Jared and I just finished taking our 60-day progress pictures and we were blown away. We know what we look like now. We spend an embarrassing amount of time flexing our ‘guns’ in the mirror on a daily basis. Jared’s girlfriend teases us about it. And narcissism at its fullest – Payam developed a way of jumping so that he can see his abs. Since we’re seeing the change happen so gradually though it’s hard to remember what we looked like two months ago. These pictures reminded us that the program is working.
Our strength is increasing dramatically too. Over the course of the past four weeks alone my deadlift has gone from 261 pounds to 367 pounds. After the jump are the rest of the pictures and 5 of the most useful things we’ve learned about hitting the gym.
1. Don’t trust the big guy at the gym. Trust us two small guys on the internet. There are many ways to get big. Your hulk of a friend might have gotten enormous by training inefficiently for several years. He might be a mesomorph that genetically has twice as many muscle fibers as you, resulting in fantastical gains from virtually any kind of muscle stimulation. He might have also forgotten the process he went through to get big and is confusing it with what he does now. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve gotten a lot of great advice from people and we’re really grateful that people are so helpful. We’ve had help with our form, we’ve been recommended great books, and we’ve learned a lot from others. Just be careful to keep in mind that what works for one person isn’t necessarily the best for everyone. The ideal routine for an experienced bodybuilder is drastically different from the ideal routine for a novice or intermediate bodybuilder. For example, training guidelines for the hypertrophy phase (the get big and strong phase) as outlined by Tudor O. Bampa (olympic trainer, doctor, professor, and inventor of periodization) vary enormously between recreational trainers and professional bodybuilders. For professionals he recommends 6 growth workouts and 3 cardio workouts per week with calorie intakes as high as 6000 per day. For an entry-level bodybuilder he recommends 2-3 growth workouts per week with a calorie intake of half that. Keep in mind that both of those programs are designed for exactly the same purpose: maximum size and strength increases and minimum fat increases for the purpose of building a body that can win competitions. Many people at the gym are training with different goals in mind and have radically different workout plans. Find out what you want to achieve and trust your research, not your jacked friend.
Similarly, don’t trust everything you hear about bodybuilding. Creatine isn’t like steroids (don’t worry, your jacobs will be safe), and it’s been proven to both work and be safe. Supplements aren’t all terrible for you either. Some, like glutamine, are actually a healthy addition to any diet. Big muscles aren’t the slow muscles, small ones are (look at sprinters vs endurance runners). Big muscles don’t turn into fat, they actually help you burn fat quicker. And bodybuilding isn’t just for aesthetics, especially when incorporated into a periodization program, and can be a great tool for athletes looking to improve their performance.
2. Focus on the 3 main exercises: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. The squat is considered by many bodybuilders to be the best lower body exercise out there. It directly works the thighs, hips and buttocks. The best thing about the squat though is that the leg muscles that it stimulates are so large that it causes human growth hormone secretions and elevated testosterone levels, resulting in size gains in the upper body as well. The bench press is possibly the most famous exercise out there. It’s the staple of any chest routine. Decline and incline dumbbell bench press are the most effective exercises for developing a powerful lower and upper chest, as well as triceps and shoulders. The deadlift is my personal favorite. It’s a true full body exercise that strengthens virtually all the major muscle groups. If you want a bigger back the deadlift should be the staple of your routine, and like the squat, much of the benefit comes from the full body stimulation and the hormone production that results. Don’t take these exercises lightly. In order to get the full benefit you need to be lifting heavy weights with good form to the point where you absolutely cannot give it any more. I’ve been on the ground gasping for breath and dry heaving after doing a single set of deadlifts – and then had to do another round.
3. Form and tempo (the speed that you lift and lower) count. Don’t think of yourself as a weightlifter or powerlifter when you’re at the gym. Think of yourself as a bodybuilder. You shouldn’t be trying to recklessly throw as much weight as you can in the air to impress the people working out next to you. You should be focusing on lifting the weight explosively but smoothly, and lowering it slowly and controlled. If you can’t lift and lower a weight with good form and tempo, use a lighter weight until you can. Your muscles will build themselves up more quickly that way, and in the long run you’ll be able to lift more weight than you would have been able to by recklessly hucking around weights.
On exercises like the deadlift you need to make sure you maintain a straight back. There are tips to help you keep good form, like looking at a point high up on the wall in front of you, instead of straight ahead. You also need to make sure that your hands are evenly spaced on the barbell and that your weight is primarily resting on your heels. If you aren’t lifting the weight properly you aren’t training your muscles as well as you could be, and you could be setting yourself up for an injury.
Don’t take this advice too far though. You don’t need to lift weights like a robot. The truth is that our bodies have a natural way of moving and you should trust that, to a certain extent. As you perform a bicep curl you shouldn’t be trying to keep all the muscles in your arm tight in order to perform them with absolutely perfect textbook form. In order to perform a proper bicep curl your triceps should be relaxed and you should be moving the weight up with a natural form. You should minimize the movement of your elbows and the swaying of your body, but the most important thing is to train that bicep to absolute concentric failure. If you have to sway a little bit on that last rep in order to get it up, it really isn’t that big of a deal. We put a star in our notebook next to the reps that we perform that are slightly cheated or assisted.
4. Machines have their advantages, but free weights are better for strength and size gains. Machines isolate specific muscles and restrict the range of motion, making them safer and more pleasant than free weights. Many people prefer machines for those two reasons. Free weights require attention to form in order to be safe and the use of stabilizer muscles to restrict the range of motion, as well as requiring balance and grip strength. The result is that more muscle groups get worked (including joint stabilizer muscles), and core strength and coordination are developed. The gains that result also have the advantage of translating into strength in real world situations.
There is the argument that while free weights work more muscles, machines target individual muscle groups better, but integrated electromyographical (IEMG) research, which measures the level of excitation of specific muscle groups, has shown that free weights produce more stimulation than machines on the targeted muscles, and for similar reasons that dumbbells produce more stimulation than barbells. Decline dumbbell bench press has the highest IEMG rating, with 93%.
5. For entry-level and recreational bodybuilders and athletes it is ideal to workout 3 times per week. Recovery time improves with training, allowing professional bodybuilders to effectively hit the gym 5 or 6 times a week without overtraining … but as amateurs our bodies need more time. Overtraining is actually more harmful than under training, so if you feel sore play it safe and do even fewer workouts. Mike Mentzer, the first Mr. Universe to achieve a perfect score of 300, advocates training only once every 6 to 8 days! Our bodies will eventually decrease the size of our muscles if they aren’t used (muscle atrophy), but with a proper diet this process will only begin after several weeks of inactivity. It isn’t something you need to worry about. Overtraining, however, can damage muscles and decrease strength. Don’t think that sneaking in an extra workout will improve your results. It might do more damage than good. Focus on training with the highest intensity possible, not the highest frequency possible. Get a good amount of sleep in between workouts and eat properly so that your body is fully recovered by the next time you hit the gym. If you enjoy the gym you can eventually increase your workout frequency to 5 times a week as you become more experienced.
And here are the before and after photos of us 60 days into training. They were all taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. No tricks or gimmicks. We can’t, however, figure out how we organized the lights in the first one. We think the lighting difference may be due to the ambient light coming in from the windows on the right? You might also notice that we don’t get as red when we flex anymore.