Weight training is demanding and extremely hard work. When I reflect on my nearly 30 years of training, however, the one feeling that keeps coming to mind is enjoyment.
Workouts take time, sweat, effort and discipline, but as far as I'm concerned, it's an undeniable fact that they produce genuine, unadulterated enjoyment.
I sometimes wonder whether others feel the same way.
It seems that in the years following the 1960s bodybuilding has offered its participants less and less enjoyment and more and more demands for excessive and unrealistic gains.
The absolute worship of "bigger this" and "more cut-up that," "ripped these" and "awesome those," along with impossible strength-level demands has made countless bodybuilders slaves to these insane goals.
The real goals of sane bodybuilding are to cultivate all-around physical excellence - good health, strength and a fine appearance - along with a sense of well-being and self-confidence.
Why wouldn't someone enjoy an activity that with every workout helps you achieve such goals or maintain your achievements once you reach them?
It is only when the activity becomes perverted that it turns into something you do purely to achieve an unenjoyable end. That, I'm sad to say, is what has happened to bodybuilding.
Don't let it happen to you.
There are certain truths about bodybuilding and weight training that you must keep in mind if you want to avoid getting caught up in practices that will rob you of the greatest benefits that lifting has to offer.
1) Not everyone can build a great or championship physique and develop elite levels of strength.
My personal feeling on this point is, So What? Far too many young people (and a lot of older ones as well) are drawn into lifting with the idea the attaining the so-called championship body or elite level strength standards is their raison d'etre.
A good analogy would be if you thought that the objective of going to college was to become a world famous scientist holding three Ph.D.s. Forget going to college simply to learn or to prepare for some other type of career - college is for scientists and degrees. If that sounds crazy, it is. It doesn't make any more sense when you apply the logic to lifting.
2) There's no one on earth who is capable of training with weights who wouldn't benefit from doing so.
Lifting is an activity that benefits the severely handicapped, the elderly, nonathletic people who want to get fit, those who have terrible potential but who want to develop what they've got, athletes who want more strength, people who just like the challenge of lifting, and anyone seeking a marvellous safety valve to let off steam and reduce stress.
Properly done it is the supreme physical fitness activity.
3) Lifting is a lifetime activity.
Although we occasionally see photos in the muscle magazines of people who are in their 40s and 50s, the obvious focus is on those who are in the teens and 20s; who are rapid gainers, in many cases naturally athletic; and who portray the impressive muscularity and physical development that youngsters in their prime can achieve with weights.
The latest pair of biceps in the magazines will soon by replaced by another and another and on and on. In the 1940s we saw such-and-such on the mag covers; in the '50s so-and-so appeared; and in the '60s it was what's-his-name. Now, there's nothing wrong with new heroes replacing old ones and new physiques catching the lifting world's eye. These people offer inspiration, and for a time they enjoy the limelight.
But as time passes, every champion is left with himself, not with the audience.
Athletes who train only for the audience are missing a lot.
The real winners in this great field of physical culture are the people who train for their entire lives, beginning when they are introduced to weights and continuing until they are long past their prime. One great barbell man who is certainly unknown to most readers was the wrestling/jujitsu teacher Harry Baldock of New Zealand. Mr. Baldock recently passed away at the age of 82, but he was an avid lifter until the age of 80, when severe ill health overtook him and he had to stop.
That's my idea of a champion!
Whether you've just started weight training or you are a veteran of many years, this is not a fad - it's something to enjoy for a lifetime. It doesn't matter one bit if you ever achieve a 20-inch (or even a 17-inch) arm. It does matter that you keep your vigor, your health, your strength, and that you enjoy fine development to the extent of your potential throughout your life.
4) Lifting should make you feel good, not depleted.
It used to be axiomatic that a person would feel great after a good, hard workout. Not anymore. Today we hear of lifters who become totally wiped out from training. They spend countless hours in the gym, pumping, lifting, grinding out set after weary set while ingesting steroids and following the god of size, strength and appearance with blind and fanatical devotion. It is small wonder that these people often give up in disgust, become sic and drained or drive themselves to increasingly extreme - and debilitating - efforts.
