You don’t need the cherry on top (you just need to get the cake right!) by Nick McKinless

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own” 

“I am not afraid of a person who knows 10,000 kicks. But I am afraid of a person who knows one kick but practices it for 10,000 times.” 

– Bruce Lee 

Bruce Lee was quite the philosopher and a man who truly practiced what he preached. He believed that you needed to concentrate on what was important to your cause and ignore what was not moving you forward (in his case as a martial artist). He also believed in practicing time and time again to get something to the point of perfection. The man who does this is a wise and well trained individual.

I believe the same can be said of barbell training.


You don’t need the cherry on top – you just need to make the cake first – and make it right

Every time I’ve achieved something new in my training it’s because I stuck to the basics (cake), got rid of any pointless exercises (more cake) and added my own twist based on what I was specifically training for. Time and time again that simple philosophy has stood me in good stead and kept me making progress in some way.

These days everyone is looking for secrets. Actually that’s not quite true because people who lift weights for physical improvement have been looking for secrets since it’s inception. However, the truth is –  there are none.

Rheo H. Blair provided some of the earliest
supplements to bodybuilders and weightlifters.



Most people need to simplify their training, work harder, get sufficient rest and eat enough of the right food. If you do that in a progressive manner you’ll make gains. This is your cake.

When There’s More cherries Than Cake

Here’s what it seems modern day ‘trainees’ like to do.

Look in Muscle and Fitness or T-Nation or for a training program that has the prettiest pictures and most sensational headline (Bigger Arms in 2 days, Pecs like Superman, Get Massive etc).  Next is to buy the latest supplements for pre, peri and post nutrition,  load up on creatine and protein powders (cherries) and  start training full bore from day one (mistake). They make ‘some’ gains for 2-3 weeks. Then as progress starts to drop off because there was no progression method (mistake) and they were training ‘instinctively’ (which no smart trainee ever did) they stop.

The program is rubbish, the supplements didn’t work and actually they now want to ‘cut up’ after their 3-4 weeks of ‘bulking’ on the program that didn’t work. So, new program for getting ‘crazy cuts’. Includes twice a day cardio, lots of ‘core’ work and tons of isolation work for high reps. Diet is now chicken and rice and not much else. 2-3 weeks and they lose some weight but now feel small. The program was rubbish, they go on a food binge because they dieted for 2 weeks and hey presto, back to square one!

This is what happens when people look for the cherry on top first.

This pattern is WAY more common than the guy/girl in the corner doing the basics, getting plenty of recovery (sleep), eating 3-4 meals a day and progressively training harder each workout.

Remember  – you don’t need the cherry on the top. You need to make the cake first and make it right

So how should you be training?

  1. Pick one or two goals. For example, “I want to add 1″ to my arms and bench press 300lbs” or “lose 2″ from my waist and see visible abs”. These are specific. This is not “Get massive and cut” or “look like Arnold” (or any other famous bodybuilder).
  2. Choose basic exercises first. Squats, Presses and Pulls. Do one of these on every day you train.
  3. Choose a handful of exercises that support the main exercises AND your chosen goals. Make sure they DIRECTLY attack the right muscle groups.
  4. Choose a program that has proven success. For slow but definitive progress try Wendler’s 531, for ultimate simplicity try Bill Starr’s 5×5 or for mental and physical toughness try Randy Strossen’s 20 rep squat programs. Whatever you do though, DO NOT, choose a champion bodybuilders program or a program that is unrealistic. Remember, excessive volume training is for the genetically gifted and for those that basically do nothing but train. You probably have a job so factor that into the program you pick.
  5. Be progressive. If you do not understand the basics of single and double (and triple) progression and you’ve been training for any length of time then it is no wonder you have stalled. I am not going to explain this here because you should know what it is. Look it up!
  6. Eat plenty of normal food. You do not need supplements. I understand when ultra busy they are helpful but most of you are not that busy, you’re just lazy. Instead of spending money on supplements, spend money on better quality food like grass fed steak, fresh fruit and veg, whole milk (better for you than semi skimmed), fresh fish, free range chicken and simple treats like organic dark chocolate and natural yoghurt and berries. Limit but don’t exclude the odd bad meal. This is meant to be healthy but not torturous!
  7. Sleep 8-10 hours a night especially when trying to gain muscle.
  8. Learn to train harder and harder. You think you train hard but you don’t. In fact, I rarely see people who are doing weight training even sweating in gyms these days. I know you sweat a bit doing your cute cardio but lifting weights should have you dripping with sweat.

When you’ve put 30lbs of muscle on your frame or lost all the fat you had to lose or can bench press 400lbs or squat 500lbs then and only then should you even be considering thinking about moving away from the basics. You don’t need bands and chains, you don’t need pre and post workout shakes, you don’t need to do tempo based reps, you don’t need to train every day and you don’t need to be doing isolation movements at the start of your training session. Basic barbell training will continue to be the most important part of anyone’s success in physical development.

Stop looking for cherries, start making your cake and sweat… 

Every. Single. Weight training session!


Warrior Man knows what he is talking about.


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