February 10 2011 Ad mala quisque animum referat sua
Copyright 2011, RedPointFitness.com
I have been thinking lately on what I would do differently if I could start my entire lifting career over. About the things that I wish someone would have taken the time to tell me, about all of the stuff that I had to learn the hard way, which could have been easily avoided. Since I am not yet in possession of a time machine (parts are on backorder) this doesn’t do me a lot of good. However, it might help some of you. And in all honesty who better to listen to than someone who, like you, is genetically average in regards to weight training.
First off a little about me. I am not a great lifter, nor am I ever going to be. I was born an ectomorph, into a family of ectos. Hell, even my grandparents were all ectos. I was not dealt the best hand for my sport of choice, but such is life. I would consider myself a “powerbuilder,” (a term I use to make me feel OK about not being really strong or really big). For what I started with, I have hit or come close to all of the ranges that “they” predict are possible for someone with my build/genetics who is a “natural.” (These predictors include wrist size, ankle size, bone structure, body type, etc).
My best lifts are as follows. (All numbers were raw and with good from, i.e. not quarter reps with my spotter lifting most of the weight).
Flat Bench 300x6
Flat Dumbbell bench 130x8
Dead 485 x 1
Squat 365 x 8
These numbers are by no means impressive or freaky. It took me years to get to that level and I peaked on all of them at different times. I also injured myself a good deal along the way and wasted a lot time on ineffective routines, diets and supplements.
With well over a decade in the game to look back on, here is what I wish someone had taken the time to sit down and explain to me, and what I wish I would have been smart enough to listen to if they had.
1) Hire a good trainer, day one
The amount of information in this sport is mind blowing. It is being written faster than you could ever read. It is growing like a cancer, and most of it is useless. The greater majority of this information stockpile is being produced by would-be gurus who are micromanaging minutia in order to sound like an expert. If a new trainer wanted to make a name for himself and wrote an article on why you should squat heavy, eat a lot and sleep more that wouldn’t be very “guru-ish” and most people would pay him no attention. When in reality that advice is much closer to what works than a large percent of what you will read by the micromanagement experts or find in grocery store bodybuilding magazine. Unless your goal is to become a world class trainer why would you ever want to tackle this on your own anyway? When your car breaks, 99.9% of you will take it to a mechanic and pay them to fix it. When you get sick, you pay a doctor to help you get better. When your computer breaks you go a computer repair specialist. In all of these examples it’s obvious that you are incapable of fixing it on your own and it would probably not be a good use of your time to learn to do it. But a lot of you walk into a gym and by God, you are going to do it on your own. This is science blended with art and you need help with it. That’s hard to admit, especially for men.
2) Eat. A lot.
Preferably things that had parents. Especially when you first start. If you follow the advice in item 1 this will be taken care of for you. Good coaches know that the best training program in the world will fall flat on its face if there isn’t a proper eating plan to support it. Lifting is the easy/fun part. Eating can suck, it’s like a 2nd job. “Research” can prove that the human body will only digest 46 grams of protein per day. Go find someone who is big and strong and ask them if they eat 46 grams of protein per day. Between mouthfuls of food they will tell how stupid that sounds. Get at least half of your total calories from real food, preferably more. 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per lb of lean bodyweight seems to be where most people need to be. You probably don’t’ handle carbs well…keep them at low to moderate levels and mostly post workout. If the ingredient list consists of more than about five items and/or you have trouble pronouncing any of them, put something else in the cart. Where does the “Disodium Ribonucleotides 5” plant grow?
3) Some supplement companies will lie to you
They do this in order to make money off of you. They do not feel sorry about it. The promise of an easier/shorter path has been the secret to selling useless crap to the uninformed and generally lazy for hundreds of years…and will continue to be employed for the foreseeable future. There is no shortcut in this sport. There is no “secret.” I have watched guys take a boatload of steroids (card carrying members of the “2 grams per week club”) and barely look like they trained. Why? Their routines were way beyond their recovery and my grandmother eats more than they did (grandmother is very small). Since not even high dose steroids can overcome an ill-conceived training and nutrition game plan the latest bottle of “super jacked nitric beef cake 9,000” that is staring back at you from the GNC shelf probably won’t either. I like the following: Good Multi Vitamin/Multi Mineral, Vitamin C, Green Tea, Fish oil, Creatine, Taurine, Glutamine, Protein Powders, Digestive enzymes, BCAA’s, TTA and Forskolin. For the money they can’t be beat. If you have extra cash Coq10 and Idebenone are also great and may even extend your life.
