T Nation

Minimalist Mass Mission

My goals are mostly aesthetic: I want to have 17in arms, 17in calves and 28in thighs, with 10% bodyfat or less. Currently my arms and calves are both around 16in and my thighs are 25.5in (previous highs of 16.6in and 26.5in). I weigh 215lbs and I would guess my bodyfat is around 15%. If I progress as I hope, I plan on entering a novice natural bodybuilding competition at some point in the not-too-distant future.

However, my progress has been stagnant for the past 2 years and I have considerable lower back and knee pain. Up until now my training has been based around full body days using barbell lifts in the 3-8 rep range. My bench press 1rm is 275lbs, squat is 300lbs and deadlift is 375lbs.

As my current training routine is just maintaining my physique, spending my money and exacerbating my injuries I want to see if it is possible to make mass gains working out at home using nothing but bodyweight exercises, 2x 45lbs kettlebells, 1x62lb kettlebell and an ab-roller, thus minimising cost, injury-risk and time spent travelling to and from the gym.

For the first time in my training I will use slow tempos and really try to shift my focus to the muscle working, rather than the amount of weight I am lifting, and I will train in higher rep ranges than I am accustomed to. My routine will follow this formula:

  1. Upper push: overhead/arnold press, suspended dips and push-ups, KB flyes, raises (using bands)
  2. Legs: swings, stiff-leg deadlifts, split squats/lunges, single leg glute bridge, goblet squats
  3. Upper pull: chin-ups, inverted row, gorilla row, hammer curl, band pull-aparts
  4. Core: russian twist, reverse hyper, ab rollout, side bends, band pallof press

Any questions on the logic behind any of this/progression/goals please feel free to ask.

This is a log of my experiment.

My 62lb kettlebell is yet to arrive but I thought I’d just get on with it.

Week 1 Day 1: Upper Push

Suspended Dips: 5-5-5-5-3
45lb Shoulder Press: 8-8-8-8
Suspended Push-Ups: 10-8-8
Band Lateral Raise: 15-15-12

Workout felt great, definitely pushed me. The dip and push-up technique was a problem - very shaky. Hopefully that will improve quickly.

Week 1 Day 2: Legs

Single Leg Glute Raise: 12-12-12
90lb Lunge: 10-10-10
90lb Stiff Leg Deadlift: 12-12-12
90lb Goblet Squat: 9-9-9

This needs a lot of work. Felt very tired after this.

Week 1 Day 3: Upper Pull

Neutral Grip Pull-Up: 6-6-6-6
Chin-Up: 6-6-6-6
Inverted Row: 6-6-6-6
45lb Gorilla Row: 15-15-15
45lb: Hammer Curl: 10-10-10
Band Pull-Aparts: 25-25

This workout felt really good. Took a long time though, rest periods were a bit too long.

I feel very encouraged by Bradley Joe Kelly’s recent article on Serge Nubret. It seems like he had a lot of success training with light weights, but he used much higher volume than what I have been doing. Therefore I plan to progress by gradually increasing reps and sets until I reach 6-8 sets of 12, and only then work on increasing the weight. Once I am comfortable with training with this volume 4x a week I will move up to 5x a week. This high volume will, I’m sure, take a long time to build up to.

Week 1 Day 4: Core

Ab Rollout: 10-10-10-10
Russian Twist: 10-10-10
Band Side Bends: 28-28
Reverse Hypers: 25-25

This felt good. Russian twist technique was bad with the 45lb kettlebell, I will move it to the start of the workout.

[quote]furo wrote:
However, my progress has been stagnant for the past 2 years and I have considerable lower back and knee pain. Up until now my training has been based around full body days using barbell lifts in the 3-8 rep range. My bench press 1rm is 275lbs, squat is 300lbs and deadlift is 375lbs.
As my current training routine is just maintaining my physique, spending my money and exacerbating my injuries I want to see if it is possible to make mass gains working out at home using nothing but bodyweight exercises, 2x 45lbs kettlebells, 1x62lb kettlebell and an ab-roller, thus minimising cost, injury-risk and time spent travelling to and from the gym.
[/quote]

I understand that you are trying to work around your injuries, but 28" (above the knee?)legs? I can squat you 1rm for 20 reps, and 28" legs haven’t happened yet. However, feel free to use my skepticism as fuel and come back in a couple of years with 28" quads and tell me to swivel on it.
Have you seen a physio about your back and knee pain?

[quote]caveman101 wrote:

I understand that you are trying to work around your injuries, but 28" (above the knee?)legs? I can squat you 1rm for 20 reps, and 28" legs haven’t happened yet. However, feel free to use my skepticism as fuel and come back in a couple of years with 28" quads and tell me to swivel on it.
Have you seen a physio about your back and knee pain?[/quote]

Hey caveman. I enjoy reading your log, hope all is going well.

I honestly just think I have naturally big legs. I don’t know why, they definitely aren’t strong. My legs were 26.5in 9 months ago when the only leg work I was doing was 3 sets of 3 reps squats and a little hamstring work. My knees got so sore I got really demotivated and cut out all leg work for the past 9 months and now they are 25.5in. I feel like they got up to 26.5in really quickly without training for size and so more focused training can hopefully push them up to 28in.

You might be right, it could well be too ambitious. But there can’t be any harm in shooting a little high.

