Those of us that live a bodybuilding lifestyle often go to the gym with a plan in our minds of what the workout will be for that day. We have certain expectations of what we should be lifting for set 1, and what we should be lifting for set 3 & 4 of a given exercise. The weight is always relative to our expectations and anything less than what meets or exceeds our expectations is chalked up as a shit workout.
Then we may go do cardio, and for that cardio we usually have a certain amount of time we plan to spend on the cardio equipment, or a certain level we want to keep our heart rate at. Because after all, it takes so many minutes in a specific and elevated target heart rate, to make that cardio the most effective, RIGHT?
We slave away, day in and day out. Meals become monotonous and prep just becomes a part of daily life, almost thoughtless. Are we enjoying all of it? No, it’s a lot of work, but we do enjoy the results when we can actually see them!
Day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out, it becomes a lifestyle. We forget what it’s like to live like the average person, nor do we want to live like the average person! Average is boring, and if we don’t feel like we are cracking that whip and subconsciously prioritizing the workouts and nutrition, something must be off. I mean, how could we possibly enjoy life if we weren’t at the top of our game every waking minute of each day?
We become harder and harder on ourselves, and when the changes don’t come the way we expect them too then we get even harder. No, the process is never easy, but the last thing we want to be is biologically old and aging, falling apart, and looking like everybody else!
I’ve found myself placing a lot of expectations on my body lately, and becoming very hard on myself if something didn’t go 100% according to the plan that day. But the gym wasn’t always enjoyable either. The problem with the gym after you’ve been in there for almost 3 decades, is progress is no longer just based on working weights used.
Back in the day it was easy to know if I was moving forward or not. If I was curling 90 lbs one day, and a few months later curling with 135 lbs for reps, then I was making great progress! I was probably looking bigger too, and one angle of the workout fueled the fire and motivation for furthering the results.
But then one day it didn’t happen like that anymore. I found myself struggling to find new ways to work out, new ways to stay motivated, and it seemed like the further I went on the more confusing things became sometimes.
One day I’d think I was going to lift heavier, then my joints would hurt, and I’d rethink my plan. Then then the next day I’d lighten the weights and lift for more reps, but then tell myself that without that occasional heavy weight I would shrink up and lose muscle mass.
The following week I would throw in some deadlifts, you know, to keep my thickness. Then I’d tell myself that it was too much risk versus reward, and they’d wipe my recovery out too much to bother with.
Basically, what I’m getting at here is that I was driving myself fucking nuts and over-analyzing every part of fitness and nutrition. You’d think this would be easy to snap out of, to somehow find that new motivation to continue to go hard again and feel like the guy you were when workouts were a win every time. But sometimes it takes a long time, and sometimes people just never seem to find their way through it, and that’s when all hope is gone, and they just assume quit.
I can’t quit, and I won’t quit. I wouldn’t even fucking know how to give this shit up at this point! I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s a part of me, and that’s why I get frustrated when I have to always think of ways to continue pushing, because most of these ways I’ve already visited at some point in time within the past 3 decades.
Another problem that I feel like a lot of bodybuilders face, is that it becomes harder to pinpoint culprits in our regimen. What I mean by this, is that back in the day if something was making me feel off, it was pretty easy to narrow down what it was. If I was running test and Dbol and my skin began looking like shit, it was most likely from Dbol and elevated estrogen.
If I was running test and Tren and I felt like an angry son of a bitch, it was most likely the Tren. The solution? Lower my dosage or drop it, problem solved.
But fucking A, now it’s like,v”Okay, what in the hell could it be? Is it my sleep? Is my estrogen crashed? Is the heartburn coming from orals or dieting and feeling hungry? Am I tired from my cycle or from truly not recovering enough?” And on and on it goes!
It gets to the point where it’s just like, “Shit man, I have no clue what the fuck it is!” So, you keep going through the motions, because you don’t want to be a quitter. You deal with it, it’s just part of life, right?
And then one day (not too long ago actually), the answer to finding the right path again, just bitch-slapped me right in my fucking face!
IN ORDER TO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF BODYBUILDING, YOU NEED TO FEEL GOOD!
I’m not talking about when you are looking your most ripped up, or when you are lifting the heaviest amount of weight you’ve ever pushed. I’m talking about feeling good as it pertains to everything you’re doing, wrapped up in one giant bundle!
