That’s the most common snippet of advice I give both commenters and e-mailers. By far.
I write about it enough on this here blog. Yet it’s under appreciated. Always.
Part of me wants to set up an autoresponder in my inbox that says, “If this is about body composition and you haven’t strength trained for at least six months, please delete and resend when you hit that point.”
It’s that important.
Body composition is hinged on two things: body fat percentage and muscle mass. (There are other things, but these produce the long term results.)
Muscle mass gives shape to your overall structure. The way I explain it in the Skinny-Fat Solution:
Think of wrapping yourself in saran wrap. The first layer is pretty close to the skin and still reveals the subtleties of your shape. But if you keep wrapping, eventually it’s going to even out and details will no longer be distinguishable.
The more pronounced and “carved” the object being wrapped, the more times it can be wrapped before losing its shape and structure.
The saran wrapping is body fat in this example. More muscular means you can have more saran wrap and still hold “shape.” Less muscle and your physique is totally defined by your body fat.
Without muscle, you have no wiggle room. That extra five pounds of “chub” you put on over the holidays looks like an extra five pounds of chub. But if you’re muscular, that extra five pounds is no big deal.
In the first lesson of clean bulking we learned that we have one responsibility: eliminate training noise by training for muscle gain, not for fat loss.
So the next step is obviously defining what kind of training is going to get the job done.
I throw around the word “training” a lot on this blog. Pretty loosely too. But anytime I use the word “training,” I assume matterful barbell and body weight training: lifting heavy iron things, and suspending yourself from things only to push and pull yourself out of various positions. (I dare say the kind of stuff that builds men from clay…).
If you aren’t doing this kind of stuff, you’re tuning into the wrong station. You’re listening to country when you should be listening to Trivium…In Flames…Still Remains…Scar Symmetry…(Speaking of metal, my friend compiles awesome metal music into playlists on his YouTube page. Check it out here.)
Matterful training isn’t yoga. Or P90X. Or running on the treadmill.
That’s not to say you can’t do these things, but they aren’t going to propel your clean bulk hopes.
Part of this misconception comes from the concept of “getting a good workout.” But all workouts aren’t created equal.
The other day someone e-mailed me their training schedule and meal plan for review. His “training ” was DDR. And he had a sugary “shake” post workout to recover. (This person had a trouble with hunger and getting food down, so the shake was more of a meal replacement than anything else. But the very fact that it contained simple sugar and was listed as a “post workout” shows we got problems.)
Honestly, I don’t care if you play DDR. More movement is good movement.
But just because you’re moving, grooving, and sweating doesn’t mean you’re on the right path for building muscle. Just because you’re listening to music doesn’t mean it’s the right kind of music. You have to be tuned into the right station.
You can tun in by strength training with your body weight. With dumbells. Barbells. Kettlebells. Or any other kind of bell you can find.
The key part in all of this though is the word strength. In order to strength train, you kinda have to get stronger.
“Strong” can mean a bunch of things. It can mean a heavier dumbbell. It can mean more weight on the bar. It can mean lest rest in between sets. It can mean a gradual increase in volume. It can mean a small tweak in position on body weight exercises. It can mean the accumulation in workload over time, like the PLP program. It can mean a bunch of things.
The underlying principle is that you need to continually and consistently push the muscles to adapt to something they aren’t really adapted to. In order to this you have to stress them with a semblance of regularity in a somewhat challenging way.
This is “training.” And this “training” is what makes funky stuff happen.
I get dozens of e-mails from those that dream of a better body composition and yet don’t strength train. An excuse is buried in there somewhere, but it’s never really good enough for me.
Alas, to build muscle and look like you have muscle you have to – surprisingly enough — train for muscle gains. You have to be tuned into the right training station.
The barbell is older than you. Time has shown it does the job, unlike the shake weight and tug toner. So start there and then add some body weight whipped topping.
I can’t explain this, but the rules just change for those that strength train with a barbell. And then they change again for those that strength train with a barbell and attack body weight skills with some aggression. Part of me thinks this is because of the systematic effect a barbell has and the “relative strength” body weight training demands. I don’t know. But signaling never really loses.
If you’re still wondering about what barbell or body weight exercises you need, I solidly believe that eight exercises form the foundation for aesthetics: front squat, conventional deadlift, overhead press, barbell row, chin-up, thirty degree incline press, parallel bar dip, and barbell curl. You can find out more — and general goals to have in relation to the 8 — in an upcoming small PDF I’m giving away for free to newsletter subscribers when I launch my new site.
That’s not to say other exercises aren’t useful, but I’d master those eight first.
96% of the physiques that you want have more muscle than you currently do. This isn’t a coincidence. Don’t ignore it.
So the second rule of the clean bulk: tune into the right training station because what’s underneath the skin shapes the body; you need muscle, you need progressive training and time both under a barbell and moving your body weight through space in a challenging way.