Ray’s Bulking Diary – Week 12

Dumbbell rack

Behold, the final week of the program! After a fortnight of PPL I’m now moving on to one final furlong. It’s a five day split, and the trick is that I’ll be doing six sets of each exercise: three heavy sets followed immediately by three volume sets. Let’s do it!

The final week, so although we could’ve done another week of PPL it’s nice to change it up and give you a taste of something else. Furthermore, if you were preparing for a shoot etc then these can be good sessions leading up.

Day 77 – Arms

Close Grip Bench Press (3-6 & 8-12)

I wanted to grab a rack for this but they were all taken, so I settled for a free bench and an EZ bar. Not too bad, but I erred on the side of caution with regards to the weight. I punched out three sets at the top end of the rep range, and reasoned that I actually wouldn’t need to drop down for the volume sets. I probably should have picked a heavier weight to start with, but I was cautious with the lack of a rack. Still, it worked out okay as I hit the middle and then the lower end of the range for the volume sets.

Heavy close grip bench should ideally be done with a barbell and yes, heavy weight. Difficult without a spotter, but it can be done. If we do this again, try to stick to a heavy barbell and ask someone to spot for the 3-5 reps. The fact that you didn’t have to lower weight for higher reps means it was definitely too light.

Preacher Curl (3-6 & 8-12)

Stupidly it was only when I went to start this exercise that I realised my new gym doesn’t have a preacher bench. What’s that about!? Thankfully there is a preacher / bicep curl machine, which I figured would serve as a worthy alternative.

The machine doesn’t seem to be calibrated the same as at my old gym, as I managed much higher weight for the heavy set, hitting the top end of the range each time. I then lowered the weight for the volume sets and fell in the middle of the range with diminishing returns.

Good work. Fine to use the machine. Not as good as the free weights but a good alternative. Slap on the wrist for me for not checking you had the required kit in the new gym.

French Press (3-6 & 8-12)

I snagged another EZ bar for the heavy sets and hit the top end of the range. I haven’t actually done this exercise like this before, as I usually use a dumbbell. I erred on the side of caution so as not to go nuts and snap my arms, and I find myself perhaps a little less than brilliant at keeping my elbows in.

A lower fixed weight barbell did the trick for the volume sets as I hit the lower end, trying to concentrate on going to a slower tempo and keeping my elbows tucked in.

Good effort considering it’s all new at this stage. I suspect you’ll still get some DOMs due to the far more specific nature of these exercises than the PPL and GVT you have been doing.

Hammer Curls (3-6 & 8-12)

All that biceps work in the GVT weeks paid off, as I managed to hit the top end of the range for the heavy sets with what is a PB weight for me. Very pleased with that. I then dropped to a lower weight and squeezed out three more sets in the middle of the volume range. As with the preacher curls, I find it tough to consistently get the full squeeze and fatigue in for biceps. Still, my arms were feeling more fried by this point so I’m happy with that.

Well done with the PB. I expected you to really feel this session as it’s the first solid arm session you’ve had to complete like this over the 12 weeks. Pleased you seem to be enjoying it.

Dips (to failure)

Two good sets of these with a rest pause at the end for good measure. Diminishing returns each time, from six through five to four. But dipping nice and low each time. I wish I felt more intensely fried (like leg day fried), but I wasn’t lying to myself when I couldn’t push up any more.

I’ve grown to quite like dips. They’re a good mental challenge as well as a solid way to get the triceps pumping.

Dips are a great exercise. Like pull-ups, a man test and a compound exercise getting the chest, triceps and shoulders. Glad you like them. Happy with the reps you got out, especially as you couldn’t do any more and kept the tempo slow. Well done. I don’t think anyone feels ‘leg day fried’ on arm day; simply muscle size related and less affect on the CV system because of that.

Chin-Ups (to failure)

Two sets of these with a bunch of rest pauses thrown on at the end just for my own amusement, really. Again, diminishing returns, but that’s to be expected at the very end of the session. I dropped nice and low each time, arms fully extended, and really tried to squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement.

Brilliant. I bet you don’t see many lads in your gym doing that, especially at the end of a session. They’ll do them half reps at the beginning of a session when they’re fresh. Well done, Ray.

Dips and chin-ups are a great combo to end with, and I’m happy to see they make another appearance later in the week.

Good man!

Day 78 – Legs

The final legs session of the program, and you’d better believe I was getting on that squat rack. Sean had actually planned for me to swap it up for leg presses, but I requested the squats and he thankfully obliged. Cheers m8.

Always happy when someone wants to squat over leg press! Well done Ray!

