Top 12 Strength Training Supplements Dissected

The amount of marketing BS spread about supplementation is absurd.

It makes sense – supplements are a billion dollar industry, and the craziest claims get you paid.

We’ve been dissecting supplement and nutrition claims for over two years at Examine.com. With over 20,000 citations now, we’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge. And we’re going to use that knowledge to reveal the truths about the 12 most popular strength training supplements.


Glutamine

Claim: Glutamine is touted as a muscle-building agent, and more recently it’s starting to be marketed as an intestinal-health supplement.

Reality: In a cell culture (aka a petri-dish), glutamine can cause dose-dependent increases in muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, when given to trauma patients, there appears to be rapid recovery of muscle tissue. Unfortunately, these properties do not apply to healthy athletes who use glutamine for muscle-building purposes. This is not one of the issues where there is a lack of evidence, but instead pretty much complete consensus from repeated scientific studies in which glutamine does not outperform placebo.

It is possible that very low protein intakes (vegetarian/vegan diets) could benefit from glutamine supplementation, but supplementation could be avoiding by simply eating more protein.

The reason glutamine doesn’t work is a kinetic issue: the liver and intestines consume most glutamine, and thus little gets to your muscle tissues. Glutamine does seem to help people with intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

Notables: As glutamine’s inefficacy is a kinetic issue, it is possible that a certain variant of glutamine could bypass the issue and actually cause muscle growth. This variant is only a theory right now, and does not currently exist. However, glutamine is not likely to go away anytime soon, since the cash cow can still be milked.

> Waste of your money, unless you have serious intestinal issues.


Protein powders

Claim: Protein powders are dehydrated food supplements with the sole purpose of adding protein to the diet. The sources and flavors vary, and different forms of protein supplements come with various claims to encourage people to buy their powder rather than another. Most famously, this includes whey protein being a “faster-absorbed” protein source.

Reality: There are indeed differences in protein absorption between whey and casein, but there is not a clear relationship with muscle growth. While studies that last 24 hours do note higher protein-synthesis rates with whey over casein, studies that actually measure muscle mass over a few weeks or months note no real difference. So here we have increased muscle-protein synthesis on a technicality, but the truth for building muscle is no significant difference.

It would be safe to summarize that for an average person, the speed of digestion is irrelevant; the only benefits one source of protein would have over another would be coingested nutrients (such as calcium in whey and casein, or fiber in hemp protein).

Notables: Casein protein is known to have gel-forming properties, and with the addition of small amounts of water it can make pudding; with some ingenuity, other recipes such as ice cream or protein fluff can be made.

> A great way to get more protein into your diet, but no type of protein is significantly better than others. The speed of digestion may not be relevant.


Creatine

Claim: Creatine is said to be a muscle-building and power output-enhancing supplement, with a high safety level and a plethora of evidence to support its efficacy. There are various other claims for enhancing cognition and reducing depressive symptoms.

Reality: While the cognitive benefits of creatine supplementation are sometimes reliant on a partial creatine deficiency (seen in vegetarians), supplementation of creatine is a proven way to enhance power output. There is initially some weight gain (excess water retained), but creatine does have an ability to increase muscle-protein synthesis and has been noted to increase muscle gains over time.

There is still an issue of nonresponse (some people do not respond to creatine supplementation, and do not even gain water weight from supplementation), which appears to be a kinetic issue. This does not affect enough people to call creatine unreliable in any way, but creatine nonresponse does appear to exist. You can tell if you respond to creatine by taking high doses (20g daily for 5 days) and assessing the increase in water weight gain.

Notables: Topical application of creatine might be anabolic there too, being able to permeate the skin and potently increase collagen synthesis.

> It’s safe and it works. Especially potent for vegetarians.


Beta-alanine

Claim: Beta-alanine is the amino acid precursor to carnosine, a molecule that serves as an intracellular buffer for acidity. Supplementation of beta-alanine is said to enhance work output and prevent fatigue, and due to increased work output, an increase in muscle mass is claimed to occur.

Reality: Beta-alanine does appear to be effective, although the most recent meta-analysis on the topic suggested that the benefit is 2.85% and only significant in moderate-length trials (60 to 240-second bouts of exercise). This time frame actually excludes weight lifting, and the studies assessing weight lifting and power activities below 60 seconds do not uniformly find benefit.

Oddly, the three studies that measure lean mass and fat mass do note beneficial trends of more muscle and less fat mass. It is currently not known why this occurs.

Notables: Some anecdotal reports suggest that very high (8-16 g) and chronic dosing of beta-alanine, while effective for multiday training sessions, causes severe cramping and pain. This is actually quite plausible, as beta-alanine gets into the muscles via the same transporter that the amino acid taurine uses and competitively inhibits its uptake. Transient taurine deficiencies are well known to induce muscular cramping (as commonly seen with clenbuterol usage).

> Works, but the benefits are small.


“Testosterone Boosters”

Claim: Testosterone-boosting supplements are cocktails of various herbs or extracts that are said to increase testosterone production in the human body. Marketed to male weight lifters, the claims found on the label are the stereotypical claims associated with steroid usage.

Reality: Testosterone boosters are in an odd position. There are numerous herbs (fenugreek, Bulbine Natalensis) or molecules (D-Aspartic Acid, vitamin D, DHEA) that do appear to work, but the increases are quite small relative to testosterone injections, and these studies do not actually measure muscle mass gain over time.

More importantly, there are an astounding number of things marketed to increase testosterone with no apparent consistency in what works and what doesn’t. Even then, libido enhancers (sole purpose is to make you hornier) are very commonly put into testosterone boosters to make you feel like they’re working; the most popular T-booster, Tribulus terrestris, is evidence of this. People often confuse increased libido with an increase in testosterone, but the two can be independent of each other.

Notables: The most promising test booster of late is Bulbine Natalensis. Currently, there is no human evidence on its testosterone-boosting properties (it will apparently be published soon) but it appears to be quite respectable in rodents. While D-Aspartic acid is known to increase testosterone by 42%, Bulbine has been cited at 346%. Usage of Bulbine is limited by its known toxicity in rats (kidneys and liver), and the state of research on this topic is somewhat odd (all toxicity reports come from one research group in Africa, which appears to be the only group who really cared about it up until recently).

> There are promising ones on the horizon, but the current batch are mostly useless. Many of the T-boosters increase your libido without increasing your testosterone levels enough to appreciably build muscle


Branched chain amino acids, aka BCAAs

Claim: Branched chain amino acids (three amino acids known as leucine, valine, and isoleucine) are said to be muscle-building amino acids. This is technically true, and the BCAAs (especially leucine) are prime regulators of how food can increase muscle-protein synthesis. The leucine content of protein powders is even a marketing point, with “leucine-enriched proteins” being claimed to be more anabolic.

Reality: BCAAs do work, and they are anabolic. To be specific, they are anabolic relative to nothing. While this means that the marketing claims do reflect the state of the science, there are some practical limitations. BCAAs are in all protein-containing foods, and the studies that measure protein versus protein with added BCAAs do not uniformly note increased muscle-protein synthesis.

In short, if you follow a protein-rich diet, then you likely get enough BCAAs already, and consuming BCAAs separately will have little impact in increasing muscle mass.

Notables: Isoleucine is quite interesting due to it increasing glucose uptake into muscle cells quite potently, and by a relatively unique mechanism to boot. Leucine can do this as well, but due to inducing muscle-protein synthesis it eventually shoots itself in the foot (the same mechanism also reduces glucose uptake). Due to this, isoleucine supplements have a potential role for being antidiabetic or used on carbohydrate refeeds.

> If you are getting ample protein via your diet/supplementation, BCAAs likely have little benefit. They are a low-caloric source of protein.


Fish oil

Claim: Fish oil, for athletes, is most frequently used to reduce joint pain and inflammation and to allow for faster recovery. It is commonly followed up by studies showing that NSAIDs (the other choice for reducing soreness) hinder muscle growth in youth, while fish oil can theoretically increase glucose uptake and enhance leucine signaling in muscle tissue.

Reality: The joint health and inflammation issue is well known and researched, and does appear to exist. Fish oil dose-dependently reduces soreness and inflammation, and this appears to be secondary to a slight immunosuppressive effect.

Although there is not as much evidence for the muscle-building claim, it is potentially true as well. Relative to people without dietary fish oil, those with inclusion of fish oil appear to have enhanced leucine signaling (and muscle-protein synthesis from amino acids) and increased glucose uptake into muscle cells. There are no current studies that assess actual muscle growth (rather, they measure fractional synthesis rates over a few hours) so while it cannot be claimed that fish oil builds muscle, it does seem possible.

Notables: Fish oil exerts many of its benefits in an omega 3:6 ratio, with the desired ratio being around 1:1.

> Mostly useful in helping you achieve a 1:1 omega 3:6 ratio (or close enough). If you eat ample amounts of fatty fish and not too much omega-6, you likely do not need it. It can help with inflammation and joint pain.


L-Carnitine

Claim: L-Carnitine is touted to be a fat-burning agent, as a carnitine-dependent enzyme (carnitine palmitoyltransferase) is the rate-limiting step of transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria for their subsequent oxidation (the “burning” of the fat). Beyond that, carnitine is also said to enhance recovery from exercise.

Reality: L-Carnitine provision does not inherently increase the rate of fatty-acid oxidation, although it seems to under a few instances. For those deficient in carnitine, usually elderly individuals (65+) and vegetarians, supplementation can help burn fat. In otherwise healthy and young omnivores, carnitine has not been demonstrated to have fat-burning properties.

Preloading exercise with carnitine supplements (either tartrate or GPLC) does appear to have a muscle-protection effect, as increases of biomarkers of damage measured the next day appear to be reduced. Carnitine does not appear to have 100% reliability in actually increasing performance, although it has been associated with it at some times, and although this could lead to increased muscle mass over time (by allowing more work to be conducted) this has not yet been shown with carnitine supplements.

Notables: A variant of carnitine known as Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is commonly used in nootropic communities for its cognition-enhancing effects, which are said to be stimulatory but “cleaner” than caffeine. This may be related to an increase in neural glucose consumption, and would be an added benefit for elderly persons who might be partially deficient.

> Ineffective as a fat burner. Only helpful if you are deficient in it.


Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Claim: CLA is touted to be a fat-burner, and is said to work on a novel method of fat burning (whereas the mitochondria mediates beta-oxidation of fatty acids, the system that CLA activates is known as the peroxisomal system and its receptors are called PPARs; peroxisomes can burn fat independently of the mitochondria). At times, CLA is also claimed to build muscle mass.

Reality: CLA is a prime example of how animal research differs from human research. In rats and in mice, CLA supplementation results in significant fat loss (and eventually fatty liver in mice) via the above mechanisms. There is ample human evidence to suggest that CLA has no such potency in humans.

Now, it would be incorrect to conclude that CLA is ineffective; if you cherry-pick evidence you can find studies to support the role of CLA in fat loss. The problem is that CLA is highly unreliable (with one study actually supporting an increase in fat mass) and the reason for this unreliability is not yet known.

Notables: CLA was one of the first molecules to be found to be a ligand for PPARs, and in the past few decades (partly due to research on CLA) studies on PPARs in general have exploded. PPARs are already the target of some drugs (thiazolidinediones) and supplements (tetradecyl thioacetic acid) and their established benefits are probably set to be the next things abused by supplement companies in marketing

> Great example of something that was very promising in rats/mice, but did not translate to humans. Highly unreliable results, and thus can be stated as being ineffective in fat burning.


Nitric-oxide boosters

Claim: Nitric-oxide boosters are a category of supplements that are all collectively said to increase bodily production of nitric oxide (aka give you “the pump”). Nitric oxide is not actually supplemented (it has a half-life of a few seconds), but instead supplements that stimulate the enzyme that makes nitric oxide are used.

The most popular supplement in this category is L-Arginine (the amino acid that nitric oxide is actually made from) and recently L-Citrulline has been gaining popularity (being a better absorbed version of L-Arginine), as have Agmatine and Beetroot (via nitrates). These supplements are said to enhance pumps in the gym, muscle growth, and be cardioprotective.

Reality: Nitric oxide itself is very important in the body, and there is evidence for most nitric-oxide boosters. Unfortunately though, the first bout of nitric-oxide supplements (which were all based on arginine) appear to be quite unreliable in their benefits. This unreliability is similar to CLA in the sense that we cannot say they are useless but it limits how much they can be recommended.

Also based on the aforementioned unreliability with arginine, a lot of studies in humans with the statement of “I wonder how nitric oxide does something in the body” could not properly assess the question. Nitric oxide is indeed involved in building muscle, but it isn’t confirmed if the increase in nitric oxide seen with supplementation is sufficient to actually induce benefits.

Beetroot and supplemental nitrates appear to be more reliable, and agmatine is set to get more studies to confirm its benefits (or lack thereof). However, the research is still at a “preliminary and promising” stage.

Notables: Arginine is a somewhat interesting supplement, as although it is the amino acid that nitric oxide is made from, this fact is completely irrelevant and a complete misdirection. The enzyme that makes nitric oxide from arginine is fully saturated even in a fasted state, and adding in more substrate would not work in the desired way. It has recently been noted that arginine can act on a receptor (alpha-2 adrenergic) to induce nitric-oxide production, but it appears to need really high concentrations to do this (which is hard to do with arginine supplementation due to the intestinal issues). Agmatine is more potent at the same issue, citrulline acts vicariously through arginine, and beetroot is a completely different (perhaps complementary) mechanism.

> While L-arginine is the common choice, L-citrulline works better (on a per-dosage basis). Beet roots are a great food-source for nitric oxide, and agmatine holds a lot of potential.


Caffeine

Claim: Caffeine is the worlds most popular cognitive enhancer, and is known to be both stimulatory and “antisleep” to non-users; while tolerance develops to the stimulatory effects, the antisleep properties are retained. It is marketed to athletes to increase power output and to prevent fatigue from setting in during workouts.

Reality: Caffeine definitely does have an ability to increase training volume and power output, but requires dosages of around 600 mg in people who are not caffeine tolerant. Such a dosing protocol, while effective, is likely to cause some hyperstimulation issues.

The increase in power output and training volume is mostly lost when tolerance to caffeine develops, which at this dose can last a week or so. Due to this, caffeine seems to be more of a competition supplement than a basic training supplement.

The time where caffeine still has benefit to persons who are tolerant to it is for the antisleep properties, which are not lost with tolerance. For people who are sleep deprived and need to hit the gym, caffeine supplementation can still prevent the lack of sleep from destroying your workout.

Notables: Caffeine tolerance is known to be insurmountable. In other words, once tolerance develops you cannot just simply take more caffeine to try and overcome tolerance.

> Helps keep you awake, and in non-habitual users has a definitive increase in power output, but only at higher doses. Cannot be used regularly or the increase in power output is lost.


Mass-gainer supplements

Claim: Mass-gainer supplements are marketed to hardgainers (a term used to refer to people who cannot gain mass, usually due to undereating) that carry the claim that they are able to increase mass even in people who have difficulty in doing so. Although “˜mass’ is usually said, the primary focus for these supplements is muscle gain.

Reality: Mass gainer supplements are essentially protein powder with extra calories thrown in. Usually the calories are from nutrient-poor sources to boot (such as straight maltodextrin) and these extra ingredients somehow warrant an incredible price increase. Although it appears to be a deal due to the large size of most mass gainer supplements (many coming in bags), the price per serving frequently exceeds $2-3.

Mass-gain supplements have little to no benefit over simply buying a protein powder supplement without the added calories, and then just making a shake at home with other additives. Adding peanut butter or cream to your protein powder is significantly cheaper, and you can control the added nutrients easier with protein powder and perhaps even add in some healthy stuff (like blueberries).

Assuming a protein powder is used, there is absolutely no need for mass-gaining supplements, and there is no benefit associated with mass gainers that cannot be mimicked by just adding calories to protein powder.

Notables: There are no significant notables about mass-gain supplements aside from unscrupulous marketing.

> A very expensive way of just getting extra calories into your diet. A smarter solution would be to add food products into a shake made with basic protein powder.


About the Authors

This dissection was written by Kurtis Frank and Sol Orwell, co-founders of Examine.com. They recently released The Supplement-Goals Reference, a quick and easy way to see which supplements work, and which don’t.

“The Trainer Said StrongLifts 5×5 Was A Scam. But When I Told Him I Squat 315lb Now, His Jaw Dropped To The Floor”

This success story was shared by StrongLifts Gold Member Troy D. from Ottawa, Ontario inside the private Member-only StrongLift Inner Circle Community. Check how he achieved a 315lb Squat in 5 months flat, at age 42, with StrongLifts 5×5.

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Hi, my name is Troy and I’m a software developer living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

I played sports through high school and university (recreational) but stopped after that. I separated from my wife in Winnipeg and moved to Ottawa to get close to my family. I needed something to focus, was very unsatisfied with my fat skinny body, and my dad wanted a workout partner so I joined his gym.

We went 6 days a week for 1 1/2 hrs, working the circuit on the machines and cardio every other day. Results came but who really cared, I knew benching on a machine was not the same as free weights, I knew that the plateau was coming fast. I did this for 3 months always looking over apprehensively at the free weights section.

Then a friend / co-worker mentioned your site and explained the rush he was getting from squats and I looked into it. I bought in immediately. I had some apprehension, but was willing to follow the program for 12 weeks and see. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Before StrongLifts 5×5 I had never squatted, dead lifted, over head pressed or rowed. I had benched and to get a base line I bench 165×5 before starting the program so I had a baseline I was 5’10″, 185lbs.

I am 42 years old, weight fluctuates between 192 and 198lbs. I am on week 23 of strong lifts 5×5 / 3×5. I had my first forced deload of squats at 5×5 315lbs last week (did 2 deloads prior due to bad form and injury).

Current Stats:

  • Squat: 5×5 310lbs
  • Dead Lift: 1×5 365lbs
  • Bench: 3×5 190lbs
  • Overhead Press: 3×5 140lbs
  • Rows: 3×5 190lbs

People know I lift weights now, they can see it immediately. When I show them videos of me DL 365 or squatting 315, they can’t believe it. Funny though, so few want to try it. I don’t know, 0 -315 squat in 5 months, how much more proof do you need that the system works?

I am super confident and feel like a beast in the gym. I know I can lift more then 90% of the trainers there and I am a newbie. My dad received a letter from one of the trainers telling him that Strong Lifts 5×5 is a scam, I told the trainer I squat 315 now and his jaw dropped to the floor.

