T Nation

Bringing a Fighting Body Back from the Dead

Well good evening T-Nation from a dismally wet and windy Yorkshire, England.

I would like to introduce myself, the newby that I am, as a beginner looking for as much sage advice and support as I can get. I have spent several weeks reading articles here, one amazing one being the Massive Eating. This helped me get my diet in check which I think has given me as good foundation as I could get.

So a bit about my history, situation, stats and goals: I was a competitive fighter for 16 years, first in boxing then in MMA, until at 28 I was diagnosed with cancer. In the last 4 years I’ve beaten the bugger twice and am now cancer free as of May this year. A major issue as an athlete was to watch myself decay, it had a dreadful impact on my self worth as I’d always prided myself on my strength and what my sport meant to me.

So, given that I’d never get a licence ever again I decided to look for something else. This is when I discovered my love of bodybuilding!! I’m a real student too, I’ve done nothing but research since. First thing that hit me was that by most casual bystanders this is a massively misunderstood sport.

And so I got a gym membership and decided to make a start, to test the damage. It was shocking. I’m talking major muscle waste and a huge raise in body fat. I’d spent four years growing dependent on opiates and developed a nice sugar addiction that paired with inactivity and the damn disease just ruined me. I’ve started on low weights, focussing on form and learning from others in the gym and with diet in check have got down to 16% body fat. Now I want to get huge!!!

I’m 32, male, 6ft tall and 73 kilos. I’ve read that I should keep it simple, do compounds, eat like a horse and rest well, but I thought it was worth, given my slightly specific circumstances, asking if there’s anything I can do, or more importantly shouldn’t do, to help me in going from fragile wreck to monster.

Again, although I’m a beginner I’m realistic. I’m not 17 looking for someone to tell me how great an idea it is to go on my first oral only cycle for 20 weeks only to ignore your advice should you be kind enough to offer it. I know it will be slow and I want to stick around.

In closing, I want to build something in celebration of my victory. I want to see a symbol of strength after years of hell. I want to once again feel like the man my kids still think I am.
Should anyone be generous enough to share any advice on starting out from this far back I would be most grateful.

Cheers guys.
The Reborn


Fucking well done mate. That’s a hell of a job.

I’m going to go ahead and tag @danteism here, because I don’t know too much about bodybuilding. Also @robstein.


You and I have some similarities man. I was a good athlete growing up and got into boxing for a while until the opiates got ahold of me after being prescribed them for an illness. First off, do whatever you have to do to stay off of them. For some people it’s meetings, for me it was a combination of lifting and going to church.
Like most opiate addicts, I have the sweet tooth as well. I started keeping protein bars and fruit handy for when I’d have the cravings. Oatmeal with some protein powder and fruit is a good replacement also.

My first piece of advice to you is not to become a stimulus addict in the gym. People like us tend to get addicted to anything we enjoy, and I ran myself into the ground lifting 6-7 days a week when I started. As you get some clean time, you should have an easier time showing some constraint. I’ve been clean five years now (I’m 33). I’ve gone from a fat 220 at 6’2 and no telling what body fat percentage (probably in the 30s) to probably 12% at the same weight, obviously with a lot of added muscle.

Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for you, just pick a proven program that fits your goals and set a certain period of time to stick with it. Don’t feel like you’ll get faster results by doing more and more. Find some other healthy hobbies to fill your time.

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Nice job man, you’re already stronger than most will ever be

I’m kind of in a hurry here bit I’ll try to write something up for you.

Regarding advice, you’be already got a good idea of what you should do

  • Sleep a lot - get 7-8 hours of sleep per night and take a nap if you need to.

  • Drink a lot of water. No need to go batshit crazy with three gallons, but try to get at least 2-3 liters down per day.

  • Eat a lot. Make sure you get enough protein (Say, somewhere in the neighborhood of 180-200 grams in the beginning), after that, look at your vegetable intake, fats and carbs.

A guy of your size would do wonderfully on something like 200 grams of protein, 250 grams of carbs and 75 grams of fat for starters, increasing carb intake by ~10-15 grams per week until you’re steadily gaining 250-500 grams of bodyweight per week. Eat protein and vegetables at every meal.

Now don’t get too caught up with what I just said - counting calories is by no means necessary in your situation and it may even be counterproductive, as you may get too keen on it - if you want, you can use those numbers, but that’s just an example of how one could split his macros. (For counting macros apps like myfitnesspal are great)

If you do not want to weight your food and count macros, just eat a lot of protein and vegetables and after that consume carbs and fats until you’re full. 4-5 times per day. (I would suggest taking this route)

  • Training wise, pick a couple of exercises and focus on becoming proficient with their execution, then start adding load to those exercises. In other words, build a good strength base.

