I have always been a classic hard gainer—15 years in the sport, natural, with precious little to show for it. Finally, after a lot of struggle and no gains, I decided to take an indefinite lay-off that lasted over 5 years. But once bit by the iron bug always bit, so I came back to bodybuilding at the ripe young age of 47 and in terrible shape. This is how I got back into it and hopefully, anyone, at any age can get something out of my experiences.
The first thing I did was research the advances in the sport—I knew little about pro-hormones for example, and I didn't know that much about current thinking regarding diet or training. I didn't even know who the current Mr. Olympia was! My goal was to learn all I could, try again to put on some size and stay natural in the process—I didn't care how old I was, that was not going to stop me.
I knew that if I wanted to achieve good gains going forward, I had to work beyond the limits of the past—I had never gotten beyond 170 lbs. I decided on a supplement schedule of 1 AD and 4 AD along with other supplements (whey protein, protein bars and a multivitamin)—I would try this for 3-4 weeks and then go right into a schedule of creatine and No2 for 3-4 weeks.
Before starting the supplement cycles, I set up a simple split routine to get back into it:
Days 2 and 3: Off
Days 5 and 6: Off
I set this up to promote recovery, and because at the time I was working 60-80 hours per week. This schedule had to be flexible in that if I had to take an extra day off, I could. I think proper recovery time is critical for any natural bodybuilder, especially an older one. I averaged 3 sets for big muscle groups—remember, it had been 5 years since I last touched a barbell, and 1-2 sets for small muscle groups.
Reps were in the 6-8 range. My focus was to build a foundation of strength—I made sure to add weight at every workout—while breaking my body back into working out again and gradually increasing my sets and exercises. I did this routine for about 3 months.
My diet was typical: 6 small meals every 3 hours with the emphasis on lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey and lean beef (total protein intake was 1 to 1.5 grams per lb. of bodyweight). I do not believe in the current low carb fad, preferring instead to go for moderate carbs such as rice, yams, potatoes (total carb intake was 1.5 to 2 grams per lb. of body weight) low fat (less than 20% of total calories) and lots of water.
I supplemented my diet with whey protein powder, protein bars, and a multivitamin. I used the protein powder first thing in the morning and last thing at night to insure I was not in negative nitrogen balance. I even had glass of milk if I was up during the night. Also, I made sure to have a mixture of protein and fast carbs after every workout. I began to keep a detailed training and food journal. The food journal is critical—you just can't guess your calorie breakdown and daily calorie intake.
I saw good response from this program—when I started, I weighed 164 lbs. At 5'8" and 22% body fat. At this point, I weighed 170lbs. while dropping to 20% body fat. Bear in mind I was not trying to lose fat. Also bear in mind this is mostly "muscle memory ".
At this point, I felt ready to start my cycle of some new supplements.
I chose to stay with the same routine—by this time I had added sets across the board—6-8 for big muscle groups (legs, back and chest) and 4-5 for small (delts, arms). I was also training to positive failure, and sometimes adding some rest pause reps or a drop set or two. I did this by feel - if I fell short of my rep goal for that set, or felt like I didn't work hard enough; I'd add some rest pause reps at the end. If the weight was just to heavy at that point, I'd do a drop set, dropping weight twice.
I began my first cycle on 11/19/03 and ended on 12/8/03. A short cycle I know but all I could afford. I took 1 of each three times a day for 17 days, and cycled down to 2 a day for 3 days and then 1 a day for 3 days. Admittedly, this approach was trial and error. At the end of this cycle, I had gained 5 lbs and lost 1" on my waist—again, without trying to lose fat.
My strength improved somewhat as well-being able to add 25 lbs. on the squat to my top set for 8 reps. I felt more energetic and could train harder than usual. I really did not see any negative effects from this cycle.
I went right into a creatine/No2 cycle that lasted 4 weeks, until the end of December. In this time, I gained another 4 lbs.—no change in body fat, and was able to see continued strength gains: Again, on the squat, going up another 30 lbs. Strength or size doesn't come easy for me, so these are, for me, very good gains.
I think this shows that you're never too old to body-build, age does not have to slow you down. You can have all the muscle and more at 47 than you had at 27, with hard work and a willingness to try new things.
I've since done a second cycle and plan to start a third at stronger doses, but that will be the subject of my next article.