Bulking

Bulking: Here’s what I learnt

I’ve been bulking for four months now. And when I say bulking, I don’t mean eating a few hundred more calories. I mean eating around 800-900 more calories than I was at the beginning of December, training harder and working to put on as much mass as possible.

Surely that sounds simple? Basically eating as much as I can and not having to say no to treats? Maybe not. Bulking is a little harder than that.

Mentally, it’s allowing yourself to get visibly bigger, letting yourself have the treats you use to deny yourself.

Physically, it’s pushing yourself harder than you ever have before and training at a much higher intensity and volume than you’re used to. It’s taxing on both your mind and your body.

But there are, of course, positives. Putting on mass, seeing your progress sky-rocket, and feeling incredibly energetic throughout the day when other people are flagging.

So, what have I really learnt from bulking?

You must eat when you’re not hungry

Not force feeding, but essentially forgetting everything you learnt while intuitive eating. You eat when you need to, not when you want to, and learning to look at food this way was particularly hard. Don’t get me wrong, you do get used to it. And it’s great to be adding cheese and chocolate (within reason) to your meals when you have fat or carbs left. But seeing the clock hit a certain time and knowing you need to get another meal in is a challenge. Whoever thought eating too much would be hard?!

The value of food

I have learnt to understand the value of food and what’s in what I choose to eat. I was eating around 1,700-800 calories previously, and when I ‘cut’ last summer, I wasn’t tracking but I know I would have been eating around 1,400-500. Which, for someone as active as me, is quite worrying to think about. Bulking and tracking my macros properly has allowed me to realise what my body needs and what is too little – and too much.

A carb is a carb

I have eaten whole foods and eaten well throughout my bulk. I haven’t gone balls to the wall and gained a tonne of fat, I’ve done it by eating real food and then adding in carbs and fat that I wouldn’t eat on a cut, such as the aforementioned chocolate and cheddar cheese. But I have also learnt that high GI carbohydrates won’t kill you, that there’s not much difference between that and low GI, wholemeal alternatives. I’ve also learnt that a calorie is a calorie; if you want to put on mass, be in a caloric surplus, and if you want to lose fat, be in a caloric deficit. It sounds too simple to be true, but it’s not.

The energy is incredible

You feel so much stronger, so much happier and far more productive. My training sessions have been better, I’ve been able to set PBs on lifts, start deadlifting again, and make real progress in pull ups, despite putting on a stone of weight.

You don’t actually get fat

Bulk properly and with the right foods, and you won’t actually put on a lot of fat. I was scared to bulk because I thought I’d put on body fat really quickly. But four months in and I’ve actually not put on too much – I look a little less lean, and I can’t lie and say that I like it – but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be at all.

It teaches you to look at the bigger picture

I think we get so engrossed with having the perfect body, that we do the wrong things in our quest to obtain it. We try and diet down and we get obsessed with having a flat stomach and a big bum and nice legs and no back fat… that we don’t realise that we can’t actually do it all at once.

Bulking is methodical, it teaches you that perseverance and patience are the two most important aspects of your journey. You learn that you can’t do it all at once, but you can get it all in the end, so long as you do it in a certain way.

My first bulk has been fun. I’ve built a lot of muscle and I weigh the heaviest I ever have done (51kg). But I’m excited to cut down now and have a new challenge. I’m going to miss the cheese but I’m sure it will be worth it.

A girl walks into a weights room

A more regular occurrence than it was a few years ago, even more common than up to a year ago. Girls are gaining the confidence to step up their workouts and step into a weights room. Women are feeling empowered by lifting weights and, even more so, feeling like they can achieve the body they want by plucking up the courage to walk into a weights room and standing alongside the guys they used to be worried about and training how they want to.

But why do some girls still find it hard to find the confidence and nerve to step into the weights section of the gym?

It’s still intimidating

Whatever way you look at it, and however long you’ve been doing it for, wandering into a room full of testosterone, grunting and groups of blokes is daunting for even the most confident of women. Especially at peak times when it feels like there’s no room to breathe let alone any room to do any exercises with the weights you want.

But can I let you in on a little secret?

People at the gym are selfish. That’s right. We don’t care what you’re doing (unless you’re that awful PT on their phone whilst with a client, then we bitch). We are too self-absorbed and too into our own workouts to mind what you’re doing with yours.

