“Muscle Gaining Tips”: Natural Muscle Building without the Nonsense

Do you ever wonder if oft-repeated ‘muscle gaining tips’ you continue to hear and read (ad nauseam) even make sense? If so, you’re not alone; I began questioning this conventional wisdom over twenty years ago. And you’d be well advised to continue engaging your inquiry; few ‘muscle gaining tips are “scientific” in the real sense of the word, despite their proponent’s insistence otherwise. Furthermore, the content within muscle building knowledge that can be accurately labeled ‘scientific’ is sometimes not much more experimentally proved than what those who champion it would characterize as so-called “bro science.” Barbell Plates

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? Calf Raises

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. Kettlebell Curls

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 tipsis 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?

Wide Grip Pull-Ups (2)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.

“Visualization for Bodybuilding”: Seeing Muscle Gaining Success before it Happens

Many bodybuilding aficionados have heard about Arnold’s long-ago reference to ‘visualization for bodybuilding’ as he applied it to his extraordinary biceps development:

“I pictured my biceps growing like huge mountains as I worked them” He said.

But this raises more questions than it answers – not the least of which being one of the proverbial ‘chicken and egg’ variety: Did Arnold Schwartzenegger begin seeing his biceps as “huge mountains” because he was getting great results working them? After all, he might have simply had a genetic predisposition for great biceps and responded positively to that with reinforcement. Or did “visualization for bodybuilding” (seeing success in his mind) build his biceps into one of his best body parts? Maybe it’s a combination of both.

We all tend to become more enthusiastic about things that are going well for us. Thus, it’s easy to apply ‘visualization for success’ to something for which we’re already enjoying success and then attribute that success to the visualization. It’s more difficult – and more proving of visualization’s effectiveness – to use ‘visualization for bodybuilding’ (or anything else) in bringing up to par an area in which we’re lagging. To do that effectively, it’s important to first realize that there are different types of visualization techniques – each being an important component to using visualization successfully.

‘Visualization for Bodybuilding’: Seeing the ‘Product’ and the ‘Process’

Whether you want to build biceps “like huge mountains”, a small business into a huge enterprise, or a bare-bones education into a PHD, visualizing your success can be done in two basic ways: seeing the ‘product’ and/or seeing the ‘process.’ Visualizing your biceps as huge mountains is an example of seeing the product goal. Visualizing a successful biceps workout is an example of seeing the process goal. To be effective at using visualization for bodybuilding or any other goal, it’s best to use both methods of this powerful mental training technique. You need to visualize the end product in your future while building positive emotion around that picture. But you also need to identify the key actions and character traits that will lead you to that goal and visualize their successful enactment.


Can 'success visualization' help to "uncuff" your bodbuilding progress? It sure can. And using 'Visualization for Bodybuilding' will strengthen this skill for success in other areas.


‘Visualization for Bodybuilding’: Accurately Identify Components of Success

Achieving your product goal requires an accurate identification of processes that will most efficiently lead to that goal. In other words, you’ll need to identify effective “process goals” or you’ll be less likely to reach your product goal.

Frankly, this is where many adherents to natural bodybuilding get it wrong. They don’t first make the important distinction between effectively training without steroids as compared to the repletion of information that’s only useful if using those drugs. This frequently leads to workout routines and their accompanying ‘process goals’ (workout objectives) being derived from mainstream bodybuilding magazines. The end result is often overtraining and frustration.

Even some top sport’s mental trainers have gotten this wrong. In books and magazine articles on the topic, some merely apply visualization for bodybuilding without first distinguishing between an effective drug-free bodybuilding routine and the routines of pro bodybuilders. But using mental training in an attempt to enhance ineffective bodybuilding techniques is an exercise in futility – comprising all the ease of trying to roll a marble up a steep incline with one’s nose. Not fun!

Following faulty workout advice or simply “winging it” in the gym are often major reasons why so many muscle building enthusiasts shy away from setting ‘product’ goals for bodybuilding and using mental training to reach them. If we subconsciously suspect we’re getting nowhere, it’s easier to fool ourselves otherwise by adopting the “I have good motives – I made it to the gym” mentality instead of one that acknowledges objective outcomes.

My advice: Get your dream body by…

  • Assessing your workouts and eating habits objectively.
  • Setting a solid product goal.
  • Designing a realistic workout program that includes process goals that lead step-by-step to the attainment of your product goal.

‘Visualization for Bodybuilding’: Some tips

When you’ve got your product goal (you want 18-inch biceps/”mountains”), you’ll need an effective strategy for getting them to that size. Only then can you set ‘process goals’ and use ‘visualization for bodybuilding’ to enhance performance. An effective natural muscle building strategy requires paying attention to three important things:

  1. How much workout stress to put on the muscle.
  2. How much rest/recuperation time to use between workouts of the muscle.
  3. How to systematically (yet simply) keep track of progress and know what each workout’s performance objectives are.

If you’ve kept good enough records to know how much inter-workout recuperation is needed by your muscles given a certain amount of stress (sets and reps/intensity of effort), you’ll have those variables covered; you simply need to know what amount of sets/reps in your next workout will move you forward. That’s now your “process goal” and the target of ‘performance visualization.’

Visualization for bodybuilding doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, there’s no such thing as “perfect” mental training techniques. You simply need to start wherever you find yourself and improve on what you have. If you relax, close your eyes, and attempt to see yourself performing an incredible biceps workout in which you break all previous records – and all you see are static, abstract, and fleeting images – that’s okay. Keep practicing. Visualization ability can be strengthened like the muscles of your body that you’re working at strengthening by using it.

But if you’d like to get as proficient at visualization as a professional athlete, you can always use your ‘auditory/digital’ internal representation system to enhance your visual one.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that if you know how to use auto-suggestion (affirmations) to improve your beliefs about your abilities – why not use it to improve your beliefs in your ability to visualize?

You’ve got to admit it’s a good idea; one that could pay huge dividends for you – only beginning with bigger muscles through ‘visualization for bodybuilding.’

