Men and women have different standards for “big”.
So do people who train religiously vs people who don’t workout at all.
When I look at myself through objective bodybuilding standards,
If you were to look at those stats on paper, you may think to yourself "wow 5' 9" and 160 lbs? This guy must be skinny as a rail." I have friends who are more or less the same height as me and weigh 20 or 30 pounds more than me. They are also usually stronger than me. If the two of us were to step on a scale, they would undoubtedly have more body mass. But when they stand next to me, I APPEAR bigger than them visually.
A couple of these guys in particular were considerably bigger (190 - 205 lbs) but still looked like shit aesthetically. Their lives consisted of eating, working out, talking about the gym stuff to each other, and doing school.
Every time I would see them in the gym, they were always doing the heavy powerlifting movements; bench press, squat, and deadlift for heavy ass weight and low reps. When I first got into weight lifting, heavy weight for low reps was my style of lifting.
When I began working out, I was very skinny. I started weight training in 10th grade at a starting point of 5'8" height and 115 lbs weight. Between my sophomore year of high school and my senior year, I did heavy barbell style workouts through the gym at my school, lost some baby fat, and put on some size. I was also wrestling competitively for the school. By the beginning of my senior year of high school, I had grown to 5' 9" at 132 lbs.
That doesn't sound like much for 2 years of work, but keep in mind that I had to keep my weight low for wrestling and I got a hell of a lot stronger.
Even though being lighter worked to my advantage in wrestling, where cutting weight and being in a lower weight class gave me a significant advantage over my opponents, it meant I had to stay skinny year round.
The truth was, at that point I no longer cared about taking wrestling any further if it meant I had to live life being skinny. Even though I had made a little bit of progress, I hated the way I looked in the mirror and I hated feeling skinny walking around outside. I remember one time in particular my sister threw a birthday party with all her friends. I was at the house and was wearing my wrestling team sweatshirt. When one of the girl's mother came to pick her up, she looked at me and said.
You wrestle? But you're so skinny!
Obviously, she had never seen anything outside of the fake wrestling you see on television for entertainment, but it struck me hard nevertheless. I knew I was small, but up until then I accepted it as a necessary sacrifice in exchange for succeeding in sports.
At that point I said to myself,
Unless you're going to be a top state level competitor (which you're not), there's no point going any further with this if it means you have to live another day knowing you look like shit.
In the two and a half years that I had been wrestling competitively, I made a lot of progress and was able to compete and win against people who had a year or two more experience than I did. But I knew I didn't have what it took to make it all the way up to the state level where the kids have been consistently at it for 10 years, with far more technical skill and dedication than I did.
If I had the potential to make it to the state level, I could rationalize the status and the significant accomplishment to compensate for the misery of feeling skinny.
Since I was smart and knew I didn't have a chance of making it, I took my exit out of wrestling and made my way into bodybuilding. Quite frankly, I knew I would prefer an awesome body over some medals that sit on a shelf anyway.
The reason I didn't gain any more size during my first two years is simple. I had a super fast metabolism and I just wasn't eating enough calories. Even when I was wrestling and had to cut weight, I didn't have to work nearly as hard as the other kids. I could eat pizza, hamburgers, and whatever else I wanted. Our practices were so damn brutal that when you took your shirt off at the end, you felt the weight of the liters of water that soaked into it.
I didn't eat chips or drink soda, and I ate somewhat clean throughout. My metabolism was like a volcano and I was burning so many calories that I didn't have to worry about what I put in my mouth because I wouldn't get any fatter. Even though I wasn't getting fatter, I also wasn't building any muscle tissue.
I quit the team in late November and decided that I wanted to be 160 lbs minimum by the time I walked across the stage for graduation in May. In order to do that, I would have to pack on 30 lbs of size in a mere 6 months.
