“Is CrossFit Stupid?” Perpetually “getting in shape” by never defining what ‘in-shape’ is.

Is CrossFit stupid?

I won’t be so general as to answer this question with a direct positive or negative. But one thing I’ll say without reservation: Many online debates I see on message boards about whether CrossFit is stupid are really stupid. I’ve never seen so much tit-for-tat argument that’s devoid of premises on which to base logical reasoning. For Clean and Jerkexample, I’ll read a comment by an anti-CrossFitter who will assert that CrossFit is stupid because its adherents perform sloppy pull-ups. Then I’ll see a counter to this by a ‘CrossFitter’ who claims that everyone he knows who knocks CrossFit simply “got his ass kicked by it”… and so is now, talking smack. On and on it goes like this.

First off, here’s a question for nearly everyone: By what logical thinking is it that people believe the more difficult exercise is – the more effective it is?

And then, for the CrossFitters who’ve adopted this faulty notion: Unless a CrossFit “quitter” claims so, what makes you think you can assume “difficulty” as the reason for their dropping out? Isn’t that just an easy cause-and-effect assumption on your part in order to defend your otherwise shaky beliefs about your beloved workout program? Maybe the CrossFit drop-out actually quit because he/she rationally analyzed the question “is CrossFit stupid” and wound up at an answer that you would not like.

With that, I’m willing to jump right into the “is CrossFit stupid” question.


“Is CrossFit Stupid?” Not if You’re Clueless

I’ve got a work associate who has a dry sense of humor. This guy does muscle building workouts, so we occasionally exchange words on that mutual interest. Recently, I casually mentioned the topic of CrossFit to him and he turned to me with a quizzical expression and asked…

“Is that the program where people throw shit around in the gym to try to get in shape?”

I laughed with immediate recognition of his observational definition.

“…That’s what it looks like to me”, he continued. “It looks like they throw stuff around, make a lot of noise, and convince themselves they’re getting in shape.”

This seemed a deserving jab at techniques that are typically practiced in CrossFit workouts. It’s funny, but still misses the broader questions:

What will CrossFit workouts do other than get you better at doing CrossFit workouts?


Banner2-1If you get better at doing CrossFit workouts, does that mean you’re in good shape?

To begin answering those questions, let me build a relatable context. Anybody who wants to deem himself a workout expert can do so with ease. That’s why YouTube is filled to the brim with shirtless guys giving workout advice. Anyone can stack up a selection of random exercises and tell willing listeners that it will help “get them in shape.” The self-proclaimed expert can even make up some exercises of his or her own. Since the non-working-out public thinks they have no way of discerning what makes sense and what doesn’t; it all appears plausible when it’s coming from an “expert” who has what they consider “a nice body.”

At this point, the ‘desperate-to-get-in-shape’ newbie has something to try. It could be a routine as random and nonsensical as doing fifty kettlebell swings, thirty clean-and-jerks, twenty lunges, fifteen burppies, and topping it all off with  a 100 yard dash. The new person tries this and becomes tired. He or she is sore the next day. It’s obvious to this person that the workout was “difficult.” Both the difficulty and fatigue become evidence for that individual that this routine could get them into shape.  CrossFit Exercise

If the otherwise sedentary person then performs this workout (or something similar) three or four times a week, he or she will begin to burn additional calories. Tightness will start being felt in longtime un-worked muscles. The combination of muscle tightness, soreness, and some fat falling off will lead to a generalized conclusion – a conclusion to which they could have arrived had they hand-picked some exercises from their high school PE classes:

“Hey… this workout really works. And if you don’t think so… just try it. It’s HARD.”

This appears to be what CrossFit is doing on a massive scale. It’s taken randomized, nonsensical workout techniques/sequences and made them marketable through branding and mystique. But that mystique is only as effective as people’s willingness to trade critical thinking for the relative cognitive laziness provided by ambiguity.

So is CrossFit stupid?

It’s probably difficult to make such a judgment for those clueless enough to not realize there’s something other than fatigue and soreness, created by its workouts, by which to make it. But that’s not you and me.


‘Is CrossFit Stupid?’ It Depends on Your Goals

I’ll say this straight up: If you want to enter the CrossFit Games, then doing CrossFit workouts is NOT stupid.

In contrast: If you want to build a muscular, lean, balanced, and V-shaped body, then CrossFit workouts are a stupid choice.

CrossFIt marketers are smart to have created a competition around their vaguely defined fitness fad. Even smarter is their decision to make each competition remain a mystery to competitors until the games are underway. By doing this, they’ve ensured there will always be a base of CrossFit members that are faithful to the workouts because they want to stand a chance-in-hell of winning the games. By mixing up the competitive evolutions, adding new ones when possible, and keeping it unrevealed to the competitors, those entering these games have no choice but to work hard at every possible modality of “fitness.”

This means the answer to the question “is CrossFit stupid” is a definite “no” if you want enter and win the CrossFit Games.

But if you’re one of those who’ve joined CrossFit to “get a nice body” and it’s not happening, I’ll tell you why: CrossFit workouts are a stupid choice for those with the goal of physique improvement based on muscle development. Ad_site_supplements

The reason is that optimal body shape augmentation requires balanced hypertrophy of muscles. Not only are CrossFit’s extremely varied, excessively multi-jointed-movement workouts unsuited for this, they’re counterproductive to it. CrossFIt workouts rarely concentrate enough myofibrillar fatigue into each muscle so as to create stimulation at the point of maximum contraction of each body part’s tissue. In addition, CrossFIt workouts don’t provide optimal balance between myofibrillar and mitochondrial breakdown/stimulation. To top it off, the random selection and scheduling of the workouts doesn’t even come close to providing the precise intermittency of muscle tissue breakdown/recuperation-compensation that’s needed to build muscular shape to the body.

“But….” I can already hear the protests. “I know somebody who’s doing CrossFit and they say they’ve never been in such good shape and they’ve built some muscle and…”

Stop! Go back up to the ‘Not if you’re Clueless’ section and read the last two or three paragraphs. Basically, if someone’s been long-term sedentary and suddenly begins doing any type of resistance exercise three or four days a week, they’ll probably lose fat and they will experience tightening muscles.

“But… but… I’ve seen CrossFit people who have really buff, nice looking bodies”

Hey… I knew that one was coming. Does it ever occur to those observing this that there are a lot of former bodybuilders who’ve decided to go into the CrossFit Games? Even more misleading is the probability that many of them are former steroid-built bodybuilders.  They’ve got a perfect new venue for showing off their bodies – a sun-drenched arena surrounded by bleachers filled with a bigger audience than was ever mustered by a bodybuilding show.


CrossFit WOD
'CrossFit absurdity': During a WOD, why would the exercise depicted above be chosen over any of a few dozen others that could have been? Do CrossFit adherents really believe someone figured all this out with logic and reason? Do the franchisees believe that?


Bottom line: Deciding whether to join CrossFit should be considered heavily with your real body improvement goals in mind. And if you’re not doing it for the CrossFit Games, then be prepared for the likelihood that you’ll just get good at making noise by “throwing stuff around.”

But look on the bright side: You’ll steadily get better at throwing stuff around and eventually be able to do it with heavier stuff. This will allow you to make even more noise than anyone else when you’re throwing that crap around. And you can rationalize that it’s all building “functional fitness” instead of… ah, that other kind (whatever THAT is).


“Is CrossFIt Stupid”… or are Movement and Measurement a Good Thing?

In delving into the question ‘is CrossFit stupid’, can I really reserve only criticism for a program that brings so many previously sedentary folk into the fitness realm?

Of course not; I have to give CrossFit its due for doing exactly that. It’s generated enough buzz to create interest and excitement among tens of thousands of formerly inactive individuals. Whether it’s people who are completely new to working out or those whose dormant workout habits have been reawakened, the result is positive. It’s a good thing.

The other praise I have to give CrossFit is for its insistence on measurement. I love that they teach this. Even if their workouts are haphazardly random sequences of nonsense, the practice of measuring and scoring everything in a workout gets a huge thumbs-up from me. “Yay CrossFit”…for that one.

So, for all you disillusioned CrossFitters who joined with the idea of getting an eye-catching body and have been disappointed on that note, here’s what I suggest. Take the ‘stickler for measurement’ mentality of CrossFit and couple it with some smart muscle building principles. Add in some sensible eating habits for bodybuilding and you’ll be well on your way to building a V-shaped body.

Is CrossFit stupid?

It’s a bad choice if strength AND a visually fit body is what you’re seeking.

For more reading on CrossFit, you can also check out my article titled ‘Does CrossFit Work


“Trainers Hate Him.” Why…Coz he uses steroids?

If you’ve become about as tired of the “trainers hate him” ads as I have, you might be ready for some natural muscle building insider information.

Obviously, the “trainers hate him” ads are meant to manipulate you; to lead you to the conclusion that the heavily muscled guy in the photo became that way by using the advertised nutritional supplement. The trainers supposedly hate him because his now easily obtainable physique is putting them out of business.

'Trainers Hate Him': Is anyone still niave enough not to recognize pics of drug-built bodybuilders that have been photo-shopped to the point of caricaturization?


Okay, I get it. Isn’t that brilliant?

I guess it would be if the advertisers were correct in their assumption that you and I have mush for brains. In a world where athletes with as mundane appearing bodies as those of cyclists and baseball players are getting busted for “doping”, does anyone really believe that baby-faced bodybuilders with excessively swollen muscles aren’t doing steroids? Really… could people be that gullible?

Of course, the “trainers hate him” ads signal that there might be enclaves of people who do carry that kind of gullibility. The ads promote a product called Force Factor. It’s basically a nitric oxide product. No further steps are required than to ‘Google’ nitric oxide in investigating what it is, what it does, and what it doesn’t do. Such a simple search would show that nitric oxide has no muscle building research behind it. But the ads have run long-term, indicating that enough people are continuously fooled by the ad’s promises to signal marketers that they shouldn’t discontinue running them.

Bottom line: The “trainers hate him” ads awaken curiosity which leads to many web surfers clicking on the ads. The many who ‘click’ are led to a sales page that persuades them to believe nitric oxide accelerates recovery following muscle building workouts. This leads a good many to try Force Factor. Of the many who try it, some are convinced it’s “working” because nitric oxide might accentuate the “pumpthey experience while lifting weights.

However, if the magnitude of a pump experienced while lifting weights has any effect on recovery and muscle growth, someone needs to show me even the slightest evidence of such.


“Trainers Hate Him”: Steroids, Natural Training, and Muscle Growth

Let’s start with the topic of steroids. I feel compelled to begin there because the fitness and muscle building worlds have been so distorted by use of these drugs that it’s no wonder to me that training ambiguity and confusion abound. It’s also no surprise that pics used for the “trainers hate him” ads are a dime a dozen.

I don’t care how many people I piss off by saying this; it needs to be said for the sake of retaining the sanity of natural muscle building newbies. Many owners of even the ALMOST best-built bodies around have built their physiques using steroids. My bet is that the guys you see in the “trainers hate him” ads built their bodies with steroids. Swaths of personal trainers, assumed to be repositories of muscle building knowledge, built their foundational muscle with steroids.  The use of these drugs has not been reserved for professional bodybuilders and highly competitive athletes. I’ve known weekend warriors – guys and gals with no goal other than to improve their daily appearance – that admittedly used steroids to gain that appearance.

