Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Jonathan Bailor back. Grinning ear to ear today even more than usual because we have the great honor, especially I have the great honor of being joined on the phone today, internationally, by one of my mentors. Someone who I can distinctly remember reading one of his books that I have sticking in front of me back in 1998, and really set me on the path that I am on today about the doing less and getting more when it comes to resistance training. The importance of resistance training, the importance of proper form and structure and keeping things simple.
He has been in this business for a long time, has a proven track record. His first article is published back in 1981. He has over 600 articles published in Newsstand magazine. His focus has always been on drug free, genetically normal training using what he calls ‘hard gainers’. So we’re not talking about those body builders or those fitness models.
He has over 40 years of training experience, over 30 years of coaching experience. He is the editor or was the editor of Hardgainer magazine for 15 years. He’s authored four books Brawn, Beyond Brawn, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great and Book One of the new Brawn Series. My personal favorite being Beyond Brawn. We have none other than Stuart McRobert with us today. Stuart, welcome to the show.
Stuart McRobert: The Start
Stuart: Hi! Thanks for having me, Jonathan.
Jonathan. Well, Stuart, if you don’t mind, if you could just tell us a little bit about your story to get started, I would appreciate it.
Stuart: Yeah. Okay. Look, I do prefer talking about the message rather than the messenger but they do tend to overlap to begin with. So briefly, I got this started with trying to improve my physique when I was around about 10, 11, 12. I was reading a Marvel Comics from the States. I come from England, by the way. So in England, there I was reading my Superman Comics, Spiderman and so on, really craving to do something about very skinny body. Couple of years later, I started exercising and was following some of the conventional advice at the time which was predominantly Arnold Schwarzenegger type training.
Because at this time, which was in the early 70’s, Schwarzenegger was the bodybuilder. His training methods largely dominated the mainstream magazines. So I assumed pretty much that’s the method that make the champion bodybuilder would make me into a champion bodybuilder as well. I followed those methods, really pulled myself into it and I was as fanatical a bodybuilder as you could get, except… Well, at the time, I didn’t actually know about steroids. Even had I known about them, I would have never taken them. But I followed Arnold’s routines and sigma routines but they didn’t work. I got very frustrated. I had a few years of being really disappointed. Miserable at times, actually, because I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I finally clicked those message worked for him wouldn’t work for normal people, especially people without drugs.
I found other message, which weren’t my message by the way; they were other people’s message, which I tailored to myself and I found that, “Hey, these actually work for normal people.” Of course, they didn’t build me into an Arnold but they transformed me as an ordinary guy without drugs.
Then, I discovered that there are many other people that followed the same path of disappointment and frustration with conventional training methods and I decided that I would share the lesson that I learned with other people. That was how I got started with my writing which led to the magazine and the books and so on. You read all of my books and here I am now.
Jonathan: Well, Stuart, I so appreciate you sharing that story with us because there is a core message in there that I think underlies all of your work and is so profoundly helpful and non-obvious, and that is the standard method of finding someone who looks the way you want to look and ask them what works for them. Assume that will work for you does not always work because there are huge genetic differences, correct?
Stuart: Correct. You see, if you want to consult someone else whose physique might impress you, you must find out about that person’s background. If you find out that person really had a tough time, never used drugs, had various issues of illness, injuries, family issues or work problems and all their effort. If you find someone who actually had all that normal baggage of life, plus [indiscernible 05:42] genetics and made slow gradual progress, never became a superstar but became decent, transformed him or herself, then you probably have a good source of advice to consider.
If you find someone who doesn’t really have an ordinary lifestyle, had genetic advantages that you didn’t, could go on conventional routine readily, then you haven’t found someone who can offer you advice that is appropriate to you. People must start with appropriate training routines. If they ask an inappropriate role model for advice, they are going to receive advice that doesn’t work for them.
Jonathan: Stuart, one question I, sometimes, get asked when I tell that message, is “Well, it clearly worked for this person or these people, so therefore, it will work for me,” when, in fact, the paradigm shift, correct me if I am wrong, is maybe they got those result in spite of an improper routine rather than because of their routine. Their genetics are so unique that even with these improper training techniques, they’ll get good results. Who’s to say that with proper training techniques they couldn’t get even better results with less duration?
