Dawg School 2

Basic training for beginners


We've all been there. No matter how big and educated we think we are now, at one time or another we were small, ignorant, and out in our garages trying desperately to push up 100 pounds of plastic-wrapped weights we had just brought home from Kmart. Through magazines and books, but mostly through trial and error, we learned how to build muscle and lose fat. We were burned by boron and suckered by Cybergenics, but pleasantly surprised by creatine and Tribex-500. In short, the more we learned, the stronger we became.

But wouldn't it have been nice if we would've had a mentor, some experienced lifter to teach us how to squat and eat right? He would have saved us from years of slow gains. Think about it – how much bigger, stronger, and leaner could you be now if you would have had some guidance in the very beginning?

Testosterone is geared toward a more advanced, bullshit-free type of crowd, but I feel that it's also our responsibility to help the people who are new to weight training. So we've set up this little "school" for those new to bodybuilding. If you have any "newbie" questions about training, diet, or supplementation, send them here, and we'll hook you up.

I saw a guy in my gym doing these super-fast reps on the leg extension machine. You always dismiss the leg extension as a machine for dorks, but Chris, this guy was huge – his legs were like tree trunks! So what's the deal?

Quick story: I have a buddy who stays ripped to shreds year round. You could sharpen a pencil by rolling it briskly between his abs. I'll bet you think he knows his stuff about diet and ab training, huh? Well, he doesn't! He's always been in the single digits when it comes to bodyfat! In fact, as a natural ectomorph, eats whatever he wants, and doesn't even train his abs all that often! He has a great six-pack, largely because of his genetics.

On the other hand, I used to be a lard-ass, but I got myself in shape and now have a pretty decent set of abs. I had to learn everything that I could about diet, training, and supplementation to get this way. Now, my friend still has better abs, but to whom would you go for advice?

My point is, sometimes the biggest guy in the gym isn't necessarily the one who knows the most about bodybuilding. The guy that you talk about most likely didn't build those tree trunks on the leg extension. For all you know, he could be a genetic freak or so loaded up on drugs that the type of training that he does is nearly irrelevant. Furthermore, doing super-fast reps isn't the way to go if you want to build mass. It's the eccentric – or "lowering" – part of the movement that causes tissue remodeling, so you need to lower the weights in a controlled manner.

Anyhow, for now, stick to free-weight squats if you want big legs.

I've been lifting about a year without using any supplements. I'm about ready to start and was thinking of getting some Grow! from you guys and Ripped Fuel from Twinlab. My goal is to add about 20 pounds of lean muscle. What do you think of this stack?

Quick story II: I once worked with a group of high school athletes who were trying to get bigger for football. One day, they sauntered up to me and said that getting bigger was going to be easy now because they had all invested in Ripped Fuel. Understandably, I was a bit confused. How was a fat-burner going to get them bigger and stronger? I soon learned the sad truth: many new lifters think "ripped" means "big." The word has been bastardized, or re-bastardized, I guess. They say things like, "I want to be ripped, but real cut, too!" See, the old Twinlab bottles had a picture of a big juicer on it, and that's how these guys based their decision. So just to clarify, I've consulted the T-mag dictionary:

rippedadj. the condition of having very low bodyfat (see also cut, sliced, shredded). Ever see those veins on Monica Brant's obliques? Now that's freakin' ripped!

Since we've cleared that up, I think that it's possible, though difficult, to get bigger and leaner at the same time. Every pound of muscle that you put on is going to jack your metabolism up a little, causing your body to burn more calories. As for Ripped Fuel, well, it was pretty good in its heyday. But as a fat-burner, it's now an antique. It simply contains herbal equivalents of ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin – the quintessential ECA stack. That was a great stack, but these days, it's old technology.

Adipokinetix reigned king for a few months, then they changed their formula and essentially screwed the pony. The best fat-burner on the market today is MD6. Yeah, yeah, I know...that's the stuff we make, but this isn't just a plug. Tim and company gathered up the next generation of fat-burners and metabolic enhancers and put them together in one neat package. You still need to pay attention to your diet and training, of course. But with MD6, the whole process just became a lot easier.

However, Grow! will help you manage your calorie intake in addition to giving you more protein than you could otherwise manage in a single meal, so I'm okay with that part of your "stack."

I've heard that stress can mess up your ability to add muscle. Since I'm a college student with a full-time job and a couple of part-time girlfriends, believe me – I'm stressed! Consequently, my gains are slow. Some days, I just don't feel like hitting the weights. Any suggestions?

I recently found myself in the same situation, only without the multiple girlfriend "problem." Work was piling up on me, and I wasn't getting much sleep because of our new baby. Consequently, my ability to recover slowed, I seemed to catch every little bug in the air, and my strength regressed until I was benching less than superstar corpse Calista Flockhart. I needed more recovery time, so I modified my workout schedule so that I never trained two days in a row. It looked something like this:

  • Monday – Chest and triceps
  • Tuesday – Off
  • Wednesday – Legs and abs
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – Back and biceps
  • Saturday – Off
  • Sunday (Dino Day) – Shoulders, abs, calves
  • (See The Lost Art of the Finisher from Issue 65)
  • Monday – Off, then repeat cycle

Instead of just going right back into the gym and blasting another bodypart, you're allowing your overstressed body a little extra recovery time. What you never want to do is to stop working out! Training itself relieves stress – you just may have to modify it a little.

I also believe that the right supplements can help you in stressful times. Ribose-C and Power Drive both will help you recover faster, and you may also want to throw in some extra glutamine and vitamin C. And, if at all possible, try to have lots and lots of sex. One study – I believe it was "Effects of Adequate Nookie on Stress-Induced Catabolism" – showed that sex really does reduce stress. I can hear T-mag readers now saying, "Come on, honey, get out the nurse's uniform! I'm trying to add an inch to my bis!"

I'm trying to lose about 20 pounds of fat and keep as much muscle as possible. How low can I drop my calories without losing lean tissue?

There are two schools of thought on this issue. We'll call the first one the calorie-counting crew. This crew believes that "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie." Take in more calories than you burn, and you'll gain weight. Burn more calories than you take in, and you'll lose weight. Common sense, right?

Then we have the macronutrient manipulators. The manipulators (sounds like a WNBA team or something) believe that calorie counting is not so important. They believe that certain combinations or percentages of macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fat – can lead to fat loss. Manipulators include Dr. Atkins, Dr. DiPasquale (to an extent), and the Drs. Eades of the Protein Power plan. Manipulators contend that too many carbs lead to fat storage and cravings because of their effects on insulin production. Most manipulators also like the idea of higher than "normal" fat intake, since fat fills you up and has certain anabolic properties. (In one study, low-fat diets led to low testosterone levels!)

Who's right? Both, to an extent. However, I'm beginning to lean toward the manipulators. Here's a simplistic example that I gleaned from Dr. Atkins: A person who eats 2,000 calories per day that consist of the accepted high-carb and low-fat regime is slowly gaining weight. The same person goes on a 2,000-calorie diet consisting of high fat and very little carbs, and the pounds start to fly off. If "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie," then how could this happen? (Sure, some of the initial weight loss is water, but not all of it.)

I still think that you should count calories, at least initially, but it's actually quite tough to overeat on a high-fat, low-carb diet. For now, you might want to try the T-Dawg Diet that TC and I have outlined, or TC's excellent Delta 1250 program. Though the diets are radically different, we've found both to be very effective.

Help! All of those damn abbreviations are driving me crazy! Could you guys provide a glossary to help me interpret this stuff, or am I just SOL?

Sure, here's a quick guide:

GBC – German Body Composition

One of Poliquin's most popular programs, TC outlined it in his Bowlful of Jelly article. It's also the basic of the "Manly Weight Loss" book.

GVT – German Volume Training

Another Poliquin favorite that consists of ten sets of ten reps on most exercises. Bring a bucket and a wet nap.

MM2K – Muscle Media 2000

It used to be the coolest magazine on the market, when TC and Charles lived there.

MM – Muscle Media

The same exact magazine, only without the 2000 tag, the humor, the steroid info, the cutting-edge ideas, the hardcore training programs, the nutrition expertise, and the talented writers. However, MM provides plenty of fabulous pics of guys in leather pants to titillate its new, middle-aged, Palm V-carrying wannabe readers (see also RIP).

BP – Bill Phillips, aka "buttplug"

The executive editor of Muscle Media (see also Satan). Ahhh, we're just kiddin'.

TUT – Time under tension

AMRP or AMRAP – As many reps as possible

ZMA – Special blend of zinc and magnesium

It may help boost testosterone levels in those who are deficient, and most people who exercise tend to be deficient.

PT – Either physical therapist or personal trainer

ABS – Anabolic steroids, aka "The Breakfast of Champions"

AD – Anabolic diet (see Eat Like a Man)

1RM – Repetition maximum

This represents the greatest amount of weight that you can lift for one repetition.

ABCDE – Anabolic burst cycling and exercise

A diet that sounded great, looked great, but didn't pan out for most people. Personally, I lost and gained back the same ten pounds over several cycles. TC's modified version, called the Delta 1250 program, is much better.

Hope that helps!

What's the best exercise that I can do to lose this "keg" and build a real six-pack?

I have the perfect plan to develop a set of ripped abs. Follow these exercise routines closely:

  1. One set of "push aways" Grab the dinner table in front of you and push away until you can no longer reach the lasagna.
  2. One set of "drive bys" Speed away from Taco Bell as fast as your car will take you, repeating to yourself, "I must resist the power of the Chihuahua."
  3. One set of "walk bys" Walk right by those candy and soft drink machines.

In other words, no exercise is going to remove fat from one particular spot. The only one that I know of is called the "Nadler." Perform one set of going to see Dr. Nadler, and he'll suck that fat right out!

Even though the idea of spot reducing went the way of disco back in the '70s, I still get this question every week. The response is always the same – no ab exercise is going to remove fat from your stomach, period!

Ab training will strengthen the muscles beneath the fat, but that's about it. The key is diet. Diet is the missing ingredient in most peoples' progress. It's more important than supplements and, yes, even training, at least when it comes to fat loss. Train the abs, but a chiseled six-pack starts at the dinner table.

What's the best training split if your goal is to gain muscular size and strength?

There's no best split for everyone. Your recovery time will differ because of genetics, diet, and a dozen other factors. However, here are some common splits to choose from. This works best for teenagers and other mutants:

  • Day 1 – Chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Day 2 – Legs, back, and biceps
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Repeat

Masochists rejoice! This is a fun one because you have the whole workout to blast one area:

  • Day 1 – Chest
  • Day 2 – Back
  • Day 3 – Legs
  • Day 4 – Shoulders and abs
  • Day 5 – Arms
  • Day 6 – Off
  • Day 7 – Off

This is probably a better choice for people with normal recovery times:

  • Day 1 – Chest and back
  • Day 2 – Legs and abs
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Shoulders and arms
  • Day 5 – Off

I learned this one from Poliquin. It's cool because the major leg muscles are divided into different workouts. This is a great split if you need to bring your legs up to par:

  • Day 1 – Hamstrings and calves
  • Day 2 – Back and shoulders
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Quads and calves
  • Day 5 – Chest and arms
  • Day 6 – Off

I've heard that chin-ups are better than pull-downs for your back. Aren't pull-downs about the same exercise?

Not at all. You know how most experts consider the leg extension to be a weak excuse for squats? Well, the pull-down is the same thing: a dork exercise. It's okay to throw in every once in a while for variety, but chins should be your core back exercise. Not strong enough yet for chins? I'd still try to avoid the pull-down machine, since the strength that it develops doesn't transfer over to pull-ups or any "real life" movements.

What you need is a good partner. Cross your legs and have your partner hold you at the ankles. His job isn't to push you up, though. Just use his hands as a platform and push off when you reach a sticking point. Soon, you'll be doing them by yourself, maybe even strapping on extra weight using a dipping belt.

Here's a quick chin-up primer:

  • Chin-ups are done with the palms facing you (supinated grip) and pull-ups with the palms facing away from you (pronated grip). Use both types and vary the width of your hand placement to hit different areas of the back. Use a V-handle to hit the lower lats and rhomboids.
  • Start your routine with wide-grip pull-ups, since these are the toughest variation. Then you can progress to narrow-grip chin-ups as you get weaker.
  • Try to avoid using straps. They can become a crutch and impair your grip strength in the long run. However, if you find your grip failing before your back, you may want to use them on the last set.
  • Avoid those counterweighted Gravitron-type machines, if possible. They don't work the stabilizing muscles of the upper back.

The best chin-up training advice that I've read comes from Charles' "Poliquin Principles" book. If you haven't already, check it out, and you'll be light-years ahead in your training knowledge.

Should I wear a weight belt or not?

The overuse of weight belts represents the epitome of ignorance. I recently saw a perfect example of this at the grocery store. A lanky stock boy was wearing an elaborate belt to stock the "feminine hygiene" isle. Those super-absorbent models with wings must be heavy! Actually, companies are requiring employees to wear a belt because they think that it will reduce back injuries. How wrong they are!

Think about it: when you wear a belt, the smaller stabilizer muscles of the abs and lower back are taken out of the exercise. Therefore, they become weaker over a period of time. According to Paul Chek, wearing a belt makes you more susceptible to back injuries! Tightly cinched weight belts can also cause the discs to absorb even more stress, which could lead to future problems. If you wear a belt, you may want to start slowly weaning yourself off.

All that said, I think it's okay to wear a belt during a one-rep max. I personally wear one when I try to break a PR (personal record) in the deadlift. But I never wear one if I'm doing a traditional "three sets of eight" routine. So, for the most part, leave the weight belts at home.

What's the difference between "primary" and "secondary" movers?

These are good terms to know when you're designing your weight-training program. A prime mover is the main muscle being worked in a given exercise. During the bench press, the prime movers are the pectorals. Secondary movers are smaller muscles that are also hit during an exercise, though not to the extent as the prime movers. On the bench press, the secondary movers are the triceps and the front delts. For pull-ups, the prime movers are the lats and the secondary movers are the biceps.

When designing your workout, you may want to train secondary movers on the same day as primary movers. For example, on chest day, you might as well throw in triceps, since they're getting some action already from benching. If you'd rather have a chest/back day, it's usually not a good idea to train arms the following day. If you noticed, all of the splits that I recommended in a question above take care of this problem.

With all this talk about supplements, I'm beginning to wonder if you guys eat any real food. Give a poor college kid some non-powdered suggestions, would you?

Real food? Oh, that's like when you mix up Grow! really thick with ice and make pudding, right? No, I'm just kidding.

Bodybuilding food is pretty varied, depending on what diet you're following. Good sources of protein include tuna, chicken, turkey, and beef. Some old-school lifters swear by milk. In fact, in his "Super Squats" book, Randall J. Strossen recommends a gallon of whole milk per day!

Realistically, most people would get fat on that diet, but I think that hard training teenagers might be able to get away with it. Milk is an okay protein source (if you can tolerate the lactose), but there are much better sources out there. As for carbs, bodybuilders traditionally prefer potatoes, yams, rice, oatmeal, and stuff like that.

Actually, I think that a good MRP is very economical. Grow! is about $2.50 a serving. If you take advantage of the "buy two, get one free" deal, it only costs about $1.66 a serving. Head to the grocery store and try to find something for under two bucks containing that much muscle-building nutrition. If you find something, I'll eat my sweat-stained Testosterone shirt after squat day!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram