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  1. #1
    Registered User RapidFail's Avatar
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    Analyzing the success of a lean bulk

    I've recently finished a lean bulk which lasted a little over 5 months. I had planned for another month, but decided to take a couple of weeks off training due to a hamstring injury that has prevented me from deadlifting for almost the entirety of the bulk - I'll be seeing my physio about it next week. I've been lifting consistently with good programming for over 2.5 years now. I consider myself an early intermediate with poor genetics for strength (very long arms and legs, short torso), but I've already gained about 20lb of muscle since I started lifting. My full training log is below - adherence was excellent.

    https://forum.bodybuilding.com/showt...9849563&page=6

    Here's how my numbers have changed in the 5-and-a-bit months since I started bulking on March 28th:

    Height: 6'1" (didn't measure, assume no change!)
    Weight: 173.3lb (+10lb)
    Waist: 32" (+1.6")
    Chest: 41.7" (+0.8")
    Hips: 39.2"(+0.8")
    Shoulders: 48.8" (+0.2")
    Thighs: R 23.8" (+0.8"), L 23" (+0.2")
    Biceps (flexed): R 13.8" (+0.3"), L 13.6" (+0.1")
    Calves: R 14.8" (+0.1", L 14.9" (+0.2")
    Neck: 15.2" (+0.4")
    Estimated body fat: 15-16% (up about 2%)

    Here's how some of my lifts have gone up in the same time:

    Bench - 4 sets of 5 @ 127lb > 4 sets of 6 @ 132lb
    Squat - 4 sets of 5 @ 149lb > 4 sets of 5 @ 160lb
    OHP - 3 sets of 7 @ 72lb > 4 sets of 7 @ 72lb
    Deadlift - had to stop training it
    Chin Up - 4 sets of 8 @ BW + 11lb > same performance at higher body weight.
    Age: 37
    Height: 185cm (6'1")
    Weight: 77.05kg (169.9lb)

    Personal best lifts
    Bench - 4 x 65kg (143lb), 6 x 62.5kg (138lb), 16 x 50kg (110lb)
    Bent Over Row - 5 x 67.5kg (149lb), 10 x 60kg (132lb)
    Front squat - 5 x 67.5kg (149lb), 8 x 60kg (132lb)
    Back squat - 3 x 80kg (176lb), 5 x 75kg (160lb)
    RDL - 9 x 85kg (187lb)
    Deadlift - 3 x 100kg (220.5lb), 7 x 97.5kg (215lb)
    Overhead Press - 6 x 40kg (88lb)
    Chin Ups - 7 x bodyweight + 10kg (22lb), 13 x bodyweight
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  2. #2
    Train hard play harder Tommy W.'s Avatar
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    Based on your waist measurement you put on about 9 lbs of fat. You need to work on strength. Look into a proven program
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Registered User coachcalande's Avatar
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    If you’re happy, that’s what matters.

    You could experiment with a fast bulk for a month and compare.
    "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

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    Registered User RapidFail's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    Based on your waist measurement you put on about 9 lbs of fat. You need to work on strength. Look into a proven program
    That would mean 9lb of fat gain and 1lb of muscle, so I hope you're wrong! I store a disproportionate amount of fat on my belly and love handles, so my waist measurement always changes a lot when I bulk and cut.

    If you have a look at my training log you'll see that I have been working on strength. I only began doing my own programming six months ago and if anything I'm progressing faster than I was on a proven program previously (with the exception of the deadlift for aforementioned reasons). In general my strength and muscle gains have been at a snail's pace after my first six months of training, now over two years ago.
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  5. #5
    Train hard play harder Tommy W.'s Avatar
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    That would mean 9lb of fat gain and 1lb of muscle, so I hope you're wrong! I store a disproportionate amount of fat on my belly and love handles, so my waist measurement always changes a lot when I bulk and cut.

    If you have a look at my training log you'll see that I have been working on strength. I only began doing my own programming six months ago and if anything I'm progressing faster than I was on a proven program previously (with the exception of the deadlift for aforementioned reasons). In general my strength and muscle gains have been at a snail's pace after my first six months of training, now over two years ago.
    then the 9 lbs of fat gain is probably about right then.
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Solid approach to your training!

    I'm a fan of block reviews too. Good to see what works, what doesn't work, and look into any changes to improve.