Stuart: Correct. These people that are really blessed. I don’t want to give the impression that I am denigrating these people. These people are blessed with wonderful genetics. I have no time for drug support but I do respect people’s genetic advantages. Now, because these people have those advantages, it’s true that they can still make progress on some routine that are a long way from being ideal. Those people could have probably made the same progress on half of much training. Perhaps, they could have made even faster progress on much less training had they trained more in line with the methods that I promote. Yes, what you said is correct.
Jonathan: Stuart, here’s what I think should make everyone smile is, intuitively, when we say, “We are not genetically blessed.” Okay. Well, clearly we’re going to have to train more than people who are genetically blessed but what we’ve actually found is the opposite is true. We need to train less. Is that correct?
Stuart: Well, we need to train less but less in a smart way. Some people they do train less. They don’t use the right exercises. They don’t train hard enough. They don’t use correct exercise technique. They don’t supply enough attention to the components of recuperation. So they will still make no progress. Cutting back is a big step in the right direction but it has to be cutting back in the right way, with the right exercises, with the right technique, with sufficient effort and so on. There is a package of considerations here. All of which have to be in decent order.
Jonathan: Absolutely, it’s not just training less. It’s training less but smarter. It sounds like there are some key components of that smarter element. You mentioned exercise selection. You mentioned exercise technique. You mentioned sufficient recovery and attention paid to that. Can we dig into some of the key characteristics of those proper approaches?
Stuart: Well starting with the gym side of things. I’d like your listeners to understand that everything I’m saying applies to male and female. This isn’t a gender specific thing. Building muscle and strength is not gender specific so men and women should be paying equal attention to this. In the gym, especially women are more guilty with this than men. It’s that the women tend to gear towards the little exercise, the baby exercises because they have some sort of concern.
Some women almost have a fear thinking that if they put a bit of effort into one of the serious exercises, they are going to wake up the next day and all of a sudden they got big muscles. Women should understand that their pace of growth normally is less than even that of a genetically normal man. Women should have no fear that they are going to develop ugly, big muscles. They should train exactly like a man should. That should start in gym with the selection of the bigger exercises rather than the little ones.
So many women and men waste their time on a leg extension and leg curl and the adductor and the abductor and the butt machine and all the rest of it. Instead of doing all of that, you say we just learn how to do the squat correctly and I do emphasize the word correctly. If they would do just that, they would gain more from two or three hard sets of the squat than they would from three, four, five sets of all those other exercises I mentioned. They get more return and they need to do far less training.
That is the essence of the message that I promote. Less training done well gives you better result with less time in the gym. You have more doable exercise program and an exercise program has to be doable in order for you to do it long enough to make your progress and to keep it up all for long term to keep reaping the benefits as you age. The priority of exercises is doability and effectiveness, of course. Just doing it isn’t enough. It has to be something that will work but it has to be built around doability.
Jonathan: Stuart, I couldn’t agree with you more around doability. I think so often with anything involving physique transformation we hear things in terms of next 30 days, next seven days, 12 week program, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Your message hits home with whatever you start today, if you want to continue to get results, you have to continue doing it. Literally, if you do a program and you say, “There is no way I can keep this up.” Stop. Do something else because if you can’t keep it up, it may just be working against you.
Stuart: For sure. A very common mistake that people make is that they go into exercise program gung ho, enthusiasm. They really throw themselves into it. It’s invariably and impractical, not really doable program. After a few weeks, they burnout, give it up, have aches and pain, perhaps a more serious injury. Get disillusioned with exercise, give it up and there you have another failure.
In most gyms the failure rate, the dropout rate, it’s alarming. Many people start, yet a few weeks later, a few months later you won’t see many of those faces. A year later, you might not see any of those faces. Because they just go about exercise in the wrong way.
Jonathan: Stuart, one thing that I think is particularly profound here and that we can grab on to is there is so few areas in life where less can actually be more. What we are talking here is literally take a more, for like in better terms, simplistic approach. Do squats. Do these major muscle movements. Do them properly. Do them with effort. Do them infrequently and then, all this other like gym, gadgetry, fad workout video, all of that stuff can fall by the waste side. You’ll have more time. You get injured less. You will get better results. That almost sounds too good to be true but it’s not. Right?
