Note: While this article is geared toward teenagers, the info that it contains will be helpful for anyone who's new to weight training.
For next few minutes, I want you to think of me as your big brother. Not an older brother who gives you wedgies and won't let you hang out with him, but a really cool big brother who gives you your first condom and lets you watch from the closet when he feels up the prom queen.
I've been training teenage athletes and wannabe bodybuilders for six years. On average, I can add twenty to thirty pounds of muscle to any kid without drugs or supplements. I've put inches on their verticals, knocked seconds off their sprints, and added pounds to their maximal lifts. But I'm not bragging. It's easy for teenagers to make such progress. With all of the raging hormones inside of you right now, you could scratch your ass while watching "WWF Raw" and put half an inch on your forearm. And if Sable struts out and you start doing, ya' know, other stuff with your hands, well, you might very well build a set of Popeye forearms in a matter weeks!
The secret to adding size as a teen doesn't lie in some exotic training program or supplement. I simply tell my athletes what not to do. The following is a list of the most common mistakes that I've seen teenagers make in weight training. Get rid of these pitfalls, and your size and athletic abilities are going to explode! Read on, little Testosterone brother, and maybe, when we're finished, I'll buy you a pizza and let you look at my Playboys.
1) Sports-specific training
It's happened a thousand times. A basketball player asks how to increase his vertical jump. I explain the concept of genetic limitations (just so he won't be too disappointed when he doesn't quite fly like Mike) and then prescribe a program of power cleans, squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, and a few other exercises. He looks at me dumbfounded and says:
"Power cleans and squats? But those are football player exercises!"
It's time that teenagers get the idea of sports-specific weight training out of their heads. Sure, professional strength coaches like Charles Poliquin do have their athletes perform certain exercises to correct imbalances and increase their performance. But, you are not a professional athlete yet! You probably don't train for a specific sport 365 days a year like many Olympians. At your age, a good program of basic compound movements will make you perform better in any sport.
Here's an example. The stiff-legged deadlift works the muscles in the posterior chain: the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Those muscles are largely responsible for the height of your vertical jump, the speed of your sprints, the ability to explode off the line in football, and the quickness at which you steal bases. If you're still doubtful, check out a top sprinter's training program. Notice all of the upper body movements? Many of these guys can bench right up there with football players, too. Train your muscles right (see #9 below) and you'll dominate in all sports!
2) Pro bodybuilders as role models
Chances are that you are healthier and can perform better athletically than a pro bodybuilder. They use steroids and other drugs in mind-numbing quantities. Shocker, I know. But the thing is that you couldn't afford or have access to this many drugs even if you wanted to. Many teens seem to think that they can swallow a few pills or take a few injections and, boom! They are transformed into a Mr. Olympia competitor. Not true at all. In fact, even with all of the drugs, pros still don't look as good as you think they do. Many have artificial implants in their calves and pecs. That's right, just like your favorite Playboy Playmate of the Month, your favorite bodybuilder may be full of saline baggies (that's old technology — actually, the new calf implants are solid). Many pros even inject themselves with certain oils to artificially inflate any lagging body parts. Not only is this dangerous and ethically questionable, it gives them nothing in the way of strength or power.
How do they pay for the drugs, hospital visits, and surgical procedures, anyway? Rumor has it that many provide certain "services" to homosexual men. Also, they don't walk around all year looking that cut, either. Many only peak a few times a year for a contest. During this time, they do all of their photo sessions with the magazines and advertisers. (Some that are still involved in bodybuilding today even use photos taken of them 20 years ago!) The majority of the year, pro bodybuilders are fat and covered with zits. Many can't walk three feet without getting out of breath. Here's the most ironic part. Besides for athletic purposes, you probably want to get big to attract girls, right? Guess what, most chicks hate the pro bodybuilder look. They'll tell you that muscles are nice, but that much muscle makes them sick. Listen to the wisdom of the hotties, brother!
3) Falling for supplement hype
Those of us who've been around for a while can hardly stand to read most modern bodybuilding magazines. For one, we know how the pros got that big, and it damned sure wasn't from whatever supplement they're holding up in the ads. Some don't even use the supplements that they advertise. Many mags these days are also filled with so-called articles that are actually thinly disguised ads. I read an "article" recently that was supposed to teach the reader how to legally obtain steroids. Several pages into the article, the method was revealed: buy their brand of supplements, which they claim to be so good that it's just like using 'roids. See, most muscle magazines are owned by supplement companies. In case you didn't know, T-mag is owned by Biotest. That's not big deal, really, but beware of mags that try to hide this fact from you. If their supplements are good, there's no need for deceptive advertising or hidden agendas. A good company doesn't need some smiling pro bodybuilder to slut for them, either.
