T Nation

Don't Know What to Do


I want everything at the same time. I dont know what I want now.

Hello guys

My name is Joao, from Portugal (yeah you must have heard a lot of us, we have no money, that stuff...), 25 years old.

I'm here because I need your opinion since Im going nuts here.

Starting point: 5'9'', 132 pounds. Grossly underweight.

I started bodybuilding in 2008, but for 1 year nothing happened really. Late 2009 I came with my first plan.

Well this wasnt really a plan, I just ate all complex carbs, protein and good fats in sight.
Needless to say I gained a lot of fat. I reached 165 pounds in one year and half (!). The good thing is that I have followed a good 5x5 program (Stronglifts), and I managed to gain a good amount of strenght under that layer of fat.

On April 2011, I said to myself I would start to get lost of all the fat I've gained, and finally, about 8~10%, I would start to do a decent, intelligent bulk. I've learned a LOT, from the beggining till now.

I've beend doing CKD from that time till now. No interruptions whatsoever.

This is how I look now. I'm 141 pounds now @ 10~11%. I've lost very few strength during this cutting season. 1 pound every week, steady loss.

Although I look better now, I'm still frustrated because I KNOW I NEED to gain some serious, clean weight, but thing is, I would also like to get my abs visible before I do that. It's not that I reached any plauteau, but Im getting scared on losing so much weight and still abs not visible.

It's really frustrating for me not seeing abs till now. I'm really strict and have high discipline with my diet and training, but I just cant see them.

Just to be clear: I am not ab obsessed, actually I never used to care about it, but now that I lost so many fat, I get that feeling like "man I was so close...". I dont even train abs for gods sake. Or curls. My training is just deadlifts, squats, rows, etc.. Still, I am afraid that I put a lot of fat - again - on my next bulk, if I dont get really, really, lean now. That's OK, you always put on some fat, but I dont want to look ridiculous like last time. That's why I think a very lean base would help me out. But hey, I'm not sure if I'm thinking right.

I'm continuing KETO and taking normal supp: CLA, carnitine, green tea and oxyelite pro. Add to that the year round fish oil, flaxseed oil and multivit.

I'm not really interested in getting some kind of rate here, because I already know it's gonna be way low! Im not happy with it either, I know I have a long way to go, but I couldnt find any place else where I can place my photos.

So, may I ask you what is your advice? To be honest, I've been thinking about this to the point that I dont even have a clear picture of myself now. Do I JUST dont have the muscle mass for the abs to show? Water retention? Because, even though I'm thin, why do some people always get to see their freakin abs no matter if their thin or fat or whatever..? Or could it be some fat on midsection, which means I should continue cutting even though my weight is already so low? Or, am I just being a chicken and should I just start a god damn bulk?

Thanks a lot, and great community you have here. Cheers

PS: If any admin thinks that this thread belong to another section, feel free to move it. Thanks.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


Yes, I agree, I just dont know how can I do it.


1st off, good progress.

To answer your questions, yes you need to gain weight. You dont have to get fat to do this, but you shouldnt be obsessing over your abs. You will look much better if you gained 30 pounds of muscle then if you got a little bit of abs.

Also, if your complaning about your abs, then why don't you even train them? thats stupid.

Go lift heavy, eat big, and get big.


LOL! Sounds stupid right?

Well, the thing is, I've been following this 5x5 program and it clearly mentions that no ab workout is necessary, since the abs are already used in core exercises. But I guess you're right, i'm not making much sense.

But, maybe it is really a good idea to incorporate them, and I'm already starting to do that at least once per week.

What I'll probably do is to insist like one month or so on trying to do my absolute best to get even more lean, and after that time it's clean bulk all the way.

Thanks for the honesty and helping me.

** small remark **

One thing I didnt mention is that I've been already under surgery (hernia disc removal), and I still have sciatica pain every single day. You just learn to live with it. Doctors pretty much say I have little space for the nerve to pass by and I will always have pain.

After the surgery doctors told me I was done, couldnt make sports or anything. Lifting weights is more than just an aesthetic concern, it literally made me understand that I can have control of my life, and I'm not condemned at all.

Deadlifts are just fine as long as I keep using good form, but as squats get heavier, my pain gets worse and worse. I think I'll focus my attention on deadlifts, 2 times a week. The heavy bar on the top of my back will always put pressure on lower discs, that is no issue for the majority of the people, but I guess for me it is. I HATE to quit on whatever it is, but I guess Im being stupid on insisting.

I'm just wondering if some ab workout will help me stabilize the lower part of the spine, lowering also the pressure between 2 last discs when I have the bar on top of me??


Hey, jotenko. Did that injury you mentioned come from lifting?

Also, great progress! I never would have thought that you weighed less than me ( I am 6' though... ).


this is slightly off topic, but since I can't recommend anything for your spine, I would like to say that 1) you should get that looked at by a physical therapist, a chiropractor, someone; and 2) find some way to work around your injury and still squat. find something that works so you can at least get some work in. use machines, goblet squat, db lunges, bodyweight, whatever you can do that's still a squat movement without aggravating your back.

work your way back to squatting eventually.


Hey. First of all, since Im on keto, you have to remember that the water weight is missing. So if I'm on carbs, I'll gain like 2 or 3 lbs.

Still, I've lost a lot of fat, and I'm really lean. OK, for my usual standards I am :slight_smile:

About the injury, not it wasn't due to weight lifting, I think it is more due to lack of exercise during my teen years. I spent most of my teenage years in front of a damn PC or a gaming console, so I had years and years of bad posture, on top of that, I used to work at the summer in some farms, doing fruit picking to get some money for the holidays, which involves carrying some heavy weights, always with ridiculous form, of course.

I was such a nerd, I hated myself. But I guess you can't change the past now.

Thank you for passing by.


Actually I was already under surgery, I've done lots of treatments, I've done also chiro, you name it, but it's always the same story, "you have little space for the nerve to pass", "there's no way you can lift heavy weights" and all that vague, crappy talk that we all know.

I'm getting more and more fed up at mainstream doctors with the "1 egg a day will kill you" and that sort of shitty advises.

I strongly advise someone with the same problem: do NOT go on surgery before you try EVERYTHING else and hear lots of opinions. Doctors only care about one thing: euros. Or dollars if you're in the US.

On top of that, my family is enough when it comes to demotivating me. I just ran the Portugal half marathon little time ago, and my family words before it were something like "oh you're not gonna make it.". So yeah... lol (I did it btw)

About the squats, I try to work it around. I never go really heavy on the free bar, I just put some more reps on the set. Sometimes I work at the smith machine, which helps me stabilizing the bar, but we all know it's just not the same thing. You don't have that feeling that you gave all you got. Not to mention you have to be really REALLY careful or say goodbye to your knees. However, I must say that although I used to be a smith machine hater, I found out through time that it can be helpful in some situations. About lunges, yeah I do some of those once in a while too :slight_smile:

Well, off to the gym I go :slight_smile:


I echo the advice given above, that is, do whatever type of squatting you can do without pain until you can work yourself back to back squats.

Lots and lots of foam rolling and mobility work/stretching as well.

I admire your drive to prove the docs wrong, just listen to your body. You will overcome this, of that I have no doubt. I have been in your position before. I was in a car crash that tore all the ligaments in my ankle as well as other injuries and was told by a doctor that I would never play sports again. 2 years later, and I'm stronger then ever and a collegiate rugby player on one of the best teams in the country. You will make it back, just work hard and smart.


foam rolling turns me into a frickin contortionist compared to just warming up and stretching. the foam roller is one of the best fitness-related purchases I've ever made.


True that, love that thing


I herniated a disk at L5-S1 a few years back, so I may have had a similar experience. I still had about 50% total disk volume though and did not require any surgery, so what I went through was no where near as severe as what you did.

That said, what helped me the most was front squatting, 45 degree hyper extensions and reverse hypers if you can do them; basically any movements which focus on stabilizing the lower back (front squats) or build up the musculature which stabilizes the lower back (Hypers and reverse hypers). It's true that you will probably always have some amount of pain, but the more you can build up the musculature around your lower back the more stable it will be, giving you more freedom with the types of movements you can do.


I third the foam roller suggestion for the injury discussion.

Regarding training, despite the fact you don't want to look fat (no one truly does), putting on weight would be good for you in the end. You have to think that if you get up to near 200, and cut to 180 something at 8%, think how much better you would look in the end over 140 or something at 8%.



You know here in Portugal that foam rolling is mostly used in pools, never saw any of that stuff available at gyms. Still, I do lots of streching and mobility works, like planks, side planks, etc.

My training, latelly, is focused on deadlifting and many bodyweight exercises, push ups, chin ups, rows, etc. I've been doing squats on the smith, and I've been doing more or less good on it.

About the doctors, in USA you have a very different scenario that we have here, here we have a public medical service that might work or might not.

