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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

Corona Virus and Growth/Progress Thresholds

Iamprotein is not a particularly topical blog, although I do occasionally issue a post in response to current events, such as the deaths of Franco Columbu and Jusup Wilkosz. In the main though, I just plod along writing whatever I feel like, irregardless of what’s going on in the world. This post is about Growth Thresholds — or more accurately, Progress Thresholds, as we are interested in both muscle-growth and fat-loss — and how the enforced lockdown changes to my weight-training methods and exercise regime has produced some surprising results.

In early March of this year, I began to have a worrying feeling that the Government was going to close all the gyms in the UK, and the thought of not having access to a gym was making me feel uneasy. Spending money does not come easily to me but I realised that if the worst came to the worst, and I had to train at home for a few months, I needed to buy some training equipment. My natural caution with regard to spending cash was overwhelmed by my fear of not training, so weeks before gyms were actually closed, I bought a bench, 100kgs of weights, a bar, an EZ bar and a set of dumbbells. Oh, and the exact-same LifeFitness stationary bike that I use at FF Tottenham Court Road. It all cost about £900 and at that stage there was not even a guarantee that gyms would close at all, but I was taking no chances. This episode did pleased me in that it cemented in my mind just how important the health and fitness lifestyle is to me.

Feeling very pleased with myself on my “brand new” LifeFitness bike.

A quick aside about the LifeFitness bike. It is one of the original stationary bikes, the LifeFitness company having been around for about 45 years, and the one I have always preferred to use. A few years back, when I moved from FF Bloomsury to FF TCR, I was thrilled to discover, (among the snazzy Steppers, Rowers and host of other modern bikes) hidden in the corner was the Original and Best — that trusted, battered old workhorse — an old-style LifeFitness bike!! When I decided I needed a lockdown bike, I knew it had to be this one as I wanted to exactly replicate my usual bike routines, not have to work out a whole new cycling regime. My home LifeFitness bike has precisely fulfilled that aim making me feel as though I’m actually on the TCR bike, to such an extent, that both bikes give totally unreliable heart-rate readings!!

Actually I have to thank my client, Joy, as she was the one who tracked down the bike and persuaded me to buy it. Of all my clients, she was the only one who, like me, bought masses of equipment weeks in advance, and didn’t care that her lovely open-plan flat now resembled a weightlifting garage!! Ten-out-of-ten for Ms Joy!

That’s dedication! Gym invasion!!

For many thousands of weightlifters and bodybuilders, lockdown (although I call it semi-lockdown as we kept many of our freedoms compared with the Chinese and most European lockdowns) has brought with it a whole new set of training challenges. For the first few weeks, social media and all the papers were filled with stories of how various sportsmen and women were adapting their training, as they went from their usual world-class facilities to literally having to train in a flat or back garden, and with whatever equipment they could muster. For those of us who rely on a whole gym’s worth of machines and weights and pulleys, etc., the idea of being able to train just as hard — and as effectively — with a bare minimum of equipment was quite daunting.

Getting creative! I enjoyed maximising the limited equipment I had.

Of course, us long-term lifters, the Million-Reppers, were determined to push on and do the best we could with what little we had. My feeling was that the best I could hope for was to get to the end of lockdown looking in as reasonably similar shape to when lockdown began. Under such limited circumstances, I felt that expecting anything more was foolish.

I knew I was going to be spending a fair bit of time in my new home-gym so I wanted it to be as pleasant an experience as possible. I set up a large mirror! (First things first!) Bought a cork board and pinned up a fantastic, signed, photo of Arnold and a few old black and white pics of me competing for the SA Defence Force back in 1988! I bought some rubber flooring and hung up the “Julian’s Basic Basement Gym” sign that Joy had ordered for me. Lastly, I wrote out the (not so serious) Rules and Regulations — and I was in business!!

So I started training. The heaviest dumbbell I could make was 15 kgs and the most I could get on a bar was 70 kilos. Considering I can deadlift 200 kgs plus, and that I Single Arm Row using a 50 kg dumbbell, you can appreciate how difficult it was going to be to replicate the type of stress I was used to putting my muscles under. Another limiting factor was the lack of a training partner, which meant no forced-reps, negatives, or even the moral support and camaraderie that boosts energy levels and determination when training.

Rather than feel despondent, I cast my mind back to when I first trained, and to how limited the equipment was then. In those early days that’s all I knew — so I just got on with it. I also remembered the stories of how Arnold had to “clean” the bar off the floor if he wanted to do an Incline Press as he did not have a proper Incline Bench with a rack for the bar. I used my imagination and rigged up a ladder to do bodyweight rows and Incline Leg Raises and I leant a bench (thank you Roger D!) up against a wall to do my incline presses. I changed my style of training too. At TCR, I had an hour to train so did fairly intense, shortish workouts. Now, I had all day!! I started doing many more sets, 10 sets of Bent Over Rows, supersetted with 10 sets of Deadlifts, then 10 sets of Ladder Rows! If I could not lift as heavy, and train as intensely, I would (hopefully) make up for it by increasing my volume. In essence, I doubled my work-load and did much longer, though less intense, workouts.

Every bodybuilder rates the success of a workout on how sore those trained muscles are the next day — and the day after that. To my surprise and delight, I was getting pretty good next-day muscle-soreness which filled me with hope that I might be able to hold my pre-lockdown shape.

By the time we were 10 weeks into lockdown, I began to suspect that not only had I managed to keep my muscle-size — I had actually increased it, and lost fat at the same time. Ascertaining wether or not you have gained muscle, or lost fat, is a tricky business. We all have body dysmorphia to one degree or another and can look in the mirror one day and see Mr Olympia, and an ageing, sagging power-lifter the next!! Most often, bodybuilders look in the mirror to judge their condition but the scales and the tape measure can be useful too.

18” guns! A far cry from my peak of 21 inches, but no too bad for an old bloke!

I weigh myself twice a day. Without fail. This may sound obsessive and unhealthy, but for me it is not. After a lifetime of weighing myself it is a deeply ingrained habit and monitoring my weight twice a day is just something I do for my own interest. If it is noticeably up or down I take note, but I’m not upset, just curious, as it invariably returns to its normal range again. My suspicions that I had grown were confirmed by a number of things. I was definitely looking bigger and leaner in the mirror, (but we all know what a lying bitch the mirror can be) but my bodyweight was pretty much the same. My arm measurement was the also the same, (18 beautiful inches) but my waist was half an inch down. And, a few people who know my body reasonably well said I was looking bigger and leaner. I had to come to the unbiased (and incredible) conclusion that I had gained muscle and lost fat, which is the bodybuilder’s Holy Grail!! But how on Earth had that actually happened?

Looking bigger and leaner. Or am I ?? It’s a mind-fuck!!

The fact that I was leaner was not such a surprise. With the lovely LifeFitness bike at my disposal and the fact that I had loads of time to dedicate to training, I was on the bike most days — and going at it relatively hard. Added to that, I was eating pretty tight too, I loved having the opportunity to eat with more precision. When I’m instructing at the gym it is not always possible to eat what I want, when I want, as I often have four or five sessions on the trot. As I was now only doing two or three instructing sessions per day, I could eat pretty-much every three hours, which is without doubt the optimum way to eat, whether you are a bodybuilder or not. Without coming across as smug, the nutrition side of things is normally pretty easy for me, but during lockdown I’ve been especially motivated, partly due to a fantastic Jordan Peterson video I watched recently. It is easy to see how he has struck a chord with so many, mostly, young men. He has the amazing ability to translate complex psychological concepts into easy-to-understand, real-life situations. In the video, he speaks about procrastination and asks what exactly is it that stops us from being proactive — Jordan says the lack of a clear goal is the culprit. My goal, is to be fit and muscular and energetic and healthy . . . FOREVER!! Once you have established your goal, and you know the means required to achieve it, that is: eating within set parameters, getting enough sleep, doing plenty of high-intensity cardiovascular work and lifting weights as heavy and as hard as possible — then, getting off your bum and doing all those things becomes easy because you know that they are getting you closer to your goal! The thought of an hour’s run is transformed from being a drag into a pleasure — because it is a definite and positive step towards achieving your goal!

Training hard and having fun!!

So all things considered, I was not all that surprised to have lost some fat, bearing in mind my extra cardio and tight diet. There is a third factor I want to mention, one that I’m convinced has played a major part in my progress — and that is sleep.

