Recently, I got caught up in a very lively online debate regarding a 19-year-old so-called expert who has a popular YouTube channel from which he dispenses nutrition and training advice. Normally, I would pay no mind to a person like this and his diatribes, but something he said struck a nerve, and I felt forced to address the inconsistencies in his online lectures.
What finally got me was his assertion that pros like Kai Greene, Jay Cutler and other highly experienced trainers have nothing to offer those seeking to gain muscle and lose fat. The results those of us who have been in the trenches longer than he’s been alive get are merely “anecdotal evidence” and “broscience.” People should never emulate the pros methods just because they worked for them. Instead, we should put our faith in science and rely on information gleaned through legitimate research studies. Well, far be it from me to suggest that scientific studies are worthless, but when it comes to bodybuilding, many of them are.
Few of the thousands of studies related to weight training and muscle growth have any bearing on the real world. One problem is that most of them involve untrained test subjects rather than experienced lifters. As you undoubtedly know from your own early days of training, the shock of weight training always stimulates fairly rapid gains in size and strength in beginners. Therefore, what works in a study using raw recruits is irrelevant to you and me.
Other studies, particularly those involving supplements, use the elderly or the very ill—and many are done with rodents! Years ago many of us were duped into buying products that had been “scientifically proven” to increase lean mass—in postmenopausal women or rats. Other studies have proved that certain exercises, rep ranges or rest periods between sets cause the body to produce more testosterone or growth hormone for short time periods. Unfortunately, there have been no findings that it had any direct correlation to increased muscle.
Medical studies seeking to find the most effective means of building more lean muscle tissue in healthy, trained subjects are exceedingly rare. Those of us seeking to build the best physiques we possibly can find that puzzling, but think about what motivates research—curing diseases and making more money for the pharmaceutical industry. Nobody is dying because he can’t put another inch on his arm.
As for the big drug companies, muscle building pales in comparison to the demands of the general public for such issues as depression, erectile dysfunction, insomnia, ADHD, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. Plus, there are already many drugs in existence that will definitely increase lean muscle tissue—they’re called steroids. And while testosterone-replacement therapy for middle-aged and elderly men is more popular than ever, a terrible stigma still exists against using steroids to enhance performance and/or appearance. Never mind that cosmetic surgery and Botox are accepted and even embraced by society. If you want to use a drug to look better, you’re a terrible human being.
My point is that it’s incredibly arrogant to dismiss the results that millions of men and women have gotten by emulating the training and nutrition methods of those who achieved results. Most of us arrive at effective methods after years of personal trial and error. In effect, is that not our own research study? We can try pro routines, we can try training styles like X Reps, FST-7 or DC, and we can follow various diet strategies to see which we respond to best. There is no universal system of training or eating that is optimal for everybody. Science and studies are not to be ignored, as there are findings from time to time that we can successfully implement—but don’t put all your faith in studies at the expense of experimenting on your own.
As someone who has interviewed thousands of top bodybuilders over the past 21 years, I’m telling you that you can definitely pick up tips and tricks, some of which will indeed work for you. Don’t let the fact that they have gifted genetics and may enhance their physiques with steroids dupe you into assuming that they can’t possibly have a shred of useful information to share with the genetically average rest of us. I don’t care about what works on paper unless it works in real life for me. Neither should you!
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.