    If you could make changes going forward, is there anything that comes to mind? Either programming or nutrition-wise?

    You're at a stage where you're going to have to fight for improvement and gains so any changes that could give you an edge is worth trying out for a couple mesocycles.

    Cheers RapidSuccess!
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  7. #7
    Registered User RapidFail's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    then the 9 lbs of fat gain is probably about right then.
    Surely fat distribution would have an effect? A one inch increase in waist size could mean 5lb fat gained for someone who stores fat mostly around their middle, but could be 10lb fat gained for someone who gets fat legs, chest and or upper back.
    Last edited by RapidFail; 09-07-2021 at 12:47 AM.
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    Registered User EiFit91's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Surely fat distribution would have an effect? A one inch increase in waist size could mean 3lb fat gained for someone who stores fat mostly around their middle, but could be 6lb fat gained for someone who gets fat legs, chest and or upper back.
    I agree with Tommy. I also store fat in exactly the same way btw.

    I did a bulk these last 5 months without any waist gain. Whenever my waist measurement starts going up I throw in a mini cut (two weeks) and then restart the bulk. If I hadn’t done this I am sure I would have been fooling myself along the way.

    Another bad sign is that you didn’t add size to you shoulders and your lifts barely changed.

    If training and diet is on point, IMO you should be progressing every week (reps, weight). You need to reassess your program.
    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

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    Registered User RapidFail's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by EiFit91 View Post
    I agree with Tommy. I also store fat in exactly the same way btw.

    I did a bulk these last 5 months without any waist gain. Whenever my waist measurement starts going up I throw in a mini cut (two weeks) and then restart the bulk. If I hadn’t done this I am sure I would have been fooling myself along the way.

    Another bad sign is that you didn’t add size to you shoulders and your lifts barely changed.

    If training and diet is on point, IMO you should be progressing every week (reps, weight). You need to reassess your program.
    Unfortunately I think the rate of progress is pretty much all I am capable of at this stage. I stopped being able to add weight to the bar every week a long time ago. Last year I trained very consistently, following a proven program, diet definitely on-point, and I put 5-10lb on each of my lifts for the whole year. That said, I finished the year weighing 2lb heavier with more visible abs, so I definitely built some muscle.
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Unfortunately I think the rate of progress is pretty much all I am capable of at this stage. I stopped being able to add weight to the bar every week a long time ago. Last year I trained very consistently, following a proven program, diet definitely on-point, and I put 5-10lb on each of my lifts for the whole year. That said, I finished the year weighing 2lb heavier with more visible abs, so I definitely built some muscle.
    When you stall do you experiment to start progressing again? E.g. seriously ramp up the volume? Or do you just stick with what the program says?

    If the above is really true then why are you even bulking?
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  11. #11
    Registered User RapidFail's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by EiFit91 View Post
    When you stall do you experiment to start progressing again? E.g. seriously ramp up the volume? Or do you just stick with what the program says?

    If the above is really true then why are you even bulking?
    Good question - I've generally followed programs as-written.

    I started out with Fierce 5 Novice - when I stalled, I reset the weight by 15% and built back up.
    My second program was Eric Helms' Beginner Bodybuilding (U/L) - when I stalled I reduced the weight by 10%, then tried with the failed weight again. When that stopped working, I switched to intermediate methods of progression, namely wave loading and double progression.
    The third program I did was Outlift, which autoregulated the weights based on my performance.
    My current program has more volume than the first three programs I did, but I found that I was overtraining my glutes and hamstrings and had to make some adjustments.

    I have wondered whether increasing my training volume would increase in better results. Finding the extra time needed would be an issue - I currently train at 5am before work and can't dedicate more than one hour per session. Training after work is a no-go - I have a physical job and two young children, by the time they are in bed I am far too tired to train with any kind of intensity. Sometimes I will split up a session, doing the heavy compound movements in the morning, then isolation work in the evening.

    I suppose my best answer to your question is that I've been bulking to give myself the best possible chance of growing muscle. I'm eating a 200-300 calorie surplus, keeping weight gained to 2lb per month and training consistently.
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  12. #12
    Train hard play harder Tommy W.'s Avatar
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Good question - I've generally followed programs as-written.

