It really makes one laugh. Or rather cry. Get angry…and finally give up and resign because it’s absolutely clear that it will happen again and again.
We have all seen it: open any average “Men’s” magazine (or website for that matter) and you get bombarded by headlines like “Great Sixpack in 5 Weeks”, “Get Shredded in 2 months” or even “6 Weeks to Get Lean”.
It used to be the domain of women and their diets. Back then I also didn’t understand that “Lose 45 Pounds in 30 Days” nonsense but now the craze has got so much out of proportion that a voice of sanity became absolutely necessary.
So what can you really achieve in 5 weeks?
Reportedly, you can learn Java scripting. Also, as many teach-yourself books claim, you can master a decent basics of Swahili language. And Spanish and Hindi, to be sure. You can also become a world-class chef. Ehm…
Or maybe, none of the above. As Peter Norvig already wrote in his notorious “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years” article, there are no shortcuts or silver bullets. Not in programming, not in cooking, not in chemistry. And certainly not in body development.
So what can you REALLY achieve in 5 weeks? You can get overtrained and require rest for several months. You can bring upon yourself a joint injury, especially if you train like an idiot or follow idiotic training plans. If it will ever heal it will probably chase you for the rest of your life. You can spoil your stomach by eating 70 eggs a day because you follow the advice of that huge guy from bodybuilding magazine who forgot to tell you that he is also on 5 different steroids and is able of having sex only twice a month.
OK, OK…so how long? Am I gonna be ripped in half year?
Because it took exactly six months to my classmate and he just looks great now…! Fine. So please listen to me now, my dear impatient friend. You will see results in 6 months. Not only that. You will actually see and feel results much sooner. But you’re not gonna be ripped like that guy from bodybuilding magazine.
In fact you’re not even gonna be like the model advertising latest men’s perfume (who is not a bodybuilder as you can clearly see). Because it’s a long road to success. Now please don’t cry to me that you can’t wait because the summer is here in 4 weeks and you just can’t go to the beach like this. You can. Because what you actually WILL get during your first weeks in the gym is SELF CONFIDENCE and PRIDE.
During your first weeks in the gym (if your training is just a little bit sane) you will experience huge gains in power. And although the gains in muscle mass will be much more modest you get a sense of achievement. All of us would like to return to that time when we were adding 5 pounds to our bench press every 2 weeks.
You will master many exercises and learn a huge deal about your body. You will probably also start to understand why bodybuilding (or any similar sport using resistance training) is addictive.
And if you are just a bit receptive you will also learn to appreciate the big muscles of senior athletes and the heavy weights they are able to move. Not because they look better than you but because you start to realize what is behind it – years of hard and clever training, discipline, steadfastness and patience.
You will understand very soon that those big guys didn’t follow the “5 Weeks to Sixpack” article. And if they did, they just improved their great sixpack to perfection.
So what my realistic expectation should be?
First of all you have to understand that your improvements will be dependent on your age, your genes and your health. Those are the things you can’t influence. Then, obviously, there is one more thing: your sex. Men and women must follow different training plans and will obviously achieve different results.
Basically, the younger you are the faster you improve. You are also less prone to injury and can afford to do more mistakes. But of course, if you are too young (let’s say under 16) you may negatively influence your growth and body development by heavy training.
Beginners over 35, those with history of serious illness or injury and obese persons must start gradually and carefully. Interestingly, seniors are usually experiencing less training-related injuries because they do recognize their limits better than middle-aged men and women.
The three body types
For practical reasons we divide the body types into three broad groups: ectomorphs (skinny, fast metabolism, thin bones, “hardgainer”), mesomorphs (well-built, solid bone structure) and endomorphs (slow metabolism and tendency to get overweight).
All of these types have certain evolutionary advantages but the fact is that if you happen to be an ectomorph your muscle gains will be slower and your results not as impressive.
Ectomorphs can expect to achieve a body of well-built model (the swimmer’s body) which makes women crazy but they will not compete in top bodybuilding competitions. You should know this before you begin your training.
Your body type is, as I explained, given by your genes. Although the exact reasons for this are not completely explained, hormones (testosterone, insulin, growth hormone and others) play apparently a major role and so does metabolism.
