Bodybuilding as Your Identity and Mental Health

I've been in the gym a long time. I've eaten clean a long time, I've used performance enhancement drugs a long time, and I've always worked bodybuilding into my life on a daily basis. I'm often guilty of getting so sucked into it and going so hard all the time that it becomes this constant process of recovery and having normal, everyday things in life seem like a bigger pain in the ass than they should.

I'm going to be honest here; I've been going so hard lately that by around mid-afternoon I'm tapped out. I feel like I could go right back to bed at 2pm and the day is done. When I'm going at it this hard my days start to blend together and every single day is the same as the day before or the day after. This is definitely how pre-contest training always felt to me.

I don't care who tells you what, the bottom line is when you're taking your body to extreme measures then life gets extremely difficult with it. You just have to put so much into all of it that there are times where it's downright mentally unhealthy. Fortunately I've learned to recognize this a lot better than I used to. So the real question here is how can I continue making headway in bodybuilding but at the same time give myself some room to breathe and attempt to live a semi-balanced life?

For starters, volume will kill you. Volume is good for a little while, but there is going to come a breaking point where you just need to back off. Even if you train with lighter weights and shorter rest periods, if it's in your nature to always train as intensely as possible, it's still going to break you down.

Heavier weights and less volume can do the same thing, but in a different manner. Sure, you're in the gym and out in under an hour, but the day or two in between a high intensity workout is so focused around recovery that you feel shot. And sometimes it isn't even an issue with physical recovery, it's mental recovery. Sticking to the grind day in and day out can become stressful in itself. The ones who stick to the grind more often are the ones in better PHYSICAL CONDITION, but maybe not mental.

Whenever I was in the best shape of my life people complimented me almost everyplace I went. This became an addiction; I knew that as long as I kept hearing all of that positive feedback then I was doing something that was worth a damn. But honestly, I felt so run down and shitty that it was almost like I continued to do it solely to feed an addiction, not because it was mentally beneficial at that point in any way.

We are creatures of habit. If you go to the gym on leg day and you've always done barbell squats, leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises, then it's difficult to go to the gym and hit the Stairmaster for 20 minutes as a warmup, cut the volume in half, and spend the rest of the time stretching. It's even more difficult to skip the gym that day and go for a hike outdoors or a bike ride, or something totally different than what you're normally inclined to want to do. But sometimes this is the best solution for your mental sanity.

I have found that it becomes easy to become stressed out and pissed off with life when nothing in your day to day activities changes. Listen, there is nothing wrong with going hard to accomplish a goal. If you're trying to compete in a bodybuilding competition then I'd tell you to live and die by the gym and diet. There is no “happy medium” in that arena if you want to get in that type of condition.

But every once in awhile it's wise to take a step back and really evaluate where you're at in a general sense of well-being. I'm telling you this because I'm guilty of everything I'm writing about here. But my question then becomes, “How can I get better while letting it go just a little bit?”.

This is the best gameplan I've come up with so far. For starters, pick 1-2 days per week where you're outside doing something rather than in the gym. This could be a 30 minute jog someplace, walking your dog down by the river, hiking, or simply sitting outside with a coffee and having a conversation with someone. It doesn't have to always be physical, the muscle goblin isn't going to come take anything from you because you took a day or two to relax or do something different.

The next thing is don't eat bad, but pick a place a couple days a week where you can eat pretty healthy but eat out. Cooking can take it's toll on you and not just the cooking; the constant thought in the back of your head like “What am I gonna eat? Do I have enough food at the house? Did I bring my cooler with me?” This can become quite stressful sometimes, and it's good to pick a place out that you can eat after a workout or possibly on a day off, just for a little change sometimes.

The next step would be to incorporate more cardio into the routine and less weights. Rather than lifting 5 days a week, why not start up a training split that hits everything within 3 days in the week, and take the other 3-4 days for a brief session of high intensity cardio. Maybe purchasing a weighted sled to drag up and down the road in front of your house would be a good idea? You don't need to leave to go anywhere, and all of a sudden this big ordeal of traveling to the gym, hitting cardio, and then traveling home doesn't seem like it's still 90 minutes of your day. 30 minutes of cardio is 30 minutes of your actual time during the day!!

The last thing that I have found that certainly helps out, is to find a new activity to do once in awhile. Maybe take up a martial arts class a couple times a week or attend a class on learning how to build something. Life can get very dull and often depressing when you feel like you're running in place all the time. I don't know about you guys, but when I feel like I've stopped learning or have been stagnant for too long I get depressed, and it doesn't matter how much testosterone I pump into my body!!

I'm not a well rounded individual and that is one character trait that has helped me in bodybuilding but has often hurt my life outside of bodybuilding. When people talk to me it's all about bodybuilding and dieting, because it's become my identity. But mentally it's not the only identity that I want for myself and I try to think outside the box sometimes.

Now, where is the benefit in all of this when I speak of “progression”? Well, whenever I do things like this then all of a sudden my motivation levels come back even more, and I'm often times even stronger in the gym. It's funny the way bodybuilding works sometimes. There are times when you back off and give about half a fuck as much as you did before, and you actually get better!!!

Look, I'm not saying to give half a fuck all the time, but every once in awhile you need a deload period and a deload mental period too!!

Remember, stress is the #1 killer and there can even come a point in exercise where it becomes unhealthy.