    I started out with Fierce 5 Novice - when I stalled, I reset the weight by 15% and built back up.
    My second program was Eric Helms' Beginner Bodybuilding (U/L) - when I stalled I reduced the weight by 10%, then tried with the failed weight again. When that stopped working, I switched to intermediate methods of progression, namely wave loading and double progression.
    The third program I did was Outlift, which autoregulated the weights based on my performance.
    My current program has more volume than the first three programs I did, but I found that I was overtraining my glutes and hamstrings and had to make some adjustments.

    I have wondered whether increasing my training volume would increase in better results. Finding the extra time needed would be an issue - I currently train at 5am before work and can't dedicate more than one hour per session. Training after work is a no-go - I have a physical job and two young children, by the time they are in bed I am far too tired to train with any kind of intensity. Sometimes I will split up a session, doing the heavy compound movements in the morning, then isolation work in the evening.

    I suppose my best answer to your question is that I've been bulking to give myself the best possible chance of growing muscle. I'm eating a 200-300 calorie surplus, keeping weight gained to 2lb per month and training consistently.
    people need to get away from the notion that you should gain x amount of pounds a month when bulking. A crappy training program and it can almost all be fat which is what happened with you.
    If you don't get what you want you didn't want it bad enough
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    Registered User safcpaul's Avatar
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    Mate I'm not trying to be funny but you need to put more effort in. You're at a stage with your lifts where you should be fighting every single session to put weight on the bar or add reps. Youve made the mistake of using rpe as a beginner and you're failing to push yourself to the maximum. You should be doing a simple 3x5 or 5x5 based around compound movements and gritting your teeth and working hard every session trying to beat the last workout. You should then be following the workouts up with plenty food to recover from the intense sessions. I myself havent got the best genetics for lifting. (Skinny wrists and ankles at 6 foot 2) but I push myself to the maximum. In 11 months I've went from similar starting weights to 188b bench 5x5, 260lb squat 3x5, pull ups + 40lbs 5x5. Next year I'll be well over 300lb squat for reps and over 225lb bench for reps. You should be alot further along
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    Train hard play harder Tommy W.'s Avatar
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Surely fat distribution would have an effect? A one inch increase in waist size could mean 5lb fat gained for someone who stores fat mostly around their middle, but could be 10lb fat gained for someone who gets fat legs, chest and or upper back.
    Almost all men store most fat in the middle of their bodies so keeping measurements around the navel encompasses the gut and love handles. this is the critical measurement when gauging fat loss/gain.
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    That would mean 9lb of fat gain and 1lb of muscle, so I hope you're wrong! I store a disproportionate amount of fat on my belly and love handles, so my waist measurement always changes a lot when I bulk and cut.

    If you have a look at my training log you'll see that I have been working on strength. I only began doing my own programming six months ago and if anything I'm progressing faster than I was on a proven program previously (with the exception of the deadlift for aforementioned reasons). In general my strength and muscle gains have been at a snail's pace after my first six months of training, now over two years ago.
    Unfortunately someone with average genetics only has the ability to gain roughly 30 lbs of muscle within the first 4-5 years. If you’ve already gained 20 you’re on the right track. Once you can’t add weight to the bar you’re pretty much just pissing into the wind. For 90 percent of men the fat goes right to the mid section.
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    Train hard play harder Tommy W.'s Avatar
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    Originally Posted by TAWS6 View Post
    Unfortunately someone with average genetics only has the ability to gain roughly 30 lbs of muscle within the first 4-5 years. If you’ve already gained 20 you’re on the right track. Once you can’t add weight to the bar you’re pretty much just pissing into the wind. For 90 percent of men the fat goes right to the mid section.
    I find it hard to believe he added 20 lbs of muscle with those lift numbers.
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    Han shot first! TolerantLactose's Avatar
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    Sorry to pile on but I think there's something wrong with the training with those numbers and that amount of progression.
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  18. #18
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    Originally Posted by safcpaul View Post
    Mate I'm not trying to be funny but you need to put more effort in. You're at a stage with your lifts where you should be fighting every single session to put weight on the bar or add reps. Youve made the mistake of using rpe as a beginner and you're failing to push yourself to the maximum. You should be doing a simple 3x5 or 5x5 based around compound movements and gritting your teeth and working hard every session trying to beat the last workout. You should then be following the workouts up with plenty food to recover from the intense sessions. I myself havent got the best genetics for lifting. (Skinny wrists and ankles at 6 foot 2) but I push myself to the maximum. In 11 months I've went from similar starting weights to 188b bench 5x5, 260lb squat 3x5, pull ups + 40lbs 5x5. Next year I'll be well over 300lb squat for reps and over 225lb bench for reps. You should be alot further along
    Unfortunately I'm confident that this is not the answer for me. Grinding every set to.failure in an effort to keep adding weight to the bar when it was no longer possible (at that rate) was simply getting me injured and hampering my ability to do enough volume to grow. I didn't start using RPE until I had been lifting for over two years very consistently, 3-4 days per week. I agree that my lift numbers are firmly in the beginner territory, but by any other metric, I am an intermediate lifter.
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Good question - I've generally followed programs as-written.

