Basics: Sleep, nutrituon, training.
Sleep: Being well rested is crucial to your psychical performance and to your recovery. Inadequate sleep will lower your immune system (leaving you unable to train) and may impact your hormone levels, furthermore your body won’t have time to repair the muscles that was broken down during training. Being a student I have more time to sleep than the average man, this is definitely to my advantage. During the summers when I work I simply try to go to bed earlier, especially if I will train the day after. If you have the time, always prioritize your sleep. If you cannot get enough sleep during a week, lower the amount of training.
Nutrition: Since there are so many different views regarding this matter I will just explain what has worked for me. For many of you this might seem like bro-science, and it might well be, however, as it has worked for me I know it has some merit to it. First of all, I have always tried to time my meals. The largest meal has always been after training, containing lots of carbs and protein with some fats (mainly oils and the natural fats in the other food). Other than that I try to eat at least 200 g of protein each day, ensuring my 2x bodyweight in protein in grams. I also try to eat some carbs prior to training, an apple or two usually works just fine (or even some sweets), this is to ensure that I can perform my best every session.
What foods to eat? I mainly eat traditional bodybuilder food; Chicken, tuna, eggs, rice, , lots of milk, some bread, some vegetables (lots of onion and garlic). Here is a picture I took after I bought groceries (this does, however, not represent my whole diet, I just bought what was missing): Milk, tuna, eggs, cottage cheese, mandarins, some olives, some sweets, some shrips, some lettuce and finally some good old green tea!
Supplements: I use creatine, essential amino acids and whey, when cutting I use more supplements since my immune system tend to suffer from the calorie deficit. Vitamin D, omega-3, multivitamin and zinc is my additional supplementation during diets. To be honest I Vitamin D is the only one I take on a daily basis, the other ones is situational.
Bodybuilding is very much a mental game. You have to be very disciplined and focused to achieve success. Grasping the basics of training and nutrition is relatively easy, taking it into practice however, is harder.
The mind game: Progression, pre-workout routines, eating clean/cutting.
Progression: This is the single most important aspect of building muscle beyond the average guy. If you do not constantly push yourself to be better from the previous session you will not grow. Progression is, basically, to train harder than you did before. This can be achieved by either, using heavier weights, doing more reps, or using higher intensity. Failing to do this you will not continue to grow. Have I always been stronger than my previous session? No, much as I try sometimes I just can’t perform better than the last time. This being the case you can always try to switch exercises. For example; If I have been using the same weight on the bench with the same amount of reps for 2 or 3 session in a row I could switch to dumbbell presses instead. Otherwise use the same exercises and always strive to improve your lifts.
My key to success: I have been in the gym for more than 3 years now. Now what most people don’t understand is that 3 years, or even 2 years for that matter, is an incredibly long period of time. I have during these years constantly strived to improve myself in the gym. I have also been doing the right things outside of the gym that has allowed my strength gains. I haven’t been drunk for almost 2 years now and before that the times I drank were very few and far between. I have eaten things that helped me and skipped the things that would have impeded my muscular development. I have had (as the longest) been away from the weights for 2 weeks (during those weeks I trained Thai-boxing instead). With this said, it is very much possible to gain a large amount of muscle in a few years. To some people it might sound fanatic to always watch your step when it comes to eating right or getting your lifts in or getting the right amount of sleep, but this is simply what it takes. You won’t achieve great results unless you put your all into it.
Pre-workout routine: The mindgame is as mentioned above, a very big part of bodybuilding. For me my pre-workout routine is extremely important. I can’t go to the gym feeling miserable and just wanting it to be over with. When I step into the gym I must be ready to bring it. When I step into the gym and feel close to a battle frenzy I have succeeded in my pwo-routine. The routine allows me to put myself “in the zone” and when I am in the zone I know I have the mental part ready. If your mind is in the right place when you have to perform it will get easier.
The perfect pwo-routine: Normally a routine for me starts 30-40 minutes before I arrive at the gym. I put all other things aside and put on the most brutal music I can find. Then I also take either a pwo-product or an apple and a coffee I also usually watch something inspiring. This is my standard routine. During weekends however, the routine might go on for a little bit longer. Gather your gym-bros, watch something together (Pumping Iron, UFC etc) and take your pwo-drinks and pump each other up mentally then have an epic gym session! Furthermore to quote the late Zyzz:
“Honestly I count down the hours, take a pre-workout shake, and make it an epic event to go to the gym so even right before my first set I have a ‘mind-pump’ as it were.”
Eating clean and cutting
First of all, be prepared for a lot of questions from people who have no knowledge about building muscle or staying in shape. They will constantly question your choice of foods and be skeptical of your lack of enthusiasm for all things sugar. I have been relatively spared from these questions but know of a lot of guys who get this kind of questions all the time. You can approach this with two attitudes. First of all you can just think of the junk food as poison that you won’t let enter your body. Or you can acknowledge the fact that you indeed want to eat it but that you are stronger than everyone else mentally and thus being able to resist the delights. The absolutely easiest way to stay away from unhealthy stuff is to never eat it (unhealthy is defined as things high in fat and carbs at the same time). There is plenty of foods that are both good for you and delicious. If, however, you just can’t manage without chocolate for example, be smart about your intake. Eating it right before a heavy lifting session might even help you. Eventually you will know what works for you; If you make great gains by eating some chocolate before each session; Go for it. If not, try to refrain from it. A very important aspect here is to be honest with yourself, if you feel that your eating habits really helps you it is good, if you’re just convincing yourself that it works just because you like a certain way of eating, you need a change. The sweets I sometimes eat prior to training consists almost purely of carbs as opposed to sweet stuff than also has a high content in fat.