So are there any good supplements out there? Sure, but as a teenager, you probably don't need most of them. Right now, your testosterone levels are already high, even higher than they'll be when you're in your twenties, so you don't need any supplements that are supposed to boost those levels. Nope, not even our very own Tribex-500. We'd like to sell it to a few thousand teenagers, make a buttload of money, buy a couple of RealDolls for the breakroom, and laugh all the way to the bank — but we just can't. Teenagers just don't need Tribex. You don't need any kind of andro supplement, either. Trust us, Mark McGwire earned his record through hard work in the gym and God-given talent, not from a bottle of over-the-counter supplements. You may want to use a quality MRP like Grow! to make sure that you're getting adequate protein and other nutrients necessary for building muscle. Grow! is just great-tasting, convenient, muscle-building food, nothing magic here. Sure, that's our brand of MRP, but as long as you stick with a respectable company, you'll do fine. Just pick one based on taste. That's really all you need in the way of supplementation. Save your money for college or, at least, a really kicking car stereo.
4) Letting your ego into the gym
Want to know a secret? The chick that you're trying to impress by benching more much weight than you can handle in good form doesn't know the difference between 135 and 505. It all looks heavy to her, so don't blow out a shoulder to impress her. Although there are a thousand theories on this, it's fairly safe to say that if your goal is to add muscular weight, you should keep your reps in the 8-12 range using slow eccentrics (negatives) at least most of the time. A lot of young guys I work with don't want to use over four reps because their egos are so inflated that they don't want to go to the lighter weights required to reach those reps! That's just plain stupid. You want to impress people in the gym and feed your ego? Then drop a few plates on those squats and do them "ass to grass." When you bench, use a slow negative and control the weight. Soon you'll be stronger and bigger than the geeks who look like they're acting out some Brittany Spears sex fantasy when they bench!
5) Listening to your high school coach
Don't get me wrong on this — there are a few good coaches out there who really know their shit about training. But they are few and far between. Most high school coaches that I've worked with are fat and out of shape. I've met powerlifting coaches who make their athletes run more than lift, football coaches who have their players use machines only "to prevent injury," and basketball coaches who won't even allow their athletes to train with weights. What's worse, they all wear those funky, stretchy shorts that no one else but coaches wear! Do those things come with the whistle, or what? Can you really trust a full-grown man in polyester shorts? I think not! Seriously, it's not always your coach's fault.
For example, Coach Beergut may stick you guys in the weight room, put everyone at a station, and make you lift for 30 seconds in super-fast, super-spastic, super-"I got kicked in the head by a mule when I was little, and now I get these seizures" manner. Is this because rapid lifting makes you a better athlete? Not really. This method is used for convenience. How else is he going to train a few dozen guys at one time and have time to work on plays?
Speed lifting may be all right occasionally, but you're not going to gain much size from two sets of 50 reps with an empty bar. Now, don't go off and tell your coach that you refuse to train with the team. I wouldn't want one of those tobacco-chewing chubsters to look me up and force me to run "suicides" out on the football field. Do his workout and keep your mouth shut. However, the summer belongs to you and, like the shoe commercials say, winners are built in the off-season.
6) Eating, sleeping, and other hobbies
As a teenage guy, you are blessed. You have the ability to put on muscle at an incredible rate of speed, even if you don't train correctly! You can have 3D Doritos and Surge for breakfast and still have abs! You can have sex three times in 20 minutes! Sure, the total TUT (time under Tiffany) is just 14 seconds but, hey, it's still a feat that you may not be able to perform when you get older! So think about this: what if you did train and eat correctly? If you can make gains without doing it right, think how massive and strong you could be if you did it the best way! Diet seems to be the main problem. While the subject is too varied and complicated to cover fully here, here a few tips:
• Ditch the Frosted Flakes and Pop Tarts for breakfast. While eating that junk is bad, it's not as bad as skipping breakfast! Try this. Pop a few eggs in the microwave. Poke the yolks so that they won't explode and piss your mom off. Wash them down with a big glass of milk. The fat is not going to hurt you a bit, and you'll get tons of protein. For a quickie, blend some egg substitute and milk together with some instant pudding powder. Boom, homemade MRP!
