Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.3)

Here are the final two pieces of conventional bodybuilding wisdom that will prevent you from realizing your best physique.

Unless you decide to take the unconventional road.

#4 – You Need to Use a lot of Supplements

I guess that depends on what you define as “a lot”.  Personally, I use protein powders, take a Shaklee Vitalizer pack (multi-vitamin, Omegas, probiotic, and B vitamins), and creatine and BCAA’s during my competition prep.  For a pre-workout shot of energy I typically drink a bold black coffee or I’ll use a pre-workout drink if my friend Rich Fitter has sent me any samples of the latest and greatest.

Whey protein powder, supplements, bodybuilding

The truth is, many top natural bodybuilders (not that I’m one of them) don’t take many supplements.  Most use what would be considered “the essentials” which is essentially what I outlined above.  But of course there are those that do consume virtually anything found on a supplement stores shelf if they think it will add an inkling of more muscle or burn more fat.

protein powder. Supplements for bodybuilders

More often than not, those with the best grasp on their training and nutrition utilize far fewer supplements than individuals that do not.  The conventional—and outright stupid—outlook on supplements is that results can be found in a pill or powder.

As the lyrics from Survivor’s song in Rocky IV so eloquently points out, “There’s no easy way out…there’s no shortcuts home”.

Unconventional bodybuilding would have you thinking and acting like a researcher or scientist.  And like any great researcher you need to control for as many variables as possible before introducing a new one.  That means spending months if not years getting your diet and training dialed-in so that if some new revolutionary supplement is added to the mix you can know for sure whether or not it actually made a difference.

#5 – You Have to Dehydrate to Show More Muscle Definition

This might be THE most misunderstood aspects of bodybuilding even for seasoned bodybuilders.

Answer this question for me: How much of your muscle is made up of water?

That’s right, 75%.  When you deprive or deplete yourself of water the first place the water leaves is the muscles.  Not underneath the skin like most broscience knuckleheads think.

I’ll tell you in a moment the unconventional method for getting water out from under the skin and it doesn’t require the use of diuretics.

But first…

Water makes up three quarters of our muscles size so our goal is to keep as much water in the muscles as we can.

Water, bodybuilding, supplements

The way to regulate water inside and outside the cells is through carbohydrates and sodium/potassium balance.

Each gram of stored carbohydrate holds 2.7 grams of water.  That means the higher the concentration of glucose in a muscle the larger or more fuller that muscle will appear as a consequence of holding more water inside of it.

This is why people who undertake a very low carb diet find their muscles looking flat or have difficulty sustaining a good pump when they train. Without a high concentration of glycogen in the muscles, water has nothing to latch onto.

However this doesn’t mean you can consume copious amounts of carbohydrates either.  The muscles can only hold a certain amount of glucose at any one time.  Exactly how much depends on your body type, muscular size, metabolic rate, activity level, training demands, and what you are accustomed to.

bodybuilding, carbohydrates, supplements

If more glucose is present than what the muscles can store, water now has no place to reside within the muscles so it winds up outside of the cells and underneath the skin.  This situation is commonly referred to as “spill-over” and is a bodybuilder’s biggest fear and the reason they erroneously cut their water intake days prior to competition.

The unconventional approach to carbohydrate intake.

A good starting point is 1.25-1.75g/lb. of fat free mass.  Those who are highly active, have a high metabolic rate, are insulin sensitive, or find their muscles appearing “flat” will need to adjust their carbohydrates higher.  However it is best to methodically make these increases so as to determine the ideal amount for maintaining fullness without spillover.

The other regulating factor in achieving the cellophane skin look is sodium and potassium.

Sodium regulates extracellular fluid activity.  Potassium is responsible for controlling intracellular fluid activity.

Salt shaker

What does conventional bodybuilding logic say?  Drop your sodium so you hold less subcutaneous water, and if you really want to hit a home run pop some potassium pills!!!

When sodium is too low it signals the release of the hormone Aldosterone which causes the body to reabsorb and prevent the excretion of sodium which then results in water retention OUTSIDE THE CELLS!  The more sodium is decreased the more Aldosterone is released and the smoother and more waterlogged the muscles begin looking.

The secret unconventional approach to subcutaneous water excretion is (drum roll please)….

