America has become a nation of neurotics—obsessed that we’re missing out on something. We gnaw our nails worrying that whatever we have isn’t good enough. Madison Avenue takes full advantage of that, constantly trying to sell us “new and improved” versions of everything from laundry detergent to deodorant. And don’t get me started on razor blades. (Well, maybe just a little rant.)
Every year we’re treated to the latest groundbreaking advance in shaving technology—which always seems to be nothing more than the addition of one more blade. Our poor forefathers had to suffer the indignities of the barbaric straight razor, which we are led to believe was just as likely to decapitate you as shave your stubble. Now we have the Ultra Mach V Sensor Blade System, with six space-age miniature blades plus a seventh that actually travels back in time eight hours to seek and destroy hair follicles before they even have a chance to grow.
This nagging suspicion that we have somehow settled for less than what we deserve is probably partly responsible for the United States’ horrific divorce rate. It doesn’t matter how attractive, compassionate, sweet and devoted our spouse is—you can never be certain that there isn’t someone out there even better. Heck, you can put your profile on Match.com and MySpace—using deceivingly complimentary photos and exaggerating your income by about 300 percent—and you’re sure to have a few dozen potential dates lined up lickety-split. You just need to know that they are all like you: Nobody’s ever going to be good enough for them, you included.
Not to shock you, but that even leaks over into our little world of bodybuilding. Randy and I were discussing it at the juice bar last week. Randy was sipping one of their overpriced concoctions, which goes by some silly name like Mass Blast, while I was having my postworkout mix of whey protein, waxy maize and Gatorade, five grams of creatine monohydrate and 10 grams of good old L-glutamine. (Technically, outside food or drink is not allowed within the confines of the gym, as it would cut into juice bar sales. Just to keep the staff off my back, I drop a dollar into the tip jar every now and then.)
Randy was doing better since the last time we’d spoken. His mom was responding well to chemotherapy, and his brother was out of rehab and staying clean—for now. Just to be cautious, their dad had purchased a bedroom safe, where all jewelry and cash were stowed, in case Junior slipped and went on another at-home crime spree to raise cash to buy more OxyContin. Randy had a padlock on his door now too.
Randy and I were training together a lot more often because he was temporarily collecting unemployment benefits while preparing to become certified as a personal trainer. Our gym had a handful of trainers, but they were all older women. I knew that as soon as Randy started passing out his business card to the desperate housewives in the gym, they’d be knocking down his door for the privilege of paying him to guide them through workouts. After all, he’s a young, good-looking guy with muscles, well-groomed and clean, so why not capitalize on it? It was either that or Chippendales, and Randy couldn’t dance to save his life. Plus, he was afraid to wax his ass hair.
Randy has always read the bodybuilding magazines and has spent time online gathering information on the various theories about training and nutrition, but now that he was on the verge of training clients for a living, he’d been absorbed in research. Rather than being enlightened by what he read, however, he was overwhelmed and confused.
“There are so many different training styles that all claim to be the best,” he said. “Volume training, Heavy Duty, X Reps, Doggcrapp—so many. Then you hear three sets is best for an exercise, or four, and some people insist that one set is all you need and anything else is overtraining.” Randy was getting flustered. “Just do basic exercises, make sure you include isolation movements, high reps, low reps, fast reps, slow reps, full-range, partial range—yaaargh!”
His last strangled cry of frustration drew a concerned look from the front-desk girl, who also made the shakes at the juice bar.
“Is it okay?” she asked. “I put a couple extra scoops of whey protein in there.”
“It’s fine,” he assured her, then turned to me. “That’s why I don’t need to bring my own shakes, ’cuz I got it like that.”
“Yeah, well, with my luck, she’d give me four scoops of sawdust and a few dust bunnies. Maybe a few grams of toenail clippings, if she was feeling generous. That would be sure to kick-start the recovery process.” Randy held out his shake, looked at it and frowned.
