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Good-bye, Farewell, Godspeed

Bodybuilding is about being the best you can be.


I have started this article about 15 times but couldn't find the right way to say it. So, as is often the case, I have resorted to the best approach. I am just going to say it: This is my last article for IRONMAN.

Not earth-shattering news for anyone besides me. The magazine will go on, and the readers will continue to read. It is a very hard thing to do, ending a working relationship that I have really enjoyed for almost four years, but I have made a business decision. I am going to take this last chance to say a few things and leave some advice for those of you who have followed my column.

First, and this is with all sincerity, I am going to miss interacting with John Balik. Most of you will never meet the man, and fewer will get to know him. John is one of the most gracious people I have met in any business, and in this industry grace is an exceedingly rare trait. He is one of the few leaders in this industry who actually have competed and continue to follow the sport, including promoting the IRONMAN Pro Invitational. John is among the most loyal employers I have met and has kept the magazine at a size that allows him to be hands-on with its every aspect, something I am sure most of you appreciate. If you don't make a habit of reading his editorial, do. It is not a rant and rave like many editorials but the honest thoughts of a deep thinker about the impact of bodybuilding on the person and the person on bodybuilding. I can think of many positive comments to make about John but will limit it to one: John Balik is a man I respect.

I have heard from many of you, the readers. The greatest number of responses came after a couple of articles I wrote about bodybuilding as a community: 'Where Has My Family Gone?' and 'A Call to Action.' I have started a message board, and many of the people who responded to the articles have posted there on any number of subjects. I have happily discovered that there is still a community of bodybuilders, and that community is strong. A common theme runs through the members' comments, that bodybuilding is about being the best. Not the best in a group, not the best onstage, but the best by only one standard'the best that I (any of us) can be.

I love bodybuilding. I can't imagine not having a way to test and measure myself. I can't think of a better model for self-growth than bodybuilding. It's wonderful because it gives concrete results. Where else can you get direct feedback about how well or poorly you are performing? I am constantly trying to mold my body or overcome a new challenge, and I learn quickly if I succeed or fail. I wear the results of my efforts like an armor against comments and conditions that would otherwise bother me. I am not a rich man (and, unfortunately, wealth is the measure of worth for most people my age), but I am a very fortunate man. I have a loving family and a sense of pride because what I have, I acquired through my own achievements, not through the gifts of others or as a matter of birthright. The body I have, I made myself, with my health being provided by the grace of God. Bodybuilding is a mental challenge as well. Those of you who have competed know well the test of willpower that the dieting and constant training require. Even those who have never competed know that it is a constant battle to resist the temptation of dietary excess (unlike what happens with the 60 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese) or the lure of taking it easy. It is entirely proper that bodybuilding is called the iron sport because shaping the body is like shaping a fine blade of steel. The metal (and body) must be tested by the heat of the forge and withstand the hammer and anvil before it is complete. The discipline and determination I have learned in bodybuilding have served me well in life.

I am constantly forced to learn as well. Keeping up with training, diet, supplements and drugs is a never-ending quest. After all this time have I found the answer to the very common question, 'What is the best diet, training schedule, drug or supplement?' No. I have found that there is no right answer, at least for training and diet. There are many different schedules that have proven to be successful for some, none that have proven to be successful for all. There are many wrong choices in regard to supplements, but there have been a few good choices. I am forced to reevaluate what I know. For example, I am going to give Mentzer's training principles a try once again. I have always enjoyed training at a higher volume, in part because I want a more athletic look and function than traditional bodybuilding provides, but conversations in the message board community have convinced me that Heavy Duty may have more to offer than I believed. So, once again, it is back to the drawing board.

Bodybuilding has also been a spiritual journey for me. I started lifting in 1979, using those danged Orbatron weights Kmart sold, which leaked sand or concrete or whatever they were made of, so they all ended up with a couple of layers of duct tape. I now lift in a gym that targets the executive crowd, with pretty neon lights, gleaming machines and plenty of treadmills and water bottles, and I find myself missing the Orbatron. Bodybuilding is definitely about more than just appearances. I have learned that I can make my mind up to change myself. I have learned that I can be proud of who I am, and that hard work does pay off. I have found that the most unlikely people share the same desires I do and have found friends in people I would not have spoken to while waiting in line at the grocery store. I have even found that I have a near daily sense of wonder at the human body. I believe in evolutionary change and adaptation, but I am certain in my faith that life is a creation of God.

