It’s my off season from rugby, which means one thing, GAINZ.
There is a short window of 3-4 months in a rugby calendar which affords you the time to get stuck into the gym, work hard, and build on whatever area it is you want to build upon. For me, this summer, it’s muscle.
One goal, not strength, not power, not speed, just muscle, pure 100% focus.
This is important, having a sole focus, as this enables me to put a plan in place to 100% achieve that goal, the more goals I have alongside that goal the more I reduce my chances of achieving that one goal, of building as much muscle as possible.
This goal gets more specific again, I want the focus to be on my legs. For a long time I have had a bigger upper body than my legs, lots of training a certain way (mirror muscles) when I was younger, and playing sport, put in motion for me to end up out of proportion.
Why is sport an excuse?
Because when you are drilling and competing in a running dominant sport your legs are already getting a lot of load, so putting a lot more load though them in the gym is tough, your legs might already be tired, so building muscle becomes tough, and I’ve never successfully been able to do it in season, only out of season. In season the focus is on fitness, skills and performance, so it only stands to reason that it would be hard to build muscle in season. Plus, there are many weeks where your body is just screwed, so again working hard in the gym is tough.
Sporting dynamics aside, what have I changed?
The goal is to train legs as much as humanly possible in any given week, with a good amount of volume and training through my shoulders, another area I would like to build more muscle. Thus, my training is 60% leg training, 30% shoulders, and 20% everything else, which is a mixture of rowing, core work, little chest, and swimming, and a tiny bit of guns when I fancy it, but they are big enough, so no curls needed there!
Why the pursuit of muscle?
At 30 I’m happy I’m not going to get any faster (in fact, I’m 100% getting slower haha), and I’ve never found that developing strength has improved my rugby that much in my position. What develops me in my position is skill work, overall fitness and reading the game. My goal outside of rugby is to look good naked. So, this summer I’m not thinking about strength, or power, or any of that, just muscle. I want to be bigger, in certain areas, so I am doing just that, pure, no apologetic aesthetic development. Then come pre-season I’ll start doing fitness work and skill development.
What exercises am I NOT doing and why?
Now contrary to many people’s opinions, I am not doing that much compound lifting work in the gym. We hold it as the holy grail in fitness, but in this instance, with MY body, and with MY goals, I don’t. But this will 100% come down to what you classify as ‘compound’ training too. Many promote squatting, deadlifting and benching a lot (as an influence from powerlifting), I’m not doing much of that at all.
I’m not doing any heavy deadlifting, I’m not doing any back or front squats, and for many, this is the holy grail of leg training. For me, deadlifts take quite a bit to recover from when 6 reps or less, they put a good amount of pressure on my joints, they are a high effort on the ‘whole’ body, and thus I find my body just doesn’t want to do it in this phase of training. I’m doing RDLs, and other hamstring and posterior exercises, just not deadlifts. Another component of this is because the gym I am training in only has hex plates, and high rep deadlifting with hex plates is just a pain in the ass.
Either way, arguments aside, I’m not doing them, despite what people think.
Back and front squats for me aggravate my right hip a lot, and I’m fed up with spending 20 minutes warming my hip up just to squat, when I could have got stuck into something else without the laborious warm up. So, at this point in time, I don’t care, I’m focusing on lunges, leg pressing, leg extension, and other quad based exercises.
I’m training frequently at the moment, and I want my sessions to be hard, for 1 hour, then a quick swim, then done. Adding tonnes of mobility work just to squat, just no, for me, I don’t value the time to the outcome, so I’m not front or back squatting.
What exercises am I doing?
You might be asking, Ben, what does a leg session look like for you in the gym right now then?
A typical leg session might be:
Warm up consisting 5 minutes on a spin bike, explosive moves like squat jumps, isolation exercises like quad extensions for activation, a little key mobility, plus glute activation.
A1: 45 degree Leg press, 5-6 sets of 8-14 reps with 5s eccentric
Last set I’ll do a big 4-6 set drop set follow buy a ton of air squats to completely toast my quads
B1: Hamstring curl, 4x8 with 2-3s eccentric and 2s pause at the top (contraction)
B2: Dumbbell Romanian deadlift, 4x10, 3s eccentric and explosive up
C1: Quad extension 3x15
C2: Walking lunges or reverse bag drags for time / fatigue
D1: Goblet squat 3x10
Other variations and exercises I am doing are split squats, cable pull through, hip drives etc.
