T Nation

Failed Bulk: Please Help


I basically had a 4 1/2 month period (early May 2006 to late Sept 2006) of failed bulking and I’m looking for advice. I added 22 pounds, ate as clean as I could, and followed Berardi’s S2B program. I included the pictures below just so you could see how much definition I lost and fat I added.

I pushed myself hard, at times hitting muscle failure. I think the problem was that I ate too many calories and tried to gain too fast. A trainer told me to aim for 1 to 1.5 pounds per week, and that’s about what I gained. I saw many posters here encourage eating “big.”

I’m 5’5" 135 and I was eating around 3600 calories a day. Specifically, I was eating six 600 calories meals daily consisting of lean protein and good carbs and healthy fats. I was trying really hard, which is why the results are so frustrating!

I noticed I was losing some ab definition but I assumed that was just “part of bulking.” I didn’t realize how much definition I was losing (everywhere, not just the abs) and how little muscle I was gaining until I looked at the before/after pictures.

My long-term goal is still to get bigger and brawny (bigger chest, back, and shoulders, although I don’t have to be huge to be happy with myself). But right now I hate the extra fat I’m carrying around. I can’t decide whether I should spend a little time getting rid of this ugly fat and then re-do the bulking, going much slower or whether I should just start bulking slowly right now and live with the fat I added.

I already know I’m just skinny fat now. You don’t have to throw a lot of harsh names at me. I’m posting just because I’m looking for help. Thanks!


after


before


after

I have a few questions for you.
Have your lifts going up?
What have you been doing training and diet wise since Sept.?
And finally…why did you cut your head out of your photos when you have it right next to the pic in your avatar?

Two things to think about.

  1. It doesn’t make much sense to post a picture of yourself and block out your head when your avatar is a head shot of you.

  2. You’ve put on some size, but I think the idea of putting on 1 to 1.5lbs per week is overzealous. Granted, as a newb you could make some very good initial gains, but to expect to gain only muscle at that rate of gain is unrealistic.

You don’t look fat. You are just used to being very lean. If you continue to bulk, but slow down the fat gain, you will see a shift in your body composition. I say keep bulking, but shoot for a half pound per week. If you can put on 20lbs of LBM without a significant fat gain, you will notice some real improvements.

Just keep at it. Good luck.

It’s a start. You are bigger than you were.

What is your daily activity level like?

This can make a big difference in how many calories you should take in.

Just a guess, but I’d say it looks like you over shot on calories, and under shot the activity levels.

That left a very big middle.

I play basketball twice a week (about 45 min each) and life three times a week (about 50 min each). I’m pretty active, although I could see why you’d think I wasn’t based on the mid section.

[quote]superdad4 wrote:
I have a few questions for you.
Have your lifts going up?
What have you been doing training and diet wise since Sept.?
And finally…why did you cut your head out of your photos when you have it right next to the pic in your avatar?[/quote]

HAHAHAHAHA! I guess I just forgot that it was in my avatar! Oh well. My lifts went up a little, but not much. My chest is my weakest area and my bench went up from 5x5 at 85 lbs. to 5x5 at 105 lbs.

[quote]Bonn1997 wrote:
I play basketball twice a week (about 45 min each) and life three times a week (about 50 min each). I’m pretty active, although I could see why you’d think I wasn’t based on the mid section. [/quote]

I would never start a newbie out on a 3 day a week training schedule. You aren’t training frequently enough and I doubt your intensity. It isn’t a surprise that you aren’t growing into Mr. O proportions very fast.

I think most beginners need to be lifting 4-5 days a week with 5 being better. I also think you need to decide whether you want to be a basketball player, or whether you want to make the most progress.

[quote]Modi wrote:
You don’t look fat. You are just used to being very lean. If you continue to bulk, but slow down the fat gain, you will see a shift in your body composition.[/quote]

I guess that’s what I’m wondering about. Although I was never huge and brawny, I took pride in being “fit” (some definition and lean). I wanted to get bigger but I still was glad to be fit. Now, I feel like I lost my lean look. If I do a slow bulk (0.5 lbs. week), will I really notice a difference?

For example, after 2 months, that would be only 4 pounds of muscle added? In contrast, if I took about 2 months to shed the fat, I could look lean and fit (though still really small) and feel better about myself and then redo bulking aiming for about 2 pounds a month.

I don’t know if it’s bad for me, though, to keep shifting my weight up and down. (I gained 20 pounds fairly quickly and now I’m talking about shedding much of that fat quickly and then doing a slow bulk.) Thanks!

