By Ross Enamait – Published in 2006
An Experiment In Mass-building And Athletic Performance
This video was filmed at the conclusion of an experimental mass-building program (2006). During this time, I set out to gain mass, without sacrificing other athletic attributes such as speed, agility, mobility, endurance, and power. This video clip demonstrates the results of the experiment, shows some of the movements that I used, and offers readers ideas to spice up their own routines.
For most of my life, I have participated in sports (ex. boxing) that required me to compete at specific weight classes. Gaining mass was never an option. On the contrary, I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to cut weight for competitions. Aside from heavyweight fighters, all combat athletes can relate to the difficult and unpleasant task of losing weight for a weigh-in.
As I transitioned from athlete to trainer, I still found myself subconsciously trying to maintain my fighting weight. I didn’t want to creep too high, as I felt the need to stay in fighting shape. My philosophy as a trainer is that one must walk the walk. I always test the routines that I create. I want to see and feel what each routine produces. Far too many trainers in today’s polluted strength and conditioning industry design programs that have never been tested or utilized in the real world.
Living with the mentality that one must walk the walk, I never had a need to gain mass. I rarely recommend bulking up when working with fighters. Added mass does not guarantee improved performance.
Why Perform The Experiment?
Many athletes have come to me and expressed a need to gain mass without sacrificing athletic ability. Consider professional boxing as a classic example. Many fighters must move up in weight to find more lucrative paydays. Bernard Hopkins recently moved up 15 pounds from middleweight to light heavyweight when facing Antonio Tarver. After gaining 15 pounds of muscle, Bernard was stronger, perhaps faster, and certainly a busier fighter than he had been in recent bouts. The added size did not impede his performance. Bernard’s complete dominance over Antonio Tarver offers proof that a fighter can gain mass without hindering performance.
Unfortunately, not all fighters have shared the success of Bernard Hopkins when moving up in weight. It is actually more common to fail when jumping from one weight class to the next.
Why does this happen?
Many strength coaches are uneducated regarding the physical requirements of a fighter. These trainers prescribe bodybuilder-type workouts that build mass, with no consideration for athletic qualities such as speed-strength and agility. You cannot train with the sole goal of hypertrophy and expect performance to improve.
With that said, there is nothing wrong with setting a goal (one of many) to gain useful mass. I make this statement particularly for non-combat athletes. If you are not fighting within a specific weight class, there is a good chance that you will welcome some added muscle mass. For example, added mass may help to improve your self-confidence.
Do It Right, Or Don’t Do It
If you wish to gain mass, you owe it to yourself to do it the right way. After all, why change your physique if it will sacrifice your ability to use it?
* Don’t Rush The Process – Patience is a virtue. If you rush the mass gaining initiative, you are bound to gain excess body fat and sacrifice conditioning. You will also be at a greater risk for injury, as adaptation of connective tissue occurs much slower than muscle.
* Focus On The Total Package – In the Infinite Intensity and Never Gymless manuals, I discuss several forms of strength. Examples include speed-strength, explosive-strength, maximal-strength, and strength-endurance. The development of each strength quality requires a unique approach. If you focus solely on hypertrophy training, you will certainly hinder the development of these other strength qualities.
* You Don’t Need Bodybuilding To Gain Size – Many bodybuilding workouts involve lifting moderate loads (ex. 60 to 85 percent of your maximum) for 8 to 12 repetitions. You do not need to train in this manner to gain size. In fact, Mel Siff made the following statement regarding hypertrophy training,
“Its regular use may be seriously detrimental to the strength and strength-speed performance of elite athletes.”
Throughout my experiment, I never used the traditional bodybuilding rep range. I focused either on multiple sets (low reps) of more strenuous loads or faster (more explosive) movements where my focus was speed-strength and explosive-strength. I was able to gain size without the traditional bodybuilder workout.
And please do not confuse my words. I am not against bodybuilding. I commend the dedication and diligence that competitive bodybuilders display. They work as hard as anyone. I certainly tip my hat to them and respect their efforts. As a trainer to competitive fighters however, I am also cognizant of the fact that the needs of my athletes differ from those of a competitive bodybuilder. It’s not a matter of better or worse, but simply being different.
* Forget Isolation – You do not need to isolate specific body parts to gain size. Throughout my experiment, I trained the body as one unit. Full body movements formed the backbone of my routine. I used bodyweight exercise, weighted vests, free weights, and odd objects (ex. sandbags, kegs, and barrels).
In addition, please note that I’m not completely opposed to isolation work, but rather reminding you to focus the bulk of your time towards compound movements. You can then fill in the blanks if and when necessary with isolation work.
* Eat Big To Get Big – The only way that you will gain mass is by eating. For most of my life, I’ve restricted my food intake as I struggled to stay within a specific weight class. Throughout my mass gaining experiment, I did the exact opposite. I consumed much more food throughout the day. I didn’t use any fancy diets or nutritional calculations. I simply ate a balanced meal every 3 hours. I consumed plenty of protein in the form of lean meats, eggs, nuts, and raw milk.
