Ab workouts: don’t be a victim of myths or lies

Ab workouts: don't be a victim of myths, hype and other nonsense.

Many myths of ab workouts are perpetuated by the bodybuilding world. Here are eight of them:


MYTH #1: Twists pare fat from the sides of your waist.

Go to most gyms and at some point you’ll probably find bodybuilders with a light bar across their shoulders, twisting from side to side. They do this under the mistaken belief that they will whittle away the fat on their waists. Some bodybuilders have been doing this for years, without success. The twisting may, however, cause back problems.




Ab workouts: don't be a victim of myths, hype and other nonsense. 
MYTH #2: Lots of ab work will pare fat from the front of your waist.

As with Myth #1, muscle and fat are different types of tissue. It’s physiologically impossible to whittle away fat through working the muscle beneath the fat. Fat reduction in a specific spot of the body, through exercise, is impossible. The only way to spot-reduce fat is through surgical intervention, which has perils and isn’t a long-term cure. The other way to reduce bodyfat is to reduce your food intake and increase your activity level so that you’re in overall caloric deficit; then your body will turn to its fat reserves to provide for the balance of its energy needs.

You could build a great set of abdominal muscles, but whether you could see the lines of your abdominals depends on how much fat covers your waist. Well-developed abdominals can, however, show a six-pack to some extent without a low level of bodyfat, because the abdominals will protrude more. It’s also possible to have visible but weak and undeveloped abdominals, if you don’t exercise but have a low level of bodyfat.

You could do three hours of ab workouts each day, but if your food intake and activity level don’t combine to yield an overall energy deficit, you’ll never reduce the fat around your waist. On the other hand, you could do no abdominal work, but if you’re in sustained caloric deficit you’ll draw on your energy stores and thus reduce your bodyfat. Whether you do abdominal work is irrelevant in determining the amount of fat around your waist. But to build strong, well-developed abdominals, ab work is essential.



MYTH #3: The abs need high reps.

To strengthen and develop the abdominals — which is all that ab work can do — keep the reps moderate and effort levels high, use sufficient resistance to keep the reps down, and keep adding resistance as you develop strength. Treat your abdominals like any other muscle.

A benefit of doing extreme amounts of abdominal work is that it consumes sufficient calories to make a contribution to energy output over the long haul. This, however, is an inefficient way of burning calories. For efficient calorie burning, perform an activity that’s easier, involves more musculature, and can be sustained for long periods, such as walking.

No matter how many calories you burn through activity, if you eat excessively you won’t be in caloric deficit, and unless you’re in caloric deficit you’ll never reduce your bodyfat.



MYTH #4: The abs need daily work.

Although the abdominal muscles may tolerate more frequent work than most other bodyparts, they can be overtrained, too. Excessive training frequency for these muscles is connected to the mistaken belief that a lot of exercise for them will help reduce waist fat levels. Train your abdominals only two, or, at most, three times a week.



MYTH #5: The abs have two separate muscles — upper abs and lower abs.

The six-pack or washboard is the rectus abdominis muscle, and the visible, frontal part of the abdominal wall provided there’s minimal fat covering it. In addition, the abdominal wall includes the external abdominal oblique, and internal abdominal oblique — the sides of the waist — and the transversus abdominis beneath the six-pack.

The rectus abdominis is one long, flat, continuous muscle that runs from the lower ribs to the groin. While it’s not possible to isolate the upper or lower abdominals, the two sections may respond differently to flexion that requires the shoulders to move toward the hips than to flexion that requires the hips to move toward the shoulders.



MYTH #6: Gadgets are needed to train the abs.

Some gadgets, properly used, do target the abdominals. There’s nothing, however, a gadget can help you do that crunches can’t, provided the crunches are done correctly. But many of the gadgets are ineffective and poorly made, and some are dangerous. Don’t be misled by hype. Stick to crunches, which don’t require special equipment, and do them well.