• Lose your lunch ticket. You may have to pack some bodybuilding food into a cooler and keep it in your locker or car. Pack a tuna-fish sandwich and some milk with a couple of pieces of fruit. Throw in some kind of easy snack, like beef jerky or a protein bar, for between classes.
• This is about as simple as it gets. Say that you just can't gain weight? Eat more, even if you don't want it. Say that you need to lose some flab? Don't do anything extreme. I've seen 17-year-olds drop 20 pounds of blubber by just cutting out soft drinks and junk food like candy and chips.
Sleeping is important, too. I don't care if mommy let's you stay up all night or not, you need eight to ten hours of sleep at your age, especially when training hard. If you're going to invest in an MRP, drink one before bed. And stop watching Springer, for God's sake! If you're going to stay up that late, you better at least be watching Playboy's "Girls Behaving Badly." And, yes, it's perfectly healthy and normal.
7) Taking steroids
Okay, little brother, this is straight up. Most of your favorite athletes are probably taking something illegal to enhance their performance or recovery. There may be a day when you choose to do the same. By then, maybe, you'll have educated yourself enough about steroids or other substances so that you don't get ripped off or stick anything stupid into your body. But the fact is, you just don't need 'roids right now. Hell, just being 16 is like using mild steroids!
Now, you already know the dangers of 'roids from health class and that one really informative episode of "Saved by the Bell." But you might not know that if you take them now, while you're still growing, you may never grow another inch taller, even if you're genetically capable of being 6'5" tall. I know a guy who started using in the eighth grade. Used to get 'em from his older brother. Know what? He got big. Sure, he was strong, too, and kicked some tail in eighth-grade football. The problem is that he's in the 11th grade now (or would be, but he dropped out) and is still 5'2" tall! He could have been over six feet. Of course, he won't always be on the juice, but he'll always be short. The message — skip the gear for now.
Guys my age (upper twenties) train each body part once every five days or so. We'll bench on Monday and may not do it again until Friday, Saturday, or even later. We've learned that we can grow more by giving our muscles time to fully recover. At your age, you may be able to get away with more frequent training. However, I've seen some young guys try to bench every day of the week! This may work for a while, but soon enough, you'll stagnate or get an injury. I usually talk to these overzealous guys and explain it to them. I may even suggest something novel like, hey, why don't you train legs once in a while in between chest and bicep days? What a concept! The general rule: don't train a body part that's still sore from a previous workout. Get in the gym, get sore, get out, go home, clean up, chase cheerleaders, get sore, get out, go home, clean up...you get the idea.
9) Following the training advice in most muscle magazines
Bodybuilding magazines, including us here at Testosterone, like to write about unique exercises. This site is designed for experienced guys who already know a lot about training. Magazines have to give these guys something different, something new to challenge their muscles. Who would want to read a muscle magazine that told you to squat and bench in every issue? You, however, should stick to the big basics like squats, benches, pullups, and deadlifts. These are core exercises and should always be part of your program.
Sure, most of us like to do cable low rows, as illustrated in Jerry Telle's Lats Get Cookin' article, but we also do pullups and chins until we can hardly pull back a stripper's G-string to carefully insert a fiver. The point is that there are teenagers in the gym right now performing lying reverse-grip cable crossovers, or some nonsense, when they should just be benching! Chances are that, when you see a big guy doing some odd cable or machine exercise, he didn't build his mass that way. He likely has years of good-old free weights behind him. Remember, exercise variety is great, but don't forget the core lifts.
10) Letting yourself get stupid
Ignorant is probably a better word. It's ignorant guys who buy useless supplements like boron or fall for "biceps in a bottle" advertising. It's ignorant guys who learn about one type of training and stick with it for the rest of their lives, even when the results stop coming. It's ignorant guys who train with poor form just to feed their egos. It's ignorant guys who fall for that pep squad member's "just want to be friends" line, and then you see the little perky tramp the very next day getting into Billy Bob's new pickup truck! What's worse, you'll never get your Guns 'N Roses CDs back — never! But I digress.
And finally, it's just plain stupid to stop learning. Bodybuilding science is evolving every day. From training to diet to supplementation, what we know now far exceeds what knew ten years ago. We know more about how to get bigger faster, how to manipulate diet, and how to recover from injuries, than we ever have before. Where will we be in the next ten years? Educate yourself. Graduation is never the end of your education. Read Testosterone and keep learning, little brother. Now, let's go get a pizza — my treat.