The table above shows the bulk progress I’ve made over the past 2 months. The most important upper body muscle gain can be seen in my chest measurement which increased by almost 4 inches.
And here are my current pictures (taken in different lightings so you can get a “real” perspective):
End of 2 Month Bulk (December 2014)
The changes in measurements imply that I gained a tremendous amount of muscle mass on my upper chest, upper back and lats – all while gaining less than an inch around my waist and hips.
The fat gains on my waist and hips are so small that I can shred them within a week or two once I start cutting, but the upper body muscle gains are the best I’ve made in my entire training career.
All my shirts are tighter around the shoulders, arms and chest while my waist remains tight. I recently rewarded myself with my first gym stringer and had to buy it in their largest size (XL), since my chest has grown all the way to almost 47″.
In this article I will explain how I trained and ate to achieve those upper body muscle gains.
Let’s get started!!
My Diet: 4,500 Calories A Day
A few days ago I decided to track my eating for the first time in years. I put every single food into excel with nothing left out.
One day of eating during my bulk:
- Protein: 235 g > 21% of total caloric intake
- Carbs: 416 g > 36% of total caloric intake
- Fat: 217 g > 43% of total caloric intake
To my surprise the overall caloric intake came out at over 4,500. This may sound very high, but keep in mind I’m a tall guy at over 200 pounds and I trained my ass off 6 days a week for 2 hours a day with 30-60 seconds of rest between each set.
The damage I did to my body during my workouts required that I ate as much as I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have eaten that much. I only ate when I was hungry, ate slowly and ate solid foods most of the time.
Why is protein so “high”?
Now, some of you may wonder why I ate 235 g of protein when I previously stated that 70-120 g is enough.
First, protein made up just 21% of my total caloric intake. When you eat an enormous amount of calories, it’s natural that more of them are going to come from protein. Even foods like white rice contain protein!
Second, the recommended intake of 70-120 g is a general recommendation that works well for MOST people. It worked well for me during the 3 years leading up to today. However, once you make the switch from doing a “regular” 1-1.5 hour workout 4 times a week to training for 2-3 hours 6 days a week a higher protein intake may be necessary. Also, when you increase your lean mass, your protein requirements increase. I had my body tested recently and my lean mass came out at the top of the range for athletes my height, thus making my protein requirements higher.
Why do you eat toffifee?
Another thing you may question is my consumption of toffifee chocolate.
Consuming dairy is a bad habit that I’m still struggling with. I’m lactose intolerant, but I love chocolate and I found that as long as I keep my dairy intake small and close to my workouts, my body digests it somewhat decently. Even though I try to do my best with my training and eating, I’m not perfect, so I decided to include this in my excel sheet to show you that you don’t have to do everything perfectly to make bulking progress.
Furthermore, I found that consuming sugar before my workouts enables me to train MUCH harder during my initial 1-2 hours of training. I’ve consumed a sugary snack of about 100-150 g before most of my workouts in the past 2 months and the effect has been amazing.
This is usually how my day looks in terms of eating:
- 09 AM: Pancake with calorie free strawberry syrup
- 1 PM: Pancake with calorie free strawberry syrup
- 5 PM: Meat and rice with ketchup
- 6 PM: Toffifee or other quick snack
- 6.30 PM-9 PM: Workout
- 9 PM: PWO Shake (100 g maltodextrin, 30 g egg protein powder, 5 g creatine)
- 10 PM: Meat and rice with ketchup
- Midnight: Natural peanut butter
- 2 AM: Sleep
Disclaimer: I Didn’t Eat Like This Everyday!
The diet above was what I would eat on most days of the week, however some days I’m extremely hungry after my workouts and I don’t have food prepared at home so I will order a hamburger or pizza. This happens 3-4 nights a week after my workouts.
When I do that, I will skip my dinner and midnight meal, thereby giving myself a 2,000 calorie buffer to eat junk. This changes my macros, but overall caloric intake is much more for muscle building, therefore it doesn’t affect the big picture much.
Unfortunately, I know that eating junk is not good for you. In my future bulks I will schedule more time for my meal preparation to avoid this filthy habit of eating junk.
I’m telling you this to give you 100% REAL insights on how I eat during a bulk.
Most of you have busy lives with school, career, families and other responsibilities than training. There will often be times where you lack the time to cook or the money to go to a restaurant and eat a healthy meal. In that case, you have too what it takes to get your calories in to sustain bulk progress.
