The subtitle of this column used to be "Basic training for beginners." I've dropped it because of one simple fact: You don't have to be a newbie to be making newbie mistakes. I've known a lot of guys who've been training for years, yet still screw up the most basic elements of program design, diet, and supplementation. And their physiques reflect it.
There's no excuse for ignorance and no reason why a person should hit the gym every day for years, yet still look the same as the day he started. Dawg School is here to fix that problem. So whether you're a true beginner or someone whose progress has stalled after years of training, this column is for you.
Ring the bell. School is in session.
The School of Experience: T-mag Readers Drop Some Knowledge
Wanna make the fastest progress possible in the gym? Feel like you're spinning your wheels with what you're doing now? One of best ways to fix your problem is to seek the wisdom of someone who's been training properly for years. An experienced bodybuilder can often spot what you're doing wrong and point you in the right direction.
With that in mind, I logged onto the T-mag Forum and asked a simple question: What advice would you give someone who's just getting involved in weight training? The answers came pouring in. I've summarized them for you here:
• Be patient. Building a great body doesn't happen overnight so don't get discouraged. Whether you're trying a new workout, new diet or new supplement, give it time to work.
• Be consistent. How you train and eat is important, but how long you stick with it is the real secret.
• Stretch. No excuses. Don't learn about its importance the hard way.
• Have goals and a plan to reach them. Know what you're going to do before you get to the gym.
• Start keeping a training and food log now. Don't waste five years before you discover how valuable these tools can be.
• Keep learning. Ask questions. Read everything you can get your paws on. The T-mag previous issues section is a gold mine. Start digging.
• Don't do the workouts or follow the diet advice of professional bodybuilders.
• Recovery is just as important as training. Incorporate off days. Sleep at least eight hours a night. [Eight hours may be way too much for you, but you get the point: sleep as many hours as is optimum for you.]
• Stick to the big, ugly lifts: squat, deadlift, bench press, row, chin-up, dip etc.
• Use free weights a lot and machines a little.
• Leave your ego in the gym bag and use good form, even if you have to use less weight.
• Tempo is important. Control the negative.
• Adopt a diet that reflects your training goals. Don't eat like a bird and expect to add muscle. Diet and training go hand in hand. Neglect one or the other and your progress will stall, if it ever starts.
• Drink a lot of water. Eat a lot of protein. Post-workout nutrition is vital.
• Don't leave out any muscle groups. Don't train only what you can see in the mirror. Train your legs and you'll grow all over.
• Keep your workouts to an hour or less.
• Stay motivated. True motivation comes from within, not from those around you. Learn to enjoy it. Have fun.
• Change your program around every two to six weeks. There's no "best program."
• Eat every two to three hours.
• Learn the signs of overtraining. More is not necessarily better.
Pretty solid advice. Sure, it's basic, but leaving out one or two of these gems is like pissing against the wind. Not knowing what to do in the beginning is forgivable. Staying ignorant or, even worse, knowing what to do and not doing it, is just plain lazy.
Now for this month's questions and answers.
You'll Gain Exactly 7.3499 Pounds
Q: I'm thinking of trying the German Volume Training 2000 program and wanted to know how much weight I can expect to gain. What do most people gain on this program?
A: As simple as this question sounds, the answer can get complicated. When you get down to it, this is a very silly question. Here's a list of other such nonsense questions that fall into the same category:
How much muscle will I gain on this supplement?
How much weight can I drop in six weeks on this diet?
How much fat will I lose when using this fat burner?
Just as with these questions, there are dozens of factors involved when you're talking about making gains on a certain training program. What kind of diet will you be using? Whether your goal is muscle gain or fat loss, your diet is as important as your training program, maybe more important when talking about losing weight. Sure, you should be using a good weight training workout, that's a given, but it's your diet that's going to determine the success or failure of any training program. When I'm approached by someone who says, "That training program didn't work for me," my first response is, "Yeah? What were you eating?" Nine times out of ten, that turned out to be the problem.
