Man with barbell

John Christy, ‘Learning to be Patient,’ Hardgainer Magazine, 58 (1999)

What does $50 mean to you? If you lived here in Indianapolis, Indiana, that’s what you would have to hand over every hour that you worked with me. Would you listen, and at least try everything I told you to? Would you be patient? I’m sure you would. So, please make sure you listen to this article, and take it to heart, because you’re getting it at just the cost of this magazine, which isn’t 50 bucks.

I’m going to drive home once again the “magic” of consistency and progression, and I’m going to do this using another real-life example. I’ve come to realize that so many trainees must fail over and over again before they finally come to realize that they need to be patient in order to achieve their potential. If you try to rush the process, all you’ll end up doing is actually lengthening the process! The man (Danny) that I’m writing about in this issue made some of the same mistakes I’m sure many of you are making. I’m not using Danny as just an example of someone who made mistakes. I’m using Danny as an example because he made mistakes and had the guts to be honest and put the blame on himself, and not his program, as to why he wasn’t achieving his goals. Most people won’t do this. They would rather put the blame on the routine and just go and find another routine (and end up failing again). I respect Danny because it takes a big man to understand his faults, take responsibility for them, and then make the necessary changes to achieve his goals.

This article’s routine isn’t going to be much different to those you’ve seen me write about before, so don’t expect to see some “secret” high-tech mass routine that I’ve been keeping from you. Let me say once again, there’s no “magic” in a routine. The “magic” comes from doing what you’re supposed to be doing day after day, month after month, year after year. What are you supposed to be doing? Training with good form, adding weight to the bar at a rate your body can adapt to, working out two or three times per week, never missing workouts unless you’re sick or hurt, eating well every day, putting out as much effort as you can muster for every rep of each “live” set you do, and being patient. That’s pretty much it. Still doesn’t sound too complicated does it?

Before I get into the gist of this article I need to comment on something I read on the HARDGAINER web site the other night (Yes, I do check out what you guys are saying on The Round Table). A young man had been following one of my routines and was asking what to do because he had plateaued after 7 weeks on the program. Let me tell you, if you plateaued after anything less than 25 weeks on a program that I designed, you either started the program with too much weight, or you added weight in too large increments. Seven weeks is nothing on a good program. And when I said 25 weeks, that’s a minimum.

The beginning

I started working with Danny approximately three years ago. But his weight-training journey started well before that. Danny started training in October of 1991, weighing 170 pounds and, as he put it, “pure fat.” At first his training consisted of simply doing a few haphazard exercises with a dumbbell he had in the garage. At this point, his brother, who had done some powerlifting training, told him to start doing some squats and deadlifts. Danny remembers his first deadlift workout where he performed 6 reps with 95 pounds. He thought this was no big deal, didn’t know what muscles the exercise worked, and dropped the movement. So, Danny did what many of us did at some point – he enlisted the help of a very muscular “friend.” This friend put Danny on the five-day-per-week split routine garbage. Of course this routine produced no results, and later on Danny found out that his friend used large amounts of steroids.

Not knowing what to do, Danny jumped around from routine to routine, getting hardly any results. In 1993 he ordered BRAWN out of a popular muscle magazine and you would think this would be the turning point, but it wasn’t. As I’ve preached over and over again, there’s no magic in a routine – even a good one – if you aren’t training consistently, progressively, and with the patience to wait for the results. Please read that again, because it’s so important for your success.

Once again, Danny jumped around using various routines from BRAWN with minimal results because he never stayed with a routine long enough. He would add “extra” exercises, and he added weight much too quickly. Also, he believed that you should only train for eight weeks, and then take two weeks off no matter what, and then cut back the weights and start a cycle over again. You can’t make good progress after only eight weeks of training, unless it’s the eight weeks in the middle of a long cycle. Anyway, after the two weeks off he was always weaker than before he started the previous cycle. At this point, Danny was very frustrated and didn’t know what to do.

Enter HARDGAINER

Luckily, about this time, Danny received his first issue of HARDGAINER. It was issue #37, which contained my article on how a training cycle works. He saw my phone number listed, and gave me a call. As I didn’t have time to take Danny on as a full-time consultation client, I spent about an hour with him on the phone, cleaned up his routine, and vehemently stressed the importance of making a routine last a minimum of 25 weeks, and to shoot for 50. Since he still weighed about 170 pounds, and desired to get much bigger, I taught him the basics of how to eat to gain muscle. This was in November of 1995. The following is the program that he had designed for himself:

Workout A

  1. Squat: 2 x 5
  2. Bench: 2 x 5
  3. Pulldown: 3 x 5

Workout B

  1. Deadlift: 3 x 5
  2. Shrug: 3 x 5

3. Chin:5×5

4. Close-grip bench press: 3 x 5

Not bad, but I would have added ab, calf and grip work. Also, since at this point I’d not seen a video of Danny training, I took his word that his form was good. Later I was to find out it was horrible.

Every month or so, Danny would write or call to update me on his progress. During some of these phone conversations I had to get “a little unpleasant” because Danny would start making what would become a series of mistakes due to his lack of patience. He would add exercises to the routines that I designed. He would also increase the rate of progression (for example, instead of adding 5 pounds to the squat, he would add 20). What happened was that Danny would start making progress (unbeknown to him) by adding the appropriate amount of weight for six weeks or so, start feeling strong, lose patience, and think to himself “I’ll add 20 or 30 pounds to the bar.” This would destroy the foundation he was starting to build. His form would immediately deteriorate. This is what many of you do, and it’s wrong!

I’m going to break away from Danny’s story for a moment, in order to explain something that I think many of you are misinterpreting.

The build-up phase

Let’s get something straight – I hate to train easy. I wish I didn’t have to make anyone train easy (relatively speaking). Training easy doesn’t build any muscle. But there are times when training has to be easy. You don’t have a choice. This is your body’s decision, not yours! One of these times is when you’re rehabilitating after an injury, but that’s not what I’m discussing here. Another time is when you’re starting a new exercise program or starting a new exercise, and this is what I want to address now. Many of you think that starting out with weights that are relatively light for the prescribed reps are a waste of time for building muscle. And you would be absolutely right, but you would also be absolutely wrong! Why the double-talk?

Well, it depends if you’re looking at building muscle for just 4-8 weeks, or if you want to continue to get as big and strong as your genetics will allow over the next few years. Yes, lifting weights that are already easy for your body to lift won’t build an ounce of muscle. But lifting weights that make you compromise your form – even a little bit on the last couple of reps of a set – will destroy motor learning. And if you don’t develop the motor skills completely (i.e., develop great form), you’ll then lose leverage, become inefficient, and lose power. Without maximizing the leverage of your body you’ll never reach your potential.

You want all the leverage advantages that your body has to offer in order to move the heaviest weights possible, which in turn allow you to build the most muscle possible. Also it takes much longer for the body to build the strength of the tendons and ligaments, and if you rush this you’ll get hurt! So here’s the deal according to the body: You want to start out using a weight that allows the muscles to work to a certain level without compromising the job your nervous system is trying to do. Ideally we want this phase to be as short as possible, because you don’t want to be training for very long at a level that doesn’t stimulate muscular growth. The key word there is “ideally” because of what I said earlier – we have to go at a rate that your body dictates, not at the rate that your emotions or desires want to go at.

My 20+ years of training experience have taught me (as well as college physiology) that it takes approximately 4-8 weeks for the body to start to develop the motor skills to become efficient at any new “motion.” This time varies because everyone responds differently. Some trainees are more coordinated than others, and some have more experience than others. For instance, if I want to start doing dips in my program it won’t take me as long to master the motion (i.e., develop the motor skills) and condition my ligaments and tendons as it would with someone who has never done the dip before. I’ve performed the dip in the past for cycles lasting a year or more. So, it may only take me a 3-4 week build-up period before I can really start to push myself, because my body will remember that I’ve done this before. For the new trainee it may take somewhere between 4-8 weeks without destroying what the nervous system has to do – which is to learn to master the motion (exercise ).