(Notice: this is an approximate timeline of theoretical progress of an average 20-year old male. As I mentioned above, your personal results are influenced by various factors that cannot be considered in this article. Please see more specific articles that we offer for various target groups).
First 3-4 weeks: You will learn the proper technique of many exercises. Use smaller weights of about 60% of your one-repetition maximum (so if you can lift in certain exercise 100 pounds you can use 60 pounds now).
Although any people swear by full-body training, dividing your muscles into two groups will do. Typical workout plan in this phase is:
1st day lower body
2nd day off
3rd day upper body
4th day off
5th day off
Next 3 months: Start using higher weights – about 70% of your one repetition maximum (1RM). Still, you should be able to do at least 8 good repetitions (without cheating) in every exercise. Do not succumb to the temptation to increase the weight fast. Remember that your muscle gets strong faster than your joints!
Your body will already start transforming and you will achieve visible improvements. This doesn’t mean you will get the body of your dreams in this period!
Depending on your regeneration rate you can train more often. For 20-year olds 3-day cycles are usually well tolerated (1st day upper body, 2nd day lower body, 3rd day rest).
However, if your legs are sore 2 days after the workout, you will need to reshuffle your training plan (don’t worry, well help you with choosing the ideal plan here at Musqle.com).
Fist year: For the rest of the first year you can select the exercises that suit you best. You will find out what hurts you, which muscles need more attention and what works best for you.
Do not overtrain! It’s much more probable that you are training too much than that you don’t work your muscles enough. If you spend more than 1 and half hour in the gym doing resistance exercises you are probably on the way to overtraining.
Remember that excessive training damages your muscles – it doesn’t help them grow.
During your first year of training you should also slowly find the ideal diet for your training aims. Do not jump into extremes. Take the recommendations by leading pros with a grain of salt. If not for other reasons, these are people with exceptionally good metabolism. You are not likely to have the same genetics.
Too much of protein can damage your kidneys. Also, your body will not be able to process it. If you are on a bulking diet, increase your caloric intake slowly and observe the reactions of your body.
Look in the mirror after your first year in the gym. What a difference from the year ago. No, this is not a bodybuilder from the frontage yet. But it’s an athlete. And that’s quite something. If you were skinny, now you are slim and muscular. If you were obese, now you look strong.
Second year: The second year of your training is particularly decisive. You can get bored and stop training. You can start thinking that now you know it all and stop paying attention to safety. But in fact you have still a long way to go.
First, you must come in terms with the fact that you are not improving as much as you did during your first year of training. That’s normal. Don’t panic – you have not reached your limits. But you must now apply some clever training methods because although you will still grow also from less-than-perfect workouts, it just gets much harder.
It is highly probable that by now you will prefer more structured training: possibly 2-3 muscle groups a day in a 4-day long cycles.
After 2 years you start to look like a bodybuilder. Some exceptionally gifted individuals may achieve a muscular body by now but most mortals will look like a “junior bodybuilders”. If you were overweight two years ago, now you are not.
Third year: After three years of hard training you will come very close to your training aims. There is still much room for improvement but you are not a beginner any more. You have a body of a bodybuilder. Not first-class top bodybuilder. But bodybuilder nevertheless.
You also start to have sports-related problems – hopefully small joint pain here and there that should serve as a warning that a change in training plan may be necessary.
If you are serious, you will apply periodization: several months of heavy training followed by months of lighter training with more repetitions and less weights.
Many trainees succumb to the temptation of hormonal doping in this period. It’s always wrong. Even if you live in a country where such products are legal, by now you just don’t have enough experience with your training and you are far from reaching your potential.
However, this can be a good time to learn about various performance enhancing substances (there are many legal ones) because you will be increasingly confronted with them in your gym. As always, knowledge will empower you. Never do a new exercise; a new diet; never use a new supplement of a new training plan without thorough study on the subject.
Mistakes can be costly and irreversible.
The bottom line
Every shortcut leads to hell. Don’t make a fool of yourself by following advice that is apparently invalid. If it’s too good to be true it’s not true. Speak to experienced athletes instead and learn as much as possible. It’s hard to fool informed people. We hope we will be able to help you in your quest.