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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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“Genetic limitations should never be used as excuses not to seek improvement.” Stuart McRobert, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great (CS Publishing Ltd, 2006)

“Food supplements are often claimed to make a major contribution to training success. That drugs are the big ‘supplement,’ and food supplements themselves are insignificant, is kept quiet.” Stuart McRobert

“Physical attraction is important to most women, but big muscles usually aren’t part of it.” Stuart McRobert

Hardgainer Publisher Writes Magnum Opus

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Everything you always wanted to know about bodybuilding—and more

I’ve been aware of Stuart McRobert for a long time, but only had a vague idea what he was about. I knew he catered to the so-called hardgainer, which I considered somewhat of a turn-off (see below). I have several of his books (he’s written six altogether), but I haven’t read any of them from cover to cover. Still haven’t, but I have gained a new appreciation of him—and I’m impressed.

Stuart sent me an autographed copy of his new 638-page book, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great (CS Publishing Ltd, 2006), and asked me to review it. I tried to beg off (recovering from hip surgery, no time, plenty of other reviews, etc.), but he wouldn’t give up. “I believe the book is unique. Many visitors to your website would be interested in the book, and would be grateful to you for letting them know of the book’s existence,” he appealed forcefully. “Perhaps you could provide a brief introduction, and then reprint Dick Winett’s new review" that will be published in Master Trainer, he suggested as a fall-back position.

So I wrote to Dick asking about the upcoming review. “My review of Stuart’s book is in the April MT,” he responded. “It’s just an expansion of my extended comments in the front of his book.”

“It’s a great book,” he added.

Well, that persuaded me to dig a little deeper. I spent a good portion of a weekend paging through the book—and concluded that Dick has a point. It really is a great book!

What is a hardgainer?

I’ve always been a bit put off by the term hardgainer; it struck me as a cop out. Muscle building is a slow process under the best of circumstances. After the first few months, when gains come easy, it takes effort, persistence and planning to continue gaining—for almost everyone. I was pleased to discover that Stuart basically agrees; he has all the bases covered. His explication of the hardgainer concept in the new book is indicative of the thoughtful and comprehensive way he approaches other areas of concern to fitness-minded people and bodybuilders.

In a chapter called “The essential terminology of training,” he writes: “A hard gainer is the genetically average or disadvantaged drug-free person, usually male, that typifies most trainees. Hard gainers are usually naturally thin, although there are fat hard gainers. Hard gainers respond poorly, or not at all, to conventional training methods, and vary in their degree of ‘hardgainingness.’ Because hard gainers are the majority, they are really normal gainers.” (Emphasis mine.) Who can argue with that?--especially when you understand that he believes conventional training methods are misguided. He devotes a good deal of the book to explaining why that is so--and how to train correctly and productively.

I’ll let you read the details in the book, but the short version is that conventional methods use “drug-fed genetic freaks as gurus and role models.” Methods that work for these people don’t work for normal people with jobs, families and a life outside the gym. What’s more, they foster unrealistic aspirations for the average guy or gal.

Importantly, he insists that “genetic limitations should never be used as excuses not to seek improvement.” Stuart believes that just about everyone can improve if they have realistic goals and train correctly. The key, says McRobert, is to “keep your training safe, brief, hard and progressive.”

What Makes The Book Great?

First and foremost, it may be the most complete book ever written on building the body in a safe and healthy way. McRobert covers literally everything, thoroughly and accurately. If you’ve ever wondered about something related to training, it’s in Stuart’s new book. If he strays at all, it may be that he sometimes tells readers more than they want to know. For example, do people really need to be told to “wipe off any sweat” they may leave on the equipment in a public gym? That’s preferable, of course, to leaving important questions unanswered—which Stuart strives mightily to avoid.

Topics covered include: muscle-building jargon, anatomy, how to begin training, gym etiquette, handling weighs safely between exercises, using small plates, rep range and speed, variations on core exercises, an extremely detailed 12-month program (discussed below)—and much more. He explains proper performance of basic exercises in great detail, warning against some movements that he considers dangerous. He, of course, covers nutrition, health benefits, aging, recuperation, cardio, fat loss, high intensity techniques, arm and ab training, injuries, and training for women. (He even explores the sex appeal of big muscles.)

One area that disappointed me was his coverage of Active Release Techniques (ART), which he believes healed injuries that had plagued him for years, restoring ranges of movement in his neck, back and knees that hadn’t been there for over 15 years. Stuart says non-invasive therapy performed by New York City chiropractor James Kiernan (nine treatments spread over 12 days) produced “dramatic” benefits practically over night. “I regained ranges of motion throughout my body that I’d not had for many years. I could now perform stretches and motions I’d been unable to since I was a teenager. I could now perform resistance exercises safely that I’d been unable to for several years.” For example, he was suddenly “able to sit on my ankles” in the squat.

Wow, that’s really interesting. I wanted to know what Dr. Kiernan did and why it worked so well. I wanted an explanation that would allow me to evaluation the treatment for myself, but I didn’t get it. “I wasn’t able to explain the actual ART protocol in the book because of copyright issues,” Stuart told me in an email.

