It would seem that professional bodybuilders & weightlifters don’t garner the same level of respect and admiration that professional athletes in other sports. I’ll concede that professional bodybuilding & powerlifting is still relatively underground and only followed by those in the know. IFBB, WBF, ABA, WPO, GPF, IPF, USAPL are simply random letters. Mainstream media & conventional fitness media
ignores treats them differently, along with the majority of many gym rats. The attitude is that the pros are all roided up freaks who are only that size because of the ‘gear’. It’s undeniable that these guys and gals are huge because of special chemical enhancement and in no way is it possible to look that way or be that strong without such assistance. (The bodybuilding supplement industry will never acknowledge that their sponsored athletes are on steroids. There is big money to be had in making consumers believe that by drinking Muscle Jet Fuel Xtreme by the tub, there’ll be immediate lightening of your wallet gains in muscle mass). Just keep in mind that its not steroids that are the single contributing factor to what makes them, it is only but a piece in a very big puzzle. It would be wise not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water, as there is plenty to learn from these amazing athletes.
Just like people look up to Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps or Peyton Manning, for their weekend warrior exploits,
anybody entering a gym trying to get strong should be looking up to the many great strong guys out there; Arnold, Franco, Ronnie, Matt Kroc, Tate, Wendler, Simmons to name a few. Now’s about the time I hear a lot of people saying ‘I don’t want to squat 800lbs’ or ‘I don’t want to look like muscled up monster’ or ‘I don’t want to look roided out’. There’s a couple of issues I have with statements like that:
- Learning to swing like Tiger Woods won’t mean you’ll win countless PGA titles, or achieve a 400 yard drive. Even if you follow Michael Phelps’ training regiment there’s not a whole lot of chance you’ll win 18 gold medals. Does that stop people from wanting to learn from them? No.
- Do you possess the motivation to train at an elite level for decades? A lot of Mr Olympia winners have been in their 30s. They have decades of training under their belt, just like Rome, success isn’t built in a day.
- Do you possess the state of mind and genetic ability to take large quantities of anabolic steroids for the prolonged amount of time that those guys do? The reason they’re so successful in bodybuilding/powerlifting is not only because of these chemicals, but the ability of their bodies to ingest & process the huge amounts of said chemicals, along with the ability to do this for many many years without too much ill effect (i.e., they are still alive & able to train). Without any of the former, you will never, ever, ever reach that size or strength.
- Just like other professional athletes, it’s not simply about their training. It’s also very much about how they live the rest of their lives. Everything revolves around their sport, their shows, their meets. They are completely focused and driven. These guys are paid to give 100% of their life to the pursuit of excellence. It’s not just about 1-2hours 3-5 days a week for them. It’s 24-7, 365 days a year. Their life serves one purpose: to win & be the best.
Just as we learn lessons from the greats of other popular sports, we should also take away some knowledge from the bodybuilding & powerlifting pros. Anyone interested in fitness & exercise could learn a thing or two from the greats of fitness. Since we shouldn’t follow everything these athletes do, nor do we need to, we should know what aspects to follow and what to not.
- Advanced training techniques shouldn’t be thrown into any training program. They are used for specific reasons and to accomplish a certain function. There becomes a point where the fundamentals cannot be used anymore, because they have diminishing effects and new techniques are needed to push past plateaus. Because you wouldn’t suddenly spend 5 hours a day swimming laps like Phelps, you shouldn’t be employing a 5-day body part split if you are a beginner. Advanced lifting techniques need to be adjusted based on skill level, if they are to be used at all. Ask yourself: What is the reason for using such a technique? How does it suit your training level? and Why aren’t the fundamentals working anymore? Drop sets, pyramids, eccentric only, pre-fatigue, bands, chains; bodypart splits shouldn’t be used all the time. They are all great techniques, but only once you reach a certain level. Before that, focus on the basics & fundamentals.
- Don’t pay attention to the form of the professionals – especially powerlifters attempting 1 rep maxes. One thing to notice is a lot of bigger guys use a lot more ‘body english’ than recommended.
“Once you’ve learned perfect form, you can then begin to sacrifice it – not the other way around.”
There are many arguments against this, but it simply becomes close to impossible to lift the weights that they use with perfect form. It takes years to reach a level of strength and to learn how the body reacts and adapts. Their mind-muscle connection is highly tuned to really train the muscle whilst lifting more and more weight.
