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Brick by Brick

I know it can be discouraging for a beginner to look at the exceptional physiques in bodybuilding magazines like IRON MAN and struggle to imagine ever looking like that. The gap between the top muscle men and the average weight trainee is so vast that it can seem pointless to try to reach that level yourself. You tend to think of those men and women as having simply been born that way. I won’t lie and tell you that the top bodybuilding champions aren’t all genetically gifted and that most don’t use drugs. IRON MAN is one of the few magazines that features outstanding drug-free lifters like Dave Goodin. None of the stars, however, woke up one day suddenly transformed into a marvel of muscular development, packed with thick mass and the definition of an anatomy chart.

Every single one, including freaks like Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman and Dexter Jackson (pictured at left), built their bodies one workout and one meal at a time. Dexter, now a three-time Arnold Classic champ who competes at 230 pounds, won his first contest as a 140-pound bantamweight. For every IFBB pro, thousands of others have managed to craft physiques worthy of praise and admiration—many of them totally drug-free, just to make that clear. It didn’t happen overnight.

No significant structure can be erected rapidly—think of the pyramids, great castles and palaces, even the cavernous stadiums where we watch our favorite baseball and football teams play. They all take time, and they’re built brick by brick, girder by girder. When it comes to transforming an average body into something outstanding, it takes doing the right things every day over an extended period of time. In other words, it boils down to consistency.

Being consistent in several key areas will ensure that you’ll ultimately have the best physique you’re capable of. You’ll reach your full physical potential, whatever that may be, which is something only a tiny percentage of men and women who weight train can ever honestly say. Just about any human body developed to that point is an amazing sight to see.

Train Consistently

Every January, gyms and health clubs are inundated with a flood of New Year’s resolution trainees. They work out religiously because this is the year they’re finally going to get in great shape. By February that herd has thinned, and by the spring thaw most of them are nowhere to be seen.

Most people simply lack the dedication to train routinely, especially if they don’t get the immediate gratification of seeing spectacular results. If you’re reading this publication, though, I doubt that describes you. Still, I’m often shocked to see guys at the gym reappear after absences of weeks or even months, often without what I would consider valid reasons for having abandoned training for so long.

Yeah, school or work or family can all put serious demands on your schedule, and there will be times when you can’t adhere to your usual program. Even so, it’s always better to have fewer workouts that are shorter in duration than none at all. Some men and women are forever taking three steps forward and two steps back, wasting too much time constantly trying to get back to the size and strength they had before their latest hiatus. The funny thing is, some of them are gifted and could make superb progress at a faster rate than the rest of us. Remember that old fable about the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race.

Eat Consistently

Most people do train consistently. They wouldn’t dream of skipping workouts, much less not training for weeks or months. When it comes to nutrition, however, few are as dedicated. It’s not easy to eat high-quality meals like chicken breast, steak, turkey breast, eggs or fish every two to three hours, every single day. It takes planning, a good deal of cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen, and often packing meals to take with you. That’s the only way to be totally sure you have all the nutrients you need every day. And yes, you do need to eat that way every day, not just every once in a while when you’re extra motivated.

That used to frustrate my older brother Dana, who was getting serious about bodybuilding a little over a year ago and would look for praise or approval every time he told me that he “ate good today.” You’re supposed to eat well every day, I would respond. Every waking moment you have to be thinking of yourself as either fueling up for your next great workout or recovering and growing from your last bout with the weights.

A bodybuilder’s body is like those old steam engines in locomotives that had to be stoked with shovelfuls of coal constantly. Going way too long between meals—or eating foods with little to no nutritive value—does nothing to get you closer to your goals and often sets you back. Always remember that your body doesn’t want to build muscle mass. It doesn’t even want to maintain the extra you’ve built since you started training. The first thing that it will start to burn when you go for many hours without eating is the amino acids in your muscle tissue. That’s catabolism, and it’s the exact opposite of what you want—it means your body is literally eating its own muscle tissue.

Take Your Supplements Consistently

I always make a point to note that consistently eating high-quality food meals is by far the most important aspect of nutrition, but supplements also play a big part. In recent years we’ve all learned just how valuable postworkout shakes are to the recovery process, yet I still see plenty of guys walking out the gym door as soon as their workouts are over. Yeah, I might have looked like a geek toting my cooler in and out of the gym all these years, but I’ve never, ever missed a postworkout shake of whey protein, simple carbs like waxy maize, creatine and L-glutamine.

Most supplements are meant to be taken every day, often several times a day. Forgetting to take them or being too lazy to take them with you doesn’t cut it. Even my own wife thinks I’m nuts for taking the enormous assortment of pills, powders and shakes that I do every day, but it has definitely had an impact on my physique. She, who in some ways has far better genetics than I do, is nowhere near as consistent with her meals or her supplements and as a result has never reached her full potential. Don’t get me wrong, I love her to death; I’m only using her as an example to make a point about the importance of being consistent with supplements.

