Blue Collar Bodybuilding Contrary to popular belief, blue-collar does not translate into ‘redneck’. If you’re an individual who lives a sedentary lifestyle: one which requires no more physical exertion than dragging your butt out of bed, heading into the office, and sitting behind a desk or cubicle, stop reading. Actually, there are ‘blue-collar’ jobs that can be considered sedentary as well: truck drivers (if you don’t partake in the loading or unloading yourself), couriers of light packages, limo or taxi drivers…you get the gist of it. This article is not for you. But fear not, as I intend to address all walks of life in future articles.
Perhaps a little background would be called for here: I first got into bodybuilding (religiously) after my freshman year in college (1997). The ‘freshman-fifteen’ wound up being a ‘freshman-thirty’ after a body mass index (BMI) was done, revealing that while I headed to college at 172 lbs. and 9% body fat (bf) from being a faithful jock in high school, after two semesters of ghetto living (junk food, malt liquor, and fat blunts) at Seton Hall University, I was 203 lbs and 25% bf. I returned to my job moving 600+ lb. vending machines, and nearly two tons of soda on a daily basis for 50 plus hours a week.
Most of the fat just melted off. My vascularity, striations, and MUSCLE came back within a month. Naturally, the obligatory “hey Vic, whatcha’ cyclin?” came from many gym members. And this, my faithful readers, is when I had an epiphany. I hadn’t changed my diet. I hadn’t touched a supplement, yet still I was seeing noticeable changes in my body-composition. At this point I sought refuge in my old high-school strength coach, an ex-NFL’er who was pumping iron when most of today’s ‘gurus’ were a glimmer in their daddy’s eye. However I made one drastic mistake at first: I failed to tell him I was putting in 50 hours a week of hard labor, then playing basketball for an hour or two after that. He designed a program for me, and a damn good one at that.
Can you guess what happened? Of course you can. Although my endomorph body adapted to the extra load fairly quickly; lack of sleep, improper nutrition, and most importantly CNS Over Training Syndrome (OTS) got the best of me, and I lost much of the muscle. Look at that sentence again. Note the term: “CNS Overtraining Syndrome,” as opposed to: “Overtraining Syndrome?” CNS OTS is the primary cause of over-training. The endomorph’s genetic makeup allows for easy adaptation to external, physical stressors; so regular, physical OTS is less of a concern (1). Ectomorphs need to worry about OTS the most; mesomorphs need worry about it less, but still need to be concerned. Actually, if you’re a mesomorph, shut down your computer, go eat a few doughnuts and cheeseburgers, go to the gym for fifteen minutes then walk around the beach in those shorts that look like boxer-briefs. Can you detect a hint of jealousy?
Study after study shows that muscle fibers adapt much quicker than previously thought to increased load and volume (2,3); hence the success of programs like Bryan Haycock’s Hypertrophy-Specific-Training (HST), Max-OT Training; even Lyle McDonald’s dietary recommendations rely on the fact that the body adapts much quicker than previously thought Think about it: the workout programs featured in most bodybuilding magazines are used by pros. These are pros that don’t have to work eight hours a day; pros that have time to sit and eat a meal every two hours. And most importantly, pros that can afford to spend $15K on a cycle of anabolics. Every so often at a pharmacy, I read through two or three BB’ing rags while waiting in line. During the eight years I’ve been doing this, not only have they become progressively worse, I’ve only seen one, yes ONE sensible program. It was by Dorian Yates, in Flex and called “15 minute biceps.” Now that makes sense: you work your ass off all day, your biceps get used in the course of that work; so hit ‘em hard for 15 minutes and move on. Keep in mind, it was written well after he retired.
The point of all this is that the ‘super-human’ routines featured in magazines do work, if all your physical exertion and time were focused around bodybuilding. However they do not work for the rest of us. There are three considerations in the ‘blue-collar bodybuilding’ lifestyle: phenotype, physical/mental energy, and time. Addressing the first: the muscle fibers of even the hardest of hardgainers will adapt to the same workload, given that it’s done regularly. However endo and mesomorphs will have an easier time adapting to say, a construction job and a weight-training routine than an ectomorph. The solution for the ectomorph: more rest (which brings us to the issue of time) and more food. If you live in a country that respects an individual’s right to govern their own bodies (read: not the US), a cycle of anabolics will make things much easier as well.
Although I believe OTS won’t occur as easily as most think, injuries from over-working specific muscles are a reality that blue-collar laborers must take into consideration when designing their workout splits. If your work recruits a lot of the back muscles, train back on your day off. If you work construction or carpentry and are constantly throwing/lifting things above your head, train shoulders on your day off. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.
The next consideration is CNS fatigue, which is often mistaken for OTS, namely because it is a form of OTS. In addition to a good night’s sleep, brief, 15-20 minute naps during the day, and supplements that support the production of neurotransmitters play a key role in preventing CNS fatigue. Do some research on the forums, as there are many individual ingredients and pre-mixed formulas that are excellent in this regard. Two of my personal favorites are Steel Edge by Athletic Edge Nutrition, and the more economical Focus-XT by S.N.S. Both products are superior to other available formulations in my opinion, and do an excellent job of providing a mental and physical boost after a hard day’s work.
The final, and most important consideration for laborers is time. Instead of spending 30 or 45 minutes doing cardio, get your cardio in at work. You already have a physical job, just do it faster and harder: free cardio. This technique gives you extra time to focus on building muscle. Employ other time saving techniques such as preparing your meals for the week on Sunday night. Gladware storage containers can be a bodybuilder’s best friend. Another time saver: disposable shaker bottles. Who makes them? You do. Just get yourself a baby-bottle drying-rack and a case of water bottles. When your water bottles are empty, dry them out somewhere sunny and you’ve got instant, disposable shaker bottles that are leak-proof to boot. You’ll need a funnel to fill them, but this simple time-saver is truly amazing. I’ve got an entire cabinet filled with Poland Spring bottles containing my own pre, during, and post-workout blends.
Address all three aspects of incorporating a laborious job into your weight-training program, and you’ll soon see that blue-collar laborers actually have many advantages over our white-collar counterparts when it comes to bodybuilding. Sure, they have more energy at the end of the day, but we burn more calories and rev our metabolisms while earning a paycheck. It’s like having a twenty-yard head start in a forty-yard dash.
1. L.M. VanEtten, Et. al. “Effect of Body-Build on Weight-Training-Induced Adaptations in Body Composition and Muscular Strength.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1994 Apr;26(4):515-21.
2. J.S. Desaphy, Et. al. “Recovery of the soleus muscle after short- and long-term disuse induced by hindlimb unloading: effects on the electrical properties and myosin heavy chain profile.” Neurobiology of Disease. 2005 Mar;18(2):356-65.
3. B. Freidman, Et. al. “Muscular Adaptations to Computer-Guided Strength Training With Eccentric Overload.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavia (Journal). 2004 Sep;182(1):77-88.