So, 10 months ago I had just got back from a once in a lifetime experience of travelling the world for 6 months. I got to see and do so many incredible things and I feel so lucky to have done it! However… There was of course one drawback to the travelling lifestyle…
That was that I lost the majority of my hard-earned gains in the gym! Years of hard work in the gym slowly eroded away over those six months where I was eating too much, drinking far too much alcohol and there aren’t many gyms around in South-East Asia! I managed five gym sessions during the whole 6 months. Shocking I know, but it was something that I knew was a consequence of me going away and having that once in a lifetime experience. So, I accepted my fate that I would lose my physique and would start again from scratch when I was back and get it back!
By the end of my travels then, I was a shadow of my former self. As you can see from my before
pictures, I was looking skinny, flat and with much higher body fat percentage, in fact for the first time in my life there were no abs in sight!! It was the one thing about travelling that I wasn’t enjoying and that was losing the physique that I had worked on for many years. By the end then part of me was itching to get back so that I could hit the gym hard and start eating right so that I could get my body back.
This is my journey back to shape, and proof that anyone reading this can achieve the same results if you follow what I did and stay committed and focused! In this blog, I will explain the different phases of muscle growth that I went through along the way and outline a blueprint that you can follow if you want to achieve similar results!
The 'Newbie Gains'
The first few months of being back in the gym or just starting out properly in the gym is a magical time. This is because you experience what is referred to as ‘Newbie Gains’ in the fitness industry. It is a state where your body is so un-acclimatised to working out that it is in a unique condition whereby it can build muscle quickly, whilst also burning fat, because any form of weight training is such a massive shock the system.
So as long as you are performing compound movements like push ups, pull ups squats and are getting progressively stronger, you will easily be able to build muscle. It is also possible during this phase to burn fat at the same time (If you are in a calorie deficit). This is the holy grail of bodybuilding that everybody wants to be able to do but it is only achievable for natural lifters when you are new to the gym (Or in my case have had an extended absence). This usually of course coincides with starting off with higher body fat percentages as if you start with already low body fat then you are un-able to do this.
To make the most of this magical period then, you want to make sure you are performing compound movements as I have said and consuming adequate protein. As long as you do that, push hard and keep getting stronger in those lifts you will as I did build significant amounts of muscle. Then if you want to lose some fat at the same time then make sure you are in a slight caloric deficit (Consuming fewer calories then you are burning).
Month 1: How I Trained
From that discussed knowledge, I knew then that this was a vital time for building muscle and so I knew I had to make the most of this. I also knew that at the very start it was pointless in wasting time doing isolation movements and that my focus should purely be on increasing my strength in compound movements, and the muscle growth will follow accordingly. A mistake a lot of newcomers to the gym make is that they do too many isolation movements like bicep curls and tricep extensions. These are far less effective than the compound exercises, as they incorporate fewer muscles. With compound movements, you can also go much heavier, putting your body under greater stress.
So, remember in the early days of working out STICK TO COMPOUND MOVEMENTS!
For the first couple of weeks then I had a very simple workout programme of and Upper Body day and a Lower Body Day. On the upper body workouts, I would focus on push-ups, pull ups, shoulder press, bench press, dips, rows, any and sometimes all of those movements. In general then it was bodyweight exercises, all with the goal of being able to lift more weight or perform more reps than I could that last time I did it. This progressive overload meant that I could slowly start building my strength back up in those key movements, laying the foundation for future gains.
For the lower Body I was doing the same, focusing solely on squats and deadlifts and leg press, just to increase the strength in those movements. Then I would also do some core work as well. Performing all those compound movements recruits so many muscles that you are maximising muscle growth whilst increasing strength.
Initially then your attention needs to be on building up your strength on the basic bodyweight movements fits (Pull ups, Push ups, Squats). Then once your strength has built up and those bodyweight exercises become easy, then you incorporate weights and start doing bench press, shoulder press, weighted squats etc. Using your bodyweight is the perfect place to start as they are very natural movements for the body and incorporate many different muscle groups at the same time.
At the very start of going back to the gym I knew that there would be a lot of soreness involved. The muscles would be so weak and not adapted to working out that they would be sore the next day even from the most minimal of workouts. That in mind I kept the sets low for each muscle group. So, I would do four sets of push ups, then maybe another four of bench press and then that was chest done. If I had carried on and done many more sets then my muscles would have just been sore for days on end, leaving me unable to hit the gym again! So, it was key to hit the muscles just