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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 2, 2023

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Same. I have never ever felt like exercise was even the least bit enjoyable, and I've tried to enjoy it. I've spent long amounts of time trying to get past that initial painful hump and into the addiction phase everyone tells me will happen. It's never happened. In fact I don't even really believe people anymore when they say it's enjoyable. I assume it's some mix of bragging and them conflating the effects of exercise with the feeling they get after exercising. Or maybe masochism.

I have to say that doing a heavy set of 450 lbs deadlifts for 5 reps with heavy metal blasting through my headphones is really pleasant to me, the burning muscles and the exhaustion are obviously not pleasant in themselves, but lifting heavy shit sort of makes me aggressive in a way that's pleasant. The feeling of having pumped muscles, like my skin is about to explode around my biceps, is also quite pleasant.

Hmm, well, I guess I don't hate lifting as much as I hate cardio. I hate hate cardio, but lifting I can do without feeling like I'd rather die.

Actually, my main problem with lifting right now is that I feel like I've reached a plateau. I wouldn't mind your advice. Firstoff, I refuse to have a gym membership. I won't pay a monthly fee to go someplace to feel bad about myself. And I'd probably never use it.

So I've used small barbells (up to 25lb in each hand) for over a decade doing triceps, biceps, chest, shoulder, lats, hamstring, calves, glutes, and abs. But I didn't know how to get past that amount of weight. So I bought a barbell and some weights to try to get more weight in. And now I kinda feel like I'm at the point where I'm physically incapable of lifting what I'd need to lift in order to feel like I'm making any progress. It's still not what most lifters would consider to be a lot of weight. But if I do lower amounts on the barbell, it doesn't give me the correct muscle fatigue, but I can't physically lift any more. Unsure how to proceed. More reps?

I guess my other problem is that I don't really feel like my results are too visible, since I still have a bunch of fat covering it. So, like, what's the point?

There are a bunch of things to mention here, I'll just write a summary of common sport science knowledge that I think would help you, apologies if I say some stuff you already know.

There's no problem with not going to the gym, I don't like it either and workout at home too, though I've spend a few thousand dollars on a power-rack, bench, barbell, 45lb plates, hex bar (for hex deadlifts) and adjustable dumbells (The powerblock EXP series).

The current scientific knowledge on optimizing muscle growth states that muscle growth mainly depends on 2 key variables under your control: daily protein intake and weekly workout volume. I'll go into each of these before mentioning other stuff.

Protein Intake:

Daily protein intake should be around 1g/lb of body weight, that amount basically guarantees that your protein is taken care of, it's probably slightly excessive and you could get away with 0.8 to 0.9 g/lb, but 1g/lb is the main recommended number for bodybuilding to just be able to check that box for sure. If you haven't been eating this amount of protein, but more like 0.4 or 0.5 g/lb, you've been seriously hampering yourself, and you're gonna get essentially a second phase of noobie gains when you start eating correct amounts of protein. Physiologically, large muscles are a luxury. When the body gets protein, it first uses it for critical systems like the heart, brain, organs, blood, stomach lining, etc. any protein it spares for muscle building has to come after all of that, so doubling your protein from 0.5g/lb to 1.0g/lb can take you from 0 muscle gain (because all protein is gobbled up by other systems), to great muscle gain. Protein is really fucking important. The total grams of protein per day is what matters most, but a secondary factor is protein timing: because your body can't store proteins like it can store fats and carbs, any muscle protein synthesis has to take the protein that's currently swimming in your blood, so it's best to consume your protein separated into roughly 3 or 4 meals throughout the day, with one high protein meal preferably right after workouts.

weekly workout volume:

Here "volume" refers to the number of working sets performed per muscle group, per week. Why don't I mention reps? Because as far as current science knows, anything between 5 and 30 reps is pretty much equivalently good for muscle building, as long as 1. you do the same number of sets and 2. you go to either complete failure or just shy of failure in both cases (leaving 1 or 2 reps in the tank, so to speak). There's a bit of complexity, but in general for bodybuilding people choose the 12-15 rep range, in general 5 reps and lower is for strength, and is more injury prone due to higher strain on connective tissue. And higher reps than 15 aren't too ideal because your cardio capacity could get in the way, preventing you from exhausting the muscle correctly.