The strong lifts community helped immensely. In particular Gold Member Gregory R (400lbs squatter), was a huge influence / mentor. Gold Member Chris D. and I are around the same level so we helped motivate each other to keep pushing, as well Gold Member Quinn W. introduced me to the program and helped me find good supporting videos and documentation. They all helped me get past injuries and missing reps. All Gold interviews and Gold news letters helped as well.

I have achieved 2 of my 3 initial goals, 1, 300lb squat, 2 350lb DL and I am 5 lbs away from 3. 200lb bench.

New goals: get to 5×5 330lb squat, 3×5 350 squat, 1×5 370lb squat – then we’ll switch to madcow.

I say anyone can achieve what I have achieved, strong lifts does work, no question. Three keys to my success, the inner circle, being prepared for my workout and, most important, never missing a workout.

Stay Strong, thanks Mehdi, Jake and the inner circle

-StrongLifts Inner Circle Gold Member Troy D.

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I’m currently accepting 350 new Gold Members to the StrongLifts Inner Circle. Join today and you’ll receive seven free bonuses as a free gift. To become part of our private club and receive 7 free bonuses, just click here.

To All Ex-Free StrongLifts Members

Five months ago, the StrongLifts Inner Circle changed from a free to a paid-only community. Since then, I’ve received several emails from ex-free Members upset about this change. After reading every single one of these emails, and now that five months have passed, I have some observations and conclusions.

First, I am sure switching to a paid community was the correct decision. Recently StrongLifts achieved a new breakthrough by reaching over a million people per month from over 187 countries. We are changing more bodies and lives than any other strength training website. And we’re just getting warmed up: my goal is to help 100 million people a year by StrongLifts’ 10th anniversary in 2017.

To accomplish this goal we need to hire talented people. Which also means we need stable and scalable streams of income to pay for their work. It was obvious StrongLifts couldn’t keep relying on ads and affiliates to generate 80% of its revenue. We had to change to a freemium model where StrongLifts.com remains 100% free while StrongLiftsInnerCircle.com becomes paid-only.

This change has paid off. Revenue has boomed. As a result, the StrongLifts 5×5 App for iPod/iPhone was released (100% free), and revenue continues to be poured into its development to add more features requested by guys like you (Android is coming as well). Revenue is also being poured into the development of the new workout tracker inside the StrongLifts Inner Circle Community. None of this would have been possible if we had clinged to the old revenue model.

Second, nothing has worked better to keep the spam, trolls and bullies out of the StrongLifts Inner Circle Community than charging a fee. With our thousands of paid Gold Members from all over the planet, this not only continues to make us the biggest private strength training community on the Internet, but also the most friendly and helpful one. This, together with the new workout tracker that is being developed, continues to keep us far ahead of the competition.

Three, even though we’ve made the right decision by keeping StrongLifts 100% free while making the StrongLifts Inner Circle a paid-only community… and even though this has increased the quality of the experience for the thousands of existing Gold Members, the founding Members deserved a better treatment.

I blew it by disabling your free account weeks after promising you could remain for free. I blew it by disabling all accounts of free Members who did nothing wrong when a few free Members were trying to bring the place down because they didn’t agree with the changes. And I blew it by disabling your free account without warning and without giving you the opportunity to backup your training log or exchange information with the friends you made over the years.

Hundreds of ex-free Members became paid Gold Members anyway in the days, weeks and months that followed. But some were too upset to ever trust me with their hard-earned cash and lost access to their training logs as a result.

Therefore, because I know your training log was vitally important to you, I’d like to offer you a free copy of your training log(s) at no cost. Simply submit a ticket inside our helpdesk, mention your username, and you will receive a free copy of your log within seven days. Dozens of ex-free Members like Adam and Andreas have already received copies of their logs during the past months. So will you.

Click here to request a free copy of your training log.

I’ve also decided to offer every ex-free StrongLifts Member who helped building our community (registered before 2011 and with over 100 posts) a 20% Gold Membership discount if you become part of our community again. Simply submit a ticket in our helpdesk next time the doors open to get the special discount.

I really want to help 100 million of guys change their body and life. I’ve been doing this for not even five years, so I still have to learn a lot. I apologize if I disappointed some of you, and will keep working hard so StrongLifts and the StrongLiftsInnerCircle continue to be the best strength training resources ever.

-Mehdi

“You Owe Me Some Clothes, Mehdi!!”

Here’s another success story to boost your motivation.

This one is from Ashok (27y, India) who gained 1,5″ on his chest and went from size 29 pants to 32… while losing his belly fat and without even being consistent at StrongLifts 5×5. Please read his amazing story.

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Mehdi,

I am Ashok, 27 yrs old from India. I have an IT job, and has been a desk jockey for 6 years now.

I didnt lose arm wrestling to a girl. But when I was 14, I chickened out from a dare to do so to this girl from school. I grew up as a weakling; always the skinniest kid in class. I started working out around 10 years ago, when I was about 17.5 years. Split routines, machines etc, which need less to say stalled any kind of progress I was having. I used to squat, much like you. But I used to stall in 4 weeks every time and stopped working out.

But I enjoyed working out. On and off, I used to work out, like one month in a year. Nevertheless, I always lost interest.

It was difficult finding clothes for me, cos for my height, ( 5’11″), I was around 58-62kgs and was too skinny. To top that, years of alcohol and sitting gave me a belly. For years, I used to scoot off when someone took out a camera. For years, I was too shy to play soccer or go swimming cos I would have to wear shorts. I was thoroughly disappointed each time I visited my parents cos they always said I have gotten worse than last time.

Then, I discovered StrongLifts 5×5. I have never been able to do SL5x5 for more than 8 weeks for a variety of reasons which I am working hard at. Too few gyms in this part of the world let you squat and deadlift without problem. And I cant build my own gym cos I work at a city I am trying to get out of.

I am more or less regularly working out for 6 months, and managed to reach a squat of 100kg, deadlift of 117.5 kg, bench of 70 kg. Always been doing SL5x5 for 8 weeks, then break for 2 weeks and then again. I know, the only reason I am progressing only this much is because I am not doing it right. I will, soon.

Writing this letter to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am getting married next week to my girlfriend of 7 years. Last week, watching me over the webcam, she said that I had an impressive back !! Last time when I visited my parents, they said they cant believe how better I look. Every friend who has not seen me for a few months is taken aback at my transformation, and asks me for advice. I am enjoying every bit of the new found attention.

6 months back ( I was working out for a month then) for my engagement, when the tailor measured my shoulders it was 19″. Last week, it was measured for a new suit, and it was an impressive 20.5 inches. All the while, my belly has reduced, all my size 29 custom pants dont even climb up my thighs, and size 32 off the rack fits perfectly for me. In fact it gets a little tight around the thighs which I absolutely am happy about. I am no longer shy to show my legs, and people always ask how long I had been working out looking at my back.

Thanks for teaching me the following lessons.

  1. Squats rule.
  2. All that matters for me now is how much I lift.
  3. A six pack is nothing but a fancy name for sick. I have never dieted and have a flat belly now. Eating like a horse that is.
  4. The importance of milk and eggs.
  5. For the first time I did deadlifts in my life. It took me two months to get the technique right. But it was all worth it. My back says it out loud.

My old clothes have all been suddenly rendered useless. In fact I am actually spending too much now on clothes because every two months, they get tighter around shoulders and lats and thighs. Am I loving it or not ?? He he he, if you also wrote down a page on how to make more money to buy more clothes, that would have been great !!

Just kidding.

Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

Ashok.

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Good job Ashok. Especially since you got results without even doing StrongLifts 5×5 consistently. Just proves how powerful this training program is. As far as how to make money for clothes: get a second job. That’s what I did back when I was employed as IT support, did sidejobs and sold stuff on eBay, and ended up earning more than all those corporate douchebags. No something for nothing.

If you haven’t claimed your free copy of the 5×5 report, please download it now by clicking here (…and remember to send me your success story like Ashok did so I can publish it on the blog, it will motivate all the other StrongLifters).

“When We Complete Our Squats, The Naysayers Shut Up!”

The success stories just keep pouring in. This one will boost your motivation.

John Warfield from Jackson in Michigan USA just emailed me his results with StrongLifts 5×5. Get this: in only 9 months he accomplished a 325lb Squat and 415lb Deadlift… at age 50! Read his amazing story.

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Mehdi,

You’ve changed my life, and my wife’s life, in a major ways.

About two years ago I weighed 300 pounds and had a third chin growing. Seeing myself in pictures disgusted me and almost made me cry. I felt ashamed of my body and mind.

A year later of almost daily hour long cardio sessions, I had dropped to 200 pounds, and my energy level was soaring. However, looking in the mirror and seeing a still “loose” physique and hanging skin made me wince. Not knowing any better I embarked on adding the entire round of weight machines to shore up my body — improve strength and pull up the loose spots.

The machines, at light weights, helped for a while, and I started to show definition that I’d never possessed before. However, as the weights grew, my muscles didn’t really. Trying to increase to heavy weights on machines, with such restricted movements and no stabilizer invovlements, was both stupid and dangerous. The machines, especially the leg machines, tended to create large balls of muscle that only really worked about a third of the muscle length. I had huge globs above my knees, and balled hamstrings that always tended to cramp. One day, while “curling” with my hamstrings on the reverse leg lift, I felt one of the hamstring bands snap over another, and the pain was excruciating. I knew I couldn’t keep that up.

I started hodgepodges of split routines… I benched on the smith machines… I “squatted” on the smith machines… But strength results did NOT follow, only injuries. I thought I was hot stuff 1/3 squatting 250 pounds on the smith machine with the large shoulder pad, but my hamstrings were laughing at me while my thighs were crying. I didn’t know “squat” and felt unfulfilled and guilty for not being able to find a path to my max potential.

