What a difference a month of Pina Coladas, cigars and revelling in the Cuban culture can make. But, what an even bigger difference telling myself I was going to gain weight made.

I’m a fitness fanatic, always have been.

And the fear of putting on weight? I’ve had that bad boy for a ruddy long time. The 4 life changing benefits of telling myself I’m going to gain weight.

I always felt it was something I had to avoid. Something I must not do. “I must attempt to stay lean to look good. I must stay lean to feel good” was my believed fact. “Putting on weight is very bad” was my perception. This fact and perception stayed with me up until my late 20’s. I’m 31 now. They’ve held me back in various ways. Not only in my fitness goals but in the way I’ve lived my life and approached it.

I reckon I wasted 5 years of exercising trying to gain muscle AND loose weight at the same time. I say wasted because you can’t do both at the same time. Not effectively anyway (I’ll leave that argument for the fitness bro science part at the bottom). A small part of that was not understanding nutritional intake for my goals (Understanding Macros). A bigger part was the fear of putting weight on.

That fear has led me to extremes many times

In varying instances, I would eat a ton of food one day. Then severely limit my intake the next to compensate. It’s just not sensible or logical. Even more so when living a nomad travel life. I’d be so wrapped up in worrying about what I ate, that it would distract me from the beauty of the place I was actually travelling. Instead of focusing on the people and culture I’d focus more on the food and the calories from it.

It wasn’t until I embraced weight gain that my fitness goals and my life changed. For the better and for the easier.

A recent example

I recently spent a month traveling Cuba. Before that I was living for in Tulum for 3 months. In Tulum I could control my nutrition in-take based on what macros I was aiming for to achieve my goal (more on this in the bro science part). Mainly it was to lean out. I cooked for myself and had easy access to nutritious vegetables and meat form the local Mercardos. We (myself and @themoonontheotherside) had Cuba planned as our next travel spot.

Below left: before in Tulum. And below right: after one month in Cuba. I’d spent a couple of months in Tulum slowly flexible dieting and was happy with the results.

I knew from past experience when travelling Cuba, that the ability to cook for yourself didn’t really exist. Let alone the ability to gain access to vegetables and meat.

My younger self would have struggled with this.

  • I probably would have ate what I felt I should eat not what I wanted.
  • Would have let loose for a couple of nights and then felt disappointed with myself for many more after.
  • Probably would have yo-yo’d up and down with tasty local food and treats one day. Trying to compensate with barely eating anything the next.
  • I would have held off on tasty dishes I wasn’t sure of. Or that I didn’t have a rough understanding of the amount of calories they contained.

The list goes on.

TRX TRAVELLER ADAM ATKINSON Muscle pump 4 day resistance bands and bodyweight plan

In Cuba I used my ‘4 week no-space resistance band and bodyweight plan.‘ Got no space? Perfect! It’s right here.

The 4 life changing benefits

Ultimately I would never let myself relax into the culture as the element of putting on weight would be at the fore front of my thoughts. However, since learning to let go and tell myself I’m going to gain weight for a period of time. It’s completely changed my experiences and mind set.

1. Practice makes perfect

The more times I gain weight and then slowly diet down to loose it, the better I’ve become. I spent years in my youth constantly trying to loose weight. Probably about 4 consecutive years at one point. Not only did this hinder my fitness performance. But, it was a never ending battle with no end goal to reach. No benchmark.

Now, like the Cuba example. I set myself a goal. When I knew Cuba was approaching I said to myself

“I’m going to spend the month of Cuba gaining weight. After Cuba I’m going to use the 4-6 weeks I have in Belize to diet down and loose weight.”

Two distinct goals

One allows me to enjoy myself in Cuba knowing I can’t control my nutrition. Focusing on exploring the culture and staying in the moment of travelling. The second goal stops me from going over board and also creates some excitement. I find it fascinating how the human form can change. As strange as it may sound I enjoy bulking up from a fitness point of view, recording the progression. To then record and compare the progression of dieting down. From a psychological point of view, it’s very rewarding. After the month of gaining weight I pat myself on the back. After the time spent sliming down I give myself a solid high five. I then plan my next goal. Either because of an upcoming uncontrollable few weeks or because I’m simply getting bored.

The more times I do this the easier it becomes each time to slim down. I know what I’m looking for. When to reduce by 100 cals. When to go back to maintenance level (refer to bro science piece at bottom). The correct nutritional foods to eat. Each time I do the cycle it I improve a little. I figure out new little tips or better nutrition / workouts. Like riding a bike. Practice makes perfect. So practice putting on weight and loosing it.

2. Once I embraced weight gain I didn’t fear it

At first I found it quite a feat telling myself I’m going to gain weight. Especially after working so hard, slowly reducing my calorie in take over time to loose weight. Psychologically I always saw gaining weight as a bad thing to do, a fear. And because of seeing it as a fear I was always trying to avoid it. The problem is the more I try to avoid something the more I find I focus on it. I mean gaining weight is life, it’s a natural part of it. So why the hell should I spend so long running from it.

Once I allowed myself to gain weight a few times over. The fear of putting it on went. I knew I’d lost it in a controlled manner in the past. So surely I could loose it again. Life suddenly became easier.

The first time I allowed myself to gain weight was when I learnt about Macros

And the need to eat more than you burn to build muscle mass, bulking. It was for a fitness goal. It was hard at first but I think knowing it was for a fitness goal psychologically made it a little easier. I did this again for maybe 2 or 3 more times.

After that I started to allow myself to gain weight for life reasons. For example, I had a ton of parties and a holiday for the month of June one year. Rather than yo yo the whole month and force myself to calorie restrict some days and go crazy on others. I relaxed for the whole month and allowed myself to gain weight. I still trained when I wasn’t hung over. But because I’d embraced it, I had an epic month of fun without the added ‘weight gaining fear.’ I then spent the next month, which wasn’t as busy, more focused and slowly reduced my calorie in-take to diet down. I put life ahead of a fitness goal in this instance and it felt better.

