Bodybuilding has lied to you, and thatís why youíre still skinny.
Bodybuilding has lied to you, and thatís why youíre still skinny.
2010 January 11
By Matt Perryman
Over the last say five, six years, Iíve pretty well managed to wall myself off from gym culture. I do lift in a commercial gym, though I have very little contact with the people there Ė unless you count staring in slack-jawed amazement at some of the antics and stupidity as contact. I donít, personally.
Most of the people I talk to in person are real lifters of some sort or another, guys that like powerlifting and strongman and Highland games. The manly kind of sports that you can drink beer with. We donít always agree 100% on the details, but we also know that the details donít matter and that in every way that matters, weíre on the same page.
Online, Iíve almost entirely stayed away from sites like bodybuilding.com or the beloved T-mag precisely because they encourage so much of that Bro mentality Ė that faux-macho wannabe outlook that relies on being Ďedgyí and Ďhardcoreí and Ďlatching on to the nuts of this yearís popular guruí.
Since taking myself out of all that, Iíve developed what I can only describe as selective amnesia, because Iíve genuinely been surprised at some of the stupid thatís out there Ė and itís layered, complex stupid. This can range from the mostly harmless repetition of Bro-mantras like the beloved íshock the body to keep it guessingí, right on up to full on ĎI still weigh 60kg and canít put on weight but let me tell you how to do thingsí.
Iíve discussed the abstract concept of stupidity before, and itís an interesting thing. Stupidity isnít just the absence of intelligence or information; itís the active rejection of learning that works by convincing the stupid person that s/he doesnít need to learn in the first place. Of course stupid and ignorant are relative terms, but Iím of the firm belief that most anybody can be coached or trained in the gym if theyíre given enough guidance.
One thing thatís always struck me about the guys that are ístuckí Ė canít get over 75kg, bench wonít go past 90kg Ė is their own lack of self-awareness. It should be simple to understand that, if your current behaviors arenít moving you towards your goals, then youíre going to have to change your behaviors.
If what youíre doing isnít working, youíre going to have to do something else.
This is such a staggeringly simple concept that I just canít believe people donít get it. But it happens every single damn day. If you go to any of the big busy forums online, youíll see one question asked more than anything else: ďwhy canít I gain weight?Ē This question will come in different flavors and styles, but it always remains.
You see it in any commercial gym. Next time youíre in such a place, have a look at how many skinny-looking guys are walking around in the weights area. If you come back in a year, assuming they havenít quit, none of them will look any different.
I drew up a flowchart outline to give a quick rundown of the thought process that these guys go through:
1. Recognize that Iím underweight, out of shape, and weak. Make a commitment to be at the gym five days a week.
2. Read a magazine with a big muscular guy on the cover. Find his workout.
3. Do the workout from the magazine, as long as itís for: chest, shoulders, arms, or back. Skip legs because you run a lot.
4. Gain a little weight because of beginner gains. Donít change your diet to increase protein or calorie intake.
5. Stall out because youíre not eating enough and because you insist on doing bodybuilderís routine. Body weight levels off around 70-75kg and bench is stuck somewhere between 60-80kg.
6. Decide that youíre Ďcuttingí now, since you want abs for summer. If youíre really determined to get big, skip 6 and go to 7.
7. Ask the big guy in the gym for some steroids. Go on a cycle of test and dbol even though youíve been lifting for a year and have no idea how to eat or train.
8. Get Ďgood gainsí on your cycle, which is really just water-bloat and not gains at all, but you believe itís gains because the scale goes up and all the other idiots tell you itís gains.
9. Come off cycle and lose all your gains the water weight. Strength and stamina in the gym go back to **** because the only reason you could sustain your workout was because of the juice.
10. Go back to 7. If youíre now depressed and Ďover it,í go back to 6.
That about sums it up I think. Iíd guess that most every guy at your gym, with only a few exceptions that will be obvious, is stuck somewhere in this flowchart. Beginners seem to repeat steps 1-5 without fail, and guys that have more than a year or so under their belts are either bouncing between that or Ďcutting for the beachí. A few more will go on to repeat the endless loop of steroid cycling without any real muscle gains to speak of.
Why does this loop keep happening, and why do so many, almost 100%, get stuck in it? There are two fundamental reasons:
1) You donít know how to eat. Popular bodybuilding wisdom encourages low-calorie diets of Ďcleaní foods, usually chicken and broccoli. Thatís all fine and dandy, but it doesnít add muscle to skinny bodies.
2) You donít know how to train. Popular bodybuilding and Ďgeneral fitnessí wisdom encourages you to split your training into 3-6 days a week, with each session devoted to one body part. Thatís all fine and dandy, but itís kinda missing the point.
These are hard truths, but you have to accept them. If youíre a skinny kid, the worst thing you can do is listen to whatís in the magazines and listen to what gym-culture tells you to do.
