Bearded Beast of Duloc
Rule #13: Before Your Workouts Consume Some Protein
Recent research has shown that eating protein before your workouts is even more anabolic (as compared to training while fasted) than taking it afterwards. So why didn’t I put this rule before #12 instead of after? Well, for one, these rules are not in any particular order of importance, and two, if you’re eating properly (3 meals a day with nutritious snacks in between) then you should always have some protein floating around in your bloodstream anyway. But in case you train in the afternoon (before supper) or early morning (before breakfast) it’s a good idea to get some protein before you go to the gym (or your basement, or wherever you lift weights). It isn’t clear what type of protein is best at this time, so don’t worry about it too much …just get some.
You might want to avoid carbs before training, particularly if you’re trying to lose fat. Eating carbs will blunt the growth hormone response of your body to training. That may or may not be important (it simply isn’t known for sure, but I tend to doubt that it happens for no reason), but I thought you might want to know because you might come across it elsewhere. There are arguments against eating carbs before training and arguments for. Generally, if it’s most important to you that you lose weight then don’t eat carbs before training and if it’s most important to you to gain muscle then eat some carbs with your pre-workout protein. In either case, it really just isn’t that important – if it was, the best option would be more obvious from people’s experiences. Guess what? It isn’t. You should worry more about your lifting and less about silly details anyway – and that’s one of the the most important things you can take away from this article.
Rule #14: Progression Is KING
This may be the most important rule of all so I’m going to be as clear as I can. Building bigger muscles and increased strength is not determined by training to failure, taking any supplement, using secret exercises or anything else equally, or even more, appealing. Getting bigger and stronger is a product of progressive resistance. You simply MUST improve your training performance – either by using more weight or doing more reps, particularly in the 5-20 rep range on most exercises – in order to get bigger and stronger. Training reality is as simple as that, and nothing in history or in the future has ever, or will ever, change it.
Even more simply put, if this time next year you are still using the same weights for the same reps, then you will not be any bigger (unless you get fatter). I’ve just written the most important sentence in the history of bodybuilding.
Don’t, however, use this rule to allow yourself to start cheating to lift more weight. If you have to change your technique and start cheating then you aren’t get stronger at all. Stay “honest” or the only one you’ll be fooling is yourself.
Advanced trainees often fail to continue making gains because past the beginners’ “strength spurt” it’s practically impossible to add 5 pounds to the bar each week (the minimum weight increase possible with most weight sets or in commercial gyms). Doing an extra rep is roughly approximate to a 3% increase in strength (assuming you couldn’t do another rep), which is an impossible rate of progression to maintain in the long term. Because of this, most advanced trainees ignore the principle of progressive resistance and focus on things such as training to failure, workout variety, different exercises, etc. That’s all fine, but the fundamental law of all resistance training, which you must not be distracted from, is that of progressive resistance. If you are past the beginner stage, either get some fractional plates (the best set I know of is sold by Iron Woody Fitness under “Fractional Plates”) or use extra collars on the bar to make up a pound or two (Olympic collars usually weigh from 1/4-pound for the spring type to 5 pounds for the large clamp type). In any case, when you’re training close to your peak you won’t be able to add a full 5 pounds to the bar or get an extra rep each time you train – but that does not mean you can forget about improving your performance every week. Add a pound or two (or even less) to the bar and do just a little more than you did last time – otherwise your training is not productive and is, at best, maintenance.
Progression of workload is the be-all and end-all of productive training. Never allow yourself to forget that or your training will be hit-or-miss, at best.
Rule #15: Stick To A Routine As Long As It’s Still Working, But No Longer
Moving to an “advanced” routine before one is ready is one of the most common mistakes in bodybuilding. Exotic “advanced” routines will not be effective (if ever) until you’ve exhausted the gains to be had from more “traditional” routines. The variety and long breaks between body part training sessions typical of these “sophisticated” types of routines are applicable only to trainees who already have a high degree of neural efficiency (i.e. very experienced) in the exercises used in the system, otherwise they are just ridiculous and inappropriate.
