THANKS BIG, LIAM!
Part 1: Priorities
Part 2: Training
Part 3: Progression
Part 4: Nuts & Bolts
Part 5: Dedication
Part 6 Overtraining
Part 7: Destructive
Part 8: Facts of Life
Part 9: Specialization
Part 10: Girth Goals
Part 11: Aerobic Goals
Part 12: Body Fat
Much more here:
From personal painful experience I know about bodybuilding failure and frustration, despite following conventional training advice for year after year. Hardly any typical gym member can squat 400 pounds, bench press 300 and deadlift 500. For most typical people, bodybuilding simply does not work.
The lack of adequate application and persistence only account for a part of this general failure. The lack of effective information geared for the hardgainer is what is mostly to blame.
What is a hardgainer? A hardgainer is the genetically average drug-free guy that typifies a gym member, someone who responds poorly, or not at all, to conventional training methods. The number of people who have the genetic capabilities to sprout extraordinarily big muscles (rampant easy gainers) are very few and very far between. Drugs (plus training) can make almost anyone grow muscles but, to get to the top level of development, a mix of drugs and terrific genetics is needed.
I've spent years of my life consumed with doing everything I possibly could do, to become a top competitive physique; everything, that is, except use drugs! I've religiously followed advice laid out by the top guys, from Scott and Oliva, to Arnold and Zane, just like millions of others have. Not only did I not get big muscles from following this instruction, I never even got medium sized muscles. Effort and dedication only deliver the goods if they are correctly applied.
At school, I sought as big a supply of bodybuilding literature as I could afford. Everything I earned from my newspaper rounds and gardening jobs went into bodybuilding in one way or another, with food, supplements and training literature being the main outlets. Of course, my parents provided me with food, but I had to help out with the provision of the extra fare I needed.
Bodybuilding magazines, books and courses provided me with an abundance of routines. An abundance of confusion accompanied this plentiful supply. The more literature I got, the more confused I became. The arguments that accompanied each routine seemed cogent to me as a neophyte, especially if the name on the article was a top physique.
What I didn't know then, but I know now, is that it is useless for me to copy the routines of the top guys because, first, I don't have their genetic propensity for building big muscles, second, I don't use drugs, and thirdly, I don't have the luxury of an optimum lifestyle for training, eating and resting.
In my ignorance, how I tried those top stars' routines. When I say try, I mean try! No wishy washy halfhearted attempts. I'd pour myself into them, and not just in the gym. I was very disciplined out of the gym: I went to bed early every night, had no social life, cut myself off from strenuous sports, neglected my school work in the interests of bodybuilding, ate well with no junk food, consumed lots of supplements, believed in the routines, had a great attitude, and maintained motivation with mental imagery of future greatness.
I was an utter zealot.
Every new magazine or course I purchased was read with the hope that perhaps this one was the one that would provide the "secret" I needed. I truly lived, slept, drank and ate bodybuilding. I had become a bodybuilding recluse, refusing to do anything and everything that would not help my progress in the gym.
If muscle and strength were determined simply by dedication and effort in the gym, and quality of food supplements consumed, I would have been one of the best. However, dedication, effort in the gym and food supplements are only a part of the picture. All I got from my application and devotion was state-of-the-art overtraining and state-of-the-art over-nutrition. That I did not have the genetic advantages to emulate the champions I used to read about did not find its way into my consciousness until after about six years of slogging away in the gym.
I don't have the physique to convince those who need me, of have a mega-star's muscles to get them to try hardgainer routines. No true, typical drug-free hardgainer has. Hardgainers who have made it to the 300 pound bench press, 400 pound squat and 500 pound deadlift, or thereabouts, have tons to say that is of practical help to fellow hardgainers. That they haven't won any contests is irrelevant. The genetically gifted simply can't for a moment understand the plight of the hardgainer, no matter how hard they may try to. It's a different world. Draw inspiration and motivation from the top achievers, but for goodness sakes do not imitate training advice that works for them.
I'm an utterly typical gym member, an archetypical hardgainer. Most gym members are akin to me, people who can't grow much, it at all unless they are on a hardgainer's routine. Had I been an easy gainer I wouldn't have the nitty-gritty "I've been there too" sympathy with the plight of the confused and the misled. It's only someone who has slaved away for years on conventional routines, and yet made little or no progress, who can truly understand the plight of the hardgainer. The majority of all drug-free gym members are hardgainers.
Over the years there have been some top physiques who have claimed to have been "hardgainers." To have trouble adding another inch to an 18 inch arm is not hardgaining. Having trouble just building a mere 15 inch arm is hardgaining. Having trouble turning a 430 bench press into a 450 pound one isn't hardgaining. Having trouble just building a 250 pound bench press is hardgaining. No one, and I mean no one who has a spectacular, top amateur or professional physique is a hardgainer. Sure, some find gains harder to come by than do others, and some have to use more drugs than do others, but absolutely none of them are true hardgainers.
