Roughly three and a half months ago, I decided to try a bulk. I started lifting at about 140lbs when I was 16, and managed to get up around 170 with a few years of training. When I graduated college, I decided to get more serious and attempt a serious bulk. Thanks to a weight gainer shake and a lot of indigestion, I managed to get up to about 200lbs over the span of a few months. Since then, my weight has been relatively stable, typically ranging between 185 and 205 depending on current training style and diet.
This time, I wanted to try something a bit more drastic. I had seen Alex Hormozi’s bulking plan and wanted to try out something similar. At the time, however, I had an exhausting physical labor job that made it hard for me to train consistently. Luckily, I had just accepted a desk job which offered me a lot more freedom to train. I also came down with a pretty harsh sickness following a convention, so I was forced to take a couple weeks off from training. Given that I had already taken two weeks off, I decided to take two more weeks off to round out the month, and then I got started.
I used a plan very similar to Alex’s, with two workouts per day and a morning workout consisting of leg press and bench press. In the evening, I switched up the accessory work a little bit to suit my preferences, but essentially followed the same routine. I also added a short cycle on the spin bike (10 min to start) to the morning routine to get in a bit of low intensity cardio. Then I got started. Here’s my plan:
Bench Press 7x7 (135-255) alternated with Strict OHP 7x7 (85-165)
Leg Press 7x25 (90-590)
Cycle 10 min. (10min.-15min.)
Incline DB Bench Press 5x12 (35-100)
Chest Fly Machine 5x20 (80-180)
One Arm DB Row 4x20/arm (25-90)
Pullup 4 sets to failure (32 total - 54 total)
Lat Pulldown 7x10 (80-180)
Strict OHP 7x7 (85-165)
Leg Press 7x25 (90-590)
Cycle 10 min. (10min.-15min.)
Leg Extension 150 reps (5x30 @70 - 5x30 @165)
Leg Curl 150 reps (5x30 @60 - 5x30 @165)
Barbell Shrug 5x75 (90-230)
Bench Press 7x7 (135-255)
Leg Press 7x25 (90-590)
Cycle 10 min. (10min.-15min.)
A1: DB Bicep Curl
A2: Rope Grip Tricep Extension (Superset: 15 min long)
B1: Hammer Curl
B2: Lying DB Tricep Extension (Superset: 15 min long)
Lateral Raise 150 reps (8x20 @20 - 8x20 @40 [roughly])
Arm Circles 100 reps (10-25)
C1: Seated Calf Raise
C2: Standing Calf Raise (Superset: 15 min long)
Note: all numbers are my actual numbers from beginning to end of the program, where applicable
If you're interested, you can see my entire workout plan (in all its unedited glory) here.
How It Actually Happened
So what happened? Firstly, it’s important to understand that there was some massive scope creep in terms of sticking to the plan. During the time that I was doing it, I had to switch up a few exercises as time went on. I had an old hip abductor/quad injury (left side) from my previous job that flared up - I had thought that the month I had taken off would be enough time for it to recover, (and that the leg press wouldn’t bother it) but as I started going heavier on the leg press it started to flare up again. Likewise, the 20 rep squat sets, even though they were light, were still pretty aggravating. At first, I just swapped out the 20 rep squats for 20 rep deadlifts every other workout (absolutely demolishing), but as time went on I was soon deadlifting every leg workout, and then eventually I traded the leg presses for deadlifts entirely. As a result, I was doing 7x10 at a light weight on the deadlifts each day - this was still pretty rough, but it was doable and didn’t bother my injury. Likewise, the leg extensions didn’t bother it either, so I was able to keep them in.
Aside from that, I was mostly able to stick to the workouts except for the arm work - since I was working out at three different gyms, the equipment I had access to varied and so did my preferred arm workouts. While the arm day was the least taxing overall in terms of recovery, it was also the most brutal - arm day evening workouts were easily the longest as a result of the 15 min supersets. I was much less strict with these workouts, and changed up what movements I was using quite a lot. Toward the end of the program, I got into BFR training and started doing 5-10min long arm BFR supersets - these are even more brutal, and I would often spend a good deal of my time in these sets grunting and moaning in pain as I waited for my arms to recover. I can’t imagine anyone around me was happy to see me.
Taking a month off forced me to start with some pretty light weights, but I was fine with it. I immediately tightened up on eating and started forcing myself to eat every day. I didn’t count macros, but I estimate I was probably consuming in the range of 4000-5000 calories per day - I kept a rough count of multiples of major items I was consuming to get an estimate. I started seeing massive gains.
My weight jumped up pretty quickly, and my strength was going up from week to week like clockwork. Within 2 months of following the program, I had gained 40 lbs and was seeing PR numbers on some of my accessory lifts - including the DB bench press and the strict overhead press. Other lifts were estimated near PR level despite not having been trained heavy for the entire cycle, though this isn't a fair comparison given the change in weight classes.
What might shock people the most, however, is my diet. One big factor was Cola - by the end of the cycle, I was drinking (on average) 3-5L of soda per day. It certainly wasn’t my intention to start like this: in the beginning, I was primarily taking cans of coke in to have a zero-prep way to get some calories and caffeine in on my rides to and from work. However, as my hunger levels increased, I found myself taking a 2L to work and using it to refill my water bottle for a couple days. Within the first month, I was drinking a 2L at work and then coming home and drinking another one over the course of the rest of the day. At first I was leery of what I was doing, but as the cycle progressed I leaned into it more and more, and became curious to see what would happen. I became proud of it, and boasted to my friends.