I would recommend picking mainly big compound movements, but if there are some “pet exercises” you enjoy doing, by all means, do them! A set or two of cable crossovers won’t kill you!

As per movement choice, pick, say, two presses, two upper-body pulls, a squat variation and a deadlift variation. In addition to that you can do rear delts, curls, tricep extensions, calf raises, ab work etc. I’ll list a couple of good movements from each movement group down below, see what sounds fun and search for a form tutorial on the internet (or just ask)

Pressing variations:

  • Strict barbell overhead press
  • Seated barbell overhead press
  • Dumbbell overhead press (standing/seated)
  • Incline bench press
  • Close-Grip Bench press
  • Dumbbell bench press
  • Push-ups

I’d pick one overhead variation and one bench variation (or pushups)

Upper body pulls:

Vertical pulls:

  • Lat pulldowns (any handle)
  • Pull ups
    -Chin ups

Horizontal pulls:

  • T-Bar rows
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Pendlay rows
  • Bent-over rows

Here I’d pick one vertical and one horizontal pull

Squat variations:

  • Back squat
  • Box squat (a bit above parallel, at parallel, or below parallel)
  • Front squat
  • Goblet squat
  • Lunges
  • Hack squat
  • Leg press

If you do not know how to squat, I’d start with goblet squats or parallel box squats as they are great for teaching correcting technique and they are relatively safe. Your mobility may be a limiting factor here, so if you can’t do a variation, pick another one and focus on getting more mobile.

Deadlift variations:

  • Conventional deadlift
  • Sumo deadlift
  • Stiff-legged deadlift
  • Dumbbell deadlift
  • I’ll throw in cable pull-throughs and kettlebell swings here as well.

If you have mobility issues, start with stiff-legged deadlift and don’t go all the way down straight away. Gradually increase your range of motion and your mobility will increase as well.

Always perform movements in a controlled manner, if you can’t do that you’re using too much weight.

If a program calls for 2 sets of 8, start with a weight that you can do for 8 reps relatively easily. In your first session, do 2 sets of 8, and try to beat that in the next one. (So two sets of 9 or 10, for example) Then use that same until you reach 2 sets of 12 with good form. When you can do 2 sets of 12, add 2.5-5 kgs to the bar next time you perform the exercise.

So, how do you put this all together?

If you want to train three times a week you could do something like this:

Workout A
For 2 sets of 8-12 reps

  • Your horizontal press (say, dumbbell bench press)
  • Your squat (for example, goblet squat)
  • Vertical pull (lat pulldowns)
  • Horizontal pull (T-Bar rows)
  • Optional work: calves, rear delts
    Max 2 exercises, both for 2-3 sets of 10-15

Workout B
Fir 2 sets of 8-12 reps

  • Your vertical press (for example, strict overhead press)
  • Your squat (Goblet squat again)
  • Your deadlift (Stiff-legged deadlift)
  • Optional work: arms, 2 exercises, 2-3 sets of 10-15

With this type of program you would train every other day, alternating between workouts A and B

Day 1: A
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: B
Day 4: Rest

That’s one way to put it, it’s simple and effective.
Of course if you want to train more often that is also possible, but don’t get too hyped up about training 12 times a week with a separate day for every muscle group. For a beginner, I’d say a 3-day split is about as far as it’s wise to go.

Let’s recap:

  • Eat a lot of protein rich foods and vegetables with every meal, after that down carbs and/or fats until you feel full
  • Eat 4-5 times per day
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Focus on big compound movements, good form and weight progression
  • Leave your ego home when you are going to the gym

Two more things:

  • Do not neglect your conditioning; do some cardio/GPP work either after training or on your off days. It doesn’t need to be strenuous, but it should be hard enough to keep you conditioning up.

  • Never skip warming up. Do some face pulls, curls, tricep extensions, leg curls and leg raises before every training session. Stretch lightly and for short durations if you feel like something is tight. After that start with your first movement - always start with the empty bar and then do as many warm-up sets as you need before doing your work sets.

If you’ve got any questions I’ll be happy to help.


