I have been training a while. I like the look of the past, the 60s and 70s. I think I’m about 25% bodyfat and want to get lean, but I can’t. I always seem to lose muscle instead of fat, causing me to slim down to a smaller version of myself and I don’t like it.
You share the same predicament with 90% of all bodybuilding enthusiasts and participants: how to gain muscle and lose bodyfat at the same time.
We all have this target – it is bodybuilding in its simplest form.
I have limited information about you, but my gut feeling is that you, in your quest for leanness, are sacrificing muscle size and muscle growth. I suggest you hold your bodyweight; use it to work hard and go for muscle mass, density and permanence.
Train each muscle group two times per week – once won’t do it unless you’re well along in your development. Throw in another 2-3 days of intense cardio. You need a rock-solid six-month musclebuilding stretch, without being overly critical of definition.
Then assess your progress and reevaluate your goals. This six-month input will be most productive, I have no doubt.
Let logic be your guide. Seeking leanness and building muscle mass at once basically requires contradictory processes.
For this phase, I suggest red meat and well-placed carbs to give you a training advantage and insure greater muscle response.
We always see bodybuilders stall their musclebuilding process and cease to grow at all, looking for abs or cuts or definition prematurely. Trim down next season. Let’s stand back for a moment.
What’s the rush, anyway?
I’m 53, am working out hard and consistently and have been making sound progress for over three years, but am lacking upper pec development. What can I do?
Think for a minute and you’ll realize you never see a bodybuilder with underdeveloped lower pectorals. Our favorites, the classic bench press, the flat dumbbell press and dips see to that. It’s high across the clavicle and into the front delt where most bodybuilders struggle. There’s not lot of muscle tissue in this region with which to work.
And remember, muscular-skeletal structure and genetics play an important part in all of this.
Front delt and upper pec, though separate in action, are often engaged in the same exercise. So, for muscle mass, try steep dumbbell inclines (60% to 75%) – with palms forward and upper arms coming down to just past parallel position, elbows at 90%, dumbbells parallel to the floor. Press up with a two-count to a position directly over your forehead for 4 or 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 rep variation.
To superset, throw in dumbbell shrugs starting with a moderate weight, working up the rack for sets of 6 to 8. This keeps you moving, focused and works traps and upper pec. Perform the shrugs as follows to emphasize upper chest mass recruitment: with dumbbells in front of the body, stoop slightly allowing shoulders to drop forward. Take in a deep breath and with might, roll shoulders up fully and lean back as you do. Finalize your motion by assuming a fully flexed erect military position. This brings in some spinalis, mid back, spinatus, and lots of traps and upper pec.
I don’t recommend rigid barbell inclines as I view this exercise a threat to the rotator cuff.
Cable crossovers work well to recruit the entire chest. Stand in the center of the apparatus with cables in hand. Take a giant step forward and with stiff arms, draw handles high and straight forward, leaning as you do to counter balance the resistance. Continue with full range of motion, extending and contracting evenly and deliberately. Focus on upper pec contraction for 6 reps until the burn is significant and then shift handle movement 45% toward the floor. This engages more pec mass and allows another 6 reps to burnout. Look for rhythm here.
Pulldowns to the front, wide grip, elbows drawn back as you pull the bar toward your chin (keeping a nice concave arch in the back) also engages minor pec. Specifically a lat movement, this incidentally benefits high pec/delt tie-in. Sweet bonus.
Another real possibility is the forward plate raise. This is a meaningful movement that serves as both a warm up and muscle builder. It can be spliced into a mid-section routine; usually supersetted with incline leg raises as prep for the forth-coming delt/chest workout. Grab a 10lb plate and with stiff arms raise the plate from the waist to somewhere nearly straight overhead. Work up to a 25lb plate with reps at 12, 10, and 8. Four sets work well to affect the target region. A regulated body thrust enables you to go heavier (35-45lbs) and the movement takes on the action of a “clean.” Your grip vigorously pressing inward is what accounts for the chest-specific action. Tough stuff as you go heavy. Focus on the negatives.
This selection of exercises should be a regular part of your repertoire. Strategically placed, they are full of purpose with an emphasis on the resistant upper chest area.
Hit it, kiddo, you’ve only got another 50 years to go.