In my entire life, I've never strict pressed more than 165, or maybe 170, for 1 rep. After this bulk, and only training it half as much as the bench press during this cycle, this is me pressing 165 for 8. Last rep gets a bit sticky, but still feels amazing to handle this much weight. #health #diet #fitness #fitfam #instafit #bodybuilding #powerlifting #bulking #bulk #calories #Seattle #coaching #pump #gains #lifting #cardio #muscle #strength #shoulders #press
A Typical Day’s Diet
1L of Cola on the way to work (wake up, pound it down - my morning commute is 20 min)
2-3 cups (measured before prep) of white rice at work (a rice cooker made this my quick and painless go-to)
2 Bananas at work
Any leftovers from the previous night, eaten at work
1L of Cola at work
Pretzels/Peanuts eaten in the car on the way to/from work or the gym
2 cans Tuna w/ 1 can Beans for afternoon snack, or similar
Peanut Butter as needed throughout the day
2L+ of Cola as needed throughout the day
Large Dinner - mixed meal, typically veggie, meat, carb.
Vanilla protein powder, True Nutrition, as needed
Creatine/Amino Amino Acid blend sport drink mixed with Gatorade for additional calories, used as intraworkout
The gains kept coming as I poured more calories in. By the end of the two month cycle, my training started to plateau largely because I stopped pouring in more: I got sick of stuffing myself to the point of feeling nauseous, my calorie intake leveled off, and so did my weight. I started spreading workouts out more and more, taking more rest days, feeling more and more beat up. So rather than finishing the final two weeks of the program (which would likely have taken me through a full three months of actual time) I cut loose early in order to move on to my next cycle.
At my final weigh in, I weighed 230 - 35lbs heavier than my starting weight. I had previously been as heavy as 210, but the remaining 20 lbs were entirely new territory. During the process, my BF% went from 15.5% - 20.3% (measured by a handheld bioelectrical impedance tester - not perfect, but accurate enough). This means roughly 20lbs of muscle built in 60 days. Sure, they’re far from the most impressive results in the world, but I can’t imagine most people would complain about building 20lbs of muscle. This was all done naturally, without drugs.
I needed to buy new pants as my old ones grew too tight. My body composition certainly worsened, and I developed a bit of a gut, but I’m still relatively lean and I can always lean out more later - I’m planning a strength phase followed by a weight cut in the next few months. I'm not nearly as photogenic as Alex was at the end of his bulk, but I'm certainly much bigger.
It is my opinion that drinking 4L of soda a day is far from the optimal method for building muscle. My protein intake was relatively low, and I was sometimes lazy about my supplementation and eating my fiber. With higher quality food, I imagine I could have ended the bulk a bit leaner. At the same time, this move was partly practical: soda is cheap and requires no preparation, which made it much easier to get in the calories I needed. With better quality food, I would also have probably ended up eating less food overall and ended the bulk at a lighter weight simply because I would have hit that psychological wall sooner.
The caffeine content of the soda was certainly a feature to look out for. A 2L of cola has about 200mg of caffeine - the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. As such I was effectively getting in 4 cups of coffee a day. This isn’t a super high caffeine intake, but it’s still quite a bit. Luckily, I’m not a high responder to caffeine anyway, so the effect I got from caffeine went from small to basically nothing. Drinking it didn’t actually make me feel any more awake. Still, I found that if I skimped on my caffeine intake at any point, I would start to develop drowsiness. Since dropping the soda from my diet after the end of the program, I’ve had to up my coffee intake to help alleviate my falling caffeine intake and ease me back down to normal levels. I can imagine that if someone were a higher caffeine responder, this might make them wired and jittery throughout the day, so it would definitely be something to look out for.
Another consideration is your dental health. Drinking that much soda a day is certainly likely to wreak havoc on unprepared molars, so I was careful to ensure that I was brushing 2-3 times per day, flossing regularly, and using an anticavity mouthwash. While this probably isn't a perfect defense, it was enough to hold me down for the span of this bulk. I probably wouldn't recommend regular soda consumption if you're concerned about your teeth.
I’m also far from recommending this as a “health” food, and I’m not claiming that high soda consumption is healthy for all populations. Carb tolerance varies based on activity level, so athletes and heavy exercisers are able to get away with a lot more than the average person. I am not claiming that coca cola is some miracle elixir that’s going to make you stronger or healthier - it was just a way to get in the calories that I needed, and I was certain that it wouldn’t much negatively impact my health or performance. Since the dawn of time, bodybuilders and powerlifters have been bulking on similar stuff.
I remember feeling horrified when I first heard that one of the SHW powerlifters (I think it was Tiny Meeker, I’m not sure) bulked on two gallons of gatorade a day, but now I’ve become that person. Safe to say, I’m not the first to try something like this, nor will I be the last. All I’m hoping from this is that people might break down their dietary dogma a little bit and start to question a lot of the negative beliefs they have surrounding stuff like sugar and soda. Consuming sugary food and drink is fine, so long as your activity level is high enough to match - what’s considered moderation for one might not be moderation for another.
Plus, I got to have a lot of fun looking at the shocked faces of bystanders looking into my grocery cart, and I got to take a lot of pictures like these: