Nick Mitchell is a leading body composition expert and the founder of the Ultimate Performance global personal training gym. He is based in Los Angeles.
Milo of Croton was born in southern Italy in the sixth century BC, but found fame in Ancient Greece and across the known world for his incredible feats of strength. What was the secret to Milo’s phenomenal muscular size and strength? As a child he found a newborn calf, picked it up and carried it. The next day he did it again. Then the day after. And then every single day thereafter until the calf become a bull. As the animal grew in size, Milo grew in strength.
I’m not suggesting that you should immediately find a field and try to deadlift a raging bull. My point is this: the incremental increase in the calf’s weight on a daily basis was tiny and barely significant. It could only be measured in miniscule percentage-point increments. But over the days, weeks, months and years, these small increases in the calf’s weight added up and it allowed Milo to become the biggest and strongest man in the Ancient World. (Every day Milo ate 20lb of meat and 20lb of bread, and also downed 18 pints of wine but, hey, no one’s perfect.)
Playing the percentages
Milo knew what every professional bodybuilder knows today, but it’s something that the majority of gym-goers don’t even consider, or are far too quick to dismiss because it goes against their desire for a quick-fix solution.
It’s this. Building an incredible body is all about playing the percentages. Specifically, doing lots of little things right every day, so these tiny, seemingly insignificant, percentage-point gains gradually add up to have a huge impact in how you look in your boxer shorts. They are the difference between having a good body and having a great physique. Anyone who has ever managed to build a stand-out physique knows and appreciates just how important these small percentage gains are.
And that’s my problem with the so-called ‘gurus’ who obsess over ‘evidence-based’ science and research who have utter disregard for those who have accumulated decades of gym-floor experience. Ignoring the years of tried-and-tested practical knowledge means they will never have all the information they need to inform the process of building the best physique possible. This anecdotal wisdom is all Greek to them.
Being big and ripped doesn’t qualify you as a training or nutrition expert. Not by any means. But there seems to be a trend right now that being big disqualifies you from being a respected authority in the fitness world if you can’t immediately back up all your advice with triple-sourced PubMed studies. When a skinny-fat nutrition consultant claims to know chapter and verse about eating for hypertrophy and fat loss, and pours scorn on the methods of a professional bodybuilder who has spent 15 or 20 years honing their physique, I want to tear my hair out.
This is what the science guys don’t understand because they haven’t spent years in gyms training and observing, finding out what works through trial and error, and learning first-hand all the tiny real-world elements that come together to build the biggest, leanest body possible.
Walking the walk
The pro may not be able to articulately explain to me glut-4 translocation or beta-cell down-regulation, or show me the latest study that validates his approaches. But he knows how to milk every last rep and nail his pre-contest diet. How can I tell? Just take a look at him.
Do I agree with Dorian Yates’s training philosophies and principles? No. But he’s Dorian fucking Yates. He played with the percentages and won six Mr Olympias. The man has earned everyone’s respect. So if he’s talking training, I’ll sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up and start listening. Can you criticise Dorian? Yes, if your name is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney or Ronnie Coleman. If not, I suggest you keep your trap shut.
Science lacking substance
When a study comes out that appears to contradict proven methods, the bodybuilder is lambasted as being wrong or out of date. The usual crowd start shouting ‘broscience’ across social media to anyone who will listen. I can’t understand the logic in throwing out decades of anecdotal evidence because a small study – under lab and not real world conditions – suggests otherwise. Research is never black and white, no matter how much we want it to be, and there is always margin for error based on sample size, the researchers’ agenda and myriad of other reasons. I’m not saying ignore science by any stretch, I’m just calling for more caution.
Take nutrient timing. There are lot of respected guys out there saying that nutrient timing is not a significant factor, so long as you consume enough calories and grams of protein over the course of each day. Now, the research may well back up them up. The studies I’ve seen claim that nutrient timing is only important when training twice a day. If only training once then there’s no significant benefit from timing your meals around your workout.
To people who agree with this, I have one thing to say. Come and train with me. I’ll put you through a brutally hard, volume-based workout where I’ll push you to your absolute limit. If you train like this every time you step in the gym, I dare you to turn around and tell me that nutrient timing doesn’t matter. One of the reasons many guys fail to grow is because they don’t eat enough, often enough. I don’t need science to tell me what my eyes have seen for the past 30 years.
I’m not saying you need to down a protein shake or neck two chicken breasts within seconds of your final set, but consuming high-quality nutrients as soon as you can will aid your recovery. It might not be a hugely significant increase, but it might provide a 0.5% or even 0.1% benefit.
The same goes for doing that extra rep when you think you’re about to die. In isolation, so what? Taken on its own as a one-off effort then I’d agree it’s inconsequential. But, if like Milo of Croton, you make a positive percentage gain – even if it’s tiny – each and every day, then these will soon add up until you have a physique and not just a body.