Don’t fret, you won’t lose that much, if any, muscle during a build-up period. You should be able to handle a weight that’s about 70-80% of what you could handle if you went “full-bore.” This level of intensity is sufficient to prevent atrophy and may actually stimulate some growth. But who cares if you don’t stimulate growth right away, if this build-up period helps you to reach your potential in a few years?

Once again, it stinks that you have to train a little below full-bore for a while. I don’t like it either. But you have to have a good attitude about it because, in my opinion, it’s absolutely necessary. And remember, these aren’t my rules, they are your body’s rules. I simply follow them and get great results. By the way how have your results been?

Let’s get back to Danny’s story…

December 1996

Ten months after our previous conversation, Danny called me and let me know that he had reached 260 pounds. I was floored. I was also concerned. I know you can’t gain that kind of weight and not gain a lot of fat. As the conversation continued, Danny informed me that he was experiencing extreme “night sweating,” and after a doctor’s appointment he found out that he had developed high blood pressure. Although I’m not a doctor, I suspected that Danny was having symptoms of overtraining combined with a large fat gain.

Danny came clean and told me what he had been doing. He had not followed the routine that I’d designed for him. Instead he had altered things because, simply put, he lacked patience. He had added exercises, added weight too fast and in large “chunks,” and had taken my nutrition advice to an unhealthy extreme. I witnessed the results of all this when I received the first video of Danny training. Although he was doing some things right, he was making some glaring mistakes, mistakes that were obviously not good for his immune system. Your health is more important than the size of your biceps!

I asked Danny how he was eating, and found out that he took my original advice to an unhealthy extreme. His diet was horrendous. His fat intake must have been near 60% of his total caloric intake. He drank his milk all right, but to the tune of 2-3 gallons of whole milk per day, and devoured cheeseburgers like there was no tomorrow. This is absolutely the wrong way to go about getting big.

For my trainees that want to put on as much muscle as possible, I expect a fat gain, but one that isn’t unhealthy. What’s unhealthy? For men I don’t want their bodyfat level to exceed 20%. This is the absolute top end. You need to create a caloric overload if you expect to gain as much muscle as possible but – and this is critical – you still need to eat healthfully. Do not let your fat intake exceed 30% of your total caloric intake. And make sure you do aerobic work!
I cut Danny’s calories to 3,000 per day and had him start performing aerobics at least two times per week. I changed his lifting program so that it used up more energy. This involved the use of high reps with shorter rest intervals. There are several ways to accomplish fat loss, depending on the trainee’s goals, and current condition – this is just one method. I put Danny on the following program:

Workout A

  1. Crunch: 2 x 30
  2. Squat: 2 x 15
  3. Close-grip bench press: 2 x 15
  4. Supinated pulldown: 2 x 15
  5. Static grip: 1 x 60 seconds

Workout B

1. Side bend: 1 x 15

  1. Deadlift: 2 x 15
  2. Lateral raise: 2 x 20
  3. Barbell curl: 2 x 12
  4. Wrist curl: 1 x 20
  5. Reverse wrist curl: 1 x 20

I don’t have the space to go into it during this article, but performing high reps does not “cut up” your muscles. You can’t “cut up” a muscle; all you can do is lose fat off the top of it so you can see the muscle better. The high reps simply make the body use more energy (in the form of glycogen) which, coupled with the right diet, makes your body metabolize fat for a long period of time following this type of workout.

You’ll also notice that Danny was not performing the bench press or any overhead work in this program. He developed severe shoulder pain in both shoulders during his “get big and fat phase” due to practicing a bench pressing technique that, in my opinion, is potentially dangerous for your shoulders. This technique involves forcing the bar way back after leaving the chest, to a point up and over your eyes. This causes impingement of the bicepital and supraspinatus tendons of the shoulder. Do not bench press in this way! See the second (and current) printing of THE INSIDER’S TELL-ALL HANDBOOK ON WEIGHT-TRAINING TECHNIQUE, and Stuart’s article “Technique Improvement” in HARDGAINER issue #54 for correct bench press form. I’ve never personally witnessed anyone consistently bench press in the exaggerated fashion without incurring shoulder pain.

