Monday, December 12, 2011

Respect the Journey

Take a long look at the pictures above.  They probably aren't very pleasing to your eyes.  It's probably not a physique you'd ever want to have.  You may even be a little disgusted.

It's completely fine to not want to look like a bodybuilder, I'd say most people don't.  However there's a trend I notice when talking about bodybuilders with many people that I do find a little disconcerting.  Bodybuilders are spoken of with disdain, with disgust, as though they were somehow less human than the rest of us merely because of their chosen sport.  As though because we don't like their physique ideals something about them must be flawed.  If you search google for 'female bodybuilder,' the first link is '20 most revolting female bodybuilders'.  Doesn't that seem wrong?

In truth, bodybuilders are doing what most people want to accomplish, but to a higher degree: Losing fat and gaining muscle.  They're experts at it.  Thankfully for most of us, we don't have to work half as hard as a boydbuilder must to achieve our goals. 

I'm hoping that this post will serve two purposes:

1) Lend more evidence to why merely doing strength training is not going to 'bulk' you up.  We'll take a look at how some bodybuilders train - it's probably a bit different than your typical strength routine!  Bodybuilders would love if they could just wake up one morning super bulked up from a few months of strength training!

2) Come to respect bodybuilders for their resolve, consistency and dedication to their sport instead of being repulsed by it. 

What is bodybuilding?

Before we start this discussion, let's clearly define what bodybuilding is.  In general, the goal in bodybuilding is to build as much muscle as possible with the highest amount of definition and distinction between muscle groups.  The more fat there is, the less muscle definition there is for the judges to see.  The fake tans, oil, and minimal clothing is as well to enhance muscle definition and make it more visible to judges.  Symmetry and proportion are also judged.  Sugar-loading immediately before competition, dehydration, and lifting weights before going on stage combined with drastically low body fat percentages are some techniques used to help increase vascularity and get that really 'shredded' look.  Before going on stage a competitor may also take in a high amount of carbohydrates in order to make the muscle appear fuller and larger.  Let's take a look at a few different kinds of 'bodybuilding':

Figure Athletes - Figure competitions focus mostly on muscle definition rather than size of the muscle.  While not really in the realm of bodybuilding, they are related and worth noting. 

Natural Bodybuilding - Bodybuilding competitions that focus on muscle size and definition but whose competitors are drug tested.  The first two pictures of this post are of natural bodybuilders.

Professional (Generally Non-Tested) Bodybuilding - This is where you'll find the Ronnie Colemans, the Jay Cutlers, Iris Kyle, etc. 

                                        Iris Kyle looks like she cares a lot about your opinion.

My friend Charlie is a former bodybuilder and had this to say about what it's like to prepare and be in a competition:

"You shave body hair, and start the coats of protan about Thurs [for a weekend competition]. You can not be too dark. Your posing routine is about 90 seconds long, so you should have been practicing for the last 3-4 weeks. Posing should be done the last 6-8 weeks. Posing actually makes you harder. On stage I have a bad habit of totally shutting everthing out, so I don't even see the crowd. I am very stoic and look way too serious. I am focusing on what I'm doing and forget to smile and don't have much interaction with the crowd. This would probably be better with more experience.
The show is actually fun, but I have got to admit it feels a little weird to stand around all day with a bunch of scantily clad people, tanned to the extreme, and oiled down."

Exercise Routine

So let's take a look at a standard bodybuilding routine for maximal results:

5 day split, 1x a week frequency 

*Numbers at end in parentheses () are how many sets to failure to do on that exercise
*Rest 90-120 secs between sets, 2-3 mins if you did a set to failure on a compound movement and are about to do another set to failure on the same movement

Monday- Chest/Calves

Incline Dumbbell Press - 4x 6-10 (2)
Flat Barbell Press - 3x 6-10 (1)
Decline Dumbbell press - 3x 6-10 (2)
Standing calf raises - 4x 8-10 (2) (1-2 mins rest for calves)
Seated calf raises - 3x 8-10 (2)
Leg press Calf raises - 3 x 12-15 (2)

