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I'll never forget that devastating moment. I was 20-years old, competing in my third contest in a year, the 1990 ANBC Natural Massachusetts. Though he hadn't won, the most impressive man in my class, the men's Medium, had been an intense dark-haired competitor named Tito Raymond.
To me he looked perfect. The shock and depression hit when I found out that he was also just twenty years old. "Oh, no," I moaned in self-pity to myself, "I'll never be that big and ripped in my life."
Tito went on to do pretty well for himself, winning the Musclemania Middleweight division and placing second at the Team Universe, as well as appearing on several magazine covers. What I didn't know then was that he had been training hard for seven years and was a football star and decathlon champion as well.
Tito was what I call a hare, meaning that he reached an advanced stage of muscular development after just a few years of training. These people are what we commonly refer to as 'easy gainers.' Shawn Ray is another perfect example. Within six months of training at 17 he had won every teenage contest in Southern California, and by 19 he was Teenage Mr. America.
You've probably known a few of these people in your own life. Almost from the minute they first pick up a barbell, their muscles begin to grow at an almost ridiculous rate. I'm not talking about people who used steroids, I'm referring to true genetic freaks. It's easy to grow discouraged by seeing people like this. You wonder why you bother training and eating seven meals a day for years, when someone else can look bigger and better in months. This all feeds into the myth of the 'hardgainer.' Let's tear down this myth once and for all.
If we go by percentages, how many people fit into the criteria of an 'easy gainer?' To be generous, let's say five percent. And how many people really are unable to gain significant amounts of size and strength, with proper dedication to training and nutrition over the course of several years? To be generous again, let's say ten percent of the population would fit this profile. That leaves 85% of us who fit into the huge genetic pool of 'average gainers.'
The great news is that a lot can be done with average genetics, especially if you're willing to stay in this race for the long term. This is where being a tortoise comes in. The hare may build his physique to impressive proportions at dazzling speed, but often the tortoise can approach a comparable level of development if he or she is intelligent and determined.
A pervasive myth disseminated by authorities in the bodybuilding world such as Mike Mentzer, Dr. Ellington Darden, and Bradley J. Steiner states that a trainer usually reaches his or her genetic potential, expressed in terms of size and strength, in roughly 4-to-5 years of training.
The only reason this is true in most cases is that most people get stuck in a pattern of always training with the same exercises, the same weights, eating exactly the same way, and never make any meaningful progress again. As a successful tortoise, I'm happy to tell you that this dismal state of affairs does not have to be your reality.
My gains were so slow most of the time that it seemed as if there were no gains at all. I got demolished at my first few contests, weighing a smooth 155 after three years of serious training. But an interesting thing happened over the next nine years - I kept getting better and better.
Now, I'm actually bigger than Tito Raymond, though he would still beat my ass on stage. At 5-8, 205 pounds and only 7 % body fat, I'm light years ahead of what I thought I could be at that time. But getting here was no accident. Let me share with all of you fellow 'average gainers' how I did it, and how you can do it too.
Commit Your Life
Don't sell yourself short by making stupid ultimatums with yourself like, "If I don't weigh 220 in one year, I'm quitting." So many weight trainers give up after a brief year or two, frustrated that they don't look just like
Ronnie Coleman. A year or two is barely enough time to start learning how to do the exercises right and get the mind-muscle connection! If you want to be a bodybuilder with an exceptional physique, decide right now that you will never give up, no matter how depressing or difficult things get sometimes.
Imperceptible gains add up over time, much in the same way that grass grows. Many times you are growing and don't even realize it. This is why it's important to keep records of all that you do. First off, a training journal allows you to see exactly how much weight you used on a particular exercise, and you can observe patterns over time. It's satisfying to see that a weight that was a maximum attempt a few years ago is now just a warmup.
Also, your journal is a perfect place to record
Frank Zane believes his own training journals were instrumental in winning three Mr. Olympia titles. Finally, you should take pictures of yourself in the
seven mandatory poses at least every six months. Over the years, these will serve as a tangible and indisputable means of evaluating your progress. They will also provide you with the assurance that all your heroic efforts are paying off, even if the improvements aren't always obvious to you.
You're reading this right now, which is a good sign. The only way you can hope to make continuing progress throughout your bodybuilding career is to keep learning new ideas, methods, and techniques. There are
books, and now even
websites to learn from. In fact, the Internet is probably the cheapest, easiest way to learn about the latest advances in
nutrition. There are hundred of thousands of great sites with all the information you need to keep gaining, and many are linked to make things even easier.
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There are a lot of ideas and information available on the Internet and it can be a beneficial tool to help meet your goals. Success is only one click away!
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You must become an expert on the subject of bodybuilding to stay in this race. Staying at one level of knowledge is a guarantee that your development will also stay at a certain level. No, bodybuilding isn't rocket science, but it has become increasingly scientific in the past few years.
New training methods, such as static contraction and Positions of Flexion, and new supplements, such as creatine monohydrate, L-Glutamine, and androstenedione, all have their basis in modern science and technology. If you insist on being one of the people who train and eat just like they did in the 70's, good luck to you. You're most likely to be an anachronism, thinking that the reason everyone else looks better than you is because they're all on drugs.