Do you know how I found my way back out of the woods and back onto the clear path again? I lost all of the stupid expectations I had and focused on having fun with bodybuilding and feeling good again!
Again, the process had to become thoughtless, but I still had to be self-aware of how I was feeling. How many sets did I now need to perform on a seated shoulder press? However many sets it took to get a maximum pump and feel good, that’s how many! How much weight did I need to use on that exercise? As much as it took to feel good and controlled, without hurting my joints. Hurting my joints would make it so I didn’t feel good, and it would be pointless.
What weight would I begin with on that exercise? Whatever weight it took to get a good feeling in my shoulders and properly warm my delts up, that’s how much! It wouldn’t matter if it was 30 lbs on the stack or 60 lbs on the stack, no expectations, remember? If I could jump up 20 lbs for the next set, and another 20 lbs for the set after that, GREAT!
If I got to a certain weight and felt like anything more would risk injury, then I’d stay at that weight and possibly hit 4 more sets with it. And of someone looked at me and the weights I was using and felt as though the work weights didn’t go with the visual size of the guy lifting them, DO I REALLY FUCKING CARE? I’m not in there to prove anything to anybody, I’m in there to feel good!
The biggest element in fitness as we age is simply movement. Movement is the next common denominator to overall health following the way we eat.
I don’t care if you’re into CrossFit, bodybuilding, mountain biking, running, or just going for your daily walk with your dog’s up the road and back; movement is involved in the big picture of overall health and feeling good.
Never in my life have I gone for a brisk walk and felt worse than before the walk!
You see, one day I was in the gym and not exactly feeling my best, and I knew that I needed to get my cardio in. Normally, I have set patterns and routines when it comes to cardio, the same way I have them when it comes to the weights.
Same old shit… Stairmaster for the first 2 minutes on slow to warm up and then ramp up, minutes 10-12 back down, minutes 13-20 ramp up again, and so on and so forth. Each cardio workout is usually the same stupid pattern! This pattern can intimidate you more when you aren’t feeling your best that day.
The solution? LOSE THE EXPECTATIONS, MOVEMENT IS WHAT MATTERS!
So, I got on a treadmill, and I just started walking. The treadmill had a small television set on it, which I always immediately turn off whenever I get on there. I don’t want to listen to the fucking news and hear about bad shit in the world, I don’t need to watch Mad Money and listen to what I should be doing financially right now!
I just want it all out of my head, just let me have my own thoughts and try to figure this thing out called “life.”
So, there I am walking and trying to think of ways to make the gym realistic and exciting again. I mean, I’m not quitting so sooner or later something is going to pop in my head and motivate me, right? And then it hit me…
When I was a kid, my grandparents lived a few blocks down the road from me. I can remember them going for walks daily, all the way up the street to the local high school, and then back home. I started walking with them each morning, and for old people they could power walk like a motherfucker! The distance they walked was probably a total of 2 to 2 1/2 miles total.
My grandmother would play this game where she would have to walk in synchronization to not step on the sidewalk cracks. She would get into this rhythm and start chanting, “1, 2, 3 & 4, and 1, 2, 3 & 4.” I would walk in cadence with them and make it my goal to avoid all of the sidewalk cracks myself. Sometimes I had to take extra-long steps not to touch them.
As my mind slipped back into my first experience with any form of cardio as a youngster, I suddenly lost the expectation of making it any sort or time goal on that treadmill. In my mind, that treadmill became that sidewalk, and I visualized walking with my grandparents once again. I figured 2 1/2 miles would be about the equivalent of what I used to do on those morning walks with them.
Fuck it, the new cardio would be 2 1/2 mile brisk walks where I’d just focus on movement and feeling good. “1, 2, 3 & 4, and 1, 2, 3 & 4, come on, almost there!”
I began to think more about my grandfather as I walked on the treadmill. He was a Navy man, everything was about getting the job done, and there wasn’t room for any bullshit. I guess he used to be mean, but he was a lot more mellow as the guy that I got to know.
He used to always tell me the same thing, “You don’t need to drink, you don’t need to smoke, you’re one of the good guys.” He would tell me that over and over again, which is why it stuck in my head. He also hated tattoos, and he’d say to me, “I never saw the purpose in using my body as a piece of canvas.”
Well, I’ve drank, and I’ve smoked before, and I have tattoos. I’ve also used drugs before too, Grandpa. I’m not perfect, but what you said still plays through my mind every so often.
“You’re one of the good guys…
You’re one of the good guys…
You’re one of the good guys…”
Well, I decided that in order to be a good guy then you have to feel like a good guy. Going through the motions to look good but not doing what it takes to feel good, well that doesn’t make me feel like a good guy.
By the way, that cardio session ended up being about 55 minutes and it didn’t seem that long when I thought of the distance goal rather than the time goal. On the way back to their house I would stop by my house and get my swimming trunks.
My grandparents had a large, in-ground swimming pool. They would swim laps in it regularly, my grandfather could swim very well and although I cannot remember the number of laps he swam regularly, I do remember it being an impressive amount! If the guy wasn’t exercising, he was working physically, so I guess you could say he was always exercising.
I still remember the first physical day of working in my life, it was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. He had built me this playground out of wood, with sand underneath these monkey bars, enclosed in a frame of timbers around the sand. This was before the daily walks; no, I wasn’t walking 2+ miles a day as a 4-year-old!
So, he’s showing me this playground and then tells me that before I can play on it, I needed to take this shovel and churn all the sand up so it’s not hard packed anymore. So, around the playground I walked with a shovel digging up the sand with a massive forearm pump from hell in those tiny, toddler arms. I probably just thought to myself, “Man, fuck this shit. THIS FUCKING SUCKS!”
Anyways, my grandparents were not avid gym goers or people that drank protein shakes and ate plain chicken breasts, but they were people that tried to eat pretty healthy. They’d always have things over there to eat like seedless grapes, diet root beer (which to this day is still my favorite), and other healthy snack options that I cannot remember what for the life of me!
My grandfather would walk around the house cursing all the time about something, it was pretty funny.
My goal in life would later turn into a similar life that my grandparents had. All I really want is a place to bring the family together with an in-ground pool.
Sometimes my dream is to drink until I pass out in a pool recliner with one of the pitbulls on my lap taking a nap, and other times I dream about being able to swim laps in my pool and then having my kids come over with their families and being able to grill out together. It’s this weird mix of being a degenerate but also a fitness guy, but in all reality, I’ll probably lean towards the fitness guy, since I’m supposed to be one of the good guys!
So, I guess the point to this story is that sometimes you have to think about what you’re doing and what it’s doing for you. I feel like you can look and perform pretty damn well if your goal is to feel good. I think that if you can remember to feel good, then whatever path you’re walking is probably like that sidewalk I used to walk back then.
Don’t always get caught up in all of these expectations of what you should or shouldn’t be doing in a gym, sometimes a freestyle type of workout is great to clear your mind and remind you of why you’re in there! Just go in there and start moving, start getting pumped up, and let that fire grow as you continue forward. Because if your experience is anything like mine, those dumb little workouts with no real expectations are going to be the workouts where before you know it, your workout is absolute fire!
Let me summarize it like this here…
Bodybuilding can be a rough lifestyle, because what we do in order to look and perform at a certain level just isn’t natural… period. And no, I’m not talking about “natural” in a performance enhancement versus natty sense here. I’m talking about walking around at a lower body-fat and over 200 lbs, or even a lower body-fat and 185 lbs. It’s not natural to bench press 405 lbs, or to build quads that are 28″ with little body-fat.
Don’t take this article the wrong way here, there is ALWAYS GOING TO BE A LEVEL OF STRUGGLE. But I think that we can still feel good from our workouts, and I believe that the bulk of the workouts in the gym should have us feeling good while we are doing them!
Some of these high ass expectations you have for yourself. These expectations that will leave you feeling worthless if they’re not met in the gym that day? Dude, just drop that shit for a while and focus on FEELING GOOD! Focus on the pump, forget about how much you’re even lifting! Focus on eating healthy, not always necessarily depleted, but healthy!
I’m willing to bet that if you took this approach for awhile you’d soon find that your results might take off again. Sometimes, what worked 10 years ago might not work now. Bodybuilding is largely about finding ways to keep pushing when the odds become further stacked against you. Don’t neglect the intentions of feeling good in the gym, that’s all I’m saying here!
TRAIN HARD! -JD