If I had a time machine…

If I had a time machine…
by Johan Simu
The NarkSide, May 2010

I am not the oldest, biggest or the strongest mofo around. In fact I am only 25, my guns doesn’t measure much more than 16 inches and my best deadlift is just a shy bit more than 500 ibs. But I have been training seriously since I was 16-17 years old and I have done pretty much all mistakes one can do on the way. That’s the reason my arms are just 16 and my dead is just 500 after all, despite training hard for over 8 years. Someone doing things right from the beginning can easily surpass my level in as little as 3 years or shorter. So what message would I leave myself if I could send myself a email 8 years ago?

1. Information overload/training ADD.

There is so much information floating around, accessible by everyone, that it is incredibly hard to stay focused. When I started training I read the muscle mags religiously. Every month I saw a new articles with tempting titles like “Build a monster back with Ronnie’s routine”, “Gunz like Priest, here is how” or any random permutation of the name of a pro mixed with the name of a muscle group. Arnold’s good old Encyclopedia of bodybuilding was my bible. As a beginner you can pretty much gain by jerking around any way you feel like in the gym, so even though I randomly jumped from Priest biceps blaster routine to Levrone’s huge delts supreme program to Arnold’s contest prep I could still make some gains. But those gains where much smaller and came slower than if I had been more consistent.

I still occasionally suffer from training ADD, jumping from Doggcrapp(yeah it IS spelled like that!) training to Westside templates to linear periodization with far to little time spent on each. Always with the feeling that THE magic routine is out there that can give me massive gains in the shortest amount of time. So what have I actually learned from all that? That almost any training program that isn’t obviously stupid(more on that later) will give good gains, IF one sticks to them for long enough. Stop second guessing the program you are on, just go with it for at least 2 months and see what happens. I guarantee the gains will be better than if you switch to something new every week!

2. Doing the same week after week.

Now it sounds like I am contradicting point one. But let me explain, for a while I trained with a guy that was obsessive compulsive about his routine. He would walk into the gym day after day, week after week, year after year, going through the exact same motions, with the exact same weight and for the exact same reps and sets. He even admitted to me that if he skipped an exercise he would get anxious like hell thinking the workout was wasted. No surprise he looked exactly the same year after year. Don’t get me wrong though, this guy had a awesome body and was a competitive bodybuilder, but he had stalled completely!

If you want to grow stronger and bigger, and that’s why you’re in the gym in the first place, then you have to progress! Doing the same weight for the same reps in the same exercise for weeks in a row is a complete waste of time. Your body has already adapted to that load and it won’t respond to it anymore. You have to add weight or squeeze out one more rep every time you walk into the gym. If you can’t then its time to make a change. Making a change doesn’t mean jumping on another training program however, because every good training program has progression built into it!

3. Recognizing the obviously stupid.

Just copying Leverone’s glute maximiser workout isn’t the same as following a decent training program. We have all heard it a million times, a good training program is based around the compound lifts, and how many time’s haven’t we ignored it and sunk into the temptation of wasting weeks on concentration curls, triceps kickbacks and garbage like that? Don’t ignore it anymore! What should then be include in a good training program?

* It should involve Squats, deadlifts, rows, chins, military presses, bench presses, cleans and not necessarily much else. It might not be as sexy as doing 28 different curls to hit every angle of the muscle. But it sure works better.

* Progression should be built into the program, with that I mean that there should be a clear approach to how one increases weight on the bar week to week. A example would be that every Monday you should do 5×5 in the Squat and increase weight on the bar with 5 lbs each week. When you reach a point where you can’t do that anymore you should switch to 3×3 and continue increasing weight. Another approach might be to switch out the exercise when the plateau is reached for a similar compound exercise, switch Squats with front squats, deadlifts with rack pulls, chins with pull-ups etc etc.

* The body should be worked through multiple times a week. Don’t do a split where you have a day for arms, a day for shoulders, a day for chest etc etc. Every workout should include a squat variation or a heavy pull(deads or cleans) or a heavy press. Every muscle in the body is worked to some extent doing these exercises, trying to split the body into isolated muscle groups and working them separately is a illusion. Unless you are 5’8, 220 lbs at sub 5% and ready to step on-stage there is no reason to worry about isolation.

* Deloads, the program should include a light week every third to fifth week.

4. Proper form

Spend the time to learn proper form in the compound lifts. Find a local weightlifting or powerlifting club, talk to the old guys that seem to know what they are doing. I wasted years after years squatting and deadlifting like an idiot and only now have I managed to correct that after over half a year of struggling! It only took me a spinal disc hernia, busted knees and reoccurring shoulder pain to realize I was doing the exercises wrongly. Be smarter than I was! If you are in doubt and have no one to advice you, then videotape yourself to see how your form is. You might be surprised!

5. Back down every now and then.

This point is worth repeating. Deload! We who love training and consider it one of the most important things in our life has a weird tendency. Whenever we hit the wall we tend to push harder and harder. If we realize one week we have regressed, the first thing we think of isn’t to back down for a week and let the body recuperate. No we instead go at it like mad and increase our efforts. I can not count how many times I have done this, just to crash and burn and lose all motivation. If you walk into the gym and feel weak after a bunch of awesome weeks, don’t be hard on yourself and assume you are not training hard enough. Just do light weights for a week.

6. You’re not as advanced as you think.

Countless times I have done the mistake of believing I have reached the point where I need very advanced routines to progress. Contemplating breaking the year into different macro cycles, all kinds of advanced intensity waves. Then reality always hits me like a mac truck, I am no where near that point yet! Unless you bench 400+ and squat 500+ then don’t worry about any advanced waves or whatever. K.I.S.S rules supreme. Something as simple as working to a 5 rep max one week, a 3 rep max the week after and a 1 rep max the third week, followed by a light week and then starting over again, is “advanced” enough for 50% of lifters and to advanced for the rest! No reason to emulate how the eastern European coaches designed their 2 year plan to prepare their athletes for peaking at the Olympics. For us non Olympic athletes simple programs simply works better because we have not yet reached a point where our performance is so close to our genetic limit that we need to go towards extreme measures to squeeze out another pound. To be honest most of us will never reach that point.

If we look at the Bulgarian weightlifters, at the elite powerlifters or even good old Arnold’s twice a day contest prep routine form his book. Then we have to realize these people have spent years and years working up to that level of work. Their programs are tailored for them, with their massive recovery ability that have resulted from years of slowly increasing training frequency and volume. If we where to jump straight into that, then we would crash and burn within weeks.

7. Diet is important, but not more important than a proper program.

On bodybuilding forums one can often read that diet is responsible for 80% of gains while training is much less important. On powerlifting forums one can read the exact opposite. So where is the truth? The truth is, as long as you get enough protein and enough calories and most of the things you eat are decently clean(i.e don’t follow the big mac or mentos diet) then you will gain muscle and strength. Eating enough doesn’t have to mean eating 5000+ kcal as many claim, or 500 grams of protein a day. Enough is different for everyone, but a decent rule of thumb is 30-45 calories per kg of bodyweight(13-20 calories per ib) and 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight(about 1 gram/ib). If you easily get fat start at the lower range of calories and have a larger proportion of the kcal from fat, if you have a hard time gaining weight start somewhere in the middle and work your way up until you start gaining strength consistently.

A shitty diet will ruin the best training program in the world, and the shittiest training program in the world will give no gains if the diet is crap. Pay attention to both, but keep both simple and realistic!

8. Set realistic goals.

If a program promises 50 pounds on your bench bench in 5 weeks, then its bullshit. Small, consistent gains is what build a big, muscular and strong body. 2.5 pounds increase per week means 130 pounds per year, that by itself is a massive gain. The longer you have trained, the harder each increase becomes and the more important the small increments become. If you did 300 pounds in the squat last week, do 302,5 this week! Don’t snort at the small plates. Keep your goals realistic, adding 25 pounds in ten weeks on a compound lift is a realistic goal, adding 100 pounds in the same time frame isn’t.

9. Enjoy life

Training is important, but having a balanced life is even more important. Walking around stressing yourself to hell about having that beer while watching the game will just break you down mentally. There is more to life than lifting, having a life outside of the gym won’t limit your gains. But it will do a lot to make you happy. Don’t let the hunt for more muscle turn into a life consuming obsession. 

-Johan Simu
SuperModerator of: The NarkSide

All Rights Reserved

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