What about if someone is looking your way? I often watch other people in between sets, sometimes it’s because I admire what they’re doing, or I think the exercise they’re doing is pretty cool and I might try it later. That’s pretty much it.

That guy looking at you as you walk into a weights room? Might be because he fancies you. May also be because he respects you for weight training. Probably isn’t because he’s thinking ‘what is she doing in here?’

It’s all about how you work it

I know for some, the nerves come from feeling like they don’t know what they’re doing. But we all start somewhere, and I know I’ve found being prepared more helpful that anything when it comes to owning it whilst in the gym.

Use Bodybuilding.com as your bible, their step-by-step guides to all the exercises for all the muscle groups you could ever want are brilliant. Watch Youtube workout videos and Instagram videos for inspiration as well, especially if they’re personal trainers. Write down your workouts or a rough idea of what you want to do before you go in to the gym, and that way, you’ll be less like a little lost puppy.

I totally get that it’s frightening. But girls, please realise that you belong in that weights room as much as the guy next to you. I used to be worried about what people might think, that fear of judgment and intimidation. But once you understand that it’s not a scary place, the weights room can really become something you completely own.

Now, I can walk into there at the busiest times.

I can walk up to groups of guys and ask how long they’ll be, or be confident enough to ask if I can jump in between sets with them.

What I’m not happy about is that I am often the only girl doing this, whilst the other women teeter on the edge. We need more women saying I can do this instead of watching other girls do it for them. Get brave, throw yourself into it, and you know what? It won’t be as bad as you think, and that’s a promise.

Leg day: the parts you’re missing

It probably isn’t uncommon for one to have a quick scroll on Instagram and decide that in order to get the bum and legs they so desire, all they need to do is squat and do those weird cable rope pull throughs and they’ll be set.

Of course, these exercises work. Do them and you’ll be well on your way, but ignore other parts of your lower body and you won’t get very far.

Your glutes and your quads – the lower body parts people will always focus on – are incredibly important and should be trained weekly, but your leg days also need to include a couple of muscles often forgotten: hamstrings and calves.

Hamstrings

If you take a quick look at any athlete, you’ll see their well-developed legs have hamstrings of absolute steel. That’s because this muscle group is vital for power, strength, and explosiveness, and a well-rounded athlete will need strong hamstrings to enable them to compete at the highest level.

Granted, us mere mortals don’t need hamstring strength in everyday life, but it is important for a good physique and strong legs. They are also one of the most frequently injured muscle groups (how many times have you heard ‘I’ve pulled my hamstring?’) so we shouldn’t risk injury by neglecting them.

Top three exercises

Romanian Deadlifts
RDLs can be done with either a barbell or dumbells, and I love using both to really burn them out. As the pressure will be on your hamstrings, go for a lighter weight than a normal deadlift.

When using a bar, get into a deadlift position and lift the bar up, stand with a slight bend at the knee and tilt your body forward from the hips, keeping the bar close to your body. Stop just before you reach the floor, or until your hamstrings start to burn. Pause for a second or two, and then return to your starting position.

If using dumbells, again, deadlift them up so that you don’t hurt your back by picking them up awkwardly. Stand in the same position as if you were to do it with a barbell, and roll your hips forward. The dumbells won’t touch the floor. Pause and retune back up, ensuring you keep your back tight and the pressure is on your hamstrings.

NB: For both, you can elevate your heels with small plates which will put more pressure on your hamstrings.

Good Mornings
I love to superset these with dumbell RDLs. Grab a barbell – I use about 20kg especially when super setting – stand with your legs roughly shoulder width apart and the bar on your back, as if you were about to squat. Tilt your body forward, keeping your legs straight and your back flat as you bend. Tilt until you feel it pulling your hamstrings, pause, and return to the top of the movement.

Hamstring Curls
Curls are brilliant as there are different variations and the chance to do drop sets, single leg work, and tempo work.

The lying hamstring curl is fairly straight forward, and I love doing drop sets or triple drop sets near the end of my workout. Try and keep your feet floppy during the movement to ensure the pressure is on your hamstrings. You’ll want to watch your back on this one too, as he heavier you go the more likely you are to lose posture and your back will raise upwards to help lift the weight – drop the weight if you feel this is happening.

Another leg curl variation can do done on the leg extension machine. Position the pad on the back of your ankle and raise it upwards – control it on the way back down to really feel it in your hamstrings. You can lift it all the way to the top and squeeze to get some glute work in there, too!

