Posted on 13 Nov 2014
12 min read
Living through the modern era can be a blessing and a curse.
While we are fortunate enough to have fingertip access to an almost infinite database of information – be it scientific research, music, film, or videos of Japanese women ejecting eels from their colons – we are constantly forced to wade through a swamp of misinformation, claptrap and idiocy.
The same goes for bodybuilding – every day we are encumbered with advice and blather about how we should be training, dieting and pursuing our goals.
Well, listen up.
It’s time to leave behind the fashionable babble, that nauseating hogwash which sweeps across social media every day, and get back to some old-school basics.
Case in point: does Rocky defeat Soviet hardman Ivan Drago with the help of his talking robot, high-tech training equipment and a team of nutrition advisers?
No, he chops logs, pulls a sleigh and runs up a fucking mountain.
Now while I’m not suggesting anyone move to a snow-swamped hut in the arse-end of Russia, I am advocating a no-frills, old-school, and ultimately more efficient approach to building muscle (let’s just ignore for a second the amount of chemicals swimming through Sly’s veins – by now his ejaculations must resemble a leaking witch’s cauldron).
We’re talking taxing full-body routines, lashings of rest and mountains of wholesome food over split routines, isolation exercises and designer supplements and chemicals.
So if, like us, you want to follow in their legendary footsteps and eschew all modern mumbo jumbo, here are Gymtalk’s ten old-school commandments for building muscle.
Have a read, follow the advice, and, above all, keep these secrets under lock and key for future generations, safe from the inevitable Chinese military invasion which will outlaw the internet and seek to eliminate all independent thought.
This is without doubt the most important commandment for building muscle.
If you ignore this point but follow everything else to the letter, you will still end up looking like a sickly weakling who’s been possessed by the villain from Ghostbusters.
It doesn’t matter how frequently you train, how much you lift, how much knowledge you gain, if you’re not consistently overloading your body with fuel you ain’t putting on muscle.
And while the idea of lean bulking is a nice one, don’t get hung up on maintaining super low body fat while building muscle either, as this is going to impede progress dramatically.
Sure, you may reach your physique goal eventually, but by the time you do you’ll be so old and past it that the only way you’re going to get laid is with a van and a cattle prod.
Meanwhile your mate who read this article will be pulling in more women than a Viking landing party fitted with bionic cocks.
So shovel down as much food as you can and treat every meal like an all-you-can-eat tournament where the booby prize is being trapped in a tiny room while Ed Miliband recites the lyrics of Bono on a constant loop.
However, don’t take this commandment as a green light to eat anything and everything.
When it comes to bodybuilding fuel, keep it natural and keep it old fashioned.
We’re talking red meat, fish, fresh fruit and veg, whole milk, whole eggs, nuts, olive oil.
If it comes in a packet or tin, bin it off; if it’s something your grandparents would have eaten, get it down.
Fact: every pre-steroid era bodybuilder of note built their physique using full body workouts.
Split routines only became fashionable with the advent of steroids as drug use complemented high-volume isolation work.
The Weider media empire latched onto this new protocol and subsequently marketed split routines as a pioneering, ‘scientifically proven’ method for building muscle to drive up magazine sales.
And, unfortunately, these workout splits have remained in vogue ever since, being the protocol of choice for the vast majority of muscle rags and the hordes of sequacious internet gurus and personal trainers.
But, ask yourself, why train like you’re on drugs if you’re not?
Of course the pros and fake natties can train for hours every day and isolate muscles with a seven day split – they have chemicals and god-knows-what pumping through their veins.
As advocated by the pre-steroid greats, full body workouts built around compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press), at the expense of single joint exercises, are the most efficient way to build muscle and gain strength.
If you are new to the concept of full body workouts and their benefits, check out the following:
One of Reg Park’s principle philosophies for bodybuilding was: “If you want to get bigger then you need to get stronger”.
In their quest to put on size, too many lifters today focus on hypertrophy, time under tension, or some other bollocky buzzword at the expense of strength training.
And while consistently blasting your biceps and triceps in this manner will no doubt yield initial gains and “skinny muscle”, it’s not going to drastically alter your body composition in the long term.
Sure, you may turn a few heads when stripping down for the Baywatch theme at Wonderworld on a Thursday night, but in a t-shirt and jeans you’re not going to stand out from the crowd.
For that you need to forget all that “hitting the muscle from all angles” bullshit, get off your arse, and shift some serious fucking weight.
The old-school bodybuilders, many of whom actually competed as world class weightlifters, programmed their routines exclusively around getting stronger.
The reasoning is simple: performing compound movements with heavy weight recruits more muscle fibers and stimulates increased growth.
The only difference between pure strength training and bodybuilding, according to Park, is that it is vital for bodybuilders to increase caloric intake to predicate enhanced muscle growth.
Remember: your body grows when it rests not when it trains.
So if you’re not on gear, ensure that you are treating your body to lashings of rest and recovery, otherwise all that hard work in the gym won’t amount to anything.
You’ll just be shoveling shit against the tide.
Ideally you should be getting between 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night and putting your feet up as much as possible on days off.
And by all means miss the occasional workout for a mate’s birthday, a family do, an all day bender, whatever floats your boat.
As long as you’re not taking the piss, the occasional day off, even a week every few months, is going to leave you feeling motivated and replenished when you next set foot in the gym.
I cannot stress enough how important form is when lifting heavy weights.
Excellent form is the difference between packing on lumps of muscle or ending up on a stretcher with a spine like a pretzel that Michael Flatley has riverdanced all over.
