10 Commandments To Big Muscle
by Ron Harris
As a metaphor (or not), most of us treat our training like a religion. That is to say - seriously. Many more of us have exercise as our religion. In either case, logic suggests that we lay down physical law, law on what constitutes the right (if not righteous) path of exercise to get big, lean muscle as quickly as possible. With sincere apologies to all who take their religion seriously (as do I), if you follow these Ten Commandments, your body will be well on its way to heavenly muscle.
But, if you break these laws, you may be stoned cold by cortisol, may be cast into a pit of injuries or suffer a mediocre level of strength and muscular development. At the very least you would stay ignorant along with the rest of the heathen, non-believing Harris agnostics. So here I come, Ron "Moses" Harris, pumping down Mt. Venice, cradling the divine tablets of mass with my 21.75" arms of sinew. Pay heed and you shall succeed and get big muscle.
#1 Thou Shalt Not Cheat
Bad form and cheating are the most common training flaws seen any place where weights are located. You know the story - curls look like clean and jerks. Bench presses look like the McDonald golden arches and barbell rows look like half-assed deadlifts.
Many people are ignorant of proper form, which is shocking in the year 2002. There are books, magazines, web sites, videos, and qualified trainers to learn from with just a modicum of effort and initiative.
Worse violators of physical law are those who know what proper form is, yet heave, cheat and bounce away, defiant as fallen angels. Cheating on form is an easy way to use more weight in an attempt to impress both rival males and hard-bodied gym vixens, as well as to feed your ego. Since crappy form puts more stress on joints and connective tissues than it does muscle, the result of such misguided effort is at best lack of progress, and at worst, horrifying injuries.
Go ahead and bounce 300 pounds off your mediocre chest if you must, but don't go crying 'why me?' to God when you tear a pec, or your chest stays as flat as a pro female bodybuilder without implants.
#2 Thou Shalt Not Lift The Weights In Vain
Don't be an egomaniac. Don't be vain in the gym (although veins are okay). Weight training is not a group effort. Observers at any crowded gym on a Monday night would think otherwise, judging by the usual spectacle unfolding at any bench press station. A gaggle of young kids, sporting the official uniform of Adidas pants and white wife-beater tank tops (the backwards baseball cap is optional) congregates around the lift that defines their blossoming manhood. One by one, each lets the loaded bar drop to bounce off his sternum, then squirms and kicks, red-faced and grunting like an agitated wild boar, to push up a single rep. Hovering over him the entire time is another member of the pimple posse, pulling up on the bar with all his might lest it remain immobile on his buddy's chest - slowly to asphyxiate him.
Listen, any knowledgeable person would see that it's obvious the kid can't lift the weight, and would fair far better by taking some resistance off. If you can only bench 200 pounds by yourself, why would you dream of putting 300 pounds on the bar? Fatiguing your spotter isn't making you any stronger nor doing a thing for your pecs.
Two-time Mr. Olympia, Franco Columbu, put it best - "forced reps are best done by you." Those who are dependent on training partners and unwitting spotters to help them move more weight than they are actually capable of moving are fooling themselves if they believe they are training effectively. Meanwhile, they will rapidly acquire a reputation around the gym. Potential spotters will all be sure to stay far away or have a litany of excuses not to assist these fools when asked.
#3 Honor The Basics To Keep Them Sacred
The overwhelming majority of muscle comes from a short list of exercises - squats, deadlifts, bench presses, seated presses, dips, and barbell rows. With the exception of bench-presses (still the all-time favorite macho movement), you would be hard pressed to find many trainers who routinely include these in their workouts.
Why is that? For one thing, they are hard. A tough set of heavy squats or deadlifts may make you feel like fainting and/or vomiting. High-rep squats can wipe you out to the point where you need to lie down for ten minutes before even entertaining the possibility of standing up, let alone attempting set 2.
Who wants that agony and discomfort when it's easier to plop down on a nice comfy leg press machine, lie back and enjoy the ride? Ah, leg presses - no nasty Olympic bar digging into your traps and leaving a red groove in your skin. No real technique and balance either.
Remember, you don't just squat or deadlift heavy weights any old way, unless you really want to know what a herniated disk feels like. And how about those pec-dec flyes? Why bother with a bunch of clunky, unwieldy dumbbells when you can again sit on a cushy machine and admire yourself in the mirror as you 'etch some detail' into those massive pecs? Yeah, look out Ronnie and Jay, you're goin' down! (Not all machine and cable exercises are worthless for building muscle, but most are.)
If you want to get bigger and stronger, do what generations of Herculean men before you have done. Focus on heavy free weight movements. They're a bitch, to be sure, but they are the one true road to salvation from being part of the herd that isn't particularly big or strong. Yes, in the case of heavy free weight exercise, hell leads to heaven.