Make sure you truly plateau on any effective routine before you move on to the next one. Otherwise, you’ll just jump from one routine to the next, accomplishing nothing in the long run. Stick to a routine as long as it’s still working (i.e. your training weights, reps and/or muscle mass are increasing), but no longer. Reg Park, Harry Paschall, Louie Simmons, the Bulgarian Olympic Weightlifting team and many others realized that in advanced trainees that tends to be between 6-9 sessions on any one routine (typically 3-6 weeks) – that’s why “formal” advanced training programs typically recommend some sort of routine change and/or a complete break from training after every 3-6 weeks. But for beginners and intermediates a productive cycle may run for many months.
When you do hit a legitimate plateau, then change your rep count, set number, or even exercises themselves and start over, slowly and deliberately building up your training loads and performances again. If you’ve gone stale on sets of 10-12 reps then try a cycle of 5-6 reps; if you’ve gone stale on 5-6 reps then switch to 10-12. Start over and build up the weights progressively – slow and steady wins the race. Don’t get hung up on “this rep range is for hypertrophy and that rep range is for strength”. The fact is, if you’re not improving in a given rep range then, for now at least, it’s good for nothing.
Perhaps you’ve truly gone stale on an exericise or routine. In that case, whatever you do, don’t switch from a sound, basic routine to some exotic bullshit you found in the mainstream bodybuilding media. Heed these rules and stick to mostly free-weight compound exericses. Perhaps switch Bench Presses to Incline Presses, Military Presses to Behind-the-Neck Presses (if you have the necessary shoulder flexibility and robustness to do them productively), Squats to Front Squats, etc, etc, etc. Make changes, but stick to the “rules” – the flexibility needed to keep the gains coming is in there.
Don’t abandon an effective routine just because you’re bored or something fancier caught your attention in a muscle magazine or on a website, but don’t dig yourself further into a rut by sticking to a routine that’s already run it’s course.
Rule #16: Keep A Training Log
Tommy Kono (2-time Gold, 1-time Silver Olympic Weightlifting Medalist, World Weightlifting Champion for 7 consecutive years, setter of 27 World Records, the only lifter to set World Records in 4 different weight classes, Coach of the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting team and 2-time FIHC Mr. Universe) once warned me to always keep a training journal. Always record your poundages, sets and reps, he told me, quoting the Chinese proverb, “The palest ink is better than the sharpest memory.” In fact, Kono insisted that all his trainees keep a training journal.
Why? Simple. Because the ultimate determinant of your long-term training success, as Rule #14 warns, will be whether or not you can continuously, though gradually, increase your training poundages. If you don’t keep track of your performances, how can you know if you’re improving or not? You can’t.
Write down everything you do in the gym – every set, every rep, every rest period – and next time try to beat it by just a little. Do an extra rep on one of your sets of an exercise, or even on all of the sets if it’s one of those rare days when the weights feel exceptionally light and you feel exceptionally strong (what Vince Gironda called an “Alpha day”). Add a few pounds (or as little as one pound if you have access to small weights). Do an extra set if you’re feeling extra spunky. But improve in some way, just a little …not too much or you won’t be able to keep it up and you’ll hit a wall. Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself. When you go home, take out your training log and review how you did that day. Resolve that, come hell or high water, you will do better next time …just a little.
Your training log allows you to plan your next workout and tells you whether you’re improving or not, and without it, both in the long and short terms, you’re lost.
Rule #17: Get Real
I know you want to have the body of your dreams and you want it now. I know you want to have all the pretty girls smiling at you and all the guys in awe of your strength and you want to take the fastest possible route to get there. And since there’s so much conflicting advice and information in the bodybuilding world, you don’t know who to trust or who to listen to. What about so-and-so who says if I buy his instantly downloadable “get huge muscles fast” program for just $34.95 I can gain 30 to 50 pounds of muscle in a few months?
Let me tell you, once again, that’s all bullshit. I’ve trained in gyms all over the world and have corresponded with some of the most knowledgable and successful people in the world with regards to drug-free training. In those years of heavy involvement with the Iron Game I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who built that much muscle without being emaciated, or very young (and therefore not fully grown), to start. (In fact, Arthur Jones and Rheo H. Blair were notorious for exploiting these types of situations and then making outrageous marketing claims based on them.) Look at the guys who write those courses …if you can find a real photo of them. They either have unimpressive physiques or they’re obvious steroid users. So if their programs are so great, if they know so many “secrets of explosive muscle mass gains”, why do they look like any other dude who’s worked out for a few months? Off the top of my head I can think of four authors of such internet courses whom I’ve seen photos of. (I’m not mentioning names because I don’t want pointless flame wars with them.) Three of them look like average intermediate trainees and one of them is an obvious steroid user. If I had to sum up their physiques, the phrase “big deal” comes to mind. I’ve confronted a few of them over the years and they typically say something like, “I used to be bigger and leaner but I didn’t like having all that muscle so I deliberately slimmed down.” Jesus, don’t insult my intelligence with such pure, unadulterated crap. I’m more than sick of it.
