Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A gal DELIBERATELY gaining "mass" (not weight). How can this be?

So, i'm female, like to be lean and ripped AND i'm trying to gain mass - a new way to say "gain weight." What is that about? If awhile ago someone had told me i'd be looking at mass going up rather than down i would have paled, horrified. So what's happened?

Two things:
  1. i've for a long time wanted defined strong and strong looking arms.
  2. But perhaps more importantly, over the past few years, i've learned how to do lean for me: i know what it takes to get lean dialed in, and have done it a couple of times - getting to the ideal weight, letting that slide a few pounds, going back. For me this has meant my weight has been consistently between 57 point something and 60k. Happy days.
So one might say i am in what seems the weird place of knowing more now about my body and how it responds to food and movement in order to explore this other side of the strength equation, commonly refereed to as hypertrophy.

So, with the release of Pavel's Return of the Kettlebell (start of a review series here)- geared at hypertrophy strength in particular- i thought i'm in a good enough place now to push on this strength side with RTK's double KB work and investigate the mass side promised with it. And i know for my NSCA CSCS text book - and every other sentient knowledgeable person on mass tells me so - this means eating to achieve a caloric surplus not a deficit. I have never eaten for caloric surplus deliberately in my life.

The result so far is a strange thing. Over the past 6-8 weeks i have been watching the scale go up AND i have not freaked out, i have not panicked, i have not broken into a sweat of fear.

Don't Panic
Part of the reason for this lack of panic is perhaps knowledge and control. I know something about what's going on, and i am doing it cautiously and deliberately. Whether it's optimally remains to be seen, but i'm ok with that, too, as the weight going up is not huge leaps and bounds.

Part of the ok'ness is also that in the knowledge side, i know how to evaluate the number on the scale from a few metrics. One of the most powerful ones is girth and the other is skin fold testing.

With Girth i whip out a wonderful gadget called a myotape, and cuff it around my biceps. Not a ton of change, but it's an honest 1/8th of an inch. And after a workout the measure is considerably greater. But we're talking post rest not post workout measures. the real stuff. I can also keep an eye on more sensitive areas like hips and waist with girth and see if this is beyond my mental tolerances or not. The best check there however is still feeling comfy in my clothes.

With skin fold measures i track what i really want to track here: improvements in lean mass. These are slower to grow than fat to be sure, but seeing weekly progress is a good thing. So far i haven't seen bigger jumps than when i've been trying to lean out and work out at the same time, but it's only been a short trial so far. The main thing is the trends are going in the right direction, and the BF% is still well within tolerable limits.

Why else am i doing this?
I want to see if i can "get arms" (and maybe some other body parts too, but arms has always been the one for me). As far as i know there's no genetic reason why my arms shouldn't respond approriately to appropriate forces for hypertrophic adaptation. However, i also want to walk the walk.

I confer with lots of folks who are more into bodybuilding than strength. The interesting demographic is young lads and post 30's gals - in my experience anyway. So while i'm giving council like "eat more to gain" where have i been on that continuum? Strength and leanness.

So i figure now is the time to fish or cut bait. I'm not going into body building, but i am experimenting with how muscle mass growth can be stimulated, fed, supported, with what one might see as the *minimal* set of moves to achieve that goal, and where RTK right now is my main mission.

For now, part of the experiment is just figuring out how to be cool like a little fonzy with this weight gain thing while the mass gain thing comes along.

The basics: how one reacts to food.

The far more challenging part at least for me and perhaps for other women too who may want more mass (as opposed to weight, dam it. weight bad; mass good - we know what we mean) - is feeling ok about seeing the scale go in the usually dreaded direction.

The take away from this for me so far thinking about it is that it's been my work in nutrition that's let me feel comfortable exploring this uncharted territory in strength and mass (mass. ha! so far i say ha! we'll see. an eighth of an inch for pete's sake! ), not the workouts.

The workouts psychologically seem the eas(ier) part. There are certain principles to which muscle reacts when stimulated appropriately. Check. But the scale? Really, i think if i didn't have those other measures, and a faith that i know how to reduce the weight again, i couldn't do this.

