The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee
The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee
by Casey Butt
“The information below is probably the most “honest” you’ll ever read in any bodybuilding article, and it’s probably the most important article I’ve ever written, or will ever write, regarding bodybuilding and the bodybuilding industry.”
This is a long article. You’ll get the most out of it if you print it off, read it slowly, and let the material “digest”.
This article was originally titled “Beginners Part I: The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee”. But over the years I’ve noticed a curious thing …a lot of very advanced trainees have read this article and followed the advice herein. So I thought about it a little and realized that the information contained here isn’t really exclusive to beginners at all. In fact, sometimes advanced trainees are in need of the “rules” even more than beginners. Especially when those trainees have wasted years of their training lives not following the “rules”. The fact is, the “rules” apply to everyone who wants to get the most out of weight training and is doing so without the assistance of anabolic drugs. So the “Beginners Part I” was dropped from the title to get: “The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee”. Sounds a little profound, but appropriate nonetheless.
Before we get into the “meat” of the article let me relate to you an experience I had in the gym one time (actually probably a thousand times but I’ve learned to ignore it) that’ll help set the tone for where we’re going to go. I’ll tell you this because you’ll probably be able to relate to the situation.
I had just finished my last exercise for the day, was changing my shoes and drinking my shake, when this skinny little guy comes up to me and says, “Do you know how to do Deadlifts?” “Yes”, I replied. “Can you show me?”, he says. So I agreed and off we went – over to where he was Deadlifting. When I got there he had already loaded up the bar (with a 10 pound plate on each side) and started to go through the motions for me. His form was pretty shakey – he was having trouble keeping a safe arch in his back (he had obvious inflexibility problems in his hips and hamstrings). Now, having performed and witnessed a few deadlifts in my lifetime, I knew his situation intimately …I’d seen it many times before and I knew the “cure”. But just as I was about to speak, some guy, who was even skinnier than him, cut me off and started explaining to him the finer points of Deadlift technique and training. (I guess he felt offended because this kid looked to somebody else for advice besides “his honour”.) To be fair though, most of what he was saying was just about dead-on, but it was very obvious from his physique that he hadn’t spent too much time actually Deadlifting, if you know what I mean. Still, his instructions on form were sound so I didn’t feel like I had to add anything. Over the next half-hour, or so, the two went over all the finer points of Deadlifting technique and the various assistance exercises that the new trainee should be doing – with me watching patiently and putting in my 2 cents worth every now and then.
As time went on, more and more important practicalities of training were being left out of the “sage’s” advice. One thing became more and more apparent: This “instructor” hadn’t lifted a weight in his life. He was well-read on all the latest texts that his obvious Phys Ed schooling had prescribed, and he had done his homework well, but he didn’t have a clue about real-world lifting. He made suggestions that were, clearly, straight from an arm-chair expert who had read one too many texts and lifted way too few weights. He had no idea of how to correct the problems that the new guy had, and he didn’t have the foggiest about constructing a practical training routine for the real world. What he did have, however, was the arrogance and swagger of somebody who’d read a few muscle magazine or kinesiology textbooks and now considers himself an authority amongst an otherwise “uneducated” group of gym grunts. In short, all his “knowledge” was useless. He lacked the practical experience to put it into context. Too much reading, too little doing. I later found out that he was the new resident “physical trainer” for the gym – but that would be typical.
Don’t get the impression that I’m against scientific research and how it applies to bodybuilding (or powerlifting, or weightlifting, etc.). In fact, many people think of my writing as having a clear scientific leaning. In truth, I have 5 degrees in the “hard” sciences (including a Ph.D.). I’ve written peer-reviewed articles for scientific journals and attended conferences around the world. I’ve taught at the university level and I now work in research and development for one of the most technically advanced companies on Earth. I don’t say all that to boast, but to tell you that I know how science works …so I’m not “anti-science” by any stretch. However, the “science” of weight training will never take the place of in-the-gym experience. And that’s what too few “experts” seem to actually have – experience. Hey, you can read about boxing all you want, but that doesn’t qualify you to get in the ring with Klitschko.
I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me that you’ve got conflicting advice coming at you from all directions – and you probably can’t figure out who, or what, to believe. Well, I’m going lay the truth out for you in clear, no-bullshit fashion. I’ve been at this for at least 18 years …I know what you need to know, and what you don’t need to know and I’m going to tell you straight. Not what I read from just a book or in a research paper (though, trust me, I’ve read a few …all the way from texts published in 1896 to the latest research journals) but what I’ve had hammered into me through over 18 years of unbreakable devotion to weight training; what I’ve seen other people go through and what I’ve learned from people who have gone before me. I’m not making any money from this, and the only reason I’m telling you this is because I remember myself, quite vividly, what it’s like to be stumbling around in the dark. So, let’s get into the Rules of Productive Weight Training for the Drug-free Trainee.
I’m going to start with the rule that upsets a lot of publishers, supplement salesmen and even gym owners (I almost forgot, they’re called “fitness clubs” now). It puts me on the magazines’ blacklists too, so I don’t expect you’ll see anything I write show up in the newsstand bodybuilding magazines…
Rule #1: Don’t Be Mislead by 99% of What You Read on the Internet or in Magazines and Books
The vast majority of what’s in popular “print” is, for the most part, useless to you. Worse than that, it’ll do your training life immense harm if you take much of it too seriously. The fitness industry is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. Do you really think that the guy’s who make a fortune from this are concerned with your gains? No, they are not. Most of them are probably fat businessmen who go to board meetings and discuss what they can do to get this quarter’s profits up. As George Turner would say, “you couldn’t scrape a teaspoon full of muscle off of ‘em.” To them, you are simply a potential customer. Think about it, how do they get your attention? They hire some drug-using professional bodybuilder to say that he got great gains from their product (training program or supplements) and they photograph him with some half-naked girl with a 4-pound saline rack. In reality, he probably never even used their product and even if he did, he takes so many steroids and anabolic drugs that almost any program would work for him and supplements are irrelevant. But all the advertisers are concerned with is getting you to give them your money for their latest book or magazine, supplement or “breakthrough discovery”, or whatever they happen to be selling …and it’s always something, either directly or indirectly.
I was recently catching a long flight and bought a few of the popular “muscle magazines” to read onboard. Immediately I was struck by the fact that I had to flip past almost two dozen pages of supplement ads before I even got to the table of contents. When I did get there I noticed that this magazine contained much less actual “content” than it did about 10 years ago. In fact, there were only four of what I’d consider actual articles. The rest were just a few paragraphs here and there, interspersed between supplement ads. In fact, well over two-thirds of the pages in this magazine were supplement ads (yes, I counted). There were eight 4-6 page “special ad reports” semi-disguised as articles when, in fact, they were ads by supplement manufacturers. Remove the full-page photos, diagrams designed to take up space and side-bar supplement ads and I’d estimate that this roughly 300-page magazine contains about 10 pages of actual instruction/information …and even then most of the actual “articles” contain plugs for protein powders and other supplements. Contrast this to the same magazine a dozen or so years ago and you’ll find that the supplement ads have increased by at least a factor of 10 and two-thirds of the magazine’s actual content has been removed to make space for them. I wonder what the motivation has been for such a shift? This 300-page collection of bogus supplement ads cost me almost 10 bucks. Considering what it really is, they should be giving this rag away for free.
Every few months new gimmics come out and are pushed heavily in the magazines and on the internet because gimmics sell. People simply don’t want to see and read the same old things month after month, year after year. The newest “wrinkle” is what sells, and sales are what the “industry” is all about. Even the genuine articles, which could be helpful to drug-free trainees, quickly get lost and overwhelmed amongst the sensationalism and material aimed at drug-users and the naive. Beginners and experienced trainees alike simply cannot tell what’s appropriate for them and what isn’t …and if an author doesn’t specifically say that his advice is for drug-free trainees, then it’s not. Training for beginners is an even more special case, and 99% of what’s printed in magazines and on the internet is not appropriate for beginners.