Searching for an answer brought me to StrongLifts about a 9 months ago. I really wanted to go with compound lifting, but having never lifted free weights before I was afraid. But you laid it out so plain and simple, and showed how starting with the bar was going to give me the technique to master the weights — so I jumped in with both feet.

I started everything with the bar, and built, and built. After completing the first round of StrongLifts 5×5, I had gained 10 pounds of muscle in my legs. The muscle is sooooooo different. The entire strands have grown thicker and stronger. It’s NOT bodybuilder muscle, it’s growth along the entire length, and all stabilizer muscles as well. My hamstrings have gotten so healthy I can do sprints with ease. My legs, arms and chest have grown in this way, while my waist has shrunk still more, and my “looseness” from weight loss has all but disappeared. My abs and torso muscles are thick and powerful. Having once been a size 50 waist, I am now a comfortable 35.

My wife was so impressed with the results we started her on the program. After 4 babies and stubborn extra weight, she was desperate for fat loss and firmness. Her belly muscles, when pregnant, really got pulled apart and doctors had told her that there was nothing she could do to pull them back in and rehab her lower gut. But having had me blast her with a good Mehdi “BULLSHIT” and seeing the results I had achieved, she jumped in. We started training together and she has lost 15 pounds, transferred countless more pounds from fat to muscle, down-sized clothing three times, and shows leg muscles of an olympic champion. She’s proud of herself and I am very proud of her.

We are currently on MadCow for intermediate, which has allowed both of us to break through plateaus in squats and deadlifts.

I’m 50 years old, 6’1″, 212 pounds, and on Monday I deep squatted 325 pounds (x5). Today I deadlifted 415 pounds (x5). Having done this made me want to write. We can’t thank you enough for publishing the StrongLifts site and providing encouragement. We have fallen in love with squats and now love our bodies like we have never imagined we could. We’ve had to endure the no-squatters, the knee blowers, the unsolicited advice givers, the curlers in the power rack, etc… and now are able to withstand the barrage of negativity that comes from the majority of gym goers

But when we complete our lifts and walk past the naysayers with the squat or deadlift body/mind pump and steel torso, they shut up — and silence truly is golden.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

John Warfield
Jackson, Michigan USA

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Awesome story John. Your results prove that any guy can achieve a 300lb Squat and 400lb Deadlift within a year (heck, you did it in only 9 months) IF using the RIGHT kind of methods – obviously StrongLifts 5×5, it’s simply the most powerful training program on the entire Internet.

If you haven’t claimed your free copy of the 5×5 report, please download it now by clicking here (…and remember to send me your success story like John did so I can publish it on the blog, it will motivate all the other StrongLifters).

“If This Works, Why Doesn’t Everyone Do It?”

Alex E. has doubts about the effectiveness of the StrongLifts 5×5 program. Read the interesting argument he emailed me. Quote…

If the StrongLifts 5×5 program is so unbelievably effective, why doesn’t EVERYONE at the gym use it?

Because the majority is always wrong. Most people struggle with money, have bad relationships and are out-of-shape fat slobs. Quite bluntly, their life sucks. Yet they copy eachother likes monkeys and give unsolicited advice at every single opportunity they get. Worse, they feel compelled to criticize us and call us freaks, even though we’re actually getting results. They’re nuts.

Look, when I joined the gym in 1999, I was completely clueless. Everybody was doing split routines. So I did split routines. And, guess what? After 17 weeks of relentless benching and curling, I had almost no results to show for, hit a brick wall and my motivation was shattered. I swear I’ve sat on the bench, right after struggling to get my normal reps, one emotional hair-trigger away from tossing the barbell into the mirror and never stepping into a gym again.

Now, I’m no a genius, but I quickly figured out there was something wrong with the way I trained. So I sought for help, met my mentor, started doing Squats and that’s how I surpassed all the other guys in the gym in record time.

Today, it’s obvious to me and all my StrongLifts Members that Squats are quite simply imperative to put on rock-hard muscle and real-world strength as fast as humanly possible. Nevertheless, most gym guys don’t do Squats and the few who Squat do frigging partials because “Squatting deep is bad for your knees“…

Consequently, these same guys never achieve the physique and strength they want, spin their wheels for weeks, get burned with bogus supplement because they thought that was the missing ingredient and eventually quit.

Yet everybody keeps copying everyone, expecting different results, but making the exact same mistakes like fish biting into a hook. Einstein called that insanity, expecting different results from doing the same thing over and over. Nuts.

The truth is that most guys have no idea what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and don’t ever realize it isn’t even working. Heck, they won’t take the time to read an actual book on how to train, but read muscle magazines supplement catalogs in disguise, while calling you a bookworm for educating yourself.

