cold makes people hungrier. Traditionally athletes and bodybuilders have used the winter to gain strength and muscle mass. But for that you would have to let go of the current obsession with having a six pack year round.

The natural cycle

Before the advent of social media, winter was always the time when the gym goer could easily eat loads of wholesome food and focus on moving big weights in the gym. He did not have to worry about how he would look in shorts and a muscle T as everyone was covered up. And as the calories increased, the ability to move bigger weights went up and the muscle mass increased. Along with the muscle mass, there was, horror of horrors, also some fat gain, because you can not increase only muscle! But this was taken as part of the building up process. The weight gain was balanced by the increase in the strength in the gym where numbers on the big lifts like the squats, bench presses and deadlifts, went up. This would lay the foundation for the summer when the extra blubber would be dieted off.

And if you were an athlete/ sports person, the winter months usually are the off season. This is the time you worked on improving your strength and putting on some muscle mass, so that you could improve your performance when the competition season came up.

The way to do it

Clearly there is an assumption behind the “increase mass in the winter” theme – the person wanting to do this is fairly lean. As a general idea, males should be below 15% and females below 25%. Otherwise stay away from trying to increase muscle mass by bulking up – rather focus on becoming lean! The way to put on weight is the easiest in the world. Increase your food intake but there is a caveat – eat more protein – milk, whey protein shakes, paneer, mutton, chicken, pork, fish and eggs. Not ice creams, burgers and pizzas. Also increase in calories should be about 500-600 over maintenance levels. Monitor your body composition every two weeks and if the fat percentage is increasing too fast, then cut down on the food.

In the gym focus on the big exercises, squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, leg presses and bent over rows. Leave the isolation exercises and conditioning for later. Remember the road to gaining muscle and strength is through Progressive Overload. Try to up the numbers – the weight on the bar or the repetitions. All this is done while practicing good form in the gym. Increasing intensity does not mean that you dump good technique.

A good repetition range is 6-10 rep. Increase the weight once you can get easy 10 repetitions with a weight. On lower body exercises, you can increase the weight by 4-8kgs, on the upper body exercises – 2-5 kgs.

A small point about volume. Do not do large number of exercises in a workout. Similarly keep your sets to about 3-4 per exercise. Too much volume makes it hard to recover and that would lead to stalled progress. Get in and get out of the gym in about 60-75 minutes. You should feel pleasantly tired at the end of the workout. Stimulate, do not annihilate.

In a nut shell

•Winter is the time to put on muscle and increase strength.

•Eat wholesome food – milk, paneer, mutton, chicken etc.

•Eat about 500-600 calories above maintenance.

•Focus on the big exercises in the gym – squats, deadlifts, presses, bent over rows etc.

•Do moderate volume – large number of exercises and sets per exercise lead to unnecessary fatigue.

•Add weight to the bar or increase repetitions. 6-10 repetition per set is the range to aim for.

Happy gaining muscle and strength! Let me know how it goes.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, November 15, 2020

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