Do I mention this to point the finger or revel in some kind of self-perceived, “I’ve never done drugs” sense of righteousness?

No way. I honestly don’t care if people use muscle building drugs. Those are their bodies, their decisions.

I mention this for constructive reasons. The following is a lead-in as to why I’m mentioning it. Bodybuilding Couple

Way back when I began bodybuilding, I knew a guy who’d done a few cycles of steroids and gave me feedback on the experience. Along with some mild side effects, he experienced some big gains. Here’s only a slight paraphrasing of what he said:

“Scott, it didn’t matter what I did in the gym, I gained strength and muscle. The gains were fast and constant. Every week I was slapping two more dimes on the end of a barbell and cranking out more reps with the added twenty pounds. It was a HUGE advantage.”

Now, rightfully assuming that much of those steroid-helped muscle gains stick around even after a user is done with his ‘roids, what should the experience of a drug user tell you?

Okay, I don’t know about you, but it tells me that my training system and schedule should not even closely resemble his if I expect to make progress. Personally, it also says that if one of these drug guys tries to give me advice on anything other than exercise form, I’ll tell him to save it for someone else who sticks steroid needles in his ass. But maybe that’s just me.

Bottom line: When steroids are used, recuperation greatly accelerates, cortisol gets squelched, and rapid gains are experienced in spite of the user’s haphazard approach. No problem, except for the distorted muscle building “education” it provides the user. No problem again – except that THAT… education is then what’s passed onto unsuspecting natural trainees. 


“Trainers Hate Him”: Steroids, Supplements, and Muscle Growth

While steroids make building muscle work like the predictable clockwork described by the quote of my buddy above, bodybuilders who’ve used them, along with bodybuilding supplement marketers, go on exploiting their effects. Even the before-and-after pictures that have become nearly as ubiquitous as muscled bodies themselves are ripe for suspicion. Just consider the inside info provided me years ago by the younger brother of a trainer/physique model/steroid user who also spent twenty or thirty hours each week making commission off anything anybody was willing to pay for in a bodybuilding supplement store.

According to the candid little brother, ‘Mr. Physique Model’ liked to have as many professional pics taken as possible when he was maximally jacked up on synthetic testosterone. He was tanned, he was dieted lean; he was ready for his friggin’ close-ups.

There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

No, unless you do it for the purposes he did – to use them as the ‘after shots’ in your upcoming contrast photos. He’d come off the steroids and stop training for two or three months. He’d lose the tan while spending time on the couch in front of the TV downing extra-cheesed, meat-lovers pizzas and doughnuts.

Hey… a couple months of that and it’s time to take the “before” pics, right? That’s what he’d do, according to little bro. He’d then sell the impressive “before-and-after” pictures to supplement marketers for a thousand bucks a pop.

Of course, we haven’t seen the before/after picture thing done in any of the “trainers hate him” ads. I’ve only revealed this story to let readers know how easily the effects of steroids are used to manipulate unsuspecting new prospects who surf for promising muscle building products.

Does this mean I’m claiming that all bodybuilding supplements are a fraud?

No, I’m not. But it’s important to realize that there are a very few that make a difference. Of those few, the obtainable boost is subtle. That means it can easily be overridden by ineffective training. So, a small handful of muscle building supplements work, but only when added synergistically to an already effective muscle building routine.


“Trainers Hate Him.” But I Attempt to Give Reason not to ‘Hate on Me’

Personally, my definition of a true natural bodybuilder is someone who’s been a lifetime natural. That means they’ve never used drugs to build their strength and muscle. It’s not someone who came off steroids a while back. It’s not even somebody who was body building with drugs up to five or ten years ago before quitting and becoming a “current natural.” To me, it’s a person who’s always been clean; someone who knows what it’s like to build every ounce of their muscle under endogenously natural conditions.

Front Biceps PoseWhy does this matter?

Because a good many of those who’ve used steroids have a distorted perception of what’s required to build muscle without them. That’s why at least 99 percent of users never appear to make additional gains once they’ve stopped using the drugs. If you look closely, they appear lucky to hold onto the majority of what they’d gained on steroids once they’ve come off.

But, (here’s the bad part)… they become trainers. They train people at the gym. They become online trainers selling coaching programs. I watch them on video as they take protégés through workout routines that literally annihilate the trainees’ muscles. I’m not surprised when those trainees never appear to get bigger or more muscular. Meanwhile, it appears of little concern to the drug using trainer as he knows in the back of his mind that he’ll offset all his stupid training methods with his next steroid cycle. Curiously, he doesn’t appear to think they’re stupid; he thinks they’re the reason he’s so big. And they might actually be that reason, if they’re used in conjunction with a big fat stack of muscle building pharmaceuticals (steroids).

This whole scene has become so ubiquitous that when I see a “trainers hate him” ad, I’m evermore incredulous at the idea that anyone can be manipulated by them.

An additional effect of its ubiquity is to prompt me to take a polygraph test in providing evidence of my lifetime natural status. This is for the benefit of those prospecting my training products and services.

I’ll be taking and posting an updated polygraph test soon, using a different tester this time.

“Scientific Bodybuilding”: Can it help you build muscle?

You see it with more frequency all over the web: ‘Scientific Bodybuilding’;

“Use our system because it’s bodybuilding that’s backed by science.”

IStock_000025813984XSmallIn conjunction with these claims, those making them will often sling the term “bro science” as a label to describe any opinion that’s not in alignment with theirs; the ones purported to be scientific. Simply put, the purveyors of “scientific bodybuilding” appear to think that all opinion that’s not backed by a research study here or there is simply the guess work of knuckle-dragging idiots.

This raises a question: Is there really such a thing as ‘scientific bodybuilding?’ Of course there have been some studies done on bodybuilding and strength training over the past few decades. But as with anything, those study’s topics have been selectively chosen among countless that could have been. Also, as with anything, the research performed has varied in its strength of credibility. Along with this and sometimes as a result of it, the findings of some studies conducted a decade or so ago have been refuted by more recent studies of a few years ago. So, as with “science” in anything, scientific bodybuilding is not infallible.

This inherent fallibility, along with the scatter-gunned approach by which strength and muscle building topics have been researched, should have any thinking bodybuilder asking:

What does it mean for something to be legitimately labeled “scientific?

Should you trust that the best advice for you to follow is that labeled “scientific” just because a trainer or muscle building guru tells you it is?

“Do findings from ‘scientific bodybuilding’ always trump the tribal knowledge from gyms that’s been so arrogantly dismissed as ‘bro science’?”

And of all significant scientific bodybuilding discoveries made, which ones even add to your ability to build muscle? Which are just nice-to-know pieces of information?


‘Scientific Bodybuilding’: First… what does “scientific” mean?

For information to be legitimately labeled “scientific”, it needs to be borne out of the findings of scientific studies. That means certain questions have been asked, hypotheses have been formed from those questions, and scientific research experiments have been performed on the hypotheses. These experiments need to have been as controlled as possible using large enough, carefully chosen sample populations of research subjects. Those subjects need to have been divided into ‘control’ and ‘experimental’ groups. The groups need to have been compared to test a hypothesis for a legitimate length of time. Measurements in such studies need to be thorough and accurate, while being performed by researchers with no biases about the research outcomes.

In addition, the most reputable research studies are those that have been peer reviewed and published in respectable scientific journals. “Peer reviewed” means other scientists within the field have scrutinized a new study before it’s submitted for publication. This objective analysis by a fresh set of eyes ensures the study meets certain scientific standards. The peer review makes certain the experiment was well designed and that the study’s researchers used logical reasoning of deduction to arrive at answers, or more questions. It also ensures the work was built on reputable findings of past research. This is because scientific knowledge is cumulative.  

So now that we have an idea of what ‘scientific’ means, let’s look more closely at some claims that are being made about bodybuilding methods being scientific.


“Scientific Bodybuilding”: Is it… just because a trainer says so?

As mentioned, some trainers and online muscle gurus are labeling their methods ‘scientific bodybuilding.’ They contrast these methods with those they deem “bro science” or hearsay information that’s of, hence – in their minds, menial value. From what you and I know about the word “scientific”, however, these claims are fairly easy to verify or refute.

Obviously, the first things you’ll want to check when someone throws the words “scientific bodybuilding” around is reference material. Look to see if they have any. It should exist within their written materials. There should be a listing of the reputable studies that have led the trainers/authors to their conclusions. For example, following any verbal or written claim that appears something like this:

“Research has shown that resting 40 to 60 seconds between sets is optimal for hypertrophy… yadda, yadda, blah-blah-blah…”

... There should be a small number after the sentence that corresponds with a footnote or endnote that looks something like THIS:

Kraemer WJ, Adams K, Cafarelli E, Dudley GA, Dooly C, Feigenbaum MS, Fleck SJ, Franklin B, Fry AC, Hoffman JR, Newton RU, Potteiger J, Stone MH, Ratamess NA, Triplett-McBride T, ‘Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults’ American College of Sports Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [2002, 34(2):364-380]  IStock_000025552260XSmall

A reference like this at the end of an article, book, training manual, or training video starts by crediting the researchers of the study being referenced. Then it provides the name of the study, which clearly describes what the study was about. It then names the research publication in which the study’s been published. After that there are some document reference numbers for locating the study within the publication, along with a date that it was published. 

If the guru’s training material is absent of references that appear like this example, it’s your first indication that his or her claims of “scientific bodybuilding” could be a farce.


Scientific Bodybuilding: ‘Scientific’ doesn’t always mean conclusive

Even when a scientific experiment demonstrates certain evidence of measurable results, it’s not always conclusive. Follow-up research studies will sometimes produce quite different results. This is occasionally an outcome of imperfect controls or too small a sample size having been used in the first study. Whatever the reason, this phenomenon is why results of multiple studies of a hypothesis carry more weight than a single study. And it’s why a statistical study called a “meta-analysis” is sometimes used by researchers to draw out more conclusive findings.

A meta-analysis is a study of a group of studies. It’s a statistical method that can be used to detect patterns among a collection of research results that explored a specific hypothesis. Obviously, findings from a meta-analysis of studies will typically carry even greater weight, garnering more respect than the results of one or two studies. To my knowledge, there’s not yet been any meta-analysis published in strength training or muscle hypertrophy.


‘Scientific Bodybuilding’: Assumptions are made when ‘PhD’ follows names

Human beings are prone to making assumptions; we do it easily and often. But assumptions are what too often lead us to false conclusions. That’s why true science tries to eliminate or isolate assumptions as much as possible through acknowledgment and control of variables.

Many claims you hear from today’s online bodybuilding gurus are made using MASSIVE assumptions. You see it in their emails. In order to grab your attention, they’ll resort to telling you something alarming, such as the possible “poisoning effects” of a popular bodybuilding supplement. If you investigate these assumptions, however, you’ll often find that they’re flimsy – based on a patching together of hear-say stemming from disparate and unreliable research.

