Q: I’m 33 years old and live in Sweden. I’ve seen both of your DVDs and read your book. All of them are great resources. I’ve been training for about 15 years, and I mean training hard—I’m not complaining about bad results because I’m training sloppy. I train in the gym six days a week and do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio every day. I eat very clean year-round—low-carb and lowfat diet. I’m 175 centimeters tall and weigh about 63 to 65 kilograms. I can, without bragging, say that most of my mass really is muscle. I’m well defined and quite vascular. So what is my problem? I know I’m most probably severely overtrained and eating too few calories to put on more muscle mass. My goal is to break my old habits and go for more muscle, but I’m really terrified of losing my sleek lines and definition; the nightmare is a potbelly. Do you think it’s possible for me to eat more, gain some more muscle—no crazy amounts—and still have a well-defined body? I know that much of this can be answered by reading your excellent book, but it’s quite a different thing to hear it from you personally.
A: If you want to gain more muscle mass, you’re on the right track by admitting that you’re currently overtraining and eating too few calories. By changing both your training program and your nutrition, I think you can put on muscle without getting too fat.
Let’s discuss your training first. It’s going to be very difficult to gain muscle when you train six days a week and do cardio 30 to 45 minutes a day. You have to rest your body if you want it to grow. By training every day and constantly breaking down muscle tissue, you make it just about impossible to grow and get bigger.
I recommend that you cut your training back to a maximum of four days per week. I’m not sure if you’re training each muscle group once or twice per week with your current schedule. Whichever training method works for you, you can adapt your current schedule from six days to only four days a week.
For example, if you’re training each muscle group twice per week and working out six days a week, your schedule might look something like this:
Monday, Thursday: Chest, back
Tuesday, Friday: Shoulders, arms
Wednesday, Saturday: Abs, legs
In order to get more rest and trigger more muscle growth, you will have to train more bodyparts at each workout than you could with the six-day program. Here’s an example:
Monday, Thursday: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Abs
Tuesday, Friday: Legs, Calves, Biceps, Triceps
If you prefer training each bodypart only once a week, simply combine more muscle groups so you can take three full days off. Here’s an example of a four-days-a-week training program that works each bodypart once per week:
Monday: Chest, triceps, calves
Tuesday: Abs, legs
Thursday: Deltoids, calves
Friday: Back, biceps
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Keep the number of sets moderate so you don’t overtrain when you’re trying to build size. For larger bodyparts like chest, back and legs, limit the total number of sets per muscle group to 12 to 15. For smaller bodyparts like the arms, calves and abs, keep the sets at eight to 10.
Concentrate on the basic exercises to add size. They involve more muscle groups. That means you can use more weight and build more mass. If you’re not doing squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, bench presses, military presses, dips, etc., begin using those exercises now.
I also suggest that you drop the cardio or at least cut way back on it. By doing cardio every day, you’re burning so many calories that you’re fighting an uphill battle to get bigger.
If you can’t do without cardio, cut it back to three days a week for 20 minutes at the most. Doing it every day will just put you in a catabolic state and prevent muscle gains.
Now let’s talk about your nutrition. By eating lowfat foods and following a low-carb diet every day, you’re not getting the nutrients you need to build more muscle. You really have to let go of being terrified of losing your “sleek lines and definition.” There’s nothing wrong with adding a little bodyfat when you’re in a building phase.
It will be impossible for you to build more muscle if you don’t eat more calories. You weigh only 143 pounds—65 kilograms—at almost 5’9”, so you have room for more calories, carbs and fats.
Begin by eating 180 to 200 grams of protein a day along with 300 grams of carbs and 60 grams of fats. That will bring your calorie intake up to approximately 2,540. I’m not sure how many calories you’re eating now, but I’m sure that will be an increase.
Eat proteins that have some fats in them like whole eggs—eat two whole eggs for breakfast along with some egg whites—and lean red meat, like sirloin or round steak. You should eat a complete protein—eggs, steak, chicken, turkey, fish—with each meal. If you can’t eat a whole-food meal, have a protein drink instead. I prefer a protein powder shake made from a variety of protein sources—egg, casein, whey—like Optimum Nutrition’s Pro Complex protein.