Another thing, growing young men cannot be used as examples of extreme muscle growth due to weight training alone. I have two friends who put on at least 50 pounds between the ages of 17 and 25 with no training whatsoever. Sure they got fatter too, but they didn’t exactly turn into blimps. If they added 20 pounds of muscle on top of that (over a couple of years of dedicated training) their total gains would be up to about 70 pounds. Does that mean that they gained 70 pounds of muscle? No. They would actually be carrying just 20 pounds more muscle than they would if they never even touched a weight, and compared to other advanced trainees of their heights and bone structures they would be just average. Yet most people in similar situations proudly proclaim that they’ve gained 50 to 100 pounds of muscle since they started training. Such talk is utter nonsense, yet stories like this are rampant in the bodybuilding world and do a tremendous job of clouding reality. The greatest drug-free bodybuilders in history carry/carried less than 40 pounds more lean body mass than average individuals of their heights and bone structures, yet some dude who doesn’t even stand out in the local gym claims he gained over 50? Please.
Then there are the internet discussion forum guys who make miraculous claims of personal muscle gains in only a few weeks or months (without steroids). If you ever see photos of these guys you’ll usually notice two things: 1) They’re usually no leaner at their heavier weights than when they were lighter (often, they’re significantly fatter) and 2) They don’t look very impressive. That tells you that they didn’t gain pure muscle but at least a few pounds of fat and fluid also. Automatically, their claims of “I gained X pounds of muscle in Y weeks” are knocked down a notch. On top of that, rarely do these people accurately know their body fat percentages (other than very optimistic guesses) and even when measurements are taken almost all body fat estimation techniques (including skin-folds, BIA, etc) are subject to up to 4% error. That means a guy who says he was “tested” at 12% body fat may actually be as high as 16%. Compounding this uncertainty is the fact that skin-fold equations are especially inaccurate for heavily muscled individuals and BIA techniques are extremely sensitive to hydration levels. Furthermore, anyone with experience manipulating his/her weight knows that hydration, food in the stomach, constipation, even the time of day, etc, can alter body weight by several pounds. According to skin-folds, BIA and anthropometric measurements (all cross-validated for agreement), I’ve personally gained up to 5 pounds of lean body mass over a weekend of heavy eating. Unfortunately, this additional “lean body mass” was actually a combination of food still in my intestines, fluid retention, glycogen storage and labile proteins – in a few days my lean body mass was back to “normal”. (Anybody monitoring their weight and body fat percentage while on any form of cyclic diet will notice the same thing.) In reality, that guy who claims to have gained 20 pounds of muscle in a few weeks or months will really have ended up with less than 10 pounds of actual skeletal muscle, if he’s lucky – and he’ll probably lose a fair chunk of that when he goes back to his “normal” diet. Sorry, but I’ve seen this too many times to continue to believe in miracles …even in people who’ve sworn to have done it (and truly believe it themselves). One thing I have learned from this, however, is that a good delusion weighs at least 10 pounds.
Perhaps some of the confusion surrounding this issue comes from the fact that there actually are very specific circumstances under which anybody can rapidly gain muscle without the use of anabolic drugs. I’ve seen trainees gain up to 15 pounds (though typically less) of lean body mass in the months following weight losses due to prolonged, restricted diets or serious illnesses. I routinely gain about 7 pounds of lean body mass in two weeks under such circumstances. At these times, muscle mass that was lost during the diet or illness can quickly be “rebuilt” as sort of a rebound effect after the period of weight loss – but this isn’t really true muscle growth above what a normal, healthy body would naturally carry. In this case, the body is simply recovering it’s genetically determined “normal” amount of lean body mass (in both the muscles and internal organs) …and if the trainee gets everything just right, perhaps a little extra. If you’re healthy and haven’t recently experienced a significant weight loss then this situation doesn’t apply to you.
It took Bill Pearl 3 months to gain 25 pounds when he went on his first cycle of anabolic steroids in 1958, and he was one of the most genetically gifted bodybuilders in history and was taking three times the maximum daily dosage of Nilivar (a strong anabolic steroid). And don’t forget, Nilivar causes bloating and water weight gain – even Pearl didn’t really gain 25 pounds of pure muscle in those 3 months.
Steve Reeves is said to have built 30 pounds of muscle in 4 months, without drugs. But keep in mind that he was still a growing boy at the time and was one of the most gentically gifted individuals to ever touch a barbell. He also gained weight quickly after he lost it due to malaria, which he contracted while in the army. And he gained weight quickly in the 7 weeks leading up to the 1950 Mr. Universe contest, after a many month layoff (though I’ve seen him exaggerate that time period down to less than 4 weeks). In all of these cases he was either a growing young man (in which case he was experiencing a typical puberty-driven growth spurt and would have gained weight anyway), recovering his normal muscle mass after losing a portion of it due to a serious illness, or gaining back muscle that he had previously developed through training (the well-known phenomenon of “muscle memory”).
Reg Park is said to have gained 25 pounds in roughly 10 months when he first began serious training at the age of 20 (he had trained previously when he was 17). Park was a genetic super-freak – one of the most massively muscled and strongest drug-free bodybuilders of all time – he also trained on one of the soundest bodybuilding programs possible …yet it took him 10 months to develop what most naive beginners think they can gain in a few months or even weeks.
Both Reeves and Park were over 6 feet tall and extremely genetically gifted for bodybuilding, yet at their peaks they carried “only” roughly 35 and 38 pounds more muscle, respectively, than an average untrained man of their heights and bone structures. And it took them both several years to reach their maximum development.
Dave Goodin, the most winning drug-tested man of the modern natural bodybuilding era, carried about 30 pounds more muscle than an average untrained man of his height and bone structure (at 5’7″ he was much shorter than Reeves and Park). That’s fairly typical for world-class drug-tested champions of his structure. By his own words, it took him 20 years of training to achieve that 30-pound muscle gain (though he almost certainly gained the majority of that muscle in his first few years of training). In my experience, it takes most genetically typical drug-free trainees 8-10 years of training to reach their peak weights …I know that sucks, but if you follow the “rules” presented here you just might cut that time in half (or even better). If you don’t follow the “rules”, then I hope you’ve got lots of patience (which you’ll need in any case).
Dave Goodin showing the fruits of a lifetime of natural hard work.
Still believe the con man who wants to sell you his secret to gaining 50 pounds of muscle by summer? Get Real. The sad thing is, some of these “internet experts” are so brainwashed that they actually seem to believe their claims themselves. They don’t even know enough about real bodybuilding to realize what they’re saying is complete, 100% bullshit.
The fastest rate of muscle gain without anabolic drugs I’ve seen in previously well-nourished adults in a clinical research setting is 6.76 g/kg of lean body mass per week. Most trainees don’t achieve half that amount. But if you want an ambitious goal to shoot for – something that’s actually based on reality and not some childish delusion – multiply your lean body mass by 0.006754 and that’ll tell you how many pounds of muscle you can possibly expect to gain per week in the first twelve weeks or so of serious training. If you don’t know your lean body mass here’s a general guideline: A genetically gifted male of 180 pounds at 15% body fat (an average body fat level for an active, healthy young man) can gain a maximum of about 1 pound of muscle per week for the first 12 weeks of serious bodybuilding training. Almost no man is naturally big enough to gain 1.5 pounds of muscle per week. Most men will be lucky to gain 0.5 pounds. After twelve weeks or so your rate of gain will start to slow down to half the initial amount. In another twelve weeks it’ll be half that again. In his first year of bodybuilding training, under ideal conditions, our genetically gifted individual of average height and bone structure would gain about 20 pounds of muscle. If you’re not genetically gifted (and you’re probably not), go back and read Rule #3 again and remember that it takes most drug-free trainees 10 years to increase their lean body mass by 17% to 25% (and those numbers come from a compiled study of hundreds to thousands of trainees).