For me I have shaped the above workout to be effective for what I feel is my primary goal. There are many exercises we can do, but for ME, I feel this is having the best return on my hours in the gym for me to build muscle.
After all, every training program should be focused purely on the end result, and this for me, is.
The leg press seems to be my golden exercise at the moment, getting a really good eccentric and drive out, this is putting the most pressure on my quads, and this is key, this is what I really want to grow. Hence its getting a good amount of training time in my leg sessions as I feel its working.
And it is, my legs are growing, what I am doing is working.
Reps and sets
Now my reps and sets are not set, so yes, I am NOT tracking or planning for specific progressive overload. I am aiming for load, and to simply work as hard as F****** possible. it’s that simple. Also, I have training ADHD. I don’t like doing the same exercises all the time, or the same reps, I’d rather play and do what feels right or fun on that day.
That’s not to say I don’t have focus, I do, 100%, I just like variety in my training. I am training with a certain amount of randomness at the moment, and I don’t care, its working, because I am growing, for the first time in my life my VMO is starting to pop his head out, so BOOM.
So, for all those of you that want to say “why aren’t you back squatting, it’s the grand daddy exercise?”. I don’t care, I don’t feel it is for ME. I’m not avoiding it because I’m scared, or afraid of some hard work, but with my hip, my goal, my time allowance, I’m doing what I am doing because I feel it fits, and its working, and I’m ENJOYING it, I’m making GAINZ, and I look better than I have ever done.
What has changed nutritionally
With a change in training, comes a change in nutrition. So what has changed?
- I am eating around about the same, my energy expenditure hasn’t gone up as I always train, so I’m still eating 3000-3500 per day depending on overall daily activity.
- My meal pattern is similar, I eat 2000 calories ish before 7pm, then 7pm onwards I’ve got 1000-1500 calories to play with. This keeps my diet more flexible, sociable, and helps me with all the travel I can end up doing and eating out / on the road.
- I am eating a similar macro split, which is probably around 35P/35C/30F. I like a high protein intake as a fat man lives inside me and I find it helps me to keep full. But I don’t know my daily macros, I don’t track them, only my overall daily calorie intake, the rest fits preference and how I feel, and I know how to eat to perform and recover well, all while feeling AWESOME all day, so I eat to fuel me body and mind, then hit my daily calorie target.
- A good 1000 of my weekly calories is still alcohol, I love beer and have a few a week here and there. Usually one or two 1-3x per week, then 2-3 beers one day a week, so not many, but its there and a very enjoyable part of my lifestyle. I’m no saint, I enjoy my life and beer is, well, beer, it’s awesome.
- At least one of my daily meals is a big nutri bullet of greens and fruit, this is because I want to hit 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Training hard puts lots of stress on the body, and I’ll recover better with simply MORE high quality nutrition, so I get tonnes of veggies and fruit in in a nutri bullet to easily hit 10+ fruit and veg a day.
Now what’s key to note here is I am being very cautious with my calorie intake, I’m trying to eat at maintenance, and my theory is, work hard, stress the body, and it will adapt. I know it will adapt at a greater % in a surplus, and what that % is I don’t know, none of us know, but I don’t want to get fat, pure and simple.
I’ve been obese, I’m never going back. And while you won’t get obese in this situation eating a small surplus I have slightly stretchy skin from being obese, so if I put on 4-5 lbs I feel it and don’t like the way I look and feel. So, I’m eating at maintenance and training hard, but either way its working, and I get the enjoyment of maintaining my body weight.
Firstly, I’m making sure I take Daily Dose and Omega 3 to cover all my health needs as micro nutrition will be more important than ever here (vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium etc, its all in these products).