MYTH #7: Electronic muscle stimulation is the easy way to great abs.

Electronic stimulation of muscles is a way to make people think they can exercise effectively without moving. There’s some legitimate use for electro-muscle stimulation in physical therapy, but for healthy trainees it’s a joke compared with proper resistance training. You have to move, sweat, and push yourself, progressively, if you’re going to change the form of your body.

Even if the electronic gadgets stimulated muscle like regular progressive resistance training does, you would still need to lose the fat to see your abdominals. No electronic stimulation will remove the fat that covers muscle.



MYTH #8: Development of the abdominal obliques is undesirable.

The external abdominal oblique, and the internal abdominal oblique are parts of the abdominal wall. Many bodybuilders avoid direct work for their obliques under the misunderstanding that development of their obliques would thicken their waists, and be unaesthetic.

Strong obliques are desirable for torso stability during many bodybuilding exercises, and to increase resistance to injury. Even if well-developed, the obliques add little muscle. Rather than be unaesthetic, this muscle adds an attractive sweep to the waist if it isn’t covered with a thick layer of fat.

Squats, deadlifts and your leverages for bodybuilding

Squats, deadlifts and your leverages.

Your ability at squatting and deadlifting can have a tremendous influence on your bodybuilding progress. But how well you perform squats and deadlifts is heavily affected by your leverages — your relative torso, thigh, and leg lengths, and relative femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) lengths. And there are other important structural factors, including muscle insertion points (that vary from person to person, to some degree), which influence squatting and deadlifting efficiency.

Although they may train both exercises with equal dedication, some bodybuilders will squat more than they deadlift, others will deadlift more than they squat, while others will lift similar weights in both.

Bodybuilders who are built well for squats tend to have legs and thighs of average or shorter-than-average length relative to their height. But bodybuilders who are built well for squats often struggle in the deadlift, relatively speaking, especially if they have short arms and forearms.

Short legs and thighs together with a long torso may not be well suited to conventional deadlifting. But long legs and thighs can inhibit deadlifting because, when the knees are bent, the knees can get in the way of a straight barbell, and compromise technique. Short legs and thighs may be fine for the deadlift, however, depending on the lengths of the torso, forearms, and arms, and other structural factors. And forearm and arm lengths by themselves are also influential in the deadlift — long ones favor the exercise.

Furthermore, the relative lengths of legs, thighs, torso, forearms, and arms affect leverages, which in turn affect deadlifting ability.

Don’t obsess over your structure as it affects the squat, and the deadlift, but be aware of the general relationship. Provided you can squat and deadlift safely, train the exercises hard and progressively.

A few bodybuilders have ideal physical structures for the squat, and the potential to build up to using astonishing weights relative to their bodyweight. But in some cases they don’t have the potential for building big muscles, thus they develop great squatting strength but at a low bodyweight.

Some others, too, have excellent physical structures for the squat, but they also have the potential for building big muscles, so their squatting produces great muscular gains. Similar comments can be made for the deadlift, too.

Most bodybuilders, however, have average leverages, and average potential for muscular growth.

It may be, however, that any difficulty you have with a particular exercise is related to physical anomalies or soft-tissue scarring, which are correctable or at least can be minimized, with the appropriate, treatment. The right treatment can produce wonders.

Age and exercise and bodybuilding, the truth

Age and exercise, the truth.

Age and exercise and bodybuilding are inextricably linked. The older you are, the more important it is that you exercise. You can add life to your years, and perhaps years to your life, but you must exercise safely and effectively, or otherwise the results will be injury, frustration, and failure.

The older you are, the more urgent it is not to make mistakes, and the more knowledgeable you need to be.

“Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it.” This applies to all ages, but especially to older bodybuilders.

The older you are, the greater the need for training consistency. A young person can lay off training for a couple of months, and then return to previous strength and fitness levels quickly; but it takes more time for an older trainee, and the chance of incurring problems along the way is usually greater. If you lay off too long, you’ll never make it all the way back.

