Most folks enter the holiday season concerned about holiday fat gain and rightfully so. Without conscious effort, it’s easy to let those excess calories morph into serious fat mass. But here’s the good news: excess calorie consumption can also build muscle. With the right holiday mass training strategies, a lifter can avoid seasonal fat gain while accruing muscle and strength.
1. Farmer’s Walks
Mass gain isn’t complex—it’s a product of strategically planned hard work. Farmer’s walks are as simple an exercise as exists in the training world. Most often they’re chosen as a grip booster or a conditioning tool but they’re also great for building mass. Why? Farmer’s walks, when they’re used correctly, keep the body under tension and vertical load for extended periods of time. Extended time under tension is a powerful muscle building tool, almost regardless of exercise, but the functionality of walks (and other carries) calls into action far more muscle than with most traditional moves.
Do it Right: Grab a heavy set of dumbbells, get tall, and take those bad boys for a walk. Aim for bouts that last at least thirty seconds—brave souls extend this walk to entire minute. The process is repeated for as many sets as possible before grip fails. Include them at the end of every upper-body training session during the winter, or at anytime when you’re looking to put some of those extra calories to work.
The time under tension theme continues. Eccentric squats are a great utilization of time under tension while also employing another muscle building tactic—eccentric muscle damage. Eccentric contractions are the most disruptive to muscle tissue—the more muscle you break down, the greater the factor of repair (read: growth) – making them effective for mass gain.
Do it Right: Load the bar with 75 to 85 percent of your one rep max (1RM) and perform sets of five to eight reps while performing the eccentric phase of the lift for four to six agonizing seconds. Perform three to six sets, depending on the reps. Using higher reps? Do fewer sets. Lower reps receive the opposite treatment.
It’s not news that heavy deadlifts build muscle. In fact, if they’re not a staple in a lifter’s muscle building regime, said lifter is woefully off base. But strategic placement is worth discussing.
Do it Right: Heavy pulls, performed at, or around, eighty-five percent of one rep max create a muscle building hormonal environment because it jacks up your body’s natural production of testosterone and growth hormone. Perform reps with this load and go for a few reps shy of failure. Hit this type of deadlift session early in the week to set the hormonal stage for muscle growth throughout the rest of the week, or the morning of (or after) a big meal.
Use this strategy for three to four weeks before taking a brief recovery break by removing deadlifts from programming or going light for a week or two.
Skeptical about the use of deadlifts in this context? Try going heavy on a calorie-restricted diet and you may change your perspective.