Failure is a powerful teacher.
In fact, it is one of the greatest teachers to help you get through life. The problem is that a teacher is only as good as the students who listen to what they have to say.
For me I have failed in the gym. Although I’m in better shape then most people, for the amount of time I have spent in the weight room I don’t have much at all to show for it.
With the mind boggling number of blogs, websites, magazines etc. on health, nutrition and fitness it is quite difficult to find reputable resources. Over the years I have found quite a few, but they were diamonds in the rough. I’ve done more diets and lifting routines than I can count, and that was my problem.
I was never able to find someone who shared my same fitness goals (Aesthetics first, then health/mobility, then athleticism). There are those with similar combinations, but my goals are unique as are most of ours.
The problem is that I have spent so much time searching for the right answer, when in fact there really is no perfect answer. Although to get as close to possible as perfect, instead of being observant and mindful about my results and the results of others, I failed to pay attention and simply kept looking and looking.
Thus far I haven’t, nor do I plan to in the near future, to talk at length about fitness. Although at the age of 23 I’ve been in the weight room for the better part of a decade, I still can’t ‘walk the walk’. I have a long way to go, but I’m getting there.
It was about two months ago to this day that I decided a change was in order. I had been part of an online ‘inner circle’ group for lifting. I loved the routines and diet, but I wasn’t making any progress. I started to not only get fed up, but started to realize I was away off the mark.
One day I began talking to one of the trainers at my gym. He trained some of my family members in the past and was always in the gym either lifting or training. He’s one of those old, jacked dudes and does competitive bodybuilding at the age of 60.
We got to talking about my mom and then we jumped right into fitness. He noticed I had some muscular and structural imbalances in my shoulder which I was aware of, but didn’t think anything about them. He then showed me an exercise on the rear delt machine to build muscle on the upper back.
We then talked about my training as a whole. I told him I was frustrated with my menial results and he suggested I stop my ‘Power Training’ and switch to a bodybuilding type routine for about six months. He told me I could still keep doing what I was doing, but to add in some bodybuilding type stuff. I did, and then some… All I can say is since then I haven’t looked back.
Bodybuilding is more conducive to my goals and I am already seeing a lot of progress. I still do low rep sets, but the emphasis is on pumping, stretching and squeezing.
As for today’s article, instead of telling you what to do, I’m going to tell you what not to do. I’m going to lay out what I have done in the past and why it hasn’t worked. Also, please keep in mind that our goals might not be similar. If they are read on, but regardless of your goals be objective, weigh my thoughts and ideas, and really think about them. Don’t simply accept them as fact because you read it on a website.
On that note, lets jump into mistake number one.
#1: Program Hopping
Here’s some of the routines I’ve done off the top of my head over the years:
- Arnold’s workouts
- DoggCrap training
- Starting Strength
- Crossfit Football
- German Volume training
- Muscle Gaining Secrets
- And many, many, many more.
The thing is that not all of these workouts are bad just because I didn’t gain much from them. The thing is if all these workouts are claiming to be the best way to build muscle, than clearly everything else is wrong.
If two opposing ideas both claim to be right, then at least one is wrong.
I never realized that and failed to look at building muscle objectively. I simply came across a new workout, said “This looks cool” tried it for a few weeks and then a new and shiny workout came along and I was on that one.
It’s important to change your exercises and routines periodically, but in order for one to grow, one’s muscles need to adapt to the stimuli they’re being faced with. The only way to adapt to this stimulus is to being exposed to it consistently over a period of time.
Also, if one understands what they want and what their goals are, there workout’s should not vary greatly. A few tweaks here and there, but one shouldn’t do Crossfit one week and bodybuilding the next if their goals haven’t changed.
#2: Starting Strength/5×5 Are Not the Gospel
Starting Strength (SS) and 5×5 are good routines for beginning lifters, and even many intermediate lifters for that matter. In fact, the biggest I’v ever been was after a 12 week SS bulk. I got pretty big. I was 185 lbs and my shirt sleeves were filling out. In fact, I started having people tell me how big I looked. When I measured my waist though it had ballooned up to 36”, which was bigger than ever before.There’s nothing wrong with gaining a little weight when bulking, but that was too much.
The beef I have with SS, in that it is treated like the Gospel.
“Thou shalt Squat 3 times a week.”
“Thou shalt not curl, and if thou curleth in the squat rack thou shall perish in hell.”
“Thou shalt not want to look good, and only do heavy compounds.”
And so on… After 12 weeks on SS I had what I like to call “T-Rex syndrome”, that is huge thighs and a pitifully small upper body. To this day my thighs are still huge and I can knock out 10 pistols easy, but who the fuck cares? I sure as hell don’t.
So why was I doing it? Because I made the following mistake:
#3: Not Training for What I Want (Meathead Mentality)
The internet told me to not worry about training arms. That was vain and what pretty boys did. Plus, squats would make my arms grow. I followed that dogma for years and now have tiny(ish) arms.
All along though I wanted big arms. I wanted to look like a meathead, but all the while I just kept squatting and squatting like it was going to magically solve my problems. I didn’t train my chest and arms because they weren’t “Functional”. So I squatted, chinned, and deadlifted and got pretty good at them, but didn’t have any size to show for it.