I have finally taken my first year off from competing since 1994. Will I return to the stage someday? Maybe. Probably. I can still picture very clearly the first images of Arnold and the inspiration they gave me. I hear the same comments from many others regarding Grimek, Scott, Labrada and so many others. People need real-life heroes. Sadly, the media have found the shallow values of a wealthy entrepreneur or loose ethics of an immoral politician more newsworthy than a role model espousing hard work and persistence. Granted, Arnold would never have qualified for a halo, but he inspired many of my generation to pursue a worthy goal, and the pursuit was as much the reward as the goal.

Bodybuilding nowadays is fine, though it is a dying sport. I am not happy with where it is, nor do I agree with what it has become. There are more drugs backstage at a bodybuilding show than in the stalls at a greyhound racing track, but that seems to be what the people want. I don't agree with the look of excess that typifies the 'champion' physique. No major show is won based on aesthetics and symmetry. I doubt the great Frank Zane would even get called out at a national amateur show today. Professional women's bodybuilding is a mess because no one knows what the criteria should be. Frankly, women's bodybuilding died when Cory Everson left the stage.

The whole concept of drug-free bodybuilding continues to struggle, mostly because no one cares. The promoters can't get sponsors, audiences are small, and there is no media coverage. The only drug-free event to get any media coverage at all is the Musclemania, at least as far as I am aware. If people really want a drug-free movement in bodybuilding, they are going to have to support it.

If we want bodybuilding to become a strong sport once again, to see it on television during prime time rather than after midnight or not at all, we need changes. There is so much bitterness in the bodybuilding industry that there is no chance of things being corrected any time soon. Twenty years ago there were only a couple of bodybuilding magazines, and they all rallied around the same stars, pushing the same message. Now there are dozens of fitness magazines, more fitness models than you can shake a stick at, and the magazines and e-zines concentrate on undermining competing magazines or so shamelessly promoting products that the reader often turns away in disgust. We even have congressional hearings looking into the practices of some of those companies. Perhaps the worst is seeing the faces behind these so-called health companies'some of the unhealthiest people I have ever seen. Of course, Congress only has itself to blame. I watched as the all-male subcommittee listened listlessly to the head of the FDA, a physician, then perked up to watch Raquel Welch read some script. Of course, she couldn't provide a single intelligent answer to any of the follow-up questions, but the representatives did not care, being in heat over the object of their boyhood fantasies.

Where does this leave those of us who want to follow the shining path? Simple: Follow what you know to be true and closely scrutinize the advice you read or hear. In bodybuilding anyone can become an athlete. You can be poor, short, near-sighted and have nothing to offer but heart and still become a good bodybuilder. If that weren't true, I would be reading IRONMAN, not writing for it.

Every month one magazine or another runs a 'rules for success' in building muscle and losing fat. The rules are simple:

Train hard, train smart. If you are in the gym more than 45 minutes, you are wasting time. If you're a novice, you could get away with circuit training or twice-a-week-per-bodypart routines. But for the rest of us, don't overdo it. I am the last person to talk about overdoing it, but too much of a good thing can be disastrous. There are a lot of good routines to follow out there, many of them based in part on Arthur Jones or Mentzer. Steve Holman's POF training has always received good marks from people and is worth a try.

Watch what you eat and record it. Actually, you should be recording your training, too, but your diet is about 85 percent of how you look. Many people would look decent if they dropped the bodyfat. Being lean will show your abs better than any gimmick you buy, and you will look muscular at almost any size. If you are healthy, eat as much protein as you can tolerate. I shoot for a gram per pound every day, which gives me about a third of my calories. The old rule of thumb is 10 calories per pound if you are cutting, 15 calories per pound if you are bulking and somewhere in between if you are maintaining. Of course, those numbers need to be adjusted for your own metabolism, activity and lifestyle levels.

Use only a few supplements and get them only from companies you trust. I don't consider a meal-replacement powder a supplement; it is part of my diet. Other than those, creatine, phosphatidylserine, glutamine and maybe zinc are the real bang-for-the-buck supplements. Ephedrine works very well, but there's a lot of controversy about its use, and unless you are willing to accept that there may be a risk of injury associated with its use, don't use it. Many people claim that they get great results from 1-AD, but the pro-hormone area is still fairly new. We don't know the true risks, if any, associated with 1-AD. Avoid the old oral pro-hormones, throw out any liquid creatine, and don't buy into outrageous advertising. Last, get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. No magic to those rules, just common sense.

I guess it is time to close. I will miss this time and all the people, but the time has come to move on. I will be in the gym, following my heart and giving everything I have to a dream. I hope you will be doing the same. IM

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