Here's what you need to know...
• Good training partners are highly underrated, as are sprints.
• Injuries are merely opportunities to get creative.
• Focus on getting stronger and leave the silly fads for the newbies.
• Years from now, experts may laugh at how we used to roll our glutes before squatting, tried to set PR's in the Turkish get-up, and avoided certain food because they weren't "Paleo" enough.
A big problem in the fitness industry is that we spend so much time looking back at our mistakes that we miss the important things we did right.
For example, I succeeded back when you drank out of the garden hose and never foam rolled. My first "gym" was a DP flat bench and lat set with sand-filled weights in my basement. Among my first investments were the Weider Arm Blaster and an EZ-curl bar.
My warm-up consisted of a glance at a Muscle & Fitness and a front double biceps pose in the mirror. I did sissy squats, donkey raises, and (God forbid) leg extensions, all while wearing my Valeo belt. I finished my workouts with high-rep abs. I even flexed my spine.
Today, the "smart" people of the training world would say I'm lucky to be alive! Regardless, I got solid results, bigger arms, a few sports titles, and even some money to go to college.
We all make "mistakes" in the early days, but here are five things I did right that you can do too.
1. Find Committed Training Partners
I've been blessed with great training partners over the last 28 years. It's easy to underestimate the importance of this, but I credit my training partners with playing a huge role in my achievements.
Yes, my partners the last 15 years have been UFC champs, Olympic medalists, NFL studs, and world champion lifters, but it was the partners for the preceding 13 years that made it all possible.
I didn't always "feel" like training or hitting a couple extra sets at the end of the workout. But my training partners were there, shoveling out a frozen lane through which to sprint during a frosty Utah winter, and pushing me to finish my 200's in a scorching South Carolina summer. No one can do it alone.
Action Item: Get someone younger and/or better to train with. Even if they can't out-bench you, they're a good fit if they can get you off the couch when you don't want to.
2. Live by B.I.G. (Butt in Gym)
I never stopped training. While most people took time off, I stayed consistent. I might've done vertical leg presses while wearing Zubaz pants, but I'm proud to say I've never said, "I'm on a diet" or "I'm making a comeback."
I lived by the three letters for getting what you want physically: B.I.G. (Butt In Gym). That's where I stayed and won't be stopping anytime soon.
I may not have done the best "scientific" training according to today's standards, but I wasn't waiting around for the armchair warriors to invent another Thigh Master or Shake Weight.
I stayed consistent and results always followed. Now in my 40's, I still have the strength of my 20's at the same weight. The old proverb is true: The door hinge that gets opened and closed every day never gets rusty.
Action Item: Remember, well done is better than well said. Start a streak by simply staying consistent.
3. Don't Leave The Legs Out
I might've been a bit too keen on the leg press but I also coupled it with the most important leg exercise everyone else left out: sprinting. Sprinting is something people seem to graduate from. After their last gym class, they either switch to "healthy" jogging or a long, slow walk to the couch.
I fed my body a steady diet of sprints whether on the ground, hills, or stairs. These variations kept the track work a little less monotonous and kept the muscle and strength packed on.
The secret to sprinting is the synchronous firing of the big muscles it elicits. I'm sure science will soon prove how the fast motions we were designed for are good for you. Just wait.
Action Item: Get a dose of speed. Hit the track or stairs twice a week for a month for some high velocity movements.
4. Train Around Injuries
I'd love to say I never had any injuries, but perhaps it's more valuable that I say that I had tons of them.
Broken bones, dislocated joints, torn and pulled muscles and tendons, sprained ligaments, tweaked discs, concussions, contusions, lacerations and the stitches that came with them were all a hassle at the time, but they also taught me valuable lessons. While some of them could've been prevented, most were just part of the game.
Regardless of the rehab, I trained around injuries and listened to my body. There was stuff that didn't work for me. If something bothered me in the gym, there was always an alternative.
Incline bench bothered my shoulders. Distance jogging hurt my knees. Flexibility work irritated my groin. So I cut them out and moved forward.
Action Item: Build on your strengths. If you experience the inevitable injury, do what you can to train around it.
5. Go Heavy Then Go Home
As "smart" coaches got into corrective exercises, postural exercises, Yoga, and Pilates, I just kept lifting heavy.
I'm not sure when bodybuilding exactly became a curse word, but a loaded bar and bigger muscles may be more powerful than acupuncture and orthotics for both straightening you out and keeping you alive longer.
Want more muscle? Want to excel in sports? It all starts with getting stronger. Not to mention adding plates to a bar is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting on a lacrosse ball.
Action Item: Load the bar with the basics. Spend the next month trying to set a new PR.
An expression I like is, make sure we all don't get so smart that we actually become dumb. I'm sure 25 years from now experts will laugh at how we used to roll our butt cheeks before squatting, tried to set PR's in the Turkish get-up, and avoided entire categories of food because they weren't "Paleo" enough.
Of course, there are things I'd have done differently, but my mistakes played a part in what I am now. I'm just glad I also did a couple things right.