Hey there! Been a short while since I last wrote in here, work got in the way. But now that I’m free for the next two months I hope to get a few more of these in. So lately I’ve been reflecting on my journey from novice wannabe bodybuilder to wanting to be as big as possible to becoming a budding competitive powerlifter. There were so many bumps in the road, and fourteen years is a long time to get anything right, especially when you are your own worst enemy. I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ve done wrong and how I could’ve done things differently to get to where I am now even sooner. So here before you are a few things I wish I knew so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.
3. Listen To Your Body
This is a bit of a hard one because some of you out there reading this might not know what to look for and most problems are bound to vary based on the person. That being said, this goes out to those with undiagnosed conditions or those that are new to training. Regardless of the goals of you, the reader, there is a major difference between an amateur just starting out and a professional. The professional knows his body. The professional has taken the time over a good amount of years figured out what exercises, how many sets and rep schemes work for him. He’s also taken the time if he’s gotten hurt to figure out how and why he got hurt, as well as come up with a plan to make sure he never makes that mistake again.
This is called a Subjective Evaluation and if done right it will work in your favor. When you evaluate yourself subjectively, the results are endless because the primary source of feedback is yourself and your inner thoughts. That’s what differentiates this style of evaluation from an Objective Evaluation, in which the primary feedback source is someone else. That person’s response to you is absolute because they just know what they see. They can’t read the constant flow of thoughts in your mind or physically feel the changes in your body like you can. You can bench press 315lbs for just one rep right now and struggle to the point that you think you’re not going to make it. But as far as your spotter is concerned, he might tell you that from his point of view that your execution was perfect.
This is what makes Subjectivity so unique. You’re in charge of everything. Is the weight too heavy? Is it too light? Do you feel the movement? Are you short of breath after a set? During it? Do you feel pain – by which I mean joint pain, not muscle soreness? Did you make sure that the right weights are set up on both sides of the bar? One great thing you can do for yourself is, if you’re already tracking your progress, be sure to write down anything usual that might occur during your training session, so that way you can take steps to prevent it from happening next time. I made this mistake so many times during my time training in Bally Total Fitness. Not long before I finally started learning how to program my lifts I would just go in their with a very broad plan and I’d wing it from there. It’s not productive at all when you Cable Row 70lbs for 3 sets of 10 one week and then you’re doing it again the next week because you completely forgot that you already rowed that weight just last week. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me.
Which brings me to one last thing before I go to number 2 on the list. No matter what see in the gym, no matter what your hero’s do in magazines or online, lift only weights you can handle. There’s a fine line between what you see and the truth. And even bodybuilders will tell you that while they may be lifting heavy weights for photo shoots, it’s not usually the way they train at all. If they trained at their heaviest all the time, wouldn’t they injure themselves just as frequently? Also, you must understand that what works for them does not work for you. Just because there are videos of Ronnie Coleman dumbbell bench pressing 210lbs doesn’t mean you’ll be able to. He was able to hit ten reps. Could you? Never lift for ego. Never lift to impress anyone and never perform an exercise at a certain weight if you don’t feel the exercise affecting the desired bodyparts in the right way. Regardless of your goals you still want to feel the eccentric movement of a lift and you still want to feel the contractions, especially if your goal is bodybuilding. This finally brings me to number 2 on the list.
2. Learn How To Program
This was one of my biggest problems for years and I wish every day that I could turn back time to 2003 and start over again with the knowledge I have now. If you are truly serious about improving your body you must have a strategy. Oh sure, I might’ve known to split my days by bodyparts but I had no clue as to how to arrange the amount of sets required, how many reps to do, how long to rest in between sets, or even the appropriate exercises to suit my goals. Forget any of that – I was too intimidated by barbells for years to understand that all I had to do was perform for basic, compound lifts to get as strong as I wanted to be!
I really wish I could go back and truly research the right ways to get strong as well as take the time to break down anything that might’ve gone over my head. My father had written out a whole beginner’s workout just for me but the concept of performing a full body workout three times a week just terrified me. Funny enough, Bodybuilding.com had just been created the same year I began training, yet I was completely unaware of it’s existence until five years later. YouTube was still two years away and I never thought to just do anything online research.
But if there’s one important piece of advice I can give it’s this. You must stick to the basics if you truly want strength and size. No matter your gender, or goals, no fad routine or BOSU ball exercise will compare to barbell movements such like the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift and Overhead Press. I’ll probably discuss this all another time, but as I mentioned earlier these are all compound, multijoint movements that don’t “just” train the targeted area, but they also indirectly train the surrounding ones as well. as a quick example, since I just performed the Overhead Press this morning: Yes, the move is meant to train your shoulders, but you also need your triceps to help push the bar over your head as well as keep your abs nice and tight to keep yourself stable. You do those things correctly then how could they also not be positively affected? I’ll say right now that I’ve probably gotten more triceps growth from doing multiple pressing sets than an isolation move like a triceps pushdown every time.
1. Never Fear Your Fellow Gym Goers!
You probably have heard quite a bit that the clientele in most gyms isn’t quite favorable. It could be those knuckleheaded Planet Fitness commercials for one thing. You know the ones!
It could also be articles you read in magazines and even online, virtually demonizing serious lifters in the same way a politically biased news channel will go ahead and demonize a politician on the opposing party, saying we’re loud, arrogant, hogging the weights and judgmental..as if that Planet Fitness commercial isn’t judgmental at all. Right?
To say I was apprehensive about entering a gym for the first time in April 2003 would be a major understatement. Just a month and a half away from turning nineteen and I was virtually bone thin. I very rarely did anything active at that point, I didn’t know a thing about eating right, and I stayed out or at least up late a lot (like most college kids!). To exacerbate matters, I was under serious depression, still reeling from my first girlfriend breaking up with me months earlier and I was in fear. Lots of it. It had been nearly a year since I left high school hell and I had yet to fully comprehend that, for the most part, college was a completely different animal.
Needless to say, I had lots of anxiety upon walking in for the first time and I did very little, making sure I was in no one’s way. That’s no way for anyone to train. But that was just day one. Nut something strange slowly started to happen as time went on. The more I showed my face at the gym, and the more I tried different things, the more random people started to approach me and kindly offer advice on how to perform my exercises better, as well as why they were more effective with the tweaks they were showing me. I’m open to anyone giving me advice so long as I can sense they mean well; but this was happening every time someone came up to me.
It opened up my eyes to the world outside of what I knew and was seemly conditioned to accept. Within months I found myself being approached by someone in the gym who just happened to know that I played drums and asked me to audition for his band. Even after it didn’t work out between us I still managed to become gym buddies with him and his other friend. When that friend saw me struggling with all my might with preacher cable curls he immediately commented in his Barbados accent: “You have the heart. You have the desire. You should come here more often man!”. Around that same time I found myself talking with the woman who held on to ID cards at the front of the weight room. Fourteen years later she’s one of my best friends…and literally one of the only friends I have left. If you told me in 2003 that I’d meet one of my best friends in a place I figured for sure was filled with jerks my response wouldn’t be too kind.
In fourteen years I’ve only come across two people who were absolutely out of line in the gym. But small problems aside, I’ve come to learn over time that the gym promotes more of or at least as much of a sense of community as anywhere that caters to any other hobby or even workplace environment. I’ll talk about some of those people in detail in another article, but in short I’ve found that the ones who visually are the most intimidating are actually some of the kindest, most giving people I’ve ever come across in 33 years. Regardless of whether the gym in question was a hardcore gym or even a commercial gym, these guys are always willing to lend a hand and ready to offer any advice that could help you succeed.
So remember this, no matter what you read in magazines or online, no matter your social fears, don’t be afraid to accept or ask anyone for help. The cardinal sin for a serious lifter, regardless of his or her goals, is that they are so dedicated that they are that willing to sacrifice most of their lives just to improve on themselves. But never fear that. Spend a day or two with someone willing to take you under their wing and you might find their work ethic rubbing off on you!
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