#4 Thou Shalt Not Overkill
The gym can be your escape from the outside world, a domain where there is nothing but effort, sweat, clanking iron, and the swell of pumping muscles. Still, too much of a good thing can be bad, [Everson note: unless you're dreaming about sex with Timea - don't want to get Ron in trouble.]
The late Mike Mentzer was a bit dogmatic in preaching against high volume (did I say a bit?), but he helped bring awareness to the common practice of engaging in marathon workouts that far exceeded the point of diminishing returns.
Now certainly, more is better when you're talking about a checking account, but the human body doesn't accrue muscle as easily as a CD draws interest. A certain amount of workload is needed to train the muscles, and anything beyond that is window dressing. Besides, don't you really have better things to do with your time than hang out at the gym for three hours?
Besides, this 3- to 4-hour workout nonsense had its genesis in the 70's, when the Weider magazines used to write about Arnold and his cohorts hitting it hard for up to four hours a day. Yes, it sold magazines and Joe's Super Pro 101, but it wasn't true at all.
Most of the guys I've talked to who were right there at the original Gold's Gym said Arnold might train twice a day, but never for more than an hour at a pop. He was too busy chasing girls at Venice beach. Even today's 250-300-pound Man-O-Wars like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler rarely spend more than 90 minutes a day lifting weights.
If that's all they need, what makes you think you're better served training twice that long? If you can't completely work your body part(s) in 90 minutes or less, you certainly won't be able to do it in three hours either.
Look, you can put a monkey in front of a computer for 24 hours and he'll still never figure out how to download porn even though almost any set of keys pulls up some porn. So don't be a monkey. [Everson note: I can sit at a computer for 24 hours and still not figure out how to get up some good porn sites.]
#5 Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness To Any Specific Training Routine
I used to know a guy who came in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to my gym. This was when I was a trainer there, and as much of a fixture as the rubber flooring. It didn't take long to notice that he did the exact same thing every week, right down to the weights, sets and reps.
I could amaze my clients with my Ms. Cleo psychic abilities, "Next he goes to the barbell incline press," I would say to my astonished client. "He'll warm up with 135 for 10, then 225 for 8, then his first work set with 275, after he begs someone to spot him."
I watched this character for nearly two years as he was stuck in this endless loop. As you might expect, his physique made not the slightest change! Our bodies are adaptive organisms.
Put someone to work in a hot, humid, sunny environment and his skin turns brown as a protective adaptation. Put someone on the most amazing training routine ever designed (if there were such a thing), and he would indeed make great gains, but even here only for awhile, until his muscles adapted to the stress. Unless you continually manipulate variables like the exercises you perform, the number of reps, the tempo of the reps, rest periods between sets, and how you split up the muscle groups during the training week, you can forget about making maximum progress (and in some cases any progress at all).
#6 Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Supportive Gear
While powerlifting is bodybuilding's neighbor, powerlifting has lost enormous respect from its older fans and past participants over the past two decades. Products like bench press blast shirts, squatting suits, super-wraps, 6" belts and even deadlift shirts, have made it impossible to know how much weight is actually being lifted by the athlete's own muscle.
The use of supportive gear has spilled over into mainstream gyms to the point where you have guys wrapping their knees as they check in. Or, using straps to get a Gatorade out of the machine. Sometimes, there can be an entire gym population that won't remove their lifting belts to take a dump.
What's wrong with all this? The most obvious downfall is that a whole generation of weight trainers has incredibly weak lower back intrinsic stabilizers because they use a belt for every movement. Some lifters seem to have grip strength like their arthritic grandmother because they use straps for everything from curls to putting on their Otomix shoes and Hotskins.
Some people mistakenly assume they are Superman when those knee wraps and belts are cinched so tight that they can neither walk nor breathe. I've personally witnessed some of these would-be super heroes blow out knees and lower backs because they piled on way too much weight, counting on their accessories to make them Ed Coan No. 2.
Save the supportive gear only for those exercises that call for it and then only in the final heaviest sets, or, if you are indeed a competitive powerlifter.
#7 Thou Shalt Not have Any Social Clubs Before Exercise
There are some people at gyms that linger for hours, yet who exercise for sporadic, half-hearted minutes at best. The bulk of their time is usually spent at the juice bar, slugging back a Met-Rx shake while they look at Muscular Development or Playboy (lately, there's no difference). Or, they are holding court over the latest gym gossip, who's looking good to make the NBA playoffs this season, or describing every feature of their new car or home theatre system.