Put the time and effort into improving your form; read articles and books, watch videos, get a mate to film you and watch it back, consult a professional strength coach.
Do everything it takes – your body will thank you for it in 30 years time!
I’m not going to go into details here, but one of the essential rules when performing any heavy lift is to ensure that your spine maintains a neutral position, not arched or hyperextended.
The majority of lifting injuries I have encountered arise from a failure to fix this primary issue, so this is good place to start when assessing your form.
Back in the golden era, bodybuilders prized overall wellbeing just as much as building muscle.
For these guys strength and health went hand in hand; improving health and wellbeing was a fundamental goal of their training.
John Grimek, for example, was nicknamed ‘Glow’ for his impeccable skin tone and vitality.
These days, however, wellness is often divorced from bodybuilding and strength training, and having a nickname such as ‘Glow’ merely indicates you enjoy the films of Judy Garland and can appreciate the intrinsic grace and beauty of a hairy ballsack.
Putting aside the obvious elephant in the room, there is annoying trend right now for slogans such as “Rest day is for wimps”, “There’s no such thing as over-training”, “If it’s hurting it’s working”.
This is patently ridiculous – if not dangerous – advice, straight out of the pages of The Tosser’s Almanac: Volume I.
Follow this ludicrous mantra and you’ll either train your body into the ground or ego lift yourself onto a stretcher.
Look after your body and listen to what it’s telling you.
If a warm up set is leaving you strained and fatigued, don’t keep adding weight to the bar because the girl at the squat rack keeps glancing over.
She thinks you’re a first class cunt, just like everyone else.
Stay healthy and you’ll stay eager and strong, attacking each workout with the enthusiasm of an African tribesman who’s stumbled across the Vatican’s porn collection… or a running tap.
To make size and strength gains from a weightlifting programme you need to be adding weight to the bar as often as possible (progressive overload).
When you’re just starting out, don’t be overawed by the sweaty Scottish maniac who deadlifts the equivalent of a baby elephant and contorts his face like Susan Boyle’s armpit (true story).
It’s not about how much you can lift when you start out, it’s about progressing every session, whether that’s adding weight to the bar on weight on the scales.
For all you know, that Scottish guy started his journey by lifting lighter weight than you.
Although I very much doubt it – I have a theory he was raised in a cave by genetically altered wolves and could caber toss tree trunks while other kids were still learning to tie their shoelaces.
Reg Park was a firm believer in the notion that progression should be gradual and take place over a long period of time.
For him, consistently ramping up the weight and always training to failure was a surefire way to lose confidence and enjoyment in your workouts.
If you’re consistently hitting the gym but have stopped making progress, try increasing your caloric intake, or, failing that, take some time off or incorporate a ‘deload week’ where you drop the weight by 50%.
As Lee mentioned in his last article, being consistent with your training trumps everything else.
While many lifters nail certain elements of their regimen, failing to be consistent in every area, be it exercise selection, diet, sleep, will leave precious gains on the table.
An old gym buddy of mine used to say that you’ll grow more muscle in one consistent month of training than six months of sloppy training.
Consistency is why the guy that comes in and deadlifts 275kg once a week still has a body like a dropped burrito, while the guy who huffs and puffs his way through a piss poor Men’s Health split but never misses a session, a rep, or a meal is making gains (albeit marginally).
It’s also important to be consistent with your training routine.
Don’t fall for the rubbish that you need to constantly be shocking your body with new exercises, new rep ranges, etc.
If a programme works for you, stick with it, at the very least for a whole cycle, if not years.
Don’t hop from routine to routine like a kangaroo with ADHD.
And if a routine is not working for you, 9 times out of 10 the issue lies elsewhere (diet, rest, etc).
The last thing you meddle with should be your gym routine – provided it’s not complete balderdash, of course.
We are currently living through a supplement boom.
There are pills, potions and powders everywhere you look, promising everything from lean muscle and six pack abs to superhuman energy and overnight weight loss.
Ultimately, the cretins that hoover this stuff up are the kind of people that made Coldplay the “biggest rock band in the world” and Hitler’s rise to power so easy.
Forget the testosterone boosters, all that Herbalife/Juice Plus crap, forget that “atomic preworkout” that looks like it was scraped off the floor after a bukkake party involving R2D2 and Mr Blobby.
No supplement can make up for hard work and a disciplined diet.
Indeed, the number one rule regarding supplements is that they should be used to supplement your food intake and not replace it.
For example, so many lifters get hung up on not missing a protein shake during the anabolic window, but for the rest of the day they will freely miss meals and eat crap.
Nail the basics first and then you can start introducing supplements.
At most I’d recommend a decent multivitamin, some omega-3s and a whey protein shake to help you hit your daily protein target when a cooked meal isn’t convenient.
Whatever your goal in the gym, keeping track of progress is a must if you want to be successful.
Not only will this keep you on track but, looking back, these doodles will help you assess what is working and what isn’t, thus allowing you to make pertinent tweaks to your regimen.
Make a note of the weight you lift, how many sets and reps you do, how much rest you take, your daily macros, your bodyweight, the address of the guy who curls in the squat rack (along with printed instructions of how to manufacture a nail bomb) – whatever data aligns with your goals.
Get it all down!
So there we have it, ten lessons from the golden era of bodybuilding, a time when things were simpler (and better).
Start implementing these tips and you’ll build vast mounds of muscle, dwarfing your compatriots like a whale amongst goldfish.
Are you a disciple of the old-school philosophies?
Agree/disagree with any of these points?
Any other commandments that you’d like to share?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!