Train hard but train smart, and as far as I'm concerned, longevity is the key to this lifestyle!!

Over and out-

John

PS – Don’t forget to check out Straight From the Underground, the new underground bodybuilding bible!!

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22 thoughts on “Bodybuilding as Your Identity and Mental Health”

  1. Thats right.

    I mean Steve reeves a Legend, have say” life in balance” and he had train only three times a Week.

    Balance is the key.

    What do you think about Victor Pride to train heavy 6 times a week but only 20-30min.

    Regards

    Xhej

    Reply
    • it obviously works for him, he has a great build!! What a lot of guys don’t understand is I’m neither a sole proponent of any one style of training, be it high volume or low volume/high intensity. It’s wherever I’m at in my development, goals, recovery, and even boredom factor.

      Reply
  2. I really enjoy reading your articles. You talk about what everyone goes through with their weight training. I have been lifting for several years and I’m content with the way I look. Yes it is a rush when people talk about how “big” you have become! I train for muscle mass and don”t much care for “cutting up”. Just about all work out”s call for doing squats and dead lift’s to build muscle mass. I am a Disabled Military Veteran and my legs will not allow me to do squats and dead lifts. But I train my upper body very hard! You should see the looks I get having a big upper body while wearing leg braces haha…

    Reply
  3. Great read! It’s refreshing to see that you enjoy taking on new activities and that it’s not all about the gym and diet! It shows you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and enjoy other areas of life.

    I love the comment, “the muscle goblin isn’t going to come take anything from you” – you nailed it!

    Keep up the blog; we need more brothers like yourself sharing what it takes to enjoy life and be successful.

    Reply
  4. I can say from my experience training Body of the Spartan way is great.

    First, 20-30 isn’t enough to be boring. You get to the gym, get it done and get out. Only quality work.

    Second, it helps to form habit of being disciplined.

    Third, high frequency of gym sessions is a great way to master technique and become good at chosen lifts.

    Obviously, after some time you will need some break but then, just de-load and get back on the right track.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
    • It’s whatever you get results from, there is no perfect program. But there is only so hard you’re going to go for so long before injury, excessive fatigue, or resistance to the same program. I train in all different styles, it just depends on where I’m at in terms of development vs. recovery

      Reply
  5. Love the real talk. I’ve been training for 3 years, spinned my wheels the first 2 and a half. Reading your blog has made me realize the best way to see gains is to be instinctive and get back to the basics. The only thing I still do that you use to is, I hit every muscle when I train. For me its fun to be primitive in the gym. And your diet suggestions on simplifying your meals i.e.(just cook the whole egg if its easier, Sums up your philosophy which is be consistent work hard and stop relying on gimmicks. Bust your ass and if you do it enough you will grow

    Reply
  6. Hello John, whoever I do chest workouts up pull my right pec. This is especially when I do flyes, and I seem to feel my right pec more and be able to flex and bounce it harder. Is continually pulling my pec going to lead to even more serious pulls and eventually torn pecs? Is there any way to prevent or stop this? Good post BTW.

    Reply
    • What you need to do is lighten the workweights and stay away from the movement that is causing that, at least for a little while. Anytime I’ve ever pulled my chest it’s been in the right upper corner near the front deltoid, and felt like micro tears. Whenever this used to happen to me I would go to machines for awhile and go high rep/lighter weight. Yeah man, you weaken that too much and the next thing you’re looking at is a full tear to the pec, which you usually never recover from 100% and you don’t want that. Make sure you stay hydrated too, it’s easy to do that when you have too little sleep or too little fluid

      Reply
  7. You are so right JD.

    Unless you are preparing for a contest, The bodybuilding life style should be taking a break from, from time to time. This help keep a health sane and mental outlook.

    Reply
  8. Hi. What is possible to keep naturally higher levels of testosterone level year long without injecting synthetic version of it/gels/plasters?

    Few ideas I though about are:

    1. HCG – Could it be used for long or would lose it efficiency? If yes, what are possible amounts? Lets say someone is between 600-700. How to dose to get to around 1000?

    2. Dopamine agonists (bromo, caber etc.) – I’ve read about people reporting balls hanging lower while using them.

    3. Clomid?

    4. Anything else possibly?

    Reply
    • This all depends, but age is going to be a big factor. Some men with lower test levels are prescribed just arimadex to help elevate test levels. I don’t know to what degree hcg would elevate your levels, but I would think based on further LH and and FLH stimulation it’s certainly possible to get 200-300 ng/dl more, again much dependent on age and starting levels. I’m certainly not a Dr. here, but if I were to use anything it would be arimadex and HCG for bouts of 4 weeks at a time. 4 wks is going to give you everything you’re going to get out of hcg as someone who hasn’t used testosterone. I don’t know about bromo or caber and I’ve personally never used them because I’ve never needed them. I’ve always gone with arimadex, aromasyn, and hcg. I would use a 5,000iu vial of hcg as my starting point and go 1250iu/wk for 4 wks, shot 2-3x per week. You have to remember that anything you take to improve production is going to blunt the bodies natural production because the ancillaries begin doing a lot of the work rather than your natural production, this isn’t just limited to testosterone shots here. This is why any long term plans would be out of the question with me. Something to consider here, test levels of 1,000 aren’t going to set your look apart from test levels of only 6-700 by that much of a degree. Trust me, I know this

      Reply

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