* Limit Aerobic Training – You will never see a world-class marathon runner with a huge, muscular physique. Muscle is a heavy substance. The body is an intelligent system. If you train for ultra-endurance, your body will do everything in its power to shed excess weight. Remember, the body will specifically adapt to the demands imposed upon it (SAID principle). Throughout my experiment, I removed all distance running. This was a big change for me, as I’ve always been an avid runner. I made this change, as excessive aerobic training will limit mass and strength gaining initiatives.
* Intense Conditioning – You can maintain (or even improve) your conditioning by using brief, intense sessions. Throughout my experiment, my conditioning workouts included short intervals (ex. jump rope, sprints, hill sprints), heavy bag training, and ICT workouts (Integrated Circuit Training from the Never Gymless manual). These intense workouts will preserve mass gains, improve conditioning, and shed excess body fat. Many fighters will quickly gain mass by simply dropping the long distance roadwork sessions from their morning regimen. These distance sessions help keep the weight down. For a real world example, we can once again look to Bernard Hopkins, who was notorious for his lengthy (daily) roadwork sessions. You can be sure that his roadwork program was modified when moving from middleweight to light heavyweight.
Over a period of approximately 4 months, I was able to gain 12 pounds. Although 12 pounds is certainly not a huge increase in size, it would be equivalent to moving up one or two weight classes as a fighter.
After gaining the mass, I do not notice any changes to my conditioning. I am still a “conditioning fanatic” and have been able to maintain the same level of intensity while training. In addition, I have not noticed any reductions in speed or power. Overall, I feel as fast and explosive as I did prior to gaining the weight.
My experiment has shown me that one can gain size without impairing other athletic qualities. In my opinion, the most important aspect of mass building takes place in the kitchen. I did not make many changes to my actual training plan. The biggest change to my daily schedule was related to food consumption. I simply ate larger meals with greater frequency. The intense nature of my conditioning workouts allowed me to eat more without gaining body fat.
Despite the results of my experiment, it would still be rare that I recommend gaining mass as a fighter, unless a specific fight is available to you in a higher weight class. Simply gaining mass will not make you a better fighter. If however, you have a lucrative opportunity in a higher weight class, you can successfully gain weight with the right program.
If you do not compete within a specific weight class, you will be more likely to pursue mass gaining initiatives. If you find yourself in this position, I suggest following the abbreviated list of recommendations contained within this article. Take your time and continue to focus on the complete package. Do not put all of your eggs into one basket. There is much more to physical fitness than simply gaining 10 pounds of mass.
For more information regarding strength training for fighters, refer to this article.
Hardcore Video – Exercise Descriptions
* Dumbbell snatch – The first movement is a dumbbell snatch with a 105-pound dumbbell. This movement can be used for strength development (lower reps) or conditioning (higher reps). This exercise will strengthen the entire body.
* Barbell punching motion – The next movement demonstrates how a barbell can be used to train many of the muscles involved in punching. This movement will develop power, core strength, coordination, and more.
* Glute ham raise – Next, we see a glute-ham raise utilizing a homemade work bench. I have added a 20 pound weighted vest for a greater challenge. Several variations can be performed. I recommend lowering yourself slowly on the way down, and then squeezing hard on the way up. Use the lower body to power you from bottom to top.
* Rope climb – Next, we see a rope climb. Rope climbing is tremendous for grip strength and upper body pulling strength.
* Rope pull-up – If rope climbing is not an option, you can perform rope pull-ups. This variation is demonstrated with a 2″ manila rope. A weighted vest is added for a greater challenge.
* Jump rope intervals – The jump rope is then demonstrated. I used intervals on the jump rope as one of the primary forms of conditioning throughout my mass-gaining experiment.
* Ab Wheel Rollouts – Next, I demonstrate a standing wheel rollout with three weighted vests. I am wearing a 50 pound vest, along with a 20 and 10 pounder (total of 80 pounds). The added weight makes the standing rollout much more challenging.
* Russian Twists – Next, I use a slant board to perform a weighted Russian twist. I have always enjoyed this exercise for the development of rotational strength.
* Resistance Band Hooks – In Never Gymless, I illustrate how resistance bands can be used to train certain punching motions. The video offers a demonstration of the left hook. I have looped a strong resistance band from Jump Stretch around my arm. You can also train other movements such as the uppercut and cross. Work both sides evenly.
* Heavy bag – I then drill the left hook on a large uppercut bag.
* Keg Clean and Press – Lastly, I demonstrate the keg clean and press. Keg lifting offers a tremendous challenge. As the water sloshes back and forth, the stabilizers work overtime to control the load.
Lastly, please note that the exercises within this video do not represent a sample workout. I have simply video taped a few random exercises in hope that you can find some ideas to enhance your own workouts.
Siff, M.C. (2003). Supertraining, 6th Edition. Supertraining Institute. Denver, CO.