Another thing: You are not Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzenegger or anyone else. The things that some of those men do to their bodies in training would destroy yours. Why is that so? Because they are taking/took enough drugs in a month that they’d be 250 pounds and ripped if they never lifted anything much heavier than their pill bottles (an exaggeration perhaps, but if you’d seen some of these top pros train you might be surprised to find that they don’t train as hard as you do – steroids make the muscles stronger but don’t do much for the joints, so some of these men actually can’t train heavy anymore …the weights they use in photoshoots are made of styrofoam and plastic). You have about as much in common with the average pro bodybuilder as you do with a lowland Gorilla. Seem a bit far-fetched? Well, I’ve heard of competitors spending upwards of $90,000 a year in drugs. Think that your body, with it’s natural hormone levels, can compare to that? If you do you’re dreaming. Sorry if I’m bursting your bubble here, but you had to find out sooner or later. So WAKE UP NOW, before it’s too late and you’ve spent years wasting your time following Jay Cutler’s biceps routine. It happened to me. I wasted almost 10 years on their drug-dependent routines. If you don’t be careful you may too.
Training approaches are very specific and different for drug-free people than they are for drug-users. People of different builds also require different training approaches (especially people that could be classified as “hard gainers”). If you want to learn how to train drug-free you have to look to the people that actually train and trained drug-free – the current drug-free champions such as Dave Goodin, Tony Montalbano and Jon Harris, and the legends of the Iron Game such as Reg Park, John Grimek, Tommy Kono, Steve Reeves, John Davis, etc. Think those people aren’t (or weren’t) that big. Well, compared to Jay Cutler they aren’t. But let me tell you right now, if you want to be like Jay Cutler without turning your ass into a pin-cushion and choking down pills from some Eastern European or Mexican pharmacy all day then you need a big reality check. Take a look at these men. They are your measuring stick. Ain’t so bad, hey?
If you want to read some sensible bodybuilding books I can suggest the following list:
# Brawn by Stuart McRobert. This is, without a doubt, one of the best and most valuable books for drug-free trainees ever published. The original version is best because the subsequent edition(s) is just a nudge too conservative in both exercise selection and schedules. On the other hand, the recommendations in the newer edition(s) are generally safer and will yield similar gains for all but the most advanced of trainees.
# Powerlifting Basics, Texas-Style: The Adventures of Lope Delk by Paul Kelso. Although this book is aimed primarily at Powerlifters it contains a wealth of training wisdom for anyone who wants to learn what training is really about.
# Weight-Training Technique: The Insider’s Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique by Stuart McRobert. Beginners need to learn how to do the most effective exercises safely and properly. This is an excellent guide, though some valuable exercises are not explained.
# Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way by Steve Reeves. Reeves had one of the greatest drug-free physiques of all time. This book outlines his approach to training. Be careful though, only the most genetically gifted will prosper fully from his routine in its unaltered state.
# The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCallum. McCallum was probably the greatest muscle scribe to ever put pen to paper. This book is a compilation of his classic series of articles in the old Health and Strength magazine. Of all the training books I’ve read this was the most engaging and inspirational.
# Dinosaur Training: Lost Secrets of Strength and Development by Brooks Kubik. A modern classic and a great read. Brooks knows his stuff and his solid advice is a worthy addition to the Iron Game.
# The Strongest Shall Survive by Bill Starr. Truly worth it’s weight in gold. Don’t let the sub-title (Strength Training for Football) put you off. This is one of the finest books ever written on how to build functional strength and muscle mass.
# Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks by Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D. A modern training classic. You won’t gain 30 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks, but you probably will gain as much, as quickly, as possible.
# 10-Week Size Surge by Iron Man Magazine. A solid program along the old-time, drug-free training lines …A very effective approach to training, and a very complete guide.
The vast majority of training books on the shelves today aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. I’ve read every one of the above books several times and can assure you that every one of them is worth the cost. If you have some free money and want to educate yourself about weight training don’t spend your money on crap …give it to the people who are actually honest enough to deserve it – go with something from the above list. They’re the wheat hidden amongst the chaff. If you don’t know where to get them you can try Amazon or Ironman Books. Also, Bill Hinbern’s Super Strength Books contains some real gems and classic reprints from the pre-drug era.
Another thing: Be very leery of people on internet discussion boards who post under fake names and use pro-bodybuilders or cartoons as their avatar photos. I’ve been surfing the “web” since before you could even call it that – before html, before Internet Explorer, before even Mosaic (if anyone can remember that), way back in the “Gopher” days of the early 1990s – and there’s one thing I can tell you for sure: If someone on an internet discussion board who calls himself “buff-, flex-, doctor-, professor-, extreme-, huge-, etc” and uses a fake photo in his profile gives you advice or makes claims, remember one thing – he’s probably weaker and fatter than you. I haven’t met a legitimate bodybuilder yet (or anybody else with a good physique) who was afraid to tell you his name or show you his photo (though you’ve got a better chance of getting written into their wills than getting most of their real measurements). And having made 1000 posts doesn’t automatically qualify you as an expert either. You’d probably be very surprised if you seen some of these “internet experts”. Why do you think they won’t show their photos or tell their real names? Because nobody would take them seriously if they did.
Many of the internet web pages dealing with weight training are simply plagiarized (read: unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author) from other websites. For some psychological reason, the guys who run these sites like to be thought of as authorities on the subject so they copy (sometimes blatantly) articles from other websites, magazines, etc, re-write them in their own words (sometimes just barely) and present them as their own. I’ve had several “problems” in the past where people have plagiarized my material and can even think of a site which, as of this writing, is hosting a “guide to training” which is essentially a re-write of this article and others from this site. All this begs the question, if these guys are qualified to write training advice then why do they copy material from somewhere else? Can you trust their judgement about what they choose to copy on any given day? Do they know what they’re talking about, or are they just jumping on the bandwagon after some article caught their attention (which is how most fitness fads spread)? The fitness industry is full of enough crap as it is, without these nuts adding to it. And just because somebody calls themself a “Personal Trainer” it doesn’t mean they have a clue what they’re talking about either. Most personal trainers’ credentials come from a weekend seminar which they attended – they learned that “Chest Presses” are for the pecs and “Leg Presses” are for the quads, they probably even learned some nutrition bullshit like “good” fats and “bad” fats. I actually had a Certified Personal Trainer say to me once, “Yeah, I worked out for three weeks consecutively two summers ago. You can really get bitten by that iron bug.” No shit.
Moral of the story: Be very careful whose advice you take seriously. Your training success (or failure) may depend on it.
I know very well that by taking this stance I’ve “outlawed” myself from ever making money by writing for the mainstream publications and I’ve also offended a lot of the so-called “experts” on the internet discussion boards. But, guess what? I don’t care. I’m sick of bullshit, and I won’t play the game and be brainwashed by people who don’t know a fraction of what I do about training and nutrition. If you sense that as arrogance and don’t like my attitude then I don’t care either – leave my site and read some bullshit elsewhere that you find more pleasant. I couldn’t care less who likes me, doesn’t like me, approves or disapproves of anything I say here. But remember this: I’ve been there, got the T-shirt, learned the hard way and I’m here to help. Hey, I could be paid for writing bullshit …but I don’t.
By the way, you may have noticed that this article is rather long. Why didn’t I break it across 7-8 web pages so you’d have to keep clicking “next” to go on to the next page? Because websites only do that so everytime you bring up a new page you see a new commercial ad.
