What will your life be like in the coming years if you continue on the exact path you are currently on? Most people would simply dismiss this question as one of conjecture. Who knows what fate has in store for any of us? The real reason we so swiftly skip away from this topic is that deep down we do know what will happen. In actuality, we are much more responsible for and in control of our destinies than most of us would care to admit. At an Anthony Robbins "Unleash the Power Within" seminar a couple years back, I was locked in a dark room with five thousand people who were forced to examine the course of their lives in something called "The Dickens Experience," named after the famous story "A Christmas Carol" in which the character of Ebenezer Scrooge is treated to a grim vision of the future consequences of his actions and behaviors.
Before beginning the exercise, a final bathroom break was given. Once begun, there would be no escape. The lights were turned off, and Mr. Robbins led us all through a vivid exploration of how our current fears and limiting beliefs would take a brutal toll on the quality and satisfaction of our lives as the years rolled by. Some people were so overcome with horror and despair that they let loose shrieking wails of agony. It was a frightening experience that forced us all to decide that it was time to change, or else the future we had been shown a glimpse of would indeed become a black, damning reality. Just as our current habits might limit our economic prosperity and joy in life, they may also be keeping us from attaining the physiques we are fully capable of having.
You may not think you need to change anything in your bodybuilding regimen. You've got the training nailed, your meals are spot on, and you're taking all the right supplements. If everything is going so right, why aren't you getting any better? It's not that you're doing anything wrong, it's simply that you aren't doing anything different. Our bodies and minds adapt very rapidly to any pattern we establish. Think about how you often wake up right before your alarm clock rings early each morning. Your body and mind anticipate the alarm, and the chirping is no longer the invasive shock it once was. So it is with bodybuilding. What once was new stimulation every day is now merely routine. If you want your muscles to grow again as they once did, it's time to make some changes. Here are some ideas you can implement right away to make bodybuilding almost as fresh and new for your mind and body as it was back in the beginning, when growing was an everyday phenomenon you took for granted.
Change Your Training
I started with the most obvious variable to manipulate, but also the category most people never actually do change. We're all guilty of sticking with virtually the same routine for far too long. Yet we all know that there is a nearly endless repertoire of exercises to choose from. Since the idea of switching all your exercises is too extreme a concept for most trainers to accept and implement, try this out: replace just one of your core exercises for each bodypart, every time you train. For example. For biceps you could take out barbell curls and try spider curls. The next time, take out preacher curls and try incline hammer curls. Make a game out of it, and see how long you can do this without repeating an exercise.
Aside from the exercises themselves, try training at a higher or lower volume than usual. Mentzer's Heavy Duty style of training often yields great results for a brief time for those who have been accustomed to years of training with multiple sets. (A good article on HIT and HIT workout programs is here.) Aaron Baker and David Dearth both made outstanding progress for several months of their WBF careers while performing just one or two sets per exercise. And conversely, upping your volume for a brief time is also guaranteed to shock your body into synthesizing some new muscle tissue. You can even increase or decrease the number of reps you do. For the few months that I trained with ABCC Mr. International Steve Cuevas, I benefited from incorporating his customary higher (10-20) reps on occasion, while he added new size by training in my lower (4-8) rep style. Just about anything major you change in your training will give you good to great results, if you only have the courage to make the change.
Hold up, wait a minute. I'm not telling you to throw away four hundred bucks you spent on a gym membership, or to leave a gym that is conveniently located, perfectly equipped, and filled with scads of supportive friends. Instead, just once a month, train somewhere else. The potential benefits are significant. First of all, you won't know anybody there. If you're like me, that will shave off about one-third of your training time usually squandered away on idle chit-chat with gym buddies. Second, nobody will know you. If you have an advanced bodybuilder's physique, you will enjoy many stares from curious, admiring, or perhaps occasionally even jealous, strangers. If you really want to boost the old ego, time it so that you train your strongest bodypart there. Most of us have one or two exercises that we are freakishly strong on. At your own gym, members yawn and say, "Oh, Billy Bob's squatting 600 again. Big deal." At the new gym, the response will instead be, "Holy crap! That new guy is squatting 600 freaking pounds!" It's quite a refreshing experience.
