I was looking for something in my basement the other day when I stumbled across some old photos and assorted notebooks and documents. There was a drawing I made when I was about 19 that represented what I hoped I would eventually look like. At that time I had competed twice, at about 160 pounds and not very lean at all. I had a long way to go.
What I find most interesting looking at it now, besides the fact that I wasn’t very good at drawing muscles, is that I didn’t “idealize” my vision of what I would look like. This wasn’t Lee Haney’s or Rich Gaspari’s body with my head (drawn proportionally too small, the size I wish my head was). Without realizing it, I kept my own bone structure and even the flaws and weak points. My shoulders, chest and legs were far more developed than the arms, which is along the lines of my own particular genetic strong and weak points. My torso was a bit long for my legs too, which is just the way my bone structure is.
So here I am more than 20 years later looking at the drawing, and it’s pretty close to the way I look dieted down now, more or less. It was about a 50-to-60-pound gain in lean muscle tissue over what I was then, but sure enough I built it eventually.
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It got me to thinking about how amazing bodybuilding really is. There are a lot of ways to get in shape now, from P90X to CrossFit, Insanity and so many more. But no matter how many methods come and go, bodybuilding remains. Why is that?
Bodybuilding is different from anything else you can do in terms of exercise because it allows you literally to sculpt your body into what you want. Obviously, we are all working within our unique limitations. I mentioned bone structure, and that is something that can’t be changed. Danny DeVito and Kobe Bryant, for example, have two completely different types of bone structures.
We also have specific muscle belly lengths and shapes. If you have high calves, for example, no amount of calf raises are going to bring them down closer to your ankles. Once you build some mass on your biceps, you will find that they either have a peaked shape or they don’t. Each of us is the product of many, many previous generations of our ancestors and the traits they passed down, such as height, hair and eye color and skin color.
The wonderful thing, however, is that great bodies come in all shapes and sizes. If you work hard enough and long enough in the gym and are dedicated to eating well and getting enough rest, eventually you will look pretty impressive compared to the average person. Everywhere you go you will instantly be identified as someone who has put a great deal of time and effort into his or her physique.
It’s easy to focus on what you lack or that you don’t look like the guys and girls in the bodybuilding magazines. Instead, think about how far you’ve come from where you started and how you are getting closer and closer to that ideal vision you hold in your mind of the way you ultimately want to look.
Because we are in essence sculptors, we can target certain areas that will improve our proportions. Weak points can be given extra attention, and strong points can be maintained. Even certain parts of individual muscle groups can be targeted.
If your chest is decent but you lack thickness in the upper pecs, you do more inclines and less flat and decline work. If you need more outer-quad sweep, you can do leg presses and hack squats with a very close stance. Our bodies are works of art—we are the artist, and the work is always in progress.
That’s why it doesn’t matter how many trendy exercise systems there are or how many people are captivated by their flashy infomercials promising the body of your dreams in 30 or 60 days. To those who are way out of shape and need to lose fat and get some muscle tone, those systems are fine—but they will never take the place of bodybuilding.
You are unique as a bodybuilder. The next time you train, you’re not doing it to lose weight, “get in shape,” or anything so vague. You are a physique artist, and the weights are the tools you use to craft your personal masterpiece. I know I can’t wait to get back to work on mine. How about you?
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.