I get questions about the gym all the time on the forum – I’ll take a few minutes and write an article about it so I have somewhere to refer back to instead of writing back the same thing every time.
First thing, the “what to do to look like this guy” question.
Looks depend on several factors, in order:
Genes. And other factors beyond our direct control – diseases and so on. It can be influenced to some extent by anabolics, but when training “clean” genetic predisposition matters the most.
Here different types of nutrients were compared – this is not important at the moment. What matters – the subjects were under careful observation by specialists. They carefully counted the nutrients in their diets, made sure they performed exercises identically. It was then checked how their muscle mass changed.
Of note is Figure 2, where the change in muscle mass of each participant is marked with dots. As it turns out, the difference between those with the smallest and largest gains was severalfold!
Here the researchers went a step further. Again, a group of people exercised, and again care was taken to ensure that everyone had identical conditions. Two subgroups were separated – people with high and low gains (fourfold difference in muscle mass gain). Then they took a muscle biopsy – the density of miRNA molecules, responsible for gene expression, was checked. What it turns out – scientists can predict how many pounds of muscle a trainee will gain before he or she even picks up a barbell!
It repeats what happened in the previous ones – there are very large differences between individuals, some people build muscle mass and strength even more than ten times faster than others.
In conclusion – scientists, by performing blood tests and muscle biopsies, are able to predict what will be the gains in strength and muscle mass in people who have not yet started exercising at all. The differences in extreme cases will be more than tenfold.
In other words, if we try to imitate the training program and diet of someone who is outstandingly talented and looked very nice after 2 years, and we ourselves are outstandingly poorly talented, we will achieve his appearance after 20 years, maybe never if we hit out ceiling.
Work. The second factor. Someone who does 5 series per week on a given muscle will have a much lower gain than someone who does 30 series. It’s not entirely certain how many series per week per muscle gives maximum benefit, in one study it was as high as 45:
Another study found that 32 series gives a much higher effect than 24 or 16 series:
The differences were really big – they were able to reach the value of almost 10 times higher increment with enough work.
On the other hand, in the past there were published studies, which showed that above 2 series in one training session the benefits start to strongly decrease. Nevertheless, I would lean towards new research that has shown the benefits of high volume training.
But that’s not all. A person who does 45 series of barbell presses per week will still look worse than someone who also does 45 series, but adds a dozen or so series of exercises for more exotic muscles – forearms or neck muscles.
And this is important information – each subsequent series gives less and less, assuming that we train some variation of ABX (body part A, body part B, a day off), it is worth to throw all these small funny muscles in one day, even one series each, which will give 2 a week, but I guarantee that it will be visible to some extent. Rear shoulders, upper forearms, gluteus minor and medius, neck flexors and extensors, and finally rotator cuff muscles, which may not “look” like it, but will prevent injury.
And only in third place will be what specific training program and diet one chooses.
People who have outstanding genetic potential will naturally attribute their success to the decisions they make. This can be seen in practically every field, the sons of millionaires have the most to say about the importance of hard work, especially if dad got his money thanks to frauds.
Similarly, everything that people who win competitions say about their training methods or diets should be put into a fairy tale – what are they supposed to say, that they have more needle holes in their butt than there are craters on the moon? They would admit to crime and fraud, lose sponsors and maybe even go to jail. So they will talk about what protein supplements they buy and what secrets they have for lifting weights.
Do not look at programs or diets of people who “succeeded”! Very often they have only achieved it through a combination of the right genes and injections, and a genetically regulated susceptibility to anabolic steroids. They will of course rant about how they know everything and how much work they have put in, but their results will NEVER translate to the results of someone who doesn’t have the genetic potential. It may even turn out that such a super built person had an exceptionally bad training program, but due to luck in the genetic lottery they achieved success on it. Or maybe they actually lifted iron several times more intensively than the average gym-goer, but you can’t “learn” this, you just have to do it.
We look only at the results of studies conducted on large groups of exercisers.
As for diet, there is not much philosophy here. Specific diets do NOT make a particularly big difference in training results if they have the same amount of kcal. You can let that go. There are specific diets that have benefits and drawbacks, for example veganism will be much healthier, but also much more difficult when it comes to protein. A keto diet, on the other hand, can ruin your health (yes, this can happen, really), but it is easier to control your weight.
Something they ask about regularly, protein. Basically, the upper limit of requirement is 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. With even 1.2 grams per kilogram being sufficient for the vast majority of subjects, 1.8 was set as a theoretical value for which no benefit was observed, but there was a possibility that some exerciser would require that much under particularly favorable circumstances. In practice, no benefit was observed above 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight. 120 grams for a person weighing 80 kg will almost always be sufficient.
I recommend the whole blog because the guy writes really well:
What is important, on the other hand, is how the protein will be distributed throughout the day. A single serving will not provide more than 30 grams, which means that eating 2 servings of 70 grams of protein per day will not provide 140, but only 60.
Since the participants in the study above did not have an ideal protein distribution, one might suspect that if they spread everything out over 4 equal meals throughout the day, they would have an even lower requirement, probably somewhere between 1 and 1.2 grams. But that’s just a guess. What’s important – the distribution of protein into small portions throughout the day is more important than the overall amount.
Supplements. The golden rule – if something is not missing, then supplementation will not give anything at all. However, if someone is deficient in, for example, vitamin A, then supplementing it will raise testosterone levels to a degree comparable to doping. Zinc and vitamin D3 work similarly, although maybe not to such an extent. A good solution will be a strong multivitamin, containing such things as selenium, chromium or iodine. You have to be careful with zinc so that it does not lead to a decrease in copper levels in the body, and an excess of omega 3 is not healthy either.
Of the things that are most often recommended, creatine will really give you something. Flooding the body with it gives clear and strongly noticeable effects.
Everything else is minimal, often zero effects, but real problems. An example – arginine, often recommended. It gives effects, but… in people with specific diseases. You can’t translate the results to healthy people, because this way we will soon start taking chemotherapy – it also makes people with certain diseases live longer.
Arginine in excess strongly reduces the level of lysine, which in a healthy person can end up in serious health problems or even serious injury.
The same can be written about all glutamines, citrulline, BCAAs and the rest. The fact that they showed effects in e.g. 80 year old malnourished grandparents does not mean that they will do anything to someone at the age of 25 who has enough protein in his diet.
Injuries. In 90% of cases they are caused by improper exercise or too high weights. What will be important here – muscle strength grows much faster than the strength of bones, tendons, adhesions and all the rest. Therefore, even for the first few months it is worth getting your body used to training – use very low loads, even half the recommended ones. Watch videos, where people knowledgeable in this field tell you how to perform the exercise and what are the associated risks – for example, the deadly thing during flies will be to rotate the hand so that the dumbbell is vertical in the “widest” phase, this causes a huge load on the shoulder muscle, which may even lead to its rupture.
Once the injury occurs, this is where arginine can be helpful, it quite strongly accelerates the healing of all kinds of injuries. Preliminary studies on collagen peptides (any collagen or even gelatin) are quite promising, as are high doses (several grams) of chondroitin.
There is a whole range of strengthening exercises that are worth doing at least once a week – exercises for the rotator cuffs, gluteus medius / minimus etc. I’m not going to say anything here, because my area is related to diet and supplements, and I’m interested in the musculoskeletal system on the side.