Calves

Calves are, without a doubt, the most neglected muscle for everyone who goes to the gym. There is no such thing as ‘calf day’; they are stubborn and we find them hard to grow, which is why we may be guilty of not paying too much attention to them.

Generally training your legs at the gym will, of course, involve the use of your calves. But how about doing exercise to target them specifically? There are three different sections in your calves, but let’s not get bogged down with too much information: the most important thing, for now, is that you start training them at all.

And the good thing about training calves is that it doesn’t tire us out. We can throw in calf exercises throughout our workout on leg days and help to grow them, without finding it too much of a chore.

Top three exercises

Smith Machine Raises
They are my favourite exercise to work calves and super easy to throw on at any point of your workout. Grab either a plate or a box and position it underneath the bar. Load the bar up with your preferred weight and stand with your heels hanging off the back of the box/plate. Unhook the bar and lower your heels, stand on your tip toes and pause, before returning to the starting position. Using a plate or box will give you more range of motion and allow you to work your calves more that standard raises with no elevation.

Seated Calf Raises
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see a nice outtake from this and how it’s not as easy to use as it looks. Or maybe just harder for people with short legs.. anyway, it is straight-forward: sit down, move the bar away and raise your calves. Pause at the top for more of a burn. There really isn’t much to calf exercises, but it’s good to vary them to keep it more ingesting.

Leg Press Calf Raises
These can be done on either a plate loaded leg press or a resistance machine, I like to do them on a resistance machine but it’s personal preference. I feel like this calf exercise feels like it’s working more than the others when I do it, I will always squeeze my calves really hard at the top of the movement and do 12-15 reps. Again, you’ll want your heels hanging off and the pressure to be in your toes to really work your calves.

Once you’ve grasped the basics at the gym, it’s always good to look at your overall goal. If you want nice legs you’ll have to put the effort in, and that means targeting glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves each week to hit all the muscles and to attain the body you want. Having a strong overall physique will also help you with your other exercises and compound lifts, too.

Knowledge

What’s wrong with body positivity?

The other day, I did something I would never have had the confidence to do a few months ago.

I posted a posed, sports-bra-and-Nike-Pros selfie on Instagram. And it felt great.

More often, we’re now seeing girls into health and fitness post images like this on the internet – some taking it one step further and happily stripping it down to their thong and posting away.

But there is a divide

There have been comments saying that this isn’t body positivity, that it isn’t right, that young girls looking at images like this on the internet may get the wrong idea about what they should or shouldn’t look like. Comments include the phrase ‘I’m all for body positivty, but…’

And on the flip side, you have the idea that you can post whatever you so wish, because loving your body is far, far better than hating it.

There are always two sides to every story

I do get the negative view. I get that young, impressionable girls who attach themselves to role models very easily may scroll on Instagram and wonder how the hell they’re ever going to get the body their #fitspo has. And I do understand that girls posting pictures in their underwear every other day with the peach emoji as a caption doesn’t offer much to the social media consumer in the way of education or inspiration.

But in a world where girls are constantly ashamed of their bodies, where women hate their stretch marks and cellulite, where people hide away and cover their body in baggy clothes because they dislike it so much… surely, body positivity is a better avenue to go down than that.

Body positivity doesn’t stop at selfies, either

The captions alongside the images posted are often uplifting, too – especially when coming from the fitness community on Instagram. Girls showing they have cellulite, opening explaining that stretch marks are normal, that they like one part of their body more than the other and that’s okay.

And what about if they don’t have a caption? What about if they just fancied posting it, or they woke up and their abs looked on point, or perhaps they just finished a booty workout and it was pumped as hell? The great thing about social media is that it is open and we are allowed to post what we like. There are no restrictions (well, there are, but if you’re posting porn on social media then you’re somewhat twisted), and if people don’t like it, they can go ahead and unfollow you. It’s as simple as that, really. When it comes down to it: we choose what we consume on social media, we aren’t forced.

Don’t forget the hard work

Behind every selfie, every caption, every emoji used, there is a story. And that’s what we have to remember. I captioned mine saying how happy I was that I had worked so hard and it had paid off – because it had. I am proud of how hard I have worked and if I want to post that on Instagram, there’s nothing stopping me. I have gone through stages in my life where I have hated my body, and so, when I feel good about myself, I am definitely going to shout about it.

