John Grimek was one of the greatest American weightlifters and bodybuilders of the 20th century. Nicknamed ‘The Monarch of Muscledom’, Grimek also competed for the US in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. It’s fair to say he knew something about lifting weights.
Today’s article sees Grimek discuss one of the most pressing issues in bodybuilding. How quickly should one gain weight? What’s the best methods? And when is bulking a bad idea? His responses may surprise you….
Just how fast should you gain bodyweight without such weight becoming a liability? The question is asked so often and the answers obtained are debatable. Inexperienced youngsters (and some not so young), however, feel that they should gain several pounds a day so that within a month or two they should be as massive as they ever hope to be. That is not the answer, not the correct procedure . . . and even if one could gain weight that rapidly it is certainly not healthy. Any overnight increase of weight puts added burdens upon the organs and glands, but especially the heart, giving rise to one’s blood pressure and further stress on the entire system. The only sensible way to put on weight is gradually . . . not more than 15 or 20 lbs. in a year. In this way the whole body acclimates itself to the process because the increase is so gradual there is never any great stress and the body continues to function normally. Consider that 15-20 lbs. in one year is about 1.5 to 2 lbs. a month.
Let’s assume, as an example, that in one month you put on 20 to 30 lbs., and I might add, this is not so uncommon as you think. Swilling gallons of milk a day, along with several nutrient dense meals and snacks, sometimes covered with sauces and oils can put weight on just about anyone this fast. It’s not that hard, not that uncommon and not that worthwhile. You’ll gain mainly fat when you gain weight at this rate of speed, and if you think it’s easy to pare off afterwards, just ask a lifter who’s couldn’t make weight for a competition.
There have been many weight lifting enthusiasts who gained that much and more. All this extra weight demands the extending of the capillaries throughout this added tissue, which causes the heart to work harder to supply that extra weight. Under such conditions the blood pressure within the body rises in order to meet these demands, and if for some reason a man had any fragility of his venous or arterial system, aneurysms and ruptures could occur, especially when the person was under stress, such as doing heavy weight training and straining at it. Now, think again about the men who have suggested, even shown you how to gain weight at this rate . . . 20 to 30 lbs. a month. Do you think they have your best interests at heart, or are they merely trying to make a dollar and a name for themselves in the game at the expense of ill-educated and green trainees?
If, however, this 30 lbs. was gained within months or even a year or two, the body would be accustomed to this procedure and carry on its function without any hindrance. The heart would grow stronger from the exercise done and from the demands put upon it, thus running into no strain or problems. The weight gained would be solid, mainly muscle, and not just fatty tissue that serves no real purpose for a lifter. Granted, additional weight (and here we are talking of fat not muscle) can increase a lifter’s poundages in certain lifts. But think for a moment. Is that what you want? To add weight to the bar by adding weight to your midsection? There is strength, and there is leveraging heavier weights with added fat tissue. You choose.
A gain of a pound a week for a while isn’t too much, although a pound (or two) a month is more compatible . . . and even that would amount to 15 to 20 lbs. a year, a lot of muscular weight in any man’s language. The truth is that everyone wants to become a massive superman overnight, not realizing that it simply does not happen this way, and never seeing or caring how it affect’s one’s internal organs when weight is added rapidly and indiscriminately. So long as the scales show the gains . . . even though the body becomes bloated and weaker relative to its weight. That is wrong and should be avoided, regardless of how much you want to become big and heavy. It is the wrong approach.
Any weight gaining should be sensibly done and acquired thoughtfully. The weight that you do gain should be useful and not just be so much blubber.
Another folly of putting on weight too fast is that it is seldom permanent, especially if it’s of the “forced growth” type that some lifters obtain. To prove a point, allow me to relate a true example and one that has remained deeply etched in my mind.
For a period of time I belonged to a YMCA that had no weights, but they did have the usual apparatus. I enjoyed doing dips on the parallel bars, dislocates on the flying rings, kips on the hi-bar, and to finish my session I swam a few laps in the pool. One day, however, I overheard a friendly argument between two men who worked out at the Y regularly. One was more inclined to gymnastics, and the other man was bodybuilding with whatever apparatus was available. The bodybuilder (Fred) was around 5’9″ and had a fair physique with pretty well developed arms. The gymnast (Bill) looked like a gymnast, with heavier than average pectoral muscles. He was close to 6′ with arms that measured a little over 15″. In their discussion the gymnast said he could get his arms to match the bodybuilder’s measurements in about two months. You can imagine what kind of argument followed. The bodybuilder was vehement in his doubtfulness, but after a half hour or more of the debate, a wager was made . . . a time limit of eight weeks was also made. In spite of this the gymnast insisted that his arms would measure 17″ or more at the end of this period, although the bodybuilder was sure this increase was out of the question, judging by his own experience.
One afternoon while I was in the gym doing some bar work the bodybuilder came in to do his workout. We got to talking and the first question he asked was, “Do you think that Bill could put nearly two inches on his arms in eight weeks?” Since I was at that time little more than a rank beginner myself, I told him that in my opinion I doubted that the gymnast could attain his boast. I also added that I had been been training for nearly a year and in all that time had not made such a gain in my arms. To which he added, “Me neither.”
Before I finished my dips, Bill the gymnast walked in and began chinning. This guy was a real fiend when it came to chins. He did chins with a narrow, wide, and medium grip, and then he reversed grips and repeated the same routine. Later he crossed his hands and did half-chins, one-quarter chins, and every conceivable variety I ever saw . . . and would you believe that within two weeks his arms began looking rounder and bigger? Just about every day he was working his biceps until they were red and swollen, and growing larger. The bodybuilder worked out about four times a week but, while he improved, his overall gain in arm size during the eight-week period was barely 1/2 an inch.