Sleep Consistently

Being not entirely antisocial in the gym, contrary to what my wife might say, I occasionally ask how someone’s workout is going. If the answer isn’t “Spectacular, thanks,” the culprit is usually some minor illness like a cold or that the person didn’t get enough sleep the night before. You can’t completely avoid catching a cold every once in a while, but most of the time lack of sleep is your fault.

We all choose how we spend our time. Despite knowing you’re going to train the next morning, you may stay out way past your usual bedtime or even more foolishly stay up late watching 500 channels of digital cable TV on a cool new plasma screen.

Most of us need eight hours of quality sleep a night, particularly if we’re trying to either gain muscle or lose fat. Both goals are compromised by excess cortisol production in the body, which inevitably occurs when we miss out on adequate shut-eye. I know things will happen and there are special occasions when you just can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour, but do your best to get your rest. You don’t grow in the gym, and if you don’t get the rest your muscles need to fully recover from workouts, you won’t grow period.

Stay Intense and Motivated

Remaining consistently motivated is without a doubt one of the biggest challenges of long-term bodybuilding. I’ve been at it for nearly a quarter-century—how time does fly—and even though I work in the industry, I too suffer from lapses in enthusiasm. We all do. Usually it’s because the routine we’re on has grown stale, or we’re simply overtrained and need to take a few days or a week off the weights.

Having specific goals and setting definite deadlines for accomplishing them go a long way toward reviving lost motivation. Some of the most intense workouts of my life have taken place in the weeks before competing, which was no doubt a consequence of the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming showdown onstage. A burning desire to win helped too.

You don’t need to compete to stay consistently motivated, though. Having any specific goal will do the trick; for example, losing a certain amount of bodyfat, gaining a certain amount of lean mass, gaining in measurement on a given body-part such as arms or legs or even bench-pressing, squatting or curling X amount by a certain day. Bodybuilding magazines, books, DVDs and Web sites are also beneficial for keeping you psyched, and never underestimate the power of trying out a new workout technique or supplement.

Increase Weights Over Time

In our early days of bodybuilding, we all grew steadily stronger as the months and years wore on. Then the gains slowed and in most cases eventually stopped altogether. Not coincidentally, once we stopped becoming stronger, we also saw our muscle size freeze. How many guys do you know at the gym who look exactly the same today as they did two, five or even 10 years ago? Do you see one every time you pass a mirror?

The longer you’ve been training hard, the tougher it gets to make increases in strength. Difficult but not impossible. You have to strive to consistently add resistance to your exercises. It’s a practice that too many have either forgotten about or have denied the importance of. It’s also the underlying reason that DC training has exploded in popularity. The only “magical” aspect to the program’s success for so many trainees is that it stresses a systematic method for gradually increasing strength. Getting a pump is valuable, and it’s always rewarding to feel soreness in a bodypart for a day or two or three after you work it, but the bottom line if you want to grow is that you must continue getting stronger.

Take Scheduled Layoffs Consistently

It probably sounds contradictory for me to go from telling you to train on a very regular basis to taking time off, but hear me out. We bodybuilders tend to be obsessive-compulsive and subscribers to the more-is-better philosophy of life. Many of us train ourselves into the ground, dismissing any and all signs of overtraining such as fatigue, loss of motivation, low-grade illnesses and infections and the absolute worst: loss of muscle mass and strength.

I remember reading that Skip La Cour would take a week off from training after every six weeks of hitting it hard, and he recommended we all do the same. Skip’s a smart guy, I thought, but that’s nuts. Then two years ago, when I began DC training, an integral part of the program was to take one- or two-week “cruises” after each eight-to-12-week “blast” phase. Finally, the concept of planning layoffs as a means of affording the mind and body ample time to recover and regroup for the next bout of all-out training clicked in my mind and made perfect sense.

Just as you must train hard consistently to make continual progress, so must you ease back on the gas and pull over every few hundred miles to keep your engine running at peak performance.

Relationship and Job Stability

At last we come to the one area that I have seen derail even the most genetically gifted bodybuilders, even pros. I understand that whether we keep a job or stay in a relationship is often not in our control. Companies lay off employees, businesses fail, and significant others may decide for any number of reasons that they want to move on. I’ve also observed, however, a definite correlation between a stable personal life and making steady physique improvements.

When you’re constantly worried about running out of money and having no place to live—or forever chasing women or men and dealing with emotional breakups and the baggage of failed relationships—it carries over into every aspect of your training, nutrition and rest. If you really step back and look at your history of jobs and relationships with an objective eye, you should be able to see that you aren’t always the victim of venomous fate that you might think you are. Typically, the events and quality of our lives are directly related to conscious choices we make as well as our attitudes toward life, success and happiness.

Start Piling Up Those Bricks

By now you should realize that building a great physique isn’t as “accidental” as you may have considered it to be. It’s all about doing the right things to support the construction, day after day for months and years. By itself each small step seems insignificant, but over time the steps add up and build on one another until you’re the proud owner of a magnificent structure—a body you can be proud of, a body that inspires others, and a physique that stands out as the true accomplishment of desire meeting dedication and patience. IM

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