Older people often have some bodyparts with restricted ranges of motion. Although ranges of motion can usually be improved, limitations will remain for some trainees. Some exercises may need to be modified, or avoided.



The benefits of bodybuilding

According to some reports there’s typically a loss of about 1% of muscle mass per year from about age 50, unless strength training is employed to prevent or at least minimize the loss. From around age 60 there may be a slight escalation beyond 1% a year. By age 70 this may add up to a loss of over 25% of one’s muscle mass relative to what it was at age 25, depending on the individual, and if there’s been no strength-training intervention.

There can even be a substantial loss of muscle before middle age. If, for example, in your late teens you were very active, and involved in sports, but then became sedentary for two decades, you would lose a lot of muscle tissue. Even if your weight is the same at age 40 as it was at 20, you would have gained a lot of fat, and dramatically changed your body composition and appearance. Strength training is important for young people, too.

Many people get heavier as they age, while they lose muscle mass. Thus their overall gain of bodyfat is dramatic. They have more fat to lug around, and less muscle to employ to move their bodies. This is the major reason why most older people struggle physically.

Loss of muscle has many negative consequences, including strength decline, reduced caloric requirements, postural deterioration, reduced fitness, increased tendency to gain bodyfat, weakened resistance to injury, and deterioration in physical appearance.

Strength training is essential for building muscle, maintaining muscle, or minimizing muscle loss, depending on your age and how long and well you’ve been training. Strength training is one of the most important things you can do for your appearance and health.

Muscle is precious — build it, and then preserve it.

If you start strength training when you’re in your late teens or early twenties, for example, and train effectively and consistently, you may reach your physical peak in your thirties. You should then continue to strength train. It would maintain your existing muscle mass for many years, and thereafter minimize its atrophy. But by starting from a higher base of muscle mass before the inevitable atrophy starts, the resulting muscle mass at, for instance, age 70, will be far greater than it would have been had you not strength trained. This will make a huge difference to your appearance, fitness, and general well-being, especially if you keep yourself lean.

If you start strength training in your middle or later years, you’ll be able to build new muscle for a number of years, then maintain it for further years, and thereafter minimize its atrophy. The end result, again, will leave you with far more muscle than you would have had if you had not trained, and make a huge difference to your appearance, fitness, and general well-being, especially if you keep yourself lean.

Strength training also applies stress on the skeleton, which builds stronger, denser bones that are less likely to fracture during accidents. Strength training also builds or maintains the strong muscles required for dynamic balance, to help reduce the incidence of some accidents.

One of the functions of the muscular system is to maintain good posture. A steady contraction of the postural muscles — including the back, thighs, neck, shoulders, and abdominals — keeps the body in position. When these muscles lose strength, posture suffers. When the erector spinae weaken, for example, it causes rounding of the shoulders, gait change, reduced resistance to injury, and a decrease in height — common changes that start at about age 40 unless averted by strength training. Strong postural muscles are critical.

Strong muscles produce health benefits that reduce the impact of aging. Strength training helps you to stay young for your years.

But strength training alone isn’t enough. Without a supple body, for example, muscles lose some of their elasticity and ability to function smoothly, and tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules become brittle. Tissues in general become more susceptible to injury, and the body ages at an accelerated rate.

The steadfast combination of strength training, stretching, cardiovascular work, healthy nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle is the closest we can get to the fountain of youth, but the exercise must be safe, and effective.

How to design your own training programs

Chapter 17 of BUILD MUSCLE LOSE FAT LOOK GREAT is called “How to design your own training programs.” The chapter has 50 pages, and is thorough. Here are just the first few of those pages:

When I was a student, at high-school and college, I was so obsessed with bodybuilding that I may have had a psychological malady. Other than bodybuilding drugs—which I never got into—I was up for anything that supposedly would help muscle growth. I even trained six days a week on the recommendation of a champion bodybuilder from that era, including twice-a day blitzes for my calves. I didn’t realize then that the champion was a genetic freak stuffed with steroids, and what worked for him would never work for me or any other genetically normal, drug-free trainee. My extraordinary enthusiasm for training was misapplied, and largely wasted.

