(DISCLAIMER ~ The information provided on this webpage does not constitute medical advice, being only a body of suggestions provided by the author on the basis of his own experiences. The author assumes no responsibility for any injury or health condition that may occur through following the advice provided below.)
After sating your eyes upon such fine specimens of masculine beauty, would you not wish to sculpt for yourself a comparable figure (if you're a guy, that is), with corded limbs, divine proportions and cutting definition, a living incarnation of Michelangelo's David? I certainly would. :)
The main frustration in reaching this goal lies in the sheer amount of literature available on the subject. What works, and what doesn't? Having been myself an aspiring bodybuilder and a regular gym-goer since the late 1990's, I've tried all sorts of things (except steroids) and never seemed to make progress ― not even a hint of a six-pack ever appeared on my midsection ― until I came across certain sources on physical fitness (which I shall list out later) and tried out the advice given in them. My relatives and gym-mates all noticed the results, and I started seeing a six-pack for the first time ever in my life. Serious. :) (I'd show a photo of myself here, except that professional photographers charge a bomb for their services. Maybe sometime in the future when I'm more loaded...) Below I shall share the secrets I discovered, which I'm confident you'll find useful.
Basically, our goal is twofold: to (1) build muscle and (2) to burn fat. The strategies for achieving these two goals are actually quite closely related! (To (3) acquire a six-pack is of course the one supreme goal in the minds of many aspiring Macho Men, but believe me, you need to work on (1) and (2) to get (3)!)
You may go directly to my advice on building muscle, laid out in the following four points below:
As for burning fat, check out the following six points:
A few words of advice before anything else, though (please go through them):
Please consult a doctor or physician before you start if you haven't engaged in any serious physical training for a few months or even longer. Play it safe.
Start off light if you're a beginner. Don't be over-ambitious. Get to know yourself. Again, the reason is to play it safe. Test the water a little first just to see how much you can handle, then slowly build it up over the weeks.
Be patient and be diligent. Rome wasn't built in a single day. Depending on how consistently you keep at it and on your current condition, you should allow say a minimum of six weeks for the results to show up. Building muscle mass, as opposed to burning fat, can take considerably longer than that; some all-natural bodybuilders claim on the basis of personal experience that it can take a whole year just to gain 5 to 10 lbs of muscle ― assuming that you do it right and stick to it consistently...
Stop training completely whenever you feel drowsy, feel any pain anywhere or just don't feel well. Wait until you have fully recovered before returning to the gym. Hey, if it were a cold you had, you might spread it to your gym-mates!
Never train alone. Always train with someone else around, say a trainer or fellow gym-goers. Safety first!
Don't train just after a meal. Take at least a one-hour break.
Don't look for easy shortcuts like special diet pills or abdominal training gadgets. Really hate to say this, but as far as I know there's no substitute (yet) for honest hard work. C'est la vie. If you come across something that promises you a figure like that of Leonidas in 300 without much or any work, be suspicious. Ask around, do some research. Chances are that it's either a fad or downright dangerous, or at best yields only temporary results. (If you find that it really produces lasting results without any negative side effects, hey, let me know, I'd be seriously interested. :)) Here's a list of problematic products to avoid. Creatine is a recognized and legitimate supplement, but it still requires that you work out at the gym before you can reap the full benefits provided by it.
Stay away from alcohol. Hate to tell you this if you happen to enjoy alcoholic drinks, but studies have confirmed that they actually pile up fat in your midsection while also apparently exerting a wasting effect on certain muscle groups of your body. They also reduce the level of testosterone in your body, a hormone very important for building muscle and burning fat. So, if you wish to look like Joe Jusko's Tarzan, avoid alcohol. Hey, there is currently evidence that alcohol can cause us more harm than drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Stay away from alcohol if you desire a Macho Man figure. Far, far away.
Maintain a balanced diet. Do not limit yourself in your meals to specific types of food, such as those types that mainly provide protein. Instead, eat a variety of different types of food; a hearty daily serve of fresh fruit and vegetables in particular forms an indispensable part of a healthy diet.
Use my 'Macho Man' pics for motivation. Yup. :)
Don't fool yourself... :)
How, then, do you build muscle? Here's what you need to do:
Train with weights. This ought to be obvious; what might not be so obvious is that you need to train with HEAVY weights. How heavy? So heavy that, whatever exercise you happen to be performing with them, say the bench press, you can manage only say a maximum of 2 to 3 repetitions ― done with good form ― before muscle failure sets in. This is important: if you use weights too light to challenge your muscles ― for example weights so light they allow you to do up to say 6 reps ― then your muscles won't grow! Once you can do more than 2 or 3 reps, increase the poundage of your weights.