These people feel anything but "good" after training. In fact, they often reject the whole notion that this is a desirable result. After all, they train in order to get big, strong - or whatever their goal - not to feel good; they don't train for their own health, development or well-being.
This is a sad trap. No one should finish a workout and feel that he is totally spent, with nothing left. If your training does not make you feel good, you are not training correctly.
A workout should, after a brief rest, leave you feeling buoyant, alive, full of energy and fine in every way.
Lifting can be the greatest tonic on earth. It induces full, deep breathing, cleans out the body's wastes through perspiration, massages and stimulates the internal organs and induces perfect circulation. It improves digestion and elimination and keeps you ready to meet any demands that you might place on it.
When you know that you're going to finish your workouts on the healthiest of highs, you'll really look forward to them.
5) Lifting doesn't have to take a long time.
Nowadays the idea that you can get all the possible benefits of weight training by devoting an hour or so to it three times a week is largely regarded as a myth. The fact is, however, that those who feel they must devote two to three hours every single day to their workouts are the ones who are following a myth.
No one can spend an excessive amount of time training and still get the maximum strength and health benefits.
I cannot blame the beginners who read in some article that so-and-so, who is a "champion," spends three hours a day on the most incredibly demanding program in existence. These beginners will assume that they too must orient their training along those lines, and so they do - with less than championship results.
No matter how advanced or fully developed you become, you will always find that one to two hours three (or at the most four) times a week is plenty. many great physiques were built on less.
The key to doing brief, effective workouts is in understanding how to train. By organizing a routine correctly, using a sane number of exercises, sets and repetitions and by employing realistic poundages - increasing them as you, not Mr. America, are able to increase them - you will see that training doesn't have to take up a major portion of your day.
Anyone can live a normal life and train - if he or she does it correctly. The fact that many lifters today don't train correctly is insignificant if you are determined not to follow the herd.
Look at training as a very important adjunct to a good life. See your workouts as the means by which you build and maintain the health and wll-being, the strength and the physique that will enable you to enjoy the rest of your life.
The goal of training is to assist you in living a full, healthy life -
not to prepare for more training!
6) Your workouts should offer challenges.
Many come to dread their training. Small wonder, since they see every workout as an overwhelming demand to push, Push, PUSH. Who could possibly look forward to that at every session?
There is something really stimulating and enjoyable, however, about facing a manageable challenge. When workouts pose such a challenge, they become eagerly anticipated events.
One or two good, hard sets are enough for any basic exercise. After that stop and do another movement. Don't keep pumping, and don't keep trying to achieve a new record at every workout. It isn't possible, necessary or desirable. Just train regularly, and the increases will come.
You may read that some "name" lifter or "Mr." uses tremendous weights on such-and-such an exercise, and you feel terrible because you only use 1/10th of that. This is wasted energy. You are two different people, and as long as you train so that you are adequately taxed and coaxed along toward greater development, what in blazes difference does it make if you are still underdeveloped as compared to him?
If you can lift one more pound on an exercise today than you were able to lift on that movement last week, you have improved. That's what this activity is all about.
7) Lifting should not be an exclusive activity.
Many Mr. Americas of the past were complete athletes. There were physical culturists who attained great fame but won no physique titles, and these, too, were well-rounded athletes and real men.
I've mentioned Harry Baldock, and although few of you have even heard of the man, he represents what I'm speaking about.
So does the late Harry B. Paschall.
And the late Geroge F. Jowett.
And the late Sig Klein.
And many, many others.
Too many who train with weights regard it as the only physical activity they need to pursue. Even so, there are pleasures and rewards to be found in many other athletic pursuits, and the proper use of weights will enhance anyone's capacity for excellence and enjoyment in these pursuits.
The term "mirror athlete" is rarely used today - largely, I suspect, because it aptly describes many of today's bodybuilders. Don't be a mirror athlete. Use the weights to develop yourself, and explore other activities that may also prove worthwhile in assisting your development and enriching your life.