Next, the equipment will be different. You will have the opportunity to train on machines or benches that your gym does not have, hitting the muscles in a completely different way. Best of all, you will probably return to your own gym with a new appreciation for it, since the "away" gym was missing one or more pieces of equipment that you simply insist on using. Any way you look at it, training at a different gym once in a while is a perfect change of scenery.
Change Training Partners
Many people get stuck in relationships or even marriages where they become painfully bored with their partners, yet stay together out of convenience, comfort, or cowardice. Truth be told, they know without a doubt they would love to break free and pursue a new love. To do so would mean breaking up, divorcing, or cheating. Luckily, training partnerships aren't such a binding arrangement. (Unless, like me, you train with your spouse!) You may be training with someone who no longer motivates you, and vice versa.
The solution is simple. Tell them you need your space, that you feel you should start seeing other people in the gym. If they get upset, tell them it's not them, it's you. Treat it like any other bad relationship you have escaped from in the past. If you're a veteran, I suggest finding someone who's still relatively new to training, and hungry to get big and strong. It's an infectious energy and enthusiasm that you would be well served to absorb. If, on the other hand, you're the new guy or girl, try to hook up with someone who's been around the block and can show you a trick or two. In either case, you would benefit greatly from this new partner, who has something you lack. A third possible candidate would be someone roughly at your level of training and development. In this case, you could both foster a rivalry to see who could make the greatest gains in size and strength, or who could get the leanest. No matter who they are, any new training partner who is dedicated to improving will help you improve yourself.
Change Your Clothes
Stay with me now, I know it sounds like I'm getting silly on you. Buying new workout clothes can actually motivate you to train harder. I've experienced it myself and watched the scenario play out with hundreds of others. When you find a sweatshirt, a tank top, shorts, or tights that really accentuate your physique and make you look bigger, or leaner, or (dare I say?) sexier, suddenly you want to be in the gym, showing it all off as you push your workouts to the max. Workout attire has come a long way since the days of tent-like sweatshirts and clown pants, so if you haven't shopped around in a couple years, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the variety and stylish looks of today's training togs. Some of you may be scoffing at the effectiveness of this seemingly cosmetic suggestion, but you owe it to yourself to give it a try.
Change The Soundtrack
Different types of music have different rhythms, tempos, and beats. Simply playing a different genre of music in your headphones will drastically alter the tempo of your reps, even your workouts themselves. You may find yourself resting less between sets with rap music as opposed to hard rock, or feel stronger listening to heavy metal than you did with R & B. Perhaps this may not be as suited to weight training as it is for cardio. Faster-paced music might allow you to perform your cardiovascular exercise at a higher intensity and for longer durations. Many people have found that high-energy dance mixes or techno make even the most grueling sessions on the Stairmaster or VersaClimber seem almost effortless, even euphoric. Music is a proven mood enhancer, so if your mood isn't always the best, change the soundtrack.
Change Your Supplements
Just as your body acclimates itself to any given training regimen after a certain point, so it adapts to nutritional supplements. Think about it. Remember the first time you tried creatine? If you're like most people, you put on anywhere from five to ten pounds in the first two weeks. Of course, subsequent 'cycles' most likely weren't as spectacular in their results. If you've already tried all the new products on the market, consider switching brands for awhile. There are several reputable companies with quality products out there, and doing something so small as using a different company's whey protein or meal replacement powder might spark new gains as the body processes it in a new way. Never underestimate the human body's ability to adapt to anything you eat or drink. Why do you think hardcore alcoholics need to drink a whole quart of whiskey to get loaded, while non-drinkers would be wasted from two or three shots?
Face it. If you don't make drastic changes in your bodybuilding lifestyle, you really can't expect your physique to change for the better, either. You don't want to look back many years from now and wonder how great you could have been if only you had done things differently. Do things differently now and watch your physique become the masterpiece you always wanted it to be!
Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.