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I don’t want to point any fingers…But I kinda feel like this is a long time coming. It has to be said. One of the reasons this site needed to happen was that a lot of people get bad information related to body composition from bodybuilding sites/forums. They try to apply concepts that work for Mr. Olympia to guys who just started lifting last week. Even worse is when the subject of “cutting” arises and we see guys who’re a buck thirty soaking wet attempt to get shredded.
In theory, a bodybuilding site should be about building your body. That’s not actually what happens though; the discussion inevitably turns into a support group for disordered eating and body dysmorphia. You wind up with a lot of guys who don’t lift all that much weight trying to diet down to their pancreases, all congratulating each other on their emaciated physiques. (At least they have abs, right?)
Every now and again, someone suggests what should be obvious to everyone else: yes, many of these people have visible obliques but a nice strong wind would blow them away. That’s when steroids come up; anyone who’s ever squatted triple their bodyweight must be juicing. It rarely ever occurs to these folks that food and proper training make up 90% of the equation as far as getting jacked is concerned – and they may have neglected both.
Form vs. Function
This is not a condemnation of bodybuilding, because there are a lot of people out there doing it right. They’re actually BUILDING muscle, which you accomplish by eating a lot and lifting heavy things. At that point, if you diet down, there might actually be some meat hiding beneath your fat layer.
Make no mistake about it: your fat layer plays a big role in how much muscle you can gain over time. Obsessively worrying about staying super lean so your heart beats out of your chest and you look like some human version of E.T. is not optimal for building muscle tissue. As you undergo severe caloric restriction, your metabolic function takes a beating and it can become a very real health hazard.
This isn’t an argument against being lean. If you want to strip away every ounce of fat on your body, have at it, but don’t try to pretend that it’s normal (Why do you need to be so lean in the first place?) or put it out there like it’s the end of the discussion. All I’m saying is that no grown man is going to look very good at 115 lbs/7% body fat. You need a significant amount of muscle mass first.
When you are dieting all of the time, it takes it’s toll on your physical and mental stability and frankly, a “diet” is unnecessary to get into great shape. If you have been to any of our gyms, you already know this. Folks are ab’ed up and muscular, which is hilarious because one of the more common criticisms of what we do is that it makes guys small. For all their effort, how many average Joe “bodybuilders” at your local Globo Gym look that good?
Genetic Limitations and Steroids
First of all, drugs won’t make up for a lack of work ethic. You don’t pop a pill and wake up a world-class athlete. Also, the use of anabolic steroids by other people does not mean you can’t work hard. It doesn’t give you an excuse for being weak or small. This brings me to my main point: your genetics aren’t holding you back. Your nutrition and training are.
I’m not only going to call bullshit, but there are several prominent examples of Games athletes that have blown past their supposed “genetic limits”. Of course, this is where people make two claims: they are either genetic outliers (Let’s be honest, Rich Froning Jr. is a genetic outlier) or they are on steroids. (Literally every single one, including the women.) This is ridiculous if you think about it.
Now, I am not going to suggest that someone somewhere hasn’t done steroids to get better, but I have been to many gyms and the topic of “how to get steroids” has never come up. It’s just not part of our culture. Also, the incentive just isn’t there; most of our top athletes participated in some sport in college, so they were tested. We also test at Regionals and beyond.
So how much muscle can you build naturally? There are various ways to gauge your genetic potential, but when it’s all said and done you need to look at people who’re about the same height and build as you are. This handy dandy chart can give you some kind of idea:
As far as real-world examples go, I look to Dan Bailey. I am 5’7″, and Dan is also 5’7″. Judging from pictures, he is rocking a body fat percentage between 8-10% at any given point. He looks pretty shredded to most people, but in fact he is not. (Most body builders aspire to 5 or 6%, and that is where muscle wasting becomes a problem.)
If we assume that Dan is 180 lbs. @ 10% body fat (he’s probably not, he’s probably much closer to 7-8% at any given time) then we would have to concede that he has roughly 162 pounds of lean body mass. If you look at the chart above, that means that he is a 17 lb. outlier. 17 pounds! I will concede 5 pounds, but not 17; that is where I call bullshit. In my opinion, when you are constantly worrying about how skinny you can, be it limits your potential.
The reason this came up is because I was talking about Dan’s lifts and someone said to me, “Well yeah, he weighs 180 pounds.” If you are comparing yourself to someone your size, ask yourself if your training and nutrition have ever allowed for the development of strength and mass without regard for your six pack. It’s far too common for someone to say, “If I could only lose 5 more pounds of fat…I’d be shredded!”
How About Trying This One on for Size?
Ask yourself, “What if I put on another 10 pounds of muscle?” How much stronger would you be? How much more fat do you think you’d need to lose? When most people take a gradual approach to adding lean mass, they come out at the other end with the understanding that they didn’t have much fat to lose at all: they were just small.
People need to stop limiting themselves. Where you are now is not far enough; you can achieve a better version of yourself. Our sport rewards strong people, and if you want to get stronger, you’ll probably need to put on a couple of pounds. There are way too many 16 year old kids reading bodybuilding sites and getting the wrong message, which is limiting their potential along the way. For most of them, eating like Dan does and lifting like Dan does would end up getting them where they want to go. Instead of talking to a bunch of geeks debating the latest study on Pubmed about HGH and making excuses for their lack of progress, they’d be out hoisting massive objects and talking to women.
- Many dieting concepts prevalent in bodybuilding culture have no practical application for new trainees, and they certainly don’t set you up for optimal athletic performance.
- You have to have a lot of muscle on your body to look great at a low body fat percentage. Furthermore, the levels of leanness that some people attempt to achieve are impossible to maintain. Nobody needs to be walking around at 5% body fat unless they’re preparing for a competitive physique/bodybuilding show or a photo shoot.
- Genetics are no excuse not to work hard. Steroid use by other athletes is not an excuse either. If you place limitations upon yourself based upon your genetics, you’ll sell yourself short.
- Instead of asking yourself how much more fat you need to lose, ask yourself how much more muscle you need to gain/how much stronger you need to become to accomplish your goals.