Squats (3-6 & 8-12)

Had a slight wait to get the rack, and eventually jumped in with someone else just to get going. Starting with the heavy loads I hit up the tonne for the first set, before throwing on an extra 10kg (PB alert!). For the last set I called it at four, after my third rep was a little sketchy form wise. I just leaned a bit too far forward (more than usual when my form slips) and felt it was best to play it safe. Especially knowing I still had three volume sets to go.

Great work! When we first trained together you had a wobble at 60kg. To be fair I think you lacked fitness and food that day. To put up 110kg for 4 reps a year later off the back of a 12 week programme is great. Well done mate!

For the volume sets I dropped the weight down and hit the middle of the range each time. Possibly went slightly too quickly a few times, but it was nice and intense. I got a good sweat on, obviously. Going heavy before volume seems good to me. I’ve only done it for two days, to be fair, but I like it.

It can work well. Simply for your body because it’s a variation. We need to shock the body into change and this does that. However, do it for 6 weeks and go back to GVT or supersets and that seems like a challenge and again shocks the body. It’s all about progression within a consistent periodised programme and then varying that to another consistent programme.

Leg Press Calf Raise (3-6 & 8-12)

At this point I noticed the general lack of calf machines at the new gym. Quite disappointing. And it doesn’t even have what I consider the ‘proper’ leg press where you’re sat back at an angle. So I hopped on the seated variety and pushed out six sets of calf raises – three heavy, three volume. I actually upped the range for each section. Not ideal; I wish I had the same setup as my old gym, but still. The volume sets got a really good burn going.

As long as you work to failure it’ll do the trick. I am gymless at the moment as you know, so have been doing donkey raises with Kate sat on my back/hips. Hitting failure, letting her jump off then working for the same reps until failure again. DOMs have been cheeky. Again, it’s being consistent, varying the training but ensuring intensity by hitting failure as well.

Leg Extension (3-6 & 8-12)

Had a good time on this. Squeezing at the top for both the heavy and volume sets. I felt my legs getting nice and full. Again, I was probably going a bit too quick in the volume sets, but it was good.

Hard to keep slow on these as the lactic piles in and the pain gets quite unbearable! Well done though, Ray, sounds like you worked hard.

Seated Leg Curl (3-6 & 8-12)

As with the leg extensions this was pretty straight forward. Six good sets, squeezing at the bottom. Although I did fall into the range for the volume sets, I probably didn’t do quite as many as I should have. For some reason I stopped – for just a second – but enough to make it impossible to get going again. I threw on a rest pause at the end to make up for it.

Again, hard to just keep going. Although the pain might not be there, we haven’t done much hamstring curl work and they do tend to fail when unconditioned.

Reverse Crunch on a Decline Bench (8-12)

Two sets of these, and I had to rest pause my way through them. After stopping on the leg curl for a set or two, somehow I carried that through to this. I still got the reps in with some good ab squeezing, but the tank was running on fumes.

Probably just tired from the high volume work.

Hanging Leg Raises (8-12)

Sean intended for me to do some cable crunches but everything was taken, so I improvised some hanging leg raises. They weren’t very good, sadly. It’s been a while since I’ve done them and I couldn’t quite find my rhythm. Bit of a write off, unfortunately.

Not a great exercise in my opinion, especially when tired. Momentum tends to take over. Well done for trying something though, and well done for a good session overall.

Overall a very good session. I’m delighted with the new squats personal best!

Absolutely. Well done.

Day 79 – Shoulders

It’s been a while since I’ve done a dedicated shoulder session!

Standing Military Press (3-6 & 8-12)

I grabbed an EZ bar and loaded some good weight onto it for the heavy sets, but actually found myself hitting the top of the range each time. I probably should have loaded a little extra on, but instead I stayed with it. For the volume sets I didn’t drop down, and hit the low end of the range with help from a rest pause in the final set. I like this exercise; it’s one of my favourites.

If you can keep the weight the same for volume sets and heavy sets, it wasn’t heavy enough. I’d almost rather you had to push press it up for the heavy sets. Also, try to do overhead press/mil press with a barbell, not a EZ bar. I appreciate it’s probably due to what’s available, but in the long run it’ll be better for you as you progress to use the right kit to lead into cleans, snatches, push press etc.

Upright Row (3-6)

I stuck with the same weight on the EZ bar for these, and pulled out three sets at the top end of the range. I had a little trouble with my elbows touching the plates; I really had to keep those elbows high to avoid them. I probably could have added a little more weight, but I kept it as it was and tried to concentrate on slowly lowering the bar. I’ve never used the EZ bar for this exercise before, but straight away I think it’s my preferred option over the barbell and dumbbells (although dumbbells work it slightly differently, I guess). I just need to use smaller plates (but more of them) to give my elbows more breathing room.

