Be The Best You’ve Ever Been

It was four years ago, and it was my first time trying to bench 100 lb dumbbells at the gym.  On rep three, I decided that my head was too far off the bench, so I tried sliding down while holding the dumbbells at lockout.  My shoulder popped out of the socket and the dumbbell bounced off my chest like Snuggles the teddy bear bouncing off the pile of towels in the old Tide commercials…only I didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

I suppose I should backtrack a little further and let you know that I’ve got hypermobility in many of the joints of my body.  My shoulders are looser than multiple orifices of a 24/7 pro-bono hooker. 

After an MRI, the doc told me I had a torn labrum.  I underwent surgery and was forced to take time off from training my shoulder for six weeks or so.

Given that this was my first real layoff from lifting, I was devastated.  I felt the depression starting to set in as I wondered what would get my mind worked up in the same way that lifting did.  I’m not the only lifter who has ever had this dilemma.  Minor or major injuries often get in the way a lifter’s progress, and damn it, it’s always when “things seemed to be going so well”.  In fact, I’m convinced that many of the used-to’s fell off the wagon because of this very scenario.  “Used-to” is my name for those people who “used to” do anything; they used to bench 315, deadlift 600, have 18 inch arms, or any number of other things until they had an injury that threw them off the wagon and dragged them behind it for the first half of the Oregon trail.

It was this first real injury that gave me the philosophy that I carry with me today.

“Always be the best you’ve ever been at something”

Rather than moping around, whining, and letting everything fall to crap while recovering, most lifters need a new goal to focus on.  One that challenges them, lets them work hard, and continues to sharpen their skills of dedication and discipline.  In many ways, it’s too cliché to state, but we all know that the mind is the most important factor in building the best physique and the strongest body possible.  Sure, having my arm in a sling would be a good excuse to take a few months off from lifting, and many guys might have done that.  But this approach is the equivalent of the kid that throws a fit and refuses to eat anything because the ice cream store ran out of his favorite flavor. 

My advice is to grow a pair, pull your tail out from behind your legs (or wherever else it ended up), and find what you actually can work on.  Much of society will empathize with your pain, “I took a few months off from working out because I hurt my back.”  Not many people will call you out on that, and most will just nod and tell you what a shame it is. 

During his competitive career, Louie Simmons has broken his fifth vertebra twice, ruptured his left patella tendon, and detached his right biceps from the bone. At still at the age of over 50, he squatted as much as 920 pounds and totaled over 2100 pounds – now that’s the definition of growing a pair and persevering.

Unless you’re a saint, you’ve probably been neglecting some part of your training or nutrition.  In fact, sometimes this is the reason that you ended up injured in the first place.  Doing only what’s fun, what comes easy, and what we want to do is usually a problem waiting to happen.  The injury time is not an excuse to throw everything out the window.  It’s time to find that thing that you’ve been neglecting and start considering yourself a specialist in that area. 

Around the time of my shoulder injury, I was the typical recreational bodybuilder; I only cared about getting as big as possible, neglected max strength work, and put a much greater focus on building my upper body.  I decided to use my recovery period as a chance to really focus on training my legs.  Because of the injury, I couldn’t get my arm behind the bar for back squats, so I ordered the Top Squat from Dave Draper’s side (a safety squat bar would work well here too – check out Westside Barbells Speciality Bars) and started squatting twice a week instead of once a week or every other week. 

I thought about what else I could do without abusing my shoulder: the leg press, most lower body machine work, a good deal of core work, and some light direct arm work.  Rather than considering myself “benched” for the duration of my recovery, I saw some very good progress in my squat and leg development and moved my strength ahead of where it had been previously.  My self-discipline and mental toughness benefitted because I started to step outside of what made me comfortable.

Perhaps you have an injury to the spine that prevents any loading at all.  Perhaps it’s time to begin an upper body specialization routine and put some extra size on where it’s been lagging, or perhaps your eating hasn’t been as consistent and regimented as it could have been, so you decide that you’re going to up your cardio, clean up your diet and drop some extra body fat.  That way, when you’re fully recovered, you have a blank slate to start from, and it’ll make your next building phase more efficient.  Let’s take it to the extreme and say that you’ve ended up in a full-body cast.  You can’t train, do cardio, or pretty much anything  physical.  Now is the time to clean up the diet and focus on education.  Whatever energy you had been putting into lifting needs to be channeled into dietary discipline or your education as a lifter.  Read anything that you can get your hands on so that when you’re healthy again, you’ll get even better results during your comeback.

I think that recovery from injuries can be a time of incredible growth, both mentally and physically.  This is the time to step outside yourself and get out of that comfort zone that you’ve been in for so long.  Find that challenge and face it head on.  When you’re back and healthy again, you’ll find that the new mental attitude you’ve developed from the new goals will carry over greatly when you’re healthy again.  Plus, you’ll have gained a solid self-demonstration of how you can turn bad situations into good ones.

I’m going to give you a few case studies, some of which may remind you of yourself.  These are going to be like those choose-your-own-adventure books about wizards and dragons that I read, I mean…used to read…as a child.

Hartley – The Picture Perfect Squatter

With short legs and a long torso, Hartley has always been a natural.  At 200 lbs, he’s got a beltless squat of 480 lbs with a mediocre deadlift and a bench that isn’t much better.  In fact, he’s built much of his confidence as a lifter in his squat ability and he relies on it for building a big powerlifting total.  After he tears his quad in a big meet, he gets extremely depressed and realizes that he has a few options:

1. Hartley starts collecting Happy Meal toys because of all the crap that he’s going to stuff in his face while he wears out the springs on his couch. 

2. Hartley takes some photos of himself and gets his bodyfat tested, measuring at 15% bodyfat.  He’s not fat for a powerlifter, but he could be leaner.  He decides to do some reading on nutrition since it’s been an area that he’s neglected during most of his training.  For the first time ever, he introduces cardio into his training regimen.  He loses 20 lbs of over the course of the next 15 weeks, dropping to 8% bodyfat.  His quad is starting to heal up, and he’s now a full weight class lower and much more competitive as he builds back up to his previous levels of strength. With a much lower bodyfat level, his body is primed for growth into a new, leaner 200 lbs as he works his way up the weight classes.  All things being equal, more muscle mass in his weight class ultimately means that he’ll be stronger.  Not only that, but his health and energy has improved along with his recovery levels.

3. After years of struggling with the bench and deadlift and delegating much of his energy to the squat, he decides that it’s time to focus on his upper body training as well as bringing up the posterior chain.  He begins a program to add some size to his upper body, glutes, and hamstrings.  With some more volume added to his upper body work and an assload (excuse the pun) of pull-throughs, RDLs, glute ham raises, good mornings, etc., he ends up packing on a solid 7 lbs over the next 15 weeks.    As he gets back to squatting, he finds that his deadlift and bench are now bigger contributors to his total than ever before and that they can pick up some of the slack while he rebuilds his squat.

Lower body injury?  Perhaps it’s time to redirect your efforts into adding some size to his upper body?