Another frustrating misconception that keeps arising on bodybuilding discussion forums and what-not is that people can just casually walk around at less than 6% body fat or so. In reality, few natural bodybuilders step onstage at much less than 5% …and that is a temporary state that only the most experienced bodybuilders can attain and even then cannot be maintained for more than a few days at best. Essential body fat in human males is somewhere between 3% to 4%. Less than that and you die, and you won’t be feeling too “healthy” long before you reach that low a body fat level that you’re about to drop dead. That means sub-5% body fat levels are pushing what the human male body can tolerate and it will resist being that lean with everything it’s got. To put it in context, back in the day, Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed to compete at around 9% body fat; Ray Mentzer caused a bit of a stir when he claimed to be in contest shape at 6% in the late 1970s. And these guys were both drug-users.
Part of the problem with routine claims of ridiculously low body fat levels comes from the fact that most body fat measurement methods use estimation equations calibrated based on the normal population (i.e. not contest-ready bodybuiders). As already mentioned, popular skin-fold methods in particular are notorious for underestimating body fat percentages in lean and dehydrated bodybuilders by up to 4%. So when a bodybuilding champion claims 3.5% body fat based on skin-fold estimations (or any other body fat estimation method) then that really could be as high as 7.5%. Yet I’ve had people tell me that the 6+ year study I’ve done on elite-level drug-free bodybuilders is flawed because so-and-so’s uncle is 225 pounds at 3% body fat and Bench Presses 500 pounds in his basement every Saturday morning. I’d like to slap these people for being so stupid/naive, or at least tape their mouths shut so I don’t have to hear the crap that comes out of them anymore.
I can’t count the number of times naive young men have told me that my bodybuilding potential article and booklet (Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements) is “flawed” or “crap” because they’re easily going to surpass the predictions. But I can count the number of people who have demonstrated to me that they’ve actually done it – zero. Put up or shut up. But on the other hand, one delusional forum poster did make this claim regarding the ultimate levels of muscle mass described in the above article – it never fails to put a smile on my face…
“His table, while decent, is far from the full story. I have two uncles who are already at the top of his charts and neither of them lift. Infact they are both alcoholics. And the biggest/strongest one hardly eats any meat. He lives on raw vegetables (seriously, the guy eat onions and radishes like others eat apples) and walks everywhere (thank God he doesn’t drive drunk at least.)” – anonymous poster hiding behind a fake username and avatar on an internet bodybuilding discussion board
Perhaps Reg Park should have just quit lifting and become a drunk? – apparently he could have had the same physique. Such is the danger of listening to “experts” on the internet.
In almost 2 decades of serious involvement in bodybuilding, yes, I’ve seen a few legitimate 400+ pounds Bench Pressers. All but three of them were on steroids and they were well over 200 pounds and at least 15% body fat (and I’m being generous) – one of them was a drug-free raw Bench Press national record holder in the 242 lb weight category with a 440 pound lift. As of this writing, the current world record for the Bench Press (without a bench shirt) in the World Drug-free Powerlifting Federation (WDFPF) is 573.2 pounds and that was set by John Dolan in 2005 – a Bench Press specialist weighing over 310 pounds and well above 20% body fat. The fact of the matter is that most genetically typical trainees, even after many years of serious training will never be able to legitimately Bench Press 300 pounds. How do I know? Because I’ve known hundreds of serious bodybuilders (i.e. experienced and dedicated) over the past nearly 20 years and of them I can count the number of “average” guys who went on to Bench Press over 300 pounds on one hand (well, maybe two). Guess what, even though I classified them as “average”, with the exception of maybe a couple, all of them had bigger than average bone structures (meaning 7.25″ wrists and greater) and were known for being “big guys” from the start …none of them did it at under 12% body fat or so. Of course, most delusional teenagers will cling steadfastly to the myth that anybody could Bench Press 300 pounds after a year of “proper” training, but all you have to do is go to a local gym and you’ll find tons of experienced trainees who can’t Bench even close to that. The ones that can are most likely either naturally built to Bench Press (thick joints, barrel chests, proportionately short upper arms, etc) or are on steroids (or both). Sure, it isn’t exactly rare to find an advanced trainee Bench Pressing 300 lbs in a typical gym, but it’s a lot more common to find advanced trainees who can’t, despite years of trying. Sorry, but that’s the reality of it. On the other hand, 90% of those gym goers will be following some sort of 5-day per week routine that “Mr. Olympic Coach” wrote in a muscle magazine or website …maybe that’s their problem. Oh, and claims of 300 pound Bench Presses don’t count. Now don’t mentally damn yourself from the get-go because of what I just said – after all, perhaps you will be one of those who goes on to surpass the 300-pound raw, drug-free bench press mark – but do keep in mind that for the average trainee such an accomplishment isn’t the “walk in the park” most deceptive or delusion sources would have you believe.