(You can choose alternatively to perform dozens of reps using very light weights, but this merely pumps blood and body fluids to your muscles so they appear larger for just a short time, say a few hours. It won't be real, permanent muscle, and you won't develop any real strength.)
How many sets should you perform for each exercise? (It counts as one set when you perform a number of reps and then rest, the next set being when you begin again and execute a further number of reps before resting again.) For the purpose of maximizing muscle growth, you need to perform large numbers of sets according to fitness expert Pavel Tsatsouline, who has recommended 10 to 20! (Personally I settle for just 4 or 5.) Huge, massive muscles or a lean, athletic, not-too-heavily built figure? It's up to you. :)
Which exercises or what sort of exercises are best? Exercises using free weights (barbells and dumbbells) as opposed to machine weights. A machine weight here refers to any kind of exercise machine that does not allow you to move freely in three dimensions, but forces you to move strictly in a fixed plane only.
In the many different bodily movements we perform daily, we very rarely recruit only specific muscle groups, such as our biceps; most of the time many of our other muscles come into play as well to stabilize our entire body, to keep it in balance. Here's where the problem with machine weights comes in; according to Pavel, "A machine restricts you to one plane of movement. Your stabilizing muscles get no workout because the machine is doing their job. When you get back to the real world where you have to control your weights, you will expose yourself to an injury in the planes of movement you have not strengthened." (P. Tsatsouline, Power to the People!, Dragon Door Publ, MN, 2000; pg 31.) Doesn't sound good!
You don't need fancy machines to train your biceps. Just do the chin-up. (Trains the latissimus dorsi muscles on your upper back, too, which give your body the V-shaped look!)
It is therefore free weights that build functional strength, because they train your stabilizing muscles as well. And if that means you get to train more of your muscles, why not? :)
Two free weight exercises in particular should make up the core of any weight training program: the deadlift and the bench press. Just these two exercises should already suffice to give most of the major muscle groups of your body a solid workout, really (though of course you may elect to add a couple other exercises of your choice, such as the chin-up and a few abdominal exercises in my case). This should be good news for those who have limited time to spare at the gym! Just remember: train HEAVY (though not if you're a beginner).
The bench press. ALWAYS do this with a friend nearby to keep a close eye on you. (He can spur you on, too!)
It is important to do the deadlift ― well, any weight training exercise, really ― with good form. Your shins and back should be kept as vertical as possible at all times. Always look straight ahead, not down, and do not bend forward at the time you're about to lift the weight. If it helps, try to imagine there's a chair far behind you which you're trying to sit on. Also, when preparing to lower the barbell after lifting it up in each rep, do not lower it slowly (though you should not drop it, either).
I have provided but a few hints on training with weights. Most of them I actually picked up from Pavel Tsatsouline's Power to the People!, a title I strongly recommend for those serious about learning more. This is one title that has truly enlightened me on many aspects of weight training; in particular the author goes into great depth with respect to the deadlift, and to a lesser extent the bench press, and elaborates on the many different ways the deadlift can be performed to shift the emphasis to different areas of the body. A must for those serious about weight training!
Get Pavel's Power to the People! by clicking on the link to the left!
Do not overtrain. This is a mistake many fitness enthusiasts make; I myself have been guilty of it before. As far as things like building muscle are concerned, more isn't better. Training with weights five times a week or more is likely to be counterproductive; three times a week should be the maximum. It's probably a good idea not to train on consecutive days, either, but every second day. Your muscles grow while you rest, not while you train. They need rest to grow.
As the poundage of the weights you can handle seriously begins to increase, you should consider working with weights only twice a week. The heavier the weights you train with, the more rest your body will need.
Some have also suggested that you should give yourself one full week of complete rest ― as in not engaging in any forms of physical training/exercise whatsoever ― for roughly every 8 consecutive weeks of training you've engaged in. Many professional athletes apparently follow this rule, and I believe it is indeed invaluable for maintaining your athletic career in the long term, as it can certainly help your body recuperate more fully from various subtle forms of damage and fatigue which have accumulated in the body through prolonged periods of physical training. I know, the temptation is there not to go for such one-week breaks for fear of a relapse into one's previous flabby state. But please resist the temptation. Hey, you'll get even fitter and harder when you resume training!
Get enough sleep and avoid excessive stress. Give yourself at least 6 hours ― preferably 8 ― of full, undisturbed sleep each night, and seek to avoid undue amounts of stress in your normal everyday life outside of the gym. Besides being obviously bad for our health, excessive stress and lack of sleep have also been found to trigger the release of a biological chemical in the body known as cortisol, which actually inhibits muscle growth ― and promotes fat storage in the body, too! (A wee bit of cortisol is actually good if not vital for the body; we just don't want too much!)