“Muscle Confusion Scam”: Let’s get to the bottom of this

Those who do an internet search on the words “muscle confusion scam” are usually confronted with two contrasting opinions. One opinion is that the notion of muscle confusion is a scam. This view is often expressed by those who’ve tried fitness programs such as ‘P90X’ or ‘Supreme 90 Day’ and allege to have not achieved the proclaimed benefits after following the respective program to a tee.  The counter opinion to this “muscle confusion scam” claim is that muscle confusion really “works” (whatever that means) and that the individuals labeling it a scam are just undedicated buffoons who didn’t give the workouts enough time or commitment. This view is typically expressed by affiliate marketers who are selling the fitness program and have about as much objectivity as a mother judging the performance of her kid’s first music recital. They have too much “skin in the game” to provide a really honest review.

Why “Muscle Confusion” is such a draw

Using a pseudo-scientific buzzword like muscle confusion is appealing to both marketer and prospect of a fitness product like P90X. The marketer has a catchy label to which he can attach success of his product’s use in the prospect’s mind. The prospect has a simple, one-word reason to believe. If the product then “works” by the prospects/customers definition of that word, an anchor has been set; there’s a mysterious and esoteric reason for its working; “It must be the muscle confusion.”

But therein is the first level of ambiguity that feeds the ‘muscle confusion scam’: What does it mean for a fitness product to “work?” Does the product help a person to lose fat? If so, how much better is it for that purpose than the thousands of other ways those pounds could be shed? Moreover, what’s the reason for so many people in our society to use such a vague question as “does it work” in so many circumstances? Think about where you hear it:

“Does that business opportunity work?”

“Does trying to meet someone in a place like that really work?”

“Does that diet work?”

“Does P90X work?”

This is often the uttered pattern-of-thought of those who’ve absolved themselves of personal responsibility: Either the circumstance outside oneself “works” or it “doesn’t work” – having little to do with discipline or commitment-to-action from the individual who says it. This mentality just might appear most prevalently among those susceptible to influence by the latest buzzword that not only has no scientific bearing – it has no semblance of common sense; muscle is simply tissue – it cannot be baffled, perplexed, or confused.

Front Dumbbell Raise_Standing Dumbell Curls1.jpg 
“Muscle Confusion?” No… the idea of changing your workouts to “shock” your muscles is a farse . But overloading your muscles with heavier challenges is desirable


But let’s acknowledge those who do take responsibility for their lot in life and might merely ask if a workout program “works” with the intent of determining if positive results will be commensurate with expended effort. I’ve noticed that these people are less likely to fall for the muscle confusion scam; they just want to know if a program like P90X will be effective.

‘Muscle Confusion Scam’: Anything works when “works” is defined loosely

If a person goes from spending most of the day in front of the television soaking up excess calories – to suddenly spending one hour of the day dancing around in front of the television – that person will begin shedding body fat if they consistently keep up the new activity without consuming additional calories. If weight resistance is added to the mix, they’ll begin feeling soreness and tightness in the muscles.

At this point, the P90X zealot/affiliate marketer insists the program’s “working”… via “muscle confusion” no less.

The skeptic will point out that it’s doing nothing that any additional intense activity wouldn’t do for the body. If “working” is defined by how suddenly sore and tired an otherwise sedentary person would be after beginning an activity, a day of rearranging furniture and running up and down a flight of stairs will “work.”

Since many people define fitness progress so loosely, I’ll simply interject this: Any program that increases activity while reducing or keeping calorie intake constant will “work” for losing body fat. Yet the question of whether that program can build a perceptible degree of muscle is a different topic entirely.

“It’s the ‘Muscle Overload’… Silly”: When “muscle confusion” becomes a scam

Muscles make progress in increased strength and size through a process of

  1. Work
  2. Adequate recuperation (with compensatory strength/size increase)
  3. Greater Work (Volume Overload)
  4. Adequate recuperation for the ‘overload’
  5. Etc… etc…

Pretty simple; there’s no confusion involved. We don’t attempt to keep our muscles “guessing” – we make progress by keeping them intermittently overloaded and recuperated.  

So why are some DVD marketers and personal trainers perpetuating the ‘muscle confusion scam?’

My opinion: ‘Perpetual esotericism!’

What do I mean by that?

I mean that a trainer can attach ongoing mystique to any routine he or she conjures up using the justification of “muscle confusion.” Let’s say I’m your trainer and I tell you that today I need you to do sets of push-ups with dumbbells in your hands. Between each pushup repetition, I want you to pull each dumbbell toward your body in a ‘rowing motion.’ (Never mind the ridiculousness of this exercise – in the name of muscle confusion, I can almost have you dong a circus act.) Tomorrow, I could tell you to do the same exercise while changing the reps and bringing each dumbbell up to your sternum in a curling motion. I could tell you that this is all in the name of “shocking your muscles.” If you’re a neophyte, you just might buy it; after all – I’m an “expert.”

If you ARE a neophyte, let me warn you: What I just described is absolute poppycock (as they say in the U.K.). It won’t “shock your muscles.” It won’t “build your core.” It’ll do so little in helping you build a stronger and more attractive body that the imperceptibility of its effects will be almost laughable.

In fact, if a personal trainer or DVD program has you doing this or any unfocused, multi-movement exercise even resembling this – and… especially if it’s all in the name of “muscle confusion”, you’ll have your most salient indication that you’re being duped by…

… the “muscle confusion scam.”

I suggest putting a damper on any preconceived notions and apply rational thinking… immediately.

Even acknowledging that “confusion” in the sense that it’s used to market fitness products means “regular change” rather than literal confusion, I still side with the opinion that muscle confusion is a scam.

“Bodybuilding Ebooks”: Do most contain generic bodybuilding routines?

When I started body building, long before there was a commercial Internet, the hard copy bodybuilding magazines were the sole source of bodybuilding information. There weren’t any “bodybuilding e-books.” There were no “bodybuilding e-courses.” Nobody had heard of “bodybuilding E-tips.” Well… “Duh”… there was no E-anything because the Internet as we know it was still about ten years from being in even its nascent stage. The ‘bodybuilding ebook’ of that time was the occasional snail-mail bodybuilding newsletter. I received one of these newsletters in about 1991 or 1992 from a then-unknown ‘Bill Phillips.’ It’s funny to think about: I still remember the image of Bill in a black-n’-white shot on the front page, sitting behind an old desk wearing a boat-neck shirt and a mullet hair style. His early 2000s ‘Body for Life’ fans on Oprah would have been shocked.