As long as you do the right thing most of the time, you will get results.
Don’t chase perfectionism or you will be in for constant disappointment and over the long term that is far worse than enjoying that burger a few nights a week.
Now, let’s move onto the training.
My 6 Day Training Split: Working Out Until I’m “Done”
- Monday: Arms, Shoulders, Calves, Traps, Abs
- Tuesday: Back, Chest
- Wednesday: Legs, Calves, Traps, Abs
- Thursday: Back, Shoulders
- Friday: Arms, Calves, Traps, Abs
- Saturday: Chest, Calves, Traps, Abs
- Sunday: Relax
This is the basic lay out of my workout and each workout takes 2-3 hours including stretching and warm up which I have gotten serious about this year.
The frequent traps and abs training was mostly out of experimentation. I wanted to see how I would look with bigger abs and traps.
The conclusion was that my traps grew rapidly and got too big for my liking so I stopped training them now.
In contrast, my ab training helped me maintain somewhat good-looking abs even though I got my bodyweight over 200 pounds. Keep in mind though that I kept my ab training to just 2-4 sets each workout so they don’t get too bulky.
This ab pic was taken a few weeks ago on a rest day after eating Chinese food and the desert pictured below:
Finally, calves have always been a weak point of mine. I’m a tall guy with long limbs and I never had any calf muscle. To fix that, I performed 16-32 dropsets for calves at the end of most of my training sessions.
The hard work paid off and I can see my calf muscles for the first time in my life. They’re still small but everyone has to start somewhere!
As mentioned in my previous articles, my training is based on the training principles of the legendary bodybuilder Serge Nubret.
To keep it brief, I train with moderate-high reps, light-moderate weights, bodyweight exercises, do a lot of dropsets and keep the rest between sets to less than 1 minute.
My training is instinctive. The layout you see above is just a guideline to how my training CAN look in any given week.
Most often, it changes depending on how my body feels.
If I did shoulders monday, and feel shoulder discomfort during chest training on Tuesdays I may skip chest training or do a light training session for chest.
Also, some workouts I feel I can go forever with certain muscle groups like rear shoulder. I have previously done over 20 dropsets for rear shoulder alone.
Other days, I start feeling sore and weak after just a few sets. On those days, I take it easy and focus on other muscle groups that are fresh.
By training instinctively, I’m able to maximise each workout since I can do a lot of damage to the muscle groups I feel are fresh on that given day.
The key to train hard and often is to find a set of exercises for each muscle group that work well for YOU and your goals.
To be specific, you want to do exercises that do not cause pain or discomfort.
For example, I found that skullcrushers cause elbow pain FOR ME. If I trained skullcrushers on a regular basis with high volume and high intensity, there’s a very high chance I would have messed up elbows by now.
In contrast, doing rope push downs for triceps works very well. I can do these all day without any pain. This enables me to do a lot of sets, reps and go beyond failure several times in a workout without risking injury.
To find the right exercises, you have to go through a lot of experimentation. In this article, you can find a list of my favorite exercises. Those are the exercises I do all the time, but you have to do your own experimentation because my exercises do not necessarily work for YOU.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the specifics of the two muscle groups that grew the most during my bulk: my back and chest.
Upper Chest Routine For Striations and Massive Gains
My chest routine looks something like this:
- Muscle ups: 2-3 explosive sets to warm up my upper body
- Seated hammer strength machine incline press: 4 sets with light weights and 8-12 reps (30-60 seconds rest between sets)
- Low cable crossovers: 8-16 dropsets of 8-12 reps each with 30-60 seconds rest between each dropset (after my last dropset I do diamond push ups to failure, followed by regular push ups to failure) > This is the “money” movement in my chest training. It’s by far the best chest exercise for me.
- Incline DB pullovers: 4 sets with 1 minute rest between sets (I aim for 12 reps on the pullovers and max out the diamonds)
- If I have more energy, I will do a few sets of diamond push ups to failure
That’s how my chest routine looks give or take a few sets or switching up the order of exercises depending on what’s available at the gym.
All the exercises above emphasise your upper and inner chest.
The reasoning is that even though I want to get bigger, I want to get bigger in the right places.
1) Want A Great Chest? Stop Doing Flat Bench Presses!