It helps with your sleep when you cease to engage in all forms of mentally stimulating activities at least one hour before going to bed ― such as TV, computer games or excessively exciting reading material. Get your mind to quieten down. You may even do some meditation before retiring for the night!
Consume more protein. Your muscles need protein to grow. No amount of training will make your muscles grow without a sufficient intake of protein. Many sources I've come across agree that to build up muscle mass you need roughly 0.75 to 1 gram of protein a day for each pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, consume 113 to 150 grams of protein daily. (I believe body weight here would refer to your lean body weight.)
Meat is an obvious source of protein, but if you ask me I think it's just not kind to animals to kill them and eat their flesh, besides which animal protein is also less healthy, as shall be explained below. Legumes such as soybeans are excellent and effective sources of protein, as are milk, cottage cheese and peanut butter. (This website lists a wide range of vegetarian protein sources; you may also like to check out this article on the differences between animal and plant protein.) And then there are various brands of protein powder, which enable you to determine with greater precision just how many grams of protein you take per serving. They're a bit costly, though...
If you choose to supplement yourself primarily with plant rather than animal protein in your muscle-building career ― which I wholeheartedly encourage ― it will then be advisable for you to eat a wide variety of plant food. This is to compensate for the fact that most plant sources of protein do not individually contain all of the essential amino acids needed by our bodies, unlike animal sources. (Here's a guide for the different food sources, both animal and vegetable, from which one may obtain each of all the key amino acids.) Soy protein actually does contain nearly all of the essential amino acids we need, and would therefore be virtually as complete as animal protein ― except for one amino acid, methionine. So you would still need to get your methionine from some other sources! (Plant sources include lentils, seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds) and whole grains.)
(There has been considerable controversy regarding the apparent health risks of soybeans. I'm confident this thoroughly researched article ought to provide a balanced view on the issue. As for how far you can go in your muscle-building career if you're a vegetarian, the list of vegetarian bodybuilders today includes gentlemen like Andreas Cahling, Robert Cheeke, Alexander Dargatz, Jim Morris, and Kenneth Williams. Who says you need meat? (If you find that any of them are actually suffering from certain deficiency disorders or have in fact been consuming animal protein while no one's watching, let me know ― though I doubt it. :)))
Quinoa is a plant protein that's even richer and more complete than soy in its stock of amino acids; it's perhaps the single most complete plant protein of all. This website is packed with information on quinoa, as is this.
A special nutrient sadly absent in most plant food, or present in insufficient quantities, is vitamin B12. Plant foods which are fortified with vitamin B12 include nutritional yeasts (such as this one) and soy milk. For those not too strict in being vegetarian, dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are great sources of the vitamin, too. But we digress ― let's get back to protein.
Vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. Not looking too bad at all, if you ask me!
A very good time to help yourself to a dose of protein would be just after a weight training session. This is the time when your freshly worked muscles badly need immediate supplementation! Some bodybuilders have also recommended that the protein you consume each day be spread over six meals to optimize absorption ― which many claim also happens to be a great way to lose weight, as elaborated here.
Be careful not to consume too much protein, or the extra protein which your body cannot absorb will be broken down, excreted, and therefore gone to waste, besides which the extra work required by your body to process and excrete all that protein will put a strain on your kidneys and deplete the calcium in your system, which will weaken your bones. (This is especially the case with animal protein, because animal protein is harder for the body to digest than plant protein.) Protein-rich food, particularly animal protein, also contains large amounts of certain biological chemicals known as purines, which break down into uric acid in the body ― and excessive amounts of uric acid in the system lead to a crippling medical condition known as gout, a form of arthritis. (Other purine-rich food items include alcohol, yeast, legumes, mushrooms and cauliflower.)
So don't fall for the simplistic logic that just because protein helps build muscle, more protein will therefore help build more muscle. No, it leads instead to poorer health. 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight already exceeds significantly the standard of 0.36 grams recommended for normal adults by health authorities such as the Food and Nutrition Board; clearly there is no need to add more!
Building muscle is all very well, but what good is it if all that muscle is hidden beneath a thick layer of fat? Shouldn't you try and get rid of that fat, then, so the concealed ridges and contours of your muscles may stand out in their full glory? :) (Actually, the work of building muscle would itself already help burn off the fat, but more of that below.)
To burn fat, you need to do the following:
Don't starve yourself. Many seem to think that the simple way to lose fat is just to eat as little as one can. Sorry, mate, it doesn't work that way, and it can seriously damage your health, too, besides which you need to ask yourself if you prefer to look like a scarecrow or a Greek god. There are healthier, more effective and less miserable ways to lose fat, as you'll find out below.
Don't you think this dude would look better with a little more meat on his body?
Forget about 'spot reduction'. Don't try to get rid of that 'spare tire' just by doing abdominal exercises such as sit-ups and crunches. It doesn't work that way. You can't lose fat only from a specific area of your body (barring liposuction, of which I'm quite suspicious); either you lose fat from your entire body or not at all. As your overall fat stores diminish, so will your 'spare tire'.
Train with weights. Hold it! Haven't I said that training with weights is for building muscle? Yes, but it's also good for burning fat! I can say with confidence on the basis of my own experience that this is indeed the case!
Studies have confirmed that after a solid weight training session your metabolism can be raised for more than 24 hours, meaning that you continue to burn calories long after the session. This is not the case with normal cardiovascular exercise, in which the calorie-burning ends once you stop. A consistent weight training program also helps maintain and build up the total amount of lean muscle mass in your body, as a result of which your metabolism will be permanently increased and your body will always burn more fat, meaning that fat will almost never have a chance of accumulating on your body again! (Here's an article on the fat-burning effects of training with weights. You can find another one here.)
So don't do cardio only― and don't do normal cardio, but interval training instead, as shall be explained shortly below ― but combine it with weight training; that would be far more effective for burning fat than cardio alone. It's not for no reason that bodybuilders call this combination 'cutting up'!
Now some of you might only want to burn fat and not gain any muscle mass (hey, why not? :)), so you might have misgivings about training with weights. Not to worry; just perform less sets (as explained in the above section on building muscle) and limit your protein intake, and you can still reap the fat-burning benefits of weight training all the same without gaining muscle mass. Do not eliminate protein completely from your meals, though; your body always needs at least its normal daily supply of protein to regenerate itself!
(You can choose to swim or cycle instead of running; some consider swimming and cycling better alternatives, too, as they have less impact on the joints and are therefore less liable to lead to injuries. If you choose swimming, then you'll have a routine like swimming as fast as you can for 1 minute and then paddling slowly for 2 minutes, only to charge for 1 minute again and then slow down to a slow paddle again for 2 minutes, and so on.)
Interval training has been found to burn much more fat (and use up far less of your time, too) than normal/standard cardio ― you know, the type where you run at a constant, moderate speed for say 30 minutes. One reason is that your body continues burning fat long after an interval training session, but not after a normal cardio session. Here's an article on interval training that gives more details. (You can find another one here.) Interval training does special things to your body!
There's a further plus point in favor of interval training. Normal cardio is actually catabolic, meaning it can actually break down your muscles. Interval training won't do that, because of the short time intervals, which would not suffice to shift the body into a catabolic state. (To be sure, this breakdown of muscle tissue occurs only as a result of performing excessive amounts of (normal) cardio, so it's not an issue for those who engage only in moderate amounts of cardio. Nevertheless, the short periods of time spent in interval training still speak in its favor, as there are even less chances of catabolic muscle breakdown.)
You should keep your intervals, both the fast and slow intervals, below 3 minutes in length. When your intervals are too long, you return to normal cardio. Short intervals won't make it too easy, believe me; depending on your level of fitness and the degree of intensity of your fast intervals, by the third cycle the fast interval can seem like an eternity even if it lasts only one minute. :) The key word in interval training is intensity and not duration; you're aiming here to burn fat, not to keep running as long as you can. The two are not the same!
Here, as with weight training, don't overdo it, and go light first if you're a beginner. Three interval training sessions a week, each consisting of three to five cycles, would already be ample! (You can schedule your interval training days between your weight training ones.) And if you're new to interval training, don't go too fast in the fast intervals, and limit yourself to say three cycles. As your level of fitness improves, you may then aim for more cycles and greater speeds.
There's a type of exercise even more effective at burning fat than interval training, or at least just as effective ― though unfortunately it's even more demanding, too... VERY demanding. It's called metabolic resistance training ― MRT for short. Basically it involves cycling through a small number of weight training exercises which together work most of the muscles of the body, using light to moderate weights, with as little rest as possible when you proceed from one exercise to the next. Here's an article on MRT if you wish to find out more, and here's another. Just remember: take it easy in your first few sessions if you're new to MRT!