Rule #2: Avoid Exercise Machines
Animal life on Earth began over 345 million years ago (some estimates are as long as 400 million years ago). Since that time all living creatures have been doing one thing: lifting their body weights and free weight objects against the force of gravity. That is what our bodies are designed for and have evolved to do. I don’t care how knowledgeable some machine designers are, they’ll never design a better machine for our bodies than what evolution has dictated. It never ceases to amaze me how some exercise machine designers and devotees vehemently insist on the superior “design” of some machines over free weights. Apparently, they aren’t familiar with Darwin (not to mention their inferior results).
Machine manufacturers try to convince you with all kinds of so-called “scientific” arguments why the machines are better. They typically use misapplied logic and inadequate knowledge of muscle physiology to argue that machines better stress the muscles over a fuller range of motion – the contention being that the non-variable linear loading of free-weight exercises is inferior to the purposely tailored resistance curves of some exercise machines. What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that at the ends of the range of motion (the stretched and contracted positions) muscle fibers are capable of exerting only a fraction of the force that they can generate over the mid-range anyway (although demonstratable strength will vary because of mechanical leverage) – there isn’t much, if any, of an additional growth effect to be produced by stressing the muscles at those positions. In fact, one could argue that, theoretically, providing “tailored” resistance over the entire range of motion would likely serve to decrease the overall growth stimulus because it unnecessarily fatigues the fibers in more “ineffective” states of elongation so that they cannot produce maximum force over the mid-range, where the maximum growth stimulus can actually be delivered (the old-timers would refer to this as the basic, free-weight exercises training the “belly” of the muscle). Not to mention the increased anabolic hormone release in response to intense training on the free-weight, compound exercises. Now, some would argue that the elevated hormone release is inconsequential. Well then why did evolution (or God, if you’re a believer) see that it happens? I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the exercises long revered as the most productive (i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, various Presses and Rows) are also the ones that spike testosterone and growth hormone the most.
To my knowledge, despite the equipment industry’s heavy promotion, there hasn’t been a single peer-reviewed scientific study published in the past 50 years that confirms exercise machines’ effectiveness over free-weights. In fact, any studies you do turn up (if you can find any unbiased results that weren’t produced by the machine manufacturers themselves) will imply the opposite. It seems that the very act of lifting an unguided (i.e. “free”) weight recruits more muscle fibers than performing the same movement on a guided machine (even bodyweight Pull-Ups have been shown in MRI analyses to intensely recruit more muscle fibers than Pull-downs with a cable.) Perhaps that helps explain why there hasn’t been a drug-free bodybuilding champion in history who trained predominantly with machines. Even Arthur Jones’ (inventor of the Nautilus line of exercise machines) proteges either didn’t initially build their muscle using his machines or they used free-weights and higher volume routines behind his back (for example, Sergio Oliva, Casey Viator and Boyer Coe).
But to keep this plain and simple, I have one reason for you right now as to why most of your training should be done with free-weights (and it has nothing to do with lab coats and test tubes): If you spend your time on exercise machines you will limit your progress as compared to if you lifted free-weights. I spent YEARS wasting my time – and so have countless others. Don’t become one of those people who hits yourself on the head a little (or long) ways down the road and says, “Why didn’t I do the free-weights in the first place? Look at the time I’ve wasted!”
What makes the machines so appealing, along with all the “scientific” sounding bullshit, is that they are easy to learn to use, and comfortable when you do use them. But ease and comfort are NOT what builds muscle. And what good is something being easy to learn if it’s not worth learning in the first place? The free weight movements will take longer for you to learn but you will be more than rewarded when you do. If you don’t believe me then feel free to waste your time.
Earlier I mentioned that fitness is a multi-billion dollar industry. Do you know how much those machines cost? You’d be amazed. We’re talking sometimes over a thousand dollars for each unit. Arthur Jones became a multi-millionaire (listed by Forbes as one of the country’s richest people) because he invented the Nautilus line of exercise machines back in the late-1960s/early-1970s. He used “scientific” principles to hype the bejesus out of those things and they were bought all around the world. Nautilus gyms were everywhere. Their memberships were huge. The philosphy was “get people in, get people out”, as was conveniently supported by Jones’ recommended style of brief, infrequent training. And the gym owners were satisfied because the machines were difficult to steal (free-weight theft is often a problem in city gyms). The industry thrives on machine use because the average person doesn’t have the money or space to equip a home gym with them, making gym memberships a necessity if they can convince you that free weights are “old-fashioned” or dangerous or inferior. The bodybuilding magazines push this as well because they are either “sponsored” by exercise machine manufacturers or they have a vested interest themselves (the even more profitable supplement industry operates much the same way). Trust me. It’s bullshit. Don’t be a sucker.
After having said all that, I’m going to seemingly contradict myself a little and add that some machines actually can have their place in productive training routines. No, I’m not dogmatically set in an “anti-machine” stance (or any other for that matter). Not all machines are created equal and some, such as the old Nautilus 4-way neck machine, can be quite useful. (Something similar can be said about some cable exercises.) Beginners, however, having little experience and without expert guidance, have no way of assessing a particular machine’s worth (and most are practically useless); so the safer route is to just avoid them until you’re advanced enough to make your own judgements or find someone who really knows his stuff to advise you (which is unlikely in today’s gyms). Intermediate and advanced trainees (as well as beginners) will learn through experience that for the greatest and fastest general muscle mass gains free-weights are superior anyway. So, unless you’re very advanced, rehabilitating an injury, or are using anabolic drugs, put exercise machines way down on your priority list.
Vince Gironda and Reg Park, who both had over 50 years training experience with everyone from the kid down the street to Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia had this to say on the subject of exercise equipment…
“The more you know about exercise, the less complicated the equipment you need.” – Vince Gironda
“Barbells, dumbbells and a chinning bar. …A lot of people think, “I’ve gotta have this and I’ve gotta have that,” but that’s all bullshit, quite frankly.” – Reg Park
Arthur Jones himself wrote this little jewel ten years after he sold the Nautilus line of exercise machines for 23 million dollars (to the company that now sells Bowflex)…
“Apart from a rather limited number of hardcore bodybuilders who are misguided enough to believe that they have a chance to compete against the outright genetic freaks that now dominate bodybuilding competition, just about anybody else in this country can produce nearly all of the potential benefits of proper exercise without spending much if anything in excess of about twenty dollars. You can build both a chinning bar and a pair of parallel dip bars for a total cost of only a few dollars, and those two exercises, chins and dips, if properly performed, will stimulate muscular growth in your upper body and arms that will eventually lead to muscular size and strength that is very close to your potential.
Adding full squats, eventually leading up to one-legged full squats, and one-legged calf raises, will do much the same thing for your legs and hips. Using this very simple routine, when you get strong enough to perform about ten repetitions of one-armed chins with each arm, your arms will leave very little to be desired. Or, instead, you can do what many thousands of others are now doing and piss away thousands of dollars and years of largely wasted effort while producing far less results. The choice is yours. One of the best pair of arms that I ever saw on a man belonged to a guy that I knew about fifty years ago in New York, and he never performed any sort of exercise apart from chins and dips, and damned few of them.” – Arthur Jones in 1996
Trust me, 345 million years of evolution is not wrong. It is completely illogical to think that after millions of years of evolution in a free weight, constant gravity environment we would be able to invent machines that are better suited to training the human body than free weights and gravity. We are products of our environment, our bodies are actually the result of the need to lift free weights against gravity – that is what they are specifically designed and specialized to do. Why try to create machines to train our bodies when our bodies are, in fact, machines created to lift free weights??? It doesn’t exactly come as a shock to me that MRI and hormonal assays show that machines don’t train muscle as well. Use your brain on this one. Perhaps if human beings evolved on planet Cybex things would be different – but we didn’t. If for some erroneous reason you don’t agree with this, then you are wrong, and I’d also wager that for your efforts in the gym you’ve built about as much muscle as my cat, and unless you either get your priorities straight, or resort to drugs, that’s pretty much all you’ll ever have.
Rule #3: Genetics DO Matter – But WHO CARES!
