View Full Version : Bodybuilding has lied to you, that's why you're still skinny

01-14-2010, 10:38 PM

Bodybuilding has lied to you, and thatís why youíre still skinny.
2010 JANUARY 11
Over the last say five, six years, Iíve pretty well managed to wall myself off from gym culture. I do lift in a commercial gym, though I have very little contact with the people there Ė unless you count staring in slack-jawed amazement at some of the antics and stupidity as contact. I donít, personally.

Most of the people I talk to in person are real lifters of some sort or another, guys that like powerlifting and strongman and Highland games. The manly kind of sports that you can drink beer with. We donít always agree 100% on the details, but we also know that the details donít matter and that in every way that matters, weíre on the same page.

Online, Iíve almost entirely stayed away from sites like bodybuilding.com or the beloved T-mag precisely because they encourage so much of that Bro mentality Ė that faux-macho wannabe outlook that relies on being Ďedgyí and Ďhardcoreí and Ďlatching on to the nuts of this yearís popular guruí.

Since taking myself out of all that, Iíve developed what I can only describe as selective amnesia, because Iíve genuinely been surprised at some of the stupid thatís out there Ė and itís layered, complex stupid. This can range from the mostly harmless repetition of Bro-mantras like the beloved íshock the body to keep it guessingí, right on up to full on ĎI still weigh 60kg and canít put on weight but let me tell you how to do thingsí.

Iíve discussed the abstract concept of stupidity before, and itís an interesting thing. Stupidity isnít just the absence of intelligence or information; itís the active rejection of learning that works by convincing the stupid person that s/he doesnít need to learn in the first place. Of course stupid and ignorant are relative terms, but Iím of the firm belief that most anybody can be coached or trained in the gym if theyíre given enough guidance.

One thing thatís always struck me about the guys that are ístuckí Ė canít get over 75kg, bench wonít go past 90kg Ė is their own lack of self-awareness. It should be simple to understand that, if your current behaviors arenít moving you towards your goals, then youíre going to have to change your behaviors.

If what youíre doing isnít working, youíre going to have to do something else.

This is such a staggeringly simple concept that I just canít believe people donít get it. But it happens every single damn day. If you go to any of the big busy forums online, youíll see one question asked more than anything else: ďwhy canít I gain weight?Ē This question will come in different flavors and styles, but it always remains.

You see it in any commercial gym. Next time youíre in such a place, have a look at how many skinny-looking guys are walking around in the weights area. If you come back in a year, assuming they havenít quit, none of them will look any different.

I drew up a flowchart outline to give a quick rundown of the thought process that these guys go through:

Recognize that Iím underweight, out of shape, and weak. Make a commitment to be at the gym five days a week.
Read a magazine with a big muscular guy on the cover. Find his workout.
Do the workout from the magazine, as long as itís for: chest, shoulders, arms, or back. Skip legs because you run a lot.
Gain a little weight because of beginner gains. Donít change your diet to increase protein or calorie intake.
Stall out because youíre not eating enough and because you insist on doing bodybuilderís routine. Body weight levels off around 70-75kg and bench is stuck somewhere between 60-80kg.
Decide that youíre Ďcuttingí now, since you want abs for summer. If youíre really determined to get big, skip 6 and go to 7.
Ask the big guy in the gym for some steroids. Go on a cycle of test and dbol even though youíve been lifting for a year and have no idea how to eat or train.
Get Ďgood gainsí on your cycle, which is really just water-bloat and not gains at all, but you believe itís gains because the scale goes up and all the other idiots tell you itís gains.
Come off cycle and lose all your gains the water weight. Strength and stamina in the gym go back to shit because the only reason you could sustain your workout was because of the juice.
Go back to 7. If youíre now depressed and Ďover it,í go back to 6.
That about sums it up I think. Iíd guess that most every guy at your gym, with only a few exceptions that will be obvious, is stuck somewhere in this flowchart. Beginners seem to repeat steps 1-5 without fail, and guys that have more than a year or so under their belts are either bouncing between that or Ďcutting for the beachí. A few more will go on to repeat the endless loop of steroid cycling without any real muscle gains to speak of.

Why does this loop keep happening, and why do so many, almost 100%, get stuck in it? There are two fundamental reasons:

1) You donít know how to eat. Popular bodybuilding wisdom encourages low-calorie diets of Ďcleaní foods, usually chicken and broccoli. Thatís all fine and dandy, but it doesnít add muscle to skinny bodies.

