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Bodybuilding’s Bottom Line

No matter what training routine you adopt, equipment you use, food you eat, supplements you take or how knowledgeable you are about bodybuilding in general, unless you deliver on effort and dedication, you’ll never make decent bodybuilding progress.

You can buy routines, equipment, food and supplements, but you can’t buy what’s required to deliver the necessary effort and dedication. The buck stops with you. If you haven’t made much progress over recent months, chances are you haven’t delivered what’s required on the effort and dedication fronts.

Bodybuilders of average genetic potential who trained by themselves in garages using just a bench, squat stands and a barbell set—and on a diet of ordinary food—have achieved astonishing transformations. Never lose sight of priorities. Successful bodybuilding is fundamentally simple—hard work on appropriate routines, plus sound dietary, sleep and rest habits.

The opportunity and ability to train hard—to be able to put in the effort to work your body to its limit time after time—is a joy, blessing and privilege. Make the most of it.

To discover the bodybuilding potential you possess, you have to realize it. That necessitates training hard, intelligently and consistently for a number of years. To be able to do that, you need to be healthy. Look after yourself. Avoid habits and environments that reduce your potential to be healthy.

Many bodybuilders think they train hard when, in fact, they cut every work set short. Couldn’t you have done at least another rep or two in most of your work sets at your last workout if you really pushed yourself hard?

Few bodybuilders truly train hard. Among those who do, however, most don’t take enough rest between workouts to permit themselves to grow, and some don’t eat enough, either. Some train hard but use incorrect exercise technique and get injured. So effort must be combined with correct exercise technique and adequate recuperation.

Cautionary note: You can’t use maximum-effort sets productively week after week and month after month—at least most natural bodybuilders can’t. There has to be some cycling of training intensity.

Beginners need to train hard but not to so-called utter failure. The train-until-failure style can have its uses for experienced bodybuilders, provided you don’t abuse it. If you do it too much or too often, though, it will exhaust your recovery ability and perhaps kill your desire to train for some time.

Most bodybuilders can train hard on a few exercises in a workout, especially the smaller exercises. To do that on every exercise in every workout for the duration of a hard-training cycle, however, is another matter.

Keep a record of every training session so that you always know exactly what you need to do to make your next workout a progressive one.

Get yourself a training partner. This person must be a hard taskmaster who ensures that you get everything out of all your planned maximum-effort sets. While it’s not imperative that you be of similar strength or train on identical routines, it’s preferred. Better that your partner is a little stronger than you. That will bring out a competitive streak to your benefit.

After each workout, evaluate what you did. Did you really go to the limit on the squat? Wasn’t there another rep or two in you? What about calf raises? Couldn’t you have put up with the discomfort of growth stimulation for another two, three or four reps? Following each postworkout evaluation, resolve to make the next workout an even better one. See what can be improved, and then do it.

With a good training partner and accurate records you should quickly discover what hard training is about, and with practice you’ll develop the ability to train harder still. Training hard is an acquired skill. You may be surprised by how comfortably you used to take your workouts.

I’m writing here of the full-bore stage of a training cycle. Don’t drop straight into truly hard training. Work up to it over the initial part of a cycle to develop the momentum and physical and mental conditioning you’ll need.

Muscle size has to be earned. Dedicate yourself to delivering the required effort. While in the gym, be obsessed with training hard and using correct exercise technique but on abbreviated routines and no more than three workouts a week—and don’t do the same routine each time. Also, dedicate yourself to fully satisfying the components of recuperation: Get enough nourishment and enough sleep and rest in general. That will solve most gaining problems. Finally, be patient as your body gradually builds bigger muscles.

—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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