- Volume of training. These guys and gals have built up a very high workload capacity and certain chemical additions allow them to train for an incredible amounts of time, very frequently. Not to say that this can’t be achieved in the long run, but it wouldn’t be advisable to jump in the deep end with training volume & frequency. Their lifestyle also allows for this, some may not work/study 8+ hours a day in addition to training. Most have the luxury of 9+ hours of sleep & eat a truck load of food which all help in recovery & recuperation.
Some things that we can learn:
- Consistency is king. The biggest thing I would say to take away from them would be their work ethic & commitment. Day in day out they work through/around/over/under whatever obstacles may stand in their way. This commitment lasts decades. Persistence is what pays dividends in the long run and will ultimately be the difference between 1st and 2nd place.
- Getting strong is the key to looking good. Strength is all relative, but looking at the weight that any of the pros use, you can’t deny that they are strong. Arnie used to barbell curl 135lbs. This is the foundation of having a winning physique. You need to have some actual muscle mass to shape and the best way to put on slabs of muscle is to become strong. There’s no point doing dumbbell flies with 15lbs if you have no pecs there to shape in the first place. The lesson here is to lift heavy. Pushing heavy weights makes you stronger, both mentally & physically. Who doesn’t want to not only look strong but be strong?
- The fundamentals are there for a reason. Being strong in the big basic movements is the cornerstone of a great athlete. Even though some bodybuilders may not use them as much in their current programs, or Muscle & Fitness won’t include these less glamorous exercise. Make no doubt about it, they have been mastered by the greats, and couldn’t have achieved this if they had not mastered the basics. Arnold’s records for example, aren’t going to break any world records but they are immensely strong numbers:
- Clean & press – 264 lb (120 kg)
- Snatch – 243 lb (110 kg)
- Clean & jerk – 298 lb (135 kg)
- Squat – 215 kg (470 lb)
- Bench press – 200 kg (440 lb)
- Deadlift – 310 kg (680 lb)
- Training intensity. There is no doubt that the elite lifters have some of the most grueling workouts on the planet. They all have an inner drive to push themselves past the physical and mental barriers. This inner drive is what keeps them going for one more rep or adding one more plate. This has to be taken with caution, there is something to be said for intensity within sensibility. This is where experience and listening to your own body comes into play, there is a fine line between pushing your limits and breaking down.
- You are not an island. No professional athlete has gotten there by themselves. You’ll realize that it’s a team effort that got them there. It’s impossible without the help of others. Nutritionists, trainers, therapists, doctors, family, friends, significant others. They all play a role in developing a champion and they all share the same positive attitude. Even other competitors are very important, being a big fish in a small pond is nothing like being a small fish in a big pond. A great rule to follow is to always lift in a gym with people stronger than you. If you’re the strongest man/woman in a facility, you’d best start looking for a new place to train. So surround yourself with a good support network and train in a competitive environment.
- If you really want to emulate the greats, then don’t start at where they are now. You want to train how they used to train. If it’s possible, find a biography, a training log, an article, basically anything that allows you to see how they were training when they were novices (or whatever stage you’re at right now). Remember, training is all about gradual changes, small actions accumulating into great results. You can’t drive an F1 race car without first learning how to drive a normal car. Progression is there for a reason, don’t jump the gate and waste your valuable time and effort in training in an inefficient manner.
There are many things to follow and not follow from the great physique and strength athletes from all the eras. Just like people want to be like other athletes, we should also be training with the mindset to emulate these greats. Carl Johnson reportedly had a squat cage placed on the track, so in his training sessions he would squat up to 400lbs and then immediately follow with sprints. Now is this what you should do too? Most likely not, but adapt that to your own training, maybe try squatting with a 5RM then doing 5 box jumps right afterwards.
Whatever your view point is on anabolics or looking like a ‘monster’, they know a thing or two about putting on muscle and becoming insanely strong. Just like the millions of weekend hackers are never going to be Tiger Woods, they all still want to read about his swing technique and try their best to emulate them. You too, should look at Ronnie Coleman and learn -even a bit- as to how he came to win a record eight Mr. Olympia’s, you’ll probably never even qualify for Olympia. But at least you’ve got extra knowledge to add to your repertoire.
Despite not being elite athletes performing amazing feats of sporting achievement, doesn’t mean that we should never step foot in a gym, pick up a ball or swing a baseball bat. Just because we read about the top performers and try to emulate them, doesn’t mean we’ll become as good as them. We all know we’ll never be a #1 champion, we’re passed our prime. Yet we’re still having fun out on the golf course, throwing that football or picking up that heavy-ass weight. It comes down to enjoyment and self improvement, we want to improve our own game/abilities to be better than we were yesterday and one way of doing thing is by emulating -or trying to emulate- the people that are at the top of their game, regardless of the sport.
“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee