Ray’s Bulking Diary – Programme Review

dumbbell rack

I’ve had a great twelve weeks working through a Sean Lerwill bespoke bulking program. It’s been tough, but also a lot of fun and a good learning experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blogs, and gained some useful insight from my reporting and Sean’s comments (I know they’ve certainly helped me). Here’s one final entry for the program, taking a look at the bigger picture. And of course, breaking down the final numbers.

The Good Stuff!

I tackled a few new training protocols over the twelve weeks. Full body sessions, German Volume Training and Push-Pull-Legs. These were all methods that I hadn’t tried before, so it was great to expand my knowledge and experience in this way. Beforehand I’d only done splits (Chest/Triceps, Back/Biceps etc), which are perfectly fine, but now I’m equipped to really keep my body guessing.

Glad you enjoyed it, Ray. You raise a great point here, people often get too hooked on one protocol; often full body splits. These are great, but as you’ve noted, you need to keep the body guessing. Just because we enjoy a certain style of training, doesn’t mean it’s actually the best for us. Even if it is working at that time, the body will adapt and need something new to re-adapt to.

During the program I also faced a collection of new exercises such as Renegade Rows, Pendlay Rows, dips, Bulgarian split squats and decline bench presses. As above, it’s just great to have more experience. I’m always reading about the need to change it up and not get stuck doing the same routine, so I’m genuinely thrilled to have increased my repertoire.

Exactly as you’ve put. Stick to one exercise/routine = sticking to the same you. As you found, GVT squats are a killer, but you will plateau. Leave them for 6-8weeks doing split squats (which will give you horrendous DOMS after the first time, despite being able to squat heavy for 10×10) then return to squats and they will yet again be hell and allow you to push past a previous best.

Through both of these things, particularly the GVTs, I think one of the best outcomes of this endeavour has been an increase in my confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got a long – long – way to go. But I feel I’ve accomplished something here. Something tough, something intense. I know more about what to do, what I can do, and that I have accomplished some goals already. A favourite moment would be completing my 10×10 dumbbell bench press set in the final week of GVTs. I’d built up to that weight, and then failed with it a few times. But I knew I could do it, and eventually I did. The system works. To that end, it seems like I’m setting PBs every time I step into the gym right now; there’s no question that this program has made me stronger. In the couple of weeks since I finished the program I’ve smashed new personal bests on the bench press, squats and deadlifts. I’m reaping the rewards!

GVT itself is an amazing programme, and was used to gain size and strength in the off-season for pro athletes. As you say, it works. However, for the lay person, it’s not just about using the protocol to gain size and strength. It’s the mental as well as physical strength it provides. The mind has to become stronger with GVT. It’s not nice starting on set 1 of 10 of squats. It hurts, and you know it will. That takes any new gym user to an intermediate gym user over a matter of weeks. Either that or they quit. Furthermore, the repetitive nature of the programme means the technique is drilled in, which also adds to confidence. Couple with the fact that if you know you can do a set weight for 10×10, then you’ll probably think you can do X times that for 3 sets of 5; hence it helps with confidence for PBs (as you’ve rightly said, Ray).

Blogging about my progress has also been new. I wondered whether I might struggle to write so regularly, but I quickly settled into a groove with it, spurred on by Sean’s feedback – which I’ve found very helpful. Going public with my progress like this has given me an increased sense of focus and accountability; every little helps.

As we’ve discussed in relation to another project, accountability is so important. You have to have “buy in” if you aren’t a self motivating person. When I was training late teens/early twenties, I was joining the Marines. My buy in was NEEDING to be fitter and stronger to avoid failing the course I was preparing for. For most, their motivation is self: to be bigger, to be less fat. The problem is, that dwindles when it gets tough or friends/family put pressure on to skip the gym and hit the pub. “Buying in” stops that. My advice to anyone is to keep a diary and to set specific goals on a timeline. Tell people about them and then stick to them. If the only thing that motivates you is financially based, give someone a cheque for £500 and tell them if you drop out for any other reason that injury, they can cash it. Funny old thing, you won’t drop out!

From a food perspective, my consistency went into overdrive once I started preparing meals in bulk. It services both my desire for consistency, and appeases my laziness when it comes to cooking. It’s a win-win. I wasn’t doing it before, but now it’s a staple of how I do things, and a massive positive outcome of the program.

In every book I’ve written, I’ve said about “knowing thyself”. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can play to them. You know you are lazy, so this works for you. It won’t work for someone else; they have to ask someone like myself for things others do or ways they can succeed and then work with the one that works best for them. I’m very pleased you found this over the course of this programme.

Room For Improvement

My diet was (and is) generally pretty consistent. Certainly, through the week days I hit my macros very well. I got my supplements in, chucked back the morning vitamin tablets etc, and all was well. But I still need to improve my eating on the weekends. Too often I relax from it, especially whilst visiting people. I don’t necessarily just eat rubbish, but whilst bulking I certainly didn’t make sure I ate enough. Over time those lax weekends add up to form a substantial portion of time where I wasn’t eating to the optimum level. That has to have an effect, for sure. I could have made even more progress had I been stricter with myself. I’m not too down on it though because I know I’ve still done well, but next time it’s an area to take to the next level.

Life is life and life comes first. There’s no point being ripped and massive but having no family or friends. Unless you are training for the Olympics or for a career like I was, training should really fit in around life. Ideally I would’ve wanted you to train on some weekends and to eat perfectly 7 days a week, but that wasn’t feasible, so we compromised. And guess what, life is a compromise. Where possible, out of your 5 meals a day, 7 days a week, we want only 4 or 5 to be “below par”, that way only 10-15% are not on target, which we can live with. BUT! There’s not failing, just learnings; and we learned this for your next programme.

I could also make sure I’m even stricter with my tempo. As the program went on I didn’t always count it, instead relying on ‘feel’. Which was at times perfectly acceptable, but at others made it too easy to slip back to a quicker tempo. This wasn’t a massive issue, but certainly in the final few weeks my control was mostly ‘feel’ based, and that wasn’t exactly ideal.

I do this too. The most important thing is that you’ve conditioned yourself to NEVER rush through reps without any consideration of tempo and time under tension. I would guess that your “not thinking about tempo” reps were still 10 times as good as most other people around the gym letting gravity do all the work.

Looking back I’m sure I could find bits in each week where I mention sets that weren’t the best or a few reps with dodgy form, but overall I can’t think of any consistently bad areas. I just need to make sure I use the right bits of kit, keep my head screwed on and give it my all.

The Numbers

Alright, enough stalling. Let’s get down to the numbers. Here’s a breakdown of my measurements before and after the program:

Dates 19.04.15 18.07.15
Weight 80.5kg 83kg
Biceps 14 / 12.25 14.25 / 12.5
Forearms 11.5 11.75
Chest 38 39
Thighs 23.5 24
Calves 14 14.5

Note: Bicep measurements give both tensed and relaxed readings.

As you can see, improvements across the board. Get in! I wasn’t really sure what level of growth to expect, to be honest. This is the first time I’ve actively take a before/after comparative measurement, so I’m encouraged by the positive results. What do you think, Sean!?

I think you’ve done really well here, Ray. You are what I would consider an ectomorph. When I first met you, I would have considered you skinny. Therefore, it’s hard for you to add mass. Watching you eat before we got you on this programme: you ate whatever you wanted, sometimes too much in a day, other times not enough. But you were still skinny.

To add an inch to your chest and half an inch to your thighs is great. Not to mention gaining 2.5kg. Could you have gained more if your macros were bang on at weekends? Maybe. Could you have gained more if we had you training on weekends? Maybe. Could you have gained less following exactly the same programme and not paying any attention to food? Definitely. Overall, for your first programme, I would say that’s a great result. Increases everywhere, most importantly: confidence and knowledge.

What next?

Nothing’s finalised, but it looks likely that I’m going to opt for a change of pace and do a little cutting. It’s not something I’ve done before, so it’ll be another welcome change of pace to increase my knowledge, experience and – of course – physique.

The journey continues…

Ray Wilson - Author

Ray has worked with Sean on a number of projects across film, web, and health and fitness. In 2015 he completed a bulk/cut cycle, blogging about his experiences with weekly input and advice from Sean.