Thursday, September 26, 2013

Awesome write up from Stan Efferding

This thing is just gold.  I mean gold.  And he also covers all the guys who write in with a question...and another question....and another.....and another.......

You know who you are.

Anyway it's here, but I want to paste it as well.........

Over 90% of the questions I’m asked at the gym or via email are about the best weight lifting routine to get huge and strong. How many sets, reps, drop sets, super sets, rest time, frequency, duration etc…?

My answer is always the same. It doesn’t matter You don’t grow in the gym, you grow at the dinner table.

It’s never the training routine that’s limiting growth, it’s always the recovery phase, eating and sleeping. The vast majority of people who want to get bigger and stronger already train hard enough to grow, they just don’t eat and sleep enough to grow. They carry a notebook and want to show me every rep and set of every workout and routine they’ve done for the past three years, but there’s not one page with a record of their meals. I feel bad for them because I know they work hard in the gym and they rarely miss a workout, but the notebook just documents all the muscle they’ve broken down and has no record of what they’ve been doing to build it up. I know because I did it myself. When I started college nearly 30 years ago there was no Internet and few reliable resources to find information about getting big and strong. I started lifting two hours a day, six days a week, doing endless sets and reps of every exercise in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I struggled to put on five pounds a year until I finally came across an experienced lifter who told me I was wasting my time with all that lifting and told me to go home and eat. By cutting my training back to an hour three days a week and hiking my calories up to over 5,000 a day, I was able to put on 20 pounds in less than a year!

In the book outliers, they speak of the 10,000 hour rule as the necessary amount of time to become an expert at any given sport. It doesn’t apply to bodybuilding or powerlifting. PowerBuilding is not a skill like pitching a baseball, sinking a three pointer, hitting a golf ball or even playing the piano. Those pursuits require thousands of hours of practice to perfect the motor skills necessary to become an expert. PowerBuilding is very different. Lifting weights is not a skill (Olympic lifting not withstanding), it is simply a stimulus for size and strength, and it doesn’t actually build muscle, it just breaks down muscle. And lifting light weights that don’t force the body to adapt provide little to no stimulus at all for growth. Don’t get me wrong, walking around the neighborhood and doing a few curls with the pink rubber hand weights is great for your mom to stay healthy, but you’ll never get huge and strong doing her workout – I don’t care how many hours a day you do it!!

It really is this simple:

Lift heavy weights three times a week for an hour. Eat lots of food and sleep as much as you can.

That’s it. There’s nothing more to add. I’d love to be able to just stop there and trust that the person asking the question will do exactly those two things and get huge and strong.

But, there’s always a million nit picky questions to follow, the answers to which really make very little difference. People have become well informed and read everything they can about the sport, so they want to hear me confirm or negate every last theory, belief, bias, research study, proposal, hunch, testimonial and Dr. Oz episode they’ve ever watched. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself and keep track of your training and diet, but there is no holy grail. Using a bunch of words nobody understands and trying to explain to yourself or others every detail of the Krebs cycle has very little effect on your progress.

I’m as bad as anyone about trying to learn all the latest training and nutritional information, but I understand that 99% of progress comes from those 2 simple rules: Lift heavy weights and eat and sleep a lot. Therefore, I don’t let myself stray from the basics and I don’t waste half my time chasing the 1%, I spend most of my time and effort making sure I’m doing the 99% as hard and as consistent as I can. Train heavy, eat and sleep. Repeat.

What is heavy? Don’t over complicate the answer. If its too easy, add more weight. Repeat.

How much is enough food? If you’re not gaining muscle, eat more. Repeat.

Sure, if you try to lift too much weight with horrible technique, you’ll get hurt. Duh!

Sure, if you eat hot dogs and pizza all day, you’ll get fat. Duh!

Beyond that, don’t get caught up with all the details spewed out of the mouths of every card-carrying-weekend-online-personal-training certificate holder trying to tell you that you HAVE to keep your elbows tucked to your sides, arms perpendicular to the floor, don’t go past ninety degrees, slightly bend at the knees, breathe in, now breathe out, don’t lock out, two seconds on the way down, four seconds on the way up, 10 more, 9, 8, good, 7, 6 more, you can do it … Somebody shoot me in my “amp;@:/#” face so I don’t have to listen to that any more!

