T Nation

Skinny, Weak, and Mad.

Greetings T-Nation. I am an on-and-off lurker, and a first-time poster. My story is probably a common one, to my embarrassment. No matter how mundane it is, though, I am frustrated and disappointed. Attached is a picture of myself taken approximately 15 minutes ago. That, my friends, is the result of 8 months of lifting weights. 8 months.

Pathetic.

I’ve had people tell me I look bigger. I do, I won’t pretend otherwise. But it’s rather difficult to not look bigger when your starting point is 155 lbs at just over 6 feet. That I am making progress is not something that disappoints me; that the progress I have made pales in comparison to the progress I could have made, should have made, frustrates me beyond words.

My story starts in December of 2011. I had spent around a year running roughly 6 days a week. Actually, 13 days of every 14, as best I could. I also did some stupid ab routine I made up a dozen times a day. Yeah, a dozen times a day. I was that guy. Winter was approaching, however, and I didn’t like the idea of running outside every day in the Canadian winters. Or, at least, that’s what I told everyone. The reality of the situation was I was tired of being scrawny and weak. I guess I didn’t want to admit what everyone surely knew anyways, but no matter. I marched myself to the nearest gym, bought a membership, ordered SS, and before I knew it, I was off to the races. My starting numbers were (unsurprisingly) hilarious. I think I managed to squat 125, bench 105, and deadlift 135.

By the end of January, I was squating 240, benching 135, and deadlifting 265. Unfortunately for me, and this time I will allow myself a degree of sympathy and understanding for my failings in the weight room, I contracted some variety of lung infection and spent two weeks in bed. All together I think I ended up having to write off most of February for lifting. Starting back up again was frustrating - I tried using weights that were too heavy, stalled almost right away, and had drop weights to where I should have started anyways but a week later. Things went smoothly until mid/early April, when I was able to squat 260, deadlift 280, and bench press 150. I tweaked my back and had to drop weight on a lot of stuff. To this day I’m not sure if I tweaked it in the gym or at work. It could have been either. Since, I’ve had difficulty getting my numbers back to where they were. I was close in late June, but one of my knees got beat up running and I had to lower the weight on my squats/deadlifts to compensate.

Sounds like a ton of excuses, doesn’t it? That’s all I see. I’m not mad at anyone or anything but myself. I’ll excuse the February situation, but my performance since has been abhorrent and I’m not afraid to take responsibility for my failure. Moreover, I must not be eating enough. As of right now, I weigh 172 pounds. My goal in December was 185. I’ve failed utterly to meet that, and it drives me crazy.

So, T-Nation, I’m here to explain what I want to do, and I’m asking for advice from the more experienced posters here how to maximize the benefit of my time with weights towards that end. I am a vain son of a bitch. If training is running a race, my objective is to run the damned thing, but the reason I’m doing it, the dangling carrot motivating me, is that I want to be able to look in the mirror and say “I look fan-****ing-tastic.” Call me narcissistic, I don’t care. That’s what motivates me. Granted, you can be damned sure I’m laughing to the bank about all the other great benefits that come with lifting. They’re by no means a write-off in my book. The other thing that drives me is going to the gym and seeing other people using more weight for more reps and knowing there is not a single good reason on this earth why I couldn’t do as much or more than them if I apply myself to it. I like being good at what I do, and so far, I’ve done myself a disservice.

So, T-Nation, like every single other one of you, my goals are to:

  1. Get bigger
  2. Get stronger
  3. Look great because of it

that’s it. Plain, easy, simple.

So far I’ve done Starting Strength. Was that the right choice? Is that the right choice going forwards? I’m not planning on powerlifting any time soon. I understand now that SS is more of a strength-based program, rather than a size-based program. Might I be better off doing some kind of split?

I’m trying to eat roughly 4000 calories a day, should I bump that up too?

Starting strenght is a strenght programme.

