This is the first part of the BIG LIES series.
The BIG LIES in this post are described as such in the context of drug-free, genetically normal bodybuilders. But some of the big lies are TRUTHS in the context of bodybuilders who are drug-fed and genetically highly gifted.
Never mind what the drug-fed genetic freaks can build muscle on. What works for them doesn’t work for drug-free, genetically normal bodybuilders.
LIE #1: TRAIN MORE OFTEN TO GROW MORE MUSCLE
There may seem to be some logic here because, in many activities, the more often that a skill is practiced properly, the quicker that competence is acquired. But bodybuilding training isn’t like pure skill training. Furthermore, when someone discovers that a modest amount of proper training builds muscle, there’s a tendency to think that training more often will yield even better results.
A bodybuilding workout will build muscle only if it safely stimulates growth and is followed by sufficient recovery time and supply of nutrients to permit the body to heal, which means to recover from the training and build a very small amount of overcompensation tissue—muscle.
Train too often, and you may not stimulate any growth because you’re unable to train hard enough because of the excessive frequency of training. And even if you do stimulate growth, you’ll not have sufficient recuperation time between workouts to permit the growth to occur.
It’s very easy for a natural bodybuilder with normal genetics to overtrain. But someone with outstanding genetics for bodybuilding can prosper on more frequent training, and such a person can prosper on even more frequent training if he’s on bodybuilding drugs.
Hardgainers are best off training no more than three times a week, but with just twice a week being ideal for many bodybuilders. But the super-responsive, drug-fed bodybuilding elite can prosper on six workouts a week. (Some, for short periods, have progressed on twice-daily training, six days a week!)
Such high frequency is training suicide for hardgainers. But even the pros can overtrain, and many of them have discovered that, even with their huge advantages, when they cut back on their training frequency (and volume) they are better able to build muscle.
Don’t think that by splitting your training over, say, four workouts a week is necessarily easier on your recovery system than two brief full-body workouts. Because the muscular system is so interwoven, and many exercises overlap somewhat in the muscles they recruit, some split routines train some of the same muscles at every workout. Furthermore, intensive training for just a limited area of musculature still has an overall systemic demand that needs to be recovered from before you work a different area of your physique.
Recovery time—and lots of it for hardgaining bodybuilders—is essential in order to build muscle.
LIE #2: TRAIN LONGER TO BUILD MORE MUSCLE
The origins of this lie are the same as for the previous one. Men and women with exceptional genetic talent for an athletic activity, especially when assisted by performance enhancing drugs, can prosper on a far greater volume of training than can drug-free, genetically normal athletes.
Some great medium- and long-distance runners, for example, inherited an ability to process oxygen and produce energy that’s in another world relative to that of a normal person. Of course, the great runners further enhance their natural advantages with great dedication to training, but they had way more to work with from day one. The same sort of point applies in the bodybuilding world.
As little as just one work set can stimulate muscle growth, provided that its quality is high enough. If you ever need to do more than three work sets for a given exercise, you must be loafing. Train harder. Make three work sets per exercise your ceiling. Sometimes, just one or two work sets per exercise is better. Some body parts are much larger than others, and thus can sometimes benefit from multiple exercises in a given program, but there’s no need to do a great many sets per body part.
Too much training is as counterproductive as training too often. But most hardgaining bodybuilders train too often and do too many sets per workout, and that combination is usually a major part of the explanation for why they continue to make little or no progress.
LIE #3: THE ROUTINES THAT WORK FOR THE BIGGEST GUYS WORK FOR OTHER BODYBUILDERS, TOO
The routines that work for the biggest bodybuilders only work well for people who have the same genetic advantages and drug support that the biggest guys have. While the big guys know what works well for them, that doesn’t mean they know what works for drug-free bodybuilders with normal genetics.
Someone who struggled for years without building any muscle, but then managed to build 25 pounds of muscle drug-free, knows way more about how to train genetically normal, drug-free bodybuilders than does a genetic freak on tons of drugs who has built over 100 pounds of muscle.
LIE #4: A BODYBUILDER’S DIET SHOULD BE A LOW-FAT ONE
A low-fat diet undermines if not prohibits muscle growth even if your caloric intake and protein consumption are adequate. The phobia of dietary fat that many bodybuilders seem to have seriously undermines their ability to build muscle.
When you’re trying to build muscle, get about 30% of your total caloric intake from healthy dietary fats. Avoid newfangled fats, fried food, deep fried food, and anything with trans fats or hydrogenated fats. If you check food labels, you’ll see that most processed food contains unhealthy fats.
And even if you’re cutting back on body fat you still need to consume healthy fats because they supply essential nutrients. A low-fat diet is unhealthy.
LIE #5: TO BUILD BIG MUSCLES IT’S NOT ESSENTIAL TO BE STRONG
Even bodybuilders who have a similar amount of muscle can vary greatly in their strength levels. The explanation may include differences in leverages, muscle belly lengths and efficiency of the nervous system, and variations in the ratios of the different types of muscle fibers. A smaller bodybuilder who is better put together for strength may be stronger than a larger bodybuilder.
But you have to get stronger than you are now, to build muscle. If you can bench press 150 pounds for eight reps now, and in a year’s time you still can’t bench press more than 150 pounds for eight reps, you’re highly unlikely to have bigger chest and triceps muscles. But if in a year’s time you can bench press 200 pounds for eight reps in the same technique as before, you’ll have somewhat bigger chest and triceps muscles. Then if, for instance, 18 months later you can bench press 265 pounds for eight reps in the same technique as before, you’ll have substantially bigger chest and triceps muscles.
The “get stronger to get bigger” maxim is misinterpreted or abused when bodybuilders focus on adding poundage at the expense of exercise form. Don’t be guilty of that. Exercise form must be correct consistently. You must not get injured.
LIE #6: WHEN YOU’RE BULKING, YOU NEED LOADS OF FOOD
On growth programs, many bodybuilders overdose on food, and thus overdose on body fat. While you need a sufficient surplus of calories and nutrients to grow on, “sufficient” doesn’t mean a gross excess. What “sufficient” means is enough to permit muscle growth but without adding appreciable body fat.
Most bodybuilders need to allow a small amount of body fat to accompany a larger amount of muscle growth. But many bodybuilders have overdone the bulking mentality and added far more body fat than muscle, which doesn’t yield a pleasing end result.
But no matter how ideal your caloric consumption may be, and how ideal your dietary fat and protein intakes may be, if you’re not training effectively, the surplus of nourishment will go to waste, and just add to your waistline.
To build muscle, you need an effective training program in combination with sufficient nutritional surplus and lots of sleep (and rest in general).