I wish I’d had an expert, father-like mentor to have laid down the law for me in the gym, to have spared me from wasting some of my prime years on terrible training methods.

This chapter provides you with that training law—how to organize and implement your workouts—so that you can achieve terrific results and not waste any workouts.

The programs you should consider don’t include those that professional bodybuilders use. Without drug assistance, the volume and frequency of training that the pros apply wouldn’t work. But even the pros would benefit from adopting shorter, less-frequent workouts.

The overall volume of training that’s required to produce terrific bodybuilding results is much less than what most trainees think it is. But the training must be properly organized and implemented.

The next section of this chapter provides an overview of what must be considered when you design a bodybuilding or strength-training program. That’s followed by a section on the specifics of program design. Then there’s a section on modifications to the basic format of program design, followed by a section on when to change a program, and how to sequence exercises properly.

The final section lists some programs for special situations, and provides an optional program for hand grippers.



The overview of training program design

A number of training programs can work well provided that they satisfy a number of requirements, you apply them properly, and you fully attend to the components of recuperation. Few trainees can effectively use the same program year-round, year after year. Most progress best when they sequence several good programs—a full stint of one program at a time.

This doesn’t mean a few weeks on one program, then a few weeks on another one, then a few weeks on yet another one . . . for an endless sequence of starts without any finishes. That yields little or no bodybuilding progress. Instead, pick a program that satisfies what this chapter teaches, and apply it correctly for a full stint—which is usually a lot longer than just a few weeks. A proper program can be effective for many months at a time.

Proper training isn’t exciting in itself, and doesn’t produce immediate results, but the results over the medium- and long-term are exciting. Don’t change a program of proper training just because you don’t see muscle growth during the first few weeks.

A given program may have a single list of exercises that’s repeated each workout, or it may have two lists that are alternated from workout to workout, or it may even have three lists that are rotated from workout to workout.

When you design a training program, here are six key considerations:

1. Exercise selection
The exercises you select should be primarily (if not exclusively) major compound movements. And they must be ones you can perform safely, with correct exercise form.

2. Set-rep format
Common formats include one to three sets of five reps, one to three sets of six to eight reps, one to three sets of eight to ten reps, and, specifically for squatting movements, one set of twenty reps. (These refer to work sets. Warm-up sets are additional.) Some bodyparts and exercises may be more responsive to some rep ranges than others, and this can vary among trainees.

3. Volume of training
The total number of sets per workout should be low for two primary reasons. First, to give you the best chance of training intensively enough to stimulate muscle growth—the more sets you do, the less likely you are to train hard enough. Second, to help facilitate speedy recovery between workouts.

4. Frequency of training
There’s frequency of overall training, and frequency of training a given bodypart. Consider two workouts a week. A full-body routine performed twice a week would mean two full-body workouts per week, but an upper-body routine at one workout and a lower-body routine at the other workout each week would mean that each bodypart would be trained just once a week. A full-body routine three times every two weeks would produce a per-body-part frequency mid-way between once a week and twice a week. Each of these options can be effective, but one of them may be more effective for you than the others, depending on a number of variables including training volume and intensity, your training experience and current level of muscular development, and your lifestyle.

Some exercises take a heavier toll on the body than others, and thus require more recovery time. The most striking example is the conventional bent-legged deadlift. When you’re working hard on the deadlift, train it no more than once a week.