Bodybuilders know the three pillars on which muscle is built, and they are neatly encapsulated in the following slogan: Train, Eat, Sleep — repeat! In our modern world, lack of sleep is something many of us miss as we all live busy lives with so much to squeeze in. In fact, lack of sleep is often seen as something to boast about as it demonstrates how important and busy we are! “I’m far too busy to get eight hours sleep!” Even the Great Man himself, Mr S, is guilty of this, admonishing us to get more done in our lives and to “sleep faster!” I am one of those who gets too little sleep, as I get up at 4:30am most mornings to get to gym by 6, and am quite often home in the late evening. There is not much I can realistically do about my schedule so I survive on a daily coffee and the occasional Red Bull. I always feel a bit tired, but I get through. At the beginning of lockdown I was excited about not only getting more sleep, but also having a schedule where I went to bed and woke up at the same time every day — weekends included — so I bullied Suzy into going to bed no later than midnight. I get up at 7 or 7:30 and she comes downstairs to her lovely husband-cleaned kitchen a bit later than that. I feel so much more awake and energetic with my extra sleep, and have not had, nor felt the need for, a single dose of caffeine!

To recap; I was doing more cardio and lifting longer, as well as eating tight and getting as much sleep as I needed. All positive things, but not enough in my opinion, to account for my newly-gained muscle-mass. In my case though, we have to be honest and call it “reclaimed” muscle, as although I built my original muscle-size 20+ yrs ago, there is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that even after such a long period of time, muscle-memory still exists. Nonetheless, the question has to be answered: how had I built this new muscle??

True, I had increased my volume of training, but at the expense of the intensity, I was training longer, but I was in no way training harder. And yet I had grown. The only possible reason for this is that I was training differently. That was the key! I was giving my muscles a different stimulus!

I wrote at the beginning of this post that I was interested in Growth/Progress Thresholds. I must say that my ideas on Growth Thresholds are purely anecdotal and are based solely on observations and conversations I have had over all the years I have been training. None of your actual science here, my friend.

I always tell my clients that bodies are lazy, (to be honest, I kinda mean that they are lazy) and unless we make them, our bodies will not build muscle, or lose fat easily. Furthermore, the more muscle we have, the harder it is to “persuade” our bodies to build more, and the same goes for fat, the less we have the harder our bodies fight to keep hold of it. I see lifters in the gym who train really hard, but don’t seem to build any new muscle, and I see people who diet and run, to a pretty impressive level, but don’t lose body-fat. Why? Because their bodies are used to the stimulus — even if it is of a high quality and quantity. If you are benching 100kgs for 10 sets of 10 reps, or running hard for 30 mins every day, as soon as your body becomes accustomed to this stimulus — it will stop improving!! The original stimulus that gave you such good gains, is now of no use at all. But no one wants to hear that. We have our routine, the one that worked so well, and we are loathe to change it. But change it we must!! And the irony is that you do not even have to change your program to a harder one — just a different one — a different stimulus.

Have you ever noticed that when you train in a different gym your muscles often hurt more than usual the following day? If the Leg Press is a different machine, with perhaps a slightly different angle, even though you do your usual weight and usual amount of sets and reps — you hurt more the next day? Your leg workout was not harder than usual, but it was different. It’s the same story when you do someone else’s routine, it’s always tougher to do, even if it’s not necessarily harder!

So how did I change my training during lockdown? As well as upping the volume — the number of sets I did per body part — I often trained the same muscles twice in a day. Chest and triceps in the morning, then again in the afternoon. Some muscles I trained two days running. I often did delts one one day and then when doing my back the next, do rear delts again. I also rested longer between sets. I had more time to train so instead of my rushed one hour workouts, I took my time. There have been some amazingly sunny days recently and I have had the best time training and getting a tan too, doing a lot of training in my swimming cossie!! Sometimes we forget that training, though hard, is meant to be FUN!! Remember — happy muscles and massive muscles!!!

Swimming cossie training!!!

It turns out that these relatively small changes were enough to stimulate new muscle-growth. How amazing! So the lesson I have learned is that to break out of a stagnant period, it is critical to change the stimulus you are giving your body. If you are used to running for 30 hard and fast mins, change it up with a longer and slower 60 mins! This may not be an idea that appeals to you, and that is exactly why you should do it! Because it is not your natural choice, it will feel different and strange, and your body will have to adapt and respond to this new change. Just give it a try!! What have you got to lose? A kg of unsightly lard?

This October I will be 53. I started training when I was 13, so have spent forty years of my life in the gym. While I’ve enjoyed the fact that I have improved physically during lockdown, what I’m most pleased about is that after such a long period of time I’m still learning about training, and discovering how my body reacts and responds to all the different stimuli that go into building a lean and muscular body. Bodybuilding really is the gift that keeps on giving!!

Don’t drink and train!!

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Mar 09, 2021

this is amazing man and great example for all peaple bless


Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards
Feb 19, 2021


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