Get enough sleep and avoid excessive stress. No, your eyes are not fooling you, I have indeed repeated a tip given earlier while discussing muscle building. The fact is that excessive stress and lack of sleep not only inhibit muscle growth, but promote fat storage as well, with cortisol being the main culprit, as explained above. Bear this in mind!
First, try eating six small meals a day instead of the usual three. Every 3 to 4 hours, eat a small meal. It can be an apple, a small bowl of salad, a slice of toast with peanut butter, a glass of protein shake with oats, or whatever. There is still some controversy, but it has been claimed by many to be a healthier way of eating than the usual three-meals-a-day pattern ― and to reduce weight, too. Certainly it will not cause any harm. Celebrities like Kevin 'Hercules' Sorbo actually follow this dietary pattern!
The reason this encourages your body to burn fat, some argue, is that the frequent supply of nutrients to your body 'reassures' it that there is no need to hold on to its fat stores, which it will then be more willing to let go of. If you could acquire a small sum of cash every week, you would be more willing to spend than if you received one sum only every month, right? :)
The key word here is 'small'. Once you no longer feel hungry, stop eating. It would also be a good idea to arrange for one of the six meals to be timed so that it comes just after a workout, because that's when your body's nutritional resources are significantly depleted and urgently in need of supplementation!
Here's an article discussing the pros and cons of a six-meals-a-day diet plan.
My second recommendation is that you eat more food with a low glycemic index. Okay, now what's this 'glycemic index' thing?
I'm sure you know what carbohydrates are. They're nutrients which supply your body with energy by breaking down into basic sugars such as glucose which are then absorbed and used by your body. Now, not all carbohydrates are the same. Some of them break down slowly in your body, others quickly. And the glycemic index of a carbohydrate is precisely a measure of how quickly that carbohydrate breaks down. The slower it breaks down, the lower its GI ― and the healthier it is.
The GI of a carb can range from below 55 (low) to above 70 (high). A low-GI diet has been found to help reduce weight ― plus reduce your risk of suffering from diabetes and heart disorders. The health benefits are not limited to fat-burning alone! Examples of low-GI foods include legumes, milk, nuts, most fresh fruit and vegetables, Basmati rice, pasta, noodles, cereals such as oats, barley and bran, and breads with wholegrains or stone-ground flour. High-GI foods would include almost any food that's highly processed and tastes sweet, and almost anything made from potatoes. Eat LESS of them! (If you really have a sweet tooth and can't do without certain types of food that are high in GI, eat them just after an interval training session.)
This website provides virtually all the information you will need about GI and the GI values of different types of food. Check it out!
A couple more points. First, it's okay to binge occasionally, say once a week. (You can also afford to be a little more lenient with yourself with respect to what and when you eat, once you've made some serious headway with your attempt at building a macho man figure.) Don't force yourself never to indulge in food that you enjoy (though I still think eating meat isn't nice), because that will make your fat-burning career a chore and you might eventually give it up. Instead, help yourself to some delicious fare once in a while, say once every weekend. Just be moderate about it.
Second, don't avoid fats altogether in what you eat. Fats have been made out to be something purely evil, to be shunned altogether in the quest for health and a good figure, but this is simplistic. The fact is that our bodies always need some fats, and certain types of fats (in moderate quantities, of course) are actually beneficial ― such as avocados, (real) butter, olive oil and sunflower oil. There are even certain fats that help prevent various diseases once thought to be caused by consuming excess fats. The problem is to choose the right fats, and in this respect this fun article ought to serve as an excellent guide. Remember: not all fats will make you fat!
Some fats are actually healthy, such as sunflower oil. It is advisable to use it raw and unheated, however, as free radicals would otherwise form in it, which are not beneficial for us.
If you wish to find out still more about burning fat, you'll need to consult the professionals. Try out Tom Venuto's Burn the Fat program. This dude has won several natural bodybuilding championships and written hundreds of articles on fitness and nutrition, so he knows his trade. I can bear personal witness to the validity of his claims on the fat-burning effects of training with weights, and in his program he also gets very precise with you by helping to determine your body type and prescribing accordingly what and when you should eat. His has been ranked one of the best fitness programs found online since 2003. So, all things considered, you just can't have a better deal!
Tom Venuto at 3.7% body fat. Sheer envy...
And if you're not satisfied merely with losing weight, but wish to develop a magnificent six-pack as well (like that of Tom Venuto), go here!
Hope the contents of this page have proven to be of value for those of you aspiring (like me) to look like Joe Jusko's Tarzan. If not, why not email me or sign my guestbook to offer your comments or suggestions? On the other hand, if you anticipate more useful tips on health and fitness in future, I would encourage you to sign up for regular updates. (You'll immediately receive an email.)
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