After several months of training using the routine just listed, which allowed his shoulders to heal, I taught Danny how to find his groove on the bench press. I had Danny lower the bar to his chest and just simply press it up. Where it ends up is his particular groove. Whatever you do as far as technique is concerned, don’t go to extremes! After several months on the new program and diet, Danny lost 32 pounds, the sweating stopped, and his blood pressure returned to normal.

Danny was now ready to resume his quest to get as big and strong as possible. At this point he had come to realize his major fault – impatience – and was determined to correct it, with the resolve to never rush the process again.

The next 49 weeks

On September 7, 1997, Danny came on as a full-time consultation client of mine. Danny lives in Texas, not Indianapolis, so he could not train in my facility. I started him on the following program, listing only “live” sets:

Workout A

  1. Crunch: 1 x 15, 15 lbs
  2. Squat: 2 x 6, 250 lbs
  3. Bench press: 2 x 15, 75 lbs
  4. Supinated pulldown: 2 x 6, 125 lbs
  5. Static grip: 2 x 60 seconds, 200 lbs

Workout B

  1. Side bend: 1 x 10, 50 lbs
  2. Sumo deadlift: 2 x 6, 255 lbs
  3. Lateral raise: 1 x 15, 5 lbs
  4. Barbell curl: 2 x 6, 80 lbs
  5. Single-legged calf raise: 1 x 15, bodyweight
  6. Wrist curl: 1 x 20, 80 lbs
  7. Reverse wrist curl: 1 x 15, 20 lbs

On October 1 and 5, 1998, Danny completed his 97th and 98th workout without missing a single session, and he was appreciating the value of consistency and patience. Here are his workouts on those two days:

Workout A

  1. Crunch: 1 x 15, 114 lbs
  2. Squat: 2 x 5, 370 lbs
  3. Bench press: 2 x 5, 259 lbs
  4. Supinated pulldown: 2 x 5, 224 lbs
  5. Static grip: 2 x 60 seconds, 241 lbs

Workout B

  1. Side bend: 1 x 5, 132 lbs
  2. Sumo deadlift: 2 x 5, 410 lbs
  3. Lateral raise: 2 x 15, 15 lbs
  4. Barbell curl: 2 x 5, 109.5 lbs
  5. Single-legged calf raise: 1 x 12, 97-lb dumbbell
  6. Wrist curl: 1 x 20, 102.5 lbs
  7. Reverse wrist curl: 1 x 15, 38 lbs

Danny does not train according to a seven-day-per-week time frame. He performs workout A on day one, rests one day, does 45 minutes of aerobic work on day three, rests a day, then does workout B on day five, rests a day, does his aerobic work again (day seven) rests a day, then repeats the process. His workouts are on an eight-day format. We’ve found this works best to allow him to recover from his workouts, maintain an active family life (a wife and two children) and a job that requires physical exertion. This sort of training schedule is one that will work well for many other people too.

Danny now weighs 250 pounds. He performs his aerobic sessions with no problems whatsoever, maintaining a heart rate of 140-150 beats per minute. His shoulder pain and high blood pressure are gone. He is big, strong and, most importantly, healthy.

Please recognize the mistakes you’re making. Be totally honest with yourself. Then develop the fortitude to make the necessary changes needed for making progress. Then be patient and in a year you’ll be happy with the results.

By the way. Did you perform the curl experiment I asked you to? Did you add a pound a week since the last issue of HARDGAINER? That’s 8 pounds. Your arms should be a little bigger.

Now, I challenge you to do it again. Yep, that’s right. See if you can add one pound a week to your curl till you receive the next issue of HARDGAINER. Then that’ll be 16 pounds since we started this little experiment in the previous issue. Maintain great form and eat enough healthy calories, and those 16 pounds will make your arms noticeably bigger! This is exactly what I’ll be doing, and with the next issue we’ll compare results. Okay, let’s get to work!

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