I train to have a square looking chest with separation lines, striations and good proportions rather than mindlessly adding size everywhere. Here’s an example of the chest I’m aiming to achieve:
(Pictured: Lazar Novovic of Bar Brothers)
To achieve that square chest look, you want to do chest exercises that emphasise your upper and inner chest. Just imagine if Lazar didn’t have massive upper and inner chest development – there wouldn’t be any striations in the middle of the chest and there wouldn’t be separation lines between the upper and lower chest.
In my opinion, those striations and lines make a chest look great. Given the choice, I would always prefer to have a smaller chest with those lines instead of a big bulky powerlifting chest:
(Pictured: Konstantins Konstantinovs – One of the best raw powerlifters ever).
I have huge respect for the powerlifter above, but I just don’t go for that look!
So, why am I showing you a picture of a powerlifter? Because powerlifters base their training around the flat bench press which is the most popular chest exercise.
I did this too back in the day when my chest training revolved around flat bench presses. Back then, I had a fairly developed chest, but it didn’t look good.
My chest simply got bigger, but there were no separation lines, no striations and no proportion to it. In fact, I would argue that my chest got WORSE when I trained it with flat bench presses.
Therefore, if your goal is to build a chest that looks closer to that of Lazar rather than that of Konstantins, you want to quit the flat benches and emphasise your upper chest and/or inner chest with every exercise.
Here’s a story of SFT-reader, Zarrar who has gynecomastia (puffy nipples) and used to be bullied about his chest:
And here’s his comment about 1.5 months after intense focus on his upper chest development:
And here’s SFT-reader Frank who followed my advice of replacing flat benches with incline:
If the advice works for guys with gynecomastia (including me, I still have the condition), imagine what it can do for those of you without that terrible gland in your chest!
2) You cannot isolate the upper chest but you can emphasise it
A lot of guys believe that isolating the upper chest completely removes work from your lower chest.
Often this belief leads them to asking me whether they should train their lower chest.
The short answer is NO and now I’ll explain why.
When you train your chest, you cannot ISOLATE a certain part of the chest. You can only EMPHASISE parts.
The pectoralis major muscle is ONE muscle with muscle fibers spread around a large surface.
When you do a typical upper chest exercise like the incline bench press, you stimulate a larger proportion of muscle fibers placed in the upper part of the pectoralis major compared to when you do a lower chest exercise like the flat bench press.
In other words, when you train your upper chest, you still train your lower chest.
For most guys, this is more than enough lower chest training.
With that said, you want to keep in mind that when you do certain shoulder exercises, you also hit the chest!
To be specific, I do a lot of military presses and handstand push ups for shoulders.
When you do these two exercises, you put an immense stress on your UPPER CHEST.
I didn’t know about this until very late in my training. Take a look at my transformation video below. Go to 2:40, put it in 720p and fullscreen. Watch how much my upper chest vibrates during the pressing:
Back Routine To Build The Wings Of A Cobra
Adding size to your back and wings will add size to your chest circumference measurement. In my case, much of my 4 inch gain around my chest can be attributed to working my back hard.
When I train back, I divide it in 2 parts since the back is a huge muscle group:
When you train for width, you want to target the muscles under your armpits that gives you wings – also called lats.
To target those muscles, you do VERTICAL pulling movements such as:
- Pull ups/Chin ups
- Lat pull downs
When you want to train for thickness, you want to target the muscles on your upper, middle and lower back.
To target those muscles, you can use rowing movements and the deadlift.
In my case, I go for width. I want to have a very wide upper body and narrow waist. Thickness is also nice, but it’s a low priority.
Therefore, I most often do width training first and this is followed by rowing exercises at the end of the workout.
1) Training For Back Width
(Follow on Instagram @OskarFaarkrog for daily pics)
One day, I saw a guy doing standing cable pullovers for his back on the lat pulldown machine.
Since I was on the lat pulldown next to him, I decided to give it a try, and I got the best pump in my lats I have ever gotten.
I kept doing it for something like 30 minutes and pretty much fell in love with this exercise.
It’s currently my favorite back exercise to build wide lats, and ever since I started doing it my back has grown even further.
When I do this exercise, I use very light weights and an overhand grip that is slightly wider than shoulder width.
I go for 12-20 reps on my first set to get a great pump. Once I feel I cannot do any more reps with perfect form I sit down and do regular underhand grip lat pull downs with moderate weights, aiming for about 8-12 reps.
