12 June 2009

Bigger Stronger Faster I

I freely write here what I like and know, but have not yet blogged on a serious hobby of mine in recent years, weight training. Partly because (like diet and nutrition) no one not already into it wants to read about it, and if you're into it, I have nothing new to tell you. But I believe everyone should lift weights, so read it or don't, but here we go.

When most people think of weight training, they think of bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is a competitive sport, in my lexicon, while weightlifting is just a form of exercise. Most people who weight train are not, would not, and could not be bodybuilders. They will not even put on much visible muscle. But even moderate weight training aids significantly in building and maintaining lean mass, keeping off fat, and reducing risk of injury during strenuous activity, among other benefits. I'll go into the benefits more in a later post. But first, about bodybuilding.

Conventional bodybuilding is big business and a sham. Open up any issue of Muscle & Fitness in the supermarket. The magazine is full of ridiculously huge guys talking about their exercise routines and endorsing myriad supplements. "Do this, take this, and you'll be like me."

Total rubbish. Most supplements (there are a couple exceptions) will do little or nothing for your average person, and even for elite athletes, their benefit is marginal. And if your average person spent 30 hours a week in the gym doing such extreme routines, they would become injured and overtrained in no time. And they still wouldn't get anything like that huge.

Mainstream bodybuilding has a few secrets that everyone on the inside knows but does not publicly discuss. The first is simply this: the amount of muscle mass you can develop is fixed by your genetics. We all have different body types. Some of us tend to be fat, others thin, and a few lucky dudes are just hugely muscled. They could never exercise a day and still you and I, training day and night, could never be as muscular as they are.

Robert Kennedy writes of training next to future champion bodybuilder Al Beckles many years ago. They were both doing the same exercise.

    While exercising he was talking to a friend about where they were going that night, even pausing now and again to make a point. He was putting no effort into what he was doing. The weight he was using was pathetic. Al always trained like this. So here are the facts: I was using 180 pounds and had six solid years of training behind me. Al was using 35 in the same exercise with two years of training. My arms measured 15 1/2 inches. His measured 21 inches. All this was BS (before steroids) and it is a testament to the importance of genetics.
Genetics are one major reason Al Beckles looked unbelievable, and was still winning competitions, into his sixties.

However, Kennedy also mentions steroids. Now, there is a dirty secret. I'll tackle it next post.

I loved this picture of Al Beckles as a kid, found on the cover of a muscle mag, maybe the first I ever bought. He's about 60 here. Not your average grandpa.

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