[I debated about whether or not to mention this next part, it is the truth and I decided that you can’t go wrong telling people what is true. So here goes.] The only things that I have ever seen produce “Steroid like results” are Steroids. They work; they work amazingly well and are probably safer for you than some of the over counters anyway. There are several “Pro-Hormones” on the market that provide Steroid-like results because, well, they are steroids, with a better PR agent. Their manufactures have found short term loop holes in the law which allow them to legally sell them. Realize that the biggest gains left for someone who is close to hitting their genetic potential come from manipulation of the HPTA axis. (Neither I or the owners of this site are promoting the use of illegal substances. Make your own decisions; don’t try this at home or at all. Please don’t try to sue us if your choices turn out to be poor ones. They were after all, your choices.)
4) Stay balanced
I have met a lot of people who let this sport consume them. I use to be one of them. I hated vacations, holidays, travel, snow days and anything else that would get me out of my routine. My girlfriend at the time lived several hours away from me and did 80% of the traveling because I had “legs” on Saturday and didn’t want to train at a different gym. I would arrange my college classes around my eating times and lifting schedule. This might have all been ok if I were training for a NFL combine or a state level bodybuilding show. The sad part is that I was 5’10, 180lbs and when wearing street clothes I was rarely accused of lifting weights. I was in love with a sport that didn’t love me back. I was giving up some of the things that really mattered in life to be an average lifter…and hoped that because I was “hardcore” I would eventually wake up looking like the next Mr. Olympia. (P.S. It didn’t happen).
I am a firm believer that if you are going to do something, do it right. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be disciplined. I am not suggesting laziness masquerading as “enlightenment.” I am simply saying that you should find a balance to your life. There are things far more important than picking the weight up and setting the weight back down. Lifting should be a great addition to your life, not the reason you live. For most of you this sport is a phase. The majority of lifters that I have known last about 3-5 years and then get into something else. If I had college to do over again I would have spent more time with my friends and less time weighing my food out and obsessing about the perfect rep speed and the weight I was going to lift the next morning. The weights are still there, and some of my friends aren’t.
5) Set realistic goals
This sport is not “6 months to a new you.” From 1992-2004 Ronnie Coleman gained 76lbs of muscle. That is 6.3lbs of muscle per year. You will probably not outperform Ronnie; he’s pretty good at this sport in case you didn’t know. Also, you didn’t get fat in 2 months, your probably not going to get lean in two months. Think long term, be patient, enjoy the process. The people that are gifted for this sport typically find it out VERY quickly. If you have been lifting for 2-3 years on an intelligent program and don’t look “freaky,” you probably never will. You will obviously continue to progress but don’t harbor dreams of state titles and supplement company sponsorship. All of the guys that I have seen that are good at this sport were good at it from the start. Society, the media and your parents have told you from day one that you can do anything you put your mind too if you want it bad enough. There is a lot of truth to this, and most people set the “what’s possible” bar of life much lower than need be. That being said, no one has out trained their genetics, nor will they. Everyone can be a better version of themselves…and that’s what this sport should be about. Improving yourself, for you. Not trying to hit some unattainable goal and feeling like a failure for missing. Genetic potential can only be properly assessed in retrospect. Bust your ass in the gym, eat like a machine, rest properly and you will be amazed where you end up.
Stress can destroy your lifts. The human body has adapted too, or was designed (pending your world view) to stay alive in its environment. One of the core features that allow this is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). There is a split in this system, on one side the Sympathetic and the other Parasympathetic (think: Team Jacob vs. Team Edward). The Sympathetic side’s main purpose is mobilization under stress. It has a very militant point of view, anything that is not 100% necessary to get you out of harm’s way gets shut down including digestion, tissue repair, sperm production, etc. All of those things can wait until we are safe. This system is good; it is what allowed your ancestors not to be eaten. The Parasympathetic system can be summarized by SLUDD (salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, defecation). Your body repairs itself in this state. The interesting part about these systems is that they are activated by your subconscious mind. The subconscious mind only knows what you tell it and can’t distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. Have you ever woken from a nightmare to find your heart racing, sheets covered in sweat, and breathing like you had just finished a prowler session? Your subconscious mind had reacted to your nightmare the same way it would have if the event was real. It instantly switched you over to Sympathetic, shutdown all systems that weren’t critical for immediate survival, started pumping out adrenaline and prepared for war.
However, there was no real reason to get prepared for battle, no WMD’s, it was all in your head.
With our, fast paced, everything now, instant access, faster download, twittering, commuter lane, army of one, overworked, overclocked, single parent, in-debt, five hour energy powered world, what mode do you think your ANS selects a majority of the time? Take walks, meditate, learn relaxation techniques, go get massages (with happy endings if budget/significant other/state laws allow), stretch, take yoga, do something to relax and let your body heal itself.