3. I don’t beat myself up doing things

Hand in had with the above. Sometimes I choose to tell myself I’m going to gain weight for a period of time right there and then in the moment. I Remember I once went to Ibiza when I was 25. Everyone’s ripped in Ibiza, is what you believe. You go with the mentality at that age that you need to be to. If you’re reading this my younger self – trust me those people in Ibiza are not healthy ripped or in most instances, naturally lean.

I tried so hard for the first few days not to eat too much.

Then, after one big night out I went to town on drunken food. Burgers, pizzas, kebabs. I woke up the next day feeling very fat and bloated. More so I woke up feeling upset with myself. Telling myself I should not have done that. I spent the following day procrastinating on the weight I must have put on. It distracted me over the next couple of days from where I was and enjoying my time there. I’d gone to Ibiza telling myself I was going to stay thin. I felt I’d failed. Thus I felt down. I spent the holiday beating myself up about the weight gain in my head. I mean how stupid can I get. The pizza was bloody lovely and I’d made myself feel bad for enjoying one of life’s pleasures, eating food.

A similar instance happened to me recently in September 2018.

A festival holiday for 4 days followed by 7 days in a villa to recover. I said to myself:

“4 days of weight gain and letting loose for the festival. In the villa, I’ll go back to being good and not over doing it. Perhaps staying in Maintenance cals intake each day.”

After the festival things stayed wild. Right there and then I said to myself:

“I’m going to gain weight for the rest of the holiday. And also for the week when we’re back for comfort food recovery.”

Immediately I wasn’t procrastinating, over thinking things or worrying. I just had a bloody great holiday. And a nice ease back into reality with comfort food the week after.

4. I use it as a way to improve an area of my body or fitness goal

Everyone wants to increase something. Whether it’s arms, a bigger butt or craft a chest like Arnie. I’ve always had small legs, always will in a comparative sense. So in Cuba I used the time to train them a lot. Specifically, I used my No space body weight and resistance band plan. I crafted it for hotel rooms, when there’s a lack of space and equipment.

I told myself I was going to use the weight gain to try and increase the size of my legs. Now, I’d chose to tell myself I was going to gain weight so I could enjoy Cuba. The culture and food. As I knew I wouldn’t be able to cook for myself. I didn’t set myself up for a bulking goal, this was for a life goal. I call it a life goal because the weight gain is shorter. Maybe a month or two. If I was bulking I would do this for 6 months to a year. I would purposely gain weight to build muscle for up to year. For a life reason I choose to tell myself I’m going to gain weight for psychological reasons. To enjoy the moment, enjoy my life, ultimately.

But I still use these little weight gains to help with my fitness. Most mornings in Cuba I would wake up in our little Cuban Casa. Have a coffee, banana, protein shake (yes I carry protein in my nomad rucksack) and do my No space body weight and resistance band plan. Knowing the weight gain was also going to help increase muscle mass was an added bonus.

The bro fitness science

One key aspect with regards to these points – I always track my macros when I diet down. If you’re not familiar with that I wrote a detailed post with a step by step guide here. And I always track my macros when I tell myself I’m going to gain weight. However, I’m a little looser on everything when gaining weight. Except protein in take, I always make sure I hit my protein. But fats and carbs and the amount I eat, I just follow what my body tells me it wants.

I wasted years of not achieving my fitness goals wanting to add strength and size from the fear of putting on weight. You either bulk up, gain weight and add muscle mass or you diet down to loose fat and reveal what muscle you have. Not doing one or the other, essentially not understanding your nutritional in take. Is like guessing the fuel type and oil levels in a formula one car before pushing it out to race. Without correct nutrition and science, you will hold yourself back. I used to try and gain muscle and loose weight. It’s not science. It doesn’t work (unless you use enhanced methods).

When I embraced weight gain for fitness goals alongside life goals.

Everything increased for me in the fitness realm. The more times I cycle bulk to then slim. The more muscle mass I gain each time. And strength and power. Now-a-days I’m not a gym user. I live a nomad life travelling and train with TRX, portable kettle bell, resistance bands and these workout plans. But the rules still apply. Don’t think because you don’t go to a gym you shouldn’t bulk or you shouldn’t gain weight.

  • If you’re a cyclist? And you’re struggling to increase power? Eat more, gain weight and thus muscle on your legs. Then diet down for your race. I have the perfect ‘Cyclists Legs’ plan for you here by the way.
  • A a runner you may want to build sprint strength for those last 100m? Gain weight and do specific leg training plans. Diet down for your race season.
  • You do little home workouts and you want to increase your butt size? Allow yourself to gain weight, increase the amount of band-butt exercises (I have lots of videos on that here). Then loose weight to see your results.

My point? Don’t try and loose weight and gain muscle, power or strength. Embrace weight gain and see the advantages it can have both for your fitness goals and your life.

Your thoughts?

Weight gain is always a widely considered and talked about subject. Ultimately it’s what works for you and makes you happy. Have you had any instances that you can relate to? Ones similar to the my 4 life changing benefits of telling myself I’m going to gain weight? Let me know in the comments.

I have a range of no gym workout plans here that I use and have developed specifically for people who people who don’t use a gym to train. They range from using bands, TRX, bodyweight and kettle bells down to just using bodyweight or bands.

I recently released a beginner video TRX series that covers all the essential exercises and correct technique for using a TRX here.


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TRX Traveller

Travel with Fitness Blogger permanently backpacking the world. TRX/bands/bodyweight expert | Travel & home workouts. Sharing EPIC destinations, functional fitness & nutrition tips.

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