Never having had the genetics needed to grow muscles easily, and never having taken steroids to compensate for genetic shortcomings, I had the choice of either giving up bodybuilding or of searching for an alternative approach that would work. I chose the latter. Once I changed my training frame of mind, the investigation of alternative training methods opened a vast area of study. Once I got into applying this alternative view of training, I finally started to make reasonable gains, but I made them despite not having bodybuilding consume me like it had during my youth.
With conventional advice I could never even squat 300 pounds and bench 225, not even after years of effort and tons of food supplements. Following the alternative advice, I was able to work up to being capable of benching, squatting and deadlifting in the 300-400-500 bracket (all without knee wraps, super suits or drugs). Yes, these are modest relative to the top guys; however, for a drug-free and genetically typical person they are respectable. How many lightly boned (under a 7 inch wrist) and drug-free people do you know who can move this sort of poundage?
I am not alone in my experiences -- there are plenty of other people around who too have proved that even "average" people can get big and strong without drugs.
In August of 1992, I deadlifted 400 pounds for 20 consecutive reps with my hands on the bar during the entire set, pausing for a few breaths before each rep. With conventional training advice I'd have trouble building up to a few reps with 300 pounds. While the alternative approach can't build a top competitive physique out of a genetically typical set of ingredients, it can build a level of achievement way beyond that of 95%+ of the members of most typical gyms. While 400 pounds x 20 reps deadlifting is not going to raise any eyebrows with today's elite, it should raise eyebrows among the genetically typical hard gaining crowd that populate most gyms. As unpleasant a reality as it may seem, 99%+ of drug-free gym members have not even got a chance of getting spectacularly big and strong. All willing hardgainers can become very impressive, so long as they train using methods appropriate to them.
I will be providing the whys and the wherefores of training methods needed by hardgainers, together with the nuts and bolts of how to train, guiding you through what you need to be doing in the gym. There are so many interpretations of hardgainer training and a great depth of knowledge in this area. This realm of training is deeper and broader than almost everyone thinks, and offers the opportunity for the masses of gym members to achieve bodybuilding success rather than just a small minority as at present. I will be sharing some of this depth and breadth of training wisdom with you. And, always remember though, the number of people who possess the necessary rare genetic attributes together with the drug support to be able to compete with today's top stars, are so few and far between that you can safely count yourself as being one of the typical many that comprise the mass of bodybuilding gym members.
By getting your training in order, you can achieve a level of development and strength that will set you apart from almost anyone at your gym while staying healthy and drug-free, and whilst having only average genetics (or below average): while you can never become spectacular like the top contenders, you can become very impressive.
For the great majority of readers, get yourselves as immersed in the current bodybuilding scene as you wish but for goodness sake distinguish between those training methods that work for the elite and those that will work for you. You should apply the methods that are appropriate to you and then start to get some impressive gains for yourself in the gym rather than just watching the achievements of others.
PART ONE: PRIORITIES
Having been through the mill of frustration and failure from following conventional training advice, I have learned a few things. I wish someone had rammed those "few things" into my skull from the first stirring of desire that motivated me to turn my bag-of-bones body into something reasonable.
Here are the dictates I wish had been rammed daily into my skull from when I was fourteen through my entire teenage years, to keep me riveted to sensible training:
1) Bodybuilding and strength training are simple, but immensely demanding activities because they demand very hard work. There are no easy ways. Simple ways, yes. Easy ways, no.
2) Being repetitive is vital in promoting sensible weight training. If you do not have the essence of effective training for drug-free typical people drummed home, and then be reminded of it again and again and again, you are sure to get diverted by other material and lose your resolve to stay on the tried and tested.
3) This section hammers away at the most important matters you need to irrevocably, permanently and stubbornly hold to, for as long as you want to make the most of your training. Very few people may only need to be told something once, and they grasp it for life. Most people need to hear the same message and nuances of explanation many times, and in different contexts. Only then will they receive the full force of the message, and make it one with them. Then they need to keep hearing the basic message regularly to prevent them from forgetting about it.
4) Bodybuilding and strength building are almost laughably simple. All that really matters is focus, and progressive in good form. Pick a handful (as in no more than five) of the biggest and best exercises FOR YOU and dedicate YEARS of your life to getting stronger and then stronger in them. Yes, you can use variations of the basic moves for variety, but you don't have to.
5) There are countless novices and intermediates who are swimming around is a sea of marginal issues while neglecting the cardinal considerations. There are people who have been training for over ten years and yet still cannot squat much over their bodyweight for 20 regular cadence reps. Yet they are agonizing over anything and everything related to training, except for the need for progressive poundages year after year in the big lifts.