Wow… times have changed. Those hardcopy mags and books that were solely relied upon for bodybuilding information have seen a proliferation of competition. The “bodybuilding ebook” seems to be currently self-published by every gym-rat and his younger brother. They appear to promise everything except ink and paper to transport their flimsy existence to something more physically tangible than the digital world; for that you’ll have to shell out your own money if you download a ‘bodybuilding ebook’ (free or priced).

But here’s the most important question about bodybuilding e-books:

“Do most contain generic information – bodybuilding workout routines you could get from any bodybuilding magazine for a few bucks?”


‘Bodybuilding Ebooks’: Different than the “magazine workouts?”

In 1988 I was fresh out of the U.S. military and new to bodybuilding. I perused (that means “read thoroughly”…BTW) every monthly bodybuilding magazine on the market. The most popular split-routine of that period was probably the ‘three-on/one-off routine.’ That meant working the entire body within three days and then taking one day off for recuperation before doing the cycle again. This was insane; not even close to enough recuperation time for the natural bodybuilder. It soon became widely known that one would have to be a steroid addict to make consistent bodybuilding gains on such a schedule.


'Bodybuilding Ebooks': Dispensing any new information that would have you using these differently?


Actually, it appeared that even the bodybuilding drug addicts were spinning their wheels with that one. Maybe that’s why by the time the 1990s rolled around and Joe Weider was losing his grip on the bodybuilding publishing world, some semblance of realism and honesty began to surface. That’s about the time the “three workouts per week” bodybuilding schedule became popular. This could entail working half the body twice one week and once the following week – followed by working the other half twice that following week when working the first half once that week (Ugh… I confused myself with that sentence). Typically, this was a Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout routine with Tuesday, Thursday and both days of the weekends designated as rest days. Essentially, this gave each muscle three days of inter-workout rest one week and four the following week.

This was a step in the right direction, but hardly the panacea I’d hoped for at the time. My bodybuilding gains picked up for a short time and then went into plateau mode again. BTW – I first learned about this workout schedule from a “natural bodybuilder” who’d laid it out within the article of a… “Yes”… bodybuilding magazine.

Why do I mention that?

Because many marketers of “bodybuilding ebooks” claim the magazines are nothing but shills for the bodybuilding supplement companies and that the authors of these ebooks are true bodybuilding contrarians.

… But what do these bodybuilding ebooks recommend for workout schedules?

Well… I’ve seen three of the “top sellers.” One recommends working each muscle once per week (the closest thing to sane). Another recommends working the body twice-per-week while incorporating the concept of periodization. Yet a third recommends… well… EXACTLY what’s been advocated by the bodybuilding magazines for umpteen years: Split routine/work each muscle twice-a-week/Monday and Thursday (lower body) – Tuesday and Friday (upper body).

What? Where’s the “contrarian info?” What makes any of these “digital treasure maps” worth ten times the price of an article in a mainstream bodybuilding or fitness magazine?

Okay, I’ll give some credit where it’s due: Most of these e-books recommend only three to five sets (total) per body part. That’s another step in the right direction, but hardly a gem of wisdom that’s eluded the writing staff down at ‘Men’s Fitness.’


‘Bodybuilding E-books’… or… True “Out-of the Box Thinking”

Let’s go outside the world of bodybuilding and fitness for a moment. Let’s look at a completely different context in order to make a point.

Where will we go?

How about the world of investing? After all, building the body is a form of investment – one that pays dividends of health, strength, energy, vitality, admiration, virility… etc.

Warren Buffett is considered the best investor in the world. When asked about the concepts of “quarterly earnings” and “annual earnings”, he once quipped (paraphrased):

“Why should a company’s performance be based on the time-frame of the earth revolving around the sun one time?”

Have you ever questioned muscle building schedules with this type of out-of-the-box thinking? I mean… who was it that decided muscle tissue would automatically recuperate fully within the time-frame of a week? Why is it that one-fifty-second of the earth’s revolving around the sun just happens to be the perfect amount of time for you to recuperate from a workout and be stronger for the next one?

That’s a good question to ask yourself the next time you hit a bodybuilding plateau while following the routines printed in the magazines. Sadly, it’s the same question you should probably ask yourself after hitting a plateau using the routine that’s “so contrarian” in a bodybuilding e-book.

“Building Muscle”: ‘The Real Truth’

The amount of ‘building muscle’ information on the Internet is dizzying. It’s getting worse than owning the previous year’s muscle building and fitness magazines and having them stacked on your coffee table. Imagine fanning out 12 issues of a muscle building/fitness magazine across the table and seeing the sensationalistic claims plastered on the covers:

Building Muscle: 6 Weeks to Getting Huge and Ripped

Build Muscle Fast: Gain 25 Pounds in 12 Weeks

Get Huge: 40 Pounds of Muscle in Six Months

If you want the real truth about building muscle, then read on. If you’d rather remain mired in delusion and frustration, then by all means, follow the trail started by headlines similar to the one’s above.

‘Building Muscle’: The First Truth

When natural bodybuilders first become inquisitive about their potential for building muscle, they want to know if they should believe headlines selling products that claim “umpteen pounds” of muscle gain within time-frames of weeks or months. I won’t even answer this question directly because I prefer that intelligent people (my readers) come to conclusions themselves after being presented with relevant facts on ‘building muscle.’

Back Double Biceps
'Truths About Building Muscle': Natural bodybuilders should focus only on what's important in order to build a nice physique without wasted time and effort.

Let’s take the third sample headline from above. Muscle gains that total 40 pounds in six months are equivalent to about 1.5 pounds of gain per week. That comes out to about .22 lb of muscle per day. And of course, that would total around 80 pounds for the year.

It would also be equivalent to the approximate body fat gain (in pounds) from eating about 5,250 calories above maintenance each week. The key difference:

  • Body fat is (generally speaking) a “direct deposit” type phenomenon: ‘excess in = excess on.’
  • Building Muscle is a two-step process: Muscle breakdown (workout) + Adequate recuperation = Muscle Gains
In other words, gaining a pound and a half of body fat each week is a piece of cake (pun alert): Just stuff down extra calories every day and you’re on your way.

