Lift And Learn: 5 Key Lessons

Fitness is an education in itself. But sometimes, those lessons come hard. Here, I recount the important schooling I gained along my road to success!

No, I wasn't born with a super-fit body. And when I started lifting, I didn't have an inkling how to train. Fitness is a lifelong education process. The road to success is full of potholes and speed bumps. Anyone who tells you differently is full of B.S.

That wonderful thing called "experience" has helped me create the body I have and the person I am today. I could probably go on for days about the mistakes I've made and lessons I've learned throughout the years, but I'll spare you the gory details.

Here are instead the five most important lessons I've learned during my career. Keep them in your back pocket whenever you're in danger of making a dumb move.

Not All Advice Is Good Advice

When I was younger, I looked up to some of the bigger guys in the gym. I listened to what they had to say and took it for gospel. I'm not the only one, either. I know plenty of people who blindly follow whatever the biggest guy in the gym tells them to do.

That's probably the biggest mistake you can make. These guys may be big, but many of them are all talk and have no clue. If you've ever played the game of telephone as a child, you know that by the time the message gets to the other end of the line, its original meaning has been lost. This phenomenon is pretty much what happens when an uneducated, bro-science-preaching lifter starts parroting what he has "learned."

I've heard some of the craziest things you could imagine. The best piece of bad advice came when I was 16 years old and just starting out. This guy told me that there is something in iceberg lettuce that makes guys huge.

So I went out and bought a ton of iceberg lettuce and ate it like a rabbit. Other than make my stomach hurt, it didn't do a damn thing! Iceberg lettuce has about as much nutritional value as cardboard. It's like crunchy water.

Magic Formulas Aren't Very Magical

If anyone tells you that you are going to gain an enormous amount of muscle or lose 50 pounds of fat by doing his workout or diet plan, that person is lying. The only thing that produces huge changes in your body is consistent hard work. Of course there might be more efficient or worthwhile programs, but at the end of the day, if you're not busting your ass, you won't change.

In my experience, the greatest changes occur in the first 2-3 years of training. After that, it's slow progress that takes a lot of dedication. Everyone wants to believe that a magic program or pill will awaken the beast from within, but there just isn't. Sorry, I'm not sorry.

Miracle Before-and-After Pics Aren't Real

There was a time when all it took to sell a fat-burner was a before-and-after shot in a muscle mag. Thankfully, people are better informed and less gullible than they used to be.

People can fake a transformation with Photoshop, but no one can fake strength.

With rare exceptions, transformations take years and aren't the result of 30 days on a pill. Before and after photos can be taken on the same day. Bad light, a lot of sodium, and a slouched posture can make a shredded guy look absolutely terrible. Want to take an after shot? Slap on a golden, gleaming tan. Muscles seem to pop out of nowhere.

Magazine Bodies Aren't Sustainable

Before I had my "holy shit" moment, I thought that I could walk around looking like the guys in the fitness magazines year round. Most young men and women start their journey into fitness because they saw a picture of the perfect body on an Internet site or in a magazine and said, "Hey I want to look like that!" Although it's great to be inspired, I can say with 100 percent certainty— because I am one of the guys in the magazines— you can't be super-lean all of the time.

My desire to be forever-shredded may have been the biggest hindrance to my growth over the years. My goal was to look like a fitness model, but I didn't really understand what that meant. To reach that level of definition and conditioning, most athletes have to diet pretty extremely for at least 12 weeks and then use diuretics in the last week. They don't look like that every day.

Fitness models prepare their bodies to look perfect on one day, not 365.

You can maintain a lean, healthy physique year round, but you also need to have a healthy level of body fat to function properly. Most of my best strength and size gains have come from the times where my body fat was highest. The line between staying healthy and looking good can be fine. Maintain a good balance.

Your Ego Can Hurt You

I know a ton of ego-fodder exists on the Internet: "Train insane!" "There are no off days!" These types of motivational posts are ridiculous!

You grow while you rest. If you don't provide enough time for rest, you will never grow. You can and should train crazy-hard, but not every day, and sometimes not even once a week. I've even done a few months of relatively easy training to let my body recover from the previous cycle of intense training.

So drop the ego, listen to your body, and train sanely with a purpose and objective.