Good work, sounds tough and slowing the tempo down on the lowering is absolutely right. I have used EZ bar before and they can work well, but as you say, catches the elbows. I would stick to DB or BB if possible.

Side Lateral Raise (8-12)

Had to go one level lighter with dumbbells than I wanted as my preferred weights were taken, and I figured heavier would lead to a worse set (especially considering the intended rep range). I hit the top end of the range each time, but again had to use rest pauses to get them all out in the final set.

Good work. You can always slow the tempo even more if you are forced to drop down a DB set. Sounds like this worked fine anyway.

Face Pull (3-6)

Haven’t done these for a long time, and spent the three sets progressively upping the weight as I wasn’t sure where to start. Not the most effective exercise of the session, unfortunately, but not a total write off. I’ll know for next time.

You’ve gotten much stronger, so I’m not surprised you can lift a lot more than expected. In the future, don’t be scared to do 2 or 3 warm-up sets of 2-3 reps to gauge weight.

Lying Rear Lateral Raise (8-12)

Now then, Sean’s suggestion of keeping the pinky high seems to have done the trick. I felt the squeeze a lot more consistently today, which was very pleasing. Still pretty light with the weights, but this trick (angle the dumbbell forward) made it more effective.

I still lift light with this exercise. Allows for full extension and a good squeeze. Glad the pinky tip worked.

Arnold Press (3-6 & 8-12)

Would you believe this is the first time I’ve ever done this exercise? It was good. I started off  a little cautious with the weight just to get my bearings, and then upped it as necessary. I also experimented with a slightly different bench angle, just to see. I found the volume sets especially tough, but just about got there. I’d like to do better at this next time, but since it was my first go I’ll let myself off the hook.

Also, your front delts were probably fried. A bit unfair to put this so late in the programme. We’ll ensure it features again.

Front Plate Raise (to failure)

Two sets of these to fry the shoulders. Not too bad; I tried to keep it controlled when lowering the plate, but by now my shoulders were just about done, so it wasn’t the best.

Front delts were probably on their last legs, so well done for trying!

Weighted Planks (to failure)

These were tougher than usual, which I put down to my shoulders being fatigued (as they play a part in keeping me upright). Still, I managed a couple of 40 second planks before collapsing.

Absolutely, shoulders will fail before the abs and that’s the plan!

Decent session! Lots of exercises, and quite a few that I haven’t done before. Not sure that that’s ideal given it’s the last week of the program, but on the other hand it’s keeping my body guessing and I’m learning more and more new stuff. So that’s good.

More an intro into what could be next. Still keeping you working and hopefully getting some DOMs.

Day 80 – Back

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown (3-6 & 8-12)

Both heavy and volume sets were good; I concentrated on bringing those shoulders back to feel the squeeze in the lats. I don’t think this exercise has ever been my best, and in fact looking at the weight I was doing over a year ago I’m not sure I’ve made quite enough progress with it. But it’s still decent enough.

Let me know what you’re lifting. I’d like to see you getting within 10% of bodyweight for slow controlled reps.

Seated Cable Row (3-6 & 8-12)

Same again, a decent showing for both heavy and volume sets. This machine is slightly different from the one at my old gym, so again I just had to find my bearings for a set or two. I haven’t done cable rows in a while; not my best showing.

Shame you had to change gyms mid programme. For your next hopefully this won’t be the case. If it is, maybe we’ll use that as a natural programme change point.

Reverse Grip (Underhand) Pulldown (3-6 & 8-12)

Had a good set on these. Went a little heavier than last time for my heavy sets, and got some good squeezing in. Not much else to say!

I like this exercise; seems you do too! Always good to squeeze the biceps and lats while getting elbows past the body.

Pendlay Rows (3-6 & 8-12)

Another new exercise for me, and one I quite like. I had to wait a few minutes to grab an Olympic bar, but thankfully I got one. I played it cautious on the heavy sets, and so I didn’t drop down that much for the volume sets. I actually felt a little wiped by it, in the same way that squats/deadlifts can take it out of me. Promising!

It’s a hard exercise. The muscles of the lats/back are vast, so get this right and it can be as fatiguing as leg day. Also the fixed position and having to lower to dead means the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae will all be asked to help. This means more work.

Renegade Rows (to failure)

I remember these from earlier in the program! Back then I worried about face-planting the floor, but today I felt much more in control and confident. I lifted heavier than I did weeks ago, and took two sets to failure. I hit about 6-7 reps (depending on whether you want to count the final reps each time, which weren’t brilliant).

Sounds great. Confidence in your abilities is (in my opinion) half the battle when I write someone a programme like this. Overall you seem far more confident in a gym environment. “Old sweat”?