But enough depressing talk of reality and limitations. The truth is 20 pounds of real, permanent muscle would transform your body. Most magazines and websites make it seem like 20 pounds of muscle is nothing …like your grandmother could gain that much. The reality is, if you gain 20 pounds of muscle this year everyone will notice and they’ll probably whisper behind your back that you’re on steroids – my friends did and I didn’t gain nearly that much in any one year. Gain 30 pounds of muscle (above your normal, healthy adult weight) and you’ll be carrying as much muscle as a world-class drug-free bodybuilder. Even 10 pounds would put another inch on your arms. The body of your dreams is attainable and it’s waiting for you to come get it, but it probably weighs less than you think right now. Like I said, there’s a lot of bullshit in bodybuilding.
Rule #18: Keep Things In Perspective
For all it’s postive traits, bodybuilding can destroy lives just as surely as it can enrich them. Each year countless young men start down an obsessive, destructive path because they let bodybuilding consume their lives and they lose all perspective of what’s truly important. They allow obsession to destroy their relationships, their education, their jobs and their health. Don’t let this be you.
Just because you’ve been bitten by the Iron Bug, don’t neglect your studies, your work, your health, your family or your friends. In the long run, these are the important things in your life, not how you look or how strong you are. Use bodybuilding to improve yourself, not self-destruct. Applied correctly, bodybuilding can improve your health, improve your confidence, help build character and, of course, build your body. When obsession causes it to get out of control, however, bodybuilding can also destroy all of these things. Don’t wake up ten or twenty years from now and realize the mistakes you’ve made in life because you allowed your bodybuilding to get out of balance.
After a lifetime of bodybuilding, including competition at the national and world levels from the 1940s to the 1970s, Reg Park gave these very wise words of advice just before he died…
“Stay away from drugs, stay away growth hormones, stay away from steroids …Life goes by too quickly, and before you turn around it’s all over. If you don’t squeeze the last ounce of life out of you, of your life here on Earth with a good wife and a good family, then what are are you doing here? People in hospital are crying out for what you’ve got. Don’t abuse it.” – Reg Park
What do you do now?
That’s it. You now know the real “secrets” of drug-free bodybuilding. Of course, there is actually more to it than one article could cover, but the ground work has been laid. The rest is just icing on the cake and fine-tuning.
What you must do now is absorb the “rules” right down to the subconscious level. Hammer them into your brain. Never forget them and make them a part of your psyche. Forget the sensational commercially-driven bullshit you’ve been fed by the supplement, magazine and internet bodybuilding industries. I know much of what I’ve said here is very blunt and certainly not “pretty”, but it’s as true as anything you’ll ever hear. Remember, I’ve devoted most of my adult life to the Iron Game, and I intend to devote much of the rest of it as well. But one thing I won’t tolerate is bullshit, and I won’t play the game merely for the sake of being popular or making money.
You now have enough knowledge about real drug-free bodybuilding to set out on the most productive, rewarding training path you could possibly take. From here on in it’s up to you to provide the most important ingredients necessary to build a strong, healthy, impressive looking body: Dedication, Persistence, Hard Work and Patience. People just like you, and some who were much worse off, have built incredible, strong physiques, and you can too …if you follow the “rules”. Now, go to it…
“…all these exercises, as well as any other means outlined by me, or anyone else, for the development of the body, are merely a means to an end; the end itself can only be reached by hard work – by the diligent application of the means used to achieve the desired results. Wishful thinking won’t do it. Complete knowledge of the proper exercises won’t do it. But actually doing those exercises regularly WILL give you the body development you want.” – Steve Reeves
Destroy That Which Destroys You
"Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado."