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Q&A: The Best Advice for Bodybuilding Neophytes

7306-train4Q: I’m 19 years old and just starting out as a bodybuilder. What’s the best advice you can give me?

A: Have the desire and dedication that I had when I was young, but apply it to much better training methods than I did.

I started training in 1973 at age 15. I was obsessed with trying to build a great physique. I trained as the famous bodybuilders of the time recommended, but those methods were promoted without caveats and without any advice on how to modify the routines to suit typical, drug-free bodybuilders. At that time I couldn’t distinguish between good and poor instruction.

Being young, I seemed to be able to get away with harmful training methods without serious injury—but only temporarily. I paid for that recklessness and ignorance a few years later, when knee and back problems devastated my training. Had I listened to those who urged a conservative approach, I probably wouldn’t have caused the initial damage.

Now I promote a conservative approach to training. Experience from 40 years—from my own training and from observing countless other bodybuilders—has taught me that it isn’t just the safest way, it’s the most effective over the long term.

The conservative approach isn’t limited to exercise selection and technique. It also concerns workout design. Most typical bodybuilding-program design promotes a volume and frequency of training that are excessive for most trainees.

In my youth I trained harder than anyone else at the gyms I attended. I also ate well, took lots of food supplements, got plenty of sleep and visualized great success. I epitomized dedication to bodybuilding. So I couldn’t understand why I didn’t make great progress. For a long time I didn’t make any progress. It was only much later that I understood why.

First, I didn’t inherit great genetics for building muscle. I have average genetics for bodybuilding, as have most bodybuilders.

Second, I wasn’t supplementing with anabolic steroids.

Third, the training methods I followed retarded my development—they caused overtraining, injuries and sickness. Countless other bodybuilders have been similarly harmed.

When I learned about bodybuilding drugs, I was disciplined enough not to use them. I had enough sense to put my health first and accept that I’d never be able to compete with the bodybuilding superstars. Natural bodybuilding was the way to go.

Here are some truths that are contrary to what conventional bodybuilding methods would have you believe:

1) You don’t have to train with weights four, five or six times a week.

2) You don’t have to use high-volume training.

3) You don’t have to use high-risk exercises or techniques or apply the foolish “no pain, no gain” bravado.

4) You don’t have to use bodybuilding drugs.

All that said, you do have to adopt a different approach to your training and apply it with great dedication. There’s a huge bonus on top of improved results—the reduced time investment required.

Q: I prefer barbell curls to dumbbells curls, but I’m often tempted to cheat. How can I be forced to do barbell curls strictly?

A: Never give in to the temptation to cheat—on any exercise. Not cheating can become a habit, just as cheating can become a habit (until you get injured). Always use correct exercise technique. Learn from my experience and the experience of countless others that cheating is dangerous. It causes injuries—sooner rather than later. Injuries blight training—and serious injuries can end your days of hard training.

Many bodybuilders use poor exercise technique without being aware of it. Then, when they get injured, they wonder why.

Find out what correct exercise technique actually is, and then enforce it.

Do the barbell curl while standing with your back rigid against a column or post, for example, or do it while seated. Pause for a moment at the top and the bottom of each rep as well. The seated barbell curl will produce a reduced range of motion because your thighs will get in the way of the bar. Rest the barbell on your quads momentarily at the bottom of each rep. You may also use some other form of torso-motion restraint to keep the barbell curl strict.

—Stuart McRobert


Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new BRAWN series, Book 1: How to Build Up to 50 Pounds of Muscle the Natural Way, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008 or

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