We have all heard the story of Rip Van Winkle and his reawakening after 20 years of sleep. Although not as long as the legend, I slept for nearly ten years totally unaware of the changes in weight training and bodybuilding. However, as I reached middle age, the activity I enjoyed in my youth and early adulthood has come back to life with vigor.
There is never any good reason for such a long lay-off. Lazy is a term often used, but I prefer changing priorities as a more appropriate description. Priorities shift throughout life and, for me; they forced weight training nearer the bottom of my list. Of higher priority was an expanding family, change in job, moving house and reestablishing a career.
Time became and remains a most precious commodity that didn't allow much in the way of serious training. I puttered around with some weights in the garage from time to time, ran around the neighborhood and was physically active. Overall, I was enjoying middle-age and not overly concerned with my physical condition or outward appearance. I wasn't being paid to stay in good shape, so it wasn't affecting my life to any great extent.
However, with another job change, I was afforded the opportunity to use a fitness facility available through work. Also, I now had time to use the facility. As I began training more frequently, I realized that muscle memory is not a myth and I was soon, relatively speaking, back to the muscular size and strength of my early adulthood. Unfortunately, the fat that accumulated over the years was still present. Removing unwanted fat takes a bit longer as you age and requires some concerted dieting and cardiovascular exercise.
So, what's the purpose of my story today? I wanted to share some of the observations that I made since my re-awakening within the sport. For the youngsters, there is information on what resources were available to us older folks when we were your age. For my fellow middle-agers, it recaps some of the changes that many of you may not of noticed over the years.
Additionally, I notice a lot of inquiries on the Over-35 message board from folks either lifting for the first time or returning to the sport.
I believe Part II of this article will help you out as I detail some thoughts on training after a layoff. The topics covered in this article will focus on the culture and resources needed for a bodybuilding program.
Nutrition & Supplements
I'll start this discussion of change with the base of any training program, proper nutrition. And, hand in hand with nutrition, supplementation must also be considered. Taking a look back over the past ten years, there have been some changes to the basic staples in the bodybuilder's diet.
- Tuna fish hasn't changed - however; you can now get it in a convenient, take-anywhere pouch.
- Milk and cheese are pretty much unchanged - although single-serve string cheese is handy.
- Eggs - much more mass production now, additionally, natural and high omega fatty acid eggs are now regularly available at most stores.
- Chicken and beef basically hasn't changed - there may be more growth hormones used in the industry to produce the animals. Also, chicken wing popularity has significantly increased.
- Fruits and vegetables are still produced. There has been a greater push from industry for genetically engineered produce, but public perception has limited its introduction. There is also greater availability of organically grown produce in grocery stores.
There has also been a major shift toward prepared food with specific nutritional value. What I'm talking about is the proliferation of fat-free and sugar-free food and the new "carb" conscious food. These foods provide a healthy variety of choices with generally fewer calories than normal and a more palatable taste than in the past.
Supplements have seen some changes in the past 10 years. The big-ticket items that I consider newly introduced in the past decade are creatine, NOx products and ZMA. (I'll discuss the prohormone revolution in the next section)
There has been documented success with each of these products as well as financial success for the manufactures. These products provide a significant advantage to modern weight trainers.
Supplements labeled "Blockers" have also flourished in the past decade. This category of supplements includes items that negate an action in your body. Carb-blockers have been around for a while and their popularity has increased with the Atkin's diet popularity.
Fat-blockers would be in the same category as an item that is also enjoying greater acceptance and use. Two items that are new this past decade are the Cortisol-blockers and Estrogen-blockers. These two supplements are designed to control hormones that contribute to muscle catabolism. Although popular, I haven't tried any of these supplements.
Protein supplements are not new; however, whey-based protein supplements are the king nowadays. I'm not sure what combination of protein sources they had 10 years again, but I'm thinking it was more casein and albumin-based and not as nutritionally complete as some of today's mixes.
In addition to protein, MRPs, (meal replacement powders) drinks and bars were not on the market like they are today. There was always Slim-Fast in a can, but today's MRP are light-years ahead.
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Performance Enhancing Substances
I don't know too much about modern gear (steroid) use. With the trend toward "Fitness Centers" and family memberships, I believe there are significantly fewer gear transactions at these facilities than there was in gyms in the past. In the more hardcore gyms, I am sure that gear is readily available, just as it was in the past.
Additionally, from reading the discussions on the steroid boards, it appears as though steroid use is as vibrant as it was in the past. Not only is gear use apparently as vibrant, but also it appears more technical. Current practice of using multiple substances during a cycle, personal mixing of injectables, importing substances from overseas or Mexico, and even the use of veterinary pharmaceuticals lead me to this observation. Gear use is a personal choice during adulthood and probably will always be a part of bodybuilding.