Jason – The Recreational Bodybuilder

After deciding to try a new shoulder program that has him focusing on the delts three times per week, Jason ends up with some serious pain in the form of impingement in his left shoulder.  The training cycle was going really well and he was really starting to see some improved growth, but now, he has pain during most vertical pressing and with a good deal of horizontal pressing.  In addition to any overhead pressing, back squatting and front squatting cause a ton of pain as well.

1. Jason destroys his computer from downloading too much free internet porn in place of the time he used to spend lifting.  Soon, the eating falls apart as well, and he ends up while doing some rehab and waiting for the problem to get better.

2. He’s finally honest with himself.  Despite always hearing that he shouldn’t give more attention to his beloved pressing muscles than to his much neglected pulling muscles, he decides to acknowledge the issue and do something about it.  He begins a back specialization program focusing on building the width of the lats using a neutral grip on vertical pulling, but he really focuses on row variations, rotator cuff work, and various “pre-hab” drills for the lower traps.  With years of untapped potential, he puts slabs of muscle on his back and improves his shoulder range of motion and thoracic mobility. 

3. His second most popular nickname (aside from “Internally Rotated Humerus, Downwardly Rotated Scapula Jason”) is “Martini” because he looks like a human martini glass, with legs so small and an upper body so big that you wonder how he stands on one leg without snapping in half.  He decides to figure out what lower body work he can do without pain, and hammers it hard.  He starts using a safety squat bar or a Top Squat bar to keep the stress off the shoulder.  Deadlifts don’t bother him, so he decides to start training legs twice per week, with one day starting with the squat and the other with the deadlift.  He’s always hated lunges but decides to man up and start working them consistently to preserve his mental edge, and even grow a few sack hairs while he’s at it.  He can hold dumbbells, so he’s got a lot of single-leg exercise options and he can use the SSB to do most exercises that he previously could do with a barbell on his back, like good mornings, step-ups, lunge variations, etc. 

4. Because he doesn’t feel like losing ground, Jason decides to clean up his diet.  He’s always been naturally pretty lean and has had a hard time putting on size because he’s not consistent enough with his caloric intake.  He decides to spend his extra time learning how to prepare meals, takes a healthy cooking class, and starts cooking in bulk and bringing his food to work with him.  He loses a little bit of size in his shoulders and chest while fighting off the pain, but gains much more size in his legs and back and actually ends up being bigger and more proportionate than before the pain started.

5. Instead of trying to work through the pain and use his favorite exercises that still wreck his shoulder, he explores some new options.  He switches to a neutral grip on the dumbbell bench press (palms facing each other), and even plays around with some machines that allow him to work around the injury pain-free.  This gives his pressing muscles enough stimulation to keep a bit of the size, but he keeps the volume low enough to allow his back some catch-up time to fix the imbalances he’s created over the years.

6. Maybe after 12 weeks of adding some size to his weak areas, Jason decides to finally take the big step.  He signs up for a bodybuilding competition and starts dieting.  He takes a negative in his lifting career and makes it a catalyst to do the best thing he’s done so far.

And lastly, Bruce

Bruce ended up severely injuring his back while doing good mornings, and wasn’t able to do much other than stay in his bed for six months.  The doctor told him that he’d never be physically active at the same level ever again, so he spent the next six months educating himself and working on the mental aspect of his game.  Within a year, he was back to doing what he loved and better than ever because he’d spent his time wisely.  That was Bruce Lee, by the way.  True story.

Injuries are awful, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s something that almost every lifter ends up experiencing at some point in life.  You can make the recovery time the most productive training phase you’ve ever had, or you can act like the kid in the ice cream store, complaining about how they didn’t have the specific flavor that you wanted, and screaming that then you don’t want any ice cream.  They may not have the chocolate chip cookie dough, but the pistachio is still pretty good.  Walk out of that ice cream store empty-handed, and you know that you’ll regret it. 

Written by Matt McGorry

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Be The Best You’ve Ever Been discussion thread.

Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) – An Interview with Daniel Roberts

If you are a frequent reader of Wannabebig, you’ll know by now that we will be soon be releasing what we believe is THE best muscle building program out there – Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) on Monday May 3rd, 2010.

There will be no games and no B.S hype. No promises of advanced trainees gaining 27lbs in 6 weeks and no crazy expensive magic supplement you have to take alongside it in order for the program to work. We won’t be painstakingly drip feeding it to you in parts, we won’t be over-complicating things and there will be no cheap marketing hype. There’s also nothing to buy – the whole thing will be entirely free.

Now why would we go and do that and what’s in it for us you might say?

We want to help people look and feel great – it’s as simple as that. That’s THE reason Wannabebig and AtLarge Nutrition exist and that’s what drives us to keep publishing information and developing products to help you do just that.

I cringe when I see guys on the forums who are fed up with not making any gains. They ask questions about the latest pre workout supplement when they don’t even know how much goddamn protein they are consuming.

It’s painful to see guys trying to build their own routine and getting it all wrong. Or to hear about them following a routine that the ‘jacked guy’ at their gym uses (who between me and you are mostly like genetically gifted and/or using anabolic steroids) but are confused as to why they’re not seeing the same type of gains.

And the worst thing about it is that this getting big thing really isn’t all that complicated.

There are a few basic principles that if you follow them consistently, you’ll be blown away at how much muscle you can gain and if anyone is telling you any different they are either dumb or trying to sell you something (or perhaps both). If you are not following a sound training and nutritional program, you’ll continually struggle to gain muscle, period.

And that’s where HCT-12 comes in.

We are going to provide you with a training and nutritional program (and the science behind why it works) that will be easy to understand and is based around the key principles of gaining muscle, allowing you to gain the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time.

And, you don’t have to have exceptional genetics and/or be taking anabolic steroids for this program to work. If you are an average Joe or have struggled to make gains in the past, this program is for YOU!

When we first announced we were releasing HCT-12, we got a ton of questions as expected. We therefore wanted to respond and give you a bit more information about how HCT-12 came about and also the details behind the training and nutritional program before we release it in full in a few weeks time.

And, what better way than to have a chat to the program creator himself, Daniel Roberts. He obviously doesn’t want to give away everything before we release the program, but I’ve done my best to draw out as much information from him as I can so that you know what to expect!

Daniel Clough: Hey Daniel, it’s great to have you with us. So let’s start off with how the hell we’re going to sort out this name situation. It’s a great name and all, but it’s just damn right confusing us both having the same name!

Daniel Roberts: Fair play! Well I prefer to be called Dan, so let’s say I am Dan and you’re Daniel and we’ll refer to me as DR and you as DC for the rest of the interview – how’s that for quick thinking?

DC: You’re a smart cookie, that sounds good to me! Ok, let’s get stuck in… Who exactly are you?

DR: Well, we’ve established my name is Dan and some of the Wannabebig readers may already know that I’ve already written 2 articles for Wannabebig – To Bulk or to Cut, That is the Question – or is it? and Nutrient Timing – When Science and Marketing Collide.  So technically, even though HCT-12 is far more than an article, this will be my third article for Wannabebig!

Going back to my younger days, technically I failed as an athlete (swimmer). I guess when I was young I just didn’t have the discipline and more importantly the desire to compete at the highest level in a sport that even though I was gifted at, I just wasn’t that interested in.

Even though swimming didn’t work out, I‘ve always had an obsession with human physiology and performance. It’s been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember and there hasn’t been a day in the last 20+ years where I haven’t spent at least a couple of hours reading and learning the subject above and beyond my formal education. One day my girlfriend will prevail and we’ll have to turn my library into a guest room so that the mother in law can stay over, but until that day I’ll fight to the end to keep my little library and feel just fine about sticking her in a hotel for the weekend lol (I’m really hoping either one isn’t reading this, or I’m toast).

Hmm, what else… I tend to have a short attention span which some may have noticed on the forums. Don’t get me wrong, I am up for helping anyone out and talking about training and nutrition forever, but I like the simple approach. If you’re trying to make it more complicated than it is, you’ll lose me and I’ll be helping someone else.

I love food and baking – custard or lemon tarts are a favourite.

I’m a sentimental/emotional type of guy, (I cry in pretty much every movie that has animals or Father/Son scenes, K-9 with James Belushi gets me every time), so I’m proud when athletes, professional or casual get the results they’re after – for them not for me. You can’t stand over them 24/7, so it is their effort and hard work which gets them there. I just feel great when other people produce results they didn’t think possible. I should probably get my estrogen levels checked!

Listen, all you need to know about Dan Roberts is that he likes lemon tarts ok? Well, that and Father/Son scenes…

DC: A little random, but that’ll do – it gives us something to work with! So, diving right in, what do you think are the main reasons people struggle to gain muscle?

DR: In short, a lack of hard work, consistency in diet, training, and progression and no appreciation of the timescale it actually takes. I’m sure people tire of hearing that and I don’t say it because I’m simplistic and have run out of ideas, it just happens to be fact and anyone who’s actually got any appreciable muscle will know this.

The problem is people want to believe otherwise, witness the women’s fat loss industry as a great example. There are pills, patches, and creams which are proven not to work, but you could even put the reference in bold next to the pot on the shelf and they’d still buy it – people want shortcuts. An increased appetite for immediate gratification and access to information (thanks to the internet) offers an excuse to flit unsuccessfully between programs and diets.

There are a few simple principles to getting the body to adapt the way you want it to, things that you can do as a lifter. The internal processes are massively complex once you get down to a cellular level, but there are only a few things that you can do externally to effect these, yet people will have you believe that pretty much every internal variable can be manipulated to great effect on a second by second basis by different substances and training techniques.; it just doesn’t happen that way. Studies are misrepresented, acute effects highlighted and promoted and the longer effects ignored and confusion perpetuated – the truth is the body works on a longer and ultimately simpler objective.

People forget that all the biggest bodies or even the strongest bodies are built using pretty similar programs; on the face of it there are enough programs out there to try one a week, and whilst the differences might be overwhelming at first glance, drill down and the similarities are obvious, the successful ones are founded on the same principles and those same principles (with a few twists of course) are what HCT-12 relies on.

DC:  HCT-12 sounds a bit like something out of Star Wars. What does it stand for and how did it come about?

DR: Well I personally came up with the name, its brilliant right? Some may even say a bit genius……

No, credit where it’s due, Tom Mutaffis came up with the name and hats off to him; it captures what it’s about and makes it sound all fancy!

Hypertrophy Cluster Training 12 is what it stands for. These days, you have to have the word ‘hypertrophy’ in there! The cluster refers to the rest-pause variation involved, ‘training’ is self explanatory and the 12 refers to the total number of reps in the last work set. And there you go – HCT-12 (Hypertrophy Cluster Training).

We’ve been working on this for the best part of a year now, but round about the time we started discussing the idea for a new article, I was rehabbing a torn MCL and a chronically hyper-mobile shoulder. I was out of shape, my conditioning was poor and I was weak as a kitten.

I started experimenting with something I’d done about a decade earlier with good effect, which was working up to a maximum working weight for approx 4-5 reps, resting briefly then trying to hit another 4-5 reps in doubles and singles.

Nothing formal, I’d train according to how I felt, training each bodypart as often as I felt it was ready and when progress stalled just take it easy on higher reps for a week or so until I felt the buzz to train heavier again. It was awesome, no pressure to hit weight progression targets just the fun of lifting heavy stuff and when it was a good day, lifting heavier stuff than I’d lifted before.

Meanwhile I was researching the physiological processes of muscle growth in preparation for another article and together with what I collated and condensed and the results I was seeing, started thinking about formalizing it and it just seemed to fit, which is where the idea for the project came from.

The program is quite personal to me in that it’s basically the way I like to train. Like most, out of curiosity I’ve experimented with a variety of training methodologies, in my early teens I was using Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Training, I followed that with Ron S Laura’s Matrix Principles, and Arnold’s Bodybuilding Encyclopedia, whilst messing around with every Weider principle about at the time.

What I should have done is listen to the bodybuilder’s offering me advice at the time; training variations that sat somewhere between the two extremes of high volume and HIT, but at that age, I thought that between Mike Mentzer and me, we knew better than the hugely strong Masters Heavyweights with the trophies on the gym window. I was wrong then and I’d be wrong now – the human body hasn’t changed nor have the basic tenets behind getting bigger and stronger.

DC: So tell us a bit more about the HCT-12 itself, what can people actually expect?

DR: This program gives you the freedom to listen to your body, and to train according to how your body is operating on any given day – for some that’s an opportunity to slack. If this is you, please don’t try it, and don’t expect much in the way of results from any program let alone this one.

Actually let’s get this out of the way up front and we’ll mention it no more. If you’re looking for an easy route this program isn’t for you. If you miss training sessions on a whim, or don’t put in the work when you’re actually in the gym then this program will not work for you.

However, for those dedicated to improving themselves this program offers what I believe to be the most efficient way of incorporating the principles common to all successful programs and delivers the most effective program for most of the people most of the time. A big promise I know, but once you get on the program I guarantee you will see what I mean.

The program will expose you to concepts like auto-regulation, rest-pause clusters, ramping and de-loads and educate you as to why. Even if the time isn’t right for you to use the program you’ll still get to understand what these principles are and why the body responds the way it does, giving you the tools to evaluate the efficacy of any program out there – you’ll not fall for promotional hype ever again, at least not in this field!

If you don’t put in the work when you’re actually in the gym then this program will not work for you

DC: Is the HCT-12 program just for people that want to gain weight and get bigger and stronger?

DR: I won’t lie, ultimately that is the type of person that HCT-12 is best suited to. However, if you’re looking to lose weight, then HCT-12 is still a very good option for you.

When you are dieting, you want to hold onto as much lean muscle as you can and in fact you also want to gain some along the way too right? If you follow the HCT-12 training principles and then tailor the nutritional advice to fit your goals, you’ll get leaner and at a bare minimum you’ll hold onto as much lean muscle as possible and if you’re at the right starting point, even gain some muscle. To answer the question more directly, yes HCT-12 is probably better for someone whose goal is to simply get bigger and stronger but if you’re main goal is to lose weight, HCT-12 is also going to work very well for you.

