Name: Gert Louw
Why I Got Started
I reached the point in my life where I wanted to "make myself better" on every level of my being. I did not like what I saw physically and spiritually when I looked in the mirror. All my life I thought, "but, all I want is some decent muscles and a 6-pack."
Well it was time for me to sit down and think hard. Why did I want that? Is it to look better? To impress the females? To impress my mates? It was but a shallow aim and always was, unfortunately, of a temporary time-frame. I wanted to look in that mirror and be able to say "I like the guy I am seeing. I like who I am. I am no longer the selfish person I used to be. I am at peace with myself and God."
Muscles and a great body should just be a normal outflow in this holistic process to become a better person and because of the weight my decision to change carries, it became much easier to stick religiously to my training and dieting regimen.
Now, I do not just do it to look better, I do it to become a better person and realized it is just one of the steps I have to take. I was given a second chance to live. I used this second chance to address my life on all levels following my program. Many might not yet be at this point in their lives, if you are, well, consider yourself lucky.
I made my muscle building and dieting plans a starting point to change myself at the core and went on the biggest journey life has to offer. I wanted to be able to sit back and say "I actually like the person I am" and that added immeasurable value and peace to my life.
So what did I address? Three things: diet, training and the most important of them all, spirituality. Spirituality was the key to unlock everything for me. When I became a deeper spiritual person, it was not just me in the battle to become a better person, but God was with me in this battle. And the strength He provides for me to change was and is real and amazing.
I don't want to force any specific spiritual road upon anyone and this is not my aim here. Each of us has to make our own decisions. This is just to give you that little extra hope that it can be done!
How I Did It
I had two phases to training: Maintenance Phase and Building Phase. These two phases I alternated continuously. I did a Maintenance Phase for 3 months (12 weeks) and then switched to an intense Building Phase for the next 3 months (12 weeks) and then repeated the cycle.
I started off with the Maintenance Phase to ease me into lifting weights. When I started out, it was critical for me to determine the weight size at which point my muscle failure occurs at the 8th repetition (I called this weight size, my "failure weight") for each exercise (excluding abdominals). This means the point where I fail to be able to make another repetition of the exercise.
When I started with the Maintenance Phase, I did 12 reps with the "failure weight" minus 20% of the "failure weight". An example: Let's say I've determined that with barbell curls, I can lift 30kg and only complete 8 reps but fail on the 9th rep. Then in my Maintenance Phase I will lift 20% less of the weight (which equals to roughly 24kg) and do 12 reps in each set.
With the Building Phase I reverted back to 8 reps per set. Starting with each Phase, I again determined my "failure weight" since this will (and must!) increase with every Phase. I did the 8 reps always with the new "failure weight."
Important: When I finished with a Building Phase, my increased weight levels for the Maintenance Phase will be the ones that I ended on in the last Building Phase. I did NOT reset these values. I continually increased them with the phases otherwise growth is not stimulated.
So typically a year period of training for me, looks like the following:
- Jan - March (12 weeks): Maintenance Phase
- April - June (12 weeks): Building Phase
- July - September (12 weeks): Maintenance Phase
- October - December (12 weeks): Building Phase
A typical weight training session for me, look like this:
- 5 min warm-up
- 40 min weight training
- 10-20 min cardio
Basics and Important Points:
- Cardio stayed the same during both phases. After my weight lifting session, the perfect cardio was to swim laps for 30 minutes. But I did not always had access to such facilities, and then considered the stationary bike or treadmill.
- I did cardio for 10-20 minutes. Preferably closer to 20 minutes. I did not make it much longer than 20 minutes even when I became fit. Rather, I up the intensity to make sure I was most of the time in the fat-burning zone.
- I took it slowly initially. Started out slowly for 5 minutes (on low intensity) and slowly increase it week by week. This allowed my body to adapt.
- Please note: I found too much cardio slowed my muscle growth drastically. I have never seen a muscled marathon athlete. So I decided to be careful. I wanted to grow, so I kept the cardio intense but not much more than 20 minutes per day.