Chin-ups (to failure)

Didn’t manage as many as I did earlier in the week, but still pulled out two reasonable sets with a couple of rest pauses tagged onto the end.

I’m not surprised. Lats will be toast by now! Well done again for doing them at the end of a hard session.

Overall this wasn’t my best session; I don’t think I’m that good at the various back machines. But it was still decent enough, and I enjoyed trying out the Pendlay Rows and bringing back the Renegades!

Don’t be down on yourself. I think this sounded good. Glad you have embraced the renegades too!

Day 81 – Chest

The final session! Finish him!!!

Dumbbell Bench Press (3-6 & 8-12)

Smashed a new personal best! I was raring to go because I knew I was going to attempt it. I pumped out two heavy sets at the top of the range (and one falling in the middle) with the heaviest dumbbells I’ve ever attempted. 32kg’s, if you’re asking. Delighted! The volume sets were also good, dropping the weight back down and squeezing out three sets in the middle of the range.

Excellent. Can’t say more. Well done, Ray.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press (3-6 & 8-12)

This was nice and intense. I didn’t check, but very likely the heaviest dumbbells I’ve (incline) benched for the heavy sets, where I fell in the middle and then dropped to the low end of the range. The volume sets followed suit and I was getting a good sweat on. It’s an intense way to work, this.

Again, excellent. And yes, can be cheeky. Essentially pre-fatiguing an exercise or muscle group with heavy work before asking it to work in a hypertrophy range. Not surprised you’re sweating!

Decline Press (3-6 & 8-12)

I jumped on a Smith Machine for this. Probably not ideal, but given I haven’t really done this before I decided to play it safe. I wasn’t quite sure how much weight I should attempt for the heavy sets, so the first set was far too light, and then I changed it up and probably went too far the other way as I failed after just two reps. I took the edge off and made up the deficit. Not the best!

Not your fault. You’ve never done it before. As a general rule, most people can press more decline that flat, and more flat than incline. Also, more Smith than free. However, you were fatigued, so always best to be cautious.

But the volume sets were good. Lowering it to a more appropriate weight (which I could gauge now I had some context to work with), I put out two sets within the range before falling short on the third; a rest pause followed, of course.


Moving forward I’d like to do some decline benching with dumbbells, or in a regular rack. Ideally with Dom spotting me. But today this proved good enough.

Always best with a spotter but, as your head is lower, with DBs you can just drop to the side safely, so don’t be scared of attempting alone.

Chest Press (3-6 & 8-12)

The machine here is different from the one at my old gym. Here it’s called the ‘Converging Chest Press’ and the mechanics of the movement are sightly different. I built up the weight through each of the heavy sets, before putting in some good volume afterwards. Not the best exercise of the session, but it seems a decent machine.

You’ll get used to it. Still putting some volume through the chest, which is great.

Dips (to failure)

This time I performed the chest version (as opposed to the triceps version), and sadly didn’t manage many at all. Three reps, rest, two reps, rest pause, one rep. That’s all I could manage!

Hahaha! Chest was gone. That’s good. Well done.

Cable Crossover (to failure)

And so it came to the final exercise of the entire program. Thankfully I managed to claim a cable area straight away, and got to work the squeezing the chest. Now I should say that this entire week I’ve gone without headphones. They initially survived an adventure through the wash, but then died a few days later. So while I was doing this I got to listen to the music blaring from the big room to the side where classes take place. It was Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones, which was a pretty epic way to bring it all home. Call me stupid, but I almost got chills. I was only supposed to do two sets but I kept going through six or seven, driven on by the tune and imagining myself as a character in Sons of Anarchy.

This is great. I am a big believer in the power of music. When I used to run (a lot!) I had playlists and depending on the run length, would have songs planned at certain points (or skip to that song) to get those “chills’ as you put it (adrenaline release) – to help push through the tough times. Another thing you’ve learned: music can make or break a session. You were tired and fatigued from the programme to fail early at dips; bit of music and you added 4 or 5 sets of cable crossover…. “the mind fails long before the body?”

Eventually, with time ticking on, reps diminishing and a couple of lurkers clearly wanting in, I called time. The exercise, the session and the program was over. Fin!

Sad times but also great times. Overall, a superb effort.

Day 82/83 – Weekend Rest

Well, it’s all over. 12 weeks! I’ll be taking a little time to rest, reflect and ponder the next step. I’ll also be writing another blog that gives a general review of my experience on the program, plus that all important look at my gains. I’ve pretty much avoided taking pictures, and I haven’t measured myself either. So all will be revealed very soon…

Looking forward to both:

1. The results

2. The next step…

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.