The Program—and Beyond

Talk about complete: The Program which integrates the massive amount of information in the first 439 pages into a 12-month training plan is COMPLETE! If you have never lifted a weight before and don’t know a gym from a gem, Stuart tells you absolutely everything you need to know. What’s more, he also provides counsel and guidance to help the advanced trainee optimize his or her results. He shows both beginner and advanced how to train productively and efficiently, with safely. It’s a win-win program for everyone.

Stuart starts beginners off with the empty bar to allow them to learn how to perform the exercises correctly, and then slowly increases intensity to “nearly hard” at three months and “hard’ at five months. “One of the major characteristics that distinguishes advanced trainees from novices,” McRobert explains, “is that the former are able to exert a greater degree of effort.” Even so, he suggests that advanced trainers start with 50% of current poundages and focus on proper technique for a time before ratcheting up intensity again.

He tells readers what to do in no uncertain terms, but he also recognizes that people are different. “There’s no single, best interpretation of training intensity, volume, and frequency that’s appropriate to all trainees,” he writes. “Individual variations, goals, preferences, lifestyle, age, health, ability to train hard and tolerate exercise-induced discomfort, and other factors, influence training program design, especially when beyond the beginner stage.”

As Dick Winett writes in the April 2006 Master Trainer: “The Program combines resistance training with cardiovascular training and other healthy practices including sound nutrition and physical activity outside of the gym. It should enable people to gain appreciable strength and muscle mass, increase cardiovascular fitness, and improve health within their genetic capabilities, without spending many hours per week in the gym.”

Stuart, of course, doesn’t stop with The Program. He also includes a chapter called “Beyond The Program.” Here he lays out options for further advancement, including variation in exercises, body part training frequency, rep range, exercise volume, cardio training, where to train, and more. 

I told you The Program was complete. McRobert offers up a cornucopia of sound advice from which readers of all levels can pick and choose.

What makes Stuart McRobert tick?

I don’t know Stuart McRobert personally, but he’s very open about his beginnings and the lessons he has learned, often the hard way, about training and life.

I asked him for a photo of himself for this commentary. “I don’t like being in front of a camera,” he replied frankly. “There are very few photos of me even in our family photo albums,” he continued. (He has a wife, two daughters and a mother who is doing fine on hips replaced 20-plus years ago.) “There are runs of years where there aren’t any photos of me. It’s just a personal thing. Most people seem to be at ease in front of a camera. I’ve never been comfortable in front of a camera. I don’t even have photos of myself in my own books.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess why after reading Build Muscle.

“For many years I hated my physique because of shame and dissatisfaction, although I was much better built than most men,” he writes in one of the final chapters. “I sought an imaginary view of physical perfection, and nothing less than perfection would make me happy, or at least so I thought.”

Stuart started resistance training in 1972, at 14 years of age. Muscle building was the most important thing in his life for many years. He wanted to become a professional bodybuilder. As a keen observer of the bodybuilding scene, he became aware that drugs and heredity (along with hard training) play a major role in creating some (perhaps most) of the physique champions he admired and sought to emulate. And that wasn’t all.

He learned other things that shocked him. “Many people who attained what trainees would consider to be physical perfection, or something close to it, were miserable,” he writes, “a few took their own lives, many propped themselves up with drug abuse, and because most of them focused on what they didn’t have, they failed to appreciate what they did have (including their outstanding physique).” Developing one’s physical potential was desirable, he learned, but it doesn’t necessarily produce happiness.

So enlightened, he continued to train and developed a very respectable physique. “I learned about the need to use training routines appropriate to the individual, and not to imitate the training methods used by people who have great genetic advantages for bodybuilding,” he writes at the end of the book. “Then, instead of further years of stagnation and frustration, I had years of training progress, and satisfaction.”

After earning a college degree in 1982, he spent a few years teaching school on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where he now resides with his family. During this time, he began writing articles for bodybuilding magazines in America and the UK. Motivated to share the lessons he had learned, he decided to make a career out of his passion for training. In 1989, he founded CS Publishing and started Hardgainer magazine. In 1993, he gave up teaching completely to devote full time to publishing. He wrote and published five bestselling books. He retired Hardgainer magazine early in 2004.

Having come to realize that he didn’t have the genes to build a perfect body, the body of his impossible dream, in 2001, he began writing what he hoped would be the perfect book. After five years of concentrated effort, many would say he has succeeded. Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great may not be the perfect book, but it's pretty darn close.


[Copies of Stuart McRobert’s new book, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, are in stock.  Paperback, 9 x 6, 638 pages, $39.95 + $4.40 media rate or $6.60 for priority). Order from Ripped Enterprises, PO Box 51236, Albuquerque, NM 87181, phone: 1-505-266-5858 or FAX 1-505-266-9123.]

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Ripped Enterprises, P.O. Box 51236, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87181-1236 or street address: 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com, FAX:  (505) 266-9123.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.  FAX for international orders: Please check with your local phone book and add the following: 505 266-9123

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Copyright © 2006 Clarence and Carol Bass.  All rights reserved.