That's bad enough, but it's worse when these idiots do this on the exercise floor. These workout-sappers should be banished to Afghanistan where they can torment the Taliban with their meaningless prattle.
You know, there's a time to be friendly and say hello, but the gym is a serious place where some of us are trying to focus and build muscle.
If you want to hang out and shoot the ****, go find one of those imaginary coffee bars like they have on Friends where nobody has anything important to do, let alone actually work (yet somehow still afford to live in 3,500 square foot apartments in Manhattan).
#8 Remember, Intensity To Keep Muscle Growing
Too many bodybuilders train like a tortoise on Valium. We tend to make excuses when intensity is low. "Well, at least I'm here in the gym," you'll coddle yourself by saying. But let's make this perfectly clear. The difference between dragging your ass through gutless workouts and sitting on your turtle-ass shell watching SportsCenter on ESPN is not that much.
Like a shark either swims or sinks, you're either moving forward or you're stuck in place. If you don't apply yourself with some concentrated effort to challenge your body with the weights, you might as well go buy one of those La-Z-Boy recliners. (Some actually have built-in refrigerators.) You can settle down for a life of chips, beer, and a big flabby belly that will eventually smother your Schwanzola.
Use as much weight as you can for your allotted rep range, and train to all-out failure on at least a few sets every workout. Try to use more weight as you progress.
Develop a hostile attitude toward your training, as if it's a war between you and the weights that you have no intention of losing. If you insist on being a low-intensity loser, at least go join some pussy gym with chrome and ferns in the corner, so the rest of us don't have to get nauseated looking at you.
#9 Keep Your Rest Days Holy To Build Muscle
Just as annihilating your body with 100 sets per workout is the death knell for progress, so is training every day and never allowing your muscles to recover. Muscles grow at rest, and if that rest is never provided, no growth occurs. Many over-eager trainers, especially in their early years, are at the gym every day pounding away. While their enthusiasm is commendable, their lack of understanding of basic human physiology is not.
Your muscle groups are connected in ways that aren't often correctly appreciated. You know, some guys will come in and train chest and biceps one day, then come back in the next day and do back and triceps. They do not realize that they have just trained biceps and triceps two days in a row. Not only this, their back workout suffered because their biceps were fatigued from the day before.
Your muscles need 48-72 hours or more to rest following heavy training; and everyone needs at least a day or two a week of complete rest from the gym. Deny your body this vital requirement, and you are biting yourself in the ass. [Everson note: At least you have good flexibility.]
#10 Thou Shalt Not Copy The Routines Of Pro Bodybuilders
Look, Judas, there is no golden workout calf to worship, such as fashioned by the Edward G. Robinson character in the original 10 Commandments. There are of course, Fools Gold workouts, where non-steroiders try to follow training propagated by steroid-laden IFBB pro bodybuilders. (The fools are not only the ones who try to follow them but the writers that present the workouts as if anyone can do them)! While the pros may be able to get calves like golden bulls, most end with pipsqueak pig legs.
Open up almost any bodybuilding magazine and you'll see training articles featuring pro bodybuilders, highlighted by that bodybuilder's exercise photos. The articles nearly always focus on the individual's most impressive muscle group, because that's what we want to see pictures of.
It is curious at times that these articles are supposedly written by that same bodybuilder, yet in real life, he can barely form a sentence when he speaks.
Over the years, we've all been subjected to treatises on how Paul DeMayo trained his quads, how Vince Taylor bombed his arms, and how Mike Matarazzo built those 22-inch calves from hell (as well as his tongue).
Well, guess what? Quadzilla DeMayo had bulky legs long before he started training, Vince Taylor had nearly 17" arms at just 160 pounds when he first touched a weight, and Mike Matarazzo's calves were so big as a child that the neighborhood kids in Somerville, Massachusetts, called him Popeye!
What good do you think it would do the average guy with stick calves to follow Mike's routine, when Mike has never lost a minute's sleep if he missed a month's worth of working his gifted calves?
The pros are hard workers and very dedicated to their training, but make no mistake, they are not like you and me. They are all genetic freaks who were either very muscular when they started, or sprouted muscles practically overnight when they first hit the weights. IFBB Pro Dennis James actually put on an average of two pounds of muscle a day in his first month of training.
Another reality to keep in mind is the important role of steroids and other drugs. Take someone with one-in-ten-thousand genetics for building large amounts of muscle. Get him training hard and heavy. Put him on two to ten grams of roids a week and look out IFBB here he comes!
It's fine to look to the pros for inspiration, but never for a minute think they have any secret training routines that are going to have you looking just like them in no time.
Instead, you follow the 10 Commandments of exercise for massive muscle, and you'll do just fine! Planet Muscle's 10 Commandments To Big Muscle.