Bodybuilders fascinate me. They work very hard, grow freakishly big, and can do some pretty damn cool things with muscle. While I don’t have any aspirations to be a bodybuilder, I do enjoy learning about the science behind how they pack on muscle and strip off fat.
Most people have similar goals, albeit not to such extremes. They want to lose fat, build muscle, and feel great. They end up doing what body builders do, following the logic that if they follow the same workouts and take the same supplements, they’ll look the same as their favorite IFBB pro. This is what typically happens:
Most people follow programs that were became popular in the 80’s and 90’s, when body building was the end-all and be-all of fitness. It was the size boom in pro body building, when lifters kept getting bigger and bigger, thanks to genetics, hard work and dedication, and certain ‘supplements’. Magazines got hold of these athletes, found out how they trained, changed the workouts so that mere mortals could follow them, and published them.
If you’re currently following that ol’ body part split at the gym, it’s likely a watered down version of something a pro used 20 years ago. Still can’t figure out why it doesn’t work for you? The program doesn’t suck, and you don’t suck, but the program sucks for you. Instead of understanding that they’re using a sub-optimal program, the concern becomes catabolism, and protecting the relatively low amount of hypertrophy that occurs.
Two of the most common fears that those new to lifting have are about not building enough muscle in the first place, or about getting fat. Each of those problems are relatively easy to fix, with muscle gain being mostly affected by what you do at the gym, and fat loss or minimizing fat gain dependent on what you’re eating outside of the gym. Together, they’ll help you build a muscular, lean body.
Most dedicated trainees are more concerned with becoming lean, or remaining lean, then they are with putting on muscle mass or getting stronger. I routinely deal with folks who check out their abs in the mirror, or pinch their sides, or complain about body fat, and who don’t focus on getting stronger with the big lifts. They’re concerned that they’re not growing.
We’re the product of millions of years of evolution; You might just be better suited to adaptation than any other creature, ever. Do you really mean to tell me that your body doesn’t have a way of building muscle without putting on fat? It absolutely does; you’re just not doing the right thing.
I Pick Things Up and Put Them Down
The biggest mistake that is made in the gym is with exercise selection. It’s not about sets and reps, or tempo, or a specific variation that gets just a little bit of bicep and a lot of brachialis. It’s about picking the good stuff. If you’re lifting 3-4 times per week like you should, then each of your workouts should begin with and focus on big compound exercises that allow you to move the most muscle possible. Here’s a basic list of what to focus on:
- Overhead Press
- Inverted Rows
- Bench Press
- Split Squats
- Dumbbell Rows
- Farmer’s Walk
- Face Pulls
- Ab Roll Outs
That list could continue to thousands of variations of each of the above exercises. It isn’t about variations though, it’s about utilizing specific variations of the above exercises to create a stimulus. The benefits you reap from doing chin-ups and squats is bigger than the one you get from isolation curls and calve raises. Cut that shit out unless you’re training your big movements.
Once you’re focusing on those big movements, and you’re eating enough protein, healthy fats, and the necessary carbohydrates to support your efforts, you’ll be far less concerned with catabolism, which wasn’t really your problem in the first place. In reality, you’re just not creating a large enough training stimulus when you’re at the gym.
Get out of the “back & bi’s, shoulders & abs” mentality; it’s probably not working very well for you. Instead, focus on including at least three of those exercises listed above in every single one of your workouts. If you need help with planning your workout schedule, check out this post I wrote about Planning To Sweat Every Day. If you have any questions about exercise selection, let me know in the comments below.
I’ll leave you with a video of Ronnie Coleman squatting. Remember that time he said, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.” It makes some sense: