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Beginner’s Bliss, Part 2

One of the secrets of bodybuilding, especially for beginners and intermediates, is to find the level of hard but not hardest training that produces steady strength increases, albeit gradual increases.

Now that he was three months into the program, I wanted to spend a workout with Arnie to see how he was getting on. I got to the gym at 10:45 on Saturday morning, just after he’d started.

“The Beginners’ Bliss program’s going great, Stuart. I still can’t fully believe that doing so much less training than I was before has made such a big difference. I love the workouts, I’m making a little progress at each workout on every exercise, I’m no longer tired between workouts, and I have time for a life outside the gym.”

Arnie’s workout went well. His technique was good, and his effort level was also good—high but not at his absolute limit. He was neither rushing between sets nor hanging around for ages. He was really focused on producing a terrific workout—one set at a time.

He wondered why I didn’t want him to train with 100 percent intensity. That sort of intensity could happen later, I explained. For now, especially because Arnie was a beginner, it was neither necessary nor desirable.

One of the secrets of bodybuilding, especially for beginners and intermediates, is to find the level of hard but not hardest training that produces steady strength increases, albeit gradual increases. When the weights are nudged up just one pound at a time, keeping up with the increments shouldn’t require any increase in effort. Still, the poundage is nudged up on a given exercise only if the full target reps and sets were made at the previous workout. Progress mustn’t be rushed.

The training part of Beginners’ Bliss was moving along perfectly. No changes were required for the time being. Now it was time to talk about nutrition. Arnie was training hard, and it was imperative that he consume sufficient calories and nutrients. Although he had gotten off excessive use of protein shakes and into proper nutritious food, I was concerned that he might not be eating enough. His bodyweight had been stable for a few weeks.

I instructed him to visit to work out his average calorie intake over the previous few days.

It’s important for him to know how many calories he can eat without gaining or losing weight—his maintenance level at his normal activity level. That gives him the baseline that he can add to or subtract from, depending on whether he wants to build muscle or lose bodyfat. Of course, whether surplus calories are converted into muscle depends on the effectiveness of his training.

Once Arnie knows his current average daily calorie intake, I want him to add about 300 calories. He can do that by having a little more of a few of his regular foods or by adding something.

He’ll also have a pint of lowfat milk about 15 minutes after each workout, with a couple of spoonfuls of protein powder (or skim-milk powder) mixed into it. He’ll take it to the gym with him in a thermos flask.

Prior to going on Beginners’ Bliss, Arnie noted that he hadn’t been sleeping well, although he was always tired. Sleeping difficulties are a common symptom of overtraining. Now that he was no longer overtraining, I asked him how his sleep was going. He said it had improved, but the problem wasn’t solved. He asked for some tips. I asked a few questions and discovered areas that he could easily put right.

He didn’t have regular sleeping habits. Going to sleep at 10:30 p.m. one night, and 1 a.m. the next isn’t regularity. I urged him to sleep from 10.30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on a regular basis, but if he does go to bed later on some Friday and Saturday evenings, he must sleep in the next morning to compensate.

He didn’t sleep in a dark room. The curtains let a lot of light in. I urged him to get fitted shutters or blackout curtains.

Noises from outside and inside where he lived often disturbed his sleep. I urged him to buy a device that generates white noise to mask other noises.

Arnie often had his laptop in his bedroom and sometimes left it on overnight. I urged him to keep it in another room, especially at night.

He often had a cup of coffee in the early evening. I urged him to avoid coffee or tea, unless decaffeinated, after about 5 p.m.; otherwise the caffeine could still be in his system at bedtime and interfere with his sleep.

Immediately before sleep, I said, he should read something that relaxes him.

He often had to get up during the night to urinate. To minimize that, I urged him to finish his final meal two hours before bedtime, avoid juicy fruit and vegetables at that meal and minimize liquid intake between then and bedtime. Still, he could have a small, low-liquid snack just before bedtime, then catch up with plenty of liquids during the morning and afternoon.

Arnie agreed to follow the rule of going to sleep early enough to wake naturally each morning without the use of an alarm clock. While eight hours may be sufficient under normal circumstances, periods of intensified training or increased overall physical demands will probably increase his sleep needs.

With his workouts already going well, the boost from the improved nutrition and sleep could keep Arnie making steady progress. Beginners’ Bliss would continue to work its magic, and Arnie was on his way to becoming big.

—Stuart McRobert

Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or

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