Stuart: Correct. You can see why other people won’t be happy with this approach, people who run the commercial side of exercise. Because there isn’t much to be made out of selling things from the methods that I’m promoting. What I promote works. There’s no doubt about it, but because there isn’t much money to be made out of that because there aren’t all the add-ons, the extras, the bits and pieces, it isn’t an attractive message for the commercialized side exercise. Because the commercialization is so effective in distracting people with all its gadgets, gizmos and what not, that people get sucked into it. They get distracted from the tried and true that will work for them.
Jonathan: Stuart, one…
Stuart: That will work for them with so much less investments in gym time. To go to the gym no more than three times a week, and in many cases, just twice a week is enough if people do the right thing while there. To go to the gym twice a week, compare that to the four, five, six times that many people tried to dedicate themselves to. Which are you going to do over the long term twice a week or four, five, six times a week? Obviously the twice a week, provided it work for you. If you do it properly, it will work for you.
Jonathan: I think it’s so empowering because while we don’t have to, there’s certainly this short term appeal to trying the next gadget and gizmo all these kinds of fun things. There is also what you described in your book is the very methodological and sustainable progress. If we can do a simple exercise, well, exercise is probably the wrong word. If we can take the simple technique of saying, “If I can string together…” Just do this for a year.
I know it’s hard. It would be “Okay, a year. Oh, my god!” If you can make the gradual, safe, sustainable progress that are program like this affords, where you can get in a year, and Stuart, I’d love for you to talk more about this gradual improvement and doing the math and seeing on paper how much stronger you can get, where you will be in a year, that’s really, really inspirational.
Stuart: Yeah, you are right. Not many people looking for the next sort of four, five, six weeks, they’re trying to fix themselves up at two months before summer starts. This is not the way to go. Such programs, they encourage haste, people taking chances, people going on crash diet, crash exercise programs, which don’t work over long term. They often backfire and create so much disappointment and frustration that they end up in long term failure. If people would set their [indiscernible 0:17:15] out over the long term… well, over the medium term, sort of six months to begin with. Then, you build on six months.
If people would just look at the next little bit of progress, just adding, for example, two pounds a week to each of the major exercises. You do that for six months, about 25 weeks, there’s 50 pounds. You do it for a year, there’s a 100 pounds. All of a sudden that little bit adds up to a lot. Then, over the first year or two, people can transform themselves. They are better off to not think about trying to transform themselves over two to three months because that invariably doesn’t work for normal people. If they target transforming themselves over a year or two, that will definitely be realistic. It’s also doable.
Getting back to the exercise and the gym, people need to understand the basic plains for the exercise and the walkthrough. You have a squatting motion for your thighs and your butt. You have a bench-pressing movement for your chest and shoulders and triceps. You have an overhead pressing movements from your shoulders, from your triceps and from your upper back. You have a pulling motion or rowing motion for your back, as well. That is five plains of exercise. Those are the five that people should be focusing on. If they do one for each of those plains, each time they exercise and if they want one or two smaller exercises, something for their abs, for example, perhaps their calves, then, that is basically all they need.
If they would apply themselves to that and it could be two sets of different exercise for each week. You have routine one or you have routine two. If people dedicate themselves to that basic format and just plug a way this correct exercise technique, hard effort, minimum sets, good recovery, I guarantee that they will make steady improvement in strength. That will accompany increase in muscle mass as well. After a year or two of that, especially if it coincides with some loss body fat, if there was excess body fat to begin with, and you really are talking about transformation.
Jonathan: Stuart, it seems we need to look in the mirror and be very clear on our goals. We need to say, “Am I trying? Am I focused on short term or am I focused on the long term?” Because I think a lot of confusion comes up because there are things we can do in the short term that “work” in the short term. If our goal is completely short term, well, that maybe productive in the long term, but that’s fine. If your goal is long term, you must, must take an approach that facilitates and adapts to the long term. Correct?
Stuart: Correct. Yes.
Jonathan: Another point you make, Stuart in your book that I really think is empowering for people is the idea that when it comes to strength training and the do less but smarter approach that you advocate, is this idea of you having total control. All the responsibilities and there’s no politics and you don’t have to depend on other people to pass you the ball or anything like that. It’s a one area that you can totally control in your life. Can you talk a bit about that?
