Let’s analyze an example of one in the slew of muscle gaining tips that’s treated as irrefutable fact. How many times have you heard that you “have to squat” if you want to get big? Free weight squats are said to be the “cornerstone of mass building exercises.” We’re told repeatedly that squats are not only the best leg building exercise, but that they’ll actually stimulate muscles throughout our entire bodies to grow. Nobody ever logically explains why this is the case; they just say that it is, often because they’re simply repeating what they’ve heard others say.
Ironically, those “others” who’ve usually become the unquestioned arbiters of such ‘muscle gaining tips’ are pro bodybuilders. I’ve long found this particular deference to be, in many cases, absolutely idiotic. Pro bodybuilders are so jacked-up on stacks of bodybuilding drugs that they’re the last people on earth I’d look to for natural bodybuilding advice. So, honestly, if someone tells me that “squats are the king of mass builders” and I ask them “why” and their reply is:
“… because ‘Arnold Anabolic’… the pro bodybuilder… always said they are…”
… I just laugh out loud and wonder why guys who don’t take steroids value and adhere to advice from guys who do take steroids. Personally, I even take with a grain of salt the muscle building advice created and disseminated by “world class trainers” who spend most of their time training athletes and bodybuilders who are on steroids. If their advice is even decently effective at stimulating natural muscle growth, why do their clients continue slamming boatloads of drugs?
Sure, could the one of many ‘muscle gaining tips’ that says “free weight squats are the king of mass builders” be based on a true phenomenon that transcends the physiological difference between a steroid user and a natural bodybuilder? Of course it could. But something I’ve noticed in my many years of bodybuilding is that steroid users usually make big gains “on-cycle” no matter what they do. Moreover, they often make little or no gains while between cycles. That’s why they go back on their drugs relatively soon after going off them.
So why would
I be skeptical of an orthodox generality that says free weight squats build
muscle better than any other leg exercise? Isn’t this piece of knowledge a
bodybuilding given? Doesn’t it fall under the category of ‘irrefutable’ simply
because so many bodybuilders believe it? After all, it must be derived from
long-term collective experience, right?
Speaking personally, if free-weight squats were the undeniable key to leg and overall muscular development, I’d have been the epitome of natural bodybuilding development while in my twenties. I did them religiously. I performed them with gut-wrenching intensity. I did set after set of free-weight squats, flat-footed and to the rock-bottom position. In a couple words, I was a “hardcore squatter.”
Interestingly, I never experienced as much leg development from years of free-weight squatting as I have from various leg pressing exercises. This is why when I see squats included as a ‘must-do’ exercise in a list of ‘muscle gaining tips’, I become peeved with the “me too” mentality with which parts of these lists are unthinkingly composed.
‘Muscle Gaining Tips’: A Counter-Orthodox List
I recently ran across a list of 150 “muscle building tips” that fit the bill of being partially valuable while mixed with a whole lot of… well, principles that make about as much sense (in my opinion) as the one saying “free weight squats are the key to overall muscle growth.”
In order to avoid redundancy and make the information you’re about to read as valuable as possible, I’ll rebut some of the principles I saw, along with replacing those rebutted with something I view as more important in the context of ‘muscle gaining tips.’ I’ll also list those I think are beneficial if only buttressed with a caveat, and I’ll explain the add-on advice that would make that principle in the list of muscle gaining tips into something of more value.
Each of the ‘muscle gaining tips’ from the list is pasted in bold, exactly as written in the list. In other words, ‘Warning’: Beware of non-sequiturs.
“Anyone that insists a topic or training concept is 100% black or white should be approached with caution. Different things work for different lifters.”
I thought I’d begin with the most asinine non-sequitur in the list of tips. Excuse me, but didn’t the person who wrote the list effectively negate everything he or she asserted in the rest of the list when this one was added? If we’re supposed to attribute something less than 100% effectiveness to the other ‘muscle gaining tips’ listed, by what percentage should we deem them effective? Absolutely amazing; this is the kind of writing that gives us bodybuilders the reputation of being “stupid”.
“Progression of weight is the magic muscle building key.”
The writer of the list was on the right track with this one. It’s just one of those ‘muscle gaining tips’ that’s badly in need of an important caveat.
"Heavy" Compound Lifts': Keep in mind that if your muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio isn't optimized, your muscle gains could come to a screeching halt regardless of which exercises you choose.
Face it: If it were as simple as regularly “adding weight” to lifts when working out, nobody would be having trouble with muscle gains. The weight actually needs to be added in the right increments and at the ideal time. Moreover, adding more weight without adherence to volume moved within time constraints can be an exercise in futility. Case-in-point: If Ben Pakulski can walk up to a 100-pound curling bar and do ten strict reps with it within thirty seconds – and I can walk up to the same bar and do ten repetitions with a 15-second rest-pause between each rep – my biceps won’t be nearly as big as his even though I’m “lifting” the same amount of weight.
Bottom line: “Adding weight”, while well advised, is also woefully inadequate; it’s simply a component of a greater concept – that of volume overload combined with compensatory recuperation.
“Why does every workout seem to work? Because a lifter who is dedicated, eats right and gets stronger can thrive on even the most unorganized muscle building workout.”
When I take in these words, I detect all the vast experiential knowledge of a world class… steroid user. Do I have proof of that? No, but I’ve been in the natural bodybuilding world for a long enough time to know when I’m hearing nonsense from someone who’s never experienced building natural muscle over the long term.
Are some guys so meat-headed that they actually believe training “hard”, eating “right”, and being “dedicated” can compensate for haphazard training routines that result in ambiguous progress at best and extreme overtraining at worst? Amusingly, within the same list of ‘muscle gaining tips’, the writer advised that lifters should “not train to failure” and, instead, take each set to one repetition short of failure. That’s great advice; I agree with it. However, advocating such a tip is an implicit admission that overtraining is a real threat to muscle building progress. Does anyone else notice these blatant contradictions that become the basis of such widespread workout confusion?
Workout routines are not of some relative unimportance for success compared with good eating habits, hard work, and dedication. To the contrary, I believe there’s such widespread frustration in natural muscle building for the precise reason of this fallacy being incessantly perpetuated. If you go to the gym today and blast your thigh muscles with an intense workout, there are a certain number of restful recuperation days the tissue will require in order to be stronger for your next thigh workout. Although good nutrition and adequate sleep will certainly be ideal for optimizing this recuperation, these things just won’t accelerate the process beyond a certain point. Whatever amount of time the tissue needs given the degree of “damage” you’ve inflicted on it – that’s the amount of time it will take.
What this ultimately means is that the muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio is of UTMOST importance for muscle building success. All your “well-timed” protein drinks and deliriously long sleeping hours could be a waste of time, money, and effort if you buy into the idea that workout routines are all ‘relative’… i.e., “one’s as good as the other.”
“Stop calling yourself a hardgainer. Focus on getting your bench press to 300, squat to 400 and deadlift to 500. Once there, look in the mirror and see if you're still a "hardgainer."”
This one in the list of ‘muscle gaining tips’ starts with a brilliant bit of advice and follows that with idiocy.
“Why’s that”… you ask?
Because obviously, if someone is labeling themselves a “hardgainer”, they’re most likely having trouble increasing their bench press, squat, and deadlift weight. I think even the novice bodybuilder has it figured out that the capability of lifting more weight is a component necessary for adding more muscle. The problem lies with the fact that simply advising someone to “focus” on lifting more isn’t going to miraculously make it happen.
Nine times out of ten, when a bodybuilder hits a strength/muscle gain plateau, it’s because the muscles are being under-recuperated for the degree of tear-down they’re incurring. I would assert, therefore, that advising a bodybuilder in such a predicament to ‘add more rest days’ is probably going to be more productive than simply admonishing them to “focus on lifting more.”
That said; the portion of the tip that recommends not labeling oneself a “hardgainer” is terrific. Applying a self-limiting belief through a negative label is one of the surest ways to inadvertently create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Eat more eggs, including the yolks. Egg yolks are nutritionally dense.”
I thought this one was kind of funny so I’ve included it. The author of the “150 muscle building tips” is right; eggs are of high quality protein and the yolks possess some good nutrients. Of course, those nutrients can also be obtained from other food sources. Some cholesterol from the egg yolk is also beneficial, to a degree. All these things considered, I’d never advise someone to eat whole eggs with abandon. I’ve been there and done that. Currently, I’ll scramble four or five egg whites with two whole eggs. However, when I’ve eaten a ratio of yolks that’s equivalent with the whites, it’s transformed me into cholesterol-laden slob with rising blood pressure and a protruding gut-line (not necessary for muscle growth).
“Cardio will not limit your gains. Only poor effort in the gym and a weak diet will limit your gains.”
Wrong! Overtraining will not only “limit” your gains – it will stop them dead in their tracks and sometimes send them backward. I’ll agree that cardio workouts are not necessarily a prescription for limited muscle building gains. However, anything that produces overtraining can create that undesirable effect. Moreover, if you work a muscle before it’s fully recuperated from its previous workout, you’ll send it into what I call ‘recuperation deficit.’
What does this mean?
It means that if the tissue originally needed 7 days of rest (just an example) in order to recover and become stronger – and you only provided it 5 days – you’d now be tearing it down again while it’s in a two-day sub-recuperated state. Let’s just use our common sense to determine what that might result in: Ah… hmm… a situation in which we might now need OVER 7 days to recuperate and get stronger?
It’s a wonder anyone makes natural gains at all after reading common ‘muscle gaining tips.’
“Pound for pound the best bicep builders are heavy rows and pull-ups/chin-ups. Barbell curls are a good addition to these exercises.”
What? This one actually ticks me off. You show me a guy or gal who makes great gains on biceps by using rows and pull-ups and I’ll show you someone (among many) with downright lousy lats development. Enough said about that.
Having pointed out one that outright peeved me (LOL), I’ll finish off with one (of many, actually) that I thought was brilliant:
“Log your workouts. You must use some system of tracking your progress.”
This one piece of advice is invaluable. Just observe the percentage of people in any given gym who make little or no natural building progress, month after month… year after year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s about the same percentage of individuals who record absolutely NOTHING while in the gym.
Enough said about this most important of ‘muscle gaining tips’ as well.