A lesser volume of training may be applied effectively more frequently than a greater volume of training, and the greater frequency of workouts for a given bodypart could mean more bouts of growth stimulation. For example, you may be able to progress steadily on a full-body routine of three or four major exercises performed twice a week. (It could be the same routine each time, or two different routines that are alternated from workout to workout). But if you add a few exercises to each workout, or a couple of extra sets to some of the exercises, you may need an extra day or two or three of recovery between sessions. And that’s why some bodybuilders shift to a split routine where they alternate, say, between an upper-body workout and a lower-body workout; but that results in just one bout of muscle stimulation per bodypart each week on a twice-weekly training format. To compensate, trainees are commonly advised to increase their training to four or more times per week, which is counterproductive for most drug-free trainees, and impractical for most people who already have busy lives.

Even on very brief training routines, if you overdo training intensity you would increase your need for recovery days between workouts. Most trainees don’t train hard enough, but of those who have the drive to train hard, a few overdo it and need overly long periods between workouts in order to recover, which reduces the number of potential growth-stimulating workouts per bodypart.

5. Your training experience and current development
A beginner may be able to perform a full-body routine three times a week, and make progress provided that he or she doesn’t overdo training volume each workout. But as the individual progresses in strength, and learns to train harder, three full-body workouts each week would be excessive. An advanced trainee may progress well while training each bodypart just once a week, but that approach isn’t ideal for a beginner.

6. Your lifestyle
Your lifestyle can greatly affect the blend of volume, frequency and intensity that’s effective for you. As an illustration, imagine yourself in two contrasting scenarios at your current level of development. 

First, you’re on a long summer vacation from college, not working, single, and spoiled by your parents so that you can eat well, live leisurely, and have about nine hours of sleep each night. (Many pro bodybuilders have near-optimal recovery conditions akin to these, together with lots of drug support. No wonder they can prosper on high-volume training and very frequent workouts.) 

Second scenario now: you’re married, have two young kids, work 60+ hours each week at a stressful job, and have only six to seven hours of sleep each night (that’s often interrupted). With the latter scenario you may need to cut back to two major exercises for your upper body and just a barbell squat or the parallel-grip deadlift for your lower body, for a single workout each week of just six to nine work sets (plus warm-ups). Bodybuilding progress can still be made even under severe circumstances provided that you adjust your training accordingly and ensure that you consume enough nourishment.



Your optimal training frequency

The beauty of training just twice a week is two-fold. First, when done properly, it works—at least as well as three or more times per week, but in many cases it works much better. Second, it’s a tremendously practical way to train, especially for people who have busy lives and don’t have their own home gyms. Unless you train effectively over the long term, you won’t achieve your training and physique goals. So the combination of effectiveness and practicality is key.

Two workout days and five recovery days each week is terrific for all levels of drug-free trainees other than those who are already well developed but need additional work to address some aesthetic imbalances. But five full days of recovery doesn’t mean lounging around all the time. It means doing your normal daily activities including some low- to moderate-level activities including walking and perhaps some sporting activities, but no hard exercise.

Two brief full-body routines each week, with just one of them involving the deadlift, works well even for advanced strength trainees, but they can also benefit from sensible split routines whereby they train each bodypart just once a week spread over two or three workouts, depending on what they do at each session in terms of training volume and intensity.

I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that they gave in to the siren calls to train three or more times per week, only to see reduced progress or no progress as their “reward.” They returned to just two workouts per week, and saw much improved results.



Training program implementation

Program design is one thing, but how the program is implemented is something else. A terrific program on paper could be implemented so poorly that it yields no progress. But an inferior program on paper could be implemented well and yield progress.

Matters of implementation include exercise form (bar pathways, or technique, and the control or otherwise of the resistance), intensity of effort, and the degree of striving to make progress in strength.

But even if your training program and its implementation are good, if you cut corners with your recuperation, you won’t make much if any bodybuilding progress. Common inadequacies are insufficient food in general, or enough calories but from poor sources, insufficient sleep, and insufficient rest in general between workouts.