DC: One question that came up a lot is how many days the routine is? Some of our readers are gearing up to start this and of course want to know how often they will be training.

DR: Because everyone has different commitments and time available to them, I wanted to give people a few different options, so there are 3, 4 and 5 day splits all following the same principles. Two are upper/lower splits and the third is the way I like to train, with more focus on fewer body-parts per session but with the same frequency. No single one is better than the other; it comes down to preference and how much time you have to devote to the gym.

DC: What does the nutritional program look like?

DR: Anyone who’s read my previous articles on here will recognize the message in this piece, simplicity. Your diet doesn’t need to be complicated, but you need to hit your daily targets day in and day out, irrespective of whether your goal is to gain or lose weight, millions find this hard and have the pitiful results to show for it.

We’ll show you how to set calorie and macro-nutrient levels, we’ll show you how to adjust as you go along, we’ll show you how to incorporate effective supplementation and above all we’ll give you the tools to eat effectively for the rest of your life, whatever your goal.

DC: What? No complicated nutrient timing strategy?

DR: Nope, as I said we’ll talk about calories, macro-nutrients and pre and post workout nutrition – nothing you do beyond that is going to make a significant difference and in fact trying to approach it in a more complex way will increase the chance of you screwing things up. Consistency is key and wins all day long. If you’re timing how long it takes you to eat a protein bar, you’re doing something wrong.

DC: Right, let’s get onto the number one question on most of our readers mind. What gains people can expect!

DR: Ah, the big question! But before I answer it I want to take you back to a point I raised earlier – most people lack an appreciation of the timescale involved to build an impressive physique. 6 weeks is nothing, actually neither is 12 weeks whilst we’re talking about it. To quote fellow Wannabebig contributor, Shelby Starnes ‘Great physiques are built over years, not days or weeks’.

As far as I can tell, most people on forums and commercial gyms barely progress in a year let alone 12 weeks, so any progress is not to be sniffed at.

Anyone that devotes themselves to the HCT-12 training and diet program will get bigger and stronger and feel the best they have felt for a long while, I’ll promise you that.

Before we even opened up the program to selected Wannabebig readers, I tried it out on some training partners and made adjustments along the way and they really loved it. They got stronger, bigger and just as important they really enjoyed the sessions. They loved the auto-regulation aspect of it and then I came up with the program we’re about to release.

We wanted to test this a bit further before release though, so we got ourselves some willing Wannabebig readers (25 to be exact) and as we speak they are still being put through their paces and I can’t wait to see their results after 12 weeks (they’re about 6 weeks in now).

The big thing I want to stress is how much one progresses depends on their starting point; one of the trainees (TomSids) by the halfway mark had put on nearly 40 pounds, but then he was an underweight novice and he’d struggled his whole adult life to put on weight. Once he understood the principles and what was required of him, he tirelessly devoted himself to it and his persistence and enthusiasm have paid dividends. He’s a changed man. How much of it was muscle and how much was fat? Well judge for yourselves when you see the before and after photo’s after the 12 weeks.

Some of the more experienced gained anything from a few pounds through to 7-8 pounds. We also have several guys who have fat loss goals and are steadily losing 1-2 pounds a week and everyone in the group is beating 1RM PR’s 6 weeks in, but we’re not at the finish line yet. We expect to see more progress still, but all improved week on week in both body composition and gym performance.

‘Great physiques are built over years, not days or weeks’ – Shelby Starnes (Pictured above Off-Season)

DC: Some might say you’re not being clear enough in exactly how much muscle someone may be able to gain on HCT-12? 😉

DR: That’s fair enough, but I refuse to give specific numbers as everyone is very different in respect to training experience, genetic ability, age, commitment, motivation – the list goes on… I believe it is unrealistic and misleading to give people hard number claims. If you want that type of information, go grab yourself a program that does just that, but we warned any program that makes promises like that IS misleading you and won’t have your best interests at heart.

DC: Ok, I wanted to cover one last thing with you before we wrap this interview up. Will you need to take AtLarge Nutrition supplements to make gains on this program? A few of our readers are a little skeptical this may be one big advertisement for AtLarge.

DR: It’s far from a big advertisement. As you stated at the beginning of this article, Wannabebig and AtLarge Nutrition’s vision is primarily to help people look and feel great and that’s why they have funded the whole thing. I give you my word that I have had complete creative freedom to develop HCT-12 without any pressure to sell products.

Ultimately, from a nutritional perspective what you ‘need’ is to consistently hit your calorie and macro-nutrient target. To hit mine I use Nitrean and Opticen. I use Opticen before and after training. Simple; supplements, doing what they’re supposed to, conveniently and cost effectively helping me hit my nutritional targets, without which I wouldn’t progress in my training.

I mentioned TomSids above and he is a great example of this. He used Maximus, Opticen, and Results consistently to pack on 40lbs and get significantly stronger over a 6 week period. These supplements helped him to get in enough calories and to support muscle growth (which he has failed to do many times in the past), to help him achieve this weight gain over this time frame. Help is the key word here.

AtLarge Nutrition supplements will of course be recommended in the nutritional aspect of the program. Why? Because it’s a solid line, I personally use and believe in them and the reason I am here talking about HCT-12 now is because of AtLarge Nutrition. It’s also the reason that HCT-12 is being released completely free, so I would hope that Wannabebig readers support AtLarge for these reasons, which is why they are recommended. But the bottom line is that they are not intrinsically built into it in any way and they are not essential to following it and making great gains.

DC: Well, I’ve picked your brain enough, thanks for taking the time out to discuss HCT-12 in more detail. Now get back to work, because the May 3rd deadline is looking tight and there’s no time to waste!

DR: Hah, you got it. And if anyone has any further questions about HCT-12, just ask them in the discussion thread for this article (linked below).

Written by Daniel Clough (with a little help from Dan Roberts!)

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) – An Interview with Daniel Roberts discussion thread.

Training History – Pros and Cons of Various Bodybuilding Training Systems

While all of us have heard George Santayana’s famous quote: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” few seem to translate that teaching over to their lifting. After our rookie year in the gym, most of us are so sure that we have discovered IT (the training and nutrition “system” that is perfect for us) that we no longer really investigate other options.

If you take the opportunity to discuss training and nutrition with as many different people as possible, from different gyms, different parts of the country, different countries, even those from different sports, you greatly enrich your training knowledge.

But taking an open-minded look into the past, at how athletes trained in earlier periods, examining the benefits and drawbacks of those systems, and the real reasons why those systems either prospered or dwindled in popularity, provides you with a depth of knowledge that will set you above the chuckleheads with the Xeroxed routines from Fitness for Men or the teenagers doing curls that look like a mixture of reverse cleans and an epileptic seizure.

Here are three well-used training methodologies from the past. Once you have a deeper understand of them, you can determine how aspects of each might possibly help you create your ultimate physique.

Twenty-Rep Breathing Squat Routine

Twenty-rep Squat routines are considered old school and a bit antiquated by most modern lifters, which is unfortunate because they have proven to be effective mass builders for anyone that has worked consistently hard on them.