I have seen a physio for both issues. They thought the knees could be due to poor glute activation and also my flat feet which cause my legs to internally rotate. I have been working on both these issues for a long time but didn’t notice any reduction in pain until I just dropped the heavier squats. They never particularly got anywhere with my back discomfort.

I hope that doing high volume goblet squats will help my technique and, along with continuing to work on glute activation, I’ll get back into squatting heavier weights later on.

“My legs were 26.5in 9 months ago when the only leg work I was doing was 3 sets of 3 reps squats and a little hamstring work.”
Damn you! lol. You’ll probably be fine.

“I hope that doing high volume goblet squats will help my technique and, along with continuing to work on glute activation,”
Goblet squats will definetly help (if you do them right), I use them to keep loose during the day. the more upright a torso position, the greater glute activation should be

Thanks for the advice :). Hopefully it should work out.

Week 2 Day 1: Upper Push

Suspended Dips: 6-6-6-6-5
45lb Shoulder Press: 9-9-9-7
Suspended Push-Ups: 10-10-8
Band Raise: 15-15-15

Some progress. Felt good.

Week 2 Day 2: Legs

90lb Lunge: 10-10-10
90lb Single Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift: 5-5-5
90lb Stiff Leg Deadlift: 15-15
90lb Goblet Squat: 10-10-10

I experimented with single leg stiff leg deadlifts today. My technique wasn’t great - I had problems balancing and have lower back pain now. They hit my hamstrings really well though so I will continue to incorporate them and phase out standard stiff leg deadlifts once I get more proficient at the single legs.

Goal update.

I just reread John Romaniello’s article called ‘How to Look Freakin’ Awesome’ and worked out what he suggests my goals for arms and thighs should be, based on my wrist and knee measurements.

It says I should aim for 17.1 in arms and 26.5 in thighs. Combined with caveman’s comments I realise I have overshot my leg goal and so I have amended that to 27in.

Week 2 Day 3: Upper Pull

Neutral Grip Pull-Up: 7-7-6-5
Chin-Up: 6-5-6-5
Inverted Row: 6-7-7-7
45lb Gorilla Row: 15-15-15
45lb: Hammer Curl: 11-11-11
Band Pull-Aparts: 25-25

This workout felt good. Added reps on neutral grip pull-ups, inverted rows and hammer curls.

Week 2 Day 4: Core

Russian Twist: 10-10-10
Ab Rollout: 10-10-10-10
Band Side Bends: 28-28
Reverse Hypers: 28-28

This workout felt good. The ab rollouts were a lot tougher when placed after the russian twists.

For progression next week I plan on maintaining reps and adding an additional set for each exercise, as I really need to start building up the volume. The exceptions will be neutral grip pull-ups and chin-ups which are already enough of a struggle.

Week 3 Day 1: Upper Push

Suspended Dips: 6-6-6-6-6-6
45lb Shoulder Press: 9-9-9-9-9
Suspended Push-Ups: 9-9-9-9
Band Lateral Raise: 15-15-15-15

This workout felt good. I think my dip technique is fine now but the push-ups still need work. The extra sets felt fine, I think I should definitely be able to add reps to the shoulder press and push-ups next week. The dips were a struggle.

Week 3 Day 2: Legs

45lb Kettlebell Swings: 12-12-12-12-12-12
90lb Lunges: 10-10-10-10-10

Today I tried only 2 exercises but much higher volume on each. I definitely prefer this style of training.

My lower back is still playing up from SLDLs a week ago. I experimented with different hamstring exercises today and settled on swings as they seem to work well, also work the lower back and glutes and be relatively safe. Also it would be nice to bring up my explosiveness and athleticism.

Week 3 Day 3: Upper Pull

My 62lb kettlebell has finally arrived.

Chin-Up: 7-7-7-5-5
Inverted Row: 8-8-8-8-7
62lb Gorilla Row: 10-10-10-10
45lb Hammer Curl: 10-10-10
Band Pull-Aparts: 25-25

This workout felt good. My right elbow clicked throughout, which I haven’t had before, but it wasn’t painful.

My quads and especially my hamstrings feel really well worked by my training session yesterday, which is encouraging.

Week 3 Day 4: Core

Ab Rollout: 10-10-10
Band Side Bends: 30-30

Ill today, made this one as brief as possible. Felt very dizzy afterwards.

Week 4 Day 1: Upper Push

Suspended Dips: 6-6-6-6-6
45lb Shoulder Press: 10-10-10
Suspended Push-Ups: 9-3
Band Lateral Raise: 15-15-15

Right elbow clicked throughout workout and suddenly became very painful on my second set of push-ups, causing me to stop. Worried about elbow tendonitis. Otherwise workout was good.

Week 4 was a shocker, I only got 1 workout in. The big man gave me a massive workload and I was on double shifts all week inc saturday.

Despite this week off my arms still measure 16.1in and my upper legs are 25.4in. So I have maintained my mass on this programme so far. I believe this shows that the basics of this type of routine are sound, I just need to either build up intensity or volume if I want to start gaining again.

I did a brief experiment of max reps on decline extra-wide grip push-ups and got 25. I thought these would mimic the extra-wide grip incline bench press advocated in the Serge Nubret article. They seemed good, but he recommends using a weight you can manage for 20 reps so they are a little easy. I think when I transition into my version of the Serge Nubret workout I’ll use them, but probably for my final chest exercise, once I am pre-fatigued.

Serge Nubret’s pump training is indeed interesting. How long does it take you to finish your workout?