Due to my course load, I no longer had space in my class schedule for the weightlifting class that I was relying on for a gym. I was "stuck" in a situation where I didn't have a car or access to a traditional gym. I didn't have a lot of money, so I couldn't invest into a squat rack, a barbell, and a bunch of heavy plates either.
All I had to work with at home was a doorway pull up bar, some dumbbells, and a flat bench.
I remember wishing so damn bad that I had a barbell and some 45's with me, since that's what everyone associated with "lifting weights".
So I was left with 2 options:
A: Do nothing and wait till I go to college in a year where I'll have access to a gym
B: Make do with what I had available to me
Option A wasn't even an option because at that point I was completely fed up with being skinny. I wanted to feel proud about the way I looked and I wanted a physique that I could leverage to get girls. Truth be told, 99% of guys fall into that category.
What I had available to me was a pull up bar, dumbbells up to 30 lbs, and a flat bench. Doing bench presses and barbell squats just wasn't an option for me. I couldn't follow the standard approach of "heavy compound movements to build tons of muscle". If I was going to workout, I had to make do with what I could work with. When I started, I couldn't even do a single pull up on the bar. The most I could do was a couple chin ups (palms facing towards you).
Eventually, I worked my way up to the point where I could do 10 pull ups (palms facing away). 10 would later turn into 25. It got to a point where it was so effortless, I realized I would have to come up with a new way of adding resistance in order to progress further.
So I got a backpack, and started filling it up with dumbbells, and started wearing it while I would do pull ups. After 2 years had passed, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, I was strong enough that I could do 8 complete pull ups with perfect form with 70 pounds on my back.
In regards to my workouts, I did standard bodybuilding splits. Which means I would work out 1 or 2 bodyparts a day. I would specifically put more emphasis on my chest and arms because I knew those muscles had maximum sex appeal.
I didn't have a set schedule for working a bodypart on any particular day. I would go by instinct and workout whichever bodypart I felt I needed to that day. If I felt too exhausted to train, I would take a day off. If I felt I wanted to train back on Monday, I would train back on Monday.
Some people like to set schedules for themselves like this:
Monday: Chest, Abs
Wednesday: Shoulders, Arms
Thursday: Chest, Back
Friday: Legs, Abs
I never reserved any day out of the week for any specific bodypart. Instead, I would pick a bodypart, and make it my goal to inflict as much pain as I physically could on that bodypart.
The way I did that was through training with HIGH VOLUME.
Since I didn't have anything past 30 lb dumbbells, I couldn't add more resistance by adding weight. The only alternative was to add more stress through added repetitions.
I would do as many reps as I could and go to failure on every single set. I would slow down my rep tempo and spend more time squeezing and contracting at the end of my movements. When I was exhausted with a larger weight, I would immediately start doing reps with a smaller weight, pyramiding down each set.
Instead of just throwing around weight, I was slowly controlling the movement and was very much in tune with my body.
The pain of the lactic acid buildup and the blood thundering through the muscle was far more intense than anything I had experienced with heavy weights.
Like I said before, I had already been lifting for two years before this point. The only thing I changed in my training regimen was put in more effort to aggressively add volume.
The second half of the puzzle was fixing my nutrition. I was already training with intensity and keeping my cardio to a minimum in order to lessen the caloric burden I would have to eat everyday to grow. I knew that in order to gain a lot of size in a relatively short period of time, I would have to significantly increase my calories.
Genetically, I have a fast metabolism and I had been skinny my whole life despite eating a lot of junk food. During my wrestling years, I had to constantly worry about maintaining weight. With the clean eating in addition to the brutal cardio and strength training, my body was not getting enough energy to recover and grow.
Thinking also requires a lot of energy. I was taking several college level courses and dedicating a lot of time towards working on those.
Since I no longer had to worry about cutting weight, and I didn't have to make up for the thousands of calories I lost during each practice, I made it a lot easier for me to grow.
I attacked the problem aggressively from both ends. In order to counteract my fast metabolism, I would make the effort to eat everything in sight. I didn't have expensive protein powders or weight gainer, so I was relying entirely on food. I ate anywhere from 5 to 7 times a day, and made every effort to add as many calories as possible. I would make these 1000 calorie+ shakes in a blender with raw oatmeal, whole milk, peanut butter, and ice cream, and drink it twice every day.
The reason I didn't use whey protein or any other supplements wasn't because I didn't want to. I just didn't have the money to buy them consistently, and my parents didn't want to get it for me either. I didn't think it was going to matter, so long as I ate plenty of food to make up for it.
It's a good thing I took that approach because it wouldn't have made a difference either way. My body was starving from calories, and the hard training resulted in all the extra junk food being converted into muscle.
I was also drinking a 1 and a half gallons of water a day.
By the time I walked across the stage for graduation in May, I was weighing in at exactly 162 lbs (according to the scale that morning). Within 6 months, I had gained 30 lbs. I would say about 22 - 25 lbs of that was pure muscle. The rest was mostly water. Although I didn't have a gut, I could notice the increased amount of chubbiness around my cheek area.
Over the course of the next couple months, I started cleaning up my diet and slowly started eliminating the junk food and salt from my diet to end up at a lean and mean 155 lbs.
When I compare the pictures of my wrestling days to those on the summer of my senior year, I looked like a completely different person. This was the first major phase of my transformation.
The second phase would focus on enhancing muscle fullness and maintenance.
During that first period, I ate and trained like it was a full time job. It was a very time consuming, but necessary process that I had to go through. These days, I invest probably 20% of the time to maintain my physique and make slow progress. In order for me to see explosive growth, I would have to put in a lot more work into bodybuilding (training harder and eating a lot more) that I'm not willing to put in at this time.
Even though bodybuilding is only a small portion of my life nowadays, I actually look a lot better than I did back when I was treating it like a job. I made rapid progression in a fast paced computer engineering program, focused on professional work, and went through a period where I was partying full time. I've learned how to be smart about my time and train and diet in a way to continue to look good and feel good without letting it get in the way of my real life.
I can proudly say that I have accomplished my original goal.
I've attained a body that looks good enough to get girls and I feel great about myself on a daily basis. I still work out a few times a week and take the small progress as it comes.
Why I look better than 99% of guys my weight:
I weighed in at 157 lbs this morning at 5' 9". Even though I don't have mounds and mounds of RAW SIZE, the muscles themselves are nice and full and pop out, giving off the illusion looking bigger than I actually am. As far as bodyfat goes, I have a 4-pack and I don't have any face fat or excessive bloat, which is good enough for me.
If you want to look nice and full without heaps of raw size, you need to train with VOLUME.
If you train that way, you may not be as strong as some other people who only lift traditional low rep heavy weight movements, but you WILL look a hell of a lot better than them. My desire to look good and have a nice body was what got me into this, and I never cared if someone else could pick up more weight than I could.
What you can take away from this:
- Forget about going for super heavy 3 or 4 rep maxes. Don't believe the hype that heavy ass compound barbell movements are MANDATORY for a good physique. Experiment with different exercises and weights for each body part. Take the time to learn your body and find a movement that gets you the best pump possible with a moderate weight. Use the movements that work best for YOU and train with HIGH REPS.
- Your body needs calories to grow. If you're a skinny guy with a fast metabolism, you don't need to eat clean as a whistle. Getting the calories in comes first, even if it means replacing clean food with pizza and hamburgers. If you don't have a superfast metabolism, you still need calories, but you need to closely monitor your sugar and junk food intake so you don't end up fat.
- Throwing in a little bit of cardio will help with your overall growth, but don't go overboard on it. 15 to 20 minutes of intense cardio a few times of week is more than enough. Some people say cardio is completely unnecessary. While its not MANDATORY for growth, it does have the potential to help you by improving your overall blood flow. So long as you eat enough calories to make up for it, and you're not doing marathon sessions, you don't need to worry about "burning muscle"