What?! A scrawny cyclist building upper body muscle? Now that’s just stupid!

Some people may think so. But I don’t really care. So if you’re with me and want to build some big muscles without spending too much time in the gym, read on…

How it started…

The time has finally arrived… after some careful preparation I’m starting my workout experiment to gain 34 lb of muscle in 4 weeks! (Check that post for all the background info…)

All these weight lifting guides are “experiments” so I’m calling this The Susquehanna Experiment. The experiment is to take a skinny cyclist with big legs but no upper body and turn him into a muscular bodybuilder. The test subject is myself. Based on the guidelines I posted about before, here’s the outline of my plan:

I decided to get ripped. Having big legs and a tiny upper-body is just a bit weird.

I was inspired by Tim Ferriss and his crazy guide to gaining 34 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks, so I decided to take up the challenge.

Now, I hadn’t been lifting much at all in the past years, so I spent a few weeks doing lots of bodyweight workouts and lifting some light weights in my home gym. You know, just to let my arms remember what it’s like to pump some iron.

But still, I was quite small and weak. So I formulated my plan…

The Workout Plan

All these weight lifting guides are “experiments” so this is The Susquehanna Experiment. (Training is taking place on the banks of the Susquehanna River.)

The experiment is to take a skinny cyclist with big legs but no upper body and turn him into a muscular bodybuilder. The test subject is myself. Based on the guidelines I posted about before, here’s the outline of my plan:

Workout Basics

Here are the basic principles for this weight training program:

  • One set to failure.
  • Aiming for 8-10 reps per set, reaching muscular failure.
  • Slow cadence. 5 seconds up and then 5 seconds down (ensures constant load on muscle and damn does it hurt!)
  • Low frequency. (Max 2x per week, perhaps once every 4 days.)
  • 3-5 minutes rest between exercises.
  • Each workout will consist of 4-7 multi-joint exercises. (no more than that!)
  • Each workout will work the entire body (arms and then legs.) Working arms and then legs is supposed to cause the greatest hormonal response
  • Workout only a little, eat a lot, sleep a lot (need lots of rest for body to rebuild.)

Here are some exercises I will do:

The Exercises

  • Trap bar deadlift
  • Overhead press
  • Incline bench press
  • Yates Bent Row
  • Yates bent row
  • Dips (preferably weighted)
  • Pull-ups (a bodyweight exercise, also could be weighted)
  • Close-grip shoulder press (never behind the neck)
  • Machine pull-over
  • Close grip supinated (palms facing you) pulldowns
  • SLOW shrugs with dumbbells (pause for 2 seconds at the top)
  • Leg extension (Not necessary, but I did it a few times.)
  • Hamstring curl
  • Seated calf raises
  • Leg press (feet shoulder width apart; do higher reps on this; at least 120 seconds before failure)

Plus some jogging or stationary biking for a warm-up and cool-down, and of course I’ll still do some cycling and yoga and stuff during the week.

Note that we’re going for multi-joint exercises. A few reasons for this. First, calling multiple large muscle groups at once will release more hormones to build muscles. Second, it makes for very little time spent in the gym (besides warmup and cooldown, 30-40 minutes is plenty). Third, it’s realistic. In real life you don’t do any movements that isolate a specific muscle, so why train for that?

The Diet

It’s simple: Lots of protein.

Lots of food, too, but go for lots of protein, unlike a typical cycling season diet. Avoid anything white. Only high-quality carbs. (Whole wheat pasta is surprisingly high in protein by the way.)

Homemade bread is good; mine has lots of protein from whole grains, flax seeds, etc.

Building muscle means eating a lot of food, specifically protein. And of course the basics like avoiding anything white, so I only get high-quality carbs.

Had some cereal and stuff though. I’ll try to make sure I only do that right after a cardio workout though, when my body is ready to refuel. (I’m a cyclist, I can’t always cut out sugary stuff.)

One day each week, cut calories by 50%. (Basically you don’t want your metabolism accustomed to a specific caloric intake. Something about protein synthesis and/or metabolism; in other words, because Tim Ferriss says so.)

Other Details

Very important: record each workout in detail!

This is good for tracking progress and comparing results to other workout routines.

Very important: Record each workout in detail to track progress.

However I won’t be recording too much detail, especially about my diet. I just don’t feel like counting grams of protein each day 🙂

Oh No!

Unfortunately I had to cut this experiment short – it ended in 5 workouts instead of 8. I dislocated my shoulder during the ordeal, so it really wasn’t practical to continue. Stay tuned for a better experiment in the 2008-2009 winter season!

The Results

The big thing I did was take before and after pictures to see my progress. Well, looking at them, you wouldn’t know which was which! I actually didn’t look any bigger at the end of the experiment.

However, I also took measurements, and I saw some progress here.

My legs grew a tiny bit, like 1/4 inch. That’s to be expected as they are already disproportionately large.

My arms and chest though, that was what I was going for. I gained 1 1/2″ on my bicep, and 2 1/2″ on my chest!

Not bad for 2.5 weeks!

Extended Results

I knew it was too good to be true! As soon as I started cycling for the spring (and also quit weight lifting,) the muscle vanished. I think I’m still a little bigger, but my measurements have dropped back down to normal levels.

Oh well, it was fun!


How to Manage a Low-Volume, High-Intensity Weight Training Program

During my “Susquehanna Experiment” weight training program, it only took a couple practice sessions to realize that low-volume, high-intensity training programs can get pretty complicated. And it only took a couple reps to see how hard it is!

Here are my thoughts on some parts of the routine:

The 5/5 cadence. Lifting a weight for five seconds and then lowering it down for five seconds, all in the same breath, is just plain hard. There is nothing like a constant load on your muscles to show you how long 10 seconds can be!

Under normal circumstances, I have no problem breathing in for a count of 5 and then breathing out for a count of 5. But when that breath takes place while lifting a barbell, and is followed by another eight long breaths under load, it’s a lot harder to concentrate on your breath!

Counting. Normally I would just count my reps and be done with it. In this experiment, I had to keep track of my reps and my breath! That meant I was counting from one to five twice for each rep.

This is where a spotter comes in handy! Have a spotter count your reps for you while you focus on counting your breath. (Eventually I managed to count my reps and just go by feel for the 5/5 cadence, though.)

The weight. Figuring out what weight to use is tricky, too. Even though this is supposed to be intense, and you are only doing 8-10 reps of each exercise, the amount of weight you lift will be fairly low. Trust me, the constant load on your muscles from the slow cadence is more than enough intensity!

I actually did two test sessions just to figure out the proper weight to start with, and even then I wasn’t positive what was best.

Preparation. I don’t know if there’s anything that could have prepared me for this! I hadn’t been lifting a lot, but I hit the weights every so often since I have some light weights at home. I also did a lot of Cyclo-Core bodyweight routines and lots of extra push-ups.

However, this “Super-Slow” type of lifting still destroyed me!

Soreness. You better believe I was sore! I decided that once every four days is probably all my body can handle, so I went with a Monday/Thursday schedule.

Number of Exercises. At first, when Tim Ferriss recommended doing only 4-7 exercises each time, I didn’t think I’d be getting my money’s worth at the gym, so to speak. But if you do it right, you’ll be too exhausted to do a seventh set of anything!

High Protein Diet. Even though I’m close to being a vegetarian, I enjoyed the high protein diet. Turkey sandwiches, protein smoothies, mmm mmm good!

Now go ahead and get started on your weight lifting routines!



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