For your carbohydrates, go with complex carbohydrates. Oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole-grain bread and oat bran contain lots of fiber and are digested slowly. Those carbs are stored in the muscle cells as glycogen, as opposed to simple sugars, which cause more fat deposition.
Make an effort to add some good fats (monounsaturated) to your diet to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, peanut butter, almonds and flaxseed oil will help you up your calories (fats contain nine calories per gram) while giving you more healthful fats.
By cutting back on the number of training days per week, cutting out your cardio and increasing the calories, carbs and fats in your diet, you’ll shock your body into new growth. As long as you train hard using the basic exercises for six to 10 repetitions, you’ll get much bigger without attaining the nightmare potbelly.
The ’08 ABA
Natural North America Championships
For the second year in a row, I promoted the ABA Natural North America Championships in Romeoville, Illinois. The contest took place on Saturday, August 9, 2008, at Romeoville High School. Our special guest performer was Vanda Haderean, the reigning Ms. Fitness World. Vanda flew in from Canada to perform her winning fitness routine. She is preparing to defend her title at this year’s Ms. Fitness World competition in Las Vegas.
The Natural North America Championships are a part of the ABA/INBA organization. All overall winners are now eligible to compete in the Natural Universe and Natural Olympia Championships later in the year: the Natural Olympia on Saturday, November 8, 2008, in San Francisco, followed by the Natural Universe on Saturday, November 15, 2008, in Los Angeles.
This year’s event featured athletes from all over the United States and Canada. In addition to those who came from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, the lineup included competitors from Utah, Arizona, Iowa, New England, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio and even Quebec, Canada. What an awesome group of natural competitors.
The men’s overall contest was extremely tough. The incredible Thomas Anderson, last year’s novice overall winner, returned this year to dominate the men’s open. He was five pounds heavier than last year, and his combination of mass, proportion, symmetry and shape will take him far in natural bodybuilding.
Here are the complete results:
Ms. Fitness, 1st place: Suzanne Gramis
1) Helena Chansky, 2) Nancy Zirkel, 3) Rebecca Gier
1) Chelsea Kmiec, 2) Susan Today, 3) Bobbie Kongsgaard
Figure Overall: Chelsea Kmiec
Figure Masters Overall: Nancy Zirkel
1) Kris Carver, 2) Wali Khan, 3) Arben Balazi
Short: Sal Ruggiero
Medium: Larry Montgomery
Tall: Chris Salgado
Men’s Novice Overall: Sal Ruggiero
Jr. Masters Men (35-39)
1) Martin Cormier, 2) Kenny Morrow, 3) Greg Gabriel
Masters Men (40-49)
1) Benny Cruz, 2) Paul Reed, 3) Christopher Fox
Grand Masters Men (50-59)
1) Ron Debry, 2) Cary Morgan, 3) Art Miller
Super Ultra Grand Masters (70 and up)
1) Fred Hefter (80 years old)
Masters Overall: Benny Cruz
1) Linda Gadzinskas, 2) Laurie Ellis, 3) Bojanna Vojinovic
1) Suzanne Gramis, 2) Amy Siefken, 3) Patricia Miller
Fitness Model Search
1) Chelsea Kmiec, 2) Amy Siefken, 3) Patricia Miller
Short: 1) Thomas Anderson, 2) Benny Cruz, 3) Ronald Debry
Medium: 1) Chris Wells, 2) Martin Cormier, 3) Shah Washington
Tall: 1) Brent Swanson, 2) Paul Reed, 3) Erik Schlick
Overall: Thomas Anderson
I want to thank all my sponsors for helping to support natural bodybuilding and fitness. My main sponsors were Optimum Nutrition and IRON MAN magazine—all the overall winners received a one-year free subscription compliments of John Balik—J.M. Steel, Pride Nutrition, Nutrition Discounters, House of Pain and Fitness Factory Outlet.
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 via e-mail at John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for his new 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. You can write to John Hansen at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. IM