Think about why you train.
Now think about why others train (guess).
If you thought about it, then I have succeeded with this article!
Personally, I pondered those questions too. Here is what I gathered. To some, bodybuilding is a source of competition and income. To a few, it is a means of rehabilitation after illness or injury. To the rest, bodybuilding is often seen as the pursuit of a healthier, aesthetically pleasing body.
Nothing turns heads more than a trim midsection, strong arms, shapely legs and a healthy glow. Above all, the opposite sex is perhaps a major reason why people of all ages begin fitness regimens. From curling a few light dumbbells at a tender and precocious age, many move on to more advanced lifting programs and training schedules, all in hope of crafting their ideal physique.
We have all, in some way or another, formulated our current training methods based on a variety of sources - friends, books, magazines, coaches, etc. To be sure, there is never a shortage of information when it comes to the latest cutting edge techniques and methodology.
In the end, the question is not where to begin our fitness journey, but how to carry on?
There are times when I get bombarded with emails asking for my opinions on various rep-weight schemes, supplements, training programs etc. Fact of the matter is, just as there are many aids to the achievement of out goals, there are just as many obstacles. But it all boils down to this rule:
Each person requires a different set of rules to play the bodybuilding game, rules that only he or she can formulate. The only way to create these rules is to ask the fundamental question - "Why?"
Looking back, there are many mistakes I've made in my journey in bodybuilding, all because I failed to take a short break, amidst the clanging of weights and the chugging of protein shakes, to question my motives and reflect on my choices. Mistakes I could have avoided simply if I had taken the time to stop and THINK.
Let me start you off with a 2-step method for critical thinking in bodybuilding. Remember, the mind is a powerful device. Don't be afraid to question existing traditions and mindsets. Remember when everyone thought pull-downs were for building width and seated-cable rows were meant for thickness?
That tradition has been blown away. It is because of individuals who didn't let their philosophies and methods be dictated by existing boundaries and traditions. It is because of these people who were daring enough to think beyond existing boundaries that we can enjoy the benefits of their research and theories today.
Learn To Reflect On Your Training
This is a question that most beginners forget to ask themselves. How many of us began our training programs based on 'tear-outs' from the various muscle and bodybuilding magazines? Truth be told that bodybuilding is seldom a cookie-cutter pursuit. These guides are an excellent way to gain exposure us to a wonderful variety of exercises, techniques and training splits.
Never forget, however, that the pinnacle principle is that your body is fundamentally different from everyone else's. Your metabolism, genetic potential, and endurance, for example, are factors which set you apart from the others reading that very same training 'tear-out.'
Therefore, always THINK through your training routine. BEFORE, mentally prepare yourself for the exercises you are going to do. Write it down if need be. Refrain from going into the gym without a set battle plan.
Fitness centers nowadays have a confounding myriad of exercise machines, free weights, and other cutting-edge contraptions. Going through a workout drifting from machine to machine is not recommended.
DURING and AFTER your training routine, learn to make every workout a learning experience. As you are pushing, pulling, and straining, learn to mentally record your various feelings. Did a workout on that particular day leave you overly exhausted? Did those barbell squats cause your knees to start hurting?
Are dumbbell bench presses hitting the spot better than flat barbell presses? Which machine gave you a better cardio session - treadmill or elliptical? The first step to taking a personalized approach to training is to determine what your needs are.
Then, you can work toward fully customizing each intricate feature of your training regimen to suit your body. If need be, write these thoughts down in a journal. From time to time, review your notes to see the progress you are making!
Make The Changes
This is much easier said than done! A fundamental flaw of our human nature is that we are naturally resistant to change. Once we find something we assume has been tried and tested, we tend to stick with it, never questioning it's benefit or usefulness to us.
Your typical Pro bodybuilder gets up on stage and says he does 10 sets of bench presses followed by 10 sets of dumbbell flyes, and then goes home and drinks 5 raw eggs mixed with a 4000-calorie sugar & protein shake.
Training neophytes tend to relish this kind of advice. Why? - Because seemingly these are one-stop answers to their problems. It is easier to follow blindly in a dense jungle than forge a path.
Here are a couple areas which you can reflect on and determine if there are changes needed to be made.
Unusual Training Splits
Monday-Wednesday-Friday nor working for you? Five days per week not working either? CHANGE IT. I have often times worked around my hectic schedule by training exclusively on weekends, with a double split routine so I can train four times in two days.
During the week I simply performed cardio to keep fit and de-stress. On paper it may look like there is not enough frequency of muscle stimulation, and too much time spent away from the weights. But in reality I successfully maintained the amount of muscle I had, all this time working 60-hour weeks.
All this, not because I discovered some secret method, but because I sat myself down and thought through my program. I adapted my training to fit my lifestyle and my needs, and it has worked wonders for me. Likewise, learn to experiment with different training splits.
You may need much more recovery time than five days for each body part. On the other hand, you may find that you can train chest twice times per week. Whatever the case, experiment and grow. You may perhaps find that training at 5 in the morning gives you the best results!
Non-Traditional Set and Rep Schemes
The traditional bodybuilding dogma is this inevitable - three sets, ten reps each. While this scheme is suitable for beginners, more advanced trainees will have investigate these notions further. Learn to get a feel for how your body responds to training.
Some individuals are more suited for sets of 4 reps with heavy weights; others experience the best gains with high sets and high reps. There is no cut and paste scenario. Do not fall into the trap of more is better.
At the same time do not establish mental barriers of how far your can push yourself. Often the mind is more powerful than we allow it to be. Make the effort to get stronger, but never negate the benefits of unusual rep/set schemes. If anything, they are often a fun and refreshing means of training!
Hybrid & Experimental Exercises
The beauty of bodybuilding is the almost infinite combination and variety of exercises that can be performed, all in the name of a healthier and more beautiful physique! Our bodies are anatomically and physiologically designed to perform exercises in a variety of positions and angles.
Learn to exploit these natural physical traits to your benefit. As mentioned earlier, our bodies are all different, and what works for Mr. Universe or Ms. Fitness may not work for you. Experiment with different grips, angles, positions, time under tension and rest periods.
Anything you can think of, put a 'twist' on it and see how it goes. I have seen individuals perform lat pull-downs with rope attachments, hybrid squat-and-lunge combinations, and other non-traditional movements to achieve tremendous results!
Training can be a wonderful avenue for experimentation and learning. Don't be afraid to challenge your existing mindsets and notions. The difference between a good and great physique is the amount of time spent thinking about what is best for your body and your individual needs.
Continue to read up on good books and learn from more experienced bodybuilders. But at the same time, make an effort to adapt their advice into your program, to make it work for you. This kind of one/two combination is one of the best ways to bring about results.
Taking a philosophical approach to your training can help you realize the true potential that already resides inside you. All it takes is a moment to stop and think.