Growth Stages for Dummies


by Taylor Normandeau

Yesterday, Damnit…That’s when we want to achieve our goals. Actually screw that, yesterday is too far in the future. Bodybuilders want to be huge months ago. YEARS ago. In fact most of us harbour some level of resentment towards our parents for not taking part in an experimental fetus doping project so that we were born ripped. Since the prospect of time travel seems rather distant and suing our parents wouldn’t solve our problems, we must approach our goals in the smartest way possible knowing that our future self is going to want to punch our current self in the throat if we waste any more time.

It is very frustrating to see the physiques we emulate in training and lifestyle videos and realize that there are many rungs on the ladder between us and them. Unfortunately we cannot adjust how many rungs there are as your progress is going to require you to hit every level between your current one and the end goal. That might sound brutally obvious to some but when it really truly sinks in, it can give you a much better perspective on what you are doing and the step to take next. The plus side is, we are in control of how fast we can ascend the ladder (to a degree) and also how many steps backwards we take (to a degree). If you are 200lbs in okay shape, you have to be 205lbs before you can be 210lbs. No matter how hard you try, you cannot bypass necessary progress, or growth stages. You cannot snap your fingers and become a heavyweight NPC competitor if you have an LBM of 160lbs.Willpower and dedication be damned, it’s just not physically possible. While I am a firm believer in having long term goals and a very clear vision of what you plan on achieving (I say “plan” and not “dream”, as a plan is a reality while a dream is a fantasy), the key to steady progress in bodybuilding is doing what needs to be done to make you one step better than you were before. The bodies tolerance to supplements and even calories is finite, thus I think one of the lost arts in this game is doing the LEAST amount necessary to nudge your body in a constant motion towards progression. This approach is a sure fire way to continue adding muscle while leaving plenty of options down the road when your body starts fighting you and your genetic limit starts to laugh in your face.

I don’t want to come across as conservative in any shape or form, if I thought there was an advantage to the “kitchen sink” approach right out of the gate I would definitely say so. Most young bodybuilders think that all the older guys (by the way I am not an older guy) have some sort of mass conspiracy to convince the youngins that they should play it safe, meanwhile they know better and are hoarding the secrets for themselves. Fact is, on the chemical side, you cannot grow forever on the same dose. If at your current stage you could grow sufficiently off 500mgs of Testosterone, why just do 1500mgs for the hell of it? There is more and more scientific evidence that our body actually develops more androgen receptors with prolonged use, and this would explain why guys don’t magically blow up when they use 2 grams of gear for their first cycle. I have seen people do it, and they simply don’t. I’m sure it’s possible, as everyone responds differently. But from my experiences seeing gym rats hop on their first cycle, the guys who take 1 cc of deca and a few dbols seem to grow just as well as the ones trying to play Bostin Lloyd. To be frank, if you intend on pushing your physique to a level that is impressive by modern standards, you are going to eventually be taking plenty of “supplements”. My advice is to save as many tricks up your sleeve for when the body is already bigger than it wants to be. If you climb each run with solid footing, you stand a good chance of making it to the top. If you decide to leap up and skip a bunch of steps, you’re likely to slip and break your teeth.

We always hear things like “you gotta eat big to get big”, and this is entirely true. But big is always a relative term, and it’s no different when it comes to food consumption. You need to eat big ENOUGH to push your body into anabolism. If you eat 4000 calories OVER what your body is using, you will definitely build some muscle if training hard. You will also definitely get fat. Muscle growth is a slow and steady process, and we must balance on the line of eating what our body needs and supplying it with that little extra. For the sake of making my point, let’s take a hypothetical muscle gain of 20lbs in a single year. That is an extremely high amount of muscle to add, and is basically the upper limit of what one could ever expect. So even if you play all of your cards right and hit this magical number, that is 1.6lbs of muscle per month, 0.4 lbs of muscle per week, 0.05lbs per day. So if you (in a perfect world) are only adding .05lbs of muscle per day, it becomes obvious that eating a lb worth of calories (3500) in excess per day is clearly not a smart plan of attack.

Conversely, trying to pinpoint the exact amount of nutrients required to supply your body with what it needs to grow without gaining any fat is damn near impossible and unnecessarily complicated. The best approach would be to add enough surplus to ensure the body is fed and your training and supplementation efforts are justly supported, but not being ridiculous and thinking you can pinpoint this number on a daily basis. Every body is different, and every day is different. Not everyone is on board for being committed throughout the off-season, but if you take this seriously it is bizarre to not track your food at the time of year when progress is your main goal. This is to not say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself in the off-season, but the base of your diet should be structured just like pre-contest – just higher macronutrient totals and some more cheat meals.

Your body is going to fight you tooth and nail in your attempt to pack on muscle. We need to have an arsenal of tactics to throw back at it when it tries to pump the breaks. This is a constant dance and our goal is to keep things constantly in the “green”. Just like in the gym, no matter how badly you want to – you cannot add 100lbs from your previous max weight and hope for success. This mindset is applicable to every aspect. Think of every MG of gear, every gram of protein and carbohydrate, every hour of sleep as a 2.5lb weight that you use on the bar. It’s not always the most glamours, but if you can add that 2.5lb weight every session and nail it as opposed to throwing an extra 45lb wheel and getting crushed, your metaphorical “ladder” will take you much higher.