So the main thing that will determine your muscle growth (assuming adequate protein) will be the total number of weekly sets per muscle. To give you ball-park numbers, 6 sets/muscle/week will cause ok muscle growth in noobies, but is just enough to maintain current muscle mass in intermediates. 10 sets per week is a good number for MEV (Minimum Effective Volume), you'll probably grow quite well if you do that much. 20 sets per week is quite high, it's most useful for advanced people, and you wouldn't want to do that amount for more than a few weeks at a time before scaling back, since the fatigue will pile on quickly. A secondary but important variable to the total number of sets is the number of workouts per week. So 10 sets of chest all done on monday is inferior to 5 sets on monday and 5 sets on Thursday. Working out every body part twice a week yields an important boost over just once a week, though going to 3x week isn't that much better. I personally workout 6 days per week, with a Push-Pull-Legs-Push-Pull-Legs split, so I workout every body part twice a week.

This is what I suspect is hampering your progress. If your volume has been below 6 sets/muscle/week, and you haven't been working out too consistently... then you've essentially just been working with a volume barely able to maintain your current muscle mass, especially if you haven't been eating adequate protein.

What weight to use:

It's still not what most lifters would consider to be a lot of weight. But if I do lower amounts on the barbell, it doesn't give me the correct muscle fatigue, but I can't physically lift any more. Unsure how to proceed.

The choice of weight to use is subordinate to the choice of rep range, so if you decide that you want to work in the 12-15 rep range, you would then choose the weight that allows you to do the exercise for 12 reps before you physically can't do any more. It doesn't matter if you're benching the bar alone, if this is what you can bench for 12 reps before you can't anymore, then this is the weight you should start at. Muscle growth doesn't come from the weight itself, it comes from the fact of getting close to failure. If you test your max reps with the heaviest weights you have, and you can do more than 20 reps, it's time to buy some heavier weights.

Progressive overload & Phasic structure of training:

The third crucial factor is progressive overload: the gradual increase of training variables over time, generally either increasing weight lifted for equal reps and sets, or increasing numbers of sets. You can either pre-plan the weight increases, or you can sort of "work by ear" by just doing as many reps as you can with a weight, and increase your weight when you notice it's become much easier and you hit the top of your rep range. If you started benching 135 x 12 reps, then eventually got to 135 x 15 reps after a few months, it's time to increase weight again until you can only do 12 reps with the new weight.

Another useful concept is that of the mesocycle, which imposes a phasic structure on your training on the order of around 6 to 10 weeks. The long-term pattern should be something like 8 weeks mesocycle -> 1 week deload -> another meso -> 1 week deload, etc. The deload weeks you either take completely off from training in order to recover from systemic fatigue, or you do 50% of your usual weight. Within a mesocycle, you increase the weight (or the sets) every week. The beginning weight of the mesocycle should be fairly comfortable, you might start at 100 lbs x 12 reps, then work up to 135 lbs x 12 reps over the course of 8 weeks. Take a week off, then start a new mesocycle at 110 lbs x 12 reps, working up to 145 lbs x 12 reps this time. Each meso starts and ends at higher weights than the previous ones, but the start of the next meso is easier than the end of the last one.

Cycling in this way is really more useful for intermediates and above, there's no problem if that seems too complicated, just working close to failure every workout and taking scheduled weeks off every 2 months is plenty good enough for most people.

Phasic structure of Dieting

If your goal is muscle building, then being in a calorie surplus greatly, greatly helps. Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time can work if you're a beginner, but even there it's significantly more efficient to split your time between bulking and cutting phases, essentially because maintaining muscle during cuts is easier than building the muscle at maintenance. So in Bulking phases you should aim for roughly 300 to 500 calories surplus, this is enough to heavily promote muscle building, and a very significant part of the weight you gain will be muscle. Follow this up with a cutting phase where you aim to lose 0.5% to 1% of your weight per week in fat (while working out to maintain your muscle).