Earl Nightingale said that whenever you have no idea how to achieve your goal, a foolproof technique is to look at how the overwhelming majority tackles the problem and do the exact opposite. Fact is, most people are dead wrong.

I do my best to follow that advice, so should you. Dare to be different.

Are High Reps And Isolation Exercises Worthless?

Patrick C asks…

The books great, but your explanation of high rep and isolation has me confused.

Powerlifters are some of the strongest men in the world, but when at low body fats like a bodybuilder, they generally don’t compare to bodybuilders who lift less in terms of mass.

Are you really denying the possibility of emphasizing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy over myofibrillar, do you really think steroids is the only reason programs that focus on high rep with lots of exercises work? Are you sure that your experience with high rep and isolation wasn’t negative because of overtraining? It certainly sounds that way.

I’m not denying the benefit of heavy lifting, I think it can allow bodybuilders to get past a plateau with their high rep sets and other exercises, allowing them to lift more in those sets (as well as offering it’s own hypertrophy benefits), therefore indirectly increasing the hypertrophy benefit of those sets and exercises.

I also think the 5 compound lifts you introduce in stronglifts 5×5 should be the starting point for any strength athlete or bodybuilder, but I don’t think high rep sets and isolation are evil or worthless.

It’s a matter of context. The large majority of guys in mainstream gyms cannot Squat 300lb or Deadlift 400lb. Heck, they can’t even Squat 225lb/Deadlift 300lb. So for them – unless they’re one of the bozo’s shooting up the juice, or just genetic freaks – high reps and isolation exercises are completely worthless.

Here’s why: it’s scientifically-proven that strength is size. Anecdotally, the best-built guys are always the ones with a strength background. In fact, one of the best bodybuilders ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger, started as an Olympic lifter and Powerlifter BEFORE turning to bodybuilding. These two pics prove it…

Arnold Schwarzenegger started as a Powerlifter, winning two competitions between 1966 and 1968, before winning his first Mr Olympia Bodybuilding title in 1970.

Arnold Schwarzenegger started as a Powerlifter, winning two competitions between 1966 and 1968, before winning his first Mr Olympia Bodybuilding title in 1970.

Like Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr Olympia and 800lb Deadlifter, once said “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but nobody wanna lift no heavy weight!” Even Arnold’s life-long mentor, 3x Mr Universe Reg Park (who was born before steroids even existed) could Deadlift 700lb, Squat 605lb and Bench Press 500lb.

Today, there’s obviously Layne Norton, life-time drug-free lifter like myself, pro bodybuilder and yet also a national powerlifting record holder in the Squat and Deadlift (Layne’s best lifts: 584lb Squat, 364lb Bench Press, 700lb Deadlift).

Layne Norton, life-time drug-free pro bodybuilder champion and national powerlifting record holder in the Squat and Deadlift.

Layne Norton, life-time drug-free pro bodybuilder champion and national powerlifting record holder in the Squat and Deadlift.

As far as my first 5 years of high reps, isolation exercises and machines goes: I GOT results because, unlike most guys in the gym, I did heavy Squats and Bench Press from the start. My mentor also taught me to constantly try to add more weight than last time. The only negative about it was:

  1. I hit a brick wall – because I trained to failure every single workout, every week, 52 weeks a year. Never heard of deload.
  2. I trained 5 times per week for up to 3 hours a day – hard to have a life outside the gym when you’re training one muscle a day.
  3. I got bored – I wasn’t getting any stronger (yet I was full of injuries) and grew old and tired of training for the 6 pack.

Listen, I started going to the gym because I was skinny-fat. But once my man boobs and belly fat were gone, and I had gained several pounds of muscle, that motivation was gone. I needed something else to keep me motivated. And since I was no longer STUDENT but had a Coporate IT job working shifts & weekends, I simply didn’t have the time anymore to train 5x/week for up to 3h/day.

Seven years ago I started focusing on strength instead of aesthetics. Ironically, I look better now even though I no longer care, routinely have people ask me if I lift weights and still have a 6 pack even though I don’t do frigging situps ever. All those results in half the time spent in the gym, and without the frustration of looking strong but not actually being strong. I’m not going back, ever.

Look, I’m not going to BS you: if you prefer to be a bodybuilder, you’ll also have to do high reps and isolation. Just remember that the best bodybuilders almost always have a strength background because strength equals size. You’ll never be able to lift heavy weights when doing 3 sets of 10 reps with a single joint exercise like dumbbell flies. You need heavy Benching, Squatting and Deadlifts.

Just get strong, eat mostly whole foods and repeat. Unless you’re one of those insecure, narcissistic gym rats, you’ll be more than happy with how you look and never have to worry about that hypertrophy nonsense. I certainly don’t.