When doing the three-day tuna and water plan, what exactly would be the best option for breakfast? Straight-up tuna as well?
Straight-up tuna is the breakfast choice when intentionally practicing stoicism for disciplinary purposes.
For getting lean and dietary goals and strong training, your first meal could be Bomber Blend and water. Coffee without cream and sugar works. As you become more familiar and intense with your training endeavors, Bomber Blend is a great and inexpensive dietary resource — quick, energizing and nutritious breakfast, pre- and post-workout meal and interlude meal.
But the straight-up answer to your question: Tuna and water means tuna and water. Done.
Carry on… God’s speed… Dave
There is quite a lot of pain in my right forearm and elbow. It doesn’t go away when I rest it, so there is no doubt that I am going to continue curls and triceps pushdowns and ignore it. Strangely enough it actually feels better after the first set and gets to be no real problem by the fourth set. After a day’s rest it starts to be very tender again. I think I’m just going to have to live with it. What do you think about this?
Sounds like typical tendinitis (not a doctor speaking). Always warm up, keep warm, take ibuprophen when appropriate, ice if necessary.
DO NOT DO PREACHER CURLS.
Don’t overextend or overload the biceps for a while.
Start very, very light and proceed slowly with focus. Go for a pump instead of weight. Use a bent bar and dumbbells to avoid aggravating the injury. Work around it.
Sometimes deadlifts or rows or chins with full extension are the source. Be careful. Rest and TLC are good. Don’t forget minerals, protein – – – – sometimes it just goes away when you’re not looking.
I want to get big FAST and also build up my chest. How can I do that?
The answer will vary slightly with each person. Age, frame, weight, metabolism, personality, desire, lifestyle, genetics, training maturity, equipment at hand, gym environment, menu…plus many more factors bear influence. Still, the quest remains pretty much the same.
We all need to be reminded that none of this muscle stuff comes FAST — take “fast” out of your bodybuilding jargon. Replace it with perseverance, endurance and patience – Godly qualities – and don’t think of building your chest apart from building the rest of your body.
Training the entire body with chest as your favorite muscle group will help assure symmetry and greater overall systemic muscle growth. The body grows as a system of muscles, nerves, bones, organs, etc. “Muscle Priority” is a popular training technique, where you devote more time and effort to a particular muscle group by adding extra exercises or sets or reps. Sometimes training that muscle group exclusively one day per week is a smart way to emphasize specific muscle growth.
I suggest you persist with a routine to include benches, dumbbell inclines supersetted with pullovers and finish with cable crossovers – 4 sets of each (15, 12, 10, 8 reps) – a light weight to heavy weight pyramid. Add some bentover rear delt laterals and count this series as your chest and shoulder workout for the next few months.
You gotta have time and heart. Be consistent. Be sure. Eat your protein. Smile.
I’m 45 and want to get back to my love of bodybuilding, which I gave up a long time ago. Any chance of making respectable gains in size and strength at this age?
What can I say? (No, it’s over. Get a bigger couch.) Of course, the answer is of course.
Though I’ve never stopped training entirely, it did shift to the background as I meandered thru my 30s and early 40s. At 45 precisely, we suddenly decided to build a gym. My enthusiasm for my training was aroused considerably by the project and I cranked up the training, dialed in the diet, adjusted the attitude.
I didn’t know what to hope for as bodybuilding was young and 45 was then a frontier — there weren’t many guideposts. What I found is there are years of muscle growth ahead, 10 at least if you’re attentive and careful and wise and push. My best deadlift and squat was in the summer of ’98 (my mid-50s). My lowest bodyfat-lean muscle ratio was around then too.
Yes, you lose things in the translation as you get older; joints get cranky, repair is slower, injuries migrate through the body. But the upside is a big good feeling.
Go with your urge to work out. Things will only get better if you do.
If you don’t, things may be as good right now as they’ll ever get. I’m a believer.
Last week you talked about pullovers, which I used to like a lot. Now when I do pullovers, I feel a strain in my shoulder. It feels like it’s my rotator or rear delt or something. How should I prevent this? Should I try and change my grip on the dumbbell?
Pain within the shoulder while doing pullovers may indicate a weak or damaged rotation cuff. You need to determine the extent of the limitation if you want to enjoy the benefits of the exercise.
Pullovers are, among other things, a great lat builder and a fun superset transition. When introducing pullovers, use a light weight (5lb to 10lbs), very slowly with a progressive range of motion to determine the health of the region. Some folks cannot do the movement due to sharp pain and uncontrollable shoulder mechanics. This is too bad, yet good to know for future reference. The limitations should be noted and the exercise put aside temporarily or altogether. The indication here is that the shoulder mechanics are abnormal or damaged and need special care.
Any orthopedic professional can argue against the pullover as a favorable movement, the rotator cuff becoming the fulcrum bearing the greatest resistance during execution. However, with attentive, progressive weight training, it lies within promising low risk.
Feel some pain? Warming up is imperative. Start light, 5-10 pounds for 3 sets of 15-20 reps. Practice single sets during early workouts to carefully observe each rep, each set, every twinge.
Does the area feel loose, tight, impinged, or simply unconditioned?
Has it undergone severe trauma in a past accident?
Are other joints similarly loose or problematic?
There’s a real good chance with proper focus, form, muscle recruitment and progressive training you can condition or re-condition your shoulder with this very movement and reap its brassy benefits. One day you might find yourself going heavy from time to time for fun and effectiveness.
Halted ability to do the pullover only magnifies your need to regularly include deltoid abductor and adductor exercises with the boring and dreaded exertube. Appreciate and recognize their value and faithfully include 3-4 sets of 25 reps, 2 times per week on shoulder days, preworkout–concentrated, intense, dedicated. This will insure a healthy rotator cuff development, longevity, shoulder strength, size and muscularity. These exercises are a must. They work; they are not minor, cursory efforts.
Any minor grip change may allow you do to the movement or do it with more comfort and intensity. Ease them into your routine with mild intentions and expectations. Try a close-grip barbell for variety or a close-grip bent bar. Shoulder-width or wider may interest you and be favorable from time to time. Block one end of a bench (4-6 inches) for either a decline or incline effect. Decline demands more forward torso contraction, incline allows greater stretch and extension.
Investigate, improvise, talk to yourself. You’re your best instructor, you know.
If I build abs before losing fat, will I just look bigger in the midsection as the new abdominal muscles push the fat further out?
Logical yet wrong thinking. Don’t you still comb your hair if planning to wear an old hat? Even though you plan on getting a classy new one?
Start working your abs and a strong midsection today. There’s no time to lose. Time is muscle, time is progress, time is now. Your efforts are complementary – building muscle and burning fat – a little idealism never hurts.
Keep your training in balance and and look for effective body power and resistance essential to everyday living. A good, all-out ab/torso workout is a great warmup – activates fat burning enzymes, burns calories, muscularizes, energizes.
The notion that ab development is in any way contrary to one’s bodybuilding progress is incorrect. Just think, when you finally rid yourself of the fat, your abs will be there to greet you.
I realize everyone’s progress is different, so maybe there’s no easy answer. I’ve been working out for six months and have added about 3/4″ to my arms. Does this seem right for six months? Is it good, average, below average?
To you, and a great many others I presume, I’d point out that improvement isn’t to be measured in relative muscle size increase alone. You may be making natural body chemistry and neural advancements not evident to the eye, but essential to forthcoming muscle growth and health. Look at other areas to assess your development that are perhaps better indicators: wellbeing, energy and endurance, overall strength, bodyweight, muscle density, shape, separation, skin tone, diminishing bodyfat content, level of spirits and fortitude.
A 3/4″ increase on a 12-inch muscular arm is good as compared to, say, the same increase on a 15-inch fatter arm. Hard to answer your question without more info.
Don’t get to caught up in the measurements or too closely critiquing yourself. It’ll drive ‘ya crazy. Train and eat like a horse, get huge. Stay tuned.
I trained throughout my 20s and into my 30s, but then got bogged down in a job with a commute, with family and all that stuff. I’ve gained about 30 pounds the past couple of years, even though I played softball with a local team. I want to fix this for good! Do you have any tips for me?
Your road is the tough one, but then you can handle anything. Everything’s under control.
You have three things in your favor.
The weight you’ve gained has been in recent years and is less likely to have permanence—the body’s set point has not been re-established, thus becoming stubborn and unrelenting.
Two, your recreational exercise of the not-too-distant past gives you access to reliable muscle memory.
Finally, you’ve made a real goal and are committed. The rest is application of the basics and finding contentment in every workout, trusting your purpose.
Allow no more training gaps—they’re too much trouble. Move training to the top five of the important things to do list and the gym to the top of important places to be. As you’re aware, they are responsible for more balance in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual lives than most people know.
Here’s a good question for all of us, then: Can you imagine what wrecks we’d be without this stuff?
I have persistent pain across the forearm and elbow (the brachialis area). Rest is not the solution (tried that!) and continued workouts are possible as the pain diminishes with each consecutive set. What’s up?
Starting with the legit disclaimer that I’m not a doctor, this sounds like typical tendinitus to me—inflammation of the bicep tendon. Here are 10 dos and don’ts to work around the injury.
1. Always warm up: slow, light weight and meticulous reps, focused on the pain. Increase weight carefully, do not overload, work in the 10-rep range for a smooth pumping action.
2. Keep warm and avoid quick temperature changes. Wear warm clothes and avoid drafts.
3. Don’t do preacher curls. Notorious for causing this mean condition….bench position is too rigid for natural skeletal/muscle function. Eventually this catches up with you.
4. Abbreviate curl movements. Don’t overextend the long head of the biceps.
5. Use a bent bar and dumbbells to avoid aggravating the inflamed tendon. The straight bar curl is irresistible, but rotates the hands and consequently elbows and biceps outward, overstressing tendons and dangerously altering joint tracking.
6. Don’t exaggerate the curl by rotating the weight up and over the deltoids.
7. Sometimes deadlifts or rows or chins with full extension are the source of the injury. Be attentive as you train your other bodyparts.
8. How’s your nutrition? Minerals and complete proteins play a big role in joint and tendon health.
9. Are you overtraining? Look for other overtraining symptoms. Rest and TLC are miracle ingredients that some of us deny. Take ibuprophen when appropriate, ice if necessary.
10. Some hope for you: It’s not unusual to wake up one morning and find the pain gone, like a fever that runs its course.
Given all the different protein supplements available, is there really any inherent advantage of any one particular type over another?
Like leaves on a tree, the landscape is full of protein powders and meal replacements. Each, of course, by far better than the other if you listen to the salespeople.
Whey protein from milk has been underlined as the best and casein has been relegated to a less important position on the scale. Marketing and product sales – the buck – has brought about this exaggerated commentary. Truth is, both whey and casein are very good, often of complementary biological value. Because of molecular structure, whey protein seems to be rapidly absorbed (catabolic), yet often lost to energy provision. Casein, on the other hand, is more slowly absorbed and offers a long-term amino synthesis (anti-catabolic).
Both whey protein and casein provide beneficial effects. We chose to put both in Bomber Blend because of the different absorption rates.
This is good for starters….
Are pullovers for the lats or chest? I know there are different variations (bent-arm, stiff-arm), so what variation do I use to hit the lats?
“Stiff-arm” or “Straight-arm” pullover — it’s one of my all-time favorites for the good feel of the big stretch. The exercise works particularly well as the part two of a superset (the subordinate exercise).
It’s primarily a lat movement with a bit of peripheral minor pec, longitudinal bi & tri, shoulder and abs. The pullover offers relief after a tough dumbbell incline or flat press, keeps the pump and heart rate going, keeps you active, warmed and timed.
Some do the exercise across a bench. I prefer to lie the length of the bench, head supported at the very end and the feet up. The starting position is with the dumbbell straight overhead, then slowly lowering with a tight negative to body-in-line position (plus a tad or two as you warm up and stretch) and back overhead. Palms should be flat on the plate with DB handle snug against the web of the hands.
Warm up with a light weight as a trial (10-20#) to assess the health and flexibility of your shoulders. Proceed wisely – 4×10-12 reps twice a week will add dimension to your workout. Can also be done with a barbell or bent bar for a neat variation.
Bentarm pullovers become a version of the French press or tricep extension and accent triceps development. There’s a substantial difference, as you’ll notice. Compare.
My recovery is quite slow, always has been. Given that, what workout frequency, ie what bodyparts and when, would you recommend to prevent overtraining and keep gains coming?
I’ll ramble as I answer your question hoping to cover associated matters for you and others at the same time (sneaky way of excusing my irrelevance and ignorance).
I know from earlier email that you upped your protein and the body fat has dropped and the muscle is coming on. This is the musclebuilder’s dream come true. I also know over the years as I headed in the direction of leaning up and dropping the bodyfat, shedding pounds in the process, my strength and ability to pump and recover dropped enough to make me grumpy (I’m so cool, no one noticed). If you’re in any way dieting — limiting your food intake — to lose fat while trying to gain muscle, you might be up against a recovery conflict, sort of a catch 22.
Age and, it seems to me, the level of muscular achievement are factors to be considered. The years in my mid-20s permitted me to train six days a week, each muscle group three times a week (4 exercises per body part x 5 sets – 12,10, 8, 6, 6 reps approx.). I was in the prime years for building and repairing, given my structure and system, and I pressed on. I don’t recommend this for you or anyone, twice a week per muscle group being my personal ideal for my training through 2000. Later, I wisely reduced my workouts to 4 per week based on feel, and hit everything twice a week regulating the intensity (always hard, sometimes harder) according to recovery. Age and percentage of muscle limits recovery, the later a condition I’m not yet clear on. In fact, we’re all working on the whole aging process from one moment to the next.
My method of operation to discover the mysteries of the aging of the musclebuilder (a dumb subject I have not undertaken by choice) was a mad course of taking things (workouts, sets, reps, weight, time) to the extreme to the best of my ability and working my way back to safe ground. (As always, I continued to refuse counseling.) I’m aware of overtraining, a mighty popular subject, yet I seldom saw anyone who trains intensely enough. Of course, I haven’t visited the training centers of the hi-tech muscleheads.
Are you still there? I want to answer your question clearly, but I don’t know what to refer to age, rest, job and family and playtime demands, eating habits, current training and training history, physical stats.
Use your internal muscle barometer to gauge when to withdraw a workout day from a week and what workout — perhaps rotate them. I like pushing and pulling combinations (super setting…duh) and never separating bis and tris. Go hard early in the week and pull back to fastidious focus and pace toward the week’s end. Chest and back — legs — shoulders and arms — day off — legs — is a creative mix of upper body, day off and repeat.
Dave, how did you get started in bodybuilding?
My interest in building muscles started before I was ten. There were very few people lifting, virtually no gyms and little information on the subject. I started with pushups, chins and dips. My mom bought me a pair of hand grips and a spring/cable set and began the journey.
By the time I was 12 I bought my first set of weights – a 16-inch bar, collars and 70 lbs of assorted weights.
At 17 I became a member of the Y. There I trained with a guy, Joey Dinetta, a former Mr. N.J. who showed me some basics. I moved to California some 5 years later, ’63, and so on.
I just wanted to have strong muscles; they looked good to me and gained respect from those around me. it made me different and turned out to be a very absorbing and satisfying sport and hobby.
Stick to it all your life and you’ll be happier and more productive person because of it.
What do you think of Swiss balls? We have trainers doing flyes on these rather than benches to have unsuitability to get functional stomach muscles and burn more calories. You have seen plenty of fads in 40 years in the business. Is this another fad or is everyone going to start training on big balloons now?
My gut feeling is these are cute trick items that will come and go like the rest of the excess gear we see. They might be around awhile for some jolly folks who enjoy the effect. They are bouncy and require stabilizing by the user, and that is the argument for their benefit. Soon the stabilizing is effortless and a limit is reached in the weight one can safely employ.
However, the stability of the solid bench encourages the lifter to pursue a heavier poundage and appropriately load the muscles for size, density and strength.
They’re comfy for stretching and crunching, but they ultimately interfere with the contraction of the abdominal muscles under the resistance of the body’s weight or added weight; that is, contracting under load.
Many personal trainers are quick to pick up on the latest tricks and techniques coming down the pike, fearing they might be considered out-of-step, uncool, not hip, old-fashioned or boring if they don’t.
The balls are okay. They will not revolutionize your training. The basics, like fire and ice, rule.
Tricks are for kids. Toughness in training is good.
Rock and roll… Dave
Pat Casey and Chuck Sipes? Were they really as strong as people say?