Although popularized by Mark Berry and Joseph C. Hise in the 1930 and 40ss, the greatest advocate of breathing squats was Peary Rader. For those not familiar with him, Rader was the founder of Ironman magazine and wrote over 1,300 articles during his fifty-year publishing career. Breathing squats were a mainstay in many of his programs.

Generally, a Twenty-Rep Breathing Squat program involved abbreviated workouts so as not to impair the lifter’s limited recovery abilities, done three times a week. The workouts focused on just a few basic, compound movements, with rigorous squats being the core.

A set of twenty-rep Breathing Squats involved loading the bar with a weight you might typically squat with for ten reps (your 10RM) and pausing once you reach failure. This means that once you feel that you can no longer do another rep, which will occur due more to oxygen debt than muscular fatigue, you stand with the bar still resting across your traps and take four to five slow, deep breaths before continuing to knock out a couple more VERY difficult reps. You then take another short pause, and continue onward until you reach the magic twenty-rep mark. That’s right. Through sheer force of will you push out ten more reps, rest-pause style.

On the subject, Rader writes [Ironman Magazine, May 1967 “High Repetition – High Intensity Squats for Metabolic Conditioning”]. “When you get to ten you will often think you can’t make another repetition, but if you just keep fighting you will be able to make the full twenty repetitions.” He goes on to say, “When you finish a set of squats, if you have worked hard enough on it, you will be panting for breath and your legs will feel like rubber.”

The basic idea in those early articles was that the deep breathing from the high-rep squatting would serve to expand the lifter’s ribcage. To this effect, many early programs supersetted Twenty-Rep Breathing Squats with Cross-bench Dumbbell Pullovers, with the deep breathing supposedly working with the stretch of the pullovers to encourage the soft tissues of the sternum to open up, giving the lifter a huge barrel chest.

While that is probably not the case, what the workouts would do is to consistently disturb the lifter’s homeostatic environment, forcing the body into a wonderful “grow or die” situation that, along with the weight gain diet that was invariably a part of the protocol, turned numerous boys into men.

With proper weight selection, the last few reps will be done one excruciating rep at a time, with you pausing and gasping for your life, breathing taking on the sound of an asthmatic locomotive and liquefied snot running from your sinuses as you will your fast-weakening lower body towards the elusive twenty-rep finish line. As author Randall Strossen says in his book Super Squats:

“If your mind falters, you are dead meat now, so you either get tough and grow, or cave in and stay small.”

The second cornerstone of this program is that you apply simple progressive resistance based on increasing the squat poundage every workout, if possible. These regular incremental increases are possible for most beginner lifters because they are developing strength, conditioning and mental courage from such a pathetically low starting point.

In modern days, powerlifting genius Louie Simmons recommends high-rep deadlifting for those trying to gain weight, which is a nice compound movement variation, as long as the lifter takes care not to let the mechanics of the lift degrade as he tires.
Upon graduating to my first real gym, I was prescribed a modernized variant on the Twenty-Rep Squat program (listed below) that split the body into a Push/Pull split with every other day workouts to enhance recovery.


Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa


I packed thirty solid pounds onto my Ichabod Crane physique based on pure hard work, continuous eating and forcing myself to add 2 1/2 to five pounds on each end of the bar almost every squat day.  Equally important, I vomited almost every leg-day for  three months, but went on to wipe my chin and complete each training session, which garnered the respect of the older gym veterans. This is similar to the program I used:


Exercise Set/Rep
1) Breathing Squats  2 x 20
2A) Leg Extensions * 2 x 8-12
2B) 45 degree Leg Press *   2 x 20
3) Incline Dumbbell Press  3 x 8-12
4) Pec Dips  1 x max
5) Lying Triceps Ext.  2 x 6-10

* Exercises are supersetted together


Exercise Set/Rep
1) Front Chin  20 reps
2) Barbell Bent Bows  2 x 6-10
3) Dumbbell Shrugs 1-2 x 6-10
4) Alternate Dumbbell Curl  2 x 8-12
5) Calf Press  2 x 10-15


Leg Extensions and 45 degree Leg Presses are done as a superset, (with no rest between sets). On Pec Dips, once you can get a dozen continuous reps with bodyweight, add weight and do 2 sets of 8-12. Likewise, on Front Chins, do twenty reps in as many sets as it takes. Once you can get a dozen continuous reps with bodyweight, add weight and do 3 sets of 8-12. Those with very low exercise tolerance may need to cut volume even more (indicative by hand tremors and non-squat related nausea mid-workout) and those people can eliminate the Lying Triceps Extensions and Dumbbell Shrugs.

If you are new to lifting but your desire to get big outstrips your genetic abilities, give the Twenty-Rep Squat Program a try. If anything will bust you out of the rookie ranks, it is this routine; but remember, it comes with a cost.

High-Volume Training

More top bodybuilders have used a high-volume training program to build their physiques than any other system. In fact, surveying a list of Mr. Olympia winners, Larry Scott, Sergio Oliva, Arnold and Franco were all very high-volume trainers. Zane, Bannout and Dickerson also used volume to build their shapely, mature muscle. The Big Nasty Ronnie Coleman uses high-volume (with ridiculously heavy weights). Recent winners Dexter Jackson and Jay Cutler use moderately high volume. All winners with the lone exception of Dorian Yates have used this as their primary training style (so that’s 39 out of 45 Olympia wins) because, quite simply, it works.

A high-volume workout typically involves focusing on just one or two major bodyparts a session and performing multiple exercises (hitting the bodypart from different angles or with a unique type of stress) for multiple sets. The longer workouts require that you split bodyparts up and train them over three to five training sessions. A proper high-volume workout also incorporates short rest periods (otherwise you are just hanging around the gym because you have nothing better to do).

A classic example might be the Chest and Back workout that Arnold Schwarzenegger used during his competitive career (according to Joe Weider’s Mr. Olympia Training Encyclopedia):

Exercise Set/Rep
1A) Bench Press * 5 x 20-6
1B) Wide-grip Chin * 5 x 15-8
2A) Incline Barbell Press * 5 x 10-15
2B) T-Bar Rows * 5 x 10-15
3A) Flat Dumbbell Flyes * 5 x 10-15
3B) Wide-grip Barbell Rows * 5 x 10-15
4A) Parallel Bar Dips * 5 x 15
4B) Close-grip Chins * 5 x 12
5) Stiff-Arm Pullovers 5 x 15-20

* Exercises are supersetted together

Arnold supersetted his chest and back exercises, which is a great technique for increasing work density (the number of sets performed in a given time period). His training consisted of splitting his body into three parts, and he training each part twice weekly, with workouts lasting around two hours. During contest prep, he sometimes trained twice daily. That is some serious volume!

Arnold Schwarzenegger pictured with Joe Weider

Other champions of the time, like Serge Nubret, Johnny Fuller and Steve Michalik were known for even longer workouts. Michalik did between forty and a hundred sets per bodypart and Nubret was known for spending up to six hours a day training. These extremes are obviously not applicable (or worthwhile) for most lifters.

