If you have read enough of my posts, you should know by now that pursuing strength goals does not mean you need to be an overweight, donut-heffing powerlifter who needs to recover for five minutes after walking up a flight of stairs.
It is a myth that powerlifters, strong(wo)men and weightlifters are fat and shapeless, and go around eating whatever they want, whenever they want. Sure, there are people that do fully embrace that stereotype, but the majority are incredibly fit.
That said, it is pretty rare to come across a strength athlete with extremely low levels of body fat. They are out there, but I can almost guarantee you they are being helped by special “vitamins”. For most of the population, having a little extra body fat will go a long way towards getting stronger. This is because low body fat levels must be maintained via a calorie deficit, which is not conducive to gaining strength.
Some take it one step beyond eating enough to simply support strength gains, and instead purposely gain weight and move up a weight class in order to get stronger. I see more and more female athletes across my social media pages bulking up on purpose, which is not something that was widely done a few years ago.
Deliberate weight gain
Moving up a weight class is about finding your most efficient and strongest bodyweight. Our bodies have a natural bodyweight set point that many people spend their lives trying to fight.
Eating for performance is about finding out where your point lies, and eating accordingly. When you eat more, you will have more energy and perform better in the gym. By increasing your muscle mass, you will be able to lift more.
Provided you are not carrying excess levels of body fat to begin with, you will eventually reach a limit within your current weight class. At this time, gains will be slow – especially if you sit a few pounds over that and have to cut weight prior to competing. Simple science states that the heavier you are, the more weight you will be able to lift.
(On a semi-related note, almost everyone I work with wants to cut weight before their first competition. Before my first competition, I purposely gained 3kg so I could be more competitive within the weight class I was already in. When you are trying to deal with the stress and nerves of your first competition, you do not want to worry about making weight, too – especially if there is nothing serious on the line [i.e. qualifying for a national competition, breaking a world record, etc] other than your pride.)
Most of the population, especially women, seem to have an ongoing goal of losing weight. For them, it may seem crazy to want to gain weight, simply to squat or deadlift a larger amount.
However, a funny thing happens when you start competing, or even just casually pursue strength-related goals. You start to care less about what your body looks like. Instead of mourning the loss of your abs, you spend your time determining the ideal time to hit your next PR. You realise that life is about more than body fat, and the happiness and confidence that comes from lifting a weight you never imagined possible is not on par with obtaining a six pack.
I am not shaming those who have aesthetic goals, and I think watching your body change shape is an amazing thing everyone should experience at least once. I am simply saying that there is more than one way to change your body shape, and it does not have to involve the almost ubiquitous goal of fat loss.
Although it is perfectly acceptable for men to gain weight on purpose, women are often met with bewilderment when they announce the same goals. Why on earth would a delicate, feminine woman choose to get bigger?
Society is dominated by media which projects thinness as the ideal, where women are encouraged to inhabit a specific safe zone of salads, diet shakes and pilates classes. When a woman goes against the grain and desires to take up more space, most people will not understand. Women will face uninvited, unwelcome comments and criticisms about their bodies that most men simply do not have to deal with.
The right way to gain weight
Ideally, you want to maximise the amount of muscle you gain relative to fat during a bulk. There is no point in packing on the weight by any means necessary, as you will likely just gain fat. I hate to break it to you, but having excess amounts of body fat will not help you lift heavier weights – and it may even get in the way and reduce your efficiency as an athlete.
Instead, you should aim to gain weight slowly and sensibly, by consuming a small caloric surplus. It is naive to think that you will not gain some fat in the process, but it can be minimised. Larger lifters with larger amounts of muscle mass will naturally have larger amounts of body fat. Ideally, you will eat to maximise the amount of muscle you have relative to your weight class – which means you need to stay relatively lean.
The process is often uncomfortable, from both an emotional and physical perspective as you often have to force yourself to eat beyond the point of fullness.
I have gained 10kg since I started lifting. It happened very gradually over a period of about three years, and the extra weight has definitely helped to increase my strength. When I started lifting, my goal was to lose about 5kg. It’s funny how things work out.
I would not recommend anyone to intentionally gain weight until they feel as though they have reached their full strength potential at their existing weight, or come close to it. Gaining size will not automatically make you stronger.
Remember that your life goal need not be chasing a smaller dress size or number on the scale. It is perfectly fine – not to mention fun! – to want to take up more space and be as strong as humanly possible.
Have you ever gained weight on purpose? Have you ever received negative comments about it?