Do you really understand ‘The Message?’, Hardgainer Magazine, 42 (1996)

During the past twelve months or so that I’ve been writing for HARDGAINER, I’ve received hundreds of letters and phone calls with various comments and many questions. After receiving all this input, one thing has become very clear to me – you’re reading the information in HARDGAINER, but many of you are failing to get the message.

“The message” I’m referring to is the true understanding of, and practice of, basic and abbreviated routines, and progressive poundages in good form. That is easy to say, but to put it into practice is a very different matter. All the authors who write for HARDGAINER follow this general philosophy even though their individual approaches may be very different from one another.

There are a handful of mistakes/problems that seem to cut across the entire spectrum of the readers that I’ve had contact with. I’ve compiled a list of these, together with what I feel should be done about them.

#1 Expecting results but not grasping the effort required

The first question I generally ask trainees who are not getting the results they should be getting out of a well-designed program is, ‘How much effort are you putting in?” If they ho-hum around, or begin to tell me about how much sleep they get, or how well they eat, or how they never miss workouts, I know they aren’t pushing or pulling the weights as hard as they can.

Getting bigger and stronger requires as much effort as you can generate for every “live” rep you perform, for every “live” set you perform, for every ‘live” workout you perform, and for many, many years!

It took me six years of dedicated all-out effort training (much of it spent sick or injured because I was using stupid four to six day per week routines) before people just started to notice that I even lifted weights. After learning how to train properly it took me a further seven years to reach the 400-lb bench press, 500-lb squat and 600-lb deadlift marks at 5’10” and 250+ lbs.

So, for many of you, all you have to do to solve your training problems is to try a lot harder! Of course that’s easier said than done, but it’s still the truth.

Many of you are misusing the concept of intensity cycling. You ‘re losing effort in the process. You’re cutting your working weights back to 80%-85% and then adding a small dose of iron to the bar each week like you’re supposed to – but, you’re letting down in the effort department.

From what I’ve been hearing, you’re expecting the “little gems” (1-lb, 0.5-lb and 0.25-lb plates) to “carry you” to new levels of strength and size without any additional effort. This just won’t happen. This practice is a misuse/misunderstanding of the “little gems.” Many of you cruise to 90% of your previous best by utilizing the larger of the small plates, but the amount of effort you’re putting out has slowly dropped, because the body didn’t “need” to keep it up to move the reduced poundage. You have to guard against this by staying aggressive during the early build-up phase of a new cycle.

The addition of small doses of iron to the bar is a great way to train if you’re putting out 100% effort. The small plates are only a tool, and any tool is only as good as the effort put into using it.

#2 Adding weight to the bar before you’ve earned it

Of all the correspondence I’ve had with readers, this ranks second only to the lack of sufficient effort. As I’ve said before, and as many of the other HARDGAINER authors have stated, it takes time to get stronger; and hence bigger. Many of you have been brainwashed by the images of steroid-bloated bodies, and mainstream writers, that try to convince you that you can build a great physique quickly. This is just not true! You have to follow the rules (promoted in HARDGAINER) and be patient. One of these “rules” is to add weight to the bar at a rate the body can handle. In a rush to get bigger, faster, many of you are adding weight in too large increments (5-10 lbs, when you’re already maxed out), or adding increments too fast. All this does is get you plateaued faster, or injured sooner! In order to further illustrate my point, I want to use two of the most basic training approaches as examples – “single progression” and “double progression.”

The single progression method is where there is a fixed rep target (e.g., 5 reps) and when you get close to, and eventually surpass your previous best weights, you add a small amount of weight to the bar – generally 0.5-2.5 lbs, depending on the exercise. When I say small increments I mean specifically, the following: Add 0.5-1Ib to shoulder presses, arm work, grip work, and calf and abdominal exercise; add 1-2 lbs to various bench pressing and lat exercises; and add 2.5 lbs to the “big boys,” i.e., squats and various types of deadlifts. Many of you are violating this basic principle and it’s why you are not succeeding.

Now for the double progression approach. This is where a trainee uses a weight that he can only perform, for instance, 8 reps with, to failure. He then uses this weight for enough weeks till he can perform, for instance, 12 reps in good form. At this instance he should add approximately 3%-5% to the bar, which should then allow the performance of about 8 reps again, to failure. What many of you are doing is adding that 3%-5% before you’ve earned it. Making 11 reps is not the goal, 12 reps is. You should use the same weight for enough workouts until you get the 12 reps in good form. Now you’ve earned the right to add weight to the bar. You’ve built real strength instead of just building a phony ego.

If you continue to break either one of these rules of progression, your technique will slowly deteriorate, and not only will you fail to make real progress but you will eventually get hurt.

Maybe you don’t believe results will come if you follow these “rules.” Let me offer two real-world examples to demonstrate what can happen if you follow the “rules.”

Andy Greenspan, MD

I started with Andy a little over a year ago. He was 37 and had never weight trained before. At 5’1″ he tipped the scales at 150 lbs. His bone structure is small to medium. I started his squat program with an empty 45-lb bar. I added 10 lbs per week for the first 6 weeks, 5 lbs a week for the next 10 weeks, and 2.5 lbs for the last 26 or so weeks. Andy can now squat 270 lbs to parallel for 5 perfect, 100% effort reps, wearing only a belt – no wraps or suit. He weighs 190 lbs now and I don’t see a plateau in sight.