Mark McGwire brought another issue to light that wasn't around 10 years ago, prohormones, prosteroids and anabolic precursors. These substances were introduced in the past decade as a means of improving results from weight training and legally skirting the steroid issue.
Studies have shown that many of these substances will increase testosterone levels, and thus improve muscle growth, but I'm not fully convinced of the risk/benefits of these substances when given the possible side effects. They are currently a legal alternative to steroids and should be used with caution because they can significantly effect hormonal balance.
Weight loss is another category of performance enhancing substances that has undergone change. The mid-'90s saw the emergence of fen-phen (fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine). Fen-phen was a prescription drug for weight loss and appetite suppression that was touted as a miracle drug to help lower obesity levels, an enduring health issue in the United States. Unfortunately, long-term users began developing heart problems and fen-phen was taken off the market.
One of the replacements, an over-the-counter product, was ephedra. I missed the boat on ephedra; I never got around to taking it before it too was banned. But, like its prescription brother, adverse health effects have been experienced by some users/abusers prompting its ban.
There continues to be a proliferation of new "thermogenic" products for weight control. New products continue to emerge with ingredients not used a decade ago. These new ingredients include green tea extract, guggulsterones, chromium picolinate, and yohimbe. There have been arguments for and against the efficacy of these products in the magazines and on different web sites. As the adage goes, buyer beware, still applies.
Diuretics appear to be more commonly used today than in the past. For some professionals, several significant health problems have surfaced, and even killed, pro bodybuilders. The current need to look as "ripped" as possible with minimal bodyfat and water retention places current professional in peril, in my opinion. There may need to be rethinking of how the sport is judged to eliminate this concern.
Training, in my opinion, has not evolved significantly in the past 10 years. There is still volume training, high-intensity training, power-building training and variation of these methods. Additionally, some traditional training methods such as kettleballs, medicine balls and weighted clubs are enjoying resurgence.
A number of training methods appear to be a recycling of old training philosophies. For example, periodization is a new training method I had to read about it to find out what it entailed. To me, this training philosophy seems very old school, training for a specific event.
Those participating in weight training changed a bit. To me, a larger cross-section of the population is participating in weight training. However, the typical gym idiots from years ago are still present. I still see many biceps and bench press only workouts today.
On a positive note, there has been an increase in the number of women-only facilities. I can't comment on the success of participants at these facilities, but believe that it is a good concept for many women. Competition and comparison in the gym will continue to be a fact of life. Many individuals have been discouraged from participating in fitness centers activities today because of this competition and the women-only facilities provide an alternative.
Workout accessories and fashion has changed some as well. It's rare to see chalk used today. Lifting gloves dominate the grip assistance market and even I have come around to using them after relying on chalk in the past.
Additionally, both women and men seem to be wearing more modest workout clothes today. On the powerlifting side, the lifting shirt is an item I never saw or heard of until recently.
Cardiovascular training has improved over the years. The emphasis on aerobic classes has declined and new programs have emerged, spinning is a good example of a new program. Some of the equipment has improved as well. Stair climbing machine come with a greater variety of options than 10 years ago. Additionally, the elliptical trainer is a new, no impact machine that I would have enjoyed using in the past.
A discussion of change over the past ten years wouldn't be complete without discussing the impact that the internet has on everyone's life. The Internet has enabled instant access to news, information and products from around the world. It has been around more than ten years, but its use and utility didn't break out until the mid-'90s.
With the advent of the Internet, anyone with access to a computer can now get information on nutrition, muscle development, lifting programs, supplements, contests and results. Some of the information can be obtained from reliable sources like articles here at Bodybuilding.com. Other information may not be as reliable, such as user responses on message boards.
I particularly note a lack of good nutritional and supplementation advice on the boards. Many responses are regurgitation of ads and other's opinions instead of solid advice. Ten years ago, you needed to rely on the older folks in your gym who had some credible knowledge or from reading the monthly magazines. But again, both of these sources had their biases, strengths and weakness.
The Internet also allows users to get a better price on products supporting bodybuilding. It wasn't long ago that GNC was the only local place to get supplements. Mail-order from the various magazines was the only other option. Now, you can choose from vendors around the globe to obtain the best-priced products. This has facilitated the customer in getting more and better products for their money.
It also allows greater experimentation, as I myself have found, because it easier to try a product when I can check a website, read actual users response and opinions on a product, and I can purchase it at a reasonable price.
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A lot has changed over the last 10 years, weight training and bodybuilding included. Some of the changes are subtle, such as food items. Others changes are significant such as the marketing of prohormones.
It was a good exercise to look back and examine some of these changes and realize some of the benefits of evolution. I'll discuss the training aspect of returning to the iron game in Part II.