These two men were at least as strong as reported. No one knows of the persistence and dedication and love that went into their achievements, another kind of strength. They were also good friends and great guys. Pat did the first official 600+ bench and Chuck was in the mid-500 range.
Chuck was outrageously strong in functional might, very intense in mind and body and emotion, and his artistic ability paralleled, if not exceeded, his physical ability. He took humility to grand heights. I liked and admired him. I trust everything you read about Chuck’s strength and prowess is accurate. He’s demonstrated it publicly and on stage often. Incredible lifter, bodybuilder, great artist and a good man.
I feel the same about Pat. True champions and heroes, a diminishing breed…
God’s might… Dave
Be strong. Take heart. It’s time to give the shoulders, elbows and wrists a rest. They are designed to work hard with proper care and respect. Think of all the stress they undergo workout after workout while we push them beyond their healthy capacity. Over my history, I see it as obsession, insecurity, self-centered-ness, ignorance and meanness. That doesn’t make me a bad person; just a poor sap who needs to give his joints some peace while he reconsiders his purposes.
How about light dumbbells, warming up and going moderately heavy… flat and differing levels of incline? Moderate-weight flys supersetted with stiff-arm pullovers of medium weight. The change is smart, recruits new muscles that support the structure as the joints get relief, stimulates novel interest and broadens your training understanding. You’ll come back strong and encouraged instead of leaving torn and discouraged. Those impressive numbers will be around for a long time.
The machines work well (Hammer chest press, etc) but get off the heavy trip and commit to moderate weights with form, pace and supersetting as a substitute for heavy-weight intensity. Not for a day but for the season… live and learn and grow… nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I’ve tried your Bomber Blend a few times over the past 10 years. Recently I wanted to order, but the shipping cost is high and I’m thinking of going back to a product I can pick up at the local GNC. Can you tell me how Bomber Blend is better?
For me the important aspect of Bomber Blend is its high protein content and potent nutritional additives for muscle building, recovery and repair. Protein shakes are most valuable for breakfast, pre and post workout. When you realize their muscle building and energy benefits you’ll agree they are worth the investment. Be sure that investment is in a quality product.
Bomber Blend is very popular among its loyal users because it tastes great and is highly assimilable. (The vanilla outsells the chocolate because it is more versatile in mixing — fruit juices, milk and so forth.)
Shipping costs have been increasing, but the fulfillment warehouse was able to work out new pricing recently. I hope the cost to ship the Bomber Blend is not prohibitive. It is extremely popular for a variety of reasons: taste, purity, wholesomeness and training and anabolic efficacy the toppers.
After decades of trying various protein powders, it’s still my fav.
I’m just getting started with training, and all I wanted to know is which workout is best for guys with bad backs who work out at home with limited equipment.
Warm up with your floor movements, then stand up straight (at attention) as a starting position and perform 10 reps of bent-leg good morning exercises (modified deadlifts), reaching for the floor to maximize your range of motion and to continue to work and warm up the back region.
Then perform a second set. In future workouts you’ll look forward to holding light weights in your hands for resistance and strengthening of involved systemic and ancillary muscles (lower back, grip, thighs).
As you are able, position a pair of light dumbbells overhead as you sit on an incline bench. Perform 2 sets of dumbbell inclines for 10 reps. Soon you will move to 3 sets, maybe four sets, and increase the weight as your strength grows.
Seated on the end of the bench, perform two sets of 10 reps of alternate dumbbell curls. In time move to three and four sets, increasing the weight to accommodate strength increase. Lower reps to eight where and when needed. Your commonsense is welcome. (provides biceps, grip and some torso action)
Lying on the bench with both hands gripping and positioning a single dumbbell in an overhead starting point, lower the dumbbell so the plates just pass the forehead by bending the arms at the elbow only, and return to the starting position. The upper arm should remain stationary, thereby placing the resistance on the triceps. Repeat and follow same rep-weight protocol as suggested above.
Focus, hope, daring, patience and practice.
This is a substantial beginner routine for someone with some light background, some drive and some heart. It’s great practice to start someone thinking right and take them to the next level.
As you learn and improve you can apply more and more effort and acquired savvy. This routine, though modest, will work an advanced musclebuilder if a person gives it all he or she has.
Backs are tricky… you be the guardian as you proceed.