By Chris Manrodt
just getting started in Powerlifting? Have you heard about lifting but
aren't sure what it really is? Are you interested in playing a sport, but
need to get bigger, stronger, or both to crack the starting line-up? This
section of the Strength On-line Page is devoted to helping the beginner.
A lot of the lifting information out there is written for folks who compete
regularly in Powerlifting meets, or who have a several years of lifting
experience. I will attempt to make this column humorous and interesting
as I try to shed light on the basics of successful, injury free lifting.
"Do I look fat to you?” I
would rather bomb my squat opener than have my wife ask me that question.
But, this time the tables were turned as I looked sidelong in the mirror.
“No, seriously, do I look fat?” I continued to wonder.
“Well, you look heavier, but not necessarily fat.” My wife responded sheepishly.
Great, that was vague. I knew I was heavier, by about 12 pounds in fact,
but how much of it was muscle?
The subject of bodyweight and body composition is one of the most perplexing
parts of the iron game. Most powerlifters, and weight trainers in general,
love to attack the weight and sweat out those reps. They like to attack
the challenge head-on. Unfortunately, the body weight game is not a problem
best suited to a direct assault, unless your goal is to gain as much weight
as quickly as possible, muscle, fat, whatever. If you spend anytime perusing
the forums, you may have seen my confused inquiries on this subject. After
I have decided to collect my thoughts on this
topic and write them out to see if I have actually learned anything.
The age old truth is that bigger is stronger. If you have ever watched
Gilbert Brown of the Green Bay Packers, then you will know that there is
no substitute for absolute bodyweight in the area of power. However, the
powerlifter is separated from the football player, and the Strongman competitor
by some simple math called the “Wilkes Formula.” This is the powerlifting
response to Marxism. It is the great equalizer, which allows the achievements
of the 114 lbs lifter to be compared to the 350-pound behemoth.
So, for the competitive lifter, the goal is to increase muscle, lose fat,
and train specifically for limit strength and starting strength. The problem
is that losing fat and gaining muscle are somewhat contradictory events,
in terms of the chemistry in the human body. Let me explain:
The Human Body is a delicately precise collection of finely tuned hormonal
and metabolic systems. Some psychologists say that stress is the body’s
natural response to change. As powerlifters, we are always trying to change
our bodies, to make them leaner, more explosive, and ultimately stronger.
This is stressful on the body, and the built-in survival mechanisms in
our body try to kick in. Some people curse the mechanisms that encourage
fat storage, and prevent lean muscle development. But I am not so sure
that these are a
curse, given that there are many more humans on
this earth striving to get enough to eat than there are striving to increase
their bench press. Perhaps a noble life goal would be to stay in the latter
category, and do whatever possible to help those out of the first. But,
There are some basic rules of biology and physics that have been applied
to the iron game. It may be helpful to think of the human body for a moment
like an automobile. Every time you stress your car (crash), and get it
fixed at the shop, what do you pay for? “Parts and Labor.” In a way, your
muscles are the same. They need protein parts to build with, and they need
energy in order to get the parts put in place. Here are the golden rules:
Parts: If you fail to eat enough protein, your body cannot build muscle.
The primary building block of muscle tissue is protein. That’s the easy
art. The hard part is, how much protein is needed? The US RDA says
about 65g. This number is intended as a cross-gender, cross-age-group average.
In other words, it applies to lifters about as much as it does to infants,
NOT AT ALL!! A better guideline is the 1g of protein per pound of body
weight. A slight variation is 1g per pound of lean
bodyweight. Lean weight is your total bodyweight minus fat, using % bodyfat
as the guideline. In a way, this makes sense because lets say Bob weighs
275lbs at 8% BF. Bob would kick ass at most powerlifting meets, so he needs
to give his muscles about 260-275g of protein to keep them from degenerating
due to lack of raw materials. Now, lets like at Puffy. Puffy is also 275
lbs, but at 40%BF. That means that Puffy’s lean bodymass is only 165lbs.
Technically, Puffy is really only a very well insulated version of a 181
with 10% BF, so he only needs to eat 165-180g of protein to preserve and
advantage for me of living in the United States it that there is a label
on just about everything you eat, telling you how many calories it has.
