My Wrong Advice For the Big Guys

For almost 20 years, I’ve advised my heavy friends to lift weights instead of doing cardio as they lean out. The logic of my case went something like this:

  1. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so increasing muscle on someone that is already consuming a high number of calories, seemed like a great idea.
  2. Big guys, by which I mean thick-wristed endomorphs, have the greatest muscular potential. Watch any strongman competition to see what I mean.
  3. Take advantage of those beginner gains ASAP to see a shift in lean mass. Here I was thinking they could gain the most muscle as they dropped weight.

To me, being a big guy without weight training experience, seemed like a gift. I viewed it as a gift because from the outside looking in, it seemed like they had the shortest path to a radical body transformation.

But, I’m not a big guy. I’m an ectomorph. And I recently learned, my observation and the advice I’ve been repeating for two decades is wrong.

Unknown to me, the bodybuilding trainers discovered through observation and experimentation that it was actually much harder to build muscle on a body with extra weight. When given the task of training a big guy, they would direct them to cardio and fixing their diet until enough progress was made before hitting the iron.

Anyway, this was all old-school theory until recently. A recent study that was discussed on Super Human Radio confirmed that heavy people are resistant to gaining muscle. They need to lose the fat first before adding the muscle later.

Listen to the discussion on the study and what classic bodybuilders have known for years:  2236: Super Human Radio (3:15 – 14:30 and 19:00 – 23:00)

So to my big guy friends, sorry about that. I still think it is 80-90% diet. That view has not changed. And I still like walking close to 10,000 steps a day if you can get them in. As for the remainder, hold off on using weights as your primary exercise for now. Do some cycling, swimming or hiking and after you’ve made some progress, stop by the weight room and gradually start lifting.

Wrong Way

Photo by NeONBRAND

Use Intuition and Directional Accuracy to Build Your Workouts

This week was an exciting one if you like to watch the drama in the fitness community. On Facebook, there was some heated disagreement on the role volume has on hypertrophy between Lyle McDonald, Brad Schoenfeld, and James Krieger.

All three of these gents are at least 10x smarter than me on topics of lifting and they disagree. So how do I resolve issues when my mentors don’t agree with each other? Two methods.

#1 Use Intuition

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. And that truth will vary from lifter to lifter. Our training age, our biological age, our somatype, and our general approach to lifting will be factors in determining what is best for us at any given stage on our fitness journey.

For me, I need to find a balance that allows me to improve, keeps me interested, allows time for me to recover, and most importantly is safe. There is no single recipe that fits my needs. There are many paths to achieve my goals. I need to find that path for myself. The gym is the place I go to get feedback. My workouts will tell me in due time if I’m slacking off or pushing it too hard.

Developing your own intuition on lifting is as important as lifting itself, especially as you age. Staying in the game and knowing what is best you on any given week is the key to staying fit. Other voices – evening dissenting voices – can be useful, but your intuition needs to be on point.

#2 Directionally Accurate

A lot of the debate on the role of volume comes down to specific ranges of numbers. Those numbers are unimportant to me. I’m measuring the tone and direction of serious voices. On the volume topic, I see the case for more volume getting stronger. How strong? That is not important. Just stronger than before.

I developed a lower training volume habit first via HIT and then during the years when my knee was in worse shape. I would be a fool to jump directly up to the high volumes being discussed online. (I think it was 30 sets per week). But I do believe the directionally accurate path is adding more volume.

New studies are always coming out and the volume case could get weaker or stronger. We will see. I can’t wait for new studies though, I’m heading to the gym tomorrow.

Connecting Intuition With Directionally Accuracy

My plan is starting this week to add a few more sets a week to my chest, back, and legs. Then periodically, I’ll add a few more sets as soon as I feel my recovery is solid. It might be a week or a month or longer. There is no rush. I’m not going anywhere.

I’ll listen to my intuition to guide me as I add on the volume. I’ll be checking my weight and using a tape measure as well. I’ve been undereating recently and I know I’ll need to correct that problem as I reach for more hypertrophy gains via increased volume. If I can’t fix the calories right away, I’ll pause on the volume until I can.


Heavier Weight, Greater Volume, and Going to Failure

This is a follow-up to the previous post The Case For High Intensity Training Seems to be Getting Weaker.

Heavier Weight or More Volume?

Chris shared this article by Lyle McDonald, which was published a day after my blog post, suggests the case for higher volume, may not be well supported.

Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy – Research Review

I thought about this for a while and I don’t think it will change my decision to increase volume. My reasons:

  1. I see the choice between Heavier Weight or More Volume as 2 paths that will both lead to gains. Some will respond better to Heavy and some better to Volume. My intuition tells me that I need Volume now. Not a lot, just more. I’ve very likely been untraining for years as I’ve danced around knee injuries.
  2. Going Heavier, unless you are super careful with exercise selection, form, and recovery times, may lead to increased risk of injury. Certainly in the compound movements. Being sidelined is the worst path for long-term gains.
  3. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that recovery time is less for Volume workouts than going Heavy. So I could likely do 3 Volume workouts a week or 2 Heavy. If I was still 24, those numbers might be the same. And I’m guessing that I’ll benefit a bit more from the 3 Volume path. For now.

Measurement Problem

Whenever these sort of topics come up and the articles are discussing sets and reps, I’m always feeling like I don’t belong in the conversation. Or any of us that do slower lifts.

A HIT rep is nothing like the reps that are used in these debates. We use lower weights, slower movements, and we don’t pause at the endpoints either. We purposely make our reps inefficient from a work standpoint to make them more efficient at keeping the load on the muscle. We try to keep under tension throughout the set.

How do you measure that in terms or “high weight” or even volume? Also, there are numerous HIT rep speeds. Some are 3 seconds in each direction. 10 seconds is common. Or even 30-second reps. To my knowledge, there isn’t a “currency converter” type of calculation to help us speak the same language.

This is why I try and develop my own intuition. All the talk of sets and reps doesn’t make sense in my world of slower lifting.

Going to Failure

Carl of Super Human Radio said something about training to failure that I found interesting. He recently turned 60 and said that when he trains to failure his muscles might recovery a day or so before his neural system does.

Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of the body having two different recovery pathways. I suspected age would be a factor, but I wasn’t clear how it would be. So, I am going to piggyback on Carl’s wisdom here. Carl likes volume and not training to failure at this stage in his life. Sounds good to me. It is worth a try.

Also, I’m not giving up training to failure completely. I think the best path here is to time the failure workouts before you know you’ll be taking a break. Maybe just before a trip or a busy holiday schedule.