Last time I discussed four of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my 35 years of bodybuilding. Here are four more:
Lesson 5. Because of ignorance or foolishness, many bodybuilders have damaged their bodies through exercise. I was one of them. Due to training stupidity—I knew better but just didn’t apply what I knew—I injured myself seriously, and it took about 10 years before I got the problems 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 putting the barbell too high on my shoulders, Smith-machine squatting, bench pressing with a wide grip and to my upper chest, round-back deadlifting, explosive lifting, specific cheating movements and gross overtraining. A few years later I was plagued by 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, because I was so charged up emotionally that I performed something stupid that I knew was beyond me or because I grossly overtrained. Properly done, however, bodybuilding training is safe.
Lesson: Never use anything other than correct exercise technique and safe training methods.
Lesson 6. Some bodybuilders who have contacted me have described their typical fare. One reported that of his six daily feeds four were protein shakes or meal-replacement concoctions—in other words, two proper meals and four shakes of some sort. And the two meals weren’t impressive—no fruit, little or no vegetables, little fiber and no fish. That’s woefully inadequate and a hindrance to bodybuilding progress and health. There’s much more to bodybuilding nutrition than protein.
Your primary source of nutrition should be food, not food supplements. By all means use supplements, but first be sure that your food intake is in excellent order. Don’t economize on proper food so that you can afford food supplements.
Meal-replacement drinks are useful when you’re especially pressured for time, and a shake is valuable shortly after a workout, but don’t use them just because you can’t be bothered to prepare proper meals. There are also food options suitable for when you’re in a big rush. A tin of tuna in water plus a chunk of bread is a very quick, easy meal, and you can take it anywhere without the need for refrigeration. When you’re at home, make the time to prepare proper meals.
Lesson: Use supplements only to provide a nutritional boost to an already excellent dietary plan.
Lesson 7. Provided you’ve trained sensibly and consistently for five years or so and paid full attention to the components of recuperation, you’ve probably pretty much reached your potential for muscular size, although you may still be able to get a lot stronger. Of course, I’m referring to natural bodybuilding.
At some point you’ve got to accept that you’re pretty much at your limit as far as muscular size goes. If you’ve trained sensibly for the past year without seeing any new growth—following several years of sensible training—chances are you’re at your natural limit.
Even so, that doesn’t mean you’ve reached your physique potential. If your primary concern is aesthetics, substantially reducing your bodyfat will do far more for your appearance than will adding a few pounds of new muscle.
In my experience, most bodybuilders in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have trained for many years and have reached their full potential for building muscle have more than 15 percent bodyfat—sometimes much more than that. Rather than get their bodyfat down to 10 percent, which would transform their appearance, they stick with the 15 percent or even 20-plus percent bodyfat and seek yet more muscle mass.
Of course, if you haven’t trained well consistently for several years, you still have the potential for a lot of muscle growth—if you train well for a few years.
Lesson: Don’t expect to progress in muscle size indefinitely.
Lesson 8. For many years I hated my physique because of shame and dissatisfaction, although I was much better built than most men, as well as healthy, strong, vigorous and young. I sought an imaginary view of physical perfection, and nothing less than “perfection” would make me happy—or so I thought. Because I was focused on what I didn’t have, I failed to appreciate what I did have.
No matter how much physique improvement I made in my youth, I always wanted a bit more, a bit more again and then a bit more still. I was never satisfied.
Delaying happiness until the attainment of a specific goal meant that I failed to enjoy the process of living and training. That I was able to train hard and regularly was great wealth and should have been a source of joy, but I failed to see or appreciate it because of my fixation on an unattainable result.
Lesson: Enjoy your life as you live it, including your training. The journey is more important than the destination.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or www.Home-Gym.com.