Since at least the late 1980s, many bodybuilding assumptions labeled as “scientific” have been made from the work of a single researcher and his team. The researcher is William J. Kraemer PhD. Dr. Kraemer is, without doubt, an accomplished and outstanding scientist in the fields of kinesiology, strength, and sports performance. Given his scientific professionalism, he concludes articles about his study findings with distinctions between what those findings can conservatively conclude and what calls for further research. But such careful wrap-ups by a scientist don’t stop self-proclaimed bodybuilding experts from going forth with runaway assumptions under the banner of ‘scientific bodybuilding.’

For example, back in 1990, Dr. Kraemer and a research team did a study published here in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It demonstrated how different heavy resistance training protocols (HRTPs) produced varying degrees of acute endogenous hormone release during training. The study showed the greatest growth hormone (GH) release occurred among subjects when they trained with 10 repetitions at a 10-reps maximum weight using only 1 minute of rest between sets.

So what have the gurus of muscle knowledge done with this?

Some have taken it as gospel and based their most prized muscle building routines around it. Furthermore, they’ve used other research showing that anabolic hormones drop after an hour of weight training and decided that workouts of less than 60 minutes are the road to anabolic paradise.

But these conclusions don’t come without a HUGE assumption; that increases of exercise-induced anabolic hormones will result in greater muscle growth. Do they?

Interestingly, a 2010 study published in the same ‘Journal of Applied Physiology’ claims they don’t, at least not in younger men. Twelve male subjects were tested for both strength increase and muscle hypertrophy under the control of two conditions – one being low hormone-release training and the other being a high hormone-release protocol. Each respective training regimen produced hormone release response as expected – the high intensity training stimulating a big growth hormone and testosterone boost above baseline. But results showed no difference in hypertrophy or strength between the two, leading researchers to finish their abstract with the following:

“We conclude that exposure of loaded muscle to acute exercise-induced elevations in endogenous anabolic hormones enhances neither muscle hypertrophy nor strength with resistance training in young men.”

By pointing this out, am I concluding that enhancement of acute, exercise-induce anabolic hormone surges have no value? No; I can’t be sure, especially in the case of older trainees. However, I am pointing out that anyone citing the first study with grandeurs of being a purveyor of scientific bodybuilding is definitely jumping the gun. There appears to be enough assumption going around to allow anyone spreading so-called “bro science” nearly the same credibility as anyone else.

'Scientific Bodybuilding': Learning about it can definitely make you aware of the importance that measurement and feedback plays in your long-term muscle building success.

‘Scientific Bodybuilding’: When it became subordinate to my own “bro science”

Personally, I take all research studies in bodybuilding with respectful consideration and a grain of salt. I enjoy the insights they can provide to whatever extent they can enhance my fitness and bodybuilding education. But I view very few of their findings as irrefutable conclusions. Holding this attitude while being experimental with my own body (with sensitivity to feedback) has opened my mind to the possibility that gigantic assumptions are what could be causing widespread frustration for many would-be natural muscle builders.

For example, when I was really young in 1990, I bought a training manual by Leo Costa. In that book, the author said that recent research had shown that muscles begin to atrophy sooner after training than had previously been thought. Basically, he alleged that a muscle trained any less often than every 36 hours was a shrinking muscle. He recommended frequent training of each muscle (2X per week) and short training sessions (45 min), twice a day.

I bought it – both the book and his ideas, much to my later chagrin. I not only didn’t gain muscle on the system, I lost a little (and a lot of time).

All these years later, I’m making very gratifying bodybuilding gains by not only ignoring the “scientific bodybuilding” he’d allegedly cited, but thumbing my nose at it completely. I train muscles with an infrequency that’s scoffed at by both bodybuilding experts and their followers alike.

Scientific Bodybuilding: Will it help you build muscle?

To the extent that it motivates you to start making your workouts measurable and your mind receptive to feedback, I’d say… “Yes, it CAN help you build muscle.


  1. W. J. Kraemer, L. Marchitelli, S. E. Gordon, E. Harman, J. E. Dziados, R. Mello, P. Frykman, D. McCurry, and S. J. Fleck ‘Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols’ (Journal of Applied Physiology; October 1, 1990 vol. 69 no. 4 1442-1450)
  2. Daniel W. D. West, Nicholas A. Burd, Jason E. Tang, Daniel R. Moore, Aaron W. Staples, Andrew M. Holwerda, Steven K. Baker, and Stuart M. Phillips ‘Elevations in ostensibly anabolic hormones with resistance exercise enhance neither training-induced muscle hypertrophy nor strength of the elbow flexors’ (Journal of Applied Physiology January 1, 2010 vol. 108 no. 1 60-67

“Does c9-t11 Work”; does it help build muscle?

If you’re online researching the question “does c9-t11 work”, you’re probably getting bombarded with mixed messages. Such is the nature of the Internet: You find an article about an overly-hyped supplement. Unlike ads for the supplement, the article has pros and cons of using the supplement, presented with apparent objectivity. The posted scrutiny of the product and discussion in the comment section appear to even lambaste the stuff in question. Then, smack in the middle of the article, is the image of a steroid-built bodybuilder with slightly obscured text above the pic – ‘Sponsored Link.’ You click on the advertisement and are presented with wild claims about ANOTHER hyped-up muscle building product. “Great”, you say to yourself… “The guys who are exposing a scam product are making money off another scam product.”

C9 T11Before you know it, you’ve forgotten you were trying to find an answer to the question “does c9-t11 work.” Worse, you’ve probably got a half dozen other hyped products written down, with a need to research those too.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve no-doubt seen the outrageous claims: “c9-t11 increased muscle growth by 600% in weight trained males.”

Let’s start by posing a great question: If this were true, do you think you’d need to read about it in an ad? It’s safe to say that it would be all over the media. If a university study really supported such dramatic muscle augmentation from a natural supplement, some drug companies would have snatched up c9-t11 long ago as it would otherwise wipe out there sales of anabolic steroids.

But the question still remains: ‘Does c9-t11 work’; even just a little bit? Would it provide an edge in your quest to build muscle?

‘Does c9-t11 work’: What is it anyway?

C9-t11 is one of two of the most common isomers of CLA, conjugated linoleic acid. So what is ‘conjugated linoleic acid?’

Simply explained, the word ‘conjugated’ means “joined together.” Linoleic acid is an unsaturated Omega 6 fatty acid. CLA is a “joining together of an 18-carbon chain of these Omega 6 fatty acid isomers with two ‘cis’ double bonds, meaning the double bonds occur on the same side of the molecule. CLA is present in beef and dairy products. There’s also trace amounts of it produced in the human gastrointestinal tract. CLA has been around as a dietary supplement for about the past quarter century.

The c9-t11 isomer is one of twenty-eight that are conjugated by the CLA carbon chain. So basically, if you use the supplement CLA, you’re getting c9-t11.

‘Does c9-t11 Work’; should you believe the hype?

Marketers of c9-t11 would like to have us believe it increases testosterone to a significant degree. In attempting this, they cite an actual study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. But the study basically concludes that CLA increased testosterone in vitro after 48 hours, but failed to increase testosterone in vivo to any noteworthy degree. In other words, when CLA was added to leydig cells in a laboratory, it increased their production of testosterone after a period of 48 hours. But when weight training male subjects were given CLA, it failed to produce significant T-level increases in them at all. The following is exactly what the abstract of the study concluded:

‘These findings suggest that CLA supplementation may promote testosterone synthesis through a molecular pathway that should be investigated in the future, although this effect did not have an anabolic relevance in our in vivo model.’

It’s peculiar to me that marketers of CLA would promote it as an anabolic agent by citing a study that clearly demonstrates CLA as NOT being an anabolic agent. CLA at least doesn’t show any anabolic qualities through being a testosterone augmenter.

Is it anabolic by some other means; does c9-t11 work by “sparing protein?”

C9-t11 marketers make four more bold claims about c9-t11, three of which make reference to a journal called ‘Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.’ The following three claims made in marketing material are what that material attributes to being published in the aforementioned publication:

  • 600% Increase in Muscle Growth
  • 9-Fold Increase in Biceps Mass
  • 202% Increase in Muscle Strength

Wow, sounds like front-page news material. But if anyone can actually find any online documentation of studies that show even a fraction of these claims, I’d love to be pointed to them. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened; just saying I haven’t seen it. Rear Back, Delt, and Arm

For those asking “does c9-t11 work” by way of some protein sparing effect, let’s just ponder this idea. Personally, I find it a little amusing when supplement marketers promote their products as substances that “reduce muscle tissue breakdown.” Think about why that’s questionable: The big stimulus that sparks muscle growth is a significant amount of muscle tissue breakdown. Without enough of that, nothing has a reason to happen. And if there’s too much of that, all that’s required to lessen it is a reduction of workout frequency, intensity, duration, or an increase of rest time between workouts. So if a supplement really can minimize muscle tissue breakdown, why is that such a great thing? How exactly would it result in greater net muscle gain?

Marketers of c9-t11 also claim that it “works” as a muscle builder by increasing fatty acid-derived ‘prostaglandins.’ They say that these lipid compounds increase muscle protein synthesis. All that’s required to check on this, however, is a search on Google Scholar. You can simply type in a search with the words ‘c9-t11’ and ‘prostaglandins.’ Unless you get more promising search results than I did, you’ll find nothing about increased protein synthesis from c9-t11 or CLA.

Bottom line: There might be a study somewhere that shows the c9-t11 in CLA as being slightly beneficial to muscle recovery and growth. But whether one study’s results justify the hype being generated by marketers of c9-t11 is questionable, at best.

‘Does c9-t11 Work’… even a little bit?

Since beginning this post, I’ve finally stumbled upon the study that c9-t11 marketers are likely citing. It was an experiment done in 2006 at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Publication of the study results can be found right here.

The seven-week research study was done on 85 subjects undergoing a three-times-per-week weight training regimen. There were 43 females and 42 males ranging from 18 to 45 years old. The subjects were all healthy and had prior resistance training experience. They were randomized; some receiving 5 grams per day of CLA and others receiving a placebo. In addition to measuring muscle hypertrophy, the study’s researchers measured for changes in body composition, muscle thickness of the elbow flexors and knee extensors, resting metabolic rate, bench and leg press strength, and urinary markers of myofibrillar breakdown.

Let’s just focus on muscle size and bench press increases, since those were the only significant positive changes the researchers observed in the CLA users.  The Smith-Machine Squatsresearchers say the CLA group gained an average of 1.4 kg (about 3 lbs.) of muscle during the seven weeks. This is in contrast to the control group’s average gain of .2 kg. (.4 lbs.). It’s also reported that the males in the CLA group had an average .05 gain in bench press strength. That’d be equivalent to someone going up to 210 lbs. max bench from a previous best of 200 lbs.

So, does c9-t11 work?

The reported increase in muscle mass does represent a 600% increase over the control group:

(1.4 Kg. - .2 kg) / .2 = 600%

So one has to wonder why the researchers concluded so modestly in their abstract:

“Supplementation with CLA during resistance training results in relatively small changes in body composition accompanied by a lessening of the catabolic effect of training on muscle protein.”

This summation becomes even more confusing when followed by the following paragraph in their ‘discussion’ section:

The main findings of our first 7-wk study were that CLA supplementation during resistance training significantly increased lean tissue mass and reduced fat mass. Although these results were statistically significant, the changes in the CLA group were small, and one could question their clinical significance. The small increase in lean tissue mass may be attributed to a lessened catabolic effect of training with CLA supplementation, as evidenced by an increased urinary

3-methylhistidine output in the placebo group with no change in the CLA group. The small increase in lean tissue mass with CLA was not sufficient for increasing muscular strength, with the exception of bench press strength in males.

As usual, researchers are downplaying the results as marketers are hyping them.

Give Me Your Feedback; I’ll Give You Mine

Testing CLA out on oneself shouldn’t cost a small fortune. I just picked up a Vitamin Shoppe bottle of 180, 1000 mg. soft-gels for about 36 bucks. If I take the 5 grams-per-day dosage that was used in the study, it’ll cost me about a dollar a day. Since I’ve never really given CLA a long-term test run, I’ll give it at least eight weeks and report back with my results. And given that I already have a system that gives me steady and reliable gains, I’ll be able to observe any increases very clearly.

If you’ve used CLA/c9-t11, please give us your feedback in the comment section. And if you’re marketing the stuff, keep your hype to a minimum. Or at least provide some untouched, legitimized before/after photos.


  1. Macaluso, Filippo; Morici, Giuseppe; Catanese, Patrizia; Ardizzone, Nella M.; Gammazza, Antonella Marino; Bonsignore, Giuseppe; Lo Giudice, Giuseppe; Stampone, Tomaso; Barone, Rosario; Farina, Felicia; Di Felice, Valentina ‘Effect of Conjugated Linoleic Acid on Testosterone Levels In Vitro and In Vivo After an Acute Bout of Resistance Exercise’ (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research; June 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 6 - p 1667–1674)

“Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements?” A Really Good Question

Vitamin D seems to be all the rage right now. And it’s probably for good reason: At least a couple decade’s worth of pasting ourselves with UV protective sunscreens and blocks have got us asking some pertinent follow-up questions:

“Am I blocking out something we vitally need from sun exposure?”

“Am I getting the daily amount of vitamin D I need?”

“Do I need vitamin D supplements?”

Vitamin D Supplementation (1)Chances are, if you’re not getting a good dosage of sun exposure on a broad section of your body each day, you’ve got good reason to ask ‘do I need vitamin D supplements.’ It’s estimated that at least a billion people worldwide are short of the recommended dosage of this vitamin – a nutrient that acts more like a hormone than a vitamin and is showing increasingly in studies to be vitally important for health.

If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, it appears you’ve got even more reason to ask “do I need vitamin D supplements.” This stuff has been shown to have an effect on natural testosterone levels. By what mechanism this occurs is not really understood. But it appears that if you’re a male with low testosterone, a concurrent low blood level of vitamin D might be one of the reasons.

How about vitamin D’s importance for the nervous system? For years we thought it was vital only for good bone health – a tidbit of knowledge that might make us yawn and assume no worries about vitamin D levels until older age. It turns out, however, that we might need healthy levels for maximum brain function, a factor that could have an effect on how we score on any standardized test.

Possibly being smarter, stronger, and more virile. If those aren’t good reasons to ask “do I need vitamin D supplements”, I can’t imagine what would be.

‘Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements’… or Will Sunshine Do?

It’s estimated that an average beach lifeguard gets as much as 50,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Before assuming, however, that this is enough to cause an overdose (there is an upper safe limit), consider that sun exposure appears to be the body’s preferred method by which to obtain vitamin D.

But vitamin D doesn’t, of course, come directly from the sun’s rays; it’s a multi-step process. Upon contact with the skin, the UVB rays from the sun stimulate a type of cholesterol (called 7-dehydrocholesterol) that’s present in the skin. That stimulation by the UV turns 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3. The vitamin D3 then travels to the liver, via the bloodstream, where it’s converted into 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25(OH) D, or calcidiol. This is actually a pro-hormone, which is the active form of vitamin D.

This whole mechanism by which the body makes UVB-stimulated vitamin D is fool-proofed with a built-in down regulator. In other words, even sun-soaked, Bay Watch-type beach lifeguards don’t have a chance of overdosing on their sun derived creation of the vitamin. The overdosing possibility is quite different with vitamin D supplementation, however, as we’ll discuss later.

Even though sun exposure can make vitamin D free and plentiful, it’s estimated that a huge portion of the population is vitamin D deficient. Many of us work in careers that keep us indoors and exposed to only intermittent sunlight that hits just our arms and faces. Considering that 30 minutes of full-body exposure to high-noon sunlight is required to produce 10,000 to 20,000 IU of vitamin D, it’s no wonder many of us are undersupplied.

Sources of vitamin D from food are woefully insufficient to compensate. Known foods with relatively high amounts of D3 are not exactly abundant. The top food sources comprise such disparate items as salmon, sun-dried mushrooms, and fortified milk.

Given vitamin D’s easily elusive acquisition, it’s not difficult to surmise that asking “do I need a vitamin D supplement” is a great question.

Vitamin D (1) 

'Vitamin D Sources': Getting enough vitamin D from the sun can be as elusive as sand-drawn text near the surf zone.

‘Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements’… for Higher Testosterone?

For guys who are experiencing low testosterone, there might be really good reason to ask “do I need vitamin D supplements.” At least one study shows a correlation between sufficient blood levels of vitamin D and raised levels of total testosterone. This should be of extreme interest to any guy who’s attempting to build muscle.

A 2005 study at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany demonstrated the correlation. Researchers took 54 healthy, overweight men who initially showed testosterone levels in the deficiency range and put them through a one-year randomized controlled trial. All the men had low initial vitamin D levels (below 19 ng/ml) and low initial testosterone levels (around 400 ng/dl). Thirty-one of the participants received 3,332 IU of vitamin D daily for a year while twenty-three of the subjects received a placebo. This gradually brought the vitamin D group’s blood levels of D up to above 50 ng/ml.

What were the results after a year?

The total testosterone of the vitamin D group was boosted by an average of 25% while the control group stayed, essentially, unchanged. And while this type of study does not prove cause and effect, the correlative difference between the two groups is significant enough to warrant further study.

It might also be worthy of eliciting a great question if you’re a bodybuilder, athlete, or just a middle-aged guy wanting to maximize testosterone: “Do I need vitamin D supplements?”

‘Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements’… for Better Cognitive Functioning?

In the past few years, quite a few articles in various publications have cited findings of connections between brain function and vitamin D. One of the more prominent pieces is titled ‘Does Vitamin D Improve Brain Function’, and was published in in Scientific American. It quotes Dr. Robert J. Przybelski, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in making the following connections between vitamin D and the nervous system:

  • There are receptors for vitamin D throughout the central nervous system and hippocampus.
  • Vitamin D activates and deactivates enzymes in the brain and cerebrospinal fluid that are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth.
  • Animal and laboratory studies suggest vitamin D protects neurons and reduces inflammation.

The article goes on in citing two European studies that show a link between cognitive function and vitamin D. The first study involved an assessment of 1,700 subjects, both men and women aged 65 and older. The second one looked at men in the age range of 40 to 79. In both studies, low vitamin D levels were correlated with impaired mental functioning. Outdoor Exercise (1)

Led by neuroscientist David Llewellyn of Cambridge University, the first study made an assessment of vitamin D levels and cognitive function by dividing subjects into four groups. These four groups were categorized by vitamin D blood levels and labeled as severely deficient, deficient, insufficient (borderline), and optimum. The researchers then had the subjects take a battery of mental exams in order to assess cognitive performance. The scientists definitely saw a correlation between vitamin D levels and results; low levels of D appeared to have a negative impact. In fact, those in the lowest quartile for blood levels of vitamin D were more than twice as likely to show cognitive impairment.

The second study, led by researchers at the University of Manchester in England, demonstrated a correlation between low vitamin D levels and mental ‘processing speed.’ Data from the research showed that the lower the blood levels of vitamin D, the slower were subjects able to process information. This was especially distinct among men over the age of 65.

Granted, these studies raise a lot more questions than they answer. Scientists don’t know if there’s a cause and effect between vitamin D levels and cognitive function. It’s also unclear whether optimum levels of vitamin D will reduce cognitive losses. But one thing is clear: If you want to be on the safe side of preserving your mental speed and acuity, it’s not unreasonable to ask…

… “Do I need vitamin D supplements?”

‘Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements”; are blood levels optimal?

You can’t really know what your vitamin D levels are unless you get a blood test. In other words, simply taking a haphazardly arrived-at daily dosage of vitamin D supplements could leave you with blood levels that are too high or too low. Complicating this a little more is the fact that the amount of sun exposure you’re currently getting can drastically change whether you even need supplementation.

So what’s the “right” amount of vitamin D?

There’s actually a fairly big window. The medical community generally considers anything from 30 ng/ml to 70 ng/ml as being the “normal” range. They consider 100 ng/ml to be “excessive.” But the toxic level isn’t reached until blood levels hit 150 ng/ml.

The Vitamin D Council recommends that adults aim for blood levels of 50 ng/ml.

So how much vitamin D supplementation would that require if sun exposure isn’t quite cutting it?

The answer to that is so dependent on age and the skin’s melanin levels that it can’t be estimated. Therefore, experimenting with vitamin D blood tests and supplementation (if needed) is the only way to find out.

“Do I Need Vitamin D Supplements?” It turned out that I did

Personally, I started by taking a vitamin D supplement, about 8,000 IU per day. Then, as an afterthought, I went in to get a blood test – about 5 days after starting this heavy supplementation.

What were my results out here in sunny Southern California?

My blood levels were 19 ng/ml. I was surprised, to put it mildly. I don’t even know what my blood levels had been five days prior, before starting to jack them up with that hefty supplemental dosage. I proceeded to increase my dosage to 10,000 IU per day, along with taking four Cod Liver Oil capsules (high in vitamin D) each morning.

After a full month of this, a second blood test showed my levels to be 46 ng/ml. That was a nice jump, but still short of the 50 to 60 ng/ml for which I personally wanted to aim. Based on the rate of increase I’d observed, I decided to continue the 10,000 IU for another week, then I’d cut down the dosage by at least half.

I’m now taking 4,000 IU per day along with the four Cod Liver Oil capsules. I’m awaiting the results of a vitamin D home blood test I administered well into my regimen of using this dosage. I will post the results of that test in the comment section below. This is simply for any value readers can get from my own experience; not as a recommendation for what anyone else should do.

In other words, if you’re asking “do I need vitamin D supplements”, get a blood test, consult your physician, and regularly monitor your levels from there.

But please, share your comments about vitamin D supplementation in the comment section below; other readers (and I) would love to hear your experiences, whether good or bad.

“Does Deer Antler Velvet Work”; does it build muscle?

The time I recall first hearing about deer antler velvet was way back in the 1990s. By the middle of that decade, I’d been regrettably pulled into multi-level marketing. In the midst of discussing the numerous dietary supplements being promoted in that industry, a telephone acquaintance I was talking with mentioned ‘Deer Antler Velvet.’ I can still remember his bold claim about what it was purported to do:

Deer Antler Velvet“Have you heard of Deer Antler Velvet?” … he asked. “It’s been shown to stimulate the leydig cells in the testes of men who take it. It increases natural testosterone production.”

Although I was partly intrigued by this claim, the more critical thinking side of my mind was asking “does Deer Antler Velvet work” for this? After all, the idea sounds primitive; like a throwback to the days when humans believed that eating the heart of a lion would build a man’s courage. One has to wonder what could uniquely exist in the tissue of an animal – tissue composed of the same basic building blocks of life with which man’s tissue’s composed – that could possibly stimulate increased hormone production in a specific part of the human body.

Nearly twenty years later, Deer Antler Velvet has suddenly surfaced into some degree of limelight. But rather than being sold as an ingredient in an updated version of Ageless Male, we’re hearing that it’s a booster of IGF-1 instead of a direct stimulator of natural testosterone production.

Regardless, ‘does Deer Antler Velvet work’… for anything? Does it increase IGF-1? Does it raise testosterone? Will it increase muscle mass for the natural bodybuilder?

These are the claims and notions we’ll investigate in this article.

‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’… and just what is IGF-1?

Anyone asking the question “does Deer Antler Velvet work” can still find online claims that it increases testosterone levels in men. What’s sometimes cited as the reason for the raised T-levels, however, is an increase in blood levels of IGF-1.

But just what is IGF-1?

IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) is an endocrine hormone consisting of 70 single-chained amino acids with three intramolectular disulfide bridges. Most of its endogenous existence is produced and released by the liver after being stimulated from Human Growth Hormone release. IGF-1 is similar in molecular structure to insulin, hence, its name: “Insulin-like”… growth factor. Once released into the blood, IGF-1 goes to and binds with specific receptors within the cell types of numerous bodily tissues, including muscle. Once there, it stimulates cell growth and proliferation.

Obviously, the prospects of such an anabolic hormone are attractive to anyone wanting to increase muscle growth. Significant elevations in IGF-1 will likely result in faster inter-workout recuperation. And quicker recuperation is what leads to faster muscle growth.

The next question becomes obvious: Do Deer Antler Velvet supplements provide a biologically active form of IGF-1 for people who use them?

‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’… and what started the question?

Now that we know IGF-1 is an anabolic hormone capable of increasing muscle growth, the question “does Deer Antler Velvet work” becomes a matter of answering two precedent questions:

  1. Does Deer Antler Velvet contain substantial amounts of IGF-1?
  2. If so, is the IGF-1 from Deer Antler Velvet biologically active in humans when orally administered?

The assumption that both these questions can be answered in the positive is intertwined within Deer Antler Velvet marketing and press release hype. It all started when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was mentioned in a Sports Illustrated article to have solicited a Deer Antler Velvet marketer about substances that could possibly speed Lewis’ recovery from a torn right triceps. Ray Lewis denies ever using products being hawked by the marketer’s company, a firm out of Alabama called SWATS (Sports With Alternatives To Steroids).

But this denial by Mr. Lewis appears to fuel speculation and subsequent marketing leverage for Deer Antler Velvet. If he denies using the products, they probably work, right? After all, athletes often deny using drugs right before getting popped by testing positive for using them.

In addition, some articles about Ray Lewis’ association with ‘SWATS’ will follow claims by Mr. Lewis that he never used Deer Antler Velvet with the point that IGF-1 is an illegal substance for which blood presence is tested by the NFL. In other words, some press coverage has little intervening analysis of the far-fetched likelihood of the IGF-1 contained in these products even being effective in humans. That spurs assumptions in many a person’s mind that Deer Antler Velvet is probably as effective as a drug. And if this isn’t marketer-driven press material made to order for coaxing athletes and fitness enthusiasts to try this stuff, then it must be one of the most serendipitous stumbles upon cleverness that I’ve seen in the sport’s supplements industry.

Bottom line: You’re smart to ask “does Deer Antler Velvet work” before betting your money on it.

Buffed Torso
'Deer Antler Velvet': Can the IGF-1 it purportedly contains help you build a body like the one above?

‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’; can it come close to the hype?

I began this article by mentioning that I first heard about Deer Antler Velvet back in the mid-1990s. Based on that, let me pose a good question:

If Deer Antler Velvet could live up to half the hype that’s being generated about it, wouldn’t almost 20 years be enough time for word-of-mouth to have spread about it already?

Instead, the stuff’s been wallowing in obscurity for a long time. Then suddenly, a world-class pro athlete is merely quoted as inquiring about it. Subsequently – and probably much to its marketer’s delight – he denied making such an inquiry, or of ever using the product.

“Ah-Ha! He must have used it”… right?

Even if he did, so what… aren’t professional athletes as susceptible to gullibility as the rest of us? Aren’t they as likely to deny using a product out of desire to mask their gullibility as to hide any guilt borne of benefiting from performance enhancing substances? Besides, there’s word that Lewis denied using the product because he wasn’t certain it didn’t contained NFL-banned substances of which he was unaware.

Okay, am I implying that I know without a doubt that Deer Antler Velvet doesn’t work?

Not by a long shot. I’ve personally never tried Deer Antler Velvet and cannot vouch for its effectiveness or lack thereof. But I’m not inclined to try it simply because a top athlete is said to have used it, and then claimed he didn’t.

And there’s good reason to doubt this extract does anything. Dr. Roberto Salvatori was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying that there is no medically valid way of delivering IGF-1 either orally or via spray. Dr. Salvatori is an endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, so he has credibility on the topic. The following is what he had to say:

"If there were, a lot of people would be happy that they don't need to get shots anymore. It's just simply not possible for it to come from a spray."

Think about that. There are lots of people who need IGF-1 to be medically administered. If there were suddenly a viable way of doing it without needles, we’d likely hear about it as an incredible scientific and medical breakthrough. No such news is forthcoming; just a lot of unscientific claims by supplement marketers. Fit Woman

In fairness, it’s worth mentioning that Deer Antler Velvet has a long history as a folk medicine. Evidence uncovered by way of a 2,000 year old Chinese tomb-encased scroll shows writing that says Deer Antler Velvet was used back then as a health aid. It is said in Traditional Chinese Medicine that tonic made from the antlers instills in the user everything from enhanced energy levels to improved health and vitality.

There could be some truth to those claims. Dean Nieves of Florida-based ‘Bio Labs Naturals’ contends that Antler Velvet is simply a nutritional super-food. He’s one of the few marketers of Deer Antler Velvet who doesn’t buy into or sell anyone on the notion that the extract contains bioavailable IGF-1.  Nieves told the Baltimore Sun:

“IGF-1 is very unstable. It could not exist outside of a very controlled environment. And when you order bottles of deer antler extract, it's not coming in a freeze-dried case.”

And the Bio Labs Naturals website reflects this. Rather than making claims of hormonal enhancement from using the extract, the company claims the product contains an array of amino acids along with phospholipids, glycosaminoglycans, and saturated fatty acid molecules. The only two ingredients it lists that I find questionably ambiguous are “extracellular matrix components” (don’t ask me what those are) and “beneficial growth factors” (if those are non-hormonal, then what are they?).

So, does Deer Antler Velvet work?

Well, I guess if the only thing standing between your current muscle building potential and something better is another substance in the long list of “super foods”, then “yes”, it might do something.

But I wouldn’t expect it to do anything beyond what could be expected from any other nutritious food.

‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work to Build Muscle?’ Your Feedback

I’ll confess to having a bias against products like Deer Antler Velvet. That’s because, as I said at the start of this article, they remind me of that primitive mindset whereby mankind believed ingesting organs of certain animals would provide him with desirable characteristics of those animals (i.e. eating the heart of a lion for courage).

Granted, in the case of Deer Antler Velvet, we’re probably a step up from that lion example – maybe more in alignment with the impulse of buying liver tablets that were so popular with bodybuilders in the 1970s. But marketers are still tapping into that primitive instinct: If deer antlers are the fastest growing mammalian organs on earth, then consuming them will bestow us with those same qualities of regenerative growth… right?

If you’ve bought into this notion and tried Deer Antler Velvet, readers would love to get your feedback. Please give us your thoughts on the product in the comment section below.

And keep making ‘smart training’ your number one ingredient for success.

“Muscle Myths”: ‘The PostGame’ nails it this time

Late in 2012, I wrote a blog article titled ‘Which Muscles do Women Like.’ This was in response to an entry of nearly the same title by The PostGame. I was fairly critical of that PostGame entry given that I think it links out to web pages containing bad workout advice. There are already enough frustrated gym members who are spinning their wheels; there’s no need for more of them.

Muscular Arm, Delt, PecBut with their recent ‘Muscle Myths’ entry, ‘The PostGame’ has hit a small homerun. I say “small” homerun only because there are just 4 ‘muscle myths’ that the article debunks. But these four are definitely worth exposing. The short article does that nicely. I commend the author for helping spare those new to bodybuilding from heading down a time-wasting path to which these muscle myths can lead.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the muscle myths cited by the PostGame entry don’t deserve some clarification. In my opinion, the author has accurately identified the myths while missing the mark on some of the reasoning and remedies. That’s what I’ll cover in this article. While doing so, I’ll also bring up some other muscle myths and attempt to debunk some of erroneous beliefs surrounding them. This is all in the name of clarifying and simplifying the process of natural muscle building, an endeavor for which many people get mired in frustrating progress plateaus.

So let’s begin with the muscle myths discussed in ‘The PostGame’ entry. 

‘Muscle Myths’: The PostGame’s four

  1. Muscle Confusion Spurs Muscle Growth
  2. You Can Digest Only 25 grams of Protein at a Time
  3. Body Weight Workout can Make You Big
  4. Lifting to Failure is Essential to Muscle Growth


Muscle Confusion Spurs Muscle Growth:

Here’s a ‘muscle myth’ started by Joe Weider and recently perpetuated by Tony Horton’s P90X marketing. I’ve written extensively about the muscle confusion myth in previous entries.

The shortcoming I see in the scant coverage of this muscle myth within the PostGame article is that the author (Michael Easter) rightly debunks the myth and then inadvertently gives it credence. Easter very wisely points out that ‘adaptation’ is not something we want to avoid; it’s actually what causes muscle growth. But he follows that terrific point by claiming that muscle growth can be sustained with “small weekly tweaks” such as “altering your grip, pace, or rest.”

Excuse me, but didn’t he just attempt to discredit muscle confusion by crediting it?

For muscle growth to occur, we need to systematically overload, adapt, and then re-overload the tissue. Each overload session (workout) needs to be followed by adequate recuperation, along with compensatory adaptation. This does not occur by adding “weekly tweaks” of “altered grips, pace, or rest.” On the contrary, these meaningless little tweaks will only lead to inconsistent stress being put on the muscles.

For example, let’s say you successfully engage your pectoral muscles with an optimal grip while doing bench presses this week. You then widen your grip next week, unknowingly putting more of the stress on your deltoids and less on your pectorals. The following week, you shorten your rest between sets, resulting in even more stress on your possibly over-worked deltoids. You’ve now gotten so off track on successfully overloading and recuperating your pectorals that it’s more difficult than ever to track your progress. That’s what leads to frustrating plateaus.

Yes, muscle confusion is a farce. But it needs to be replaced with workout clarity, not advice that’s simply a lighter version of muscle confusion nonsense.

Dumbbell Lunges
'Muscle Myths': Light weights are terrific for a photo opp. However, to think they'll build visually discernible muscle mass could be considered a muscle myth


You Can Digest only 25 Grams of Protein at a Time:

I agree that this is a myth, just as the PostGame article claims. I’ll even concede to the author’s claim that the body will “digest and absorb up to 125 grams of protein in a sitting.” However, this doesn’t mean the body needs or will efficiently utilize that much protein if it’s consumed in one sitting. As is so many times the case, people need to pay attention to wording. If not, they tend to equate “digest and absorb” with ‘convert into muscle.’ Forcing down more protein than the body needs in a given meal will not accelerate muscle growth.

The article quotes fitness expert Alan Aragon as claiming people should shoot for 1 gram of protein per pound of the bodyweight for which they’re aiming. I agree with this; it’s old-school wisdom that’s stood the test of time against a scientific community that’s never reached a concession on protein intake.

I just think that an important caveat to this is to keep in mind that excessive protein CAN make you fat. Yes, many people will improve their fat loss by increasing protein intake. But there’s a point of diminishing return, and a point just beyond that at which the calories from excessive protein will add up like any others. That’s when protein foods start making you fat rather than fighting your fat.


Body Weight Workouts Can Make You Big:

In this section of the ‘PostGame’ article on ‘muscle myths’, the author gets a bit nonsensical by once again alluding to muscle confusion. He does this with the following sentence:

‘Using your body as your barbell is a smart way to vary your routine and boost overall fitness, but it won't help you pack on serious size.’

He’s right; it won’t help you pack on serious size. But how does varying a routine necessarily boost overall fitness? This is an assumption that millions of people make without any reasoning to back it up. Furthermore, if it were true, what’s the reason that doing it with body weight exercises is a “smart” method of choice?

When I was in the U.S. Navy’s basic SEAL Training, we did an extraordinary amount of body weight exercises. We became exceptionally good at doing them. But what became increasingly noticeable from our exercise routines is that we weren’t developing anything even resembling balanced or aesthetically pleasing bodies. The little bit of pectorals we possessed were underdeveloped in the upper region, giving them a feminine appearance. Our deltoids were puny compared to our chests. Our lats were puny compared to our deltoids. And our arms had a little bit of triceps development with almost imperceptible biceps improvement. Granted, physique development was not the purpose of the training. But you probably get my point; there’s no logical reason that body weight exercises should be automatically labeled a “smart” addition to a workout routine.

Having said this, I’ll agree that it’s worth emphasizing that body weight exercises are a terrible choice for anyone wanting to add even a little bit of muscle size. Michael Easter is smart in quoting Bill Hartman as asserting the following: Curling Dumbbells

"You need sufficient overload to spur growth; that's where weights come in."

However, he should have added something else. It’d be of more help to people if he’d defined what overload is. Bodybuilders need to ‘overload’ the muscles with a certain amount of volume within a specific time constraint. Then they need to recuperate sufficiently so the muscle tissue can improve this performance. Then they should be able to overload the muscle again in the subsequent workout. And then successfully do this over and over in order that muscles become stronger and bigger.


Lifting To Failure is Essential To Muscle Growth:

The last of the muscle myths listed is another piece of good advice in dire need of clarity. If you don’t agree, just think about the absurdity of the first sentence in the section:

“Be wary of any advice that promises positive results from negative actions.”

What? Do writers sometimes think what they’re scribing is so clever that they never stop to think about it? There’s plenty of research in weight training that shows eccentric repetitions (negatives) as being extremely effective for making strength and size gains.

Aside from that, a blanket statement that claims ‘lifting to failure is counterproductive’ is incomplete advice, at best, and a progress detriment at worst.

How do I know this?

Because years of natural bodybuilding experience has shown me the following:

If a person lifts way too short of failure (inadequate intensity), that individual will undermine gains and likely make less progress than the person who lifts to failure while providing adequate recuperation for the higher degree of intensity.

More importantly, advising trainees to “not lift to failure” without telling them how close to failure they need to get is woefully inadequate information. Building muscle requires a minimum amount of intensity-of-effort that’s fairly high. Stopping much to short of that minimum is a very common mistake that doesn’t need to be encouraged. For that reason, I’ll give you a simple but powerful bit of advice that the ‘The Postgame’ muscle myths article didn’t:

Push your repetitions to one rep short of failure on your final set of an exercise. This provides just about the perfect amount of intensity without risking under-training or overtraining.

‘Muscle Myths’… to be continued

When it comes to muscle myths, the four listed in ‘The Postgame’ article are not even close to being exhaustive. There are numerous other myths within this realm that need to be dispelled. Moreover, the truths surrounding those myths need clearer explanation so as not to be the cause of tangential myths. Stay tuned.

“4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet”: Does it work?

As I’ve read other writer’s opinions of the ‘4-Hour Body slow carb diet’, I’ve wondered why many of them treat it as if it’s a novel tactic for fat loss. That’s not meant to slam Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The 4-Hour Body.’ It’s just that the words “slow carb diet” would seem to imply the regular intake of carbohydrate meals that are low on the glycemic index. They’re considered “slow carbs” because they’re slower digesting and, thus, less likely to significantly raise blood sugar and insulin. Given this, it seems that the ‘4-Hour Body slow carb diet’ is nothing more than a different name for a relatively old tactic.

The 4 Hour BodyBut is the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ really a low glycemic diet, or is it something else?

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ to determine whether it’s just a modified low glycemic eating plan. In doing so, we’ll see if there’s anything distinctly valuable about it.

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge that this diet’s tenets are really simple. This makes it a breeze for people to follow in a quest to improve eating habits. In an age of information overload, that’s always of value. So let’s dive in.

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Basic tenets

To his credit, Tim Ferriss has his ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ first outlined with five basic rules. They’re listed as follows:

  1. Avoid “white” carbohydrates
  2. Eat the same few meals over and over again
  3. Don’t drink calories
  4. Don’t eat fruit
  5. Take one day off per week

So let’s go over each one of these and I’ll give you my take on them. Being that I often experiment with my own body (much as Ferriss does), I’ll share some opinions and personal caveats on these rules.

Avoid “White” Carbohydrates: Ferriss includes all breads, rice (including brown), cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas, and fried food with breading on this list. Basically, he’s advising people to avoid anything starchy. He mercifully provides a once-per-week cheat day (jumping to rule #5) in which, I assume, one can pile down on this stuff if desired.

Instead of starchy carbohydrates, Ferriss recommends eating plenty of protein, good fats, and what he calls “slow carbs” such as lentils, black beans, and vegetables.

Does this work?

I have no doubt that it’s effective; cutting starchy foods will inevitably lead to lower calorie intake. Additionally, eliminating “white carbs” can greatly lower and stabilize insulin levels – something that eventually leads to less fat storage and fewer hunger pangs.

Eat the Same Few Meals Over and Over: Tim Ferriss points out that successful fat shedders and muscle builders all tend to eat the same few food items and meals over and over. He stresses that although the average grocery store has nearly 50,000 food items, only a small percentage of them won’t make us fat. This reminds me of the wise advice about “shopping the perimeter of the supermarket rather than the middle aisles.” The perimeter is where the fish, chicken, meat, and vegetables sit. The middle aisles are where the chips, cookies, and canned/processed foods reside.

Anyway, I will personally attest to this; long ago I discovered that fat loss and a daily desire to tantalize one’s taste buds are not very compatible. Inshape Woman

However, this doesn’t mean that getting and staying lean condemns one to a life of eating boredom. What Ferriss fails to mention with the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ is that lean eating habits can eventually become as addictive as those that make us fat. You’ll know when you’ve reached this threshold when your once-per-week cheat day is no longer something that has you staring at the calendar in starchy carb-longing wait. 

Moreover, losing body fat typically requires a stricter eating regimen than keeping the fat off once it’s gone. In other words, you could adopt the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ for the duration of time it takes you to shed the fat you want to lose, but rest assured that you can reintroduce a few more “bad carbs” and greater meal variety once the fat’s gone and you go into maintenance mode.

Don’t Drink Your Calories: The ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ third rule is another that’s already widely encouraged. No real surprise; there are only so many ways to lose body fat and they’re all just different methods of taking fewer calories than are burned off.

Ferriss recommends limiting beverage intake to high quantities of water and unsweetened coffee or tea. This is wise advice given how many people unknowingly take in excess calories via sugary beverages. I still know individuals who think they’re consuming something “healthy” when drinking a daily fructose-filled fruit juice or making a lunch stop at Jamba Juice. They think this is the equivalent of eating a piece of fruit, which they’ve been told is healthy. But fruit juice is all that’s left when the pulp and fiber is separated from what’s left of the fruit, which is nearly nothing but sugar water. 

Furthermore, his recommendation to “drink massive quantities of water” is something I’ll wholeheartedly agree with. This practice has a huge effect on reducing hunger pangs that accompany calorie reduction.

Of course, it shouldn’t be news that the elimination of sugary soft drinks is necessary for fat loss. Ferriss is one of those who furthers this advice with an admonishment to limit diet sodas as well; “aspartame can stimulate weight gain”, he says.

Personally, I’ve never noticed this phantom weight gain from artificial sweeteners, and I’ve consumed a lot of them. However, I acknowledge that that’s highly anecdotal feedback from one person’s experience.

Don’t Eat Fruit: Here’s a tenet of the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ that probably takes many people by surprise. We’ve long been conditioned to think of fruit as a “diet food.” What’s more, we’ve been told from the time we’re young that fruit’s necessary as a regular staple in order to maintain a “balanced diet.”

Fruit possesses what many of us have referred to simply as “fruit sugar.” But technically, it’s ‘fructose’, a monosaccharide, which is the simplest form of sugar. Tim Ferriss points out that the reason to avoid fructose is due to its easy conversion to glycerol phosphate via the liver. That conversion leads to more triglycerides and fat storage in the body.

In the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’, Ferriss recommends eliminating all fruit for six days of the week, with the exception of tomatoes and avocados. This makes sense given that it’s difficult to determine whether tomatoes and avocados are actually fruits and not vegetables. They definitely contain a lot less fructose than all the other fruits.

Bottom line: I’d have to agree that all the vitamins, fiber, and minerals that are obtained from consuming fruit can easily be gotten from legume and vegetable consumption.

Take One Day Off Per Week: With the ‘4-Hour Slow Carb Diet’, Tim Ferriss builds in a ‘cheat day.’ Okay, so some people have thoughtfully renamed these ‘treat days’ to remove the negative connotation that we’re “cheating” when we indulge in them. Ferriss himself refers to it as a Dieters Gone Wild (DGW) day. Whatever you name it, it’s one-day-per-week to let loose and pig out on high quantities of whatever you’ve felt deprived of during the past week of stringent dieting.

Losing WeightBesides the obvious psychological relief by taking a weekly day off from the ‘slow carb diet’, Ferriss maintains that such treat days increase fat loss. He says spiking caloric intake this way ensures one’s metabolic rate doesn’t downshift from extended caloric restriction.

Although the extent of such fat-burning benefits from ‘treat day’ indulgences might be debatable, partaking in them seems reasonable if only for psychological purposes. Abstaining from starchy foods indefinitely would be a tough proposition. Even the most diehard Paleo Diet adherent would likely attest to that. Therefore, I’d have to agree that a weekend “DGW”-day is definitely called for on the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet.’ Ferriss recommends that it’s done every Saturday and that adherents of the ‘slow carb diet’ indulge in whatever they want to eat – in as high of quantity as they want to eat.

That’s it; that’s the five rules of the 4-Hour Body ‘Slow Carb Diet.’

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Will it Work?

I think that most people who ask if an eating plan like the ‘slow carb diet’ will work are probably fairly new to dieting. That’s because those with experience at losing body fat can recognize the characteristics of an eating plan that will make losing fat a successful proposition. Those characteristics need to lead to a simple equation: fewer calories consumed than are being burned off. That’s the bottom line.

Will the ‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’ deliver on that?

I have no doubt that it will if it’s adhered to strictly. Substantial reduction of sugar and starchy carbohydrates typically reduces calorie intake. It also stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels, making fat loss even easier than is the case with simple calorie-cutting alone.

‘Four-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Too Extreme?

It’s a good thing Tim Ferriss has included a weekly ‘treat day’ (DGW day) in his diet outline. Otherwise, these rules would be difficult to stick with for many people and recidivism would be a common consequence. It’s much easier to face the perceived deprivation of eliminating bread, cereal, potatoes and pasta when you know you can indulge in them at the end of the week.

Notice I’ve used the word “perceived”… deprivation. It’s important to keep in mind, when dieting, that feeling deprived of foods is merely a perception. I mention this with enlightenment from my own personal experience of both extreme carb addiction, followed by adequate discipline that resulted in eliminating that addiction. The first indication that those carb addictions are waning is a diminished enthusiasm for overindulging in the ‘treat day.’ That day typically starts out as something for which you can hardly wait. As you become more “addicted” to the all-day feelings of wellbeing provided by healthier eating, the idea of sending that wellbeing into a tailspin during a “cheat day/treat day” becomes less and less appealing. That’s been my experience, anyway.

This leads me to a doable modification, as I see it. I believe the complete elimination of starchy carbohydrates for 6 days a week is unnecessary. This is especially the case as an individual becomes more experienced with dieting and how his or her body responds to it. It’s also the case when considering that the timing of intake of such carbohydrates can greatly change their bodily effects. Whereas eating “white carbohydrates” at dinner time or later is an absolute no-no, I’ve noticed it having little or no negative effects when consumed at breakfast or lunchtime. This is even more the case when a dieter has a job that requires bodily movement as opposed to sitting at a desk most of the day. Those high glycemic calories get burned.

Ferriss recommends that the only time white carbs should be eaten during the week is directly after a muscle building workout. This is great advice, especially if the workout’s done on an empty stomach. But I think there’s room for many people to eat them every day, if the timing’s right, while still experiencing steady fat loss. Successfully doing this can result in less cravings for, and overindulgences in, the ‘treat day.’ It evens things out a bit while still being effective; sort of providing a “level-loading effect”, if you will.

‘4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet’: Feedback from Users

My opinions on this don’t occur in a vacuum of inexperience. As anyone can see from my before and after pics, I’ve gone from overly-carbed and fat to lean and muscular. One thing I’ll recommend from personal experience is for people to not go too extreme when losing body fat in order to avoid backsliding recidivism.

That said; I’d love to get feedback in the comment section from any individuals who’ve used the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet. Let us know its effect on you and what you liked or disliked about it. And let us know if it was long-term doable for you without modifications. Or did you need to change some things?

To your success in training and eating intelligently.

“What Helps Muscle Growth?” Answer: Hard Work combined with Intelligence

There are now a seemingly countless number of online bodybuilding and fitness instructional videos. Along with these, we see dozens (if not hundreds of) downloadable reports available by self-proclaimed muscle building experts. Professional bodybuilders share their “secrets” of building muscle within the pages of hardcopy magazines. We’ve got literally hundreds of books that have been written and sold on the topic. And yet, people are still frustratingly asking…

Torso Muscles“… What helps muscle growth?”

It’s not helpful that many of the so-called experts merely answer the question with trite simplicity. They’ll say things like… “You’ve gotta work hard and be persistent”… and “you can’t miss workouts”… or “be patient; Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Of course, they’ll throw that last one at you only AFTER they’ve sold you a book they’ve marketed on the notion that there’s such a thing as fast muscle growth. First they’ll tell you what you want to hear and they might tell you the truth.

If you’ve heard all the above answers and you’re still asking “what helps muscle growth”, this article’s for you. I empathize with you. I feel your pain and frustration.

“Why”… you ask?

Because I’ve been in your shoes a hundred-fold. I’ve gone week-after-week, month-after-month, and even multiple years without making any muscle building progress at all. And, yes, I had to simultaneously listen to crap like those quotes above about being patient and persistent. Although these attributes are necessary, they aren’t nearly sufficient as answers to the question “what helps muscle growth.” I’d already demonstrated patience, determination, and perseverance in spades. All the while, I’d notice many of the guys with more muscular development than I had didn’t possess half the work ethic and perseverance that I was consistently demonstrating with my workouts and eating habits.

So I’d ask “what helps muscle growth” and I’d look to the slew of available bodybuilding supplements for the answer. I’d search where so many other frustrated trainees continue to seek answers to this day. I figured there must be some truth to the claims of marketers who touted the benefits of their advanced protein supplements and exotic testosterone boosters.


When I’d finally caught on that nearly all the consumable muscle building products were bullshit, I turned my attention in another direction with my question of “what helps muscle growth” – to the quest of finding the perfect bodybuilding workout routine. I used Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty System. I used Leo Costa’s workout methods that were said to be right out of the logbooks of scientific training discoveries made by eastern bloc Olympics coaches. I tried short workouts that consisted solely of ‘heavy compound movements.’ I experimented with every conceivable split routine you could come up with. And after fifteen years of natural bodybuilding, I was still frustratingly asking…

“… What helps muscle growth?”

It’s a good thing I kept at it so long. I eventually got an answer. And as you might expect, it came from a combination of discoveries along the way. I’ll share my ultimate answer, but first, let’s look at why it’s so hidden and difficult to find in the first place.

‘What Helps Muscles Grow?’ First… NOT following advice of Steroid Users

I’m going to attack this issue very bluntly. If you’re a frustrated natural bodybuilder, the root of your frustration is the very existence of bodybuilding drugs. Steroids have so distorted the realm of muscle building information that it’s no wonder there are literally millions of gym-goers who work hard while making little or no progress with their workouts.

Think I’m exaggerating?

If so, think again. Anabolic steroids speed up protein synthesis and tissue recuperation far beyond what’s achievable with one’s natural output of this hormone. Why would they not?

For example, let’s say a guy’s natural testosterone level averages around 600 ng./dl – give or take a few hundred. If that guy starts injecting high dosages of testosterone proprionate each week, he could easily end up with testosterone levels that are three or four times that amount. Given that testosterone is the most anabolic hormone in the body, you can envision the acceleration of recuperation and growth that would occur within his tissues. The difference is not even close; steroids provide a bodybuilder the leeway to be haphazard in training routine and still enjoy terrific muscle building progress.

Regardless of this stark contrast, the world is scattered with gyms that are replete with members performing workouts from which only a steroid user could make gains. They’re working hard in an attempt to “force” the muscles to adapt to more weight. They do forced reps and drop sets. They’ll sometimes back off on the number of sets performed because a bodybuilding guru advises they do so in a muscle building book. But they invariably give their muscle tissue the universally-prescribed (randomly-arrived-at) one week of rest before pounding it again. In short, they’re doing what can’t create muscle growth in an endogenously natural environment and then asking the resulting funny question: “What helps muscle growth.”

How about starting by NOT doing what will never work.

‘What Helps Muscle Growth?’ Hard work – Intelligently Applied

The obvious takeaway after contrasting the bodily environment of a steroid user versus a natural bodybuilder is that the training schedules of the two should not even closely resemble one another. When I say “training schedules”, I’m primarily referring to the ratio of restful recuperation days to workout days. Muscle tissue only grows between workouts; it actually gets torn down during workouts. If anabolic steroids greatly accelerate tissue repair and growth, then they reduce the number of needed rest days between workouts. Training without them, conversely, leaves muscles absent of such a growth rate and requiring a greater number of restful recuperation days. Barbell Curling

The million dollar question: “How many more rest days do muscles need when trained naturally compared to training with steroids?”

Since answering that question scientifically is nary a possibility without extensive research, let’s just use our best estimation with an unscientific method. We established earlier that a fairly modest steroid regimen could raise a guy’s total testosterone level four-fold above what’s natural. This, of course, might exponentially accelerate the rate of tissue repair and growth. Then again, it might only double that rate. It’s difficult to say and its precise determination might depend on a good many variables. So for the sake of simplicity, let’s just guess that it might raise the rate as many times as the testosterone level itself is raised – four times.

Now, consider that many of the bodybuilding split routines that have become commonplace were created during the heyday of steroid use in bodybuilding. This could easily explain the notion that muscles need no more than 72 hours to recuperate and become stronger before being worked again; if you work your chest on Monday, you should be able to work it again on Friday, right?

Well, not if you’re training naturally and your recuperation rate is four times slower than that of the steroid user. In that case, the same intense chest workout, I would contend, might take you four times the recuperation days from which to recover and build compensatory strength and size. This would result in the need for nearly two weeks (12 days) of rest after the working of each muscle in order for the tissue to recover and grow.

As supporting evidence, just think of all the times you’ve heard the following, either from other bodybuilders or yourself:

“I took a two week break from working out. I thought I’d lose size and strength but I actually came back feeling stronger than ever.”

Again, ‘What helps muscle growth?’ For starters, being intelligent in responding to what feedback is telling you, no matter how drastically that goes against the grain of conventional belief.

‘What Helps Muscle Growth?’ Hard Work – and the Counterintuitive

 Once you’ve started down the road to greater muscle size through extended recuperation, you’ll realize there’s an additional piece to the natural muscle building progress puzzle. That piece is counterintuitive and can best be explained with the following equation:

Bigger Muscles = Longer Recuperation requirements for Further Growth

The so-called experts have left you in the dark by telling you the opposite – that via some unexplainable phenomenon your body’s recuperating capacity will somehow become greater as you gain experience. But think about it: nobody ever tells you how or why this would happen. They apparently just assume it will by merely accepting what sounds intuitive. But here’s some usable, snippy advice in answer to the question “what helps muscle growth”:

Be smart, and sometimes… counterintuitive.

As you gain experience, strength, and muscular development, add MORE recuperation days to those original twelve we talked about above. When muscles have gotten bigger, there’s more tissue that’s been torn down during workouts that’s in need of repair. This means that at some point in time, the muscles will begin needing a greater number of rest days between workouts in order to gain further in size and strength. By adhering to this principle, you’ll avoid a common cause of progress plateaus of which almost nobody else is aware.