3-4 sets of x 6 - 12 reps is optimum for visible sarcoplasmic hypertrophic gains. Read any bodybuilding mag or site and you’ll see they all do 3-4 sets of usually 6 reps for core compounds and 8 reps for back and often 3 x 10 for bis, tris, weighted abs and even 2 x 20 for calves.

Bodybuilders - that is those looking for purely aesthetic hypertrophy in the myfibial sarcoplasmia shoudl train 3 - 4 sets 6 - 12 reps.

Many find 4 x 6 or 3 x 8 optimum.

Yes I’m a (re)begginnner. But it’s in all the respected sites and mags and trainers logs etc.

I did SS and got way stronger but sod all visible gains. Have done 3 x 10 and 3 x 8 and 4 x 8 (wouldn’t reccomend the latter unless low vollume workouts) and made better gains in half the time than on SS 5 x 5 types.

One does seem to keep a lot of their ‘starting strenght’ over the years though. 4 years afte rhaving done it I’m back in the gym a month and close to the lifts I was making on SS in 6 months.

But for pure aesthetic hypertrophy (and bodybuilders are not really weak, they are lifting prgressively heavier wieghts and thus are getting stronger) you want higher rep ranges. Check out 5 - 10 below.

Here’s the science part.

Using Science

1-3 Reps

In this repetition scheme Neural Efficiency (as well as some Myofibril Hypertrophy) occurs. Neural Efficiency increases the percentage of motor units that can be activated at any given time (CNS efficiency).

This has very little impact on size gains but increases strength will be definitely be great. Little to no protein turnover occurs when using this particular rep range as load is too high and mechanical work is too low. 

3-5 Reps

In this repetition range, mostly Myofibril and Sarcomere Hypertrophy and very little Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy occurs. Sarcomere hypertrophy increases contractile proteins in muscle thereby increasing strength directly and also size. Science says that growth here will be mostly myofibral/ sarcomere hypertrophy and will be accompanied with strength gains in other rep ranges and improvements in neural efficiency.

Therefore this is perhaps the best rep range for increasing strength, as there is a better balance of load/work done for hypertrophy. However with little Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy occurring working in this rep range, is not the most beneficial for size. 

5-10 Reps

In this repertition range we have Myofibril, Sarcomere, and Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy occurring. Using this rep range you will receive lots of growth as well some strength gains.

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy does not directly increase strength, but it increases size, what a bodybuilder trains for. This is the best range, according to science, to train in as a bodybuilder. 

10-15 Reps

Some Sarcoplasmic with little Myofibral and Sarcomere Hypertrophy occur in rep ranges of 10-15. More fatigue and a greater extent of waste products are produced when training in this rep range. 

More Than 15 Reps

Capillary density increases with little Sarcoplasmic growth with rep ranges above 15. Muscle endurace begins to become a factor, but this is not what you are looking for as a bodybuilder. 

Lol why were you running 13 of 14 days per week ? Distance or sprinting?

Is training an enjoyable thing for you (by itself) or do you only do it because of the carrot ?

I do enjoy training for the sake of training as well. Thus, the bizarre running program. I was mostly going for medium distance high intensity runs - 5-10 KM as fast as I could. I do like training. I enjoy driving as well, but if I’m not planning on going anywhere, I’m unlikely to get into a car. Hopefully that analogy makes sense?

I see myself as preferring to fall in the 5-10 range on that excerpt posted above, I think.

I also found arms barely grew, they grew the least of any thing on the 5 x 5 powerlifter type programmes.

‘Guns take care of themselve’s.’

Yeah not if you’re a narrow shouldered guy with long skinny arms they don’t, you need iso, high rep work.\

Google set and rep ranges, you’ll see.

Oh and see what this serious bodybuilder has to say about beginners doing power type prgammes when they really wanted bodybuilding programmes…

I too enjoy cardio for the sake of it; The outdoors, the fresh air, the endorphin rush like nothing else, the feeling of building muscle in the gym but staying feeling lean also…

I do too much cardio to maximise my gains and I know it. But OP - I get it. Used to run up mountians when I lived in Korea. Sprint up em even. Can get like 14th winds, screw 2nd winds lol. I just can go and go and only stop when my knee joints or hips start grinding…

If I were you I would start by ignoring everything that leon36 said in his post. None of that stuff is ever going to help you as a beginner.

Are you still making gains on Starting Strength? If yes, then keep doing it. If you’re making good gains on the program you’re doing, then why would you ever want to change it? If your not making gains, then try a different established program that interests you.

Don’t worry about size and aesthetics yet. Work for strength and the size will come later.

Field also had a good question. I would like to know that one too. If you don’t enjoy the training, you may run into problems with motivation.

I would agree with GSD. If you work for strength and eat enough size will come. It is damn hard to get really strong and still be 155lbs. Don’t over-complicate things; work hard on an established program, eat, and recover. I would suggest that you disregard advice about how to gain size from anyone that weighs in the 150 - 185 pound range.

This is very shallow and pedantic get to the point a little sooner and follow the advice from some of the TNation vets

bricknyce in the ‘body building bible’ thread IS A T NATION VET.

Ok, so you fucked up. It happens, sometimes life gets in the way. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, drop the excuses and get back into it.

Take a look at kingbeef’s thread ( http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding/do_this_routine_instead_of_that_dumb_one - still no idea why this isn’t stickied yet) for ideas or look through the articles here for inspiration. Get an idea of your caloric needs (don’t just shoot for an arbitrary figure - plenty of calculators online).

Plenty of people here seem to be enjoying Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 which is strength-based but gives plenty of lee-way for a more BB training style too.

Pick a tried and tested program (don’t try making one up yourself yet), sort your calories and stick to it for 6 months and re-evaluate. Have fun and good luck.

[quote]CGibson wrote:
Greetings T-Nation. I am an on-and-off lurker, and a first-time poster. My story is probably a common one, to my embarrassment. No matter how mundane it is, though, I am frustrated and disappointed. Attached is a picture of myself taken approximately 15 minutes ago. That, my friends, is the result of 8 months of lifting weights. 8 months.

Pathetic.

I’ve had people tell me I look bigger. I do, I won’t pretend otherwise. But it’s rather difficult to not look bigger when your starting point is 155 lbs at just over 6 feet. That I am making progress is not something that disappoints me; that the progress I have made pales in comparison to the progress I could have made, should have made, frustrates me beyond words.

My story starts in December of 2011. I had spent around a year running roughly 6 days a week. Actually, 13 days of every 14, as best I could. I also did some stupid ab routine I made up a dozen times a day. Yeah, a dozen times a day. I was that guy. Winter was approaching, however, and I didn’t like the idea of running outside every day in the Canadian winters. Or, at least, that’s what I told everyone. The reality of the situation was I was tired of being scrawny and weak. I guess I didn’t want to admit what everyone surely knew anyways, but no matter. I marched myself to the nearest gym, bought a membership, ordered SS, and before I knew it, I was off to the races. My starting numbers were (unsurprisingly) hilarious. I think I managed to squat 125, bench 105, and deadlift 135.

By the end of January, I was squating 240, benching 135, and deadlifting 265. Unfortunately for me, and this time I will allow myself a degree of sympathy and understanding for my failings in the weight room, I contracted some variety of lung infection and spent two weeks in bed. All together I think I ended up having to write off most of February for lifting. Starting back up again was frustrating - I tried using weights that were too heavy, stalled almost right away, and had drop weights to where I should have started anyways but a week later. Things went smoothly until mid/early April, when I was able to squat 260, deadlift 280, and bench press 150. I tweaked my back and had to drop weight on a lot of stuff. To this day I’m not sure if I tweaked it in the gym or at work. It could have been either. Since, I’ve had difficulty getting my numbers back to where they were. I was close in late June, but one of my knees got beat up running and I had to lower the weight on my squats/deadlifts to compensate.

Sounds like a ton of excuses, doesn’t it? That’s all I see. I’m not mad at anyone or anything but myself. I’ll excuse the February situation, but my performance since has been abhorrent and I’m not afraid to take responsibility for my failure. Moreover, I must not be eating enough. As of right now, I weigh 172 pounds. My goal in December was 185. I’ve failed utterly to meet that, and it drives me crazy.

So, T-Nation, I’m here to explain what I want to do, and I’m asking for advice from the more experienced posters here how to maximize the benefit of my time with weights towards that end. I am a vain son of a bitch. If training is running a race, my objective is to run the damned thing, but the reason I’m doing it, the dangling carrot motivating me, is that I want to be able to look in the mirror and say “I look fan-****ing-tastic.” Call me narcissistic, I don’t care. That’s what motivates me. Granted, you can be damned sure I’m laughing to the bank about all the other great benefits that come with lifting. They’re by no means a write-off in my book. The other thing that drives me is going to the gym and seeing other people using more weight for more reps and knowing there is not a single good reason on this earth why I couldn’t do as much or more than them if I apply myself to it. I like being good at what I do, and so far, I’ve done myself a disservice.

So, T-Nation, like every single other one of you, my goals are to:

  1. Get bigger
  2. Get stronger
  3. Look great because of it

that’s it. Plain, easy, simple.

So far I’ve done Starting Strength. Was that the right choice? Is that the right choice going forwards? I’m not planning on powerlifting any time soon. I understand now that SS is more of a strength-based program, rather than a size-based program. Might I be better off doing some kind of split?

I’m trying to eat roughly 4000 calories a day, should I bump that up too?[/quote]

First, stop feeling so down on yourself. You made a shit load of progress, and you should be proud of that.

Starting Strength was absolutely a great choice, and you made great gains.

You are probably to the point now where Starting Strength isn’t going to work for you anymore. As you get stronger, eventually you won’t be able to handle the 5 pound increases every workout. You seem to be getting to that point. What you need now is a solid intermediate program.

Here’s a list of some great programs for your goals:

5/3/1
Texas method
Madcow intermediate
Juggernaut method
look in the powerlifting thread titled matt rhodes 5/3/1 hybrid

Read up a bit about all of those programs, and then pick the one you like the best. It doesn’t matter which one you pick, but follow it to a TEE.

All of those programs include some accessory work. Generally pure beginner programs like starting strength have little to no accessory work because beginners really don’t need it until they reach a certain strength level.

Make sure your diet is in order. You don’t have to count calories, but make sure you’re eating plenty of meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, and complex carbs. Check your weight every couple of weeks. It should be slowly but surely increasing, if it’s not, eat a bit more (an easy way to this is just add a PB and J sandwhich on top of your other food)

Also, you didn’t mention this, but I would not leave running out altogether. You definitely do not have to run every day, but try 3 times a week. Conditioning is important. You don’t have to kill yourself, and you don’t have to be in shape to be a marathon runner, but there’s no excuse to be out of shape.

Also, ignore everything “leon36” says. You have about 6 months more experience then he does. He started working out last month and struggles to deadlift 2 plates. He just thinks he knows about lifting because he uses google a lot. If you don’t believe me, read one of the 6 or so threads he’s started.

Alright. What’s the pro/con to opting to go with Madcow and the like versus one of the routines in the KingBeef thread linked above? I’ve read some articles detailed the advantages to doing full body versus split routines, but I don’t really have the know-how to extrapolate from that to a point where I understand the difference in purpose (if there even is one).

[quote]Chris87 wrote:
Also, ignore everything “leon36” says.
[/quote]

Quoted for truth

[quote]leon36 wrote:

Oh and see what this serious bodybuilder has to say about beginners doing power type prgammes when they really wanted bodybuilding programmes…

Hey guys, I found a useful part of a post by leon!