Keep your water intake as high as possible (at least 1 – 1.5 ounces per pound of bodyweight) and keep sodium and potassium intake…NORMAL.

  • 1,500-4,500 mg Na
  • 1,500-2,000 mg K

That’s the secret recipe.  It’s not a trick, it’s not magic.  It is a predictable approach that will leave you looking as tight as a pair of skinny jeans on a Hipster.  Presuming you are lean enough.

That’s right, none of this will make any sort of a difference unless your body-fat is low enough to where you already have significant muscle definition.  Put simply, unless you have shredded shoulders, separation in your quads, or something that at least resembles six pack abs, all the manipulation of water, Na, K, and carbs won’t give you these things.

Conclusion

By and large bodybuilding is an illusion.  But it’s an illusion that’s created by being as lean as possible while retaining as much muscle as possible while at your leanest.  As mentioned at the very start of this series, you don’t simply grow into the incredibly shredded and jacked condition of a bodybuilder.   It’s an endeavor that takes time, patience, and the willingness to turn your back on the herd mentality and take the unconventional approach.

Since we opened this series with a quote I figured we should close with on as well.

When you’re used to being prepared to reject conventional wisdom, it leaves you open to learn more.
– Mayim Bialik

Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.2)

Continuing on with our look at the misinformation and misunderstandings tied to conventional bodybuilding wisdom and offering better (unconventional) alternatives.

#2 – You Should Not Eat too Many Carbs, But Should Consume a lot of Protein.

Wrong!

Despite being disproved time and time again, the belief that carbs make you fat has stuck around like gum under a middle-schoolers desk.

carbohydrates, high carb, low protein, low fat, diet

In my favorite aisle in the supermarket…the cereal aisle!

This is a deep topic that deserves its own attention so I am going to avoid going into extensive detail.  I’ll just summarize why if anything you want to be carb heavy for the purpose of achieving the lean muscular look of a bodybuilder.  But first, let’s address protein.

Based on an extensive amount of research protein intake for someone who resistance trains or performs high intensity exercise need to only be 1.6 – 2.4g/kg of fat free mass.(1-6)   Or for those of you that eschew the metric system, around 1 gram per pound of lean body mass.  That means a 180lb. male with 10% body-fat would only need approximately 162g protein per day (even if in a caloric deficit).

Why high carb?

  • Because carbs are protein sparing.  In the absence of carbohydrates or low glycogen levels amino acids are called upon to do “double-duty” and supply energy needs.  This is very inefficient and leaves fewer to perform their primary job of repairing and building muscle tissue.
  • They along with ATP are the muscles primary source of energy for forceful muscle contractions.  Low carb diets leave little immediate energy available for intense anaerobic exercise.7
  • Carbs combined with water is what gives our muscles their fullness and hard appearance (more on this in Pt.3).

#3 – You Must do Cardio to get Shredded

I’ll do anything but cardio!

cardio,

I am not saying to avoid it if you enjoy it. Or that it can’t assist in fat-loss—especially if you do HIIT or some form of high intensity cardio.8, 9  But the notion that 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise several times a week to get bodybuilder lean is nonsense.

Thermogenesis is the name of the game and the caloric expenditure needed to trigger can be achieved through exercise or nutrition.  But really, it’s all about nutrition.  You can do cardio to help put you in a caloric deficit or you can choose to consume less calories.  Skip on the four Oreo cookies and you just saved yourself 30 minutes on the elliptical.  I know which option I’m going with!

There’s only a few reasons I’ve come across why some people must absolutely implement cardio to assist with fat-loss:

  1. Flat Ass Syndrome – Nope, it has nothing to do with developing glutes to rival Jen Selter. This is all about the terrible scenario that plagues millions of people which is extreme inactivity and sedentary work.  Put another way, people basically sit on their ass allllllllllll day.  They go to work by sitting on their ass in a car or on a train.  They get to work and sit on their ass in front of a computer for 8-10 hours.  They go home the same way came into work…sitting on their ass.  And then when they get home they sit their ass in front of a television while checking Twitter updates on a tablet. If this resembles your life in some way, shape or form then a little cardio might be necessary to.
  2. Diet is inadequate – Meaning they just have not touched on the proper distribution of calories and macronutrients to make fat-loss consistent or they have not allotted enough TIME to lose the necessary amount of BF.  The latter is very problematic for those competing in bodybuilding or any type of physique contest because the harder one needs to push their diet and exercise to meet a deadline the more susceptible they become to muscle loss.The negative impact is twofold. First, even if you reach your desired weight or degree of leanness you will not look your best.  Second, you will have suppressed your metabolism making it harder to lose more body-fat and easier to regain body-fat.
  3. Metabolic Kick-start – Sometimes you can do everything right and the G.A.S. (General Adaptation Syndrome) goes and spoils it all.  The more easily your body adapts to your diet the tougher it becomes to keep your metabolism elevated.  Adding some HIIT or any form of higher intensity cardio can help provide a different stimulus to cause a metabolic response.