With due diligence and a sturdy notebook, you can record and count up all
the calories you ingest. This may seem like a lot of work, but this is
actually the easy part. The trick here is that the amount of calories you
expend in a day varies greatly. Obviously, if you exercise more frequently,
you will burn more calories. However, the base number of calories that
your body uses, sometimes referred to generically as metabolism, is also
subject to change. Increasing lean muscle will cause your base metabolic
rate to go up. Dieting will cause your base metabolic rate to go down.
But, it gets more complicated. Certain foods require more energy for digestion
that others. About 20% of the calories in protein are actually spent during
digestion, but about 5% of calories are lost during digestion of fat. In
fact, some foods like celery actually cause more calories to be burned
during digestion than they actually contain. That’s why skinny
Labor: Energy is calories, so if you ingest more calories that you burn,
you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you burn,
you will lose weight. Calories are actually a unit of heat. When your body’s
natural chemical reactions occur, they release heat, which can be expressed
in a number of calories. The biochemical process of building proteins one
amino acid at a time inside each muscle cell is an energy consuming activity,
and only occurs if there is a surplus of caloric energy in the body. The
breaking down of proteins, fats and sugars into energy is what happens
when the body runs a deficit of calories. When you exercise, your body
actually will feel warmer because you are expending more calories. This
does not mean that your temperature goes up, it means your body is producing
more heat. The difference is that your body does things to maintain temperature
in response to the increased heat energy, namely sweating and increased
peripheral blood flow (more blood flows close to the skin in order to cool
off, in a manner similar to antifreeze in a radiator, which will make your
skin feel warmer even though your inner core temperature
is about the same.)
supermodels eat a lot of celery. They are starving
themselves of energy while still eating.
There are several ways to get a calculation of your basic metabolic rate,
but in my opinion, none of them will be that accurate. The best thing to
do is to keep track of your caloric intake over a two week period, and
then weigh yourself at the same time everyday. If after two weeks, you
are about the same weight, then you are eating close to your base number
Here’s the other catch: you cannot gain muscle at more than about 1-2 pounds
per week. If you are under 25 and male, it may be closer to 2 pounds, if
you are older, or female, it is closer to 1 pound. So, you want to increase
caloric intake by a small amount, maybe 300-500 calories above your basic
caloric needs. If you gain weight any faster than that, and part of the
new weight will be fat. It’s the same in the other direction.
Say you want to cut back on your bodyfat percentage.
Then you need to restrict calories slightly, like 300-500 calories per
day, and keep up your training. If you are losing more than a pound or
two per week, then you are cutting into your muscle. If you are dieting
while lifting, here are a few rules from experience:
Always eat right after you train. If you stress
your muscles and don’t let them nourish themselves, you will end
up over-trained or injured. It is important to ingest some simple carbs
right after a workout, and also ingest a large amount of protein
You have to sleep. For me, if I diet and exercise
together but miss sleep, I almost always end up with a cold or a training
You don’t have to force a radical change to lose weight. If you choose
to try a supplement, then you probably don’t need to make huge cuts in
your diet. If you increase your cardio to burn more calories, then don’t
also cut a lot of food. The body adapts slowly over time, and patience
over a six month period will yield a long term change, where as a big change
will not necessarily help you. It is just like lifting. If you want to
get stronger, use weights you can handle for sets and reps, and then increase
the weight a little bit each week. You wouldn’t jump from 300x5 in the
bench to 600x5 in one week, and yet people will double their caloric intake
in a single week hoping to “Get Big FAST.” Or even worse, you might cut
your calorie intake in half and then wonder why their lifts aren’t going
Dietary supplements may help you burn more calories,
but they may push you into that calorie deficit range of more than 300-500
calories. Then that expensive supplement will do nothing but cause you
to lose muscle.
Ok, I admit that nothing I have written here is radical stuff. I am trying
to bring forward enough basics to help a lifter attempt to make a decision
about lifting. More advanced diets have only limited benefit if you fail
to follow the basics.
For more information on getting started check
out the archives section here on Strength Online or drop by the Q&A
Reproduction of this article,
in whole or part, for any purpose other than personal use is
prohibited without written consent. Copyright 2000 Chris Manrodt.