6) There is no need to search for the "definitive word" on basic gaining training. Once you have found something that works, and so long as it does keep on working, why spend time trying to find something else? Just apply one certainty.
7) If I had chosen the squat, deadlift (alternating the bent-legged and stiff-legged variations from cycle to cycle), bench press (or dip), seated press, and the pulldown (or row, or supinated pullup), and dedicated myself for five years to progressive poundages on those five basic movements as the mainstay of my training, I would have gotten quite near to realizing my full size and strength potential BEFORE the time I was twenty years old.
8) My training life should have revolved around adding a little bit more iron to the bar each week. A little does not just mean 5 or 10 pounds. It means 1 or 2 (except early in a cycle when you can add a larger increment each week for a while).
9) Dependable training for regular people with regular lives is about doing things slowly, safely, steadily and surely. It is not about trying to do in two months what needs six months or more. It is about patience and know that getting there the slowly is the quick way, in the long run, because the chance of injury and mental and physical burnout is much less. Quick gains bring a higher chance of injury and burnout. And if you cannot maintain the enthusiasm to train over the long term, how can you keep the gains you have made over the short term?
10) I should have stuck with straight sets on my favorite fivesome of the standard squat, deadlift, bench press, seated press, and lat machine pulldown. (Of course, a different fivesome may better suit you). I was a walking encyclopedia of information about such stars as Arnold, Scott, Zane Colmubu, Viator, Mentzer, etc., but knew so little about that which I really needed.
11) At least in the beginning and intermediate stages of training, misoneism and being old fashioned and bloody minded are desirable characteristics. Once you are already big and strong you can explore other options if you have got time to risk wasting, but not before. But even then, once you are advanced, if you venture too far into the myriad options about training you risk losing sight of what matters for typical people.
12) Personal achievement is where it is at for those who lift weights, yet the masses get so little out of their own training, largely because they are too preoccupied with the achievements of others.
13) My life, more specifically should have been geared around the 10% gain (initially, and the 5% gain later on). Nothing (except good exercise form) should have entered my training mind other than achieving the next percentage gain on my exercise poundages. Yes this is crude, primitive and basic. But THIS is what is needed.
14) When I started training I used about 50 pounds in the squat and bench press, but unfortunately I never deadlifted for many years. Though the deadlift is now starting to get its deserved respect, it is still not getting enough. The deadlift, properly done, is a wonderfully productive exercise, and for some people it is a more productive exercise than the squat. So, pay your dues on the deadlift. Moving close to 100 pounds in the bench press and squat was rather straightforward and linear, but then it just started getting difficult.
15) With over 100 pounds reached in the squat and bench press and deadlift (which should have been included), I should have concentrated on adding the next 10 pounds to the bar (and proportionately the same in the other two exercises I should have been focusing on). Once I got to 110 pounds, I should have lived for the next 10 pounds (10%). Once at 121 pounds I should have concentrated on getting to 132 pounds, and so on. Once I got to 200 pounds for repetitions in the squat and deadlift, and a bit less for the bench press, I should then have switched to a 5% gain mentally.
16) Going from 100 x 6 in the bench, 100 x 20 in the squat, and 150 x 20 in the regular deadlift (with the other two members of the mighty fivesome progressing in proportion) to 150 x 6, 150 x 20, and 200 x 20 respectively (moving there in 10% shots), would have made a big difference to my physique.
17) Spending the next six to 12 months moving to 200 x 6 reps, 200 x 20 reps, and 250 x 20 reps would have made another significant difference.
18) Then investing focus over the next six months, and using the 5% mentality to build up to 240 x 6 reps, 245 x 20 reps, and 300 x 20 reps would have made tons more impact on my physique. Investing another six to 12 months to work slowly up to 265 x 6, 275 x 20,and 340 x 20, and I would have been going places (for a drug-free hardgainer). Then STILL centering on the 5% gain mentality and the same key exercises, had I concerned myself with nothing other than getting to 285 x 5, 300 x 20, and 365 x 20 I would have experienced another important step forward. By now I'd have become bigger and stronger than nearly all drug-free trainers in any gym anywhere, and I would have done it before my 20th birthday. This is how it should be done. And if I had wanted to get bigger still, I would have had to keep the 5% gain mentality going and going and going.
19) Don't you think that focusing solely on moving from, for example, 145 x 6 in the bench, 150 x 20 in the squat, and 175 x 20 in the regular deadlift . . . to 290 x 6, 300 x 20, and 350 x 20 reps, respectively, is going to make you bigger, I mean MUCH bigger! If you're already near to being advanced and can bench 250 x 6 reps, squat 275 x 20, and deadlift 300 x 20, you must understand with crystal clear clarity that dedicating your training life to working to 315 x 6 reps, 350 x 20, and 390 x 20 respectively will TRANSFORM you. And not just bigger in the thighs, chest and back. I mean bigger all over! Forget the notion that you have to do a variety of exercises to get big all over.
