The Best of Both Worlds: Old School Training's Marriage To Modern Day Science
Alex Eriksson looks at strength training and wonders if a combination of the old school know how and modern day science is a way forward.
Have you ever heard of the phrase "if it ain't broke don't fix it"? Because when it comes to building muscle, sometimes we overcomplicate things. Information overload is very possible nowadays, as every fitness magazine touts the greatest technique since sliced bread was invented, though most fail to live up to the hype.
So, what is an aspiring muscle and strength seeker to do? The answer may be much more obvious than you ever thought by simply going back to basics. These basics delivered measurable results long before scientific findings were available to every theoretical "expert" and helped craft some of the best physiques of the golden age of bodybuilding.
Many of these exploits would not have been made possible without the help of one man; the Iron Guru.
Who Was the Iron Guru?
Vince Gironda, known as the Legendary Iron Guru, was the man who revolutionized bodybuilding, helping mould some of the best physiques of that era. Among them, was a man known as the "Austrian Oak". If you have never heard the name before, that is understandable, as his other well-known moniker is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Vince Gironda is credited with being the legendary Arnold's first trainer, further adding substance to the fact that he obviously knew what he was doing.
At the time, many of Vince's techniques seemed controversial, or unorthodox to say the least. Among some of them were:
His legacy is strong, but in particular are these titbits he left for us to follow and achieve the body of our dreams:
The Hormone Precursor Diet
The heart of the hormone precursor diet revolved around trying to increase hormone synthesis as high as naturally possible. Thus, the name precursor (getting the raw materials for production) is appropriate for this diet. Vince believed that a diet high in protein and fat was superior for muscle growth, with studies conducted after the fact proving that low fat diets are detrimental to testosterone, and hence also muscle building. He knew this, decades before scientists found this out.
This diet gave birth to the hormone precursor shake, a super convenient and condensed source of muscle building calories that could be consumed 1-3 times per day to meet daily macronutrient needs. This is what the shake typically looked like:
This shake was consumed for breakfast, with the rest of meals looking like this:
As you may have noticed, the diet is quite "egg heavy", which many associate with being a bad thing. However, eggs are not bad, and in studies are shown to not increase triglyceride levels. Ironically, triglycerides are heavily influenced by sugar and diets very high in low quality carbs. In other words, what the American diet often consists of today.
Eggs are loaded with protein and GOOD saturated fats and cholesterol, which boost testosterone production. Eggs are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and natural CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is useful for decreasing body fat and ramping up testosterone production. Use of a CLA supplement (since many are apprehensive about consuming dozens of raw eggs daily) is extremely beneficial when trying to bring about dramatic changes to body composition.
Another popular diet for cutting body fat advocated by Vince Gironda is the steak and eggs diet which also heavily focuses on the anabolic properties of fatty acids in eggs.
Consumption of Liver Tablets
Liver is one of the most nutritionally dense sources of vitamins and minerals on the planet yet is underused owing to its somewhat "acquired" taste. This is where liver tablets come in, as they are extremely beneficial in helping maintain anabolism between meals and keeping the body in a positive nitrogen balance. The presence of the rare cytochrome P-450 enzyme system just helps its case further, as it helps in detoxification of waste and hormone synthesis in the human body. Vince often used liver tablets as a supplement in-between meals to make sure the body as a constant supply of high quality protein and other nutrients for keeping protein synthesis high.
Focus on the Negative of the Repetition
Bodybuilding as a sport requires discipline, and deliberate movement, something that seems lost in the current era of athletes. Yes, while it is fulfilling to experience the euphoria of pushing or pulling a heavy weight, much of your growth may hinge on the negative (or against the muscle) aspect of a lift.
Even though this part of a rep is underappreciated, it can translate to massive increases in muscle damage which ultimately lead to more muscle being rebuilt. You can make use of negatives by simply resisting the weight as long as you can on the last rep of a set, and occasionally mix it up with a negative-only workout using a higher than 100% 1-RM weight to really shock things up.
Part of the beauty of bodybuilding lies in its ability to cultivate an "illusion" or appearance of mass by sculpting relative areas. For example, you can be extremely small framed, but by accentuating the width of the shoulders, and making the waist narrower, you can look massive. Similarly, is the effect of increasing the size of the chest cavity by performing dumbbell pullovers. Though this technique is believed to work best in younger men whose ribs may be able to expand easier, it should not be undervalued in older men either, especially if you genetically have smaller pectoralis muscles.
