From 40 years experience, here are five of the key bodybuilding lessons I’ve learned:
For much of my youth, muscles were more important to me than everything else in my life. I craved to be a professional bodybuilder. School work, social activities, and sport were neglected because of my all-consuming quest to build a great physique.
My education suffered, my social skills suffered, I became a near recluse, and I didn’t pursue sports where I had some natural talent.
I spent a huge amount of time training, studying training, thinking about training, and thinking about everything related to bodybuilding. That time, otherwise applied, could have earned me at least one doctorate degree.
But despite 100% commitment to bodybuilding, my initial gains were only modest. After getting even more “serious” about my training — increasing its volume, frequency, and intensity — progress came to a halt. Then started my appreciation of “hardgaining.”
I learned that there was much more to account for bodybuilding success than effort and dedication. I also learned about the need to use training routines appropriate to the individual, and not to imitate training methods used by people who have great genetic advantages for bodybuilding and/or drug support. Then I had years of training progress, and satisfaction.
Train on routines that are appropriate FOR YOU.
One of the most memorable sentences I’ve ever heard came from Charles A. Smith shortly before his death in 1991. (Charles was a major figure working on Joe Weider’s bodybuilding magazines in the 1950s, and one of the final links with the pioneers of bodybuilding. He also contributed to some of the early issues of HARDGAINER magazine.) Here’s what he told me:
“You never know how important good health is until you no longer have it.”
When you’re healthy, all problems and challenges can be tackled. But without your health, the problems and challenges of life are magnified, and perhaps to such an extent that they overwhelm you.
“He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything.”
During my youth I sought muscle and strength primarily for aesthetic reasons, and I mistakenly thought that training was for young people only. Today, at 56, I still have aesthetic concerns, and I still love to train — I would continue to train for those reasons alone. But it’s the health-related benefits of muscle and strength that are the most important.
As well as building strength and developing muscle, bodybuilding strengthens bones, improves overall fitness, increases the body’s caloric consumption, helps control bodyfat, improves posture, slows the effects of aging, and increases resistance to injury. No other single form of exercise can produce all these benefits.
While I made many mistakes with my training and nutrition when I was young, I never got into drugs. Consequently, I’m not dealing with drug-related health problems in my middle age, unlike many of my peers who did take performance-enhancing drugs — primarily anabolic steroids.
Train for health and physique, not just physique. Health comes first. You may not believe it if you’re young, but you will believe it later on when you’re not-so-young.
Some former, highly successful bodybuilders and strength athletes are testimonies to lives ruined by a drug-fueled obsession. Many have ruined their health as a result of taking performance-enhancing drugs, and some have died prematurely. When young and vigorous, and seemingly indestructible, they took big risks with their health with little or no consideration for future repercussions.
Your health is your most important possession. Treasure it, and take great care of it — for your own sake AND those who depend on you.
Because of ignorance or foolishness, many bodybuilders have damaged their bodies through exercise. I was one of them. Due to training stupidity — and I knew better but didn’t apply what I knew — I injured myself seriously, and it took about 10 years before I got the problems properly sorted out.
When I was a beginner I had little or no time for anyone who talked or wrote about the possible dangers of training. Being a teenager I could, at first, get away with harmful training methods without much immediate discomfort. I continued with practices that included squatting with my heels raised on a board and the barbell too high on my shoulders, bench pressing with a wide grip and close to my collar bones, round-back deadlifting, explosive lifting, specific cheating movements, and gross overtraining. A few years later I was plagued with serious injuries, especially to my knees and back. Countless bodybuilders have experienced similar problems.
All the injuries I suffered were avoidable. I suffered them because I used incorrect exercise technique, or because I was so charged up emotionally that I performed something stupid that I knew was beyond me, or because I grossly overtrained. But properly done, bodybuilding training is safe.
Never use anything other than correct exercise technique, and safe training methods.
Some bodybuilders who have contacted me have described their typical dietary fare, and out of six daily feeds, for example, four of them were protein shakes or meal replacement concoctions — so, two proper meals, and four shakes of some sort.
And the two meals weren’t impressive — no fruit, little or no veg, little fiber, and no fish. This is woefully inadequate, and a hindrance for bodybuilding progress, and health. There’s much more to bodybuilding nutrition than protein.
Your primary source of nutrition should be food, not food supplements. You could use some food supplements in moderation — although they aren’t essential — but be sure that your food intake is in excellent order first. Don’t economize on proper food so that you can afford food supplements.
Meal replacement drinks may be useful when you’re especially pressured for time, and a shake can be valuable shortly after a workout, but don’t use them just because you can’t be bothered to prepare proper meals. There are, however, proper food options suitable for when you’re in a rush. A tin of tuna in water, and a chunk of bread, is a quick, easy meal, for example, and you can take it anywhere without the need for refrigeration. But when you’re at home, make the time to prepare proper meals.
Use supplements only to provide a boost to an ALREADY EXCELLENT dietary plan.
While I was at college, in England, I trained in a gym where one of Europe’s elite physiques at the time worked out. We often trained at the same time. He was on bodybuilding drugs and, generally, was a genetic phenomenon for bodybuilding. Although he hadn’t neglected his calves, I had better calf development even though I was drug-free and had been training for far fewer years. He asked me for advice on how he could improve his calves.
The explanation for the difference in our calves was in our heredity. I had better genetics for calf development, but he was much better off in all other bodyparts. I trained my calves like I trained my arms, chest, and shoulders, but my calves were the most responsive.
At the gym recently, while I was sat on a bench between sets, two young men were alternating sets of barbell curls immediately in front of me. Both were in shorts. They were of a similar build overall, but their calf structures were vastly different. One had unusually long or full calf bellies, and the other had unusually short or high calf bellies. The former had about three times the mass of calf than the latter, all due to the difference in the length of their calf bellies. The former has potential for considerable calf growth, but the latter has much less potential for calf growth, and the explanation for this is in their DNA.
Although I’ve chosen the calves for both of these illustrations, genetic variation applies to all body parts.
You don’t have control over your heredity, but never use genetics as an excuse not to seek progress, or not to try your best. Regardless of your genetics, you can realize tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction from bodybuilding, and transform yourself, provided you set about it properly.
Apply these five bodybuilding lessons, and boost your muscle growth.