Stuart: People need to understand enough about exercise. They don’t need to have a PhD in exercise to know what to do. They just need to know the fundamentals and then apply themselves to the fundamentals consistently and they will make progress. This can produce tremendous empowerment. People need to get away from searching for more so called ‘better ideas’ and be careful when they read books and magazines and listen to TV ads and all the rest of it. It’s so easy for people to get distracted and to lose their way because they got caught in all of that [indiscernible 0:21:41] attached to exercise. Then, they slipped away from the fundamentals I guarantee to work if properly applied. Then, they end up going around and around and [indiscernible 0:21:53] frustration. That puts people off exercise.
Jonathan: It seems like until, for example, we could string together three months on the shorter end, .six months to a year on the longer more ideal end, an in frequent routine with proper form with maximal safe effort where we’re doing a squat variation, a pull variation, a push variation and an overhead push variation. If we are not doing that, if we have not yet set up a life where we can do that consistently for months at a time worrying… just simplify your life. It seems like that’s your message. Just focus on that. There’s enough other complexity. You can simplify this area and isn’t that nice when we can simplify?
Stuart: Of course. Of course. Okay. To make it simpler for our readers, I think they should [indiscernible 0:22:51]. If they can boil it down to five major exercises. I said five plains before. It’s better for people to think about five exercises. You have a squatting motion, a dead lifting motion, an upper body pushing motion, the bench press of the portion overhead presses the push. Then, you have a pulling motion, such as a row or chin up. A five exercise routine could be a dead lift, a squat and bench press, an overheard press and a chin up or a row. There are your five exercises.
Now, out of each of those exercises, you can find variations. I usually recommend to people dead lift just once a week. The other exercises can be done twice a week by most people. There’s something that, once they’re training really hard and they’re struggling for recovery and depending on their age that comes into consideration. There are some cases where some exercises are better off of some body parts are maybe better off just exercise once a week. It does vary somewhat according to the individual. It’s difficult fr me to try to include many variations in such a brief description.
Those five major exercises really do cover just about the entire body. Everything is either hit directly or indirectly. If people would become good at just those five basic forms of exercise… again, the dead lift, squat, a bench press, an overhead press, under a row or a chin up for the back, those five basic motions. If people will work on those and get good at them, they won’t believe the impact that dedication will make to their bodies, especially if it’s combined with body fat loss as well.
Really, just those five exercises can do so much. It would be hard for people to believe in this because they’ve been so brainwashed to think they have to do three exercises per body part. [Indiscernible 0:25:00] used to do. Blah, blah, blah. This is just body building [indiscernible 0:25:05]. It’s just nonsense for the genetically normal, drug-free person.
Jonathan: While it may seem hard to believe, I would encourage folks to just to try it. Also, to keep in mind that if we look at the typical exercise routine, it usually consist of doing some form of low intensity, high duration aerobic activity which is a totally separate topic. Then, maybe, when you’re done with that walking over into the weight room and doing some sit ups, doing some curls for your arms and doing some abductor exercises where you take your leg and you basically flail them in and out, in and out, in and out. That doesn’t work for most people. It seems that it’s no surprise as it includes no elements of these simple, proven and effective routine we’ve covered so far, Stuart.
Stuart: I do want listeners to really understand that the exercise that I’m talking about, they do have to be done with correct exercise technique. If people just go in and just abuse these exercises, they are going to get hurt. Just like they would if they abuse any exercises. The really big exercises, the one that work on many body parts at the same time. There’s a higher injury risk with them if they’ve done in an incorrect way. To repeat myself, it’s correct exercise selection together with correct exercise technique. The combination is imperative here. Without the correct exercise technique, people are going to get in a mess.
Jonathan: Well certainly, Stuart, this is an empowering message, a message that has transformed my life. Hopefully, it will continue to transform the lives of the undoubted millions of others you’ve touched. What’s next for you in this arena?
Stuart: I was still plugging away, doing more of the same. I always have a new project in the background I’m working on, which I am at the moment. Every year or two, I have some things else to say related to what I’ve already said. To try to present the same basic message from a different angle to appeal to a different audience. To keep plugging away.
Jonathan: Well, Stuart, I appreciate the continued effort. Folks, if you want to learn more about Stuart McRobert and his fabulous work, which has stood the test of time, please visit his primary website at hardgainer.com. He also has four wonderful books. The first is of which is called Brawn. The second is Beyond Brawn, my personal favorite. He has Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, as well as, Book One of his new Brawn Series. Stuart, thank you so much for joining us today.
Stuart: Thank you very much for having me, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoy today’s show as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Talk with you soon.