The key change for me with peri-workout nutrition is training on carbs, I don’t often, normally, do it in the gym. I always drink carbs training and playing rugby, without fail, but with the gym I’ve always just trained on flavoured electrolytes (or on BCAA’s when I didn’t know any better years ago). Now my theory is that I want 100% optimal performance, so at no point do I want my muscles not to have the available fuel they need to push hard, so I’m training on ½ scoop of Electrolytes+Carbs. So not loads of carbs, around 20g, but enough to ensure my body has what it needs, and I can train for longer at a greater output if needed. And I am 100% getting more gym performance, I don’t lag at all in the last 20 minutes of my workout, and I’m getting a good 15-20 minute swim in after my training session feeling fine. So it's been a great addition for the way I am training.
I’ve upped my caffeine dosage pre-workout, and it’s helped. I’m now taking around 240-300mg, which is 4-5 capsules of Caffeine tabs. Using tabs or drinks is key because with coffee you have no idea how much you are taking on board, it’s just guess work. Plus I find really high caffeine intakes from coffee leave me with a slight jittery feeling, nothing major, but still, whereas pure pharmaceutical grade caffeine is just pure focus and a high.
Now there is a problem with this, I’m having to train earlier in the day where I can, if I train around 2-3pm its fine, sleep isn’t affected, but if I train at 4-5pm I can’t take this much, I then drop the dose down to 180mg, then if its later again it has to go down to 120mg, otherwise I can’t sleep, and man needs his sleep, it’s the #1 priority in my life, good sleep, thus I adjust my caffeine intake to always enable good sleep. But the increased volume (I used to take 150-180g ish), has helped with intensity in the gym.
I currently use pre-workout along side the caffeine tabs mentioned above.
Another big help, as always, is recovery spray. I don’t think, hand on heart, I would be training with the intensity, volume and frequency that I am without this. I’m getting no DOMS at all, good recovery, and next day I feel completely normal, which is enabling me to train legs Monday, Wednesday and Friday (as a rough pattern, work dependent).
I’m even putting it on my shoulders after swimming because I find if I do a lot of front crawl (my swimming sessions are more sprint based rather than endurance) and I’m training shoulders the next day, they are a little achy in the shoulder session, so I rub it on my shoulders also and it helps no end.
After that, taking Performance Blend, but that’s as standard, just as a 1 Litre daily drink sipped throughout the morning.
Whey and vegan protein is something I have here and there, not at any particular time, but maybe when I’m not going to eat for a while and then I’ll have a shake after the gym with an apple, or when I make one of my frozen berry and nut butter smoothies, but otherwise I just eat real food (oh, sometimes also mix it with yogurt and put on berries, that’s lush, especially vanilla as it’s a little sweeter than the other whey proteins).
Am I enjoying it?
Yes, because I’m seeing results. I’m sleeping brilliantly, my mindset is healthy and strong, I’m in a good place, and this is a perfect platform to train hard off of. If any of the above changes, i.e. I’m away with work a lot, sleep gets worse, or other things take priority, then I drop the training load down until that changes back, and just train 3-4x per week when I feel good, not pushing my body to train when it’s tired or I’m stressed, tweaking my diet to match the reduction in energy expenditure.
I’m making gainz, feeling good, BOOM.
Summarising the key changes I’ve made to train legs 3x per week
- Hitting less compound lifts in the gym, more isolation focused work with greater volume and frequency, implementing drop sets and other overload variables here and there
- Training on a light carb solution
- Taking more caffeine pre-workout, depending on the time of day
- Using recovery spray liberally after all sessions
- Being positive, sleeping well and embracing what I want out of training, not paying attention to any gym dogma, but simply applying what I feel will work for my goals
- Consistency, I might only training 3-4x some weeks, but when I do, I train with intensity and leave nothing behind, always prioritising my leg sessions over my upper body sessions
- Be consistent with my diet, I stick to my calorie need almost daily, if I don’t its because I’m away or enjoying myself, and quickly get back to it when I’m back to normal
- I also think the swimming will be helping my recovery, although I’m doing more sprint sets, so sprint for 1-2 lengths, then do some walking or breast stroke for a few laps, I can imagine the movement and blood flow will also be helping. I’ve not looked up any research or tried to quantify that statement any more than that, but I can imagine its helping.
I hope that helped, and you picked up a few tips that you can implement.
Let the summer of GAINZ continue.