And would you believe that at the end of eight weeks Bill the gymnast sported a full 17″ arm . . . it measured exactly 17.25 inches. The bodybuilder couldn’t believe it. He had to check his own girth against the tape and found it to measure exactly as Bill’s. You can imagine how frustrated Fred was. Here he worked in earnest and all that work netted him but a half-inch, while Bill’s arm gained two inches. Fred was sick, sick enough to quit training and just do chins. Although, when both men stood profile to observe their arms in the locker room mirror, Fred’s arm was bigger and rounder looking. No one could deny that Bill’s arm wasn’t vastly improved, and all who knew of the wager came over and congratulated him for the great job he did to prove his point.
But then something happened. The gymnast was by vocation a salesman, and this was a busy time for him. He was forced to leave on a short road trip for a period of 10 days.The amazing thing to us was that when Bill got back his arms had shrunk down to practically their former size. When some of the Y members asked what happened to make his arms shrink so, he nonchalantly shook his head and said, “Nothing. I haven’t done a chin since the day I won the bet.” He also added, “And because I was on the road I didn’t have much chance to do anything, so I guess my arms went down.”
Some weeks later, the bodybuilder got a virus that laid him up for two or three days. Even though it was another week before he got back to his regular workouts, no one saw any great change in his arm size. He admitted that he lost less than a quarter of an inch, but after a few training sessions he not only regained it but nearly added a further quarter of an inch. Fred knew from experience that whenever he lost any of his girths he could readily regain them after a few workouts. But for Bill to regain his lost measurement he would have had to undergo another siege of intensive training. Some of the members urged him to try again, but he seemed to want no part of it, only smiling and saying, “Well, maybe another time.” But he never did.
The point I want to illustrate here is that this is a good lesson for all who seek to achieve fast gains. I know I never forgot the incident just related, and I never tried to force growth. I learned that growth of this type was never lasting, and if for some reason one had to lay off training for days or weeks, all that improvement disappeared. What’s the percentage in having an 18-inch arm today that a week or two later would be down to 15. It just doesn’t make good sense.
If you are out to build muscle because you want to improve your overall appearance, then take such steps as to assure yourself that once you develop it, it will remain, short of some drastic illness or accident. “Inflated” bodybuilders often find that their size disappears after they are forced to skip only a few workouts. Among others troubled by this are those who take large doses of steroid to gain some mass. When they are forced to lay off or they fail to ingest sufficient protein for a steroid user, their muscles literally disappear.
I have always felt that once you develop a good 17 or 18-inch arm it should stay with you for as long as you stay alive. Sure, some changes must take place; you can not expect to have the same measurements at the age of 60 as you did at 25. However, most of it will remain, even if you don’t train as hard, and very few men train as hard at 60 as they did at 25. It may seem as if you’re training as hard, but don’t be misled. You have less ambition, less incentive, and less drive to train a you did before . . . unless you are willing to go down deep and create it.
The point I wish to clarify, however, is that when muscle and strength are acquired through sensible training, without drugs, or force feedings, or other incentives to induce fatty tissue or water weight, the results are more lasting and it takes less effort to maintain them thereafter.
How can you can gain weight and size that will last? Follow your common sense! Train regularly. Don’t overpump. Don’t force a massive change in food intake on your body suddenly. Even if you gain one pound a month of true muscle (and be honest here), just remember that in three years that’s 36 pounds. Enough to completely alter the look of your present physique. The chances are at first you will gain more and faster, but as your body begins to level out you may not gain more than a pound or two of actual muscle in several months.
That shouldn’t make any difference. It’s the overall result in the long run that counts . . . not what you gain this week. Keep that in your mind’s eye and you’ll find that whatever gains you make will be healthful, beneficial and long lasting.
Moreover, gradual gains are superior to any overnight gains which don’t impose the usual strain upon the heart. The heart develops and strengthens with these gains. You won’t run into any problems such as heart palpitations, irregular beats, and high blood pressure if you gain slowly and surely, and here please don’t confuse gaining strength and true muscle this way with an easy endeavor or laziness. To gain lasting strength and muscle without fat you will have to work, and work very hard.
We know that the heart is a muscle, and as any muscle that’s constantly subjected to over-strain it is apt to renege eventually. It needs ample nourishment and it requires resting periods after any stress put upon it. Gaining a lot of weight in a short time causes the heart to work harder and this strain weakens it, rather than strengthens it. Forget those rapid and monstrous gains or mainly fatty weight and waist size. Be content to work hard towards gaining quality weight so your heart gains in strength as your bodyweight increases. This way, there won’t be any problems, with your heart or eventually having to lose the fat.
When putting on weight, if you start experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, or your blood pressure goes up, be assured these things are not conducive to your long term health, your ability to gain more size, strength, and power. They spell trouble, and this much should be obvious.
Again, anyone who gains rapidly is certainly not gaining solid tissue. Such gains are apt to be more fat than muscle. Who is so blase as to attempt to cultivate fat when knowing that fat ruins the man?
Train with a purpose and achieve those desired gains, but don’t be led to believe that you can fool yourself or your body. It’s a mistake.
That picture in this article is not of John Grimek. Please correct this error.
Hi Mike, thanks so much for stopping by. Good catch. I’ve changed it now