‘Building muscle’ successfully is a different story – one in which the “waiting time” between workouts is as important (and more time consuming) as the workouts themselves.

I’ll use a further example with which you can draw your conclusions (one I’ve used before).

When I was young, I attended a bodybuilding seminar given by a runner-up in the Mr. Olympia contest. He spoke openly of using steroids. One of the attendees asked him the following question:

“How many pounds of muscle do you gain in a year?”

His answer:

“When I first started, I gained 10 pounds in a year; now that my muscles have matured, I’m lucky to gain 2 pounds a year.”

The guy had incredible genetics that were augmented with enough ‘roids pumping through his veins to figuratively make him a drug smuggler if he crossed the border.

Am I indirectly claiming that you should expect no more than measly muscle gains each year if you train naturally as I do? No way… I’m making continual and non-stop muscle building gains.

But the above points to ponder should answer any questions about the “40 pounds of muscle” (or even half that) gained in “six months.” If those gains were possible with natural training – steroids would be obsolete. What’s more, if you find this type of claim in an ad, I don’t think I need to tell you what it might indicate about the advertiser’s credibility.

‘Building Muscle’: Truths that separate the important from the extraneous

Lately, I’ve seen internet lists of muscle building tips that are packed with everything from the very valuable to the blatantly absurd. With over twenty-five years of natural training with stubborn genetics – I KNOW I can save my readers time and trouble by sifting through the BS so that they don’t have to waste time and effort.

So here are some “building muscle tips” I’ve recently observed and a personal short commentary on each one:

  • “Sleep eight hours every night”: I’d need to OD on Demerol to do this. I’ve made great muscle gains with an average of six and a half. Sleep requirements for bodybuilding vary among individuals.
  • “Eat Enough Protein”: Good advice – but the question of “enough” has never been settled. The ‘gram per pound of bodyweight’ or ‘gram and a half per pound’ is an unscientific recommendation from bodybuilders of the past. It’s worked for me. Here’s a more detailed article on muscle building protein requirements
  • “Train each muscle ‘til failure”: This is downright stupid advice. Show me someone who does this on most or every set, or uses forced reps, and I’ll show you someone in for a frustrating plateau. Intensity needs to be high – but just shy of muscular failure. Let the drug-users do this. I did it for years and it wasted enough time and progress to make me want to vomit my protein.
  • “Use Primarily Compound Movements”: This is currently the “in vogue” Internet advice. However, I did free-weight squats for years without making gains (due to overtraining). I’ve also produced great muscle building size gains with leg extensions. Check out my related article on building pectorals that makes the same point.
  • “Use a Training Program – Never work out without a plan”: Absolutely fantastic advice; I can’t reiterate this one enough. Mega-kudos for anyone advising this. Drifting through the gym without a definite objective is a waste of time, money, and energy. You’d be making better use of your time just reading a book or visiting a museum.
  • Don’t eat anything containing artificial sweeteners”: What? Yeah… I actually saw this somewhere. I tend to be suspicious of the sugar industry being behind the anti-artificial sweetener propaganda. That suspicion arises when no sooner is a new sweetener released than there’s already word of its alleged dangers. For what it’s worth: I’ve taken in plenty of sucralose and it’s never hampered my muscle growth, produced unwanted fat gains, or caused any acute health problems. A life without sugar or its replacements is a bland one (gustatory-wise) indeed.
  • “Use a spotter to help you with your heaviest sets”: Thank God for the day I learned how to train without relying on anyone else; it’s one of the pivotal days that got me started making non-stop natural muscle building gains. Spotters aren’t necessary unless you’re hell-bent on overtraining or you just can’t stand to train alone.
  • “Make Sets and Reps the biggest variable you change”: This is a step in the right direction over merely advising people to constantly change their routines, ie: muscle confusion. Yet it can be flawed as a general principle. For example: If someone’s using a six-rep scheme for their biceps and they have genetically predominant white fast-twitch fibers in that muscle group, they should keep using six reps for the best size gains.
Conclusion: Dump the Exaggeration and Extraneousness

Building muscle the natural way is much like being successful in other contexts. It requires being effective and realistic at the same time. Many success-hungry people don’t realize that an objectively arrived-at degree of realism actually enhances effectiveness.

For example: if you naively believe you can add 1.5 pounds of muscle each week and that your failing to do so is because you’re not eating enough – you’re likely to start shoveling down food in quantities that deposit body fat. Considering that too much food can divert much-needed energy from bodily recuperative operations to merely digesting and processing the excess food, you can also end up with less muscle along with the added fat from over-consumption. That’s an undesirable consequence stemming from the original belief that 80 pounds of muscle could be gained in a year (something the biggest steroid junkies have never even achieved).

The real truth about building muscle includes dumping the extraneous in order to focus only on those things that really matter. This is just a short list I’ve gone over for now. Tune in to future posts if you’d like my personal take on more of the items of advice commonly dispensed for natural bodybuilders.

“Muscle Building Plateaus”: Why they happen and how to break them

I’m now convinced: At least 95% of people engaging in natural muscle building are going about it ineffectively. That’s likely a conservative estimate; it’s probably more like at least 98%. And that includes steroid users who are trying to eke out some natural muscle gains between their drug cycles.


Biceps Concentration CurlsDoes my saying this make me presumptuously bold? Not really. Just observe the proliferation of existing bodybuilding information and how it coexists with an increasing number of frustrated individuals seeking guidance and you’ll realize something’s amiss. Especially within the realm of breaking ‘muscle building plateaus’ – if adequate information were provided, why are there so many dissatisfied trainees who experience such stalled progress? It seems to me like a lot of existing theories of natural bodybuilding have been tainted by their distorted cousin: the steroid-augmented methodologies.

Nowhere is this truer than within the context of ‘muscle building plateaus.’ We still get the same ole’ bull-squeeze; that muscle building plateaus occur due to a simple lack of changing your workout routine. We still hear the hare-brained advice about applying muscle confusion; about needing to keep our muscles and bodies “guessing.”