Cutting: Losing weight when you are already relatively lean is hard. Your body does not in fact want you to lose the fat as it might come in handy during emergencies (evolutionary speaking). Also, change doesn’t come overnight. My biggest mistake during first serious cut was that all I thought about was getting ripped, and when I didn’t notice results from day to day I got frustrated. The conclusion I drew from this is that you must have something else to occupy your mind whilst cutting. It may be work, school, games, girls, whatever, just something to take your mind of the hunger and the fact that change doesn’t come fast or easy. Lastly, stick to your game plan and never quit.
In the following article I will try explain my views on back training. First of all, I must clarify that I have very good genetics for building a broad back (and also muscle in general). This, however, does not mean that a muscular back isn’t for everybody. It certainly is! Just remember that everyone’s genetic predisposition is different, both regarding to how easily you put on muscle and also (more importantly) to how your muscles look and how they respond to training. Also, since I am not Layne Norton I will stick to the purely empirical and just explain what has worked for me!
Training back twice a week. I have since I started lifting had relatively good lats but they really came along when I (a year ago) started training them twice a week. My first back day consisted of my usual routine. Starting with deadlifts, standing rows and lateral pull downs as my mayor movements. The second back day consisted mainly of chins (starting with weighted and then having no weight). I did the heavier session (with deadlift) on Saturdays (which also was my eating day) and the lighter version on Wednesdays (to keep them as far apart as possible within the week). As of now I try to train every muscle group twice a week and I can really recommend that you at least train your prioritized group in this way.
Deadlift. Doing deadlifts or not is always a hot topic when it comes to back training. I mainly see it as a exercise for the whole body rather than just for the back. This said, it is one of the very best movements (if not the best) for getting overall size. In the words of the late Zyzz;
“Notice how you rarely see people deadlift heavy at the gym? Do you also notice how all these people have average physiques? Put 2 and 2 together.”
I have also deadlifted since I started lifting, obviously with good results. Put deadlift on the day when you have the most energy and put your soul into each lift. And as with all exercises, try to beat your previous lifts (from the last session). I usually have insane Pre-workout routines leading up to the deadlift session. This includes beta-alanin, heavy metal and the company of my aesthetically pleasing gym brahs. Deadlifts are very taxing on the body, so make sure you are ready for it! Here is a video of me doing dead lifts, notice that I am using a non-mixed grip, this is to avoid any discrepancy in between my right- and left side.
What if I (for some reason) can’t do them? Don’t worry. You can still get a great back. Just replace them with heavy standing barbell rows and lots of chins and or lateral pulldowns. I have gone long periods (long as in two months) without deadlifts (did a lot of legs then instead to bring them up to par).
Lateral pulldowns. Obviously one of the main ingredients in a successful back workout and of course the main movement for building your lats. Now, this is one of the trickier exercises to get right. A lot of people use their arms to much when pulling down. This is especially the case when you are new to the gym or just have stronger arms than you have lats. To combat this problem, lower the weight considerably to get the right movement. Imagine your arms as static and lower your elbows in a straight line towards the floor. This should isolate the lats. When you become more comfortable with the movement, add more weight.
Standing barbell rows. First of all, this one is very hard to go heavy on if you have already done several sets of deadlifts. I usually go heavy on this exercise when I don’t do deadlifts (for whatever reason). If I do deadlifts then I take a lower weight and do about 3-4 sets depending how my lower back feels. Also, don’t be obsessed with form during this exercise; the most important thing is to pull up as much weight as many times as possible. I have seen lots of guys still using the same old weights never progressing for fear of having a “bad” technique.
With this said, I don’t suggest that you put twice as much weight on the barbell the very next session and train with a terrible form, just that you do not let a perfect form come in the way of using heavier weights each session. This might sound complicated and it is. Using the form shown below has at least worked well for me. Below is a video of me doing it on 100 kg (video was taken in May so I’m stronger now, promise 🙂 ).
I prefer to use an underhand grip. This is solely based on personal preferences.
These three are the main exercises for building a broad and deep back. Of course you can add other movements or replace them with other similar ones. For example, you could do weighted chins instead of lateral pulldowns and seated row or standing dumbbell row one arm at a time instead of standing row. These are however the ones that has worked best for me. Also, if you feel particularly full of energy on a certain day you can always do all of them! For example, if you start with dead lifts, followed by lats, followed by standing rows, if you now feel that your lats still is fresh, try a different grip on the lateral pulldown machine and push out the last energy.
As you might be aware I wrote this article a while back, since then I have added a fifth day to my schedule. This fifth session includes trapezius, arms and abs. The reason for this was that I felt that I was in need of bigger trapezius to match my back.