Don't Be Afraid To Change
You've heard that knowledge is power. That's only partially true. Applied knowledge is power. It does you no good to read about a great new arm routine that might help you pack on an inch to those guns if you never actually try it. Even if you find a
great routine for you, where every exercise seems perfectly suited to your body, it's still only going to be effective for a given length of time.
Our bodies are so incredibly adaptive that they can get used to just about anything in a matter of weeks or months. That's the kiss of death in bodybuilding.
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You must keep changing things up to keep the body struggling to adapt, because that's when muscle grows. Try new exercises, new machines, new methods like
supersetting, low reps, high reps, pre-exhaust, one bodypart a day, one and a quarter reps, etc. There are so many variables to manipulate, which is fortunate since we want to train for our entire lives. By not trying new exercises, techniques, and routines, you may be missing one that would deliver excellent results for you. Try the newest supplements.
True, some of them might be all hype, but others might help you improve. It's worth trying some ineffective products if it helps you find some that make a real difference. Above all, do not stay locked into any one system of training, eating, or supplementation. You must keep an open mind and constantly be on the lookout for anything that might help you improve. With this willingness to be flexible and try new approaches and strategies, you can't help but keep getting better.
Muscle insertions, bone structures, even intelligence are rated high on what you need to build a great physique. Do you know what's underrated? Heart. I'm talking about being passionate about bodybuilding. Can you remember what made you want to be a bodybuilder? Maybe it was the movie "
Pumping Iron," or perhaps seeing your first muscle magazine, those living
Marvel Comics superheroes so shiny and perfect on the glossy pages.
I'll never forget seeing
Rich Gaspari, and
Mike Christian in my first issue of Flex 11 years ago. To me they were gods. Whatever it was, it got you excited and made you desperately want to look like those men. To make continuing success over the long haul, you must keep this passion burning. Our sport is so crazy and demanding that you must absolutely love it to do it. You should eagerly anticipate every single training session. I know that for me, no matter what else is going on, I'm always thinking about my next workout.
True, life will throw distractions at you, like long hours at your job, children, relationships, financial problems, and maybe even health problems. Yet your body is always with you. It is always yours and yours only. Nobody can take that away from you. And as a bodybuilder, you have the privilege of owning a great body. The reason that you should be excited is because your body is a work in progress that is never complete.
It can always get better. If you ever find your motivation waning, go to a contest, buy some new magazines, or get some training tapes. Keep that passion alive and burning bright. If you have heart, you'll still be in this race long after most of the others have dropped out. That's how you build a great body with average genetics.
Take Contest Losses As Learning Experiences
For those of you who take this sport to its hardcore limits by
competing, take the attitude that you never 'lose' in a contest. Instead, every contest is a chance for you to evaluate what you need to improve. I have seen so many competitors leave events bitter and angry because they didn't win. Some have even quit altogether after experiencing defeat. What a waste! Treat every contest, win or lose, as a learning experience.
It's one of the few times you will ever have the opportunity to ask someone for a truly objective opinion about your physique. After the contest, ask the judges what they think you need to work on. You may be shocked to learn that you have a weak
calves. Certainly your friends and family will never tell you anything like that. Rather than get defensive, as so many do, (screw him, my hams are just fine!) get excited.
Now that you know what's broke, you can go ahead and fix it. Study your pictures from the prejudging. If others were placed ahead of you, there are reasons. Find whatever it is you lack and get started on acquiring it, whether it be more definition, bringing up a bodypart, or just a better tan. If you make this conscious effort to improve, your placings will also improve at your next outing.
Treat Setbacks As Challenges
Occasionally things will happen that may cause you to take a step or two back in progress. Studies,
injuries, illness, job, or family emergencies can all hamper or even take away from your gains. Realize that sh!t happens sometimes, and resolve to always find a way to get back on track. Whatever the situation and no matter how bad things seem at the present, remember the phrase "this too shall pass." Do not allow yourself to become depressed or frustrated.
Look at every setback as a challenge to overcome on the way to greatness. Did
Luke Skywalker have an easy time blowing up the
Death Star or becoming a Jedi Knight? Didn't
Indiana Jones have a few obstacles getting to the
Lost Ark and the
Holy Grail? Consider yourself the hero of your own adventure, and each challenge as one step on the way to your happy ending.
Appreciate All Publicity And Recognition
Not everyone is lucky enough to have their picture printed in a bodybuilding magazine, or have something nice written about them. It's what most of us dream of. I have been fortunate to have my
photos appear in several
magazines, despite never having won a major contest. For this I am grateful, as it has fed my
motivation through the years. If you are ever similarly fortunate, us it as fuel for those times when you wonder why you do this.
Take pride that you have been singled out of the hordes of bodybuilders who all wish they could have some sort of recognition for their efforts. Don't blow if off when someone pays you a sincere compliment, even if it's at the mall, supermarket or gas station. If you can't enjoy the fruits of your labors, you're missing out on one of the most rewarding aspects of bodybuilding.
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These are some of the things I have learned and applied over the years that have allowed me to achieve a level of physique development that I never would have believed possible after the disappointing results in my early days. You too can become a much better bodybuilder than you are now if you apply what I have learned.
Just because you didn't blow up with muscles in the beginning doesn't mean you're out of the race. Quite to the contrary. You have an excellent future ahead of you, fellow tortoises. Slow and steady wins the race in this strange and wonderful sport we call bodybuilding!
Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.
You may contact Ron Harris at www.ronharrismuscle.com.