For over 23 years, natural bodybuilding has been my hobby and passion. I have made amazing changes to my physique during that time, and I am now as strong as a bear.
But these changes didn’t come easy. I had to learn a few lessons along the way.
In 1981, at the age of 14, I received my first plastic and concrete weight set. I really had no clue what I was doing. But somehow, through osmosis or instinct, I developed a routine.
I would bench press, incline bench press and curl. And of course I did sit-ups. That was about it. I had no plan, and never tried to use more weight. I did what I thought was best to grow muscle, but I failed miserably. For 4 years I lifted weights in my bedroom. Nothing changed. I was still the small-boned, skinny/fat teen I had always been.
Prisoner of Bad Genetics?
My genetics were brutal. Research into natural bodybuilding reveals that the larger your bones are, the more muscle mass you can generally pack on. If I would have known that reality back in 1984, I might have stopped lifting on the spot.
I have tiny wrists and fingers, small ankles, and an extremely miniscule waist. But I also carried around fat. I didn’t have any noticeable muscle on my entire body. Everything sagged from my skinny bones. I had man-boobs at the age of 12. In clothing, I didn’t look fat. But with my shirt off, I looked like a skeleton with blubber.
Looking at me, you would have guessed that I hated exercise. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I loved – and lived – to exercise. I would spend most of my days jogging, sprinting, playing baseball or basketball, doing push-ups, step-ups, jumping rope, and lifting weights. I mean this is all seriousness – I doubt there are few teens on Earth who exercised more then me. When I entered college in 1986, I looked pathetic as ever. Thin. No muscle. And fat.
Then my life changed.
I attended a small college in a tiny city in New Mexico. I had no car, and there was never anything to do on campus (that didn’t involve drinking alcohol). On top of this, the guys outnumbered the women 8 to 1.
So, with those horrible odds, boredom set in. I began walking; exploring the campus. And I stumbled upon a weight room. A very nice weight room. And the weight room was empty, so I started working out.
Determined to take advantage of an empty weight room with tons of equipment and free weights, I purchased several bodybuilding books and magazines. I learned new exercises, developed a routine, and never looked back.
In 6 months time, people began asking me if I was taking steroids. In my first year, I gained over 25 pounds of pure muscle. By the end of my second year of training, I had gained a total of 40 pounds of muscle, and was benching over 300 for reps. Not bad for a guy that couldn’t bench press 95 pounds for reps a few years earlier.
How did I gain mass and strength? Was I a closet mesomorph? No, I was far from being an easy gainer. But enough about me…you came for my secrets.
The 3 Big Secrets
Secret 1: The Squat
I hope this isn’t a let down for you, but the squat packs on muscle mass. I attacked the squat during my first year of training. I went from never having performed the movement, to deep squatting over 315 for reps after 6 months.
It turned my body into an anabolic machine. Not only did my quads grow like a mutated animal zapped with gamma rays, but my entire body also grew like a weed.
It is often claimed that one exercise can’t force the entire body to grow. This is not my experience. A heavy, progressive regiment of squats changes your body’s hormonal balance for the better. Nothing induces a testosterone flood into the blood stream faster then an insane squat workout.
Common sense would indicate that slapping 400 pounds on your back is much more anabolic then a set of bicep curls. In fact, I rarely perform more then 3 sets of biceps a week, and my arms are 18”.
Secret 2: Progression
This shouldn’t be rocket science. Try for more reps and/or more weight on each set of every workout, and you will get big. End of story.
Progression trumps all other training techniques. It should be mastered first, and placed above all other training tactics. Never waste a set. Always push for more!
Secret 3: Food
During college, I had access to the school cafeteria. Every day was a buffet. I could eat as much as I liked. And I did.
Growing up, my family was very poor. This is no exaggeration. My father left when I was 8. My mother worked hard to support our family, but brought home very little money. We had to make do with food, and there wasn’t always much to go around.
So when I hit college, I ate like a madman. It was like living in paradise. And something miraculous happened: I gained muscle and lost fat. After a year, I was muscular and ripped. I looked nothing like the small-boned, skinny-fat guy that entered college.
You have to learn to eat enough to grow. I’m not telling you to eat like a hog. What I am telling you is this: you will never grow if you under-eat.
23 Years Later
In total, I have gained over 58 pounds of muscle in the last 23 years. I have deadlifted 530 pounds, squatted near 450, and benched 430. I look nothing like I did 23 years ago, and I attribute it to the 3 simple secrets in this article.
I am not telling you that there aren’t other factors involved in gaining muscle. If I said that, I would be lying. Supplements help, and proper rest is needed.
Master these 3 secrets, and you will grow. I promise you.