What About Protein? Is Too Much Ever Bad?
Modern day dietary teachings would have you believe that no protein is bad protein. However, there is growing evidence that an abundance of protein is not the means to an end. At some point, the pay-off is negated, and you start wasting money and negatively affecting your ability to synthesize maximum amounts of muscle. Here are a few reasons why you do not need to go overboard with protein consumption:
Sacrificing Carbohydrates for More Protein May Negatively Affect Your Testosterone Levels
Research has found that diets high in protein, but low in fats and carbohydrates have lower testosterone levels when compared to individuals that consume more carbs (meaning a higher carb: protein ratio). Though this finding is interesting, it could also be attributed to another noted observation from the same study; that cortisol levels are higher in individuals who consume low carb diets. Cortisol and testosterone share a negatively inverse relationship, which could explain why as cortisol increases, while testosterone decreases. However, if you keep fat consumption high while going low on carbohydrates it seems to work and not increase cortisol, such as in the case of the ketogenic diet.
Post-Workout Protein Shakes May Offer No Real Benefit
Another way modern teaching may have misled us is with the gospel that we MUST consume a protein shake immediately following our workouts. Yes, while we still need sufficient protein over the course of the day to stimulate sufficient muscle protein synthesis, this particular timing window is not necessary.
How do we know that? Because a study revealed that subjects consuming a protein shake compared against subjects drinking only water, had no difference in markers for protein synthesis. So, do yourself a favour and do no develop paranoia about drinking a protein shake minutes after completing your workout. Your wallet will also thank you!
Protein Does Not Raise Testosterone Levels
Though this should be fairly obvious, it clearly is not, as MOST people associate anything with building muscle to increasing testosterone levels. However, consuming more protein at the cost of carbohydrates and fats in counter-productive, and will diminish your potential for building muscle. Instead, consume moderate protein with ample fats and sufficient carbohydrate according to performance needs, will achieve the best rate of anabolism (more on that in the body type guidelines below).
Optimizing Gains for Your Body Type
Everybody is different. Even though there are 3 fundamental “somatotypes”, namely Mesomorph, Endomorph and Ectomorph, we all possess traits of more than one group. So, even though an Endomorph, for example, keeps a lot of fat and builds moderate muscle, there may be someone who gains fat at a rate less than that of a true Endomorph, and gains muscle faster. Thus, that individual is a blend of Mesomorph and Endomorph. Here is how you can optimize your gains depending on your body type
These are hard gainers in every sense of the word that work out hard and eat a lot (relatively speaking) but have nothing to show for it. The fastest way to victory for such a somatotype would be to lift heavy compound movements, with a low number of working sets, and to consume a moderate protein/carb, higher fat diet. This offers a large increase in calories without needing to eat a lot more (fats yield double the calories of proteins or carbs). The hormone precursor shake referenced above is perfect for such an individual, as liquid calories are less filling and typically still allow full meals to be consumed.
Endomorphs retain fat very easily, but also build muscle fairly easy as well. These individuals have a structure that appears broader than either of the other two types but need to be extremely diligent with controlling carbohydrate intake to stay relatively lean. The hormone precursor shake is still a good choice for these individuals but excluding optional carb sources. Endomorphs also do well on the steak and eggs diet, as protein and fat intake keeps hormone and protein synthesis up, while allowing the reduction of body fat continually.
Mesomorphs have it much easier than either of the preceding groups, as they gain muscle easier, and do not retain as much fat, but often this is their undoing. Mesomorphs develop a sense of false confidence in their abilities and tend to only give 50%. However, when they do give 100% the results are amazing. These individuals can consume a diverse diet and still fare well, inclusive of higher than average carbohydrates. The hormone precursor shakes with added carbs do well for these individuals, as the insulin spike can boost anabolism when timed well.
The marriage between old school know-how, and modern-day science could spark a bit of a golden age renaissance. Indeed, with more and more people now revisiting the old school way of training, the future of bodybuilding looks bright!
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About the Author
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men's health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on The Ultimate Guide to Manly Cooking or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
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