This is a very good thread to read through.

If you have physique-oriented goals, Starting Strength is definitely NOT the best way to get there. Starting strength is good for teaching rank beginners how to get good at the basic movements. However, it’s a terribly unbalanced program.

Starting Strength + accessory movements is fine, but then it’s not really Starting Strength. Starting Strength as written means no direct arm work, no direct lateral/rear delt work, no chest work except bench, which is shit for growing many people’s chests, and no rows or pullups/pulldowns? These are all things you should be doing if you’re looking for aesthetics.

Read the Bodybuilding Bible thread, read the “do this routine instead of that dumb one” thread that someone else already posted here, pick a routine that works every part of your body, work hard at it, get your diet in order, profit.

By the way your progress on Starting Strength wasn’t too bad, but when your only upper body lifts are bench on one day, press and power clean on another… you’re not going to build a good balanced muscular upper body. At least nowhere near optimally.

(tl;dr version: I gained 14lbs (138 to 152), added 5in to my chest, 3in to my thighs, and 3/4in to my arms in 4 weeks of training using a 20 rep squat program.)

Funny, your story sounds a lot like mine.

I used to run middle distance (5k, and 800m). I trained to compete, but I hate running for the sake of running. I tried it for awhile, just to “stay in shape”, but it never took hold.

Then, I got into a “functional/useful strength” kick and did some Navy SEAL prep program, ultimately doing something like 300 pushups and situps a day 3x a week. That got old once I worked up to that. So I messed with kettlebells for awhile, still on this “functional strength” kick.

And then I finally realized what I was doing. I wanted to stop being so skinny. I never really felt weak, but I didn’t want to be skinny anymore.

So I did Starting Strength (or StrongLifts). I made some gains in strength, but stopped after getting an injury while on vacation. I stopped lifting for several months.

Finally, a couple months ago, I decided to start lifting again. Psychologically, Starting Strength wasn’t working for me. I wanted something that I really felt like I was working hard at, and that would show me real gains in my physique. I’ve found something that seems to be doing the job.

It’s a 20 rep squat program from “back in the day” by John McCallum:

3x12 overhead press (I do a 6sec hold at the top on these)
1x20 back squats
1x20 straight-arm pullovers
3x12 bench press (I do guillotine presses)
3x15 bent rows
1x15 stiff-leg deadlifts
1x20 straight-arm pullovers
(I also throw in some tricep and bicep work here, if I feel like it)

Do it 2 or 3x a week. For the squats, add 5-10lbs every time you do it. The others you can add 5lbs or whatever you want. A good starting weight for the squats is to take your Starting Strength squat number, and subtract 90lbs. The original 20rep program calls for doing this 6 weeks, so that starting weight should get you to doing your Starting Strength squat for 20 reps.

As far as the squats are concerned, you should do these rest-pause style. Once the bar’s on your shoulders, commit to doing all 20 reps. You can pause between each rep for as long as you want, breathing as long as you want… just do all 20. (And set the safety pins, just in case.)

For the pullovers: lay on the ground, bent knees, keep the lower back pressed into the ground, start out by pressing the bar overhead like a bench press. Take a deep breath, filling your lungs as much as possible, then lower the bar behind your head. Keep the arms stiff, and raise it back overhead. Breathe out, breathe in deep. Then lower again. 25lbs is a good weight to do this… the goal is to “stretch the ribcage” and you should feel some stretching around your sternum if you’re doing it right. Don’t go over 35lbs on this. The goal is to stretch the cartilage attaching your ribs to your sternum and literally expand your ribcage… not to work muscles. (There’s a 50+ year debate going on whether this even works, but I’m doing it anyway.)

That was a long description, sorry.

Diet-wise, I eat 3500-4000 calories, or something like that. I eat a 1.5lb tub of full-fat cottage cheese post-workout (and sometimes off-days too). I also drink 1 Qt half-and-half mixed with 1 L ginger ale, throughout the day, every day. I’ve found it works better than drinking milk. I’ve been trying to hit at least 2200 calories and 120g of protein before I have dinner.

With this, I’ve gone from 138lbs to 152lbs since around June 20th. So 6 weeks. I also didn’t train for 2 of those weeks (vacation and illness). So really 4 weeks. 14lbs in 4 weeks of actual training. Some of it is fat (and with as low bf as you are, you’ll notice it like I did), but my physique has definitely improved. My thighs grew 3 inches; my chest grew just short of 5 inches. Arms grew ~3/4 inch. But I only started training them the last 2 weeks so that could have been better.

I’m still skinny of course; just much better off than I was. It might work for you, it might not. It’s worked for countless others though, if you want to do a bit of research into “20 rep squats” or “squats and milk”.

Best of luck.

(FYI: Gmoore17, Chris87 and Consul give great advice. There’s a post called “Whose advice should I trust” which has a list of trusted posters.)

[quote]CGibson wrote:
Alright. What’s the pro/con to opting to go with Madcow and the like versus one of the routines in the KingBeef thread linked above? I’ve read some articles detailed the advantages to doing full body versus split routines, but I don’t really have the know-how to extrapolate from that to a point where I understand the difference in purpose (if there even is one).[/quote]

This is all based on your goals. Both routines will yield results in strength and size (provided your nutrition is on point), it just depends on if you care more about being strong (madcow) or how you look (the kingbeef thread).

Read this carefully: You WILL gain muscle on the madcow routine, and you WILL gain strength on the kingbeef thread routines. It just depends which is a priority to you.

Personally, I think that unless you are trying to be a competitive bodybuilder, you should have strength progression built into your program. Madcow does a good job of doing that. For that reason, I would suggest madcow or one of the programs I listed over the ones in the kingbeef thread.

You gained 17 pounds, put 115 on your squat, 30 on your bench, and 130 on your dead in 8 months. If that was my next 8 months of training I would be absolutely psyched. You’re making great progress. Keep your head up, keep lifting, and keep eating. Like other said focus on strength and if your program works keep it if not change something. keep working you’re gettin there

btw i’m similar to you with everything you listed, the starting/ending weight, your lifts and trust me… at a certain point you’ll really evaluate yourself and the progress you’ve made in such a short amount of time and think HOLY SHIT. I AM getting stronger.

Looking at your pic it honestly looks like you’d seem more built if you had some muscle on your arms.

Do some arm iso work in with WHATEVER ROUTINE YOU CHOOSE.

You can still go full body but just pick slightly higher reps and lower sets such as 4 x 6 / 3 x 8 etc.

Hit everything from more angles than SS would have you.

For full body workouts for hypwrtophy almost any tyrainer would reccoemend

Bench
incline bench
flyes
Dips
Pull downs / chins
Rows (duumbell / barbell)
Squats
Leg press
Leg ext
Ham curls
calf raise
Mil press
seated shoulder press / arnolds
shoulder raises (lateral, rear, front
Calf press
abs weighted
curls (d’bell and b’bell variations)
tricep dips
skull crushers
deadlifts.

Hit everything in core compounds from each plane of movement

Hit - legs, chest, back, shoulders, abs, arms, calves EACH day 3 x a week BUT use different exercises each day and go 3 x 8 or 4 x 6 for core compound lifts and 2 x 10-12 for iso and some would say calves do best at 2 x 12 - 20.

Basically you have 3 different exercises for each body part. It’s like what someone on a 3 day push / pull split would do except instead of hitting each BP with 3 exercises on 1 day - you’re stretching it out through the week.

Rest at LEAST one day between workouts and only 3 x a week.

Got the above form Mr Olympia website, arnold, yates, some other guys all did this to beef up before changing up to splits 12 weeks before shows etc…