I’m currently plateau-less, and I’ve got no guessing-game going on with my muscles. Stalled bodybuilding progress is a thing of the past for me. I’m forty-six, stronger than ever, and making steadier gains than I did at twenty-six. The most exciting part is that I can “see” my bodybuilding gains coming. Using my system, I can anticipate, with total confidence, my body being more muscle-packed down the road than it is now. Plateaus are something I used to experience when I was following the common muscle building advice propagated by the mainstream bodybuilding magazines. No more of that.

Yet regardless of what system you decide to use, there are a few general remedies you can implement if you are experiencing a muscle building plateau. Before I cover my unique suggestions, let’s go over some of the common ones you’re likely to get from everyone else.

‘Muscle Building Plateaus’: Commonly Prescribed Remedies

When you hit a sticking point in your progress, the common muscle building plateau recommendations you’re likely to hear go something like this:

  • Eat more food
  • Get more sleep
  • Take an extra day (or two) off between workouts
  • Change your exercise selection
  • Change your weight/reps selection

Typically, the most useful recommendation on the list above is the third bullet. That’s because, in my opinion, the most common reason for muscle building plateaus is recuperation that’s no longer commensurate with the degree of tissue tear-down being inflicted during workouts. Although the recommendations next to the other four bullets might help, they’re usually inadequate by themselves, or even collectively, as plateau-busting remedies.

‘Muscle Building Plateaus’: The real way to break them

Muscle building plateaus are usually caused by overtraining. This is easy to conclude given the word “plateau”; it assumes or presupposes that progress was previously forthcoming. So if we’re dealing with progress that previously occurred and has now come to a screeching halt, it’s not likely the trainee experiencing the plateau is training with insufficient intensity. If he or she were, muscle building gains would likely never have occurred to a respectable enough degree so as to label the current predicament a “plateau.” Therefore, the plateau is more likely caused by overtraining or under-recuperation, the second merely the inverse of the former.

My cornerstone recommendation for a muscle building plateau is to start off by taking at least two weeks away from training the muscle experiencing stalled progress; no less. Three weeks to a month is even better. The reason is that overtraining tends to have a cumulative effect. What do I mean by that? Let’s say your overtraining started out something like this:


  1. You worked your pectorals really hard on Monday.
  2. When you went to work them a week later, they were weaker – not stronger; (they were “under-recuperated”).
  3. You worked them again anyway – giving them MORE intensity because of your frustration.
  4. Now they’re even more torn down than they were after the first workout that over-trained them. Yet you still give them their customary week of recuperation.
  5. For the next workout, your pectorals are in what I call a “recuperative deficit”; they need more rest time than ever to get back to square one where you can put them on a stimulation/recuperation/growth trajectory.


What I just described happens often. It’s the reason a muscle building plateau usually requires a person to take up to three weeks off from training to let the tissue fully recuperate. I recommend a month off as the ideal. Before you balk at the idea of taking a month off training for fear you’ll lose precious muscle size and strength, consider what the overtraining plateau is doing to you; it’s causing you lost muscle size and strength. Ask yourself which of the following two scenarios is worse:

  • Lost muscle size and strength along with more wasted time.
  • No more wasted time – a fresh platform to start from – no worse off on muscle size and strength than while over-trained (possible slight increase in strength).

With rational circumspection, most bodybuilders will opt for the second situation. They realize that continuing to train while in a “recuperation deficit” is an emotionally-driven default rather than a logically-deduced solution. 

The best thing to do while recuperating the over-trained muscle is to write down on paper what you were doing to that muscle when the plateau occurred. If you’re one of the 99% of workout enthusiasts who keeps workout progress in your memory, this will help you see the picture more clearly. Write down as best you can how many sets you were doing – which exercises – and how many repetitions. This will provide a reference point from with to adjust your routine to be “plateau-less.”

Muscle Building Plateau No-More

Once you have at least a rough idea of what you’ve been doing recorded on paper, make some slight adjustments to your routine when you start working that muscle again. You’ve got two methods of adjustment to get that muscle on a growth trajectory:

  1. Slightly back off on the intensity and number of sets you’ve been performing.
  2. Slightly increase the recuperation time between workouts of that muscle (keeping sets and intensity about the same).

If you go with choice number two, you’ll likely need to add a rest day between the working of all your muscle groups in order that workout days don’t start to overlap. Simply adding more rest days between all your workouts is the best way to go if you’re generally having lackluster results with all your body parts. Keep adding inter-workout rest days while keeping your training routine constant until progress returns due to recuperation being commensurate with muscle tear-down (stimulation).

Backing off on the intensity and number of sets performed is the best choice if the plateau is an isolated case of one stubborn muscle.  In this case, simply reduce the number of sets performed while keeping the number of inter-workout rest days constant until progress returns.

One final note: If you have been performing forced reps during your workout routines leading up to a muscle building plateau, cease and desist that practice immediately. I can almost guarantee that this is the cause of your progress stall.

“Muscle Building Miracle Discovered”: A brief history of the snake oilers through my own lens

In the early 1990s, it was colostrum that was the “muscle building miracle discovered”, and the trace mineral boron was supposed to raise men’s testosterone up to levels that would mimic steroid use. The Cybergenics thing from five years prior had long run its course. The OKG-phase was still a ways around the corner and a ridiculous product called ‘Hot Stuff’ was also on the market and being touted as possessing all the ingredients of the latest muscle building miracle.

If we go back far enough, I guess we could tap the likes of Charles Atlas and his ilk. However, I’m a guy who came of age in the 1980s. I can only attest personally to the muscle building snake-oil from the last century’s ninth and early tenth decades; nothing before that. And my wallet only opened on a selective basis for these predatory marketers whose claims were obviously light years beyond any value they’d even intended to provide. Thank God I had some restraint and investigatory predilection. I’d have been completely broke otherwise.


Muscular Arm, Delt, Pec 

In the late 80s and early 90s, I was young and naïve enough to fall for the “muscle building miracle discovered” claims of:

  • Boron (the “testosterone raiser”)
  • Metabalol (the “metabolic optimizer”)
  • Smilax Officinalis ( the testosterone…. or something… raiser)
  • Met-RX ( In its “does what steroids do” days)

That’s right: many of you youngsters don’t know that Met-RX was originally marketed as something powerful enough to replace steroids. The marketing scheme went something like this:

  • Steroids were originally thought to be “anabolic.”
  • Now it’s been discovered that they’re really more… “anti-catabolic.”
  • Are there natural nutrients that are also anti-catabolic?
  • You bet… and they’re in Met-RX.

Now that Met-RX is mainstream marketed as a simple meal replacement product, I’d gladly use it for what it’s worth – convenience. But that company’s early success at edging into a market previously dominated by Weider was pulled off by delving into the bodybuilding snake-oil realm; just one more “muscle building miracle” from the past that should have you eyeing the current crop of such products with, at the very least… healthy suspicion.

When the purported ‘muscle building miracle’ OKG was released in the mid-90s, I was lucky enough to have purchased it from a company that actually made good on their money-back guarantee. It was none other than bodybuilding supplement heavy-hitter EAS, of Myoplex fame. And since I’d purchased a whole case of this “muscle building miracle” from them, it was a good thing they made good on the refund. Why? Because despite all the claims made for OKG, I didn’t gain a single ounce of strength or mass by using it. And that was after diligent use of three complete bottles of the compound in that case.

Bodybuilding supplements 

If a natural muscle building miracle is discovered, the media will be trumpeting it and thousands in the pharmeceutical testosterone industry will be instantly out of business.


“Muscle Building Miracle Discovered”: Should you ever believe it?

If there ever really is a muscle building miracle discovered, you’ll hear about it in the news. The media loves to report anything new and “miraculous” that might even have a chance at being real. If you see ads reporting a ‘muscle building miracle’ and no media stories accompanying it, hold onto your wallet ‘coz someone’s dealing snake-oil.

Think about this: If a natural muscle building miracle is really discovered, who do you think would have their hands on it first? Uh-huh… the medical industry. There are plenty of victims of muscle wasting disease who are in more desperate need of such a compound than your average underweight teenager who thinks he’ll never get a girl. The medical industry has the scientific and financial resources to make first moves in the marketplace with any compound that even remotely appears to be a ‘natural muscle building miracle.’ Therefore, if you feel tremors in that sector along with media attention to a (as-yet-unreleased) compound, there might be reason to take notice.

So… be prudent in your quest for a better body. There are a few compounds that could nudge your progress along. Yet that can only happen if you first have a highly effective muscle building routine and good eating habits in place.

“Building Natural Muscle”: Why the excess information and misinformation?

Do a search for “building natural muscle” or “building muscle naturally” and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by information. There are countless e-books and articles on the topic; everyone’s an overnight expert. Some of these “experts” aren’t a day over twenty-five years of age, making it difficult to imagine how they’ve accumulated enough real-world experience to become experts. Consequently, there’s enough duplicate information on ‘building muscle naturally’ to nauseate you and enough contradictory information to have you throw up your hands in frustration and simply develop your own theories and routines.

But really… why is there so much dissemination of “natural bodybuilding” information with a simultaneous proliferation of those hungrily seeking it? Why do the info-seekers seem insatiable? Shouldn’t they be able to simply get their “natural muscle building” e-book and live in muscle-expanding nirvana thereafter? If these guys who write the books really gained “30 pounds of muscle” in umpteen weeks, shouldn’t they theoretically be able to gain thirty more and win the Mr. Olympia contest… naturally?

With over two decades in the ‘natural muscle building’ arena, I have my theory about the root cause of misinformation in this field: steroid use.

Muscular Upper Back and Rear Delts 
‘Building muscle naturally’ is physiologically a far cry from its drug-enhanced counterpart. Thus, natural bodybuilding training should contrast sharply from the training methods of pro bodybuilders.


Yeah, I know… “why would steroids be an issue within the context of “building natural muscle?” Because, quite simply, it’s too easy to cheat. It’s too easy for someone who’s not completely honest to build a substantial amount of muscle mass with the aid of drugs – quit the drugs – and then “sell” themselves as a natural bodybuilder. It would be so easy that a person doing so could practically rationalize themselves as being perfectly honest by simply inducing a bit of self-imposed, time-selective amnesia.

In cases where this has happened, which are sometimes difficult to detect, it’s easy to know how the generic ‘natural muscle building information’ gets perpetuated. The “natural bodybuilder” in this case might even believe the information he’s peddling is the best chance for those who are genuinely natural, while he himself sells the program with his (even one-time) pharmaceutically-enhanced musculature as the billboard.

‘Building Natural Muscle’: What do I mean by “generic information?”

Here’s the current generic information for natural muscle building. Although it’s far better than a natural bodybuilder following the advice of a steroid-using pro bodybuilder, it’s still lackluster in its ability to produce long-term natural results. How do I know? Because there’s nothing new here and I used it… a long time ago:

  • Train each body part once-a-week
  • Train for 40 minutes to an hour
  • Increase the weight whenever you can
  • Use big compound movements
  • Eat like a friggin’ pig (meaning a lot/all day long)

Haha… this advice has all the comprehensiveness you’d expect from a Neanderthal. Additionally, most of it is nothing new. A lot of what’s out there is a knock-off of Mike Mentzer’s ‘High Intensity’ training theories. And let me see if I can remember… oh yeah… Mike Mentzer was a pro bodybuilder? A steroid taker? A pharmaceutically-enhanced “expert?”

I’m not here to knock pro bodybuilders or those who make self-assessed decisions on what to do with their own bodies. I’m simply raising awareness of the root causes of misinformation and how to consequently stop looking in the wrong direction for ‘building natural muscle’ information.

One of the most salient trends in natural bodybuilding information that provides evidence of its saturation with faulty information is the over-emphasis on diet. This is usually accompanied by an under-emphasis on the required nuances of training routines. The generic protocol is to never train a body-part less than one-per-week and the default-advice for those who don’t make progress is: “You’re not training hard enough” or “You’re not eating enough.”

This is simplistic-mindedness that either reveals the ignorance of the information provider and/or a willingness to assume gullibility on the part of the information seeker. The notion that we can go about building natural muscle with a formula resembling how we’d gain fat weight is asinine. Yet that’s what we’re seeing; Internet bodybuilding “experts” saying we need 3500 calories above BMR each week to put on muscle. Yet this is the number of extra calories you’d consume each week to put on a pound of weekly body fat.

Your common sense knows the body can’t build muscle this fast. That’s because muscle gains are a two-step process involving tissue breakdown and subsequent recuperation. If the human body could build muscle at the rate that it can gain fat, we’d all gain 50 solid pounds a year and become a threat to the reigning Mr. Olympia. What’s more, steroid dealers would be out of business.

So… be discerning in your judgment of advice on building natural muscle. Steroids are extremely powerful drugs that greatly alter the physiology of the body. This means they greatly augment the inter-workout recuperation capabilities of the tissue. Ultimately, this means the formula for building natural muscle should not even resemble that of the drug-using bodybuilder.

My formula currently resembles it less than ever before – and I’m making the most incredible muscle gains of my life.

“The Musclehead”: Not a moniker for which to be particularly proud

Last weekend, I finally saw the movie The Wrestler, starring Mickey Roarke. What a terrific acting job he did in this touching flick with a tragic storyline. It reminded me of how talented I’d thought he was back in the mid-1980s as I enjoyed his movies when I was a wide-eyed kid in the U.S. Navy.

What really accentuated the poignant ending of the movie were the lyrics for the song ‘One Trick Pony’ by Bruce Springsteen. It drove home the realization that Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Roarke’s character) had been, indeed, a one-trick pony. He’d prematurely destroyed his body with the excesses of what he’d thought it took for him to become a popular wrestler and he had nothing else to fall back on professionally. And this could be called merely salt in the wounds caused by what he’d done to his personal life; sad but well done movie.

Allowing oneself to become so one-dimensional also occurs within the bodybuilding arena and can lead to a bodybuilder being labeled with “the musclehead” moniker. Despite what some might believe, being called “the musclehead” is not a compliment. It connotes being a sort of dumb-ass physical specimen that’s nothing more than… well… a one-trick “musclehead” pony; capable of impressing with appearance and (possibly) feats of strength, but not much in the way of exploits with the gray matter between one’s ears.


Bodybuilder Torso _Academic Tools Getting "The Musclehead" label pinned on you is a sure sign of imbalance. Build a strong body and build a powerful mind to go with it.

Yet falling under “the musclehead” label is a long way from what some very impressive individuals in bodybuilding have done. Arnold Schwartzenegger comes to mind as someone who’s never been a “musclehead”; he’s always pushed the limits of his comfort zone well outside the context of his bodybuilding achievements. 

Although Arnold is a pretty good example of a bodybuilder who dissimilated “the musclehead” characteristics of a stereotypical bodybuilder, I personally can think of an even better example. The late Ray ‘Thunder’ Stern was a bodybuilder who had been a professional wrestler as a young man. What many don’t know is that he was an extraordinary entrepreneur who was nothing less than a pioneer in the gym business. He was also a real estate developer and started and ran an aviation business. He was an intellectual who believed that a bodybuilder should build his or her mind as much as the body. In fact, despite his impressive strength and muscle mass, you could say Ray Stern was the antithesis “the musclehead” stereotype in bodybuilding.

I distinctly remember reading an interview of Mr. Stern in the late ‘90s. In it, he revealed that he had modeled his self-education after the example of Roman soldiers. He said that Roman soldiers were expected to display both physical AND intellectual strength. Of course, this revelation itself demonstrated his interest and depth-of-knowledge of history – itself an intellectual pursuit. He mentioned in his autobiography that at some point he decided “I will build my mind and body until the day I die.” What a powerful vow to make; a pledge that pays dividends not just to oneself – but to loved ones as well.

So… what do you do to build your mind as well as your body on a regular basis?

I’ve recently become somewhat addicted to the critical reasoning problems within both the LSAT and GMAT study guides. The LSAT prepares a person for law school, the GMAT for B-school. Yet even if you’re already a lawyer or MBA – or you’re neither and not planning to be either – these problems are of great exercise for your mind. They’ll train your brain to think with more reason about the seemingly complex and to make sense of the world around us. They demand exercise of your logic muscle and teach you to see issues critically. Oh sure… going through these self-tests can be maddening at first. But most of the books contain explanations of the answers so you can go over and improve on missed questions.

I simply dabble with a few critical reasoning problems on the weekends when I have a bit of time. The rewards are obvious, with improved reading comprehension and the ability to critique an issue logically being of foremost benefit.

So if you’re in danger of being labeled “the musclehead”, I recommend working on becoming as much an intellectual powerhouse as a physical one. And if you’re already a heavyweight in the mental arena, you might want to work on that mind/body intelligence that will make you as well-rounded as Roman soldiers were purported to be.

Let’s try to make the one-trick-pony thing as only a fiction for movie scripts and ‘the musclehead’ moniker a forgotten stereotype.

‘You… On a Diet’: A book Review

It isn’t often that I review another author’s work. In fact, this is the first time for me to delve into such a task. But with the obvious alignment of philosophy between many of my own recommendations and those dished out (no pun intended) in the book ‘You, On a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management’, I thought it natural to put in my two cents on the pros and cons of this particular “diet book.”

And just what alignment am I speaking of? The most prominent in ‘You… On a Diet’ is the advice against “dieting” despite the clever way the authors have chosen to grab the attention of their audience with the title. They aim their message at the millions of people who torture themselves with the regimented routines of excessive deprivation. Those routines are typically called “diets.” Yet if this is dieting and it’s most often doomed to the failure of recidivistic behavior over the long run, then it’s dieting we need to sensibly replace; hence, the clever irony of the title. 

I can attest to the effectiveness of not “dieting”, but “enhancing eating habits” instead. When I dropped fifty pounds of blubber, I did it slowly and in a fun manner that had me incrementally adding a new small challenge every two or three weeks. This allowed my body and subconscious mind to slowly adapt to ‘lean eating’ and take on the self-image of a “high performance person” rather than the self-pity of a deprived person. This is very much aligned with what Dr. Mehmet C. Oz and Dr. Michael F. Roizen recommend in their book ‘You, On a Diet; An Owner’s Manual for Waist Management.’