Some people will progress much faster than others. Some people will grow into solid chunks of muscle within a few months, while others will have to work for years to get half the gains. I’ve seen it a thousand times. And it’s not just training routine design, effort, desire or diet. If these things were all equal it would still happen. But there’s nothing you can do about your genetic inheritance – so GET OVER IT. You can only work with what you’ve got, so do that. I’ve seen some very genetically gifted people come into the gym and pass my overall strength and muscle level within 6 months of steady training (though they rarely have the same proportion of balanced development and “quality”) – and I’ve been doing this for over 18 years – but I lived. And I’ll be in the gym again tomorrow. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare.
The supplement and magazine sellers hate to acknowledge any of this, and they do their best to keep you in the dark about it because they don’t want people to stop clinging to the unrealistic dreams that drive them to buy yet more supplements and magazines. They’d love to have you believe that anyone can have 20″ arms if they just have access to the right supplements and latest training knowledge. “Buy our new product and you’ll pack on the mass!” What bullshit. The human body can grow only so fast and there’s nothing legally on the market that can significantly change that, and none of the latest training protocols produce faster gains than what enlightened bodybuilders have known for the past 60 years. I’ve sunk money into their scam products since the 1980s and I can count the “good” ones on one hand.
I know it can be discouraging. I’ve already told you that you’ll never be built like Jay Cutler and now I’m telling you that the guy next to you might progress ten times faster than you. Well, take heart. Everyone can build an impressive physique. I’ve seen some pretty puny fellows put a great deal of muscle on their bones. I’ve also seen some pretty fat fellows lose the fat and build impressive physiques. I started off with both of those problems – 150 lbs overweight, weak as a rat, and with the upper body musculature of a 12-year old girl. Now, some eighteen years later, I still may not be a prime Steve Reeves, but I’m no fat weakling either. If you stick with it you WILL progress. And if you don’t let the industry garbage lead you down the primrose path who knows how far you can go? One thing is for sure, you won’t know until you try and you won’t get anywhere complaining about your “bad” genetics.
Rule #4: Don’t Train More Often Than Three Days Per Week (Four Under Certain Circumstances) If You’re Trying to Build Maximum Muscle Mass and Strength
This rule often comes as a big shock for people so I’m going to try and be as clear as possible. I am not saying that no one, at no time, should ever train more than three or maybe four times per week. What I am saying is that to build maximum muscle mass that’s all that’s needed and is, by far, the best approach for most genetically typical drug-free trainees trying to get bigger and stronger.
“But Jay Cutler trains six times”, I can hear you saying – go back and read Rule #1 again. Unless you are very genetically gifted, you do not have the hormone levels or joint structures to train that often and make maximum progress in size and strength. It’s true that some advanced drug-free athletes can train 5-6 times per week, and those types of routines can have their place, but they are only for very specific purposes (such as contest preparation or for the sake of variety) and are generally NOT appropriate for typical drug-free trainees trying to increase their basic muscle mass. Personally, as I look back on my bodybuilding “career”, I realize that the times I made my best mass gains were when I was working out no more than three times per week most of the time. Generally, drug-free strength athletes make the fastest gains when they spend more days out of the gym than in. Don’t believe me? Hey, it’s your life, do what you want – but if you don’t listen to this you’ll regret it. I’ve been there.
“But so-and-so in Muscle-whatever magazine (or website) said that for maximum hypertrophy you must train five times a week …and he’s a respected author who trains professional and Olympic athletes.” I don’t care if he’s ordained to teach bodybuilding by Jesus Christ himself, in this case, he’s wrong …and there’s nothing his credentials (of which a very large portion are most likely self-appointed) can do to change it. I once trained with a rather arrogant student of one of these famous coaches – the only practical thing he seemed to have learned from him was how to pass a drug test. That’s right, “Coach” himself was a steroid-user and was quite skilled at slipping his athletes by the tests. How else would he be effective at “coaching” high level amateur and professional athletes, most of whom use performance enhancing drugs during at least part of the year? Surprised? Then don’t be so naive. Besides, how could a man who spends his days with the country’s best, full-time elite athletes (and steroid-using elite athletes at that) possibly know how to train a genetically typical person? And if you think about it, besides his own claims, have you ever seen or heard of this guy actually at the Olympics? Again, don’t be naive. I personally know two former Olympians (one in Weightlifting), and when I dabbled in Olympic Weightlifting earlier in my “career” I was getting advice directly from a former Olympic Weightlifting gold medalist and world record holder, a former national coach and a current nationally ranked lifter. Guess what, they all told me that until I reached at least the regional or state level (and/or was taking steroids) there was no need for me to train more than three times per week.
“But Mr. So-And-So said that he trained five times a week when he started out. He couldn’t have been on steroids then.” That’s right, now go back and read Rule #3. The fact that he’s Mr. So-And-So tells you that the guy’s probably got well above average genetics – he could get away with it. If you can too then you’re a lucky individual. But there’s still no need to train more than 3-4 days per week if you’re after maximum muscle mass and strength. Reg Park didn’t, and even by today’s standards he was one of the biggest and strongest drug-free men who ever lived. So, if you are genetically gifted for building muscle, a 3-day-per-week training program won’t hold you back …but if you are not it might make the difference between some gains and no gains.
What about the idea that training three times a week is only for beginners and more advanced trainees should train more often? Again, bullshit. Dave Goodin, the current era’s most winning drug-free competitive bodybuilder, trains three times per week in the off-season and he’s certainly no beginner. Park built up to 230 pounds of solid muscle, with a 500-pound Bench Press and over 600-pound Squat to boot, by training “only” three times per week. He also won the Mr. Universe title twice around that time. How many drug-free men do you know who can Bench Press 500 pounds, with no bench shirt or assistance gear, while still being lean enough to see their abs. Let me guess. None.
There are certain circumstances when training four times per week can promote fast gains also. Specifically, some larger-boned trainees with robust joints react quite well to such a frequency. Some less gifted intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit from a 4-day-per-week training cycle thrown in periodically for variety, as well. In fact, it can be quite beneficial to do so. The majority of most people’s training cycles, when they’re trying to increase their basic body mass and strength, however, should be based on basic, hard work on 3-day-per-week training programs.
But perhaps you don’t feel like believing me. In that case, I challenge you to scour the published research regarding strength and hypertrophy training. See if you can find “proof” that 4,5 or 6-day-per-week programs are more effective than 3-day-per-week programs. I did. Guess what I found? The answer is not so cleverly hidden in the title of this rule.
Here’s how pre-drug era bodybuilding legends George Eiferman and Clancy Ross put it…
“I train on the average of 3 times a week, though directly before a contest, I may train more frequently…” – George Eiferman
“Experience has proven to me that for general training, three times a week is still the best. Only for specialized purposes, such as shortly before a physique contest, is training more frequently advised…” – Clancy Ross
1945 Mr. America
1946 Pro Mr. America
1948 Mr. USA
1955 Mr. Universe Tall Class
But just in case you think those old guys didn’t know what they were talking about (after all, your ‘most muscular’ is better than Clancy’s right?), let me spell it out even more clearly and with the training of modern drug-free bodybuilders (and most powerlifters as well) in mind:
If you are a genetically typical person trying to build maximum muscle mass and strength without the assistance of drugs then for the majority of your training cycles you should not train more often than three times per week. If you have attained at least the intermediate level, or have exceptionally robust joints (usually also large-boned), then you may be able to try 4-day-per-week training schedules from time-to-time (but typically going back to 3-day-per-week schedules as your base – especially if you have smaller than average joints).
5 or 6-day-per-week programs are appropriate for certain advanced and weight-loss training purposes – they are NOT optimal for building a base of muscle mass and strength in typical drug-free trainees. Unless you already have enough muscle mass built that you would not look out of place on a natural bodybuilding contest stage, or are just making a temporary schedule change for the sake of variety, then you have NO BUSINESS messing with such types of training routines.
