So you have worked your butt off the get rid of the extra fat, and found you didn’t have quite as much muscle as you thought. Time to build!
The reality is, just about anyone can diet. There is a clear goal in mind, results are seen frequently, adjustments are made relatively often, and despite you wanting to chew your arm off, you stick to it! Why? Because, you look better every day. Jump ahead past maintenance and into a build. This is a whole different ball game. So, what can you expect?
You have to be mentally ready- The mental side is the hardest part. Females especially think that they will start magically morphing into a GI Joe, right before their very eyes. But the truth is, building is very hard. It takes time and patience. Keep reading and you will see why mental preparation is key.
You will gain weight– Say what? You mean the scale is going to go up? Yep, and that is a good thing! This is what we want to happen. If you aren’t ready to watch that scale start to climb in the direction that you were always taught was horrible, you aren’t ready to build muscle. It is impossible to put on an appreciable amount of muscle without seeing the scale move upward outside of a few circumstances where re-comp happens. Likely these situations don’t apply to you, and I really won’t get into them here because they are irrelevant to this post. The scale goes up, plan on it. That leads us to my next point.
You have to eat– This one gets laughed at a lot, especially after having a chew your arm off dieting phase. I hear, “bring on the food” all the time. By the end of the build they are usually singing a different tune. The reality is, it isn’t as easy as you would think. Since you want the scale to go up, you are going to require more food. If you have been dieting pretty hard, your hunger signals might be a little messed up at first and this can be easy. In fact you may even be hungry. Some people are hungry no matter how much they get to eat. But as you continue to eat, and eat, and eat you very easily can get sick of the amount of food required. It gets old for many people. I suspect this partially has to do with the freak out component mentioned above about the scale.
You will get softer– It is temporary! In order to build muscle you have to accept that it comes with a little bit of fat in addition to the extra water weight that more food and carbs bring. Some might get away with not having the squishy parts for a while, but most of us experience some true frustration here. See, you remember those really annoying pockets of fat that refused to come off until the very end of your dieting phase? Of course you do. Well, they are nearly always the first to come back. We don’t call them trouble spots for nothing! So get comfy with a little extra cushion for a while. It is all part of the greater good. It is just a little body fat, and it won’t kill you. Eventually you will get to diet down (and look forward to it) and see the results of all your hard work. If you were thinking that building muscle was going to turn you into a fitness model, you are misinformed. It is a step in the right direction, but you don’t get to see much of your muscle until you diet the fat off that came with the new muscle. Everything comes with a cost.
You will have to stay focused– That cost. It is easy to say you want to build, but the minute you start looking soft, you want to quit. Why? Because you don’t see your results. It is easier to stick with something when the results show every day or every week. When you look fluffy and your clothes are tighter, you start to question the process. It is easy to think things aren’t working, just because you can’t see them. Stay focused. Stay strong. Stick it out.
You have to stay focused part 2– Once you have accepted that you have to gain some fat, you can get sloppy. Pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Heck yeah! Because I am building, so YOLO! This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when going into a build. Yes you are putting on muscle, yes that requires food, and yes it comes with some fat gain too. How much though? Do you really want to spend a year dieting off the fat you gained in 6 months of building? I thought not. Do yourself a favor and stick to one or two free meals of reasonable size per week during your building phase. That will minimize fat gain, and optimize your partitioning. Just like calorie deficits, just because some is good doesn’t’ mean more is better. Find your sweet spot and eat just enough.
You have to train hard– You feel like you had trained hard when dieting. You probably did. However, now you have a lot more food! Training while dieting preserved your muscle mass. Now you need to put that extra food to good use. Growing takes more effort, more intensity in the gym. You want to see those weights move up as much as possible (without ego lifts of course), you wantIo ensure tension on every rep, make them count. tf you want the body to grow, you have to give it a reason. Truth be told it is pretty dang easy for the body to store fat in comparison, I am sure you have experienced that. It is much harder to make it utilize those same calories for muscle growth. Put in the work. No skipping workouts because you don’t feel like it, no going through the motions without focus. If you aren’t ready to bring it, you may want to take your ball and go home. I know that sounds harsh, but you will be disappointed in your results if you don’t bring intensity to your training.
Recovery matters– I know you are the energizer bunny and bulletproof too. It doesn’t matter. You need to get some sleep. The body recovers at rest. That is where the magic happens. If you are constantly stressed and sleep deprived, get a handle on it. If you can’t, then maybe you should go back to maintenance. All this food and all this hard work is a stress to the body in and of itself. Give your body the respect it deserves and rest.
It is time consuming– Training for 60-90minutes, 4-5 days a week is common here. Be sure you have the time to commit. As I said before, your muscles aren’t going to build on excuses and rushed gym sessions.
You have to be patient- Muscles are hard to come by (I am sure by now you have gathered). Females especially struggle. If you are a true hard-gainer, it is really tough. This will not happen over days or likely even weeks. Plan on months of building. In addition to that, don’t think this is your only build. You will probably have to go through several cycles of build, maintain, diet, maintain, build, etc. Eventually your body needs a break, and you will likely reach a limit to how much fat you are willing to gain. So plan on building for a while, but also know that you will probably do it again. If you don’t see a lot of muscle the first time, just know that people spend years building their bodies. It isn’t because they are slow, it is because that is what is required.
By now you think I am trying to talk you out of it! Lol. I am not. In fact I love it! I just want you to be ready, that way you can enjoy it. So on the best part.
You get stronger– I know it sounded kind of negative in the train hard section, but as you push yourself you will see. Your lifts will go up in weight and you will love it! It feels awesome to add weight to the bar.
You will become better– Not everyone is great at lifting weights to start off with. It takes practice. As you get practice, you will get better, when you get better you get stronger, and that eventually correlates to why we are here. More muscle.
You will achieve something– You will be so happy you overcame the obstacles of building and stuck it out. You work hard and get results. It isn’t something everyone can do. Not everyone is cut out for it. In fact, building has a way of weeding people out and showing them that they don’t really want it that bad. It is tough, and you did it!
If you want to learn more about building or have more questions, there is a great 4 part series on the Lean Bodies Consulting site. I have linked them below. I definitely suggest you check them out. If you have already been through this process, you know how challenging it is. I personally feel the rewards outweigh the sacrifice.
Of course with anything you can count on a few exceptions to the rule or outliers. This happens for various reasons. Sometimes to their benefit and others their sheer disappointment. This why it is always important to focus on your own journey, prepare yourself for the possibilities, and never compare.
In conclusion, you are probably left with a few more questions. Ultimately my goal here was to prepare you for the very real possibilities of each phase of physique transformation, so you can learn to enjoy and embrace each phase. I often tell my clients that each phase has it’s gifts, and I believe it. If you focus on those positives, it will be easier to accept the “negatives” that tag along for the ride. Now, aren’t you glad I didn’t make that one single blog post?