Tuesday- Back

Pull ups - 50 or as many as you can do in 10 minutes
Barbell Rows - (torso at 45ish degree angle) 4x 8-10 (1)
Close neutral grip pulldowns - 3x 8-10 (2) (really like 3 sec negatives on these)
Seated straight bar rows - 3x 8-10 (2)

Wednesday- Legs (2-3 second negatives recommended on all exercises)

Lying leg curls - 4x 6-8 (2)
RDL's - 4x 8-10 (1)
Leg press - 4x8-10 (I like doing these before squats to help loosen up the hips) (2)
Squats or Front squats - 3x 8-10 (1)
Hack Squats (close stance) - 3x 8-10 (2)

Thursday- Arms/Abs Supersets for arms

Pinwheel Curls - 4x 6-10 (1)
Decline Elbows flared CGBP - 4x 6-10 (1)

Preacher curls on vertical side (spider curls) - 3x 8-10 (2)
Lying Behind the head extensions - 3x 8-10 (2)

Alternating Dumbbell curls - 3x 8-10 (2)
French Presses - 3x 8-10 (2)

Cable rope crunches - 3x 12-15 (2) (1-2 mins rest for abs)
Weighted Leg Raises - 3x 12-15 (2)

Friday - Shoulders/Traps

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press - 4x 6-10 (2)
Cable lateral raises - 3x 8-12 (2)
Seated Dumbbell lateral raises - 3x 8-12 (2)
Incline Bench Rear delt raises - 3x 12-15 (2)
Standing cable X's - 3x 20-30 (3)
Shrugs - 4x 8-10 (2)

Staci, a natural female bodybuilder in the 118-132lb weight group gave a general idea of how much time she spent in the gym and how much cardio she also did on top of her regular training days:

"During off season, I am in the gym for 1 hour a day for weight training 4 days a week and cardio will take up 2 of those other days, with 1 day full rest. When I am cutting for competition, I am in the gym in the morning for HITT (High Intensity Interval Training) before breakfast and for another hour later in the day for weights. I will do this for 4 days, and depending on energy levels, I will put in a few more cardio sessions the other 3 days as well."

Is this a little bit more than what you've been doing at the gym?  Now bear in mind, this is also just a sample.  Bodybuilding requires you to take note of whether or not an exercise is working for you, whether or not you should consider a different angle on the bench when you're doing incline bench press, whether or not you should widen or narrow your grip, are you making sure to target both your soleus and your gastrocnemius on calf day?  Bodybuilders need to have a good, basic understanding of human anatomy to be successful.  How can you make a muscle bigger when you don't know it exists?  How can you make sure a muscle is activating unless you know what its function is and what bone or joint it attaches to?

So if one needs to have a broad knowledge base in anatomy and physiology (or hire someone who does) to be successful in bodybuilding, why do commercials like this exist?


Sure, they're a little amusing.  But they're also offensive to anyone who takes the pursuit of muscle seriously.  Where does this stereotype even come from?  Considering how confusing most people find the subjects of fitness, fat loss and exercise, those who have mastered them should be considered intelligent, shouldn't they? 

Nutrition and Supplements

If you think that your diet is restricting, try a bodybuilder's who is preparing for competition.  Men strive to reach levels of 2-8% bodyfat, women around 9-15%.  For reference, average bodyfat percentage for men is 18-25% and for women is 25-31%.  How do you have to eat to get to these numbers?  Charlie said this about dieting for competition:

"The diet is the tough part. Lifting is fun, being hungry for 12-16 weeks is not. Diet for competition is usually a low carb diet. I will go between 100 and 200 grams of carbs a day, 30 grams of fat and 250-300 grams of protein. total calories 1700-2000. The target is no more than 2lbs of weight lost a week, anything more your losing muscle. Off season diet is 3500-4000 calories a day with protein being about the same , but way more carbs...