Then, you’ll be able to tell those people ‘what helps muscle growth.’

“Muscle Gaining Tips”: Natural Muscle Building without the Nonsense

Do you ever wonder if oft-repeated ‘muscle gaining tips’ you continue to hear and read (ad nauseam) even make sense? If so, you’re not alone; I began questioning this conventional wisdom over twenty years ago. And you’d be well advised to continue engaging your inquiry; few ‘muscle gaining tips are “scientific” in the real sense of the word, despite their proponent’s insistence otherwise. Furthermore, the content within muscle building knowledge that can be accurately labeled ‘scientific’ is sometimes not much more experimentally proved than what those who champion it would characterize as so-called “bro science.” Barbell Plates

Let’s analyze an example of one in the slew of muscle gaining tips that’s treated as irrefutable fact. How many times have you heard that you “have to squat” if you want to get big? Free weight squats are said to be the “cornerstone of mass building exercises.” We’re told repeatedly that squats are not only the best leg building exercise, but that they’ll actually stimulate muscles throughout our entire bodies to grow.  Nobody ever logically explains why this is the case; they just say that it is, often because they’re simply repeating what they’ve heard others say.

Ironically, those “others” who’ve usually become the unquestioned arbiters of such ‘muscle gaining tips’ are pro bodybuilders. I’ve long found this particular deference to be, in many cases, absolutely idiotic. Pro bodybuilders are so jacked-up on stacks of bodybuilding drugs that they’re the last people on earth I’d look to for natural bodybuilding advice. So, honestly, if someone tells me that “squats are the king of mass builders” and I ask them “why” and their reply is:

“… because ‘Arnold Anabolic’… the pro bodybuilder… always said they are…”

… I just laugh out loud and wonder why guys who don’t take steroids value and adhere to advice from guys who do take steroids. Personally, I even take with a grain of salt the muscle building advice created and disseminated by “world class trainers” who spend most of their time training athletes and bodybuilders who are on steroids. If their advice is even decently effective at stimulating natural muscle growth, why do their clients continue slamming boatloads of drugs?

Sure, could the one of many ‘muscle gaining tips’ that says “free weight squats are the king of mass builders” be based on a true phenomenon that transcends the physiological difference between a steroid user and a natural bodybuilder? Of course it could. But something I’ve noticed in my many years of bodybuilding is that steroid users usually make big gains “on-cycle” no matter what they do. Moreover, they often make little or no gains while between cycles. That’s why they go back on their drugs relatively soon after going off them.

So why would I be skeptical of an orthodox generality that says free weight squats build muscle better than any other leg exercise? Isn’t this piece of knowledge a bodybuilding given? Doesn’t it fall under the category of ‘irrefutable’ simply because so many bodybuilders believe it? After all, it must be derived from long-term collective experience, right? Calf Raises

Speaking personally, if free-weight squats were the undeniable key to leg and overall muscular development, I’d have been the epitome of natural bodybuilding development while in my twenties. I did them religiously. I performed them with gut-wrenching intensity. I did set after set of free-weight squats, flat-footed and to the rock-bottom position. In a couple words, I was a “hardcore squatter.”

Interestingly, I never experienced as much leg development from years of free-weight squatting as I have from various leg pressing exercises. This is why when I see squats included as a ‘must-do’ exercise in a list of ‘muscle gaining tips’, I become peeved with the “me too” mentality with which parts of these lists are unthinkingly composed.

‘Muscle Gaining Tips’: A Counter-Orthodox List

I recently ran across a list of 150 “muscle building tips that fit the bill of being partially valuable while mixed with a whole lot of… well, principles that make about as much sense (in my opinion) as the one saying “free weight squats are the key to overall muscle growth.”

In order to avoid redundancy and make the information you’re about to read as valuable as possible, I’ll rebut some of the principles I saw, along with replacing those rebutted with something I view as more important in the context of ‘muscle gaining tips.’ I’ll also list those I think are beneficial if only buttressed with a caveat, and I’ll explain the add-on advice that would make that principle in the list of muscle gaining tips into something of more value.

Each of the ‘muscle gaining tips’ from the list is pasted in bold, exactly as written in the list. In other words, ‘Warning’: Beware of non-sequiturs.

“Anyone that insists a topic or training concept is 100% black or white should be approached with caution. Different things work for different lifters.”

I thought I’d begin with the most asinine non-sequitur in the list of tips. Excuse me, but didn’t the person who wrote the list effectively negate everything he or she asserted in the rest of the list when this one was added? If we’re supposed to attribute something less than 100% effectiveness to the other ‘muscle gaining tips’ listed, by what percentage should we deem them effective? Absolutely amazing; this is the kind of writing that gives us bodybuilders the reputation of being “stupid”.

“Progression of weight is the magic muscle building key.”

The writer of the list was on the right track with this one. It’s just one of those ‘muscle gaining tips’ that’s badly in need of an important caveat.


"Heavy" Compound Lifts': Keep in mind that if your muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio isn't optimized, your muscle gains could come to a screeching halt regardless of which exercises you choose.


Face it: If it were as simple as regularly “adding weight” to lifts when working out, nobody would be having trouble with muscle gains. The weight actually needs to be added in the right increments and at the ideal time. Moreover, adding more weight without adherence to volume moved within time constraints can be an exercise in futility. Case-in-point: If Ben Pakulski can walk up to a 100-pound curling bar and do ten strict reps with it within thirty seconds – and I can walk up to the same bar and do ten repetitions with a 15-second rest-pause between each rep – my biceps won’t be nearly as big as his even though I’m “lifting” the same amount of weight.

Bottom line: “Adding weight”, while well advised, is also woefully inadequate; it’s simply a component of a greater concept – that of volume overload combined with compensatory recuperation.

“Why does every workout seem to work? Because a lifter who is dedicated, eats right and gets stronger can thrive on even the most unorganized muscle building workout.”

When I take in these words, I detect all the vast experiential knowledge of a world class… steroid user. Do I have proof of that? No, but I’ve been in the natural bodybuilding world for a long enough time to know when I’m hearing nonsense from someone who’s never experienced building natural muscle over the long term.

Are some guys so meat-headed that they actually believe training “hard”, eating “right”, and being “dedicated” can compensate for haphazard training routines that result in ambiguous progress at best and extreme overtraining at worst? Amusingly, within the same list of ‘muscle gaining tips’, the writer advised that lifters should “not train to failure” and, instead, take each set to one repetition short of failure. That’s great advice; I agree with it. However, advocating such a tip is an implicit admission that overtraining is a real threat to muscle building progress. Does anyone else notice these blatant contradictions that become the basis of such widespread workout confusion?

Workout routines are not of some relative unimportance for success compared with good eating habits, hard work, and dedication. To the contrary, I believe there’s such widespread frustration in natural muscle building for the precise reason of this fallacy being incessantly perpetuated. If you go to the gym today and blast your thigh muscles with an intense workout, there are a certain number of restful recuperation days the tissue will require in order to be stronger for your next thigh workout. Although good nutrition and adequate sleep will certainly be ideal for optimizing this recuperation, these things just won’t accelerate the process beyond a certain point. Whatever amount of time the tissue needs given the degree of “damage” you’ve inflicted on it – that’s the amount of time it will take. Kettlebell Curls

What this ultimately means is that the muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio is of UTMOST importance for muscle building success. All your “well-timed” protein drinks and deliriously long sleeping hours could be a waste of time, money, and effort if you buy into the idea that workout routines are all ‘relative’… i.e., “one’s as good as the other.”

“Stop calling yourself a hardgainer. Focus on getting your bench press to 300, squat to 400 and deadlift to 500. Once there, look in the mirror and see if you're still a "hardgainer."”

This one in the list of ‘muscle gaining tips’ starts with a brilliant bit of advice and follows that with idiocy.

“Why’s that”… you ask?

Because obviously, if someone is labeling themselves a “hardgainer”, they’re most likely having trouble increasing their bench press, squat, and deadlift weight. I think even the novice bodybuilder has it figured out that the capability of lifting more weight is a component necessary for adding more muscle. The problem lies with the fact that simply advising someone to “focus” on lifting more isn’t going to miraculously make it happen.

Nine times out of ten, when a bodybuilder hits a strength/muscle gain plateau, it’s because the muscles are being under-recuperated for the degree of tear-down they’re incurring. I would assert, therefore, that advising a bodybuilder in such a predicament to ‘add more rest days’ is probably going to be more productive than simply admonishing them to “focus on lifting more.”

That said; the portion of the tip that recommends not labeling oneself a “hardgainer” is terrific. Applying a self-limiting belief through a negative label is one of the surest ways to inadvertently create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Eat more eggs, including the yolks. Egg yolks are nutritionally dense.”

I thought this one was kind of funny so I’ve included it. The author of the 150 muscle building tipsis right; eggs are of high quality protein and the yolks possess some good nutrients. Of course, those nutrients can also be obtained from other food sources. Some cholesterol from the egg yolk is also beneficial, to a degree. All these things considered, I’d never advise someone to eat whole eggs with abandon. I’ve been there and done that. Currently, I’ll scramble four or five egg whites with two whole eggs. However, when I’ve eaten a ratio of yolks that’s equivalent with the whites, it’s transformed me into cholesterol-laden slob with rising blood pressure and a protruding gut-line (not necessary for muscle growth).

“Cardio will not limit your gains. Only poor effort in the gym and a weak diet will limit your gains.”

Wrong! Overtraining will not only “limit” your gains – it will stop them dead in their tracks and sometimes send them backward. I’ll agree that cardio workouts are not necessarily a prescription for limited muscle building gains. However, anything that produces overtraining can create that undesirable effect. Moreover, if you work a muscle before it’s fully recuperated from its previous workout, you’ll send it into what I call ‘recuperation deficit.’

What does this mean?

Wide Grip Pull-Ups (2)It means that if the tissue originally needed 7 days of rest (just an example) in order to recover and become stronger – and you only provided it 5 days – you’d now be tearing it down again while it’s in a two-day sub-recuperated state. Let’s just use our common sense to determine what that might result in: Ah… hmm… a situation in which we might now need OVER 7 days to recuperate and get stronger?

It’s a wonder anyone makes natural gains at all after reading common ‘muscle gaining tips.’

“Pound for pound the best bicep builders are heavy rows and pull-ups/chin-ups. Barbell curls are a good addition to these exercises.”

What? This one actually ticks me off. You show me a guy or gal who makes great gains on biceps by using rows and pull-ups and I’ll show you someone (among many) with downright lousy lats development. Enough said about that.

Having pointed out one that outright peeved me (LOL), I’ll finish off with one (of many, actually) that I thought was brilliant:

“Log your workouts. You must use some system of tracking your progress.”

This one piece of advice is invaluable. Just observe the percentage of people in any given gym who make little or no natural building progress, month after month… year after year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s about the same percentage of individuals who record absolutely NOTHING while in the gym.

Enough said about this most important of ‘muscle gaining tips’ as well.