Short version: The body and brain of the one that exercises changes in significant and material ways. The one that exercises gets more muscle, a more developed brain in the areas of coordination, and in metabolic health:
"It turned out that these genetically identical twins looked surprisingly different beneath the skin and skull. The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. (Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines, so food choices were unlikely to have contributed to health differences.)
The twins’ brains also were unalike. The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination."
This is very significant - it shows that even with the same upbringing and same genetics, exercise matters. Movement improves health in a variety of ways, from ability to exercise and move to brain function to immune and diet function.
Genetics matters, but it's what you do with those genetics that matters, too.
The article talks about the strongmen of Fatehpur Beri, a village on the outskirts of Dehli, India.
India has long been famous extraordinary wrestlers, including some exceptionally large and strong ones. The workouts of those wrestlers were heavy on the bodyweight exercises - squats and a pushup variant - and on high reps - the great Gama is said to have done several thousand of each every day. The style is sometimes known as kalaripayit, after the dirt-filled pits in which they train.
You can sketches of their diet (vegetarian, centered on protein and featuring dried fruit, butter, and milk) and training (grappling in a dirt pit) and a few pictures of the size and powerful builds that result from it. It's also a glimpse into what it takes to get there - years of constant training, a nutritious diet, and little or nothing in the way of health-damaging vices. While the article isn't training centered, you can see where such training has gotten them.
They are very good for getting time under tension, getting some static internal rotation, and really getting your chest activated. I've found that they are really effective in small numbers, especially for people who are primarily triceps pressers and who need some more chest activation. Since they are bodyweight only and require no gear, you can do them anywhere.
For bench presses who have learned to "pull the bar apart" these might seem to be the opposite - driving the arms together. But in my experience "pull the bar apart" doesn't help my clients and trainees, probably because they don't press with a bench press shirt. Thus, they don't have to train to counteract the pull of the shirt. Instead, getting a chest squeeze to full include the chest along with the deltoids (shoulders) and triceps (arms) on the press is helpful. These pushups really help you feel what it means to have your shoulders tight, arms locked out, and chest squeezing the ground away from you.
On page 344, under the section on the chest muscles, there is this exercise:
Hanging Dumbbell Rows
Meant to develop the serratus anterior, which are those "finger" like muscles along the sides of the ribcage under the pectoral muscles.
Pretty much, hang from gravity boots and row upward to the shoulders.
It's no wonder you don't see this exercise in gyms. You'd need a way to safely hang upside down, enough space to do it (Arnold's official height for bodybuilding was 6'2", so the bar in that picture is quite high), and the time and inclination to do such a specific exercise.
But it's pretty interesting to see it, and I have never seen it outside of this book.
It's up to you - as long as you eat more than you are eating now in your skinny state. If that means a few big meals, fine. If it means a lot of little meals to get it done, fine. I don't get hung up on nutrient timing (except for workout nutrition, see below) or number of meals. Just eat, and eat more and better food.
Prioritize Eating over Eating Clean
You have to eat like it's homework. This usually means preparing food and bringing it with you. If you can't do this, don't skip a meal. Find something to eat - plan ahead with backups. Mine was Wendy's chili (I'd get 2 or 3 of them). Skipping a meal when you're trying to gain weight is like having an extra meal when you're trying to lose it. You might get away with it, but it's not an optimal path to success.
So first off, make sure you eat.
Next, eat good, healthy foods whenever you can. Make sure you're getting plenty of vegetables along with your foods. Don't use "bulking" as an excuse to just eat whatever and call it a diet. The "See Food" diet can work, but it's sub-optimal. You end up consuming a lot of junk calories, getting bad habits you'll want to undo when you're getting to your goal. It's better to approach it a little more systematically.
That said, when you're skinny and trying to gain muscular weight, all-you-can-eat places and special occasion splurge foods have a place in your eating. I especially like AYCE after a heavy lifting day. But make sure you don't eat so much that you skip another meal or eat less the next day.
Dan John once said the secret to gaining muscle isn't lifting heavy weights or lifting for many reps. It's lifting heavy weights for many reps. Gaining weight is not eating a lot of food or good food, it's eating a lot of good food.
Still, you don't have to eat cleanly 100% of the time.
One client I trained eats extremely cleanly, but finally started to pack on muscle quickly when he added a pre-bed cheat meal every day. Generally it was something like a calzone, pizza, sub sandwich, etc. It could have been anything, really, but the variety of a less-than-perfectly-healthy addition might have been what made it easy to get and eat.
Take advantage and have some extras you don't normally eat, but make sure you're getting in quality food whenever possible. It's not just the macronutrients and calories that matter; you also need to get in the micronutrients . . . and getting them from food is the ideal way to do it.
If you are eating clean, then also eat BIG. Basically, eat more of the same things you already eat. Double your meals.
What makes this approach useful is that you're already eating this way, you're just adding more of it. If you have an 8oz chicken breast, a salad, steamed broccoli, and brown rice for lunch, great. Make the 1 cup of rice 2 or 3 cups. Add a second chicken breast - maybe throw it on the salad. Put some extra olive oil on the salad.