You On a Diet_Book Review_Dr. Mehmet C. Oz and Dr. Michael F. Roizen

"You, On a Diet": Great "eating habits" recommendations with a bit of "deprivation" on the subject of exercise.

‘You, On a Diet: An Owner’s Manual for Waist Management’

Okay… so I’ll admit to not being crazy about the title of this book. It seems to shamelessly assume and reinforce an excessive self-absorption by its contemporary target audience. But that doesn’t take away from some valuable content contained within. The basic premise behind ‘You, on a Diet’, by physicians Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, is that it’s nearly impossible to count one’s calories and weigh one’s food (diet) for long-term body fat control. This is why individuals who take these measures to lose weight inevitably end up at a loss for what to do once they’ve dropped the extra pounds. Thus the authors stress proper food choices rather than food quantity-reduction for long-term fat loss success.

A slight refinement of this principle is something to which I can personally ascribe my own success with fat loss. The skill of “instinctive eating” has kept me lean after the loss of fifty pounds of body fat that I removed without ever weighing food or doing anything with calories other than estimating them.

Drs. Oz and Roizen also contend that it’s the size of our waists and not our body weight that’s the true indicator of our health and fitness levels. This would certainly put the teachings of ‘You… On a Diet’ in alignment with the bodybuilding community on this issue; bodybuilders consider being “in shape” as having a respectable ratio between a big torso and small waistline. So the tag-line title ‘An Owner’s Manual for Waist Management’ is a cool play on words that makes up for the slight misleading shallowness I find in its preceding main title.

‘You, On a Diet’: What to Eat

The authors of ‘You… On a Diet’ point out that the hormone ‘ghrelin’ stimulates appetite while the hormone ‘leptin’ suppresses it. In order to reduce the former and raise the latter, we need to eat more healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts while eliminating or reducing intake of foods containing simple sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Sure, there’s nothing new here in terms of which foods to reduce and which to increase. However, the ghrelin/leptin ratio is news to most people and an added compelling reason to lean toward natural foods rather than sugary processed ones in addition to the reason of contrasting calorie content. If counting calories is ineffective over the long term, then feeling satiated from consumption of more natural, unprocessed foods should more than make up for it by eventually creating a favorable hormonal ratio.

This has been one of my “secrets” to getting and staying lean. It’s even my secret to “eating for muscle gain.” While many individuals are obsessed with counting calories (whether for weight loss or weight gain), I’ve stayed focused on “instinctive quantities” derived at by making better choices of foods. This has allowed my clients and me to be unburdened by the demands of strict diets that cause many people to conclude they can’t stick with it over the long term.

“You… on a Diet”: Deprivation doesn’t work

Also in alignment with what I’ve observed is the co-author’s contention that dieters feel they’re in constant battle with temptation to eat what’s not allowed in their diets. This builds a feeling of deprivation which only creates more desire to eat the pastries, doughnuts, and potato-chips rather than the skinless chicken, broccoli, and carrot sticks.

The only thing I find myself at odds with is something derived at by the somewhat subjective nature of the experience of “satiation.” If a dieter switches all food intake from the sugary processed variety over to the natural “out of the ground” type, he or she will drop body fat. However, calories are calories; we can still eat too big of quantities even after we’ve made this critical switch. If you tell some people, like me, to eat until they feel “satiated”, it might well be taken as an ‘okay’ to eat “to your heart’s content.” This, I’ve found from my own experience, can stop fat loss in its tracks or even reverse its course.

The remedy, even while not counting calories, is to learn your body’s signals so as to stop eating just short of what many of us would describe as “satiation.” In other words, losing fat requires frequent feedings of nutritious foods that leave us just “slightly short of complete satiation”; not hungry – but not really “full” either. The feedback to monitor is whether we feel some lowering of blood sugar and its accompanying hunger for a good thirty minutes before each meal when the meals are spread about three hours apart. That’s when you’ll know you’re burning some fat calories throughout the day without compromising your muscle or long-term metabolism.

You, On a Diet: The odds and ends

Drs. Roizen and Oz also cover medical options (their pros and cons) for obese persons who find typical eating habit changes and exercise to be inadequate for their challenge. These options include everything from surgery to certain types of drug prescriptions and are especially worth considering for those dealing with obesity over the age of fifty. Some of what’s talked about:

  • Bariatric surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Amphetamines
  • Drugs that act like serotonin
  • Drugs that inhibit fat absorption in the body

Medical options should always be by prescription and under the supervision of a qualified MD. These are serious alternatives that must be deliberated upon with one’s personal physician before a decision is made. However, for ‘morbid obesity’ (100 pounds overweight for men – 80 pounds overweight for women), these are viable options the authors discuss in detail.

“You, on a Diet”: A disagreement

I like most of what the authors of ‘You… On a Diet’ have to say, but disagree with the sparse section on exercise. I can’t slam them too much for exercise sparseness; it is, after all, a ‘diet’ book. However, their claim that “20 minutes of bodyweight exercise/ three times per week is all you need” is almost laughable. This is hardly enough time to provide the body with adequate cardiovascular exercise to burn fat. It certainly isn’t enough time performing resistance exercises to add enough muscle to the body to replace metabolism-boosting, shape-creating solid tissue that’s lost with age.

Maybe these are merely the words of a diehard bodybuilder but I think enhancing one’s eating habits and implementing an exercise routine should provide compelling, even exciting… results. That’s what keeps us motivated. It definitely beats the somewhat drab prospect of “losing weight” just to see a droopy-skinned skeleton reflected from the mirror. That’s what unchecked sarcopenia can leave us with. This is precisely the reason HardBody Success has an effective and highly doable resistance training workout as its cornerstone.


Overall, I think ‘You, On a Diet: An Owner’s Manual for Waist Management’ is worthy of its price tag and time-in-reading. I’d say the best take-away quote from within deals with “emotional eating” with the following:

“… live and eat in the present – not being upset about what you ate in the past and not obsessing about what you’ll eat in the future.”

Well said!

My input: Think of yourself as a “high-performance person”… your body as a “high performance machine”… and each day as one where you’ll get your greatest satisfaction from “performing well” (moving closer to what you want). This formula will more likely get you the body you want than any calorie-counting, food-weighing regimen of deprivation.