I completely understand that some girls – and probably boys – get fed up of seeing belfies (a bum selfie, for those not up to date with the latest instafit lingo) on the regular. Because sure, other body parts matter; I’ve posted shoulder selfies before, and back progress pictures too. But we’re allowed to show off whatever we want.

But for me, body positivity comes down to progress

Body positivity is confidence, it is happiness, it is control. Body positivity is acceptance of your body at whatever stage in your fitness journey you are at, and it’s loving every step of that journey too.

It comes in all shapes and sizes: the tall, slim runner who loves to show off her legs, the short, stocky gym bunny who is proud of that peach, the proud woman who has lost a stone in two months. And everyone and everything in between.

Body positivity is posting half naked selfies on social media because you are proud. It is also sharing completely full clothed, unposed selfies in that outfit you felt great in. It’s the sweaty leggings and long-sleeve post workout selfie, too.

Everyone is body positive in their own way; the way they feel most comfortable. We shouldn’t shame others because their idea of being body positive involves a few less clothes than ours. We should be happy that, for once, girls are becoming more confident in their own skin, when the majority of us have, at one point, hated what was staring back at us whenever we looked in the mirror.

Body positivity comes in all shapes and sizes; what is most important is that we keep sharing. Keep posting. Keep posing. Keep loving ourselves.

Motivation

Where do you get your motivation from?

The concept of motivation and what motivates a person to complete a task is interesting, not least because of the idea of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.

Wait, what?
To keep it short: Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory states that people are influenced by two factors. One of these is motivation, which is needed to motivate higher performance. The other is hygiene, which is needed to ensure that the individual doesn’t become dissatisfied.

Herzberg’s theory related to employees and their motivation whilst at work, but this can be taken out of this context and into any situation.

Splitting the factors down
The two factors each have different characteristics: motivation factors can also be called intrinsic motivators, whilst hygiene factors are extrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within.

Person A only needs what’s inside them to complete task X, because they have all the motivation internally. They perform an action or behavior because they enjoy it.

The motivation is less tangible and more emotional; with rewards such as gaining recognition or growth potential.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation comes from external sources.

Person B needs encouragement, advice and incentives to complete task Y.

Their behavior is driven by external rewards, such as money, pride, or status.

It’s pretty clear which one is the better motivator, and which one we should try – as best we can – to implement in our lives.

Intrinsic motivation means we don’t have to rely on others. It allows us to complete tasks without needing any outside influence and, really, that’s the best way to be. You don’t have people around you 24/7, and you can’t have your friends, family, colleagues or managers bailing you out all the time either.

This type of motivation is a lot more productive; it is said that intrinsic motivators tend to create motivation when they are present, whilst extrinsic motivators often reduce motivation when they are absent.

Can you have one without the other?
We will go to the gym to make gains, get stronger, etc. and our intrinsic motivation will take us there because of the challenge and the reward we get from it. But often, it’s better to have an extrinsic motivator, such as a personal trainer or a friend alongside us, making us push through pain barriers and get more out of us.

That’s extrinsic motivation, and an outside force pushing us past where our intrinsic motivation can take us. Whilst it is important to learn to be intrinsically motivated, it is often just as good to have external motivators around you as well. There’s no such thing as too much motivation, after all.

What’s so good about intrinsic motivation, then?
Sure, if we perform better with a bit of extrinsic motivation, so we even need to be completely internally motivated? Of course we do. As noted above, when extrinsic motivators aren’t present, they reduce motivation: if our personal trainer isn’t there and we aren’t intrinsically motivated, will we get anything done?

I remember a time when I would skip the gym; when my alarm would go off and I would hear the rain hammering against my window and think ‘maybe tomorrow instead.’

 But now, I have all the motivation I need inside me to get where I want to be. To live this lifestyle and to be motivated enough to go to the gym, to eat the right foods, to get enough sleep, to rest properly. And then I can utilise extrinsic motivation, such as my personal trainer, to my advantage and to push me as far as I can go.

Once you teach yourself that you are all the motivation you need, you won’t look back.

Eggs

#GirlGains Birmingham

Explaining why I love health and fitness so much is often a challenge. To the average person, it is completely incomprehensible why I would want to go to the gym four, five times per week, why I actually quite like eating sweet potato and rice, and why, no, I don’t want to go out for a drink thank you very much. I’m fine.