20) Body BUILDING is not about trying to hit individually all the bits and pieces of the body to ensure complete and balanced development. That way only gets typical, drug-free people into the complete underdeveloped physique. You have to apply yourself to get stronger and stronger in the basic exercise, then you have a chance of getting big all over, and even the little areas will come along too. Once you are big and strong, then you can really focus on fixing the relatively minor imbalances, but you have to be big and strong in the first place.
22) Where's #21? I do not know what happened there.
I'd not have solely concentrated on the mighty fivesome. Another fivesome of areas would get some specific attention too, at least some of the time. Crunch situps and side bends would be done almost every week, once a week for each. Specific work for my shoulder external rotators, using a dumbbell, would be done once or twice weekly, when I was experienced enough to be benching about 200 pounds for 6 reps. Calf work would be done twice weekly for most of the time. Some prudent grip work would be included, together with some regular pinch gripping and other specialized hand and finger exercise. Barbell curls would only be done if I wasn't doing supinated pullups or pulldowns in the current routine. Direct neck work could get in too, some of the time.
23) Some 90% of my training focus and dedication would go on the primary fivesome, and the remaining 10% would cover the secondary fivesome. All the secondary areas would not be trained each workout, and only after doing the scheduled exercises from the major fivesome. When intensity was so high on the primary fivesome that I would have little left for anything else, I would cut back elsewhere. I would conserve energy, and keep demands on recovery ability to the minimum, by just maintaining the secondary exercises, and even drop them (temporarily) if necessary.
24) With progression being the key, I would not have got myself hung up on sets and repetitions. I would have stuck with the repetition number that I preferred at the time for each exercise, changing it a little from cycle to cycle if I felt like it.
25) In this Utopian projection I am basically looking at doing sets of 5-7 reps on everything except work for the calves, midsection and shoulder external rotators that would have higher reps, and squats and deadlifts that, in some cycles, would be worked in sets of 15-20 reps.
26) With adding poundage in good form being the sovereign priority, the number of sets used would be a secondary consideration. So long as I added a little iron to the bar each week, all would be well. I would do one, two or AT MOST three work sets per exercise, reducing the number of sets at the end of a cycle when the intensity is highest.
27) I would stick with the same exercises for year after year, and tend to persist with the same productive formula.
28) My motto would have been, "less is more" and "less is best." Whenever I was in doubt, I would always choose less rather than more, less sets, less exercise, and less workouts (but lots of effort).
29) I would have trained only twice a week. The deadlift would be training just once per week. The other major four exercises would usually be trained twice a week or three times every two weeks. But I would not hesitate to train each lift only once a week in order to increase recovery time. (At this stage I would be doing two of exercises of the mighty fivesome workout, and the other three on the second workout of each week).
30) Everything I would have done would have been geared for making my whole body able to withstand another small dose of iron on the bar for each exercise, every week or two, and in good form, even if it was just a few ounces.
31) I would have done a moderate amount of stretching a few times a week. I would not have gotten hung up on it, but neither would I have neglected it. I would have ignored aerobic work until I was well into my thirties, preferring to keep almost total focus on what meant the most to me, the weights.
32) I would have been a stickler for good exercise form. The weekly or bi-weekly poundage increments would have been gradual enough, however, so that I'd never feel an increase in load, and never have to loosen form to compensate for excessively-sized increments.
33) I would have eaten a diet mainly composed of ordinary nutritious food and rich in protein, and enough of it to grow on, the most food I could eat without getting fat.
34) In this Utopian scenario, never, EVER would my attention on focus and progressive poundages have wavered. But oh, the terrific and unwavering results I would have obtained.
35) Of course, everything just cannot be plain sailing, not even in this Utopian training world just described. There would have been ups and downs, I would still have gotten colds and minor injuries. My motivation and body would not always be 100% on target. I would still have had out of the gym and training constraining factors to cope with. But to have all these constraints together with a sound training program, then it is just a case of slower but certain progress toward the full realization of strength and size potential. To have these constraints together with the sort of training program that most people have, is to guarantee little or virtually no progress, no matter how much money and persistence is invested. The basic training program has to be sound or nothing else matters.
36) These points may seem rather dictatorial. It is not the definitive word on training. It does not have to be. But is this was written in stone, in all gyms, all over the world, it would just work for so many people for so much of the time that it would be the most miraculous and important contribution to the Iron Game history.
Something does not have to be the "last word" for it to be of benefit to the masses. Apply something that really does work, that works well and you may never want to look for "the perfect routine" again.
Continued in Part Two: Training.
Enjoy Your Lifting!