The old adage “Hindsight is always 20/20” is definitely true in this case. Looking back over the past several years of myself, and the careers of many other bodybuilders, I found some key topics that I wish I had taken more seriously when I was in my prime. This month I want to discuss 3 things I wish I could have a ‘do-over’ on. I believe these are so important to any person aspiring to grow/improve their body for competition of any kind. Most of these will relate to bodybuilding as that is our background here.
1. Regular Blood Work
I got my blood work done 1-2x a year while I was competing. While this is good, I wish I would have done it on a more regular basis- like every 3 months. Your blood work is a road map to your bodies general health and an excellent indicator of what is preventing you from progress in the gym. For your general health, your blood work can literally be a lifesaver! If you see anyone with a recent cancer diagnosis that is caught in the early stages, it is generally right after getting a blood panel done and the doc will see an abnormality in one of your levels and then order more testing for specific bio markers to better diagnose the issue. For this reason getting your blood work done on a regular basis is simply a smart thing to do as you can catch any early stage cancer, and many other health issues before they start to physically manifest themselves on the outside. Having a pattern of blood work to review can help a lot to narrow down what levels are abnormal, better allowing an early detection.
For the case of physical performance and those trying to get high performance out of their body, the blood work is a detailed map of what is going on and why you may be experiencing recovery issues, lack of energy, and a host of other problems that will significantly impair your bodies ability to build muscle and burn fat. I would advise anyone trying to maximize their physical performance to get their blood work done every 3 months, and be active in understanding what the different markers mean, and how/why they will move up and down. Yes, it is one more thing you need to worry about and pay for, but, the benefits of doing this will pay major dividends in the future. I always admired Jay Cutler for doing this and taking steps to assure he was in the best health he could be in while in and out of season.
There are a host of websites you can order a specific blood panel from without ever having to go into the doctors office. You can log on to the site, select the panels you want to test for and pay with your credit card. They will refer you to a Quest or Lab Corp facility where you will go to have your blood drawn. It is then sent away to the lab for testing and you will be emailed the results within days. You don’t need to explain anything to any doctor or have them ask you if you’re using steroids, or why you want the testing done. The email you receive will show you your results, and how they match up to the normal levels plus a plethora of other info that is useful in understanding the results. If you notice something out of the norm you can then further research and make an appointment with your doctor, or take steps to correct the issue with your diet and training. There really is no excuse not to get this done if you’re serious about your goals in the gym. We have a list of several websites we refer customers to, if you need a recommendation please don’t hesitate to ask, we’re happy to point you in the right direction.
2. Proper Rest and Recovery
I remember listening to Dorian Yates years after he won his last Sandow trophy saying that if he had to do it over again he would train even less. This caught me off guard as Dorian prescribed to a modified HIIT approach and probably trained less then almost anyone at that time. His reasoning behind this was letting his body have even more time to recover from the brutal workouts he’d put himself through in the dungeon in Birmingham he called a gym! I think this is great advice coming from a seasoned vet who took his recovery extremely seriously. There is no lack of dedication in guys who are trying to turn pro, or maximize every ounce of potential they have. If you told them training 5 hours a day 7 days a week would help them grow, they would do it! I know this from personal experience as I tried almost every training regimen I read about in the magazines and books back in the day. I think the majority of competitive bodybuilders would benefit from taking more time off in-between workouts, and using that extra recovery time to allow their body to grow. If you are training to your max on a regular basis, then your bodies recovery ability will be extremely taxed. Your bodies nervous system will be taxed as a whole and this takes additional time to recover. I used to judge my recovery by the feeling of soreness in the muscle I recently trained. If I hit chest 5 days ago and was sore in the chest until day 4 after the workout, but on day 5 I had minimal soreness, I would get right back in for another chest workout. I see now this was not the best way to maximize muscle gain. While soreness is not always the best indicator of when you should train again, it can be a good tool if used correctly. When we train, we’re breaking the muscle down- then we rest to allow the muscle to recover. Now, this is where most guys get it wrong as they don’t allow any time for the body to adapt and build new muscle. Most will get right back in the gym and tear the muscle down again without fully letting it recover AND then allow some time for growth. I remember reading Mike Mentzer’s book Heavy Duty, it put much of this into focus for me as he explains this topic extremely well. If you have ever been on a 1-2 week vacation and not been able to train at all, and had plenty of time to relax and sleep you will probably get back in the gym and be stronger than when you left. This is due to the body finally having a full rest and recovery cycle. Don’t be afraid to take an extra day (or few days) off in-between workouts to maximize recovery. You can always get some cardio in to keep burning fat and incorporate some other recover methods like extreme stretching, massage, & sauna/cryotherapy to help facilitate your recovery as well.
3. Quality Food, the GI Tract, and Force Feeding.
This is a debated topic so I am going to speak from personal experience/opinion here. I was told early on that I needed to eat every 2 hours to get big! So that’s what I did, every 2 hours I ate. Some meals were fast food, others were more healthy, but I didn’t understand how these meals were breaking down in my GI tract? I managed to put on some weight, but looking back I think I could have done this different by taking a smarter approach to the quality of the food that I was eating. It’s true, to grow you need to be taking in a surplus of calories to allow your body the tools it needs to put on muscle. Having a fast metabolism led me to force feed myself to gain weight. Not everyone has this ‘problem’ (some will call it a blessing being able to eat everything in sight and not gain a pound lol), but the real issue here is the quality of the food and the understanding of what is going on inside your GI tract after you eat that food.
Fast food, and anything heavy in preservatives take much longer to break down, and provide less vital nutrition. It is best to experiment with several different foods to identify what types of Protein, Carbs, and Fat your body can digest easily. Try several different types of macro-nutrients and use a journal to record how you feel after ingesting them. Do you get indigestion, gas, bloating, or mucous/phlegm in your throat? Those are signs that your body is having a reaction to that food. Eating foods that cause this will lead to slower digestion and a general bad feeling. If you can identify the foods that digest quickly, make you feel full/satisfied, and leave you with some energy then you’re on the right track. Those foods are the ones you want to be eating to keep your body digest that food and use all of the nutrients to build muscle. Take the time to experiment with different foods and really put some effort into this and you’ll reap the benefits immediately.
I hope this info is useful to you guys in your goals and ambitions. I could get into much more detail on each of these subjects but I hope the limited information here will act as a reminder. When I was competing I knew these things were important, but didn’t realize just how important they are in the grand scheme of things. I’d definitely put more focus on these if I had the chance to do it all over again. Thanks for reading and as always, please feel free to comment and let me know if there is anything else we can add here to help others.
G and all of Team GearDepot