The Way i've Found Thinner Peace.
I'm stealing thinner peace from a fabulous book on how we react to change and how to make habits successful called the Four day Win by Martha Beck (US || UK ) - recommended. If you want to see why, i talk about habits, and the change of pain that is changing one's dietary ways and how to do this with as little brain pain as possible over here. That's potentially a first place: to know how change can work safely. And whence from there?

For me, how i got to a place of really knowing my body in terms of nutrition is with Precision Nutrition that i've reviewed over time, and have been using now, literally for years. The thing i'd like to draw attention to here are three parts of that approach that i think are relevant to this weight going up mental safety zone.
  1. - the basic baselining
  2. - the individualization plan
  3. - learning about measures
PN has a suite of 7 eating habits that it starts from . A person may decide later that they want to follow another path, but by getting compliant with this approach for a month there's a clear baseline around carb tolerance, protein uptake and good nutrition from which to begin to understand more about how one's own body reacts to food: types, amounts, timing and so on.

We're complex systems. Why wouldn't it take that kind of time to get to know how these complex mechanisms interact with complex inputs?

So i think it's great that there's a base case from which adjustments can be made. Second, once the base case is established, time to look at parameters for individualizing to get on with one's body comp goals: where start sensibly to work towards losing weight or gaining mass? how tweak either calories or macronutrients? why? how do that again in the spirit of change one thing, maintain the change for two weeks, assess.

The third part is actually having guidance on how to do girth and skinfold measures and make sense of those measures. A lot of that material is in the PN guides that come with the huge amount of material available in the program. Much more comes from the feedback of folks on the PN forum. The experts there from a diversity of backgrounds are awesome. A breakthrough for me, for instance, happened when i'd seemingly hit a plateua doing everything i thought right, and a power lifter trainer from London, Alex Gold, said, that happened to me: i hate calorie counting, but why not check in with fitday for a couple weeks to get a reality check and see what happens?

Wow. super. Did it for a month, actually, and, combined with what i knew at that point, and advice on tuning my workouts (also from PN) i had it nailed - the light turned on and i got what it took to tune my intake for that particular goal. Now i might not always choose to do that of course, but i know what it is - at least in that direction. I am so grateful for that collision of practice, reading, and the space in which to consult with knowledgeable and simply more experienced people. The photo on the left is from a time just after this tuning process.

Whither Voyager?
My modus operandi now seems to be figuring out how to use that knowledge from leaning up to muscling up (and then leaning again, leaving the mass in tact, more or less ).

What some folks may notice is that the above getting to know my physiology for food was a month here, two week tests at a time there - easily adding up to more than a 12 week body transformation. You bet. But, the point is, do it once, do it right, and the knowledge is there for well, so far, my life since then.

Diets suck. they're about temporary deprivation for the most part. They're not about skills or about self-knowledge to have confidence to take knowledge gained to new places.

With ETK (review) and the RKC cert (review), i learned a lot about single kettlebell work. Not everything, but a great foundation with solid moves that will also last a life time. Likewise i'm using that to transfer to the different beast (but related cousin) of double kettlebell work. I'm looking forward to the RKC II in feb 2010 to develop the vocabulary a bit further.

I guess the big thing here is foundations establishing a base of trust, and that trust comes from self-knowledge, and that the way to get that self-knowledge could be to hack around on one's own and hope to fall into it. Or it could be to get some good guidance, do some research, and find a space to ask questions to improve that practice.

With kettlebells it's been ETK and the RKC. With nutrition, it's been Precision Nutrition. In each case, i've gotten to a point where i'm gaining the confidence to fool around within the parameters of the space - play with a pump post the double pressing in RTK and explore IF that wiser people than I keep saying is cool.

The results of the good foundation and trust it perhaps this boldly going to a territory - weight gain - that previously would have devestated me and is now a new and if not undiscovered then potentially dangerous but with now acceptable levels of risk attached. That's likely a long winded way of saying it feels safe enough to have fun.

Does this process make sense to anyone else? hope if so, it helps :)

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