| Article Summary:
For the past nine months I have been telling you all about my mission to educate young Randy on the ways of becoming a top bodybuilder. The insinuation was that because I have been training for almost twenty years and competing since 1989, I know it all, or at least I know everything worth knowing. But I have always believed that anyone who claims to know it all is an idiot, because there is always something more to learn in bodybuilding.
We spend years figuring out how our bodies respond to various types of training and nutrition, but in reality this is a lifelong process. This all came crashing home to me when I was beaten badly in my last contest. The worst thing was that I wasn't so much beaten by the other men on stage with me. I kicked my own ass.
The trouble began with my scheduling. I planned on shooting a training video in LA, shooting with three magazine photographers the following week, then competing in California at the end of that week. But that wasn't cramming enough into a short time, for me, so I also sent in my entry form for the New England Championships back here in Boston the following weekend. When I outlined this plan to Randy about a month beforehand, he seemed concerned.
"Isn't that too much stuff? Aren't you gonna be exhausted?" Was this a challenge to me, the 33-year-old, who no longer had the vigor and endurance of days gone by? No way. I was Superman and had five T-shirts with that logo to prove it. I would have gotten the tattoo as well if Lee Priest and Matt DuVall didn't already have it.
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," I assured him.
Famous last words.
Madness Creeps In
About three weeks before I left for LA I looked the best ever in my life. I was about 212 pounds and hard as nails, fuller and rounder and with even my poor arms looking decent. I couldn't see myself competing any lighter than 205, up from 201 the year before. Yup, this was my year. That's when some psycho switch went off inside my brain and I decided I wasn't quite lean enough in the lower body. Suddenly it seemed like a smart idea to do a lot more cardio.
First of all, understand I was already doing 45 minutes of very intense interval-style cardio on a Precor elliptical machine five days a week, burning 700-800 calories each time. This had done an excellent job of taking away the fat, as I had started at a doughy 240 with not a cut in sight. But now I found myself staring at contest photos of guys like Tommi "Glutezilla" Thorvildsen, who has striations in his butt muscles so deep you could swipe a credit card through them. "Hmm, I think I really need my glutes to look like that too," I said. And so the madness began.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Tommi Thorvildsen At The 2008 15th Annual Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
View More Pics Of Tommi Thorvildsen At The 2008 15th Annual Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
My gym opens up at five AM on weekdays and seven AM on the weekends. I would snap awake automatically about an hour before these times every day and start getting ready to go do cardio. Forty-five minutes graduated to a full hour within days. After this, I slammed down an Optimized Whey shake, went home, showered and had breakfast, and got my kids ready for school. Then it was time to go the gym again for about 90 minutes of weight training and forty more minutes of cardio. Yep, I was gonna be the most shredded man in bodybuilding history now! If I didn't train myself into the ground in the process, that is.
Self Deception At Its Worst
It didn't take long before I started to notice I was 'flattening' out. This is a term bodybuilders use to describe the way our muscles look when we are under-carbed or overtrained. It's almost like we are big balloons and someone let some of the air out of us. When I asked my wife what she thought, she recognized it as the bodybuilder's equivalent to the common chick question, 'does my ass look bigger?' There is no right answer that will not infuriate the person who asked. So Janet took on an annoyed tone and said, "I don't know, I can't tell."
But in her own way she tried to steer me back. She made many comments as to how I was doing way too much cardio, but I brushed them all off. "What does she know?" I said to myself. And poor Randy, he didn't know any better. Having never seen anyone diet down before, he was just overwhelmed by the daily changes in my body. He would express disbelief at every new vein and striation that would reveal itself, and helped me ignore the obvious.
I was getting leaner, but I was losing muscle. It needs to be said that I was always eating plenty of calories and never went below 200 grams of carbs a day. But the problem as I see it now was that I was trying to force my body to try and do two things at once it could not. I wanted to maintain my muscle mass while drastically increasing the volume of cardio I was doing to that of an endurance athlete. My body did what any reasonable body would do when put in this situation. It said, "screw you, Ron."
|BODYBUILDING.COM FORUM: PRESERVE MUSCLE|
| Started By:
The week in LA did turn out to be grueling, though I did manage to score second place at the tough Orange County show. But, and this is a big but, I had weighed in just under the Heavyweight limit. I had not planned on being a lightheavyweight. It got worse. Possibly because I had weakened my immune system so badly, I contracted food poisoning the last night I was there and couldn't eat for about 36 hours. Oh, I tried, but the instantaneous vomiting that resulted when I tried to swallow anything except water convinced me I just had to ride it out until the nausea subsided and my appetite returned.
Adding Insult To Injury
All that week in Boston, as soon as I could eat again, I tried to make up for the lost meals. But I also was at the gym twice every day as before. I knew I had lost some 'fullness' but I blamed the food poisoning and honestly thought some extra food in the last couple days would get it all back. The final insult came on Sunday morning when I weighed in at 197.5 pounds. I almost fainted. I hadn't weighed less than 200 pounds since 1995! Then as I watched the rest of my class weigh in, I knew I was done for. I went from second place in the last four contests I had competing in to missing the top five for the first time since 1992. After a lot of pizza and ice cream, things started falling into place as I attempted to analyze what had gone wrong.
My wife Janet was the example that showed me my main error. When family duties had come up, as they often do in a large multi-generational Hispanic family like hers, she would often miss a scheduled weight training or cardio session. If she missed a day, it was no big deal. She didn't sweat it. Yet she came into the contest in the Figure division looking much better than last year. Me, on the other hand, would never, ever miss training. It was life or death! If something demanded my time in the day, I would go at night. If I had slept poorly for whatever reason, I would still be in the gym on three hours of sleep, masking my fatigue with endless cups of coffee. And lo and behold, I ended up looking worse than last year!
This contest prep season taught me a very valuable lesson, even if I had to learn it by failing miserably. We have to listen to our bodies when they say they need rest. You should be supporting your body as best you can with all the right nutrients, but nothing will ever make up for lack of rest. Competitive bodybuilding is a unique endeavor in that we attempt to remain big and strong while stripping our physiques of every possible ounce of fat.
In strength sports like powerlifting and strongman contests no such cross-purposes are ever considered, because they know they are bigger and stronger with some body fat. So because we bodybuilders are in reality trying to do something quite unnatural, we must be very careful how we go about it. There is a fine line for all of us of doing enough versus doing too much, and to cross that line can have disastrous consequences.
It wasn't easy explaining all this to Randy, as I feared it would undermine my credibility and make him more likely to question anything I told him from then on. But he did understand how I had been blind to what was happening.
"Like I used to look in the mirror and see things that weren't there until you pointed them out to me," he said. "But you didn't have anyone to look at you, huh?" The sad thing was that I had seen what was happening but had gone into a full-blown denial and ignored it. For those of you dieting down right now, I urge you to have at least two other sets of experienced 'eyes' to look at you once a week. And I also urge you to listen closely to what they say, even if it's not what you want to hear.
Pay attention to them and most importantly listen to your body. Getting into contest condition is brutal in the final stages, and rest becomes more critical than ever. Unfortunately, many do as I did and step up the pace at this time when they need to be slowing down a tad. Don't do as I did and sacrifice pure muscle that you busted your ass to build in the first place. It's a lot harder for me to not work out than it is to train, as I suspect it is for a lot of us. But believe me when I say that there may come a time when doing a little less will deliver the best results.