Q: I write to you because I have a major problem. I am skinny. I mean I have microthin arms, no chest and bad posture. I live in Mumbai. I am a Christian, 34 years old. I weigh 56 kilograms (123 pounds), and I’m 183 centimeters (6’) tall. I’ve bought equipment to make a gym at home. I purchased a flat bench, a set of weights ranging from two to 13 pounds, an EZ-curl bar and a barbell. I can do exercises by learning from the Internet, but they’re rather difficult. I can do bench presses easily with four-kilogram (8.8-pound) plates, but I cannot do more than one set using one-kilogram dumbbells. My arms are weak, and my bodyweight mostly reflects bone weight. I am troubled but don’t want to lose hope. That’s why I am writing you about my problem. Regarding diet, I can’t eat meat because India is a vegetarian country. So I eat chicken noodles, roasted soybeans, roasted peanuts and cheddar cheese. My chest is 31 inches, waist 32 inches, arms 10 inches, thighs 17 inches, neck 14 inches and wrist six inches. Why am I so weak? Another very important point is that I have changed my diet recently—very little improvement, but there is something that I can see in the mirror. Previously I ate bread and butter and rice with lentil soup, as well as cakes, to add calories. I have recently started eating peanuts and lots of cheese, but the problem is that my body burns calories at a very rapid rate, and I am back to zero. People on the Net say I have to eat five meals since I am skinny. I did, but I had to force myself to eat—and I was constantly in the bathroom. Please help me.
A: You have a real challenge ahead of you. Obviously, you’re very ectomorphic with an extremely fast metabolism, which makes it difficult to gain weight. And it’s hard for you to get the food you need to put on more size.
Let’s begin with your training program. You have only very basic equipment, but as you’re just beginning, you don’t need a lot of equipment or weight to start making progress. Because your metabolism is so fast, you need only basic exercises performed for a limited number of sets.
The basic exercises use several muscle groups in the execution of a movement. By involving multiple muscle groups, you stimulate more muscle fibers, which translates into more muscle growth.
I think you can begin by training your whole body at each workout. By using one or two exercises total for each major muscle group, you’ll do enough to stimulate growth without overtraining. Because you’re so underweight, performing too many sets at each workout would be counterproductive. It would dig into your limited energy reserves and prevent you from getting bigger or stronger.
Here is a routine to get you started:
Flat-bench presses 3 x 10, 8, 6
Bent-over barbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Standing presses 2 x 10, 8
Lying triceps extensions 2 x 10, 8
Barbell curls 2 x 10, 8
Barbell or dumbbell squats 3 x 10, 8, 8
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 8
That’s a total of 18 sets, and they will work your whole body: all the major muscle groups, including chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs. By concentrating on the body’s major muscle groups, you’ll add more muscular bodyweight.
The key to any exercise program is to make the workouts progressive. Because your main goal is to get both bigger and stronger, focus on pushing more resistance each week. When you begin gaining strength and pushing more weight for six to 10 repetitions, your muscles will have no choice but to get bigger.
For example, if you’re using 20 pounds for the bench press and you can perform eight reps for three sets, increase that resistance the following week. Gradually increase the stress on the muscles week in and week out, and your body will adapt by becoming stronger and bigger.
Here’s an example of how you can make progress using the progressive-resistance method:
Week 1: 20 pounds x 8, 8, 6 reps
Week 2: 20 pounds x 10, 8, 8 reps
Week 3: 30 pounds x 8, 8, 6 reps
Week 4: 30 pounds x 10, 8, 8 reps
Week 5: 40 pounds x 8, 8, 6 reps
Week 6: 40 pounds x 10, 8, 8 reps
As you can see, either the resistance or the number of repetitions increases each week. Your muscles don’t know how much weight you’re using, but if you increase the intensity in some way every week, your body will respond by getting bigger.
Now, let’s talk about your diet, which is the key to changing your body. In your case, you have to gradually increase the calories: Slowly build up your food intake.
It would be a great help if you could get your hands on some complete-protein foods, such as eggs, milk and cheese. That would make a big difference.
I think you should begin by eating five meals a day, spaced about three hours apart. If you can include a complete-protein food and combine it with a complex carbohydrate—rice, bread or potatoes—that would give you the nutrition you need to start building a muscular body. Complete-protein foods contain the amino acids that can rebuild your muscle tissue. The complex carbs provide you with energy for your workouts as well as increase your bodyweight.
I understand that obtaining the correct bodybuilding foods and being able to eat enough of them is going to be a challenge for you. If it’s possible to get some protein powder, it would really help you gain more muscular weight. Many products, such as Optimum Nutrition’s Pro Complex Gainer, combine high-quality protein sources (from whey, egg and casein) with lots of carbohydrates. One serving offers 650 calories with 60 grams of protein and 85 grams of carbohydrates. If you could include a supplement like that with your daily meals, you’d begin gaining muscular weight in no time.
I respect your desire to start gaining size and strength and put some quality weight on your frame despite your challenging circumstances. If you keep training hard and find a way to increase your calorie intake, you can be successful!
Q: What can I do to bring up my legs? I admit that I’ve hardly trained them at all for the past three years. So my upper body is pretty big, but my legs are twigs. What would be the fastest way to get my legs in proportion to my upper body?
A: Yours is a common problem. Most guys want big arms and a big chest, but building impressive “wheels” isn’t usually high on the priority list. The problem is that the legs look even thinner than they actually are when compared to a muscular top half. That’s why the smart thing to do is include leg training from the very beginning.
At least you’re aware of your problem and are ready to correct the imbalance. I have to warn you, though, that leg training is the hardest workout you can do in the gym. The muscles in the legs are very large and potentially powerful. As a result, you have to train them with heavy weights and lots of reps to get them to grow. In other words, you’re going to have to go through some serious pain.
My first suggestion is to stick with the proven basic exercises. The regular barbell squat is the best exercise you can do for building up skinny quads. It’s also the most brutal exercise in existence. Squats involve your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips and lower back. Once you get the form down, you can start to add some serious poundage and watch those legs grow.
Another proven exercise for building up the legs is the stiff-legged deadlift. It’s similar to the regular deadlift off the floor, but you keep your legs straight (but not locked), which stresses the hamstrings and strengthens the lower back. Because it’s also a basic exercise, the potential for using greater resistance and building more mass is definitely there.
I also like leg presses. Although the lower back is eliminated from the movement, you can use some very substantial weights by recruiting the power of the quadriceps, hamstrings and hips. The squat is still the king but the leg press is right behind in mass-building importance.
Here are two good beginning leg workouts to use on your road to physique balance:
Barbell squats 4 x 10, 8, 8, 6
Leg presses 3 x 12, 10, 8
Leg curls 3 x 10, 8, 8
Stiff-legged deadlifts 2-3 x 8-10
Leg extensions 3 x 12, 10, 10
Squats 3 x 12, 10, 10
Dumbbell leg curls 3 x 10, 8, 6
deadlifts 2-3 x 8-10
You can use more moderate weights on squats in the second workout. That will enable you to go heavier at the first workout each week. The focus should be on performing each exercise in perfect form—with a full range of motion!—gradually increasing the resistance each week. By training your legs hard and consistently, you’ll eventually bring those wheels in proportion to your massive upper body.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com, or send questions or comments to him at John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at www.NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. You can send written correspondence to JohnHansen, P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. IM