2) You donít know how to train. Popular bodybuilding and Ďgeneral fitnessí wisdom encourages you to split your training into 3-6 days a week, with each session devoted to one body part. Thatís all fine and dandy, but itís kinda missing the point.

These are hard truths, but you have to accept them. If youíre a skinny kid, the worst thing you can do is listen to whatís in the magazines and listen to what gym-culture tells you to do.

Gym-culture says you need to split up your body and focus on each muscle group to grow. Thatís a load of horseshit, because for every guy you see thatís big or strong and uses that system, the majority of guys following it fail completely and spectacularly. And then instead of thinking Ďgee, maybe I should re-think this strategy,í they either give up or start popping dbol like candy.

Then they grow, mainly because of water retention; and then once they come off, they lose all their gains water. Thatís a productive strategy.

If you want the best gains, you need to focus on training regularly and training to get strong. Strength is size. Remember that. Repeat it. Say it out loud. Strength is size.

If youíre a big guy that uses body-part splits, by all means keep at it. If you enjoy it and think itís productive, Iím not going to say youíre wrong. If youíre a skinny kid thatís hit a plateau, Iím telling you thereís a better way to do things.

The bodybuilding paradigm goes back to the 1970s and 1980s, stretching back to Joe Weiderís philosophy on pumping up the muscle with endless volume. This only got worse in the 80s when everybody was on the juice and could grow on the super-high volume splits that are still with us today.

A bodybuilding session will have something like 4-5 exercises per muscle group, with the premise being that you must hammer and grind and ultimately defeat the muscle by bludgeoning it with set after set. Thatís not strength training; thatís endurance exercise. It may work for you as a beginner, but the biggest effect this training has is 1) inflaming your muscles and pumping them up right after the workout; and 2) bloating them up by increasing the amount of water, glycogen, and other goodies stored in there.

Needless to say, if you donít have muscle to pump in the first place, this isnít going to work very well. Leave the volume-training to big guys with a strength foundation.

Muscles respond most favorably to heavy, high-tension movements; and no, you do not have to work every muscle directly for them to grow. This is because muscle groups overlap and fill many of the same roles. Yes, this means that once youíve worked the hell out of your bench press, your triceps probably donít need that much work.

Bodybuilding has so poisoned the well that most people donít even realize that they can train with any other system. If someone wants to grow, then they default to the five-day body-part split. Iím telling you right now: any Ďbodybuildingí training should be secondary to your basic strength training; and only then if youíre really convinced you need it. If youíre 75kg and bitching that you canít get any bigger, you probably donít need it.

What you need instead if a basic program that focuses on getting stronger. ĎI donít want to be a powerlifter,í you say. ĎI want to build a good physique with mass and symmetry.í The funny part is that most people that say that have no idea what it even means as it comes out of their mouths.

Strength is size. If you want Ďmassí, you need to get stronger with the big lifts. If you want ísymmetryí, well, you need to talk to your parents. Anything else is a function of leanness. To many would-be bodybuilders just donít realize this, and they stay both small and weak as a result. At least until they go on the sauce.

If youíve already got a decent base of strength from years of training, you might benefit from this lighter bodybuilding stuff. You might even want to play with the split routines for a change of pace. You just have no business following that kind of routine when you donít have that foundation to build on.

Now what about diet? This is the other pillar of gaining muscle and body-weight, and itís just as much of a spectacular failure for most people.

The gym-culture says to eat every 2-3 hours to Ďkeep the metabolic fires burningí. Right. The diet itself revolves around lean meats (almost always chicken), green veggies (almost always broccoli), and Ďclean carbsí with oats being the number one contender.

Okay look, thatís fine if youíre already big and trying to maintain some degree of leanness. If youíre a little dude, just give it a rest. Seriously. I donít care about your damn abs if youíre bitching about being stuck at 70kg for the last year.

Shut up and go eat a cheeseburger.

Thereís nothing wrong with eating lean meats and Ďclean carbsí later on, once youíve actually gotten strong and added some muscle. I want you to try eating enough to grow with that diet, though. Smaller guys will probably need to push 4000 kcals per day to grow. Thatís a lot of chicken and broccoli and oats. Really dedicated guys can do it, but Iím telling you itís pointless macho bullshit. There are easier ways.

Ways like pizza.