#4 – You Need to Use a lot of Supplements

That depends on what you define as “a lot”.  I personally use protein powder, Shaklee Vitalizer, and creatine and some BCAA’s during competition prep.  That’s pretty much it.

My pre-workout is typically a cup of black coffee or if Rich Fitter hooks me up with some pre-workout samples I might use that for a shot of energy instead.

The truth is, while natural bodybuilders are probably the largest consumer of supplements many of the top natural bodybuilders in the world don’t take all that many.  Things such as protein powders, multi-vitamins, Omega’s, creatine, and BCAA’s are pretty standard but beyond that most everything else tends to be unnecessary if your nutrition and training is on point.

References

  1. Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Apr;21(2):97-104.
  2. Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body
    mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010; 42(2), 326-337.
  3. Pasiakos SM, Cao JJ, Margolis LM, Sauter ER, Whigham LD, McClung JP, Rood JC, Carbone JW, Combs GF Jr, Young AJ. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. FASEB J. 2013 Jun 5.
  4. Phillips SM, Moore DR, Tang JE. A critical examination of dietary protein requirements, benefits, and excesses in athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007 Aug;17 Suppl:S58-76.
  5. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127-38. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0054. Epub 2013 Oct 2.
  6. http://suppversity.blogspot.de/2013/06/evidence-from-metabolic-ward-16-24gkg.html
  7. Couto PG, Bertuzzi R, de Souza CC, Lima HM, Kiss MA, de Oliveira FR, Lima-Silva AE. High-CHO Diet Induces Faster Final Sprint and Overall 10,000 m Times of Young Runners. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2015 Apr 22. [Epub ahead of print]
  8. Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, Joy JM, Mosman MM, McCann TR, Crona KP, Kim MP, Moon JR. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Mar;29(3):779-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000661.
  9. Greer BK, Sirithienthad P, Moffatt RJ, Marcello RT, Panton LB. EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2015 Feb 12:1-6. [Epub ahead of print]

Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.1)

The biggest handicap in research is an ability to think outside the box.  The handicap is being encumbered by all the conventional wisdom in a given field.

– Aubrey de Grey

Bodybuilding is wrought with conventional wisdom. And what people believe makes someone look like a bodybuilder or fitness model is shrouded in misconceptions.

bodybuilder, natural bodybuilding, unconventional bodybuilding, muscle hypertrophy, muscle maturity

Setting aside the use of PED’s or other bodybuilding drugs; looking muscular, strong, shredded or fit is the result of a very specific set of circumstances.  Circumstances EVERYONE has the ability to control.

Over the next three blog posts I’ll speak to these circumstances, uncover misconceptions, and provide some unconventional and counterintuitive training and nutrition methods of my own to maximize your development and enhance appearance.  But before I do we need to come to a mutual understanding about something.  And that something is…

Bodybuilding is an Illusion

Shawn Ray

When I was a young lifter with aspirations of looking like Frank Zane and Shawn Ray I thought you simply built muscle to the point that your skin stretched to epic proportions, fat melted off of you and deep muscle separation was inevitable.   In other words, you GREW into being completely JACKED.

You can imagine my disappointment and that of every teenage boy who ever thought the same thing when that didn’t happen.

So what did happen?

Well, muscle was built.  Just not to epic proportions.  And a degree of thickness was achieved that made it quite obvious (with a shirt on) that some heavy lifting had been going on.

And therein lies the rub…”with a shirt on”.   Because with the shirt off neither I (at the time) nor 99% of those who lift weights resemble anything like the guy on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.

However, realizing how bodybuilding is an illusion can change all that.