As far as diet goes, I was basically eating 600 calories six times a day. I’d have some combination of lean protein, healthy carbs, and healthy fats. The meals would be about 3 hours apart.
Proteins I was eating are:

Powder (cassein, rice, whey, egg);
Milk
Tuna
extra lean beef, ground turkey, ground chicken
cottage cheese
eggs

Health carbs were generally:
Oatmeal
whole grain bread
bannanas
apples
baked potatoes

Healthy fats were usually:
peanuts
almonds
peanut butter
olive oil
flax seed oil
lean meat
eggs

I ate salad 1 to 2 times a day

You might want to check your test levels. They might be too low.

[quote]Serd wrote:
You might want to check your test levels. They might be too low.[/quote]

I hope that isn’t the first place people go mentally when they aren’t seeing results.

[quote]Professor X wrote:
Bonn1997 wrote:
I play basketball twice a week (about 45 min each) and life three times a week (about 50 min each). I’m pretty active, although I could see why you’d think I wasn’t based on the mid section.

I would never start a newbie out on a 3 day a week training schedule. You aren’t training frequently enough and I doubt your intensity. It isn’t a surprise that you aren’t growing into Mr. O proportions very fast.

I think most beginners need to be lifting 4-5 days a week with 5 being better. I also think you need to decide whether you want to be a basketball player, or whether you want to make the most progress.[/quote]

Thanks, Prof X (and everyone else). I want to be a basketball player and I’m willing to sacrifice some progress but I’d still like to make progress. I’m fine with a lean muscular look (although I feel I looked lean and starving initially). I love basketball. It’s my favorite activity and I don’t want to give it up.

Maybe I should try CW’s high frequency training program? Can I do that and play basketball twice a week or would I be overdoing it on my body then? Regarding intensity, I’ve posted earlier that I wasn’t sure if I was pushing myself intensely enough because I wasn’t seeing great results.

But I was hitting muscle failure at times and really struggling on the last rep. So I assumed that meant my intensity was good.

Here are some stats:
I started 5’5" 115 at 6% bf
Now I’m 5’5" 135 bf unkown.
I’d be happy to be around 5’5" 150 with single digit bf (and a more visible chest and much better abs). I know you’re a huge brawny guy, Prof, and that’s really impressive. But for now I just want to have some muscle definition and look fit and fairly strong.

With those goals in mind, what would your advice be? Thanks again everyone!

[quote]Serd wrote:
You might want to check your test levels. They might be too low.[/quote]
I actually had them checked for a different reason about a year ago and they were normal. Should I get them checked again?

[quote]Bonn1997 wrote:
Serd wrote:
You might want to check your test levels. They might be too low.
I actually had them checked for a different reason about a year ago and they were normal. Should I get them checked again? [/quote]

No, I wouldn’t. I think you are on to something going with CW’s program. As far as intensity goes it is hard to judge. Do you work out with a partner? A good training partner is invaluable in the regard. Many people do better with having the right person push them or gauge how much they are giving it on that day.

Also, I play basketball twice a week only during intramural seasons (about 18 total weeks/year). During the other time, I play once/week for about 45 or 60 min. I just love basketball too much to completely give it up.

I would not characterize your situation as a failed bulk. You didn’t gain 22 pounds of LBM. You gained connective tissue, nerve tissue, circulatory tissue, adipose tissue (which you were severely lacking) and muscle.

What kind of rest are you getting?

Three days of lifting isn’t enough. Stay with compound lifts (bench, dead, squat, pull ups and overhead press) and do them all at least twice weekly. Don’t do them all in one workout.

Split them up. I mean, if you squat and dead lift, you shouldn’t have any energy to bench, nor should you. Bench another time. You need to manage your time, energy and rest.

Read the new article by Lonnie Lowery.

Keep going. You’re doing fine.

To clarify my initial question of activity level-

What do you do all day?

It doesn’t have to be a specific answer, just a general categorization of your daily activity level.

ex.- Office work= sedentary

Technical work = moderate

Heavy labor = high

This is very important to consider when you aren’t getting the results you want.
Working out for an hour or less once a day a few times a week is not going to cut it, especialy when the other 23 are spent in a relatively sedentary state.

The flipside would be that if you have a very high activity level, you could easily overtrain or just become chronicaly exhausted with the lifting regiment of someone of a different activity level.

Prof. X is also correct in his recomendation of increasing frequency. There is the very important matter of training age and actual age when it comes to determining frequency, intensity, and the weekly total volume that you are going to put out.

When you are younger, both chronologicaly and training wise, you can tolerate a much higher volume and intensity(relative to your ability).

Most of the programs that you will find on here designed to illicit a training effect in a veteran lifter will be lacking in volume and frequency for a relatively new trainee.