Mike Dodd

I started coaching Mike about a year and a half ago. He stood 6’4″ and weighed 190 lbs. Although he had been training for several years (the six-days-a-week garbage, and eating aminos instead of food, so he wouldn’t get “fat”), he looked like he never lifted before. Mike also had a “glass” back that would get hurt at the drop of a hat. (He actually severely pulled his back muscles once picking up a sponge to wash his car.) I started his sumo deadlifts at 85 lbs for 15

reps. The other day I witnessed Mike deadlift 285 lbs for 15 reps at 240+ bodyweight, and it looked easy. There is no sign of him slowing down. By Christmas 1996, I predict (at 2.5 lbs a week, with a week or two of rest mixed in) that Mike will deadlift near 400 lbs for 15 reps. I’d put money of it.

These men aren’t genetic freaks. They just regularly add a small dose of iron and try as hard as hell every time they lift. They follow the “rules.” I could share many more examples with you, but I think you get the point. Add a small increment per weight increase once you’re training hard, stay consistent, keep putting out 100% effort, and the bar will grow, and so will you.

#3 Misunderstanding plateaus

Another area where many of you miss the boat is determining when a cycle has come to an end and when you should take time off before starting a new cycle. Many of the readers I have talked to have ended a training cycle because the weights “started to feel heavy .” Just because a weight “feels heavy” doesn’t mean the cycle has come to an end. All of the weights in all of your exercises are supposed to feel “heavy” when you’re using your top weights. Many of you are expecting the weight to build on the bar and somehow feel light or comfortable. This is not how it happens.

I’ve squatted with 650 lbs on my back, and when I come to think of it, putting 300 lbs on my back still feels “heavy .” So don’t let the bar psych you out just because it feels “heavy.” Get aggressive, make your reps, and accept the fact that the bar is supposed to feel “heavy .”

If you feel tired after a workout, and the following day, it does not mean that you’re overtrained. You’re supposed to feel tired after a hard workout, the next day, and possibly a little the day after that. You’ re supposed to be sore and tired when you’re pushing hard! It would be rare if after a hard workout you weren’t tired. This does not mean it’s time to back off! If you’re still tired on your next scheduled workout day, then take an extra day off.

If you ‘re fatigued for a week or more, and you’re losing strength, it may be time to back off or at least cut back on your workout volume. But to take time off just because you’re tired after a workout, no way!

#4 Nutrition confusion

I can’t believe how many times a trainee has told me he’s not gaining weight despite eating “like a horse.” They assure me they’re consuming 4,000+ calories a day but, after I do an analysis, it’s more like 2,000 calories. Count your calories for a day. Find out how much you’re truly eating. Then slowly increase your intake by first adding additional “feedings” if you ‘re currently only eating three times per day. You need to get to 5 or 6 feedings every day. Then start adding a little more milk to each feeding. If you’re having major problems gaining weight, build up to 1-2 gallons of milk a day. Make sure you’re mixing in some fruits and vegetables every day, along with lean meats and plenty of potatoes, rice and pasta. Keep the junk food to a minimum. That’s it! If this seems too simple to work, let me give you a real-world example.

I started coaching Danny Skinner via telephone/fax three months ago. After cleaning up his training program – he had been using a good HARDGAINER training program but was making some major mistakes in application – we discussed his diet. He assured me he ate “like a horse,” drank “a lot” of milk (only 2 gallons per week), but couldn’t gain weight. In a nutshell, I explained about progressive eating (like above) and I stayed on him to make sure he was doing it. Well, Danny has gained over 20 lbs in the last three months and increased his strength quite a bit. Keep it simple, but progressive. It works.

#5 Letting go of the past

Many of you are hanging on to favorite exercises that continue to damage your body or, at the least, provide minimal results relative to the potential damage they could cause. These include machine hack squats, squatting with your heels elevated, flyes at various angles, preacher curls, to name a few. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If an exercise causes consistent discomfort in a joint, no matter how technically perfect you perform the exercise, it needs to be dropped from your program, permanently. The exercise that I have seen to be the number one culprit of problems is the bent-arm fly. In my many years of experience it causes shoulder problems for most people. (But like anything else, a few people seem to be able to get away with it.) No matter how “good” it feels on your pec muscles, if it tears up your shoulder joint, you need to drop the exercise, period.

Many readers use sensible training programs but still train a favorite or lagging lift or body part three times a week. I hear this most often with arm work. This will not work! Quit holding onto this practice.

Let me give you a personal challenge. Measure your arms flexed, cold. Now, I dare you to do standing barbell curls, and close-grip bench presses (or dips if you can do them without shoulder pain) one day per week for the next four months. Take 2 or 3 weeks to build up to a weight that requires a maximum effort to make a fixed rep goal for 3 “live” sets (e.g., 90 lbs for 3 sets of 6 reps on the barbell curl) and then add 1 lb a week for the remaining three months or so. Using the example I gave, you should be able to curl at least 102 lbs for 6 reps. Now measure your arms again. The results you’ll achieve in this period will be better than when you were hitting your arms three times per week. The reason why I know this is true is because I’ve seen it work over and over for the past ten years that I’ve been coaching weight trainees. Now prove it to yourself.

Read, Grasp, Apply, Persist, Achieve

You should recognize this as the philosophy of HARDGAINER for using the information that is presented to you. Many of you are only “doing” the first word. Add the next three and you will justly earn the last one. Now go and get to it!

For More Information Check Out the Hardgainer Website

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