Don’t go as heavy as possible all the time. At 43, I’m paying for things I did in the gym at 23, and I always will be. My mentality in my 20s and even well into my 30s was to attempt maximum lifts at every workout, often with weights I could only manage one to five reps with. Not only did this “ego training” do very little to stimulate growth, it did a real number on my joints and tendons. Even doing six to eight reps most of the time wasn’t the best idea. If I could do it all over, I would have cycled in two to three weeks with higher reps after every six to eight weeks of the lower reps.
Be open to new methods. I was so stubborn and closed-minded much of the time that I dismissed exercises and techniques out of hand as being “stupid” without ever trying them. So I missed out on many things that would have benefited me. Ironically, as I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’ve grown to realize that being a know-it-all is not only counterproductive to bodybuilding progress, but it’s also insane. As bodybuilders we should be seeking out new information constantly and experimenting to see what may give us results.
Weight gain is not the same as muscle gain. For many years, I was obsessed with gaining weight and had mastered the art of denial that most of what I gained by drinking two or three mass-gain shakes on top of eating four or five meals, each featuring 200 to 300 grams of carbs, was bodyfat. It was always perplexing when I dieted for contests only to find that I didn’t seem any bigger than I had been before. I wasn’t—because the 40 to 50 pounds I gained in the off-season was pure lard. Not until I was in my mid-30s did I truly start staying leaner year-round, which resulted in my looking better and feeling better in general. The key difference was learning to eat only as much as my body needed to make gains, and no more.
Lift the weight yourself. Another common sin during my years of training as heavy as possible was to rely on the assistance of spotters. There were many sets I did where all the reps were forced reps, meaning I couldn’t even do a single rep on my own power. In my mind, I was lifting these impressive weights. I should have suspected otherwise when gym members who had been called upon before to spot me started moving to other parts of the gym once they saw me warming up. Not until I spent some time years later training by myself and without asking for a spot did I finally understand how using a weight I could actually handle properly was actually far more productive.
Focus on yourself. That doesn’t apply only to bodybuilding but to life in general. In my youth I was so jealous of anyone who had more of what I wanted, specifically muscles and money, that it’s shameful to even recall now. As time went by and I learned to focus on myself and being better and more efficient in my career, training and nutrition, a funny thing happened: My physique got much better, and my income increased dramatically. So I would love to be able to convince my younger self to stop worrying about the other guy—just focus on you!
Patience is a virtue, and have faith. For all but a few very genetically blessed individuals, building an exceptional physique takes time—as in decades. I would love the opportunity to assure my younger self that all the hard work will pay off eventually. And that instead of being so focused on the end result, I should enjoy the process. Looking back, I suppose I did. And had the results come much easier and faster, I doubt I would appreciate what I was able to accomplish. There is a very real satisfaction in attaining something through many years of diligence and effort that those more blessed types will never know.