Likewise, don’t stock up on bags of shiitake mushrooms, seaweed and fish eyes because you heard Japanese people eat it and they live longer. They live longer because they have 1/10 the obesity rate of Americans so the fish eyes aren’t the answer, just stop being a fat ass and you won’t drop from a heart attack four years before a Japanese person!

Don’t chase the 1%, there is no magic training routine or diet that’s going to provide any measurable results over the basic principles for getting huge and strong: Train heavy, eat and sleep more.

Again, I should stop there because I don’t care if I piss off the wanna-be’s and know-it-alls we hear advising everyone who mistakenly comes within earshot of these self proclaimed experts and perennial advisers of the masses, but I know there’s some very hard working and passionate lifters out there who are struggling to get better results and need just a little more to chew on so they don’t keep wasting endless hours in the gym and untold dollars on the latest worthless pill or potion at the store.

For them, I will peel back one more layer of this simple recipe for results, but don’t be disappointed when you see behind the curtain and find out the Wizard of Oz has no magic powers. You’ll see it’s all common-sense stuff you already know and it boils down to hard work, discipline and consistency.

1 Train heavy
Hypertrophy is best achieved in the 5-10 rep range. Lift the heaviest weight you can handle for at least 5 reps and if you can lift it more than 10 times, increase the weight. Google “Dorian Yates Workouts” to learn all about “growth sets” so you understand that maximum intensity provides the stimulus for muscles to grow, not endless reps and sets. For example, If you’re doing incline dumbbell presses and you do 10 reps with the 60′s, then ten reps with the 70′s, then 10 reps with the 80′s, then finally go to failure with seven reps plus two more assisted with the 100′s, you didn’t do four sets. The only set that counts is the growth set. The set you put maximum effort into, the one where you failed and struggled through a couple more assisted reps. You did one set. The rest of those “warm up” sets were a waste of time and only served to put unnecessary repetitive strain on your tendons and ligaments. Just do a few reps of each lighter weight to warm up on your first exercise then even fewer warm ups on subsequent exercises. Save your energy and your joints for the sets that count, the growth sets.

2 Don’t sweat the small stuff
How many sets and exercises? It doesn’t matter. I can build an entire workout around one or two max effort growth sets and go home and grow. Volume doesn’t improve results, intensity does. Don’t train for more than an hour and don’t count all the warm ups. Do one or two Max effort sets of a couple multi-joint mass building exercises and go home. Don’t follow up a couple sets of 400 pound bench presses with cable crossovers and don’t do five reps of 500lb rack lockouts for triceps then try to follow that with some cable push downs, it’s a monumental waste of time!! If you can’t grow from heavy squats, the leg extension machine ain’t gonna help you one bit so skip it and do the squats! And quit doing curls in the squat rack simply because the lighting is better and the mirror is full length!

3 Less can be more
How often? Three days a week is plenty. Push, pull, legs is still a great way to grow. Chest, shoulders and triceps one day, back and biceps another and then legs. The basic movements like bench and dips work all the muscle groups in the push chain so you don’t need a bunch of isolation exercises if any. Same is true of T-bar rows and chins for the pull chain and squats for legs.

If you are powerlifting then transition from the hypertrophy phase into the powerlifting phase about 8 weeks out from a meet and begin doing heavy doubles and triples on the powerlifting movements followed by maybe one or two sets of one or two ancillary exercises afterwards. For example, work up to two or three sets of doubles or triples on flat bench then follow that up with a heavy set or two of rack lockouts or dips and go home.

When I squatted 905 lbs raw in training, I was only squatting every OTHER week. Twice a month! I deadlifted on the alternate weeks and benched once a week. You heard correctly, I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total and set the all-time world record. I would bench on Mondays and squat OR deadlift on Saturdays. Wednesdays was stretching, balance and core work. That’s it!

It’s about recovery. I didn’t do any “light” days, waste of time. I have no idea what’s suppose to be accomplished by doing a few reps with 60% of your max. What about “Speed work?”. What about it? Waste of time!! If I don’t bench heavy on a Monday night then I sure as hell don’t do some really fast light reps or a bunch of push ups. I load up the incline press with 500 pounds or grab the 200-pound dumbbells and knock out as many reps as I can or behind the neck press 315 for reps. I try to take my body somewhere it hasnt been before so it will adapt and grow when I eat and sleep.

The only reason to lift weights is to stimulate a growth response. Lifting half what you’re capable of isn’t going to stimulate anything.

I really have come to believe that all these fancy machines and “cutting edge” routines are designed BY lazy people FOR lazy people who can’t or don’t want to do the hard work necessary to get results. How many years have you been going to gyms and see the same people lifting the same weights and looking the same as they did when they started?

Don’t let that be you. Take your body somewhere it hasn’t been before then give it enough food and rest so it can adapt and grow!!! I know it’s difficult to look yourself in the mirror and admit that it’s your own fault if you’re not getting results. It’s not because you don’t know something someone else knows or haven’t figured out the right set and rep scheme or bought the right blend of supplements, it’s because you need to get back to the basics and train heavy then eat and sleep with the kind of consistency and intensity that will create results.

4Eat lots of food and sleep as much as you can

The sleep part doesn’t need any explanation. Don’t run if you can walk, don’t stand if you can sit and don’t stay awake if you can sleep. Done.

What do you eat? The answer to this question has been made more confusing and complicated by everyone trying to sell you their version of the latest greatest diet or supplement program but it’s not rocket science either.

Eat numerous meals a day, each one consisting of a quality animal protein source (eggs, lean red meat, fish, chicken, milk) along with some complex carbs (rice, oatmeal, bread, pasta, vege’s). It’s that simple.

If you insist on percentages then go with 33/33/33 for fats/protein/carbs. If you’re gaining too much fat, reduce the calories. If you’re not gaining weight, increase the calories. Easy enough.

There’s your 99%. All the other stuff combined (meal timing, ratios, supplements, high carb, low carb, no carb, high fat, low fat, Atkins, Paleo, Zone, etc…) doesn’t add up to 1%. Most of the time, going to one extreme or another sets you back instead of improving your results.

I told you – it’s common sense. Problem is, executing a successful plan every day, every week, every month and every year is the stumbling block. It’s easy to understand, but are you doing it?

Every time I’ve reached a “plateau” in my results, I’ve never been able to solve the problem by implementing some new training routine or diet. I’ve always had to admit to myself that I wasn’t executing the 99% plan. You have to be honest with yourself about wasted workouts, missed meals or a few short nights of sleep. That’s always where the problem is. So if you see me at the gym or a show, just tell me you already know what the problem is and you’re gonna train harder and eat and sleep better. That way we can skip all the worthless postulation about the 1% and talk about something more meaningful like your family or your business.

All my best!


  1. "It’s easy to understand, but are you doing it?"

    Stan is the man. Currently looking myself in the mirror.

    BRB, buying 10 lbs of meat, rice, bananas and lettuce.

    1. Did you just say lettuce? I'm sure you meant to say, 'more beef'.

  2. Absolutely fucking awesome. It took me a number of years of messing around with tons of routines and ridiculous diets, not to mention all sorts of supplements before I realised it was all bullshit. There is no substitute for hard work, discipline and consistency. The most exciting thing is should my son and daughter choose to lift when they are old enough (they're 5 and 3 at the moment), I will be showing them this post. With any luck it will save them years of misplaced time, effort and money.

    P.s I'm a long time reader and this is the first time I've left a comment. Simply had to. Keep up the good work Mr. Carter.


    Keith Woodhall

  3. It really is that simple.....

    It took me years to come to this realization. Good stuff man.

  4. Really good write up, thanks for posting Paul. I am guilty of focusing on the 1% more than I care to admit.

    In terms of how/what to lift, Stan does seem to have views that contradict what you have been writing about a lot over the past year - building strength with volume at a lower intensity done explosively versus "volume doesn’t improve results, intensity one or two Max effort sets of a couple multi-joint mass building exercises and go home."

    Maybe I'm just not reading or processing it correctly. Thoughts Paul?

    1. No no at all. I do believe in training that way AND high volume. As the meet approaches I pare back the volume as the intensity increases. You can't do both. So Stan is right on here.

      I will go further into the base building work in the book of course, but you have to remember what each phase is designed to do.

    2. Awesome article! Stan cuts right through the bullshit.

  5. Glad you posted this Paul - I found this little article a few weeks ago and I think Stan really puts everything into perspective.

    I'd say a lot of his training philosophy is very similar to yours (he's a big Dorian Yates fan too) - The combination of rep max sets or "growth sets" as Stan likes to call them and periods of higher volume, base building work (5x5..etc.) is a solid way to train.