I dropset the lat pulldown 2-3 times depending on feel, and once I’m done I immediately go back to the cable pullovers and keep repeating this until the burn is so bad I can’t stand it anymore.
I like to call this a giant set:
- 12-20 reps standing cable pullover with very light weights (I used like 40 pounds).
- 8-12 reps seated underhand grip lat pulldowns with 130lbs. (stop this set 1 rep before failure).
- 8-12 reps seated underhand grip lat pulldowns with 100lbs. (stop this set 1 rep before failure).
- 8-12 reps seated underhand grip lat pulldowns with 70 lbs. (stop this set 1 rep before failure).
I keep repeating step 1-4 without any rest for a total of 3-5 giant sets.
Once I finish that, I keep doing 4-5 regular sets of standing cable pullovers with 30 seconds rest between sets until I cannot complete a single rep with good form.
The key to do so many sets and reps without a break is to leave the ego at home by using light weights and build up the amount of sets and reps you do gradually.
Also, if needed I will lower the weights so I can get my reps in. I don’t care if I’m using the lowest weight on the stack as long as I get my reps in and a great pump.
Some of my sets take several minutes to complete and the burn is so intense I’m thinking I may faint at anytime during the set and I have once puked outside when doing an intense calisthenics giant set.
2) Training For Back Thickness
For back thickness, I do 8-10 sets with light-moderate weights on different rowing machines.
I aim for 8-12 reps on each set, take 30-60 seconds rest between sets and focus on working my muscles rather than my ego.
A good tip for back thickness is to always imagine pulling your elbows towards your upper body when rowing. (Credit for this tip goes to Elliot Hulse)
Once I finish my back thickness training, I will do a few sets of slow wide grip pull ups to finish off my back.
Summary of Back Routine
- 3-5 giant sets: Standing cable pullovers followed by 3 dropsets of seated underhand grip lat pull downs (no rest between giant sets)
- 8-10 sets x 8-12 reps of different rowing machines (30-60 seconds rest between sets)
- 2-3 sets of slow wide grip pull ups
Push Yourself But Know Your Limits
If you look at the amount of muscle groups I do each workout, it should be clear that my sessions are time consuming.
It’s difficult to hit several muscle groups in 45 minutes including warm up and stretching!
Doing this type of routine is a huge sacrifice from a time-perspective, but that’s what it takes to build muscle for me.
I’ve tried cutting my workouts short, and it never works.
Here’s an outline of the time I put into working out, recovery and cooking to make this work:
- Cook, eat, clean kitchen and “get ready” for gym: 2 hours
- Take bus to gym and change etc.: 1 hour (30 minutes each way)
- Warm up: 15 minutes
- Workout: 2 hours
- Stretching: 20 minutes
- Relax/shower/eat after gym: 2 hours
In other words, we are a looking at about half of my day dedicated to my training/eating/recovering.
That’s a huge sacrifice, and most people won’t make it. I know because I wouldn’t make it just a few years ago. My love for training grew gradually over time, and I don’t expect a beginner to put the same energy into working out as I do.
Start small, and build it up gradually, otherwise you set yourself up for failure.
Another point I want to make is in regards to overtraining. Most people would define my training as doing “too much” and “too often”.
First, I “cycle” my training. I will usually train hard for 3 weeks while being in a caloric surplus and then I will take a few “easier” weeks where I eat less to lose the excess fat I gain during my bulks and then spend another few weeks or months in maintenance just focusing on other things in life. This bulk was an exception since it has lasted over 2 months so far, and I can safely say that my next long bulk will not be until late next year.
Second, doing this much training does leave me tired with little energy for anything else. That’s one of the reasons to why I don’t publish articles for a month and then suddenly you have 2-3 in a row over a few weeks.
When I train hard, it’s my sole focus in life. School and the website are a low priority during my hard training cycles. The body and mind can only take a certain amount of stress. If you put too much stress on yourself you will burn out, get injured and “overtrain”. I don’t overtrain because I minimise outside stress and eat a lot of calories.
This is also the reason to why I only do “longer” bulks like this max 1-2 times a year. It’s hard to set other things in life aside to make room for a long bulking cycle, and it’s also unhealthy to constantly be in a huge caloric surplus since your body like to remain in homeostasis (energy balance).
Be proud but stay hungry!
– Oskar Faarkrog