That’s why, when Bethany, Birmingham’s Girl Gains ambassador, posted on Instagram that she’d be setting up a group for us and starting meet ups, I knew I had to join.

Girl Gains

But let’s rewind, what is Girl Gains?
Girl Gains started life, as many a health and fitness trend does nowadays, on Instagram. An idea born from Zanna Van Dijk, Tally Rye and Victoria Spence; who wanted to create a movement which brought girls together to celebrate strength and empowerment, and to inspire women everywhere.

The hashtag grew, and #GirlGains is pretty much now a fully fledged company, as well as a movement, with ambassadors up and down the country, and events across the UK bringing girls of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities together to meet each other and celebrate in their like-mindedness.

And that’s exactly what happened last weekend at the first ever Birmingham Girl Gains meet up, at Yorks Bakery in the city centre.

I have written previously about how I have always struggled to fit in or find a place. But also acknowledging that I’m okay with that. But on Saturday, I found a place where, for the first time in a very long time, I really felt like I belonged, and I absolutely loved it.

We all had different backgrounds and lifestyles which had brought us together. We all had different styles of training – from powerlifting, to running, to yoga – and we were all at different stages of our fitness journey. Yet, the one thing we all had in common – aside from our love of yummy breakfast foods – was that we had a shared passion and love for health, fitness, wellness and being the best possible version of ourselves.

Girl GainsEveryone shared stories, everyone was honest, everyone was themselves. And I personally sought a lot of comfort in being surrounded by strangers who, by ten minutes in, I felt had been friends with for a long time.

The like-mindedness of everyone at the table was incredible, and it was something I had been longing for. It was amazing to hear the incredible stories from girls who had been through a lot and to offer advice to those just beginning their fitness journey. It was so lovely to be surrounded by people who got it, who got me, and who understood and accepted.

It really felt like I was a part of something and I can’t wait until the next meet up and my next chance to spend time with some really lovely girls. I also can’t thank Zanna, Vic and Tally enough for starting this community and for enabling me to meet and spend time with incredible, like-minded people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

There may be negative sides to health and fitness, granted, but when it’s good, it’s really good.

Affordable

Is exercise becoming more affordable?

Whether you’re into it or not, health and fitness is everywhere, and the industry is absolutely booming. From high street stores stocking their own activewear to people making legitimate careers from being social media fitness influencers, it’s safe to say that exercise is a facet of life we’re all embracing – or at least, trying to.

And as it’s come on leaps and bounds in the past two or three years, is exercise now something for everyone?

Well, you don’t have to be rich to afford the clothes anymore
Primark’s activewear game is about as strong as it gets at the moment, so if the price of gym clothes is something putting you off, then there are no excuses here. Leggings from £3 and fitting, long-lasting sports bras and tops ranging from £7-12, and guess what? Primark even have trainers now. The best part? They’re absolutely gorgeous. High street shops have brought their A game in activewear and are excelling: we don’t need Nike or Adidas anymore, not when we have the likes of Forever 21 and H&M bringing their super cute styles to the party.

Gym memberships aren’t all that expensive, either
Depending on where you’re at in life, a gym membership isn’t too pricey for what you get out of it. Sure, £15-25 might be expensive for some, but The Gym, Pure Gym and EasyGym give you pretty great bang for your buck, whatever your fitness goal may be. You don’t need to hire an expensive personal trainer, either; free classes are always an offer at budget gyms like this, meaning getting fit isn’t too far out of reach.

And what about if that extra expense tips the scales too much?
Youtube and Instagram are just two platforms with an infinite number of home workout videos on them, meaning all you need is a pair of leggings and a sports bra and you’re away. Body weight exercises are incredibly effective, especially when you’re only just beginning your fitness journey, and so you don’t even need a gym membership to get fit. Invest in a resistance band (super cheap from the likes of eBay/Amazon) and there are even more exercises you can get your teeth into.

Talking of free resources…
The internet is a mass of knowledge, and one website trumping them all in the world of health and fitness is bodybuilding.com. It helped me no end, and I know plenty of others who have used it for tips, information, and guidance for both the gym and nutrition, too. Its how to videos of e exercise you could ever think of are a fantastic tool for both beginners and those who are accustomed to the gym, but wish to try something new.

Maybe the next time you complain about the health and fitness industry being too expensive, think about that £20 takeaway you had yesterday evening, and the £20 per month gym membership you could have bought instead…