    You can't always train balls out with rep max sets for long periods of time as it does beat the shit out of you eventually, so I think alternating weeks or phases of lower intensity/higher volume work is a smart idea.

    I know from watching Stan DVD's and reading some of his other articles/interviews in Power Magazine that he does have periods where he backs off the intensity and like a lot of bodybuilders/power-bodybuilders he says you should listen to what your body is telling you and not try to be a hero or let your ego dictate your decisions.

    His "World Strongest Bodybuilder" DVD is pure gold - he talks about a lot of stuff you don't hear many pros talk about - the importance of rest and recovery, realistic diet approaches, getting blood work done, supplements...etc. he's a smart dude.

    It would be awesome if you could get him on the Podcast Paul.

  6. Wow, he's not going to sell many books with that message is he? That's probably the best advice we will ever get, but will we to chase that 1%!

  7. The funny thing is, this is almost exactly the advice I followed when I started lifting. About 25% fat, 40% carbs, 35% protein, ~500 calorie surplus for 3 months. I lifted 3 days a week, about an hour at a time, push/pull/legs split, 2-3 movements per day, 1-2 sets to failure (after warmup) per movement. The sum of my exercise outside of the gym was about 5 miles of walking per week (summer break at college), and I was sleeping 9-10 hours/day.

    Of the 15 pounds I put on, I'd say over 10 pounds were fat. Lifts stopped progressing after a month and a half.

    Only thing I can think of is that I was already ~25% bodyfat when I started. I've revisited this type of training a few more times since then, starting a little leaner each time, but every time I've done low-volume/high-intensity I've made progress for 2-3 weeks and stopped. It didn't matter whether I was bulking, cutting, or maintaining. It just seems to me that this advice is aimed more at the skinny lifter that has trouble eating enough than the skinny-fat or fat one.

    1. I sure as hell am not saying Stan is wrong, but you might be making a good point. There is probably a difference between how a skinny lifter should eat and train to grow and how a fat or skinny-fat lifter should eat and train to grow IF they both want to have good body composition results.

    2. As Stan would say we're you doing everything you could 100%? You say you slept a lot but as you get stronger you have to decrease the frequency of your workouts to keep progressing. Also if you gained that much fat you were eating too much

  8. I love this article doe the same reason I love the stuff that cones from you, Paul, and guys like Jim Wendler: It strips away all the BS "complexity" surrounding strength building and cuts to the core of what it truly rakes to get strong and big.

  9. Thank you for this. I sent it to my husband who has been feeling very discouraged lately. He works harder in the gym than most people I've ever seen. As a woman, I would kill for his genetics -- naturally predisposed to being lean and "smaller." He also is a contractor so works a physical job all day everyday. He has to fight for every lb of muscle he has as someone who a) genetics want him to be smaller and leaner b) has a physical job all day on top of that. I have the opposite problem -- started off chubby growing up -- am predisposed to that if I let it get the best of me -- and fight for every lb of fat to stay OFF me.

    Right now he's at the highest weight he's ever been at in his life he's also getting to that point where he's getting discouraged because of lack of progress lately despite how hard he works [which I can vouch for].

    Lifting & being overall pretty healthy [and live a little too!] is very important to both of us. I used to be a pretty competitive soccer player, so I was lucky enough to have some "formal" training once upon a time in lifting and the big movements such as squats, deads, etc. He has not, and tries to absorb as much information as he can online these days. Lately he's been sweet in his own "thinking of you" kind of way and sending me articles he thinks I'd find helpful, so I started doing the same. This was one of the articles I sent he actually really commented on and casually a day or so later while we were cooking dinner said "he was going to cut back training and start eating more." He didn't necessarily say it was directly because of this article, but I know it was. I've sent him other articles that imply eating more food, but I feel like this was the one that finally resonated with him. I think he's had a hard time really thinking that because he already DOES eat a ton of food. But relative to his genetics w/ physical work on top of it, he just has to compensate even more. If he wasn't so lactose intolerant he would just GOMAD for the calories lol.

    It makes me happy when I see him happy for progress with all his hard work. The other day he went to the gym with me but decided to just walk while I lifted turning over his "new leaf of training less" and he said last night he feels super rested and excited for his workout today. He's also gone back for seconds this week at dinner.

    Anyways, just wanted to say thanks for this article and keep up all your inspiring posts.