Check out Alpha/Brian Alsruhe’s logs in the training logs section, among many things fought MMA and has a brain tumour, maybe ask him some questions. His programs as below will get you in amazing shape fast

if want pure BB split training lots of effective templates here…

@thereborn I suggest starting a log on this website (or even turning this thread into your log). People can help you out if you have questions and we can see how your progressing making it easier for us to help.

You have the right attitude, I wish you the best and just try to enjoy the journey!

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Hey thanks man. Really appreciate that

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Thank you all so much for your responses. As I’ve seen in the past people with more knowledge come through with stellar advice. I’ll look into those things suggested and apply them as well as I can.

Looking forward to posting some before and afters!!!

Wow danteism thank you man.

I’m really grateful for that. If I may ask, and this may be purely subjective, but is there any reason why I cannot make the extra calories up in supps? I know real food is king but at the moment I can eat well but I need to throw in an extra 1000 cals and may struggle to put that away in chicken.

Again, always humbled with great responses.


I’m all over it rampantbadger and thank you for the links

That’s a great idea dude, thank you. Prepare for some recomposition sh*t!

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Getting an extra 1000 cals is as easy as blending up 500ml whole milk, 100g oats, shot of olive oil, and if you really want to add a scoop of whey that would be good. Down that either all at once or bit by bit between meals.

Keep fighting

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No problem, man

At your stage I would keep to simple supplements, such as whey, fish oil and vitamins/minerals as needed

That’s just because

  1. You probably won’t benefit too much from, say, intra-workout aminos so it would be a waste of money

  2. Reinforcing good eating habits is important, and having the vast majority of your calories come from whole foods helps with that

As per eating more, choose foods that are more calorie dense - chicken thigh instead of breast, beef instead of tuna, whole milk, peanut butter etc. Just make sure it doesn’t become a feast on garbage food

Hopefully this helped


@MarkKO thanks as always for the tag bro!
@thereborn, congrats on all of your achievements and being cancer free! Absolutely incredible!

Regarding getting started down the road to bodybuilding, in my opinion the best thing you could do is construct a basic, well laid out program, execute it consistently, develop a fantastic MMC (mind muscle connection), eat towards your goals and just stay on that track. I HIGHLY recommend using this article to construct your program, as well as reading the two part article series linked at the beginning “Princieples of Bodybuliding Training.”

Any further questions or anything at all, please feel free to tag me anytime. Looking forward to following your progress!


Congratulations on the fight… my wife is a cancer survivor also and I have seen what it is like. What type of treatment did you have to endure?

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In. Fuck cancer. You keep kicking ass mate.


Thank you Sir, and it is great to hear your wife has won also.

I had it twice, soft tissue sarcoma around my spine. I had radio and surgery both times, with the second surgery taking massive tumours but getting the lot. Talk about losing gains!!! I am very lucky, my father is currently going through chemotherapy and that sucks butt crack. And not in a good way.

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Congratulations on surviving cancer. Happy to hear that you are doing well.
I have had cancer myself (leukemia). I remember it being difficult to come back to sports at first because I got tired very easily and felt incredibly weak but that sorts itself out rather quickly. I guess what I am saying is don’t over do it at first and listen to your body.

All the best for your journey in bodybuilding/ strength sports!

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My wife nearly died of cancer at a very young age. She is now over 5 years cancer free although she has suffered permanent life changing complications. Still, I feel blessed that my daughter still has her mom.

As an active guy, an outdoorsman, LEO and martial artist (BJJ and some MMA) I identity strongly with my physicality. I can only imagine what it would be like to have that stripped away in the way that I know cancer does. Fuck cancer sideways.

All that said, my one caveat would be that there is a strong link between excess calorie intake and cancer. So eat lots, eat clean and train hard amd refuse to live in fear of recurrence, but I would encourage you to try to find the ‘sweet spot’ for calorie surplus. More is not always better. If you are making gains at 4000 kcal/day you will not necessarily make faster gains at 6000. I think this is important for everyone, but perhaps moreso for ypu as you have shown a predisposition.

All the best.

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Thank you all for your replies. I was apprehensive on joining a forum as “the sick guy” as it felt like an extension of the inferiority of being the skinny guy in the gym. Alas, again I find that people can surprise you.

As an update, my progress is noticeable and I’m getting those newby gains!!! The best part is cutting the sugar and dropping the fat at this point. I’ve decided to take part in the T-ransformation 2018 on here as surely coming from this far back gives me the edge in changes. Also, it will push me.

Thanks again guys, it’s great to tap into a well of knowledge that people are generous enough to share.