At the Gym This Week

Stuart McRobert

New baby, less sleep, no gains

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At the gym this week was a young man whose excellent progress I’ve observed for a couple of years. Because I’d kept an eye on Tassos, he hadn’t done much wrong over that time, and he’d always been receptive to my input. A couple of months ago his wife gave birth to their first child, and he told me his progress was totally shot.

You, too, will experience circumstances that threaten your training—it could be a baby in your household, long hours at work or starting your own business. Your bodybuilding progress could be devastated as a result unless you take the appropriate corrective action.

Tassos’ experience reminded me of when my daughters were babies. My sleep was greatly reduced, and the demands on my time were greatly increased. Because I made some adjustments, however, I managed to make progress.

Tassos had been alternating two workouts—lower body and upper body. He did six exercises per workout, one exercise per bodypart, alternating workouts over three training days each week: upper body on Monday, lower body on Wednesday, upper body on Friday, lower body on Monday and so on. He did warmups plus two or three hard work sets per exercise. His training was abbreviated compared to the overtraining that’s standard among most bodybuilders, and that’s why Tassos was making terrific progress, naturally.

Now, though, with reduced ability to recuperate due to impaired sleep, even abbreviated training had become excessive. I urged him to adopt an emergency program—a mere five exercises three times every two weeks: Monday, Friday, Wednesday, Monday and so on. He would do squats, dips, chins, crunches and lower abs—warmups plus two work sets for each. Nothing else. With a reduced volume of training, he should be able to recuperate.

While you can mask some effects of insufficient sleep by having a few cups of coffee each day, that won’t compensate for the impairment of your recuperative abilities. You must get your sleep for that.

Sleeping well doesn’t just benefit your training. It’s vital for your long-term health and your day-to-day alertness, creativity and attentiveness. Fatigue, low energy, boredom, inattentiveness and inability to train hard are often nothing other than the effects of sleep debt.

Even getting tons of sleep won’t help your bodybuilding if you’re not training effectively, however. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was at the zenith of my bodybuilding fervor. I pulverized myself in the gym. I trained just two times a week, on low-volume workouts; but even with 10 hours of quality sleep each night and lots of good food, I couldn’t recover fully from my over-the-top workouts. Most bodybuilders overtrain because of excessive volume rather than excessive intensity.

One reason youngsters often make better progress than older bodybuilders is that the youngsters usually sleep better. Reproduce the slumber you had when you were younger to improve your recuperative ability today.

I gave Tassos some tips for improving the quality of his slumber. While he’s unable to do all of them now because of Tassos Junior, he will when things settle at home.

1) Establish regular sleeping habits. Going to sleep at 10 p.m. one night and 1 a.m. the next isn’t regularity. It’s better to sleep from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on a regular basis, for example.

2) Avoid napping if it disrupts your nighttime sleeping patterns.

3) Sleep on a comfortable mattress. It’s not necessarily true that a firm mattress is best or a soft mattress is undesirable. It depends on the individual, the mattress, the base of the bed and the position you sleep in.

4) Use a comfortable pillow.

5) Sleep in a pitch-black room—use shutters or blackout curtains.

6) Put a night-light in your bathroom so that you don’t have to turn a light on if you use the toilet during the night.

7) Eliminate as much noise as possible. The hum from a fan or an air-conditioning unit can mask external noise, as can a device that generates white noise.


Mark Henry

Ben Tatar

Mark Henry

Mark Henry is a wonder of the world, considered the monster of all strength monsters. But Mark, even as a kid, was a different breed of monster—he could do things in the gym that none of the other genetic freaks could do.

As a youngster Mark wasn’t just any ordinary kid. At the age of 10 he was 5’1” and weighed 215 pounds. His mother gave Mark a weight set around that time, and Henry noticed that what was heavy for everyone else was easy for him. And as he grew, he got stronger.

Suppress Illness

Becky Holman

Suppress Illness

The research keeps piling up about the importance of getting enough sleep. The latest says that if you sleep more than seven hours a night, you’ll fend off a cold virus three times more effectively than if you sleep less. Sleep boosts your immune system, which will also heighten your recovery from training and your ability to build muscle. Getting adequate sleep has also been shown to enhance fat loss because you crave carbs less and release less cortisol and more growth hormone.

Get High On Exercise

Jerry Brainum

No doubt you’ve heard of exerciser’s high—a feeling of well-being that follows a training session. Scientists have discovered that exercise can alleviate both depression and anxiety. Some studies even show that it works faster and better than a few popular antidepressants.

Many people appear to be addicted to exercise. They work out with a religious fervor, and when they miss a session, they feel ill, severely anxious or depressed, much in the manner of drug addicts who experience withdrawal symptoms.

Dieting, Aging and Muscle Mass

Paul Burke

Dieting, Aging and Muscle Mass

Q: Your article [in the May '09 issue] about getting bigger on a limited diet was very interesting, but how is it possible in physiological terms? Do other bodybuilders also believe this? Is there evidence, or were you just talking about your body?

A: I thought that it was just my body that reacted that way. Turns out, after we hit our late 40s to early 50s, we all have to deal with pretty much the same problems. Drug-free bodybuilder Dave Goodin told me that he never gets more than six to eight pounds away from competition weight.

Shoulder-Width Squat Stance Not Best for All

Ron Harris

Shoulder-Width Squat Stance
Not Best for All

Some bits of training wisdom are universally accepted as gospel, mainly because experience has proved them true for most people. When it comes to foot stance on barbell squats, we're told from day one that shoulder width is best for bodybuilders. That directs more stress to the quads than a wider stance, which invariably involves glutes and inner thighs more. IFBB pro Evan Centopani certainly subscribed to that maxim.