Three weeks out from the show I wanted to quit. I was grumpy, tired , hungry, and wondered was it all worth it. I didn't quit, because I knew I would beat myself up if I did. The diet messes with your mind. You question everything your doing and wonder if your screwing up. This is why I think a coach is the most important thing you can have. Someone to talk you off the ledge, to have a sane mind that can hold you to the plan and can gauge your progress and make adjustments without sabotaging everything."

Here is an example of what a male 180lb bodybuilder's diet might look like who is preparing for competition:

Wake Up - Power Drive in1L water, 1 multi+
Breakfast -3 whole Omega 3 eggs, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 0.25 bell pepper, 2 oz baby carrots, 0.25 avocado, 1 cup green tea, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Snack - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
Lunch - 6 oz extra lean beef, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 oz spinach, 1 small tomato, 0.5 small zucchini, 0.25 small red pepper, 0.25 avocado, 1 teaspoon flax oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Pre-Workout - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
During Workout- 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
Post- Workout - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, Power Drive in 1L water
Dinner - 6 oz extra lean beef, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 oz spinach, 2 oz broccoli, 2 oz cauliflower, 2 oz green beans, 0.25 avocado, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Pre- Bed - 2 whole eggs, 0.25 green pepper, 2 oz carrots, 1 serving Greens+ Daily Detox, 3 Fish Oil capsules, 3 ZMA

Total Cal: Between 1800-2000

Taken from: 

Everyday food is logged.  How many ounces of chicken, how many almonds, how many tablespoons of peanut butter?  Exact calories and macronutrient levels must be measured.  There can be no cheating involved - you bring your food to work, to restraunts, to birthday parties and holidays.  Research the correct supplements, take them at the exact right times according to your training each day.  Any deviation might mean the different between first and second place. 

Then there is the diet you have to follow post-competition: The bulking phase.  The goal in this phase is to put on as much mass as possible before having to prepare for competition again.  Most people would probably see this as appealing, getting to eat massive quanitities of food in order to try and put on mass.  But it can be a little harder than that, especially for those who do not put on mass easily.  Having to eat 8,000 - 10,000 calories a day everyday can be grueling!

All that work and this is the progress one may see in a year. (50 weeks between pictures of Shelby Starnes)

The transition between a bulking and cutting phase can be very taxing as well.  Think of how drastic the changes are between the two different diets!

Imagine going through this transformation every year. (Yes this is the same guy, Lee Priest. Yes, seriously)

Staci had this to say about switching between phases:

"The main difference between off season eating and pre-contest diet is the amount of calories. When I am bulking, I aim for about 2500 to 3000 cals a day. When cutting, I am looking at around 1400 to 1000 cals, depending on the workout for the day. Macros will move up or down, obviously but keep protein very very high...The transition can be grueling. The key is to not reduce the amounts to quickly, as you will almost go in to shock psychologically and mentally. Obviously your body is use to taking in so much, and when it is not receiving, it will come back to bite you...[[One time]] I cut my cals too quickly and had a difficult time functioning, as far as speech, cognitive and emotionally. It was an eye opener to see just how much this affects you."

Even in light of all this, the physique of a bodybuilder will probably be continually unappealing.  And that's okay.  Take a look at this video of a young female bodybuilder:

Chances are good she doesn't care if you think she's too manly looking, or that you don't want to look like her.  But I just want you to look at the confidence she exudes while on stage.  Just from her body language you can see the hard work she put in, the dedication, and you can tell she knows she's amazing. 

Even if you don't want to look like her, we should respect her for her resolve.  We should respect her for having the guts to even decide to prepare to get up on that stage.  We should respect her for the respect she has for herself. 

That's something that we should all strive for, no matter in what manner. 


  1. I'd like to conclude this post by saying I am not an expert on bodybuilding training, though I have tried my best to make sure that the information in this post is accurate. If there are any corrections to be made I will gladly do so.

    This is just scratching the surface of the world of bodybuilding and the effort it takes to be successful in it.


  2. I enjoyed reading this article. It helped me to understand more of what we talked about Friday after training. Thanks.