As already noted in Chapter 5, body composition can affect muscle-building progress. If you already have sufficient muscle mass to look good (provided you’re sufficiently defined), but are currently overly fat and want to get to 10% bodyfat, you’re unlikely to be able to build much if any new muscle mass. But training like this chapter teaches will likely be your best bet for holding onto your existing muscle while you lose fat. If, however, you’re new to training as this chapter teaches, and especially if you’re a novice, you’ll experience progress in strength even while you lose fat (and bodyweight), because of neurological adaptation and the manageable demands on your recovery system that this program design supplies.

But to benefit the most from the muscle-building potential of proper training, you’ll have to wait until you’re in anabolic mode (when you’re in nutritional surplus).

If you have little muscle mass at present but are overly fat, you don’t have the right body composition to permit substantial muscle growth. It’s best that, for men, you’re no more than 15% bodyfat when starting on a growth routine, so that you have the “room” for a gain of a small amount of fat while you build a much larger amount of muscle. But, at least early on in your quest to get under 15% bodyfat, you may still be able to make good progress in strength gains (and perhaps some muscle growth) provided that you train properly. And then the proper training will give you the best chance of holding onto your existing muscle and strength as you pare off the final few pounds of surplus fat.

To estimate your bodyfat percentage, obtain your own skinfold calipers—they are inexpensive, and readily available through online suppliers. I recommend the method that requires skinfold measurements at multiple specific locations. You’ll need an assistant to help you take the measurements. Once you have the total of the measurements, estimate your bodyfat percentage by referring to the charts that should be provided with the calipers. The charts are different for males and females, and are subdivided into age groups.

You must do well with program design, program implementation, and recuperation—the triumvirate of essential requirements. Cut corners in one of the components and you’ll undermine if not prevent bodybuilding progress. Cut corners in two or three of the components and you’ll definitely prevent progress.

Some trainees are encyclopedias of information on training and recuperation, but they don’t deliver relentless dedication to proper training and adequate recuperation, so they don’t make good progress, if any progress.



Training program evaluation

Effective training programs yield these results:

1. Safety
Injuries limit if not prohibit progress. You must avoid injuries.

2. Strength progression
You must train hard enough to stimulate muscle growth and be able to make incremental improvements in your poundages while always using correct exercise form. This is the principle of progressive overload. If you’re not progressing in strength, it may be because you’re not recuperating properly. But even if your recuperation is good, if you’re not training hard enough on just a few of the best exercises (without overdoing total volume), you won’t stimulate any growth to begin with.

3. Enjoyment
You should relish the challenge of working out properly—getting each rep right and each set right, and pushing yourself to make incremental progress in strength. Your workouts should be among the highlights of your week—each being a one-off opportunity to make another small notch on your ladder of progress. Although proper training is rigorous, you’ll most readily stick with it when you’re making progress. Success helps to breed success.


In a nutshell, if most trainees would shorten their workouts, focus on just a few of the major exercises each workout, use better exercise technique, train harder, work out less often, eat better, sleep more, and build strength, they will make much better muscle-building progress.


Exercise preferences

Select exercises that suit you. Don’t barbell squat if you truly have poor leverages for barbell squatting; try the parallel-grip deadlift instead. Don’t do the conventional deadlift if you have poor leverages for the full-range version, or have had major back problems; try the partial deadlift instead. Don’t barbell squat if you’ve had major back problems; do the hip-belt squat instead. Don’t bench press if you have poor leverages for that exercise; try the parallel bar dip instead. If you’re heavy, you may not be able to do the chin-up well; do the pulldown instead. If you’re heavy, you may also not be able to do the freestyle parallel bar dip well; do the machine dip instead, or the bench press. Some of these decisions are affected by the equipment that’s available to you. If where you currently train doesn’t have the required equipment, it will severely limit your overall potential for progress, and you should look for a better gym.