If you want a solid plan to grow without turning into a total fatass, a strategy to which I can relate, then set your daily calorie intake to around 18 times your body weight in pounds as a starting point. Set protein to at least 1 gram per lb first. Put carbs at maybe 2-2.5 times body weight, depending on your preference, and then make up the remainder from fat. The actual type of food doesnít matter so much; if you can fit in cheeseburgers, fit them in. Cheeseburgers want to be eaten. Just remember that the numbers come first.

As to how many meals to eat, if youíre bulking you never want to be hungry. That sounds like one of those hard-liner absolutist statements, but there is truth to it. Iíd make it a point to at least get protein every few hours to keep amino acid levels high.

Depending on how sloppy you want to get, you may find that you want to eat more than this. Thatís fine too. Just remember that to be realistic, itís probably not the best of ideas to add 50 lbs of fat in order to bump your squat 10 lbs. Iím all for bulking, but experience has taught me that bulking out of control is counterproductive. If youíre going to do it, do it right Ė make sure youíre actually adding strength and adding muscle.

And the followup article:

01-14-2010, 11:11 PM
:thumbsup: Whoa nice article- lots of other good stuff on the site too!

01-14-2010, 11:32 PM
This guy sounds really upset about other people not achieving their goals.
It comes off as a bit of an attitude, and seemingly for no reason.

Lots of "stupid" this and "stupid" that.

It's like being a pro race car driver, or racing in a near pro league and then posting on the internet on how stupid people look that modify their street cars.
Telling them that they are reading too many magazines and following too many trends, and if they wanna be real race car drivers they need to work harder in their job and buy a trailer and put massive slicks on their car and weld in a 20 pt cage and work every part in the car over.

Why did I use this analogy? It's because this would not be practical for a daily driver.
For the same reason, eating 20,000 calories a day and lifting until your knees shatter or your injure yourself with a weight that is too heavy.

These people are not pro bodybuilders, they are not pro lifters, they likely have day jobs, and it's not practical to spend every waking minute eating and squatting until you bleed.

So why would anyone get mad at someone for not modifying their daily driver into a full race car. Tons of car guys complain that their car is never fast enough or handles good enough, but no one sane will get mad at them and call them stupid and tell them they need to learn to weld and buy a tube bender.

I do lift in a commercial gym
I do race on test/tune street car nights

Would you trailer your race car to a secret street track day and roll your eyes at all the street cars that cannot make it into the 12's no matter how hard they try?
Are you going to avoid beyond because you are a real racer and therefore are more superior to people that race street cars?

Are you going to ignore and stop going to secret street because you cannot stand to be around people that aren't elite racers?

Maybe the analogy is flawed? It's the best I could come up with.

The article makes me feel a lot better about going to harveys on occasion after a workout and pounding down a double angus burger and then fall into a calorie overload induced sleep for 2-3 hours.

The writer also sounds like he is classifying a lot of casual lifters into a category he calls "bodybuilders"

A lot of people complain about their physique, almost no one is 100% happy with how they look, which btw is different from how you feel or how strong you are.

Getting mad at people that aren't happy with their results is no way to help them.
If they are really serious about weightlifting they will hire a dietitian and a personal trainer.

No point in getting upset, if they get frustrated enough and take it seriously enough, they will take the steps, if they do not think it's important enough to take those steps It's not worth wasting your time yelling at them and telling them how stupid they look in the gym.

Most of the people I talk to in person are real lifters
Most of the drivers I talk to in person are real racers

I was in the gym the other day and I made conversation with a member that was doing squats (obviously a vet, his belt looked like it was from the 60's)
and instead of rolling his eyes and telling me to go eat 20k calories and then come talk to him, instead of this he gave me some valuable advice on front squats and was very polite about it.


This is no flame, just some thoughts/opinions, I would take it with a grain.

01-15-2010, 12:35 AM
Time Attack, I don't think he meant to have an attitude against people who have a hard time gaining.

I think that he had to be overly assertive, biased and almost rude to get the point across. I think his writing style is quite effective actually. I had great gains as a beginner and have "plateaued" at 160lbs for quite a while now.

It's really hard to eat 4000cals/day and focus on only eating "clean" food when you aren't made of money or time, so I'm actually quite happy with what I've accomplished thus far. But in order to gain any more weight I really have to focus on calories and I think he has a good point. The only thing is that food like pizza really cant be very good for you in the long run, so it seems like kind of a toss-up between physical appearance and long-term health.