Rule #5: Do Mostly Compound, Multi-Joint Exercises
The core of your routine should be made up of exercises that involve the use of large masses of muscle and the movement of several joints. Those exercises stimulate a lot of muscle and cause your body to release anabolic hormones. That means stuff like Squats, Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, Bench Presses, Overhead Presses, Dips, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts and Pull-Ups. These are the ones that will make you grow (incidently, they also typically stress the muscles heavily in the mid-range of motion, as mentioned in Rule #2). If you go filling your routine with single joint exercises such as Lateral Raises and Triceps Kickbacks (because you want to “isolate” this muscle or that) you will only be wasting your valuable time. Put hard work into the compound exercises, on the other hand, and you will be rewarded with the fastest muscle growth possible. And it’s not just my experience that proves this, but the experience of thousands of weight trainers throughout the years.
Does this mean that there is no place for isolation movements in productive training routines? No. Exercises for the abs, lower back, rotator cuff muscles, etc, all can be very useful. As well, more advanced trainees can benefit from the judicious use of such things as Dumbbell Flyes, Lateral Raises, etc. I do so myself. However, as Rule #2 warns, isolation exercises with free-weights are almost always superior to exercise machines.
In any case, the vast majority of your efforts should go into the compound, multi-joint, free-weight exercises. Don’t try to prove me wrong if you want to succeed at drug-free weight training.
Rule #6: Keep Your Workouts To An Hour Or Less, Most Of The Time
This could become a very “scientific” rule, filling an entire article itself. But I’m going to try to keep it brief and simple. Testosterone levels (the body’s main anabolic hormone) start to decline after about 45 to 60 minutes of intense weight training and catabolic (muscle destroying) hormones such as cortisol start to increase. This signals the point at which training is theoretically thought to begin losing it’s effectiveness. In other words, based on the average person’s hormonal response to training, it would seem that you’d be better off leaving the gym after about an hour and resting for your next workout because you’re not going to stimulate any significant degree of additional muscle growth by training longer anyway. In addition, prolonged training requires the adrenal glands to produce elevated levels of epinephrine, cortisol and aldosterone. Over time, excessive training results in decreased adrenergic receptor sensitivity (making fat loss difficult and fat gain easier) and adrenal fatigue (as evidenced by fluctuating average daily body temperatures, decreasing blood pressure, low energy, joint pain and muscle loss). In short, your muscle gains will stop and you’ll start getting fatter and feeling “run down”. This probably won’t happen in a few weeks, but over time adrenergic receptor down-regulation and adrenal fatigue due to overtraining (and psychological stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, etc.) is a large reason why many drug-free trainees keep working harder but get less in return. If you’ve had a life-long tendency to be fat and weak then you’re especially at risk of this. As an advanced trainee you’ll know where your personal limits are based on experience, but for beginners and intermediates that instinct hasn’t been developed and they’re best off just keeping the training session to about an hour or less.
So, unless you’re advanced enough to reliably make the call yourself or are doing some sort of short-term, higher volume training routine for a few weeks (or months at the most), then most of your workouts should be one hour or less. For the vast majority of genetically typical trainees longer training routines, in the long run, are not more effective at building muscle and will most likely hold progress back. For intermediates longer routines are only useful for limited periods as part of weight loss phases or deliberately planned higher-volume phases (especially applicable to very advanced athletes). Practically all modern natural bodybuilding champions obey this guideline. Unless you are very genetically gifted (less than 1% of the population), 90% of your muscle mass will be built by hard workouts of about an hour or less.
If you do have the time and energy to devote yourself almost completely to bodybuilding, don’t participate in any strenuous work or sports, then you may be able to push some of your training sessions to more than an hour. To do it successfully will require a very keen sense of your own recovery abilities (i.e. you’re an experienced lifter) and the diet of a king. That’s right, one of the very often overlooked aspects of hard training is a hearty diet to go with it. Don’t think you can hit the heavy iron for an hour and a half or more and get away with eating like a mouse. One of the necessities of hard training is a big appetite. Big weights = big feeds. There’s no way around it. Train like a maniac and eat like a bird and you’ll burn out in no time. Eat like a pig and train like a wimp and you’ll get fat. The two – heavy training and heavy eating – feed each other, so to speak, and one without the other just won’t work.
But in any case, you must remember that weight training is not an endurance event. If you want endurance go for a jog. And how many big, muscular long-distance runners do you know? I’ll guess again. None. Why? Because endurance training (such as jogging, cardio, weight training for long sessions) doesn’t build muscle. Beginners – no more than an hour. Intermediates – no more than an hour unless you’re trying to lose weight and know when to say when. Advanced – if you’ve a keen sense of your body’s abilities you can try pushing it to 1:30 or so, but make sure you’ve got the food intake, rest and down-time to support that level of training. If all your ducks aren’t in perfect line then it’s an hour for you too. As Bob Hoffman would say, “Even the smallest hole will sink the largest ship eventually.”
At least 95% of the people reading this should be working out for an hour or less, 95% of the time. You’ve got 60 minutes to send your body the signal to grow. Don’t waste time on crap exercises. Lift the big weights and go home and eat something. That’s how strong, impressive drug-free bodies are built, not loafing around the gym half the day, sitting on every useless exercise machine there, and deluding yourself into thinking you’re working hard.
Rule #7: Strive For Perfect Exercise Form
Cheating your reps builds nothing but ego – not muscle. If you have to cheat that means the weight’s too heavy for you to lift properly. Cheating does not make a muscle contract harder because you can use heavier weights. A muscle can contract only so hard and that’s that. All cheating does is bring other muscles into the movement so you can use more weight – that’s not how to effectively train a muscle. And you can’t argue for cheating by saying, “Well, I am using more muscles if I cheat.” You are using muscles that the exercise isn’t supposed to train and robbing the muscles you do want to target in the process. Besides, cheating can be DANGEROUS. Proper form is safe. When you start deviating from proper form you open the door for a potentially serious injury. Even minor injuries can cause you to miss workouts – and that’s certainly not an effective way to gain muscle. When you are advanced you might want to experiment with some minor, “controlled” cheating. In that case, “controlled” cheating can be used by an experienced and wise athlete to subject his body to heavier loading than it’s normally accustomed to – in fact, almost all advanced bodybuilders do this to some degree – but it’s nothing magical. Until you’ve built a solid base of muscle (enough that you stand out in your local gym) and know what you’re doing, avoid cheating as much as possible.
Reg Park was once touted as an early proponent of the “cheating style” of training. By his 30′s his body was riddled with nagging injuries. From that point on he was a stickler for strict, controlled lifting technique. A few years later he won the Mr. Universe again and was a dominant force in international bodybuilding for almost 10 years after that. Learn from him.
Rule #8: Ignore The Guy Next To You
This rule ties in closely with Rule #7 but isn’t quite the same. Here it is: Don’t be insecure. If you’re lifting this puny little weight and the guy next to you is lifting 5 times that amount (or even 100 times) WHO CARES! He’s not you, you’re not him. Don’t start cheating so you can use more weight. If he’s using bad form and cheating a lot then that’s his mistake. It reminds me of a story I heard from bodybuilding author Mike Brown: “…I saw [a fellow] years ago doing an exercise and bragging that he was ‘using the same weight as Reg Park’. Reg Park at that time was almost as well known as Steve Reeves, having won the Mr. Universe a short time before. Mac MacFarland, the 1963 ‘Mr. Hawaii’ winner, looked at this guy contemptuously and asked him, ‘If a pudgy nobody like you is handling the same weight in the same exercise that Reg Park is, don’t you think that maybe you’re doing the exercise wrong?’”
Remember the tortoise and the hare. If you work hard enough, long enough, and never, never, ever quit, you’ll get there too – well-built, safely and with proper form.