Gym-culture says you need to split up your body and focus on each muscle group to grow. Thatís a load of horse****, because for every guy you see thatís big or strong and uses that system, the majority of guys following it fail completely and spectacularly. And then instead of thinking Ďgee, maybe I should re-think this strategy,í they either give up or start popping dbol like candy.
Then they grow, mainly because of water retention; and then once they come off, they lose all their gains water. Thatís a productive strategy.
If you want the best gains, you need to focus on training regularly and training to get strong. Strength is size. Remember that. Repeat it. Say it out loud. Strength is size.
If youíre a big guy that uses body-part splits, by all means keep at it. If you enjoy it and think itís productive, Iím not going to say youíre wrong. If youíre a skinny kid thatís hit a plateau, Iím telling you thereís a better way to do things.
The bodybuilding paradigm goes back to the 1970s and 1980s, stretching back to Joe Weiderís philosophy on pumping up the muscle with endless volume. This only got worse in the 80s when everybody was on the juice and could grow on the super-high volume splits that are still with us today.
A bodybuilding session will have something like 4-5 exercises per muscle group, with the premise being that you must hammer and grind and ultimately defeat the muscle by bludgeoning it with set after set. Thatís not strength training; thatís endurance exercise. It may work for you as a beginner, but the biggest effect this training has is 1) inflaming your muscles and pumping them up right after the workout; and 2) bloating them up by increasing the amount of water, glycogen, and other goodies stored in there.
Needless to say, if you donít have muscle to pump in the first place, this isnít going to work very well. Leave the volume-training to big guys with a strength foundation.
Muscles respond most favorably to heavy, high-tension movements; and no, you do not have to work every muscle directly for them to grow. This is because muscle groups overlap and fill many of the same roles. Yes, this means that once youíve worked the hell out of your bench press, your triceps probably donít need that much work.
Bodybuilding has so poisoned the well that most people donít even realize that they can train with any other system. If someone wants to grow, then they default to the five-day body-part split. Iím telling you right now: any Ďbodybuildingí training should be secondary to your basic strength training; and only then if youíre really convinced you need it. If youíre 75kg and bitching that you canít get any bigger, you probably donít need it.
What you need instead if a basic program that focuses on getting stronger. ĎI donít want to be a powerlifter,í you say. ĎI want to build a good physique with mass and symmetry.í The funny part is that most people that say that have no idea what it even means as it comes out of their mouths.
Strength is size. If you want Ďmassí, you need to get stronger with the big lifts. If you want ísymmetryí, well, you need to talk to your parents. Anything else is a function of leanness. To many would-be bodybuilders just donít realize this, and they stay both small and weak as a result. At least until they go on the sauce.
If youíve already got a decent base of strength from years of training, you might benefit from this lighter bodybuilding stuff. You might even want to play with the split routines for a change of pace. You just have no business following that kind of routine when you donít have that foundation to build on.
Now what about diet? This is the other pillar of gaining muscle and body-weight, and itís just as much of a spectacular failure for most people.
The gym-culture says to eat every 2-3 hours to Ďkeep the metabolic fires burningí. Right. The diet itself revolves around lean meats (almost always chicken), green veggies (almost always broccoli), and Ďclean carbsí with oats being the number one contender.
Okay look, thatís fine if youíre already big and trying to maintain some degree of leanness. If youíre a little dude, just give it a rest. Seriously. I donít care about your damn abs if youíre bitching about being stuck at 70kg for the last year.
Shut up and go eat a cheeseburger.
Thereís nothing wrong with eating lean meats and Ďclean carbsí later on, once youíve actually gotten strong and added some muscle. I want you to try eating enough to grow with that diet, though. Smaller guys will probably need to push 4000 kcals per day to grow. Thatís a lot of chicken and broccoli and oats. Really dedicated guys can do it, but Iím telling you itís pointless macho bull****. There are easier ways.
Ways like pizza.
If you want a solid plan to grow without turning into a total fatass, a strategy to which I can relate, then set your daily calorie intake to around 18 times your body weight in pounds as a starting point. Set protein to at least 1 gram per lb first. Put carbs at maybe 2-2.5 times body weight, depending on your preference, and then make up the remainder from fat. The actual type of food doesnít matter so much; if you can fit in cheeseburgers, fit them in. Cheeseburgers want to be eaten. Just remember that the numbers come first.
As to how many meals to eat, if youíre bulking you never want to be hungry. That sounds like one of those hard-liner absolutist statements, but there is truth to it. Iíd make it a point to at least get protein every few hours to keep amino acid levels high.
Depending on how sloppy you want to get, you may find that you want to eat more than this. Thatís fine too. Just remember that to be realistic, itís probably not the best of ideas to add 50 lbs of fat in order to bump your squat 10 lbs. Iím all for bulking, but experience has taught me that bulking out of control is counterproductive. If youíre going to do it, do it right Ė make sure youíre actually adding strength and adding muscle.
Spread the Word.
I gotta agree with this guy!
Agreed. Good article.
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