I'm somewhat skeptical about is the 'shock the body to keep it guessing' comment. I've recently changed my workouts from low rep, heavy weight compounds (squat, bench, pull ups, etc.) to all around weight (mostly compound exercises)+cardio+wall climbing and over the last few weeks I've had surprising gains with no huge change to my diet. I have no great source saying that shocking the body works but it seems to be for me.

Just my opinion.

P.S. thanks for the post lint, I thought it was very informative. Especially to anyone who is just starting lifting/hypertrophy.

01-15-2010, 12:52 AM
Time Attack, you've missed the point. The skinny guys who can't gain weight/get stronger would be analogous to ricers who want to go faster with body kits and decals, but completely neglect the engine.

01-15-2010, 01:33 AM
In 3 months of following Rippetoe's Starting Strength.

I'm 5"5

140lbs to 165lbs
Bench 80lbs to 125lbs
Barbell Shoulder Press 45 to 85lbs
Squat 100 to 205lbs
Deads 100 to 205lbs

So yes it works. Am I ripped? No. What's my build like? Well just bigger everything. People who didn't see me for a few months were like WTF? You on roids or some shit? :rofl: What did I eat? Anything and everything. I couldn't help it. I was constantly hungry. It was fucking ridiculous!

Now I fell off the bandwagon, partying too much, not lifting enough, just lazy. For 2010, I'm re-doing Starting Strength and planning to switch over to 5/3/1 mid year. I know I've plateaued so I know I need to lift harder and eat cleaner.

We'll see how it goes. I want to be strong like some of the mofo's on here. :thumbsup: :whipped:

01-15-2010, 02:28 AM
good read

01-15-2010, 08:46 AM
Originally posted by lint
Time Attack, you've missed the point. The skinny guys who can't gain weight/get stronger would be analogous to ricers who want to go faster with body kits and decals, but completely neglect the engine.

That makes a lot more sense.

01-15-2010, 09:02 AM
Originally posted by max_boost
In 3 months of following Rippetoe's Starting Strength.

Bench 80lbs to 125lbs
Press 45 to 85lbs

Your dumbbell press went from 45 to 85lbs? That's pretty impressive! Since you can press 85lbs, I'm surprised you only do 125lb bench press though.

01-15-2010, 09:15 AM
Originally posted by Impreza

Your dumbbell press went from 45 to 85lbs? That's pretty impressive! Since you can press 85lbs, I'm surprised you only do 125lb bench press though.

I'm thinking he means barbell press

01-15-2010, 09:16 AM
Originally posted by max_boost
In 3 months of following Rippetoe's Starting Strength.

I'm 5"5

Squat 100 to 205lbs
Deads 100 to 205lbs

Wow, great! I wish I could have that kind of gain! I have been lifting about 170 for what feels like forever.

01-15-2010, 10:48 AM
how much should a person gain/week before it becomes counter-productive?

01-15-2010, 11:58 AM
McGriddles and Snickers bars ftw. I always thought it was lols when people talked about where they are getting calories from instead of how many calories, when you are doing shit that burns thousands of calories.

01-15-2010, 01:58 PM
Originally posted by Impreza

Your dumbbell press went from 45 to 85lbs? That's pretty impressive! Since you can press 85lbs, I'm surprised you only do 125lb bench press though.

haha I WISH!!

85lbs is for standing barbell shoulder press :)

DB I am about 35.

Lots of work to do. :D

01-15-2010, 02:03 PM
Originally posted by max_boost

haha I WISH!!

85lbs is for standing barbell shoulder press :)

DB I am about 35.

Lots of work to do. :D

That makes more sense! haha. Keep up the hard work, you made some great gains!

01-15-2010, 03:07 PM
Probably why everyone whose natural looks the same pretty much at the gym.

01-15-2010, 04:16 PM
I'd kill to be an Ectomorph.

01-15-2010, 04:26 PM
I love being an ectomorph now that I carry some decent muscle. But I hated it for years and years, and I still wish I was an easy gainer sometimes.

My original secret to success when I gained a bunch of weight in my first year of college was a Wendy's Baconator per day after school, plus my usual breakfast, lunch and dinner and some protein.

01-15-2010, 08:31 PM
Yeah lol. When I bulked it was 100% clean, cheats planned once every 2 weeks and I was ingesting 4500 cals/day.

425g pro, 250 carb, 200 fats, with the last two meals of the day being no carb. I still put on fat, about 4-5 pounds in 6 months, but 12 pounds of muscle. So it was ok, just gotta start leaner next time, the problem is getting leaner!!