- Very important for me was to start out slowly when I was new to lifting. I started, for example, doing one set per exercise for the first week. I bumped it up to 2 sets per exercise in my second week and to 3 sets per exercise in the third week and finally to 4 sets per exercise in my fourth week.
This was accompanied by some rather severe muscle pain, eish! But I endured, it was a good sign, it showed me that my muscles are listening and reprogramming themselves for growth.
- During my Maintenance Phase, as already stated above, I lift slightly lighter weights (roughly 10%-20% lighter) with more reps (12-14 instead of 8). The actual program stayed exactly the same for both Maintenance Phase and Building Phase.
As part of periodization, I also keep exchanging (on a monthly basis) my exercises with new ones for the same muscle group (I choose exercises from the exercise database. Again, this kept the muscles guessing and growing otherwise over the longer term they may stop responding.
- During the Building Phase period, I increased weight on all exercises on a weekly basis, forcing the muscles to respond and grow - kind of like a shock treatment. (Sure this meant sore muscles, but soon I learned to LOVE the feeling of sore muscles, because then I knew that I had a good workout.)
- So let's say last week I failed on the 8th rep with 30kg. I put on 32 kg and go and punish the muscles this week. I increased the weight like this on every exercise. If a 2kg increase was too much to handle, I made it 1kg or even 500g, but never stopped increasing the weights.
I saw younger guys who grew like mushrooms doing this. But alas, older folks like me are like good red wine, it takes some time, but our muscles will respond.
- A set consisted of 8 repetitions per exercise in the Building Phase (with muscle failure occurring on the 8th rep) and 12-14 reps with a 20% lighter weight for the Maintenance Phase.
- Typically I rested for no longer than 2 minutes between sets. Actually the less I rested the better. But I had to rest long enough for my muscles to recover to perform the next set.
- WARM-UP! For us older guys, warming up the muscles before training is critical. I considered myself "warmed up" when a light sweat appears on my forehead. This usually takes 5-10 minutes of light repetition lifting or aerobics. I never stretched during warming up. I did not want to risk muscle tear by stretching cold muscles.
- Another note here: My shoulders are prone to lifting injuries. I doubled up on the warm-up before lifting.
- I used caffeine pills before training. It helped with energy levels while I trained.
- Training at gym or home? I did most at home. However, when I wanted to move to the next level, nothing beats the gym to keep me focused!
Suggestions for Others
I get asked a lot by guys new to lifting about what to do to grow as quickly as possible. I am no guru on bodybuilding, but I have learned my fair share as time progressed. So here are some of the truths I have learned.
My suggestions to guys new to bodybuilding are always the same. You will not grow, no matter how hard you lift, if you do not get the train/eat/rest pattern sorted out.
- Do not overtrain. This is the easiest way for your muscles to shrink - literally! The best growth usually occurs when you work a muscle group intensely only once per week.
You have to rest about 2 days per week. Your body MUST have time to grow and recover. Muscles do NOT grow in gym (they actually get torn down), they grow outside the gym while you are sleeping/recuperating/resting. Overtraining is by far the biggest mistake people new to the sport make.
- No matter how hard you train, if you do not eat correctly, you will NOT grow.
- Diet determines 80% of your bodybuilding success. Eat 7 small meals per day. Each meal must have a good protein source. First meal must be when you wake up (fast-absorbing protein shake like whey) and last meal when you go to bed (slow release protein shake like casein).
- Drink LOTS of water and you must use a potent multivitamin. No less than 3L but preferably 4L water per day. Use clean water, preferably filtered. Your body is going to require serious recuperating from all the training.
If you want your body to function optimally for muscle growth, you MUST take a potent multivitamin. Examples: Universal Animal Pak and ON Opti-Men.
- The type of exercise you do is not that important. What is important is that you do the exercise with a heavy enough weight so you reach muscle failure by rep 8. If you focus on slow controlled movements and forcing the muscle with intensity to failure at rep 8, you will grow (if you rest enough and eat right).
Follow the above rules and make sure you cover a muscle group once a week and train with highest intensity possible. Then the type of exercise does not matter so much anymore, because you will grow.