The two key factors for creating the illusion of being enviously jacked are…

  1. Being as lean as possible.
  2. Retaining as much muscle as possible while at your leanest.

These two factors are very much controllable.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is:  Getting as lean as you’ll need to means that you are going to be fielding a lot of questions and concerns from your friends and family about your “health” because of how “skinny” you’ve become.  They’ll tell you to stop whatever you’re doing.  They’ll say you look terrible.

I say, don’t worry.  It’s just jealousy!

In order to look how 99% of the population can’t you have to do what 99% of the population won’t.

Assuming that you are among the willing the question is, what do you do?  This is where conventional bodybuilding wisdom enters the scene and attaches itself to you like a psychotic girlfriend.  Despite the warning signs that she is absolutely nuts, for some reason you accept it and after a while you can’t seem to let go.

The road less traveled is often intimidating because it goes against convention.  This is especially so in bodybuilding.  Let’s look at what conventional wisdom says is necessary for superior physique development and see what we can offer as an unconventional or better alternative.

#1 –You Must Train Nearly Every Day and for Hours.

A commitment to training and a commitment to training with highest quality of effort possible are two different things.  Plenty of people maintain their daily obligation to go to the gym and put in their 60-90 minutes of exercise.

But do they make progress?

In some cases, yes.  In many cases, no.  In the instances where they do make GAINZ the question is whether or not they NEED to put in that much time.

2 hours

On average I spend just 2 hours training each week.  There are times when I train more but they are infrequent.  I am far from genetically gifted.  Yet despite spending half to one-third the time training as most natural bodybuilders I’ve still been able to make consistent improvements and compete at a high level for 15+ years.

This is NOT an indictment of high-volume and high-frequency training—whose supporters are likely foaming at the mouth like an attack dog ready to pounce on me right now.  Nor should the high-intensity crowd think I’m lending support to their minimalist approach.

It’s prudent for all factions to recognize the benefits provided by the other training methods and think about what parts they can pilfer and use to their own benefit.

The Unconventional Approach…

  • Focus on Quality over Quantity.
  • Training too or near muscular failure (1 rep shy) 80-90% of the time.
  • Perform the highest volume of work (sets and reps) in the shortest time possible. However, this doesn’t mean perform reps at hyper-speed.  Use a cadence of 2-4 seconds on the positive and 3-5 seconds on the negative to maintain constant tension on the muscles.
  • Push your boundaries not only by lifting heavier weight or performing more reps but by manipulating ALL training variables.
  • Recognize that exercise is a negative stress on the body and only serves as a stimulus for muscle hypertrophy; lending to the importance of ample recovery time.
  • Keep workouts to 20-45 minutes.  (Eliminate time spent socializing and taking selfies and this shouldn’t be problem).
  • An average of 3-4 workouts/week.
  • Train each muscle group once every 3-5 days.

By no means am I implying that my training will produce dramatically greater results than training with less intensity and longer.  I am simply pointing out that the common BELIEFS regarding how much time must be dedicated to looking like a bodybuilder is severely misunderstood.

The Least Understood Stage of Fat-Loss

fat-loss, body-fat, natural bodybuildingWe all recognize that on some level fat-loss is more of a mental challenge than a physical one.  Typically, if you follow a plan you lose body-fat.  The trouble is following the plan.

One of the stumbling blocks that I haven’t heard any coaches or nutritionists talk about (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been talked about) that is common among nearly every individual—natural bodybuilder or every day Jane—is best summarized by a recent conversation I had with a female client who is prepping for her first natural bodybuilding contest.

She’s made incredible strides with fat-loss in the past 5 months.  But despite being her all-time leanest and extremely well defined by competition standards she said, “My body looked better when I was a few pounds heavier.” 

Similarly I’ve been told the same from non-bodybuilding clients who although overweight, reached a certain point in their fat-loss where their body looked—for lack of a better term—“awkward”, compared to being just a few pounds heavier.  Mind you they were still overweight at this point.

And I’ve noticed the same of myself during competition prep.  There typically comes a time early on in my prep when despite being leaner I’m not lean in the areas I need it most resulting in that “awkward” appearance.

This is a critical juncture for anyone losing weight because when you’re at this stage it is very easy to abandon what you’re doing.

I mean heck, if you don’t look as good as you did just a couple of pounds heavier, why keep pushing to lose more, right?

However this is the time when you have to ignore the mirror and keep pushing forward.  It’s an unfortunate fact that we lose body-fat indiscriminately.

You don’t get to pick and choose where fat comes off first.  And even more unfortunately, where you want it to come off most is usually where it comes off last.  This is the real culprit and reason for the disproportionate appearance being discussed.

So what’s the point?

The point is, don’t quit!

Don’t allow a momentary inconvenience or displeasure with your appearance prevent you from attaining the physique you desire most.  Celebrate this stage in your fat-loss because it indicates what you really want is right around the corner.

10 Rules on How NOT to Bodybuild

The following is a book excerpt from Brian D. Johnston’s new book High Density Training: Eclectic and Strategic Bodybuilding for the Natural Athlete.  I have long considered Johnston a mentor and one of the most brilliant minds in fitness for his unique ability to tie together the art and science of exercise for muscle and strength development, particularly for natural bodybuilders.

high density training - bodybuilder

In his latest book Johnston explores the connection between training density (volume per unit of time) and it’s effect on muscle hypertrophy and achieving the bodybuilder look. This excerpt is a tongue-in-cheek look at the mistakes made by those who want to look like a bodybuilder but are unwavering in their training.

RULE 1

Become a weight lifter by trying to see how much you can lift (for whatever number of repetitions); avoid the quality of the training experience for any particular muscle since it’s the quantity of what you lift that is vital to success.

RULE 2

Force yourself to keep lifting heavier weights by increasing outlying muscle participation (squeeze the heck out of all muscles to increase overall body force); this does not increase tension on the targeted muscles, but will drain you systemically and impress your ego – and if you feel drained overall, then you must be on the right track.

RULE 3

In order to fulfill the above requirements, do not alter your program for as long as possible – stick with the same exercises performed in the same manner until you become so frustrated by looking the same, even after increasing your lifting performance by 20% or 30% (and you feel like you’re going pop an eye-ball if you add any more weight to the leg press) that eventually you have to change to another program of doing the same exercises in the same manner repeatedly (and then keep that up for as long as possible). However, during this time maintain your belief in the numbers – after all, math is a universal language that does not lie and it’s the most disciplined science we have; if the reps or how much you lift increase, then something good must be happening toward obtaining that superstar body you always wanted. As with any gambler, eventually you will win the jackpot so long as you remain consistent and keep playing those same cards.

RULE 4

Don’t even consider the idea that integrating different combinations of effort-sets-frequency-performance methods may have value and could stimulate change in muscles that are highly adaptable and have adapted to the ‘routine’ you have given them; people who think “insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over and expect a different outcome” are themselves insane and not thinking logically – eventually good things come to those who train hard (since intense effort is the key and the proverbial ‘light switch’ that allows muscle luminosity to shine down in all its glory).

RULE 5

In order to keep sets to a bare minimum, make certain your effort is 100% by the end of a set and on all sets, as this also ensures you will trigger the growth mechanism response; after all, there can’t possibly be any other factor in the overall demands of training that could contribute to triggering that cause-and-effect; it all comes down to how hard you train and if you feel like puking or passing out at the end of the set. And yes, don’t forget to add set extenders, such as forced repetitions, negatives and static holds that have you endure for another 30 or more seconds after already having reached failure…just in case reaching failure wasn’t quite enough on that particular day, or perhaps you can produce extra growth weeks or months from now from the added effort done today!

high density training - pulldowns

RULE 6

Avoid the pump and any deep feeling of congestion/fatigue in a muscle by keeping the number of sets you perform to a bare minimum; if you train as hard as possible and the numbers go up (in load or reps), what’s the point of performing additional sets beyond 1-2 for a muscle?

RULE 7

As you feel progressively more fatigued over the weeks, months and years, don’t forget to decrease the number of exercises performed, as well as your frequency…and to the point of barely training; at this juncture you can brag about doing 10-minute (or less) workouts every 14 days and how the massive loads you lift continue to climb (to the point of maxing out all the machines at your gym). You may want a better body, but surely the results in how much you lift someday will translate into muscle… like an alchemist turning base metal into gold.

RULE 8

As hypertrophy remains unchanged, muscles slowly flatten and body fat slowly increases (thus giving the illusion of greater size or bulk, particularly under your favorite XXL sweatshirt), mock those who do look good as their size is merely ‘edema’ and ‘inflammation’ from all that ‘pumping,’ as well as glycogen over-compensation – in other words, their look isn’t real, an illusion, whereas you are the real deal! Your results in exercise gym performance speak for themselves!

RULE 9

In support of Rule 8, make certain to keep body fat levels high so that it is impossible to determine if growth is or is not occurring; that way you can forget about it as you focus on your weight ‘lifting.’ Concurrently, avoid any picture taking with your shirt off as photographic evidence is no evidence at all – lighting can play tricks on your eyes and mind. Really, anyone who looks better than you in photos must be because of a pre-pump and trick lighting (shadows) and not because of how they train.

RULE 10

As time marches on, as you age and testosterone levels decrease, clarify to those who ask “do you weight train?” or “do you still weight train?” that you don’t have very good genetics and anyone who looks good must be on steroids – even if those people weigh the same as you at the same height, yet look so much different; if not the drugs, then it must be all that inflammation and glycogen forced into the muscles.

*****

Get the entire story on how high density training can help you optimize your muscle development and appearance.  Email logicbdj@hotmail.com to order your copy of High Density Training: Eclectic and Strategic Bodybuilding for the Natural Athlete today.

The Role of Muscle Maturity on Physical Appearance

There is an interesting phenomenon that has been developing for over a decade.  It is not something that would be noticeable to the average population nor have I come across many fitness professionals who have observed it either.  However within the natural bodybuilding community it has become abundantly obvious that more of today’s top level competitors are—for lack of a better description—older.

Bodybuilding has long been considered a young man’s sport yet…

We Have Seen an Increasing Rate of Winners and Top Competitors Be Men in their Late Thirties, Forties and even Fifties

The scientific explanations for this trend should provide hope for trainees and bodybuilders who believe their best days are behind them as well as younger bodybuilders who are frustrated by their inability to achieve a “harder” appearance.

First allow me to clarify that the only reason I believe we are seeing this trend mostly among natural bodybuilders compared to enhanced bodybuilders has to do with the judging criteria and preferred “look” of the athletes.  Whereas freakish muscle mass rules the posing dais in organizations that do not test for PED’s; natural organizations place greater emphasis on competitors level of leanness and conditioning (muscle hardness) relative to their muscle mass.

2013 Dave Hannah

Muscle Maturity can Make a Major Difference

I remember starting my bodybuilding career as a young twenty-two year old and taking note of how most of the competitors who were placing ahead of me, but comparatively speaking were no more muscular or leaner, were almost always older.  My observation was often confirmed when I would talk with the judges afterwards and was told that although I had a good frame, symmetry and an overall appealing physique I just need more time for my body to mature and achieve the harder, grainy look of my elder counterparts.

Needless to say it’s a very frustrating piece of criticism to receive when you want to be your best now and are doing what you can to add more muscle and lose more body-fat.  Nonetheless the analysis of my “problem” was spot.

With each passing year I noticed my muscles taking on a different look. They were harder, fuller, and seemingly denser despite my competition weight and body-fat percentage being relatively unchanged. While some of these changes can be attributed to the addition of new muscle tissue and smarter dieting practices I can say with complete conviction that over certain periods the only gains I made were in age.

What Beef Carcass can tell us about Aging Muscles

Several animal studies support the above “aging” observation, providing insight into to how age factors into the hardened appearance of muscles.  The studies, which examined the characteristics of beef carcass slaughtered at different ages, revealed the most youthful carcasses were more tender than those from the most mature carcasses1, 2.

A 2006 study not only confirmed the coarser texture of mature cattle carcasses but also showed that mature cattle’s possess less intramuscular fat compared to younger and intermediate cattle3.    In humans however intramuscular fat does not naturally decrease with age, but it can be lowered or kept at bay through exercise since it (like glycogen) is a primary source of energy for working muscles.

Muscles Do Not Mature in the Absence of Weight Training

Another study showed that the rate of increase in the toughness of individual muscles with animal age was related to their connective tissue strength and that muscles which did not possess high connective tissue strength were unaffected by age, whereas high connective tissue strength muscles, trebled in toughness4.  If we took a cross-section sample of muscle from two men of the same age, one being untrained and the other with eight years of weight training experience, we would see—as expected—a marked difference in the quality, thickness, intramuscular fat and degree of muscle firmness.  This is why age alone is not responsible for a muscles “maturity”.

Being Thick Skinned is Good for Your Sanity, Terrible for Bodybuilding

There are two factors that determine epidermal thickness:  subcutaneous fat and collagen.   Reduction of subcutaneous fat is controllable through diet. Conversely, collagen, a protein that gives our skin its smooth appearance, does not appear to be affected by diet or exercise but exhibits a linear reduction with age in both men and women.

Interestingly collagen is also the main component of muscle fibers’ connective tissue.  With age the solubility of this protein decreases and in effect increases in the number and type of cross-links contributing to a muscle’s toughnes5.

With subcutaneous fat levels and muscle mass remaining constant we can see how the effect of aging on collagen directly impacts the hardened look of one’s physique and presents somewhat of an advantage to bodybuilders in their mid-thirties to upper forties. Though patience is required younger bodybuilders can rest assured that their continued commitment to resistance training will eventually result in a harder appearance.

Of Bodybuilders Who Achieve this Hard & Conditioned Look at a Young Age There are Certain Genetic Factors at Play

One of the most substantial is muscle fiber type.

As we know Fast Twitch (FT) muscle fibers contribute most to muscle hypertrophy.  Those able to develop their muscles to near maximum proportions early on or at a fast rate due to high proportions of FT fibers in effect stretch their skin to an extent that is not typical with slower or more modest muscle growth.

It’s not only muscle fiber type though.  Other genetic factors such as muscle belly length or high testosterone or growth hormone levels can also contribute to fast or above average muscle growth resulting in this stretching of the skin.

Combine this with an ability to reduce body-fat to low single digit percentages and these competitors are in the enviable position of achieving a look that is “beyond their years”.  And of course some individuals inherently have thinner (or thicker) skin as can be observed amongst various ethnic groups, a trait inherited from their ancestors whose bodies had adapted to the climate they lived in.

Training for Harder Muscles

Clearly resistance training has a direct effect on muscles firmness but whether or not certain training methods can influence the expediency with which collagen cross-links are formed and solubility decreased, requires further examination.   At present there are no studies to support claims that particular training methods can accelerate the hardening of muscle fibers and connective tissue and any such claims are pure conjecture.

Even if it were determined that increases or decreases in certain training variables (i.e., volume, frequency, intensity, load, rep performance) could expedite the hardening effect we would still need to examine the overall impact of implementing these changes on other aspects of muscle development, strength, tolerance and recovery ability.  At the moment our only course of action in achieving a more dense appearance is to implement training and dietary methods that maximize muscle development and fat-loss, and let time and nature determine the rest.

 

1 Beef Carcass Maturity Indicators and Palatability Attributes
B. W. Berry, G. C. Smith and Z. L. Carpenter
J ANIM SCI March 1974 vol. 38 no. 3 507-514

2, 4 SHORTHOSE, W.R. and HARRIS, P.V. (1990), Effect of Animal Age on the Tenderness of Selected Beef Muscles. Journal of Food Science, 55: 1–8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2621.1990.tb06004.x

3 Moon SS, Yang HS, Park GB, Joo ST. The relationship of physiological maturity and marbling judged according to Korean grading system to meat quality traits of Hanwoo beef females. Meat Sci. 2006 Nov;74(3):516-21. Epub 2006 May 12.

5 http://www.warriorfx.com/2008/09/what-is-muscle-maturity/ Chapter 2.2 Muscle Mechanics – What is muscle maturity? Sunday, September 28th, 2008

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7 Lessons Learned from the Bodybuilding Stage

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When I started my career as a personal trainer at the ripe young age of twenty-two (I really can’t believe I’ll be thirty-six this month.  Look ma’ I made it! J) one of the very first actions I took was to enter myself into a natural bodybuilding contest.  I had wanted to bodybuild ever since I watched Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk in the mid-eighties television series.  Then of course there were the professional wrestlers in the WWF like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior who became another source of motivation before I started “investing” what little money I earned at thirteen years old on muscle magazines. But I digress.

My reasoning for entering the contest was two-fold.  First, I always wanted to look like a bodybuilder so it only made sense to do what bodybuilders do…compete.  Second, and the stronger of the two reasons, was to gain experience and knowledge.  I reasoned that if people were going to come to me with the expectation of achieving six-pack abs, defined muscles, or to simply get lean and muscular, then I better know and understand all that goes into the process.

After 14 years of competing it is impossible for me to place a value on the lessons I’ve learned from getting up on stage. What I have gained through those experiences cannot be learned in a book or in a classroom. The lessons can be categorized two ways; physique development and self-development.  While my initial interest was regarding physique development I quickly learned that self-development works in tandem with physique development—sometime preceding it, sometimes resulting from it, and sometimes working side by side with it.

Here are my top 7 lessons learned from the bodybuilding stage:

  1. Fat loss takes time but needs to be approached with a sense of urgency While losing weight slowly is necessary for maintaining a healthy metabolism and ensuring that the weight you shed is fat and not muscle, don’t use this as a reason to get complacent or justify poor decisions about eating or exercise. With few exceptions the metabolism is very slow to get started, often taking 4 or more weeks just to build enough momentum result in consistent weekly fat loss. And that’s if you’re doing everything right!
  2. Track everything.  As the old adage goes, you can’t know where  you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.  While keeping a food log and keeping track of your calories, carbs, protein and fats might seem like a royal pain in the ass, it is the only way to figure out exactly how much you can or can’t eat without disrupting your fat loss efforts.  Don’t try to guess…it doesn’t work.Journal
  3. Until you change your mind you cannot change your body.  The body has a funny way of following what your subconscious believes to be true which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of developing self-belief and having a positive self-image.  I have never had a competition season in which I didn’t improve upon my condition from the previous season.  I attribute this to first seeing myself better than I once was the previous season and then taking actions on achieving it.
  4. Have a strong “why” It’s easy to stay the course and do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal when you have a clear-cut reason for doing so.  Getting up in front of a bunch of strangers with less fabric covering you than what you would wear to the beach was, and continues to be, a very big reason “why” I’m so intent on not screwing up my diet or missing workouts.  Just wanting to “look better” or “get a little leaner” is not incentive, it’s a wish.  Attach it to something bigger that will keep you doing the not so fun stuff and now you have a why.
  5. This s#%t is hard!  Make no mistake about it, you have to work your butt off and be disciplined to make even minimal gains.  Showing up is not half the battle it’s about 1/10th of it.  You need to constantly outwork yourself in order to make forward progress. Accepting this reality will help minimize frustration when you’re not achieving results at the rate you think you should.
  6. You are always IN-season.  One of the most common traits amongst top competitors is that they focus just as hard on their diet and training in the off-season as they do 3 months before stepping on stage.  By living the lifestyle year round it makes getting into competition shape much easier and faster and makes the damage done by an occasional night out on the town or going out to eat almost World's 2012 (125)non-existent.
  7. Support systems are a necessity.  As stated in lesson #5 this stuff is hard, but it can made much easier, and your likelihood of success is greatly increased by having one or more people working towards similar goals alongside you.  Conversely nothing can thwart your efforts faster than resistance or ridicule from family members or friends.  Be sure that the people surrounding you understand how important your fitness goals are to you and to respect your decisions about the way you eat and how you spend your time.

DFAC PURE PHYSIQUE Natural New York Championships

Last Saturday (May 26) PURE PHYSIQUE hosted it’s first natural bodybuilding and figure competition and it was a huge success.  Am I relieved its over…yes.  Was it worth every minute that was poured into it and all the stress…ABSOLUTELY! The physiques on display were a true testament to what can be achieved through hard training, dieting and committing one’s self to a goal and seeing it through to the end.

If you think age played a factor you’d be dead wrong.  There were competitors as young as seventeen and as old as fifty-six and everyone of them looked great.

Could YOU do it?  Sure.  You just need to take that step no matter how far-fetched it may seem.  Now I know many of you will sit there and say, “I don’t want to step on stage” but the truth of the matter is that you are always on stage.  Whether it’s putting on a dress for a formal event, putting on a suit for a board meeting, or jumping into a bathing suit before heading out to the beach you always want to look your best.

Regardless of the degree you are willing or wanting to take your physique there is a certain amount of commitment and sacrifice that’s necessary. I know you’ve probably heard me say this a thousand times but if it takes 2,001 times for it sink in and take the necessary action then I in no way mind continuing to repeat myself.  Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you!