Having 2 eggs for breakfast? Have 4. Add a bowl of oatmeal on the side if that's not enough, or add more eggs. I used to eat two different breakfasts when I was maintaining weight - either an omelet, or oatmeal. When I wanted to gain, I ate both every day.
The nice thing about this approach is that it is modular. You can start small, and add more and more food until the scale goes up. You can dial it back just as easily when you reach your goal. You can alternatively start big (which I prefer) and then dial it back if it is too big.
Starting big is useful because you are much more likely to be eating enough. It's better to jump from 2500 kcals a day to 4000 kcals and find out immediately if that's enough, too much, or not enought, than to jump 100-200 kcals at a time and wait a week each time to see what happens. Bump it up a lot, immediately, and dial it up or down from there.
Some good sources of healthy food, especially protein:
- Frozen Chicken Breasts. By the big bags at your local warehouse store or grocery. Add one to each and every meal. This is by far the easiest way to go, in my experience - buy bags of frozen chicken breasts, and have 2-3 extra each day.
- Eggs. Inexpensive source of protein and fat. Some prefer egg whites; I hate the look and mouth feel of them, and I only eat whole eggs.
- Protein Power. I have some milk issues, so I've moved away from whey to vegan proteins. But any protein you can handle, except Soy, is worth trying. Consider mixing them up.
- Coconut oil and/or shredded coconut. Great in shakes, and coconut oil is great for cooking.
- Nuts. Have a handful of nuts with each meal.
- Rice. Add some rice to each meal. A rice cooker is extremely handy, here.
- Frozen vegetables. Have some at every meal. I eat through a 1-pound bag of frozen spinach over 3 days with my breakfast. Add it in. You can blend some into shakes, too. Vegetables are very bulky for their calories, but you must eat your vegetables. Gaining muscle doesn't forgive you from basic healthy eating needs.
- Ground meat. Cheaper than un-ground steak or turkey. Mixed with beans for chili will make it even more nutrient and calorie-rich.
For a more complex approach, learn how to cook good stews, such as chankonabe.
Drink Some Calories
Find a brand of protein you can digest easily (in other words, no gas or flatulance) and learn how to make some protein shakes. You can often drink a shake (especially a water-based one) along with a meal.
Consider GOMAD. If you can digest milk, this can work. If you can't, avoid it. There aren't enough lactase tablets in the world to let you completely avoid the problems you'd face. Plus, if you can't fully digest the milk, you aren't getting the full benefits. But if you can, eating what you do now plus a gallon of whole milk a day will do it.
Either way, you can more easily add more liquid calories than non-liquid calories. Find something beneficial (i.e. not soda or juice) and drink up.
Eat During Your Workout
Back when I was lifting heavy and putting on real muscle, I brought the following every workout:
2 protein shakes, each with 25g of whey, 5g of creatine, 50g of dextrose/maltodextrin blend, my homemade electrolyte mix, and a drop or two of honey or another flavoring.
1 protein bar or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I'd drink 1 shake during the workout, the second right after while I ate the solid food I brought. I'd eat again one hour later, either at home or between clients at the gym I work at. This would be a "normal" meal but emphasize more carbohydrates than fats, and lots of protein.
Right before bed, have something to eat. Cottage cheese is good, as is protein mixed with oatmeal and milk or almond milk.
A shake will do if you're able to sleep through the night without waking to urinate out the liquids.
Get your sleep. You gain muscle while sleeping, not while lifting. So lift, eat, and then get to bed. Take a nap if you can squeeze it in; odds are it'll be more valuable than extra lifting.
I did well with creatine. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother until you're already eat a lot of food and lifting appropriately (heavy, with enough rest.) Supplements are that final 1% or so of your results. Concentrate on the other 99% and you won't even need them. Save your money for chicken breasts.
The long and short of this is:
- Keep eating (or start eating) healthy, BUT EAT MORE.
- It's easier to multiply what you're eating now than to learn a new way to eat. Add more food.
- It's easier to start big and dial back than to start small and dial up.
- Eating and Lifting, not supplements, are the key. Eat more.
This blog is a collection of various advice and information about basic strength training. I'm interested in strength and conditioning. The "frequently asked questions" in this area are VERY frequently asked.
This is my attempt to pull together the stuff I keep saying over and over. It's also a place for to put links related to strength and conditioning, and to muse on strength training in general. Further, writing this blog tests what I know. You never really know something until you can demonstrate an ability to explain it to someone else. As I write, I learn what I know and I don't know. In the process, I hope to pass on knowledge to you.
I hope this material is useful to you. Please consider it a springboard to future study. Although I endeavor to be complete and accurate, this is not meant to be the final answer to any subject addressed within the blog. Strength Basics may teach you something, but more than that I hope it makes you curious to learn more!
As always, remember to check with your doctor before you begin any kind of strength or exercise program. Use this information at your own risk and with the understanding that not all exercise advice is appropriate for all trainees.
Strength Basics is updated multiple times per week.
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