The next factor to consider is training age, or how long you've been seriously working out. A newbie is going to make better, faster gains than a person who's been lifting for several years, even if they're using the same program. If a person is at or near his natural genetic limitations, then he's not going to make tremendous gains using any particular program. (Of course, that doesn't mean he should just give up either.) On the other hand, if you weigh 150 and your "ceiling" is 200, then you can expect pretty fast gains from the program, assuming you're doing everything else right (diet, recovery, etc.)
When are you going to be using GVT2k? If you're using it after another high-rep, high- volume program, then your results may not be as good as when using it after a low volume approach to training and a rest week. Along those same lines, if you're overtrained already, then you'll gain little, if any, muscle by using the program.
Others things to consider: What kinds of supplements will you be using? What are your genetics like? What kinds of non-training stress are you going through?
So you see, your question is tough, if not impossible to answer. It's better to just try the program, pick a diet and supplement regimen that matches your goals, and see what happens. Everyone responds differently so don't worry about it. Just focus on how you respond to the program.
Cardio: The Final Word?
Q: Okay, some of you T-mag guys write about doing cardio and others say not to do it at all. I'm confused. What's the freakin' answer?
A: Cardio is only for girls and girly men. Which one are you? Okay, I'm joking. Yes, we all have different opinions here at T-mag, but that's what makes us so gosh darned cool. Besides, if we were all forced to adopt the same old tired principles we'd be, uh, Muscle & Fitness.
Remember that most people, including jokers who write for most muscle magazines, tend to base their "facts" on what works well for them. If one guy can tolerate a high carb intake, then the diets he writes will likely reflect that and vice-versa. Same goes with cardio. So as with everything else, it's an individual thing.
That said, the first thing I do when helping someone out with a diet is get them to ditch the cardio. I'm not totally against it, but here's my reasoning. As I said over and over again in my Diet Manifesto article, the key to fat loss is diet. I see most people making only half-assed attempts to get their diets right and trying to make up for it by doing loads of cardio. Excessive cardio can lead to catabolism (muscle wasting).
The old Bill Phillips standby of "do cardio on an empty stomach in the morning" may lead to even more muscle wasting, at least in my experience. This is especially true if you don't eat anything for an hour or more after to "increase fat burning." That's crazy. If you insist on morning cardio at least break the fast. Try one scoop of a low carb protein blend like Advanced Protein 15 to 20 minutes before you run (or bike, or have rough sex or whatever.)
Now, all that doesn't mean cardio is pure evil. It's just misused. Once a person I'm helping out has his diet tuned in, I'll allow him to add in some moderate cardio, say, 20 minutes twice a week. This can be done on off days or added after weight training.
The question also comes up, "Yeah, I understand all that, but what about just staying fit and conditioned? I don't want to get out of breath just walking up a few stairs." Good point. This goes along with what T-mag contributor Dave Tate called GPP, or general physical preparedness.
Another point that's brought up is the fact that cardio (and weight training) increases insulin sensitivity. That's great for those of us that get fat just looking at a bagel. Another T-mag smart guy, John "boom boom" Berardi, points out that it's best to do this cardio at a time separate from weight training, especially if you need to improve your insulin sensitivity.
Here's how I put all this info together for my personal use. First, I'd really rather not ride a bike that's not going anywhere for 40 minutes. So for cardio workouts, or as I call them, my GPP sessions (sounds so much better, doesn't it?), I use a mixture of boxing, Warrior Training, stadium runs, sprinting and Dave Tate style sled dragging. I do this an average of three times per week, on off days if possible.
My sessions last only 20 to 30 minutes and are never done in a fasted state. If I'm on a hardcore mass gaining cycle, I'll cut this back to once or twice per week. This is how I balanced out the conflicting info about cardio. It helps me stay conditioned without interfering with my weight training. Give it a shot. I'm very pleased so far with my results. And for those of you that do cardio six days a week for an hour every morning, well, you people need to take up Yoga, TV watching, reading, or anything that'll get you out of Catabolic City.
A Better "Weight Gainer" Shake
Q: No matter what I do, I just can't seem to gain any weight. I'm about as skinny and bony as they come. Weight training helps, but now I only look like a slighted more buff skeleton. I know you guys have trashed weight gainer shakes before, but I'm thinking about trying one anyway. I'm desperate! Any good ones on the market? Have they improved the quality of these things?
A: No, they haven't. Most supplement companies don't even make a "weight gainer" anymore. Those who do haven't changed their formulas much in the last decade or two. They're still full of sugar and poor quality protein. I'd call them liquid candy, but they don't taste all that good. While these shakes do bump up your daily caloric intake – a necessity if you want to add some serious muscle – you'll also gain a lot of fat. Not to mention these things are just plain unhealthy with all that sugar.
Recently I was given a sample of a "black label" GNC weight gainer. I tried it for the fun of it. It was so sugar-filled that my teeth stuck together after drinking it. If you need some fast, high calorie liquid nutrition, don't bother with the junk that's on the market. Instead try this:
1 chocolate MRP, such as Grow!
20 oz (2 1/2 cups) of skim milk
2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese
Blend all this together and it gives you 835 calories and 84 grams of protein. Drinking just two a day will add 1670 calories and 168 grams of protein to your regular intake. Because the fats are mostly "good", the protein is of high quality (no soy), the sugar content is low, and it's healthy too. (Another option is to use a vanilla MRP, toss in an apple–peeling and all–then add flax or Udo's Choice oil and a little cinnamon. The variations are endless, really.)
Just remember, gaining weight is a matter of getting enough calories per day. So the best way to use weight gainer shakes is to use them between regular meals in addition to the food you already get, not in place of it as you would a regular MRP. You'll still need to keep track of how many calories you get each day and adjust accordingly week by week. Good luck.
BFL Just BS?
Q: My friend wants me to get on the Body for Life program with him. Is this program any good or just a bunch of hype?
A: Is it any good? Compared to the "Advanced Sitting" program most couch potatoes are currently using, yes, it's a decent program. Compared to an Ian King program, no.
Its main problem is its "cookie cutter" approach. That means it's presented as the best program for all people to use. In reality, it's just a generic program and you'll stall out after a short time.
The diet section of the book is about the same: good advice for some, but not for others. It's certainly better than the Twinkie and soft drink diet most people use. Of course, the hype comes in when Bill starts pushing all the EAS products. You can get great results, especially as a beginner, without using any supplements at all, but some supplements do help and can make your "transformation" easier. (Just use products that you've researched from companies you trust.) Keep in mind that the book was written for the sole purpose of selling supplements and take everything in it with a grain of Myoplex Plus, uh, I mean, salt.
Is this program a "life changing miracle" as it's hyped? Well, it's about eating right and working out and that's always been effective, hasn't it? What's new? Bill just put it all together in a shiny package, bought a few thousand copies himself to get it on the best seller list, and let the hype take it from there.
I Just Bumped My Head on the Genetic Ceiling
Q: I think I've hit my genetic peak or "ceiling" as they say and was wondering what to do about it. Is my only choice steroids? I started out at just 145, now I'm 175. Any advice?
A: The topic of genetic limitations can be tricky. Yes, the "ceiling" exists and it's different for every individual. After all, if a 200-pound guy could put on eight pounds of muscle a year he'd be 320 in 15 years. Most pro bodybuilders, even jacked to the eyeballs with drugs, can't achieve a lean 320 pounds. Yet most natural, genetically average guys would be disappointed if they were told only to expect an eight-pound gain this year. There are limits, even with steroid use.
The real problem when discussing "ceilings" is that every guy out there whose progress slows assumes he's hit his limit. This causes some to quit training entirely and others to turn to steroids. I say that 98% of people who say they've peaked out, in fact, have not even begun to tap into their natural potential.
I started weight training at about 159 pounds after losing a lot of fat. The first 10 pounds of muscle came pretty quickly, despite the fact that I didn't half know what I was doing. These are the fabled "newbie gains." It took me several years to hit the 180s and I was stuck there for what seemed like an eternity. I told people I'd hit my genetic ceiling. Luckily, I didn't quit training.
The problem, in my case, was diet. I was still eating a low fat, moderate protein, high carb diet. Usually, my calories were kept on the low end. I gradually learned about the importance of dietary fat – especially good fats – upped my protein intake dramatically and began eating complex carbs and quickly dumped the sugary cereals and breads. Sure enough, I began to add muscle again and was soon in the 190s.
During this time I also cut back on the cardio (which I'd been abusing for fear of getting fat again) and I learned a lot more about proper training and recovery. You see, genetics weren't the problem; it was my level of knowledge holding me back. The more I learned, the more I grew. And the longer you stick to weight training, the more you'll need to learn to keep making progress.
Supplements can also play a role in pushing you past any sticking points. I credit proper supplementation with getting me past the 200-pound mark. It was just what I needed to break that barrier. Keep in mind that these days there are legal supplements that can easily pack five or ten pounds of muscle on you, and they're only getting better. So if five or ten pound is all you want, why turn to illegal and possibly dangerous means? No, supplements won't be enough if you want to turn into a pro bodybuilder, but they'll be enough to help you reach your genetic limit faster and maybe even shatter that perceived ceiling.
Here's something else to think about. If you get past those newbie gains and only gain one pound of lean muscle mass a year, even with smart training and proper diet, it'll still add up. If you could go to your 20-year high school reunion packing an additional 20 pounds of pure muscle, jaws would drop and panties would moisten. Most people don't realize what a dramatic visual difference just a few additional pounds of muscle can make. So patience is also important here.
The decision to use steroids is up to you, but don't use them in place of learning about how to eat and how to train. You can't always be using steroids, but you can always eat and train correctly.
Finally, don't catch yourself using genetic limitations as a cop-out. As I write this, I'm sitting at a fairly lean 208. Now, where was that genetic ceiling again?
Baby's Got a Big Ol' Butt
Q: My girlfriend is getting ready to quit going to the gym with me. She says that no matter how hard she trains and diets, her ass and thighs are still too big. She's afraid to do squats and lunges because they might make her butt even bigger. Any advice?
A: Get a new girlfriend. Life is too short to put up with big-ass girls. No, I'm kidding! I'll take you for your word that she's training and dieting correctly. Tell me, does she have small boobs, too? Seriously, this goes a long way in determining her frame type.
I've always liked this typing system for women. It goes like this:
If your woman is big at the bottom (but not necessarily fat) and smaller up top, she's known as an A-Frame. Get it? She's shaped like an "A". If she's a curvy, voluptuous gal, with naturally big breasticles and nice hips (the classic hourglass figure), then she's called an O-frame. If she's naturally lean, has more of an athletic build, but not much in the way of hips or boobs, then she's called a T-Frame.
Your girlfriend sounds like an A-frame, which to be honest, isn't the most desirable one to have. But think about this; who else has an A-frame? That's right, Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez! I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating tortillas chips, would you? Now, take a close look at Miss Lopez. Most of the time, she has visible abs. Not fitness model abs, but pretty good ones for a woman. (Visible abs on a woman is usually a sign of great genetics combined with hard work.)
Now, Jennifer has a big ghetto booty. Hasn't hurt her sex appeal any. Should she try to lose more weight to get rid of the butt? What weight? She's not fat! She just has an A-frame and does her best with it by staying in shape. All of us, men and women, work with what we've got.
All the frame types have their upsides and downsides, too. O-frames sound perfect, but usually women with large boobs and curvy hips have a tough time staying lean. As long as they do, they look great, but let the diet or activity level slip just a little and whammo! Lard ass city! T-frames usually don't have that problem; they have a hard time gaining weight. Problem is, they're usually shapeless and have tiny "mosquito bite" breasts. So as you can see, there's no perfect frame.
Show your girlfriend this and tell her that while she may not be able to look like her T-framed friends, she can certainly look good naked with proper training and diet. And that's what this is all about, right?