But detecting whether you have poor leverages for a certain exercise isn’t easy in most cases. What many people may think is a shortcoming that precludes a certain exercise is nothing more than insufficient flexibility and incorrect technique, both of which can be corrected. You don’t have to have ideal leverages for barbell squatting to prosper from it; and you don’t have to have ideal leverages for the conventional deadlift to prosper from it. Apply the guidance given earlier in this book on flexibility and exercise technique, and you may be surprised with how well you can perform some exercises once you set about the task properly, and with sufficient determination and perseverance. But even then, you may still find that you’re much better suited to the parallel-grip deadlift than the squat, or to the parallel bar dip than the bench press, as examples. Only time will tell, following sufficient proper practice and accurate evaluation.

Generally, don’t choose the easier exercises for exclusive use if you can do the harder ones properly. For example, don’t exclusively use the leg press or the hip-belt squat if you can perform a barbell squat or the parallel-grip deadlift correctly. Properly done, barbell squats and the parallel-grip deadlift are among the very best bodybuilding exercises.

The exercise selections you make influence whether or not you can progress on twice-weekly full-body workouts even when comparing the same number of work sets for each. For example, to do a barbell squat or the parallel-grip deadlift twice a week may exceed your recovery ability. But if you substitute the hip-belt squat or the leg press at one of the workouts each week, you’ll reduce the overall demand on your recovery system (provided that you don’t perform additional work sets). The hip-belt squat and the leg press aren’t as systemically demanding as barbell squats and the parallel-grip deadlift, because the hip-belt squat and the leg press don’t heavily load the upper body, particularly the lumbar spine.

The hip-belt squat or the leg press together with the conventional bent-legged deadlift may provide most of the benefits that the conventional barbell back squat can deliver, if not all of them, so that’s an alternative to consider.

Although hard work on barbell squats, the parallel-grip deadlift and the conventional deadlift is especially gruelling, pay your dues on at least one of them in each of your programs (but not necessarily at each workout).

For the “barbell squat,” most trainees will choose the conventional back squat, but some will prefer the front squat. See the previous chapter.

Warning: Don’t copy the workouts of champion bodybuilders unless you’re prepared to waste a chunk of your life

I’m going to be up-front with you, as I wish someone had been with me when I started out. Then I could have avoided the lousy instruction that caused me enormous disappointment, and wasted years of my life.

Especially early on in my bodybuilding, I took particular notice of the workouts of champion bodybuilders that were published in magazines and books. But I paid a heavy price for that poor judgement.

“Train like a champion, to become a champion yourself” has been trumpeted by almost all bodybuilding and strength magazines, and by most trainers and gyms. It sells magazines, books, courses, food supplements, and gym equipment. Although it’s been a commercial success in some respects, it’s been disastrous for the bodybuilding masses.

The most influential books on muscle-building come from champion bodybuilders (or their ghostwriters), or from people who have been directly involved with big-name physiques.


The legacy of champion bodybuilders

When sizing up the contribution of modern-day champion bodybuilders, consider the following:

1. They are presented as role models for others to follow, with the implicit or explicit mantra of “train like a champion, to become a champion yourself.” Millions of typical bodybuilders tried exactly that, in good faith, but without success.

2. Food supplements are often claimed to make a major contribution to bodybuilding success. Millions of dollars have been made through selling overpriced food supplements that couldn’t deliver what the hyped-up claims promoted. Drug-fed genetic supermen often endorse food supplements. Many if not most bodybuilders believe that food supplements play a major role in the success of the men who provide the endorsements. That drugs are the big “supplement,” and food supplements themselves are insignificant in comparison, is kept quiet.

3. Many bodybuilders have discovered that the champion bodybuilders’ training methods do work to some degree if steroids are taken. Consequently the failure of those training methods to yield results for the masses indirectly encourages drug abuse.

4. The drug abuse has caused deaths, countless health problems, crime, jail terms, ruined relationships, and devastated families.

But there wasn’t a golden age of training instruction in the pre-steroids era. I have a library of training publications going back over 100 years. Training volume inappropriate for most bodybuilders, exercise techniques that cause problems for most bodybuilders, high-risk exercises, non-individualized training, and deceitful advertising, have been promoted to the masses for over a century. Modern-day big business, and drugs, have made matters worse.


The real champions

The biggest champions of the bodybuilding world aren’t the drug-enhanced, genetically blessed, famous physiques. The biggest champions are the unsung heroes who applied years of dogged effort to build themselves up without using drugs, without seeking or finding publicity, and without divorcing themselves from the responsibilities of work and family life.


Food supplements

Food supplements are mass produced, consumed quickly, and need to be replenished often. They provide a huge potential for repeat sales, and the profit margin is large. A barbell set can last a lifetime, as can a book on training instruction, but a can of protein powder, for example, may last only a week or two.

Exaggerated claims, dishonest reporting, abuse of editorial responsibility, nonsense, and shameless lies, are used to produce demand for food supplements. Some food supplement companies publish bodybuilding magazines, or are intertwined with the publishers, and use those magazines to promote the supplements.

Ask gym members who have no vested interest in the sales of food supplements, or ask any of the genetic elite who are similarly unbiased, and you won’t find many who will tell you that they experienced much if any increase in their progress as a result of using food supplements. But many will tell you that the most obvious results they experienced were digestive tract discomfort, and hefty financial costs.


Bodybuilding deception

Conning the bodybuilding masses takes many forms. Here are six of them:

1. Some bodybuilders who have never used a given trainer’s program, endorse it and claim to have used it.

2. Some bodybuilders who have taken steroids for many years claim to be drug-free examples of what a certain coach’s training and food supplement regimen can do.

3. “Research” referred to by some people in the training world is fictitious, or factual but misrepresented.

4. Some people who have never used the touted food supplements, endorse them.

5. The benefits of bodybuilding food supplements are usually exaggerated, or made up.

6. Many advertisements are deceptive, especially before-and-after comparisons. Perhaps the featured individual was coming back after a long layoff, perhaps he’s genetically highly gifted (but detrained in the “before” shot), perhaps he was on steroids, perhaps the time period involved was much longer than reported, or perhaps there’s been extensive digital retouching of the photos.

Be on your guard!


Physique changes, and drugs

Compare bodybuilding magazines from before and after the steroid era started. Come the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a jump in the standard of competitive bodybuilders—larger and harder-looking musculature. During the 1960s the change became pronounced, as drug use moved out of limited circles. Thereafter the caliber of physiques increased as bodybuilding drugs became more widespread and potent.

Some of today’s drug-enhanced women, who are also genetically highly gifted for bodybuilding, have more muscle than some of the pre-steroids elite male bodybuilders had. The effects of the androgenic drugs on women go beyond muscular development, and include deepening of the voice, acne, hirsutism, and hypertrophy of the clitoris. Along with the de-feminizing outward effects are internal changes that cause serious health problems, and affect mortality.

Bodybuilding drugs and related problems have done enormous damage—not only to individual users and their families, but to the public perception of muscle-building.

Furthermore, there’s the problem of drug-assisted training methods being presented as appropriate for drug-free bodybuilders. Sham training instruction has produced bodybuilding failure on an enormous scale.

The view that bodybuilding drugs are safe if used “properly,” is untrue. Bodybuilding drugs have dramatic effects on physiology, and produce serious negative side effects.

Some famous bodybuilders, and some drug “experts,” suffered premature deaths or serious health problems largely if not wholly because of their use of bodybuilding drugs. There’ll be further high-profile premature deaths with strong suspicions of drug involvement, but for each of them there are many no-profile premature deaths related to drug use, and extensive health, relationship, family, financial, or crime-related problems about which the public never hears.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 20 of BUILD MUSCLE, LOSE FAT, LOOK GREAT. If you study the entire 600 pages of content in this extraordinary book, it will help you no end to build muscle and improve your physique. Take a look at this book’s table of contents to discover the extent of the guidance provided in this bodybuilding guide.

Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great