Sunday, November 13, 2022

Who Says the Basics Don't Work -- Stuart McRobert (1986)

Tahtinen Jari

When someone says, "The basics do not work," what he is really saying is that he has never adequately tried "the basics" in their entirety. "The basics" do work when correctly applied. 

With the exclusion of pre-contest training, the proper use of a basic training strategy will meet all needs for muscular size and strength -- especially those of hard gainers, the huge majority of bodybuilders. The easy gaining champions are not training models for us -- they cannot understand the difficulties of the hard gainer. 

As the basic strategy is comprehensive and detailed -- including many out of the gym factors -- we need to look at all of its essentials. To neglect even one aspect will impair or negate the whole program.

Until you can candidly say you are applying ALL the following requirements -- no exclusions, no partial commitments -- you are not on a basic training strategy. Without making the necessary corrections you will have to reconcile yourself to little or no progress and lots of wasted effort, time and money. Your progress is in your own control. Let us all get onto the pathway to gains. Time quickly ticks by, let us not wait too long before discovering that "the basics" really do work.


The squat IS King of all size and strength movements, the engine of all effective routines. To neglect to pour maximum effort into the basic back squat to the parallel position is, for a bodybuilder, as sensible as trying to write without a writing implement. 

The squat not only builds large powerful thighs, lower back and hips but also affects growth throughout the rest of the body. It has a knock on effect. The squat is a bodybuilder's dream. Of course, squatting is very hard work -- something you hate to do but hate not doing even more.

To combine size and strength gains, medium to high repetitions are nearly always most effective in the squat, especially 20, using the maximum possible poundage. Of course, as with all exercises, be sure to warm up well prior to doing maximum effort sets. Correct style is essential for safety. Always keep the back flat, even during the pause between repetitions.

Poundage Progression

To get bigger you MUST get stronger. Remind yourself of this before, during and after every workout. Little weights do not build big muscles. You must strive whenever possible to increase your training poundages. Small regular increases add up to huge gains in the long term. Avoid falling into the error of using sloppy exercise style so as to be able to add more poundage. Earn poundage increases properly by ALWAYS using strict exercise style.

Training Diary

To be systematic and diligent about earning poundage increases it is necessary to continually strive to better your previous workout. To do this it is vital to have a written record of poundages and repetitions for each maximum effort set. Use a training diary for this. 

By having a repetition range for each exercise (see later) then you know what you have to do to earn a poundage increase. For example, at your last workout your training diary records 18 squats with 230 pounds. Your goal is now to annihilate 19 reps with the same poundage. Once 20 reps or more have been done, it is time to use 235 pounds at your next workout.

Economy of Training

Hard weight training is so intensive and demanding that it needs to be used prudently. If in doubt, do less training rather than more. The most persistent and universal bodybuilding mistake is training too much. It is results we are after, not seeing how much time we can spend in a gym.

To train the body with minimum effort we need to use the big exercises and the heaviest weights we can properly manage. Always do 1 or 2 warmup sets before the heavy sets. 

By giving our all to grinding out every possible repetition we can for every heavy set we do, we need only do a small number of sets: 1-3 for each exercise, excluding warmups. Psyche yourself up for these sets, savor the hard work to come, relish the discomfort of the final near-to-impossible repetitions. 

Example of an effective building routine, warmup sets excluded: 

1) Bent leg situp, 1x15-20 reps

2) Standing calf raise, 2-3x15-25. 

3) Squat, 1x10. following the hard set of squats do aa light set of breathing pullovers to exploit the heavy breathing. Following this, if you have the time, take 15 minutes rest to recharge yourself for the rest of the workout.

4) Bench press, 2x8-10 (regular grip); 1x8-10 (close grip)

5) One arm DB row, 2x10-15 (brace the resting arm on a bench)

6) Press behind neck, 1x8-10.

7) Incline DB curl, 1x8-12

8) Flat beck deadlift, 1-2x6-8

This final exercise is optional and should only be included if you feel sufficiently energetic after giving your all to the rest of the routine, and, are making steady poundage gains all round. 

Submaximal Training

Not every workout should be an all-out maximum effort thing. The body cannot usually respond to such a battering. Making every fourth workout a gentle one will help to prevent overtraining, thus encouraging continued good gains. Three days rest following a submaximal workout is sufficient to ready your for the following maximum effort session.


No training, no matter how "perfect" it is, can bring about size and strength gains without adequate rest between workouts. Avoid training using a frequency arbitrarily decided by someone else. Listen to your own body. Decide for yourself when you have recovered fully from your last workout. Training hard every fourth day is a good average but you may need an extra day or two between workouts. I have observed in myself and others the greater effectiveness of training the whole body hard once every 5 or 6 days only! The extra rest can make all the difference between gains and no gains. 

If in doubt, rest more, not less.    

On rest days, be careful with your energy use. A small amount (15-20 minutes) of aerobic exercise every third day can be helpful to bodybuilding, anymore than that will usually impede or negate progress, especially for the very hard gainer.

Get all the rest and sleep you need. If you need to use an alarm clock then you are cheating yourself of sleep -- go to sleep earlier. 

The Pause That Refreshes

Do not hurry between repetitions. Doing repetitions in a non-stop style rarely builds size and strength. Take a slight pause between repetitions. This pause will lengthen as the set progresses and the repetitions become harder to do. 

Take all the rest you need between maximum effort sets -- 2 to 4 minutes depending on the severity of  the exercise. This is necessary so as to be able to do justice to every repetition of every hard set you do.

Cycling Training Intensity

To ensure long term gains it is necessary to cycle training intensity, i.e., vary it over time. A training cycle should end when a sticking point in poundages and repetitions has been hit. Enthusiasm will wane -- the body needs a rest Lay off for 2 weeks. Recommence training, taking it easy to begin with and building back to pre-layoff poundages over 2 weeks. 

It is a big error to jump back immediately to your highest poundages. After the 2 week buildup, throw yourself into your workouts with maximum effort though remembering to take an occasional submaximal workout. So long as training is at a minimum, and pushed hard, there should be a gaining momentum for 8 weeks or more before the next sticking point and thus a layoff.

Proper Use of Mega-Intensity Techniques

Such techniques -- forced repetitions. negatives, pre-exhausting-compounding, partials, rack work, specialization -- though having their uses, tend to be abused thus negating progress. They are tools for the advanced man mainly, not for the beginning and intermediate hard gainer. A couple of forced repetitions every 2 or 3 weeks in each exercise can be a helpful shock for the muscles, but, otherwise, just stick to grinding out every possible repetition you can by yourself. The pause between repetitions will help you.


There are no nutritional bodybuilding panaceas. It is the sum total of what you eat that counts. Healthy eating is mandatory for optimum size and strength gains. Junk foods develop a junk body, not a strong aesthetic one. Adhere to an unrefined diet (no sugar, salt or processed food) high in natural carbohydrates (grains, fruit and vegetables), medium in protein and low in fat.

Masticate your food thoroughly, eat small frequent meals rather than the reverse, use some principles of food combining if you have digestive difficulties, keep cooking to a minimum, and use broad spectrum moderate dosage vitamin and mineral supplements if you feel the need for them.

We have different nutritional needs as a result of hereditary, environment and lifestyle variations. Some experimentation is necessary to find what works best for you. This especially applies to protein. Experiment for periods of say 6 weeks on different protein intakes -- say 90, 110 and 130 grams protein daily -- and monitor the changes in your gains.

Training Experimentation

Though general guidelines can and have been given, it is up to the individual to optimize his training by rationally experimenting on himself. Keep what works, discard what does not. If you feel you are not gaining as well as you can, experiment by changing one training variable each new training cycle. 

Though experimentation should keep within the basic parameters of minimum exercise, big exercises and the cardinal need to use larger and larger poundages, there is plenty of room for variations. 

Try higher or lower reps, slightly more or less sets, more or less exercise (it is a paradox of bodybuilding that the less you train the more you will usually gain), more rest days between workouts, more or less submaximal sessions, choice of exercises, intensity of effort.

Do not be afraid to try radical ideas such as an abbreviated routine of squats, bench presses and bentover rows only. Extreme hard gainers often need to use extreme radical procedures.

Your are your own experiment. Though mistakes will be made, the time will not be wasted so long as you learn from them.


You must be wholly serious in your bodybuilding strategy. Anything less than 100% diligence will at best impair progress, at worst, negate it. Each maximum effort set you do must be regarded as the last you will ever do. Everything you have got must be poured into it. Every workout, meal, rest period and evening's sleep is an opportunity to take another step forward. Consistency in each small step will accumulate into huge gains. Visible progress occurs slowly -- months and years rather than days and weeks. Be sedulously persistent and patient. The latter two factors are integral to any worthwhile accomplishment. 

Daily Review

Make a ten minute daily appointment with yourself. Honestly look over your previous day to see whether or not you adhered to all the factors needed for bodybuilding progress. Whenever a deficiency is found, correct it. Be watchful of yourself and avoid bad habits creeping in.

Attitude and Perspective

As enjoyable as bodybuilding is, it needs to be kept in perspective. Relative to the whole of life, bodybuilding is not important. If it is not kept in place it becomes an all-consuming obsession, the route to much misery, frustration and interpersonal conflict. I have been there, it is most unpleasant! 

Bodybuilding, at most, can only be a small part of life. Spiritual or inner growth, family and social obligations, education and an enjoyable useful livelihood tower over muscles and strength in importance. Bodybuilding cannot substitute for an otherwise unhappy life. Losing ourselves in our bodies will solve nothing, only increasing our loneliness. I truly do not wish to appear patronizing -- what I do want is for you to not add yourself to the ever-mounting heap of bodybuilding casualties. 

Let your bodybuilding enrich life, not substitute for it. Be serious when you are involved in the things orchestrating your progress, but not in an obsessive way. There is a great deal of life away from muscles. A GREAT DEAL, do not miss out on it because of a pure narcissistic concern.     

Keep your goals realistic, not investing all your purpose for living in them. Goal achieving is a practical necessity for bodybuilding, especially goals for each hard set at each workout -- a little higher than the previous workout's. Work hard to achieve them WITHOUT investing you all in them. If you do not, you will have had a lot of frustration and sorrow ahead. Have a preference to achieve your goals, while being able to live happily without getting them.

Try to be continually watchful of the importance you place on bodybuilding. Your health is your most important possession -- do not abuse it, whether by dangerous training methods, dietary excesses or drugs, in order to add a little more size or strength. Old trophies and adulation count for nothing if you no longer have your health, or your life.

So there you have it, a succinct look at the whole of what is loosely described as "the basics." The whole approach is a thorough one demanding a great deal more than just sticking to a basic training routine. 

Many people who claim that the basics do not work will have rarely gotten much further than using an arbitrarily determined basic gym routine. That can only be the start. Basic training is only one aspect of "the basics."

"The basics" is an old fashioned approach, but a proven approach. For meeting the needs of beginners and intermediates, especially hard gainers, it has yet to be superseded. 

The key thing to remember is the many facets of "the basics" and their mutual dependency. They only work optimally if ALL members of the team are giving of their best. 

Now that you have a better understanding of "the basics," you can frankly answer: 

"Have you truly ever been using the whole basic program?" 

Find out what may have been neglected or omitted, put it all right. Then with time, gains will be assured. How much do you want to gain? 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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