Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shortening your timeline and maximizing your opportunities

One of the very best parts about picking up weights as a noob are the quick and immediate gains you get in strength and muscle mass.  Well, for most noobs.  I didn't even experience that event like most do.  I went from 114 pounds to 135 pounds in two years and was barely benching over 135 in that time span.

But for most, gaining at a rapid pace is the norm.

This is why it's not uncommon to hear stories of guys gaining a lot of weight over the summer (that did happen to me a few years later when I learned the unfortunate gift of forced eating), or in a short length of time soon after training consistently.

Because bulking is such a common thing in lifting circles lots of guys get caught up in that rate of gain and believe that the continued forced eating has an equal rate of lean mass gained.  But we all know (well, most of us) that it just isn't true.

The reason that noobs gain mass at such an accelerated rate is because of adaptions by the body to deal with the stress of the "labor" being imposed on it.  For example, there are brick layers and other people that perform very physical jobs that develop enough muscle mass in order to do the required job because the labor itself asks the body to be capable of it.  So the body adapts.

No different than the body adapts to the stresses imposed on it from lifting.  Thus, more muscle mass is created as stress increases (more weight + more reps) and presto, lean mass gain.

The reason for the slowdown are a few reasons.

Because the body is such a marvelous machine, it adapts to an increase in physical stress very fast.  Once it has adapted and can deal with the stresses imposed on it, the rate of mass gain will slow down significantly.

The faster you approach your genetic ceiling, the slower the gains will come.  So every month that you train and make progress, the harder progress becomes.  It's a very frustrating paradox.  The more you progress, the more difficult new progress will be.

This is often why a noob that has been faithful to a training program for an extended period that tries something entirely different, will see another surge in accelerated mass gains.  Not to the degree he saw from his initial outing, but it's often fairly significant.

Then of course, the body adapts to those new training methods (stress) and once again gains shrivel up.  This is often why so many guys routine hop.  Because once they changed training programs and saw new gains, they formed the opinion that trying something new had to be the reason for those new steps forward.  And it may have been/or was.  But eventually, over a long enough period of time, the body becomes strong enough, and capable enough, that it can handle most of the shit you throw at it.  Combine that with the fact that, once again, productive training pushes you closer to your genetic ceiling, and the rate of muscle gain slows to a snails pace, and sometimes a halt for a while.

This is normalcy in the realm of weight training.  You cannot continue to gain at an exponential rate.  Regardless of drugs, or food, or training methods.  At some point, you're going to have to just hunker down, and understand there is going to be a "long haul" associated with reaching the very crest of your muscular/strength potential.

It's not uncommon to hear of a guy that has been training for a couple of decades to work his ass off for a pound of muscle in the training year.  Yes, a pound for the year.  And for those guys, the return (the single pound of lean mass) requires an enormous investment (training your ballsack off consistently, for a year).

This is why it behooves you to develop patience and come to grips with the fact that the longer you stay in the game, the harder the game becomes.  The "hard" part really depends on the genetics of the lifter.  Some guys gain at a fast clip for quite some time, then hit their genetic ceiling early (or close to it), and then hang around that area for most of their training life.

For other guys, the initial gains may not come as fast, and their rate of gain is slower, but their ceiling may be every bit as high as the fast gainer.  It just may not come at the same rate his did.

These things can vary wildly from individual to individual.  Not just because of genetics but because of knowledge as well.  If I knew everything I know now (jesus christ I just became an old guy instantly by writing that!) back when I was younger, I would have crossed certain bridges far more quickly.  And this is why knowledge about training, eating, recovery, etc is so vital for most guys.  Because most guys aren't going to be that gain that pulls 500 pounds the first time he walks into a guy, and pulls 700 two years later, and then 800 two years after that.  Rather than be discouraged about that, he should consider that it's possible he could attain such degrees of strength of muscular mass, but the time table to require it could simply be much longer.

In essence, hang in there and train accordingly.  The worst thing you can do, in terms of making the process more lengthy than it has to be, is to fuck around for too long doing unproductive shit or not adhering to training in a singular minded way.  That is, don't train for strength if you are really after muscle mass.  And don't try to get big AND ripped at the same time.  Focus on one thing at a time, and pour your energy into achieving that goal.  Forget about the rate of gain for the other guy too, because it has no bearing on your own progress.

Do the things you need to do, to shorten that time line down by understanding how to maximize your opportunities.  This does come through knowledge for the most part, and some trial and error.  The other factor about shortening the timeline is that some guys have better intuition about training and eating than others.  One of my long standing theories is that the very best guys aren't just the best because of genetics, it's also because they had an innate ability to understand what was optimal for them, and rode that horse.  They didn't hop from horse to horse praying that, by chance, they happened to get on the fastest one.

  • Maximize training progress by becoming singular minded in your goals.  Don't make 15 goals.  Narrow it down to just a few that all can coexist and compliment one another.
  • Maximize your growth and strength gains by training accordingly.  More weight on the bar + more reps on the big movements essentially cures all.  Don't forget that.
  • Maximize your growth by understanding how to eat to grow.  You can't force feed muscle growth, but muscle won't grow without a surplus either.  Eat enough to grow, but don't turn into a giant fat ass.
  • Maximize your recovery by understanding that sleep and rest are every bit a part of the growth equation.  A lack of sleep doesn't always impair performance, but it hiders recovery significantly. 
  • Maximize your recovery by reducing as much external stress in your life as possible.  Learn some healthy coping mechanisms to deal with job, relationship, and life stress.  Remember that lifting is just a stress.  Well, if you're also stressed out all the time from other factors then when are you getting a chance to truly "rest"?  
Putting all of these concepts together can take time, and test your will.  That's what getting better is all about though.  You will never forge a mind and body that is strong if it never encounters significant resistance.  


  1. Nice post. Hard to imagine your as a 114 lb. kid trying to bench 135. I laughed when I read that, but then I remembered I still have a set of weights from high school kicking around with a 6-ft conventional bar and 125 lbs. of total weights. My go-to "home gym" in the early 80s.