You have to swallow your ego. I had been training for almost 10 years when I decided to learn the Olympic-style Lifts (the Snatch and Clean and Jerk). I had to go from Squatting with 445 pounds to Snatching with 65. Do you know how foolish that made me feel (and look). Remember, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Do what’s right for your body, not your ego. And through it all remember the golden rule of drug-free weight training: HAVE PATIENCE!
Rule #9: Spend Your Money On Plenty Of Good Food – NOT The Latest Supplement
This is one of the sadest things in the Iron Game today. Those supplements did not make Lee Priest huge. Go back and read Rules #1 and #3. The industry is big money. The athletes are paid to advertise those supplements. I remember cart loads of products from the 1980s (when the supplement industry really took off) up through to the present. I think I’ve taken most of them myself. So have my friends and people I’ve trained and trained with. I thought for awhile that the “secret” would finally get out about the bullshit supplement industry, but it’s only gotten incredibly worse. I know that the latest magazine says product so-and-so has been scientifically proven to increase muscle mass. Don’t listen to it! I could turn up studies showing that anabolic steroids don’t build muscle if I had to (actually, studies reaching that conclusion were fairly regularly published at one time) . A lot of those studies are funded by the same companies that sell the products. That’s right, they’re paying the researchers’ paychecks! That should tell you something. Even the most honest studies can be misquoted and re-interpreted to sound like they’ve found the breakthrough “key” to massive muscles. Believe me, I myself could describe chicken breasts so that people would be clamouring to buy them for their potent muscle building effects.
And speaking of the ridiculous, I was flipping through a current muscle mag just this morning and came across some miraculous claims for “high molecular weight glycogen replenishing waxy maize”. In America and Europe we call that corn. Waxy maize is a Chinese variety of it …and we all know how huge it’s made the Chinese. Anybody who’s stupid enough to believe that a species of corn is going to “pack on the muscle mass” probably can’t read anyway, so I don’t know who those supplement swindlers thought they’d fool. In that same magazine they were touting the anabolic properties of Goat protein. Goat protein? Jesus. What will they come up with next? Milk from Ms. Olympia’s tit (if she still has one)? On the other hand, they make millions of dollars a year selling that crap – more proof of P.T. Barnum’s “a sucker born every minute” theory.
He should be ready just in time for the Olympia.
Remember, I know how scientific research works. I’ve seen papers published that were the result of complete fabrication. I’ve seen grad students (who write the majority of the papers you’ll see published), under extreme pressure to graduate, completely “invent” their results. I’ve seen professors with 30 years experience blatantly plagiarize (actually photocopy) the works of others so they could continue to get grant money. Just recently a major drug company got busted for “funding” research and deliberately keeping their involvement a secret from the publishers of the scientific journals the articles were being presented in. Trust me, everything that’s in print – no matter what the source – is not necessarily trustworthy.
But as I said, I am a scientist. Not all science is “bad”. In fact, some research is simply invaluable to our body of weight training knowledge. Knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff is a job best left for the true “experts”, not the guys in bodybuilding magazines or on websites who stand to make millions by selling some supplement. If you have the scientific background, I encourage you to review the published research yourself, or subscribe to Alan Aragon’s Research Review or get his book “Girth Control: The Science of Fat Loss & Muscle Gain”. You may be surprised that the only scientific “proof” you find regarding most popular bodybuilding supplements is proof that they have no effect on building muscle or reducing body fat. But even a minimum amount of “research” (and a small dose of common sense) will tell you that all of the major bodybuilding magazines and internet websites have supplement lines or make money directly selling other supplement brands. Pick up a modern bodybuilding magazine – at least 70% of it’s content will be supplement ads (often disguised as articles to further mislead you) featuring bodybuilders who are practically 100% anabolic drug built and dependent. Do you think for a minute you can believe anything they say about supplements? If you do, you’re incredibly naive and it’s time you grew up.
The sadest thing is when I hear a naive beginner talking about a top bodybuilder and the supplements he takes as if the supplements actually had anything to do with his muscle development …something like, “Do you think this guy could get so big without steroids or supplements?” Let me tell you something. There isn’t a supplement on Earth that’s 1/1000th as strong as even the weakest of anabolic steroids. And I’ll go even further… there isn’t a supplement on Earth that’s stronger than even a glass of milk. It’s seems that the latest rash of them aren’t even any stronger than corn …literally. Sorry for bursting your bubble, but that’s the truth. All those fancy packaged “anabolic, extreme, bio-, -test, -abol” whatevers are nothing but the height of pure, unadulterated bullshit designed, first and foremost, not to build muscle but to get your money. Any gains you do seem to get from them are placebo effect. When asked about “fat burners”, Rob Hope (he’s one of the most muscular natural bodybuilders to ever live) said, “Nothing works better that a strict diet and the right amount of cardio.”
Several years ago I noticed the supplement industry starting to use the term “stacking” to describe the practice of taking several supplements at the same time. “Stacking” actually originated as the practice of combining anabolic steroids that worked by different mechanisms in order to produce a greater effect than taking either of them alone (the “synergy” effect that the fitness industry loves to harp on so much). Stacking useless supplements is akin to throwing good money after bad – 99% of the supplements on the market do nothing, so 0 + 0 is still 0. The supplement industry latched onto the concept simply to get you to buy more than one of their supplements. I think for supper tonight I’m going to stack a chicken breast with some rice and a glass of milk or, even better, Reg Park’s favourite stack of steak, eggs and wine …or maybe the real anabolic secret would be some goat meat and corn?
Perhaps a few words from Joe Weider himself would be in order here. When asked by Ken Leistner as to why the supplements he bought as a teenager didn’t produce the results as advertised, Joe had this to say:
“My job was to pull as many young boys off the street and into the gym as I could using the advertising that I did. By the time you realized it was bullshit, I already had you hooked into a healthier lifestyle of working out and eating better.” – Joe Weider 
…and so another supplement customer was born. But Joe obviously did know where true gains in size and strength came from. Again, I’m making myself a few enemies in the industry here because I’m telling the truth about their sham. Good.
But don’t get me wrong, after that fairly vicious attack on the bodybuilding supplement industry, I’m actually not saying that all supplements are completely useless – for example, high-potency multi-vitamin/mineral tablets are what I’d classify as a “good” supplement. Your body needs vitamins and minerals to grow. If you’re short on just one the whole muscle growth process can be halted. I recommend you take two a day – one with breakfast and one with supper. There’s nothing wrong with a little extra vitamins C and E either. And if you’re in really hard training some extra B-Vitamins can help. Nutritious supplements such as these can help give your body what it naturally needs. I’ve found that old-fashioned desiccated liver is one of the most effective supplements there is …if enough is taken (it rarely fails to get moderate strength gains going for awhile in myself or my “clients”). Creatine also gives a mild strength boost to most trainees – at least while they’re still taking it. But these things aren’t miracle pills and elixirs, they’re convenient ways of getting more of the healthy things that should be in your food. I know a few other supplement “secrets” that apply to people with certain “metabolic disorders”, but if you’re already “healthy” then practically every supplement is irrelevant compared to proper training, nutrition and rest.
Almost every supplement you see advertised in the muscle magazines and online is a waste of your money. They do nothing. On the other hand, don’t ruin all your hard work and dedication in the gym because you didn’t swallow a little vitamin/mineral tablet a few times a day …but don’t expect it to magically grow muscle either. The real function of supplements, in a bodybuilding sense, is to build health, as only a healthy body will grow muscle at the fastest possible rate. Incidently, this is how you should view ALL supplements: As nutritional back-up for an already sound diet and lifestyle. Think of them as a nutritional insurance policy – nothing more.