For how to compute macros, here's how you do it: start with your total number of calories per day for your goal, say you weigh 140 lbs, you're bulking and your aim is 3000 cal/day. You know you'll eat 140g of protein per day, so that's taken care of and you only have 3000 - 4 * 140 = 2440 calories remaining since proteins have 4 cal/g, next you take care of your fat, which you should keep at 0.4g/lb to maintain good hormonal function, any more than that doesn't help too much, so now we have 2440 - 9 * 0.4 * 140 = 1,936 calories remaining, which all goes into 484g of carbs. Carbohydrates promote muscle gain to a much larger extend than fat because they replenish the glycogen stores inside the muscle itself, which promotes the whole chemical cascade that signals for muscle growth, that's why they're preferable to fats.


Best youtube channel for this stuff:

Second best:

Thanks a lot, very good info. How do you track your macros? I feel like it's pretty hard to quantify macros for any good homemade food.

I have a very large google sheets document where I compute macros per weight for a bunch of my most common homemade foods (like protein bars, chili, hamburgers, fried chicken, etc.), like the picture shows. Some variety does need to be sacrificed, but I arrived at a combination of 5 or 6 recipes that I like and that fit my macros pretty well.


edit: also, I get cheap whey here and cheap casein protein here, direct import from india from indiamart would be even cheaper, but that's a bit too much hassle for me right now

Thanks for this, there's a lot of good info here. I think I'll have a number of followup questions as I really go through this. But my first question - how exactly are you defining a "set"? Is it when you do x reps (where x is anything between 5 and 30) in one sitting, continually, and you've gone close to complete failure at the end of x reps?

If you're saying I want to do 6 sets per muscle per week, and I want to try to fully exhaust that muscle in 12 reps, does that mean that I should be expecting to do 72 reps per muscle per week? Can they be all the same (like for example, could I do bench presses for all 72 chest reps in a week)?

how exactly are you defining a "set"? Is it when you do x reps (where x is anything between 5 and 30) in one sitting, continually, and you've gone close to complete failure at the end of x reps?

Exactly correct, it's basically doing repetitions with correct, reasonably slow form until you can't do anymore (or get within 1 or 2 repetitions of that). Generally you'd then take around 2 or 3 minutes of rest before doing another set.

If you're saying I want to do 6 sets per muscle per week, and I want to try to fully exhaust that muscle in 12 reps, does that mean that I should be expecting to do 72 reps per muscle per week?

Yup, 6 sets is a decent start, but you should really aim for 10 sets/week. And thinking in terms of "reps per muscle" isn't too accurate, the last few reps within a set have an outsized effect on muscle growth, the fundamental unit here is really sets rather than reps. A decent simplification is that the more exposure to a state close to complete failure your muscles get, the more growth stimulus. Going all the way to complete failure is only recommended on the last set of your exercises for a give muscle for the day, because going to failure exhausts you quite a bit for future sets. So if you're going 3 sets of bench press, go just shy of failure on the first 2, then all out on the last one. And here "failure" means "you literally can't lift the bar anymore, even with a gun your head", not "it hurts pretty bad". That's also partly why I mention 12 reps instead of 20 reps, going to failure in 12 reps is quite a bit less painful than going to failure in 20 reps, or heaven forbid 25 reps, which is truly a hellish feeling, yet the set of 12 to failure and the one of 25 to failure yield pretty much the same growth.

Can they be all the same (like for example, could I do bench presses for all 72 chest reps in a week)?

Certainly, though at some point you might want some extra variety and add in some chest flys if you have the equipment, but that's details with effect sizes well below any of the other factors we're talking about. The bench press is pretty much the king of chest exercises. If you have a barbell, I'd also recommend something called a Pendlay Row as your main back exercise