Do you want big arms? Then fucking curl.
Do you want a big chest? Then bench and do flies/cable crossovers.
Do you want a six pack? Do ab work.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.
Anyone who says otherwise probably looks like shit.
Wanting to look good is the #1 reason most men and women step foot in the gym, yet many workout programs tell them to avoid vanity; it makes no sense.
Don’t let others tell you what you want; only you know what you truly want. If you want to squat 500 lbs. awesome!
If you want to look good naked, then train for that goal.
#4: Not Eating Enough
Fat people are fat because they don’t realize how much they’re eating.
Skinny people are skinny because they don’t realize how little they’re eating.
I was the latter.
I’ve never been fat so I’ve never had to worry about losing weight, but I’ve always been quite thin. I was never a stick, but never took up much space either. I always thought I was eating enough, but if I really counted my calories then it wouldn’t exceed 3,000. I was too worried about eating ‘Paleo’ and following the latest Intermittent Fasting protocol that I forgot to eat like a damn horse.
If I told you that you had to gain 10 pounds this month and you had only two options:
1.) Lift weights or
2.) Eat a shit ton
You would obviously pick the latter. While you would just get fat, you would gain weight. Now, if you were to do both that’s how you gain muscle.
#5: Eating too Healthy
There’s nothing wrong with eating healthy, in fact I encourage it. My issue was that I was too focused on eating healthy, that I wasn’t eating enough calories and thus my weight stagnated for long periods of time.
If you can honestly make 5-6 healthy meals a day and get in the amount of calories you need, then kudos to you. I do my best to do that, but sometimes a little junk gives me the extra calories I need to put on weight.
On that note I said 5-6 meals for a reason. Intermittent fasting is gaining in popularity these days, and for good reason. It is a fantastic way to lose fat and I think it is conducive to overall human health. However, eating 1-3 meals is not conducive to gaining mass.
“But Sergio Oliva only ate one meal a day!”
He also had some of the greatest genetics the bodybuilding world has ever seen.
Here’s my logic: If something you’re doing isn’t working, than stop doing it. Revolutionary right?
Oliva ate one meal a day and became one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Just because it worked for him, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Give it a few months and if you’re not making the gains you want than you need to reassess your diet.
For most of us eating 3 meals a day, let alone one would have us looking puny.
Another aspect of eating 5-6 times a day is that you are so focused on eating and gaining mass, that there is no way you won’t gain size. When I did intermittent fasting I was so removed from my diet if that makes sense. To elaborate, I was going through the motions per se, and while one wouldn’t think you can go through the motions with a diet, you absolutely can.
If you’re skinny or looking to put on size: Eat!
If you’re still not gaining: Eat more!
Just keep eating until you’re consistently moving the scale. Gaining a little fat is okay, but if it’s toomuch than start cutting back.
#6: Focusing Excessively on Heavy Compounds
“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but nobody wanna lift heavy ass weight”
– Ronnie Coleman
Lifting heavy ass weight is an important aspect of gaining size. It’s no coincidence guys who squat big have big legs or guys with huge overhead presses have boulder shoulders. Lifting heavy compounds should be a part of every lifters programs and it is mine. However, there is a point on how much is too much. Especially when one’s entire program revolves around lifting heavy.
Now, if you want to be a powerlifter than there’s nothing wrong with that, but few people are actually training to become powerlifters. When I bench and deadlift heavy I don’t feel shit contracting. Yeah, it’s heavy weight and my body is aware of it, but when one focuses on just moving a lot of weight, the trade off is less muscular contraction. When you’re doing heavy bench you’re not focused on contracting the chest maximally, rather you’re just seeking to bounce as much weight as possible off your chest.
If one actually looks at how bodybuilders train, it is not with a lot of “Heavy ass weight”. Sure, once in a while they’ll throw a bunch of 45’s on the bar and lift heavy so that they can film it and make a DVD, but for the most part these guys are sitting on machines for the majority of their workouts. They can get a away with that being chemically enhanced, but I do not believe that a ‘natural’ trainee should entirely disregard machines and isolation exercises.
That leads us right into the next mistake:
#7: Ignoring Isolation Exercises
I used to shake my head at the guys doing cable crossovers and concentration curls.
“Wow, look at those meatheads not doing compound lifts. They’re not doing anything with those wimpy little exercises.”
About a month ago I started doing cable crossovers. I had done them a few times in the past, but did them with poor form. This time it was different.
Doing cable crossovers with good form hits my pecs like no other. It’s incredible.
Here’s a video of how to do them correctly:
I’d like to add few notes:
1.) Squeeze and contract your chest when your hands our clasped together. You’re going to feel that shit.
2.) I like to have the handles lower, usually a bit lower than chest height.
3.) Do them for 12-15 reps, for 2-3 sets after your main chest exercises (Barbell/dumbell bench variations and machine presses).
To me, cable flies always seemed like one of the biggest bro exercises out there, and there was a reason for that; it punishes your pecs.
Learning from your mistakes is an essential part of going through life, but if you can have someone make those mistakes for you than your life will be a bit easier.
I hope you really take the time to think about this article. It’s been field tested a lot to my dismay, although I think I know what direction to go in from this point on and hopefully you do as well.