To be honest, what I have this mild pain that gets worse sometimes. So its a mild sciatica. Still, its there all the time, and gets worse when I have direct weight pushing/pulling my back in a vertical position. Which makes sense, since it makes the pressure between the discs bigger, therefore stressing that same zone. I've been on this for like 4 years, and it is not disabling, but its also not 100% enabling, thing is, I dont think that this is the better it will get.

But hey, also doctors told me I wouldnt be able to make a thing, and here I am.


That's some great advice, lets see how can I do on those exercises, thanks.


In fact, it's clear in my mind that I want to gain lots of weight.

But after 3 years of training, I know that I want to keep this a lifestyle and not going around on bulks/cuts neverending seasons... So my idea is to lean the max I can and keep the BF more or less low.

Im planning on doing intermittent fasting now also. Basically I only want to do this because of the time I have left for the rest of the day, and because I love having huge meals at once. And its easier for me.


Ok, a few things here:

1) about sciatica and squatting: yes you need to be careful. But I would suggest trying to switch to front squats instead of regular back squats, as this relieves some of the spinal compression, and MIGHT (or might not) help lessen the pain associated with squatting. Also look into Goblet squats and Zercher squats.

All three variations have the secondary benefit that they train the upper back hard (in slightly different ways) to keep you holding the weight up.

2) Not sure about this, but you might try really, and i mean REALLY working on thoracic spine mobility. Many people have terribly immoble T-spines, and in some cases this can aggravate sciatic pain worse.

3) I know how frustrating it can be to have doctors tell you you can't do something--or family. But good for you for not listening to them!! They will only try to limit you. Be intelligent and try to work around your issues or improve them, but DON'T let anyone stop you!

4) regarding your keto diet: Don't. I believe you are at a place where you should start gaining weight back slowly. You are in a pretty good place because you lost very little strength in your initial cut, which means you did a good job and didn't lose much muscle. However, you are simply too light. I understand very plainly the desire to see your abs, but in your quest for that last 5-10 lbs, you might end up back at square one.

DIET: Don't eat so many carbs starting out, especially transitioning from a ketogenic diet. Staying on keto diets for extended time periods can harm your insulin sensitivity (not permanently though), AND you seem to have added lots of fat in your first bulk, which indicates you should be careful of carb intake anyways.

TIMING of carb intake is important: it limits fat gain, and helps muscle gain. So, for the next couple months, take your carbs for the day at breakfast, and right around your workout, whether that's in a shake you carry to the gym, or in the meal afterwards. The rest of the day eat low carb. Gradually add in more carbs, but always keep the two "high carb" meals around breakfast and workout. This will ensure most of them go to use and not to fat storage. I would say start with 75-100g of carbs for the first 4-6 weeks, then gradually increase from there to 150g.

Then see where you are. You can always add more, but be careful, your first bulk should tip you off that carbs are useful, but also need caution to see how you respond.

Good luck.


Great. Experiment with intermittent fasting for a couple months. Same rule applies with gradually increasing carbs instead of all at once. If it works for you, keep it up, but if not, change. Again, make sure your big meal comes after training so all that nutrition goes to where you want it :slightly_smiling:


This was a great post, great advice, thank you so much. And yes I am too light, but I'm really focused on doing things right this time. Somehow I look back and I think on all the discipline and sacrifices I have put on, and I believe I could have done so much better.

About the intermittent fasting, I'm doing it mostly for convenience and because I'm getting mad at making so many meals and this whole eating all the time nonsense.

About getting off keto, I'm starting next week. I've read many articles so my plan is more or less like this.

week 1: Start intermittent fasting. Increase daily calories slowly, add some carbs to the diet (mostly fruits).
week 2-3: Add one day of pre-post workout carb up. Stop Sunday refeed.
week 4-5: Two days of post workout carb up (like Monday and Friday).
week 6-7: Three day of post workout carb up.
week 8-onwards: Normal diet. High carb on post workout 4 days a week. Low carb on other days.

Im doing the 20% calories surplus on working out days and 20% deficit on others just like the author says.

Also, my plan is to gain weight so I'll see if I gain weight on my first weeks, if not, I'll adjust calories.

You know, this is a crazy world. When you bulk, you miss being lean and running and seeing yourself without the shirt off. When you cut, you miss people telling you you're getting big, ahahah!

One of the things I learned in keto was the importance of carbs and how they make me look. So, what I came to, like most of the things I have learned in this world of bodybuilding, is that the answer lies in the middle. So I think I would have achieved the same results in this cutting season if I had some carbs post workout as long as I kept the calorie deficit.

So, I don't think carbs are the evil now, neither I think they are the solution to everything, but they sure are the key for a successful diet once you get to know how your body reacts to them.