From his gym in Studio City, California Vince Gironda was most likely the first celebrity trainer, resculpting the bodies of many of the action heroes of the day. His effect on the bodybuilding world was even more impressive. His own physique (while lacking in genetics) was a testament to his knowledge and showcased definition rarely seen in that era. Mr. Olympia #1 Larry Scott credits Gironda’s teachings for helping him overcome his structural deficiencies to build a champion physique.

One of Gironda’s most effective routines was his 10×10 program. Ten sets of ten is a great high-volume hypertrophy workout. It is almost universally effective for short periods of time but leads to overtraining if done for too long by those without adequate conditioning or constitution.

Charles Poliquin is an advocate of High-Volume Training for hypertrophy. In his book German Volume Training, he writes, “The program works because it targets a group of motor units, exposing them to an extensive volume of repeated efforts, specifically, 10 sets of a single exercise. The body adapts to the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement. Gains of ten pounds or more in six weeks are not uncommon, even in experienced lifters!”

Serge Nubret was known for spending up to six hours a day training

High-volume training has fallen out of favor in recent years, but can be used to improve muscle size for short periods. Those that use the high-volume system display a great deal of what is often referred to as muscle maturity. This is a side benefit and refers to the full development of the muscles fibers as well as the sarcoplasmic components of the muscles. The short rest periods and repeated contractions also tend to cause a hardening of the physique.

High-Intensity Training

High-Intensity Training (HIT) is a training system popularized by Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones. He wrote numerous articles between 1968 and 1975 that mixed pseudoscience with marketing and was very convincing in his rhetoric. HIT workouts stressed training that was “harder but briefer” taking each set at least to concentric muscle failure. As Ellington Darden writes (High-Intensity Bodybuilding, 1984) “Maximum intensity is produced only if an exercise is carried to a point where another repetition is impossible.”

Traditional HIT workouts are done full-body, two or three times weekly, with just eight to twelve exercises (usually for just one set of each). Here is an example:

Traditional HIT Program

Exercise Set/Rep
1) Barbell Squat   2 x 15-20
2) Machine Pullover   1 x 8-12
3) Leg Curl     1 x 8-12
4A) Lateral Raise * 1 x 8-12
4B) Press-Behind-Neck * 1 x 8-12
5) Undergrip Pulldown 1 x 8-12
6) Incline Press 1 x 8-12
7) Bent Barbell Row 1 x 8-12
8 ) Seated Triceps Ext. 1 x 8-12
9) Barbell Curl 1 x 8-12
10) Calf Press 2 x 8-12
11) Ab Crunch 1 x 8-12


* Exercises are supersetted together

You should do one to two warm-up sets, making sure not to push them far enough for them to become work sets (which would thereby increase volume). Any of these exercises can be done either with free weights or machines. Machines often are a better choice for safety reasons, especially for those training alone. For example, a heavy Incline Press can be pushed to failure with a single spotter on a Smith Machine or alone on a bench press machine.

For more advanced lifters, some HIT sets are taken past concentric failure, incorporating forced reps (your training partner minimally assisting you to finish a couple added reps by applying a couple pounds worth of help through the sticking point), rest pause (short rests, as in the twenty-rep squat program, to allow the set to continue), negative-emphasis (having your training partner manually put added resistance on the bar for the lowering stage), negative reps (having one or more training partners lift the bar or lever arm to the contracted position so that you can lower a heavier that normally possible weight) and static contractions (squeezing hard against a weight you are not actually moving).

The early writings of Jones were vitriolic indictments of the then-practiced field of strength and conditioning (as primitive as it was at that time). He was successful in creating quite a buzz and became extremely wealthy with gym owners buying his complete line so that they could call themselves a “Nautilus Fitness Center.” While Jones contributed some great advances, HIT suffered for three reasons:

1) The advocates of HIT were fanatical in their approach and polarizing in their affect on people’s view on training. Jones ignored any research and anecdotal evidence that did not support established Nautilus dogma. His two most famous followers, Ellington Darden and Mike Mentzer, followed his close-minded approach. 

2) Nautilus’ most famous triumph “The Colorado Experiment” in which Casey Viator gained an amazing amount of muscle (63 pounds, while losing nearly 18 pounds of bodyfat) was attributed to the Nautilus machines and Jones’ training protocol. It was later learned that Viator began the study in an artificially “deflated” state. According to IronMan Magazine (Sept. 1973), “In early January of 1973, he was involved in a serious accident at work and lost most of one finger as a result . . . and almost died from an allergic reaction to an antitetanus injection.” Most of Viator’s progress then, can be attributed to a mixture of regaining of dormant muscle, hydration of water and glycogen in the muscles, and the influence of anabolics. The results may have been impressive under normal circumstances, but the study presented carries no validity.

3) Not everyone responds well to HIT, some find they either cannot generate adequate intensity, mentally burn out from the high-intensity or just do not progress in strength and size on limited volume.

Mentzer replies to this in his booklet Heavy Duty: “I get the question, ‘If 12-20 sets is not the best way to train, how do you account for the success of guys like Arnold and Lee Haney?’ The answer is that, while their physiques are, in part, the result of such training, so are the physiques of all the failures, whose numbers are legion.”

This, of course ignores the multitude of trainees that try High-Intensity Training and quit the system because it does not work well for them. A minority of trainees responds well to HIT and many adopt it as their long-term training protocol. The thing the HIT advocates miss is that one is as likely to overtrain using a system that incorporates an excess of set-extending, nervous system shocking techniques (negatives, forced reps, burns) as they are training with a higher level of volume. Some lifters, such as Bill Pearl, even feel that you should not even take a set to failure, as stopping with two to three reps still “in the tank” allows for a greater growth response.

High-Intensity Training advocate and Bodybuilding Legend, Mike Mentzer

While a number of research studies have shown that there are greater muscle growth and strength improvements from multi-set workouts over one-set HIT protocols, a small pocket of HIT-enthusiasts endure. Most successful are those like Lee Labrada that tweaked the program. Labrada says (Flex Magazine, October 2008), “I found that it didn’t quite work for me, at least not in the exact way that Mentzer espoused. I couldn’t quite train using only two or three sets per bodypart. But what I did was modify it, and I eventually found a happy medium where I was doing six to eight sets for smaller bodyparts and 10-12 sets for larger ones, and it worked fantastically. So I did train to failure on a few of those sets, going as heavy as possible, but I didn’t overtrain.”

Although Mentzer became more extreme in his later years (a shift that, in my opinion, damaged public acceptance of HIT), the workouts he recommended during his competitive period were more applicable to most trainers. Here is his routine listed in his original Heavy Duty course (no publication date listed, but this is the small-format black cover booklet he released around 1978).

Monday and Thursday:

Exercise Set/Rep
1A) Leg Extension * 1 cycle
1B) Leg Press *  1 cycle
2) Squats 1 set 1 set
3) Leg Curls 1 set 1 set
4) Calf Raises 2-3 sets
5A) Dumbbell Flyes * 2 cycles
5B) Incline Barbell or Dumbbell Presses * 2 cycles
6A) Triceps Pressdown * 2 cycles
6B) Dips 2 cycles * 2 cycles

* Exercises are supersetted together

Tuesday and Friday:

Exercise Set/Rep
1A) Stiff-arm Lat Pulldown * 2 cycles
1B) Close-grip Palms-up Pulldown * 2 cycles
2) One-arm Dumbbell Row 2 sets
3A) Shrugs * 2 cycles
3B) Upright Rows * 2 cycles
4A) Dumbbell Lateral * 2 cycles
5A) Press-Behind-Neck * 2 cycles
6) Bent Laterals  2 sets
7A) Barbell curls * 2  cycles
7B) Palms-up Chins * 2  cycles

* Exercises are supersetted together

Many people that have seen Mentzer train, claim he often did more sets, but that might be attributed to the witnessing of multiple warm-up sets. In more recent days, other men like Dorian Yates, Trevor Smith (Beyond Failure Training) and Dante Trudel (DC Training) have made adaptations to traditional HIT, adjusting the volume, training frequency and application of its principles and therefore making it dramatically more effective.

What the writing of Arthur Jones, Mike Mentzer, Ellington Darden and other HIT proponents did do, was stimulate thought about the mechanisms of the training effect and the importance of recuperation while also familiarizing trainees with eccentric contractions, negative emphasis, static contractions and forced reps.

Two Giants Collide – A Dispute Between Mike Mentzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Great, Steve. You Gave Me A Lot of Info. What Do I Do With It?

The Buddha describes the path to enlightenment as “the middle route between all extremes.” In training, a moderation of volume, a judicious application of intensification techniques, and a balanced use of specific aspects of a few different training ideologies is probably the formula for success.

The body adapts to nearly whatever stress is placed on it. It is because of this that we have such varied training systems. When trying to determine what type of training brings about the best adaptation, be open-minded to each technique and analyze if there is something worth trying and adding to your bodybuilding arsenal.

Tom Platz is an excellent example of this. Spending his early training years at Armento’s Gym in Detroit he trained alongside powerlifters. This early influence extended into his training throughout his competitive career. While people were debating the Arnold Method versus Mentzer’s Heavy Duty, Platz took the middle ground, feeling that a moderate number of sets allowed him to achieve optimal growth. His rep range was famously broad, ranging from low-rep triples to sets of squats for over fifty reps. He also made liberal use of set-extending techniques, particularly forced reps and burns, working a muscle until he could no longer make it contract. This system matched his energy level and the intensity of his personality and helped him build one of the most incredibly physiques of our era.

Tom Platz spent his early training years training alongside powerlifters.

A more laidback trainer, Lee Haney was known for his quote “Stimulate. Don’t annihilate.” He performed 12-15 sets per bodypart (7-10 for smaller parts) and, like Bill Pearl, believed in limiting the number of sets that are pushed to failure. It was his belief that coaxing progress was more effective than forcing it. This obviously worked for Haney because he set a new level of mass and was unbeatable until he retired. With contrasting personalities, both men needed to find a protocol that matched them. 

So be open to new techniques and styles of training. Strive to get a solid grasp of the reasoning behind any training style. Some are effective but only for a limited time period. This is where intelligent programming comes into play. Learn as much as you can about any new training system, try it in the gym and, if it appeals to you and fits your goals, make it part of your personal training system.

Written by Steve Colescott, Guerrilla Journalist

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Training History – Pros and Cons of Various Training Systems discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist , Steve Colescott works alongside Dave Palumbo and John Romano as a Staff Writer.

He has had nearly a hundred published articles covering the science behind various training and nutrition protocols. He can be reached at

Cheat Your Heart Out: Eat What You Want and Lose Fat

I remember the days of hardcore bodybuilding diets, the 80s and 90s of pure protein, little carbs, and zero fat – I’m talking plain chicken and broccoli five meals per day that were popularized by ripped dudes like Sly Stallone. (In fact, I remember reading an article about how Stallone got shredded for Rocky 4. His diet? “Nothing but tuna and water.”)

But just because we remember something doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good. I mean, I remember getting the chicken pox, and that sucked.

So I guess the question I really want to ask is, did those diets work?

I’m a bit torn. On one hand, they did help some guys shed fat. On the other hand, if Stallone and the guys knew back then what we know now about strategic cheating, they may have had even more success…or at least they would have been a whole hell of a lot happier.

You see, when you start a hardcore diet with absolutely no deviation, it can wreak havoc on your mental state. Some guys can push through and stay on track. Most are found in the closet eating Twinkies while rocking back and forth and crying.

Psychologically speaking, cheating is a mental and emotional “break” from the rigors of a hardcore diet, but only if you do it right. An all-out binge will harm your ego (and your waistline), but strategic cheating – eating certain cheat meals at certain times with certain goals – is a great way to lose fat quickly while “being good” 95 percent of the time. Plus, you won’t have an urge to kill the guy who asks if you want a donut.

Let’s take a step back. We know there’s more to the ripped action hero physique than meets the eye, and that severe calorie restriction can go from good to bad very quickly.

So why don’t more guys cheat on their diet? Fear. Fear that consuming anything that isn’t a clean basic food will stop their fat loss progress.

Well, I’m here to set the record straight.

How would you like to lose fat while still eating some of your favorite foods? Pizza? Check. Cookies? Sure.

It’s not all fun and games, but planned cheat days could be the best thing to do to lose fat.

Why We Should Cheat

I’m not going to sit here and act like I’ve invented the science of cheating…I haven’t. In recent years, a plethora of literature on the hormone leptin has caused quite a stir in the fitness industry. For a long time, trainers and nutritionists just told their clients to keep pushing through the phase where progress stops and they “hit a wall.” As it turns out, we may have been pounding our heads against the wall for no good reason.

Here’s what usually happens: After we diet for a few weeks, we start seeing a decreased rate of fat loss or even stop losing fat all together. We start to crave higher quantities of food and start losing muscle (I’ll talk more about retaining muscle later in the article, by the way). We even increase our risk of getting sick because we’re fatigued all the time. Guys, that is no way to get lean.
Enter leptin, the king of hormones (at least for our purposes).

What’s So Cool About Leptin?

First, I want to hit you with a couple of quick science bombs, and then we’ll jump into how leptin can help you.

Leptin is known to have an effect on food intake and energy expenditure in the hypothalamus (1,2). Additionally, factors like genetics, insulin, adrenaline, body fat, lean body mass, and caloric intake can influence how much leptin is made and how much is used (3,4,5).

Now here’s something very interesting. The size and amount of our fat cells parallel our leptin levels (6,7), so if we drop our calories through diet or training, the level of leptin falls with it. If we eat a high-carb meal, our leptin levels will rise. Therefore, leptin levels are in a constant state of flux depending on your diet and body weight.

What does this mean to you?

Early research on leptin has found that leptin injections can drastically speed up the rate of fat loss (the research was done on rats, but still). Think about that for a second. You’re dieting and hit a wall. You get a leptin injection and suddenly you’re back on the path to faster fat loss. Sounds nice, huh?

Because humans actually have elevated levels of leptin (8), any type of injection would be ineffective and extremely expensive to produce. However (and here’s the kicker), you can use strategic cheating to manipulate your leptin levels. Because leptin is an anti-starvation hormone (9), we can control it to lose more fat!

Let me show you how.

How We Can Control Leptin

Everyone loves the beginning of a diet (well, maybe not everyone). You feel better and almost instantly look better as you tend to lose some water weight. Then you start wanting foods you know you can’t have.

This is why most dieting coaches will tell you to have one cheat meal per week. The problem? Bodybuilders have iron will. They will resist cheating and will continue to do cardio as long as they keep moving toward their goal. But for the rest of us mere mortals, strategic cheating is a much better method (provided you don’t have eight or nine cheat meals per week).

There’s a direct relationship between increased food intake and decreased leptin levels. The decreasing in leptin levels is the body’s starvation response. If we don’t cheat on our diet, then our leptin levels will continue to rise, and when our leptin is elevated, we’re more prone to picking on whatever is around the house in an all-out junk food gorge-fest. The solution is that we must put this leptin level in a state of flux.

Decreased leptin levels are directly related to lowered levels of energy expenditure (10,11,12). Leptin injection in animals has shown a reverse in the declining leptin levels (13). For us, having a cheat day will do just that.

But when should you take this cheat day? First, it doesn’t have to fall on a scheduled day. For instance, you can’t make every Saturday a cheat day or you’ll get diminishing returns. Here are some “warning signs” that you need to have a cheat day: 

  • You become moody more frequently.
  • You lose the desire to go to the gym.
  • You can’t fall asleep.
  • Your strength levels in the gym take a dip.
  • You’re not losing fat and think you should do more cardio.

Cheat Day(s) over a Cheat Meal

Let’s get things straight: I’m advocating a cheat day(s), not a cheat meal.

If we’re serious about increasing our leptin levels, the best strategy is to raise your overall calories for a given period rather than simply pigging out for a few meals in a given week.

From a consistency standpoint, having a crappy meal every other day is hardly putting in work, whereas stringing together a decent period of consistency and then taking a set period to cheat before getting back on the wagon will feel much better psychologically.

Wait? Eat more calories to lose fat? That’s a bit confusing, isn’t it?

Here’s the kicker: If your leptin levels are low previous to the cheat, you might very well notice more fat loss after the cheat, because your resting metabolic rate will increase.

Living proof that cheating on your diet from time to time ain’t a bad thing!

How Much Should You Cheat?

It all depends on how low your leptin levels are, which depends on how long and how intensely you’ve dieted. The higher the calories still present in your diet, the shorter the cheat day will be.

If you’ve been maintaining an extremely low intake in calories—less than 2000 calories for males and 1500 for females—you should skip the cheat day and instead raise your calories by about 15 to 30 percent for five days in a row.

The lower your body fat and the longer your diet, then the longer the cheat period. If you have not been dieting severely, then you should look to have a cheat day over 24 to 48 hours, raising your calories about 20 to 30 percent whenever you see one of the “warning signs” I outlined above.

If you haven’t followed a strict diet, like those low in calories described above, you don’t need to raise your calories for that long of a period of time.

A Quick Word About Muscle

Besides losing fat, the second most important goal while dieting is holding onto the muscle that it took us so long to build. Regardless of what we do or don’t do in our training or how much protein we take, if we lose muscle, it’s due to our hormones.

In a perfect world, we’d all have the hormones of natural bodybuilders who can gain noticeable muscle mass without gaining fat. However, we live in the real world where we have to consume excessive calories to grow. Leptin plays a hand in all the hormones that we need (testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, etc.) for this process.

Increased leptin fills glycogen stores, which is the key signal that tells our body that we’re fed (15). It raises the level of luteinizing hormone, which increases testosterone (16) in addition to increasing growth hormone (17) and decreasing cortisol (18). All of our hormones that are responsible for muscle growth are elevated with leptin, which is all the more reason to elevate it.

So there you go. On to the sample diets!

Sample Diets


Here is a sample 2000 calorie cutting diet. Watch how we adjust it below for your cheat day.

Meal 1

  • 6 egg whites
  • 4 tsp of peanut butter
  • 6 oz of grapefruit
  • ½ cup of oatmeal
  • 6 oz plain, non-fat yogurt

Meal 2

  • 4 oz chicken breast
  • 12 almonds
  • 3 oz orange
  • 4 oz baked sweet potato

Meal 3

  • 1 cup of nonfat cottage cheese
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 2/3 cup of brown rice

Meal 4

  • 30 grams of whey protein (a high quality blend such as Nitrean)
  • 4 tsp almond butter
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 1/3 cup of brown rice

Meal 5

  • 4 oz tilapia
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 12 oz asparagus

Meal 6

  • 30 grams of whey protein (a high quality blend such as Nitrean)
  • 12 almonds
  • 8 oz asparagus

Total calories 1981 grams
Total protein: 154 grams
Total carbohydrates: 195 grams
Total fat: 65 grams


Here’s an example of how your diet would look on a cheat day where you raise your calories by 25 to 30 percent.

Meal 1

  • 8 egg whites
  • 4 tsp of peanut butter
  • 2.25 oz banana
  • 2 slices whole grain toast
  • 6 oz plain, non-fat yogurt

Meal 2

  • 4 oz chicken breast
  • 18 almonds
  • 3.5 oz orange
  • 4 oz baked sweet potato

Meal 3

  • 5 oz grilled tilapia
  • 6 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 2/3 cup of brown rice

Meal 4

  • 40 grams of whey protein (a high quality blend such as Nitrean)
  • 6 tsp almond butter
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 2/3 cup of brown rice

Meal 5

  • 5 oz tilapia
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 12 oz asparagus
  • 2 oz baked yam

Meal 6

  • 40 grams of whey protein (a high quality blend such as Nitrean)
  • 18 almonds
  • 8 oz asparagus

Total calories 2421 grams
Total protein: 189 grams
Total carbohydrates: 225 grams
Total fat: 85 grams

(Notice that I didn’t include pizza or cookies here. There’s a reason for that. Dieting is dieting; you have to eat certain foods. By all means, you can eat pizza and cookies on your cheat day, but you have to make sure your overall intake stays within the caloric limits that I mentioned above for your cheat days.)

Could a tasty treat like this really kickstart a fat loss spurt?

The Need To Cheat

All the evidence is there. Physiologically, we need to cheat on our diet regardless of what our goals are. Leptin isn’t some funky niche hormone; it’s as important as testosterone and insulin. Just because it can’t be injected doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t get the same spotlight.

Psychologically, cheating is used for a mental break.

The choice is yours. You can eat less and do more cardio, or you can try manipulating your leptin with strategic cheat days and really strip off the fat.

What’ll it be?

Written by Jimmy Smith

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Cheat Your Heart Out discussion thread.

 About Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith, MS, CSCS is a trainer and nutrition coach in Stamford,CT who specializes in physique development. He consults with a variety of clients including athletes, figure competitors and bodybuilders.

He is also the creator and host of one of the internet’s most listened fitness radio shows, The Jimmy Smith Training Podcast.

For more information and for a free bodybuilding video course, visit his website


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