He was still frowning when we finally finished our shakes and headed out to the parking lot. “Seriously, Ron, there are so many different ways to train. How can you know which one is right?”
“Easy,” I said. “They all are.”
“What?” He gave me an odd look. “You sure you didn’t have grain alcohol or liquid morphine in your shake?” Our cars were parked side by side, and we leaned against them. It was one of the first really nice spring days, and we were both glad to feel the warm sun at last.
“I have known hundreds of bodybuilders over the years, and they all had their own ways of training. A lot of those methods were almost directly the opposite of others. Yet all the bodybuilders had great physiques. How is that possible? For example, how can both low-volume and high-volume work produce results?”
Randy pondered it and said, “Gifted genetics and tons of drugs?” I resisted the urge to smack the young upstart for his stock reply.
“No! A lot of the guys I’m talking about were natural bodybuilders, so you can rule that out right now. And if they all had gifted genetics, why wouldn’t one method have stood out as the One True Way. That one best way to train would have produced much better results than anything else, and we would all be doing it now. The only one true way, the only way to put muscle on, is to train hard.”
Randy stared at me. “Train hard—that’s it? That’s all you can come up with?” He clearly felt I was holding out on him.
“Go to any crowded gym and look around, and you’ll see that it’s true. You’ll invariably see a lot of regular people with very regular bodies, nothing special at all. You might be able to tell that they work out, but it’s doubtful. Most of them aren’t totally out of shape, but neither are they the types of bodies the gym would want on its billboards.
“You’ll also see a few really well-built men and women, maybe three or four out of 50 to 100 people on a gym floor. What sets them apart from the rest? They train a lot harder. That’s it! Of course, you can also assume that they’re a lot more consistent with their training and that they feed their bodies with tons of good food and quality supplements to support recovery and growth, but watch them train.
“In contrast to what the others are doing, they put out more effort. They challenge themselves. They don’t quit a set until the weight won’t move anymore. They try to use more weight—or try to get more reps and go for a deeper burn—and they aim for the most extreme muscle pump possible. They don’t shy away from free weights and tough basic exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses, barbell rows and dips. The rest of the schmucks in the gym just go through the motions, using weights that are comfortable, often using mostly machines, and generally putting out just enough effort to be able to say that they ‘work out.’ Haven’t you seen plenty of that?”
“Yeah,” Randy said, thinking. “I mean, when we grunt doing heavy squats or our faces get red grinding out another rep of presses, people look at us like we’re out of our minds. They shake their heads like they don’t approve.”
“Meanwhile,” I continued, “what do we look like compared to them, and what’s the main reason why? We train hard, and they don’t. As Lee Haney used to say, intensity builds immensity. It’s that simple. So stop worrying about the perfect way to train. As long as you train hard, pay attention to recovery and get enough sleep, plenty of good food and basic supplements, you’ll grow. Simple as that. Hey, before I forget, how was that date with Britney, the hip-hop cardio instructor?”
Randy smiled, and I was expecting an X-rated account of the date, or at least a PG-13 with strong sexual suggestions. “We went clubbing, and she had the hottest outfit on. She’s awesome, so cool to talk to and a body that doesn’t quit. We really hit it off.”
“So when are you seeing her again?”
“Oh, well, I’m holding off on that for now, because I met another girl while I was waiting for Britney outside the ladies room and got her number. I’m supposed to hook up with her this weekend.” I shook my head. The next generation is going to have a rough time of it, seeing that nothing is ever going to be good enough for them. But that’s okay. Eventually, they’ll figure out that the grass on the other side isn’t really greener. It just looks that way until you get closer.
The same goes for training: You can’t be constantly worrying that you aren’t following the absolute best methods. If you do, you lose faith in what you’re doing, and you lose sight of what’s really important for getting big—busting your ass in the gym with loads of heavy iron and then feeding your body with loads of good food. It may not be too enticing to those who need a steady fix of “new and improved” things to feel good about their lives, but it’s the real secret to building muscle.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at RonHarrisMuscle.com. IM