Bodybuilding mistakes, equipment, and the traits of success

From HARDGAINER issue #89

By Bob Whelan

Bodybuilding mistakes

What’s the biggest, single bodybuilding-related mistake you’ve made?

The first and most obvious mistake was overtraining, which I was guilty of for years. I still made progress because I was young, and my recuperative powers were strong, but I trained four or more times per week for several years, in my early twenties. (I usually trained four or five days per week, because I gave up on six very quickly). I made the same mistakes that people now make, thinking that more training was more advanced and modern. I didn’t realize, at the time, that people had been using split routines and bodypart routines for several decades already. Those routines just became a lot more popular as drug use came into the scene.

I was powerlifting at the time, and I remember that when I cut my training down from four or five split workouts, to two whole-body workouts per week, my lifting total increased by well over 100 pounds in the following training year. The tired, worn-out feeling went away, I was enthusiastic about every workout, I had no aching joints anymore, and I felt strong. I strongly urge you not to waste time on bodypart routines, especially ones that are more than four days per week. Without drugs, these programs simply don’t work for most trainees, and are a waste of time.


Exercise equipment

Regarding the exercise equipment you routinely use in your facility, which pieces do you value most and believe are of the most benefit to those you train?

Since I believe in complete, whole-body, balanced training, I don’t have one piece of equipment that I value most. If I had to have only one thing, it would be a barbell—a good Olympic set. Secondly, I would have a power rack. I’m glad I’m not forced to have just a power rack and barbell, though, because I believe I get a much better overall workout using all the stuff I have.

I’m an Iron Game and barbell guy at heart, but I also appreciate the great equipment we have available now that the old-timers didn’t. My training philosophy is a combination of the best information from the old-timers, mixed with the best modern information.

I was raised exclusively on free weights, but now use a lot of the good quality, plate-loaded machines, too. I don’t just collect machines like some people do, and I don’t really enjoy talking about machines. I don’t believe that barbells are better, or machines are better. They both work.

I believe that you should use the best tools you have available. If you have limited space, or can only have limited equipment, you can’t beat the barbell and power rack for overall bang for the training buck.

If you’re lucky enough to have some of the great new machines, use them. But if you don’t have them, don’t fret—you don’t need them. You still have enough to get the job done, and done well, with a barbell, and power rack.

As I’ve noted in an earlier column, for many years I trained only with York bars and plates, and Jubinville gear. Just for me, this stuff was great; but for business, when I train ten people in a row, I can get exhausted because my job becomes more like that of a bricklayer because of all the plate changing and moving around of equipment. The Hammer Strength and Southern Xercise machines I now have are great, and make my job a lot easier and generally safer for my clients, many of whom are middle-aged beginners.

The good machines are nothing more than “guided barbells”—just alternative tools to get the job done. They should be viewed as secondary to the work being done, not the reason for training success.

As I’ve written about before, I had some of the best workouts of my life in crude, poorly equipped gyms. It’s passion, effort, desire, and consistent hard training that makes even a simple barbell work wonders. You don’t really need anything more. At a small, dingy, minimally equipped gym at an air base in Germany, I had some of the best workouts of my life.

The showers frequently had only cold water. The cables on the pulley machines were always broken. Someone was always painting something for an inspection. Even the barbell plates were painted several times during this period. They were black, gold, and white, at different times. A few times they were still wet when we came to train, and we could smell paint fumes. We still lifted, and got paint all over us. As long as there were bars and plates, we were happy! We rooted for each other. There was a lot of back slapping, screaming, yelling, grunting, groaning, and sweating. We had a sort of gang, and if someone wasn’t there, we all knew it, and would get on his case when we saw him at the chow hall. There was peer pressure to train.

The weight room was rundown, dark, damp, and cold; but to us, it was warm, bright, and full of energy and life. We loved that place! Weights were banging everywhere, and the too-few 10s, 5s and 2-1/2 plates available were shared, and tossed back and forth around the room. Everyone had chalk; in fact, it was all over us! We had a true brotherhood, and so much fun training.

We would train no matter what the weather, come sleet or snow. Even base alerts didn’t stop us. We usually worked 24-hour shifts, but when a shift was over, we had free time. But we still had to comply with the “war game” conditions, if we remained on the base. Most guys would get the hell out of the base after they ate and slept. We would bring our gas masks to the gym, and still train. I can remember squatting in my gas mask!

We never missed workouts, grew like crazy, and made tremendous progress. Anyone who trained with us would have made at least as much progress as they ever had anywhere else (and probably more progress than ever). That we only had very basic equipment just didn’t matter.


Traits for bodybuilding success

You’ve been training yourself, and others, for many years. What common trait have you noticed in individuals that indicates a high probability of training and bodybuilding success?

On average, the guys who are successful in strength training, love to train. They don’t miss workouts. They find a way to train. They don’t make excuses why they can’t train. They make do with the equipment they have available, not complain about which new machine they don’t have. They don’t just talk about training, read about it, or make excuses about why they can’t do it. Instead, they lift—hard and regularly. These people are the backbone of the Iron Game. They are the passion and beauty of modern strength training. Their problems in training, if any, are usually related to overtraining, not laziness. I mean true overtraining, not the latest version of overtraining which used to mean just a regular, ordinary workout.

Many individuals now never train hard, and still think they overtrain. Their problem is that they need to start training hard, and not micro manage and constantly worry about how they think they overtrain. I have guys call me with a so-called overtraining problem. I ask them what they are doing, and after I hear it, I usually say, “Where’s the rest of it?” Their workouts are often so short that I thought they only gave me part of it. They have no clue about overtraining, and really don’t like to train, which is the root cause of their problem.

The ones that succeed are usually just regular people who train with a tenacity and dedication that’s anything but regular. They train because they love it. They believe in it. It’s almost spiritual to them. They get no money, fame, or glory for it. No one is making them do it; they just do it for themselves. They would feel depressed if they couldn’t do it. They love getting stronger, and love to train hard and stretch their physical capacity to the limit. They live their lives by the code of our Iron Game forefathers, and wouldn’t dream of taking drugs, either. They are truly dedicated, and because they love it, it’s not hard for them to be dedicated.

Trainees and clients who gain my respect, earn it by doing. It’s not just how much weight you lift that earns my respect. It’s about the effort. Many beginners are not strong yet, but will be later, but they work so hard that I’ll respect them more than a lazy, stronger guy. Those who are willing to put forth effort and dedication are the ones that earn respect, and promote camaraderie and brotherhood. It’s hard not to like a guy who works his ass off.

People who train hard themselves, usually respect others who train hard. They respect hard work because they do it, too. They know how it feels. They understand how tough it is. It’s frequently the person who doesn’t train hard himself, who fosters division and ill will, and argues about minor training issues. You earn respect in strength training only by doing, not by talking. The “non-doing types” are those who sometimes spend hours each day on the internet, arguing about strength-training philosophy. They love to attack or put down others, and hide behind a computer screen, usually thousands of miles away. Some of the Ph.D.-researcher types fall into this category. They can talk forever about the physiological response to strength training, but they know nothing about real-world strength training, because they don’t do it themselves.

Serious trainees share a common goal and  bond that unites us—passion for natural strength, and hard training, and doing it ourselves. It’s the true brotherhood of iron, strength, and hard work, and all are welcome if they are willing to pay the price of hard work, and dedication. Race, religion, politics, or nationality don’t matter when you’re battling the iron. Citizenship to this “nation” requires only effort and doing, not excuses and theorizing.