    I started out with Fierce 5 Novice - when I stalled, I reset the weight by 15% and built back up.
    My second program was Eric Helms' Beginner Bodybuilding (U/L) - when I stalled I reduced the weight by 10%, then tried with the failed weight again. When that stopped working, I switched to intermediate methods of progression, namely wave loading and double progression.
    The third program I did was Outlift, which autoregulated the weights based on my performance.
    My current program has more volume than the first three programs I did, but I found that I was overtraining my glutes and hamstrings and had to make some adjustments.

    I have wondered whether increasing my training volume would increase in better results. Finding the extra time needed would be an issue - I currently train at 5am before work and can't dedicate more than one hour per session. Training after work is a no-go - I have a physical job and two young children, by the time they are in bed I am far too tired to train with any kind of intensity. Sometimes I will split up a session, doing the heavy compound movements in the morning, then isolation work in the evening.

    I suppose my best answer to your question is that I've been bulking to give myself the best possible chance of growing muscle. I'm eating a 200-300 calorie surplus, keeping weight gained to 2lb per month and training consistently.
    Have you ever went to muscular failure while doing these programs?

    I think this is what safcpaul is hinting at as well, but I think there are big problems with using RPE unless you actually know what failure is.

    If you claim to hit RPE 9 often, you should occasionally fail. If you never do you may be further away from failure than you think.
    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

    - Richard Feynman
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    I find it hard to believe he added 20 lbs of muscle with those lift numbers.
    Before and after pics are in my bodyspace- I think 20lb is somewhere around the mark. I started out skinny-fat at 170lb and over 20% body fat. I cut down to 155lb and re-comped a little..I don't have a recent pic up, but I'm 173lb and not quite as lean as in my profile pic, where I was 6lb lighter.

    When I started I could only bench an empty bar for two reps and couldn't squat past parallel at all, so I have come a long way. That said, gains have definitely been at a snail's pace after my first six months of training.
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    I find it hard to believe he added 20 lbs of muscle with those lift numbers.
    That was my first thought. After looking at the pictures its difficult to say.
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    Originally Posted by EiFit91 View Post
    Have you ever went to muscular failure while doing these programs?

    I think this is what safcpaul is hinting at as well, but I think there are big problems with using RPE unless you actually know what failure is.

    If you claim to hit RPE 9 often, you should occasionally fail. If you never do you may be further away from failure than you think.
    Yes - I hit form failure and muscle failure many times when doing Fierce 5 in my first 6 months of training. I didn't have safety bars in those days either and had to roll the bar off myself many times, and worse, had to bail from under a squat when I got stuck in the hole. Unfortunately training with this intensity got me injured and took months of physiotherapy to recover from.

    These days I don't fail as often, but it does happen from time to time. I play it a little safer for the squat and deadlift, but have failed reps for the bench, row, OHP and weighted chin up in the past month. I'm confident my use of RPE is pretty accurate.
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  23. #23
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    Originally Posted by RapidFail View Post
    Unfortunately I'm confident that this is not the answer for me. Grinding every set to.failure in an effort to keep adding weight to the bar when it was no longer possible (at that rate) was simply getting me injured and hampering my ability to do enough volume to grow. I didn't start using RPE until I had been lifting for over two years very consistently, 3-4 days per week. I agree that my lift numbers are firmly in the beginner territory, but by any other metric, I am an intermediate lifter.
    Youve definitely made progress judging by your pictures but your lifts are really low for 2 and a half year of lifting. You need to do something about that because progressive overload is the main driver of growth. There's something lacking in your routine. Wether it is intensity or nutrition but there is definitely a reason for you to stall at those numbers. I still have my bet on lack of intensity. When I'm lifting, I push myself to the limit and the workouts are a killer and then when I'm finished I get plenty good food in me to recover and get ready to repeat it. I don't bother with any of this rpe stuff. Maybe it has its place in more advanced lifters but good old hard work should get you most of the results
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    Op I'd advise you seek advice from other sources.