7) Long term health rocks!
There is a quote by Benjamin Franklin, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” My variant on this is, “He who sacrifices long term health for short term aesthetics or strength deservers neither.” Take time to do pre-hab work, stretch, do preventative maintenance on your body. Get regular blood work done. Learn the difference between discomfort from lifting and an injury. Lift with someone in person who knows good technique. Books and online trainers are great, but nothing can replace someone watching you lift in person and making corrections on the spot. Learn form first, add weight second. If the amount of weight forces your technique to breakdown, it’s too heavy. Terms like: food, non-allergenic, FDA approved, organic, non-organic, supplement, drug, illegal, illicit, medical grade, animal grade, locally grown, pro-hormone, herbal and the like are all just made up words. There is not an “FDA approved” compartment in your cells any more than there is a supplement compartment. The body only knows one thing, chemical (action/reaction). Be very careful with what you ingest, inject, and otherwise expose yourself to. Most people are pathetically uninformed about this, do you own research as you will be the one living with the results. If you don’t already know someone with a serious medical condition, go find one. Ask them if they would take their health back in exchange for having average lifts. Take care of your body, it’s the only one you’re going to get (Hinduists, no need to stress this one).
8) Be careful who you take advice from
This could have almost been a subset of item 1, but it is so often and easily overlooked I wanted to make it its own entry.
Let’s say there was a crack head, who wandered around high, begging for change. One day someone gave him a couple of bucks and with that money the crack head purchased a lottery ticket. This lottery ticket ended up being the winner. The crack head is now a millionaire. Is he suddenly in a position to offer sound financial advice? He has money, and lots of it, more than almost everyone else, surely he must know something about the accumulation of wealth.
Let’s say you approached him one day, “Crack head, you’re rich and I really want to be rich…tell me how you did it.” He could honestly reply, “Getting rich is easy!”
Step 1: Smoke crack.
Step 2: Beg for change.
Step 3: Take that change and buy a lottery ticket.
Step 4: Be rich!”
If you tried his (patent pending) system: “Smok’n crack and being rich” do you think that you would also end up rich?
The above scenario seems ridiculous but it is often exactly what people do with their training and diet. They find someone who looks the part, asks them how they got there…and then repeat those steps. The problem is that often times the person they are asking is a genetic lottery winner, it doesn’t really matter what they do. Walking aimlessly from curl machine to tricep push down to cable flys and getting drunk a couple of nights a week works them. It probably won’t work for you. Find someone who understands the concepts behind exercise science and nutrition and knows how to apply them in the real world to get results on themselves and the genetically typical.
9) Bulking is often confused with “Fatting.”
If you are a sub-50 year old male you don’t have much business being over ~14% bodyfat. Ever. Fat doesn’t lift weight, actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling does (muscle contractions for you non-nerds). And please, no PM’s on “improved leverages.” See also: Tip #7. I kept a china buffet in business during college when I was trying to get “jacked.” Unfortunately, you can’t force feed muscle growth. You can however; force feed your own fatness. There is something that feels good about seeing the scale jump 10lbs in one month. All that time in the gym is paying off. You’re a little stronger so it must have been all muscle, right? In reality it was probably closer to 9 pounds and change of pure fat and water. Carrying excess body fat for long periods of time makes it even harder to progress in the gym, screws up insulin sensitivity, can mess up your hormone production, and is harder to get rid of after it’s been there for a while. Many guys have trouble watching the scale drop when cutting…they feel like they are regressing. It’s odd, if you gave them 20lbs of fat in a Ziploc bag and told them they could carry it around all day and even weigh-in with it none of them would want to. Yet, you let them store the same 20lbs in their gut and it’s suddenly a badge of honor. “Look man, I am getting thick!” No sir, you are fluffy.
10) Cardio. It sucks. Do it anyway.
Many lifters (me included) confuse poor recovery with plain old just being out of shape. Squatting heavy doubles with 8 minutes of rest between sets and knocking out a couple of accessory movements and then going home to watch TV won’t bring your cardiovascular system up to the level it needs to be. If I listed out the benefits of walking 45 min 3 times per week without telling people what I was describing they would swear it was either a lie or the next miracle drug. The first time I trained under SB I ended up in the back room of my gym, on the floor, in a cold sweat, in my own puke. I had no idea how out of shape I was. Because my lifts were relatively good I just assumed that I was in shape. Wrong. GPP work mixed with cardio will do wonders for your lifts, overall health, fat loss, mood, etc. Cardio is mind numbingly boring. Sled pulling and prowler pushing are the suck. The benefits outweigh the cost, do them.
I sincerely hope that this keeps some of you from making the same mistakes I did.
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