What about prohormones? Well, since the FDA crackdown in 2004 there have been two types: Ones that don’t work and are just another supplement industry rip-off of your money, and what I call legal loophole prohormones, which are essentially compounds that the FDA hasn’t caught up with and yanked off the market yet (remember, anabolic steroids themselves were legal until the 1980s – still are in some countries – and until late 2004 so were the previous generation of prohormones). Of course, these second types are a fine line from being steroids themselves and carry the same risks and dangers as well. Not all “prohormones” actually “work”, however. The problem is that just because a molecule is similar to another molecule doesn’t mean that it will behave the same way in the body …and you can’t count on your own enzymes to convert them into active steroids in the proportions that you would like – if your HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) and enzymes functioned so favourably you probably wouldn’t be interested in “prohormones” anyway. If you do find one that “works” then how’s that any different than taking the “real thing”? It isn’t, and if that “prohormone” is a little too close to testosterone in structure then it’s just a matter of time until the law classifies it as the “real thing” anyway.
Any “prohormone” that actually works does so via the same exact mechanisms as FDA-identified anabolic steroids, though legally cannot be based on the testosterone molecule, and carries the same risks and produces the same exact side-effects as those steroids. And the simple rule is the same: The more you gain while on them, the more you lose when you come off (due to your own choice or when the government catches up). Just look at any drug-built bodybuilder who stopped using steroids and you’ll see this for yourself. In the long run, chasing gains out of a bottle is a futile endeavour. In fact, if you even have the attitude that you need such things then you have a major problem and need an attitude adjustment …not to mention the fact that “prohormones” are banned by the drug-free bodybuilding and lifting federations and if they work they’ll also show up on drug tests the same as anabolics (after all, the drug-test has no idea about your drug’s FDA status). So if you ever plan on competing in natural bodybuilding or lifting contests and you take “prohormones” you’ll either flunk the drug test outright or the polygraph will catch you. Look inside yourself to build true muscle, not to the “miracle” supplement manufacturers who are in no way qualified to play with your hormones anyway. In the worst case, if you go chasing gains out of a bottle it could cost you your health, but most likely you’ll just end up wasting your money and wind up no further ahead …with the exception of expensive urine and maybe a few moments of temporary “glory” with the meatheads in the gym. In the end, wouldn’t you rather be able to say that you built your physique yourself, through your own dedication and persistence? Take steroids or legal loophole “prohormones” and you no longer have that right.
If you’re tempted to go to the “dark side” of steroids or “prohormones” then ask yourself, are you really doing what’s necessary to get your best gains naturally? Are you eating right? Are you getting enough protein? Are you sleeping right? Have you got stress and outside influences under control? Have you been training with passion or have your workouts gone flat lately? If you even suspect that you haven’t been giving any of these things your all (and be honest), then address those problems first, before you start risking your health and denying yourself the personal reward of knowing you succeeded because of you, not because you were weak and took some pills that any dick could have taken. If you’ve done all that, if you can honestly say that you’ve truly exhausted every avenue for natural improvement (and we’re talking a process of years here) but you still can’t build the physique you want then ask yourself whether your desires are even reasonable. Read my article on natual potential and see if your expectations are realistic at all. A lot of advanced trainees are carrying plenty of muscle but simply don’t know it because it’s been under a layer of fat for years. If you’re smooth and can’t see your abs then get lean before you assess your physique. You might be surprised, even shocked, at what’s under that layer of fat (I was). If you can honestly say that you’ve devoted years to correctly applied training and nutrition, have realistic expectations, are lean enough to be able to make an accurate assessment of your physique, and don’t have any psychological body dysmorphia problem, only then may you have to accept that you’ve hit your genetic ceiling. At that point you have to ask yourself are you content to accept the hand nature has delt you, or are you willing to risk your health and sacrifice your “natural” status to get bigger? How many people are actually in that situation? Very few of you reading this …a helluva lot less than those who are interested in shortcuts regardless of the risks, or excuses to take those shortcuts.
See the bodybuilding and supplement industry for what it really is and stick to basic, hearty, healthy nutrition. Earn your muscle by training hard and eating right. Learn from what I’ve learned the hard way in the past: SAVE YOUR MONEY! If you have some extra money spend it on some steak (or other good, high protein foods like milk, eggs, liver, yogurt, etc), not on the latest fad – no matter how enticing the advertising is. Some supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, protein powder, desiccated liver and perhaps creatine are worthwhile and convenient, but they don’t perform miracles. Which leads me to the next rule…
Rule #10: Eat More Good, Nutritious Foods And High-Quality Protein
Weight trainers need more protein than the normal individual. Each weight training session causes your muscles to be broken down and rebuilt a little stronger than they were before. If you want to progress at the fastest possible rate then you’ll need a healthy dose of daily dietary protein to fuel the process. The FDA and most physicians would argue this …but they know absolutely nothing about bodybuilding. Roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day has been reliably shown many times to be a near optimal amount (actually, a bit less than 1 gram seems to be optimal, but 1 gram keeps the math easy). The muscle magazines and commercial websites may sometimes tell you that you need even more than this, but that’s simply because they want you to buy their protein powders – they’ve been enthusiastically pushing high protein intakes and the use of protein powders as a main means of profit for their supplement companies since the 1950s. Just get about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day and you’ll have the bases covered. More than that and your kidneys will simply break it down and excrete it, a lot less and you might not gain muscle as rapidly as possible.
Eat lots of stuff like eggs, milk, beef, tuna, chicken, cheese, liver, etc. Essentially, if it comes from an animal it’s good. Get yourself one of those protein counter booklets at the bookstore or supermarket and pick out some high protein, animal-based foods. Then use these to meet your protein quota. If you’re healthy don’t worry about the saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods. You need both to grow properly (especially since you’re drug-free). Every bit of testosterone in your body is made from cholesterol (if you don’t believe me, look it up yourself – try “steroidogenesis” in Google). Trust me, I’ve read a lot of research dealing with dietary fats, cholesterol and health – they aren’t the villians the profit-driven food and drug industries would have you believe. Am I a “conspiracy theorist”? No. But you won’t bullshit me either. Natural foods are wholesome, healthy, conditionally anabolic, and quite safe. If they weren’t, humans would have died out thousands of years ago.
It might be a good idea for you to buy a protein powder and some desiccated liver. Those are okay “supplements”, but remember this: There’s nothing that protein powder and desiccated liver can do for you that food couldn’t. But the powder may allow you to mix up convenient shakes and it may turn out to be cheaper. Liver is an all-round worthwhile supplement because it has many nutrients important for building muscle and fueling heavy workouts (including enzymes that process steroid hormones and break down estrogen). Don’t spend your money on the most expensive supplements you can get, either. Any protein powder made from whey, milk and/or eggs will do fine. I know there’s much more to the protein story than that, but right now those details simply aren’t worth your attention. Most of the brands of desiccated liver I’ve seen on the market are made from Argentine beef liver, which is, by law, free of artificial hormones. Go for the cheapest ones and build up to taking about 20-30 per day if you want the best results.
You also need plenty of healthful fats, such as those found in fish, olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, nuts, dairy products (remember CLA? – it’s found in dairy fats) and meats (yes, I said meats) to support and promote growth. Like I said, as a drug-free trainee it’s a mistake to avoid all saturated fats and cholesterol – that would decrease your testosterone levels. You should eat plenty of natural, unrefined carbs such as vegetables and rice, but avoid products laden with sugar and while flour. “Good” carbs give you energy to train and also provide your body with the energy (in the forms of muscle and liver glycogen), vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients that it needs to build and maintain muscle. Too many “junk” carbs only make you fat and sick.
Another thing, as soon as you get up eat a good breakfast – and that doesn’t mean Pop-Tarts and Fruit Loops. Get some of the good carbs, proteins and fats that I spoke of above. After sleeping all night (and, therefore, not eating) your body needs nutrients to grow with. If you deny it that you will hamper your growth. Have some milk, eat some eggs, eat a steak if you want, but get some protein. Add a little oatmeal (it digests slowly and will hold you over until your next meal) or some whole-grain bread and you have a good breakfast shaping up. Have an omelette and a glass of orange juice. If you can get some natural sausages, the kind that aren’t full of processed “meats” and artificial flavourings and preservatives, then that’s good too. In other word’s, eat a man’s breakfast. Don’t be some castrated pussy who’s afraid of an egg because it has cholesterol in it. Natural, hearty foods never hurt anybody …and don’t believe the pseudo-expert fools who tell you otherwise.
And eat some protein before you go to bed. Overnight your body will need protein, so give it some just before you go to sleep. It could be some meat, some cheese, a few hard-boiled eggs or something else solid. Solid proteins, generally, take longer to digest than liquids, giving a steady supply of amino acids to your body – so use them.
What about eating 5 or 6 meals per day, like most mainstream sources recommend? Well, research doesn’t appear to clearly support or refute that. My advice? Eat three good meals per day and add a couple of nutritious snacks in between. If you want to lose weight eat smaller portions and if you want to gain weight eat larger ones. For people without thyroid and/or adrenal problems, it’s as simple as that, and for now it’s all you really need to know. Save the “tricks” for when you’re more advanced and really need them. Trust me, I’m not holding out on you – I’m giving it to you straight. And in case you don’t believe me, you should know that I lost 170 pounds of fat before I began seriously training, then I built back up 25 pounds of drug-free muscle to settle at about 10-12% body fat. I’ve read almost everything there is to read about nutrition that’s been published since the 1800′s (no joke) up to the latest research. I know a thing or two about diet.
Before I leave this rule, heed this warning: If you skimp on your nutrition you may potentially cancel ALL of the growth that you stimulated in the gym. Yes, nutrition is THAT IMPORTANT.
Rule #11: Get Plenty Of Good, Sound Sleep
Most beginner’s don’t realize this but let me assure you, sleep is just as important as training and nutrition when it comes to muscle growth. DON’T just skip over this rule and think it isn’t that important. Critical repairs and maintenance are done by the body (muscles, organs and nervous system) when you sleep. If you skimp on your sleep then you won’t recover from your workouts properly and your nervous system won’t fire your muscles optimally. Sleep deprivation results in reduced glucose sensitivity of the muscle cells, higher resting cortisol and decreased testosterone levels (and that’s bad). There are reasons why training, nutrition and sleep are considered to be the “big three” keys to weight training success. PLEASE, treat good, sound sleep as a full ingredient of your weight training program.
Rule #12: Immediately After Your Workouts Consume Some Carbs and Protein
After your workout your body needs carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes – and it needs them fast. There are lots of ways of getting them, but I’m going to give you a simple, quick-digesting shake recipe to illustrate the point. Of course, this shake isn’t at all a “magic bullet”, and of all the Rules covered in this article this one is probably the least critical, but good post-workout nutrition is still an important factor if maximum progress is your concern (and of course, it is) and the shake given below is an example of that. It won’t do anything for you that a good meal wouldn’t, but it often isn’t easy or convenient to have a good cooked meal immediately after training …use this instead.
Here’s what to do: Get some dextrose (you can buy this at any brew supply shop – it’s usually called “corn sugar” – and it only costs around $1 per pound. Supermarkets often have it too). Get some potassium-based salt substitute. You can get this at the supermarket – stuff like “Nu-Salt”, etc. If you’re not sure about it just look at the ingredients for “potassium chloride”. If that’s the main one then you’ve got it. Get a bottle of some magnesium tablets. These are only a couple of dollars and you can get them at any health-food place (again, probably the supermarket). Anything with 250 mg of magnesium per tablet is good. Get a box of regular table salt (i.e. sodium chloride). And you should get some protein powder, like I recommended in Rule #10. So here’s your grocery list:
* Bag of dextrose (also called “corn sugar”)
* Potassium-based salt substitute
* Bottle of magnesium tablets
* Box of table salt
* Protein powder
To make the shake, first figure out how much dextrose you need. Divide your bodweight in pounds by 2.2. If you’re a naturally thin guy trying to build up, then this is the number of grams of dextrose you need after a tough workout. Each heaping tablespoon of dextrose contains 20 grams. So if you weigh 154 pounds this would be 154/2.2 = 70 grams of dextrose. That would be equal to 3 and a half heaping tablespoons. Then put in 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt substitute and 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt. Throw in one magnesium tablet. Use one-third the amount of protein that you did dextrose (by the gram). So if you used 70 grams of dextrose then you’ll want 70/3 = 23 grams of protein. You can figure out how much this is by looking on the label of your protein powder and seeing how much protein is in one scoop. Now, add at least 1 quart/liter of water (more if you can) and blend it all up until the magnesium tablet is dissolved. Put it in a container and take it with you to the gym. Drink it immediately after you finish your workout (you may sip on it during the workout if there’s enough to make it worthwhile, but leave at least half of it for afterwards).
If you have a tendency to get fat, or are planning to do an “easy” workout, you’d be better off if you didn’t use as much dextrose as suggested above. Go through the calculations as usual but after you’ve calculated the amount of protein you’ll be using double this and that will be the amount of dextrose you should actually use. So, in the above example we first calculated 70 grams of dextrose and 23 grams of protein for a 154 pound person, well now we’d use 23 grams of protein and only 46 grams of dextrose (23 x 2).
As a note regarding protein powder after training, the idea is to get protein into the system fairly quickly, so the best kind of protein would be a pre-digested whey type. I really don’t trust many of the supplement companies, though. After all, several of them have been busted, several times, for lying on their product labels – and there is no regular testing of their products by any government establishment. So, really, why would I trust a company who has some drug-built monster in their ads, trying to mislead me into thinking that their product is responsible for such muscle? I usually just go with the cheapest protein powder, or the ones with no drugged-up bodybuilders endorsing them, because there’s probably not a great deal of difference in them. On the other hand, possibly the most reputable and established brands do contain what they say – but it probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans anyway.
Getting back on track… Believe it or not, that shake doesn’t taste too bad. I’ve been using only Strawberry flavour protein powder for the past several months, so I don’t remember what the other flavours tasted like, though.
If you just don’t want to make the above shake, you can always go with yogurt. Yogurt contains high-quality protein and carbs and it digests very quickly …and if you make your own it can be pretty cheap. All you need is a packet of active yogurt culture (you can get that for a couple of dollars at a health-food store) or even just a few tablespoons of store-bought yogurt and some milk (use skim milk powder and mix some milk up – it’s cheaper). The instructions to make the yogurt will be on the culture packet or you can find it online if you’re using store-bought yogurt as your “starter”. If it’s too tart when you make it just add some dextrose (which would be ideal for after a workout) or sweetener like stevia or “Splenda” or something (especially if you’re trying to lose weight). 2 cups of yogurt will have around 18 grams of protein and 26 grams of carbs (without the dextrose added).
That’s sort of the sophisticated approach. If you can’t afford any of that, or haven’t got the patience to bother with it, then buy a bag of skim milk powder and mix up 1 – 1.5 liters (or quarts) of milk and drink it immediately after your workout – 1 liter if you’re under 170 lbs and did a fairly “easy” workout, and 1.5 liters if you’re over 170 lbs or had a “tough” workout. (I believe regular milk is better than powder – it’s less processed – but I know a lot of you might be pinched for money and milk powder is cheaper.) Milk has been supporting muscle building for a long time. In fact, some research in 2007 actually showed milk to produce a greater anabolic response after weight training than a store-bought bodybuilding supplement …sort of a slap in the face for all those companies pushing “metabolic optimizers” and supplement “stacks” based on “modern science” and nutrition theory. Modern science actually seems to support very old-fashioned milk in this case. Don’t underestimate “simple” nutrition.
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
Guy is a legend.
This particular article from Casey is one of my favorites.
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