    Stronger by science
    Renaissance periodisation
    Barbell medicine

    Grinding to failure constantly is not smart or hard, or even helpful for many lifters with strength goals.

    Unfortunately this forum is an echo chamber of antiquated nonsense and will likely drive you to keep hammering against a wall.

    None of this is to say failure training doesn't have a place it most certainly does, but it's one tool in the box among many.
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    OP can read all the books he wants however without a certain amount of intensity, volume, recovery and proper nutrients he won't progress. Adding muscle is a fairly simple (not easy) process so complicating things with an overload of information is of no real value. It's the same with fat loss as it's a simple (not easy) process
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    Originally Posted by WolfRose7 View Post
    Op I'd advise you seek advice from other sources.

    Stronger by science
    Renaissance periodisation
    Barbell medicine

    Grinding to failure constantly is not smart or hard, or even helpful for many lifters with strength goals.

    Unfortunately this forum is an echo chamber of antiquated nonsense and will likely drive you to keep hammering against a wall.

    None of this is to say failure training doesn't have a place it most certainly does, but it's one tool in the box among many.
    I think what a novice thinks of as failure is just their mental circuit-breaker kicking in too early. That's part of their learning process. I've watched too many of them to think otherwise.

    Except on bench and curls. Guys definitely tend to push themselves too hard there.
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    1. Find a novice program and stick with it. I'd suggest Starting Strength, but that's just me.
    2. Hit up the nutrition gurus about your lean bulking diet. There's something off on that department.
    "The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that youre a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds." -Henry Rollins
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    Originally Posted by TolerantLactose View Post
    I think what a novice thinks of as failure is just their mental circuit-breaker kicking in too early. That's part of their learning process. I've watched too many of them to think otherwise.

    Except on bench and curls. Guys definitely tend to push themselves too hard there.
    True.
    Particularly of high rep compounds which is why I dislike them for a novice. And why something like greyskull with 1 amrap set after several submaximal works very well for a lot of novices.

    The problem with the just train harder or push everything close to failure is that it overlooks so much that might need improving on the basis that someone just needs more. Be it intensity, volume, effort.

    And importantly, where they might need more.

    If squat tech sucks saying train harder is just going to lead to months of work down the road to retrain with better technique work.

    What we can do instead is get someone to train at an intensity where they can improve technique on squat, and hammer the quads with a hack squat machine after.

    You'll get the reductionist crowd saying this is somehow complicated... Its really not, and there's no need to to oversimply every single block review into "eat more, train harder" it's not how any good coach I've ever known approaches training.
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    Originally Posted by mdonnelly80 View Post
    1. Find a novice program and stick with it. I'd suggest Starting Strength, but that's just me.
    2. Hit up the nutrition gurus about your lean bulking diet. There's something off on that department.
    1. I did Fierce 5 (which is really a more balanced version of SS) for six months in 2019 when I began lifting. I made rapid improvements in the first three months, them started stalling. I made the mistake of grinding and compromising form in the name of adding weight to the bar which got me injured. A novice program won't work for me now because my noob gains are long behind me.

    2. 200-300 calorie surplus, 0.8-1g per lb of protein, 0.4-0.5g per lb of fat and the rest carbs is my usual diet. I eat at least 80% whole foods and usually eat four meals per day, each with at least 30g protein. 2-3 beers per day on Fri, Sat, Sun, very rarely more. I think my nutrition is pretty good.
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    Originally Posted by Tommy W. View Post
    OP can read all the books he wants however without a certain amount of intensity, volume, recovery and proper nutrients he won't progress. Adding muscle is a fairly simple (not easy) process so complicating things with an overload of information is of no real value. It's the same with fat loss as it's a simple (not easy) process
    Couldn't agree more
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