The “Old Days” of bodybuilding and fitness…the “Bro Days.” We’ve all heard of them. Many of us have lived them. The “Old Days” refer to that time way back when and long, long ago when the driving forces of fitness and bodybuilding were primarily “Bro science” and wives’ tales from sources like muscle magazines, the biggest guy (or girl) in the gym, or really anyone with a halfway decent set of abs and a smartphone, without regard for science or evidence-based thinking.
We all started somewhere, and I would guess that many of our origins and paths of growth in bodybuilding and fitness are quite similar. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve blindly followed advice and significantly changed our lives to implement these concepts. Essentially, we became experts in ladder climbing with little regard as to whether the ladder was leaning on the right wall!
Those early days were dangerous. They had the potential to crush us mentally and physically as well as jeopardize our most meaningful relationships with friends, family, and significant others. More often than not, the early days also increased our physical and mental stress levels, limited our ability to be fluid and adaptable, and lessened our overall quality of life. The worst part? We didn’t mind. We didn’t care enough to notice it. We stifled that all-knowing tiny voice in our heads, known as conscience, giving us little jabs of guilt and raising the occasional red flag as we fell deeper and deeper away from who we truly were and wanted to be. We were unaware that we were prisoners and that, my friends, is the best kind of prisoner because ignorance has the potential to keep the imprisoned blissfully in prison forever.
The unfortunate truth is, the “Old Days” have not passed; they are still very much alive, present, and thriving (much like Tom Riddle through an enchanted diary**) through gurus, zealots, both mainstream and social media, and magazines and websites focused on gaining subscriptions rather than improving the community at large. They are profiting and preying off of those who are still ignorantly imprisoned. Thankfully, many have been enlightened and have allowed their views and beliefs to be turned upside down in the presence of a better way. Sadly, many have not. Many are still stuck in the dark ages.
When I was in undergraduate college I wanted to do the absolute best that I could and straight A’s were the goal. Just like the “Old Days,” I put my head down and grinded. I ended up “succeeding” in getting straight A’s and graduating summa cum laude, just like I was “successful” at being a “Bro.” As I progressed in my college and eventually professional careers, I realized that grades weren’t what were important. The grade shouldn’t have been the goal. In fact, I was so enlightened, that in my last year of the doctoral program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, I didn’t look at one grade the entire year! And guess what? I still got straight A’s, but I did it with a much less intense, close-minded, and misguided mindset.
I truly feel that I was only able to get straight A’s in that last year of graduate school without tracking grades because of the years spent doing it the wrong way. This two-part article will explain why our ability to properly apply the concepts of a more evidence-based approach to bodybuilding and fitness relies heavily on our mistakes of the past. In other words, in order to do it correctly, you have to have done it incorrectly first. I don’t regret the “Bro Days.” I am thankful for them. Here’s why and what I’ve learned.
The Process and Importance of Active Continuing Education
Other than when in school, no one is going to structure the process of your learning. You have to schedule and prioritize your own learning. You have to devote time to consistent reading and searching for information to absorb like a sponge. Open one of my old Muscle and Fitness magazines and you’ll see notes in the margins, underlines, folded pages, and bookmarks from the countless hours I devoted to learning.
I made my continued learning a priority and began to cut out the things that weren’t important. I chose to spend my nights in college reading instead of drinking. I haven’t watched TV other than planned time with my wife, family, or friends in almost 10 years. You won’t find cat videos or clips from the latest episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” in my YouTube search history. I willingly chose to make these changes and it wasn’t a struggle to do so. It happened almost automatically. I’m not trying to be pompous, uppity, or put down those that enjoy and partake in those types of things, of course. What I’m doing is simply pointing out that the “Old Days” introduced me to that feeling when the thirst for knowledge overpowers the urge to spend time doing less important things and that prioritizing is effortless when passion and drive are present.
The “Bro Days” took me through the process of not only obtaining knowledge, but also applying and tracking the results, both positive and negative. I learned that the accumulation of knowledge without both the application and examination of results is drastically incomplete. As Stephen Covey so beautifully and simply explains, “to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”1
The Importance of Open-Mindedness and the Avoidance of Being Married to a Thought or Belief.
Layne Norton has accomplished many great things (Layne’s impact on bodybuilding and fitness deserves its own article…or maybe a text book) and using the word “zealot” most out of anyone on the internet is definitely among his many accomplishments. And for good reason. Layne is highlighting the dangers of close-mindedness. As the saying goes, “Being ignorant is like being dead…it affects everyone else and you’re not aware of it!”
Close-mindedness has two major risks. First is the fact that the individual is limiting the information he/she is consuming, and therefore limiting enlightenment and growth of knowledge. The second risk is spreading to others the misinformation gained from the first risk. More than the people who know they’re wrong yet continue to spread misinformation, I fear those who don’t know what they don’t know and actively (and genuinely) try to help and be of service to others.
The “Old Days” taught me that things that I feel and think to be 100% true today, so much so as to actually structure my life around, are only my perception, interpretation, and belief system and can be completely turned on their head tomorrow. I also learned that this is how we achieve improvement and without an open mind, the process does not exist. As Phoebe so eloquently points out to a zealous, close-minded Ross in Friends, there was a time when all of the smartest people in the world thought the world was flat. They knew the world was flat. They believed the world was flat. Some of the smartest people the world has ever seen were wrong and had to drastically change their opinions and beliefs. Don’t you think there’s even a slight chance that what you believe to be true today may not be?
Just imagine if other professions were as close-minded as we were in the “Old Days.” Imagine going in for surgery and not receiving anesthesia because the surgeon hasn’t bought into the whole anesthesia idea. Or if the major car manufacturers of the world were making vehicles powered by horses because “it’s been working for years and it’s how we’ve always done it, so it must be right.” Or if hospitals refused to catch on to the germ theory. Just like the close-mindedness of the “Old Days,” these blunders can obviously be quite problematic. Thankfully, surgical techniques, the auto industry, and medicine have gone through and continuously go through this process regularly. As new knowledge of a better way surfaces, old beliefs must be dropped and new concepts adopted.
Second-guess every belief or belief system that you have. Things are always changing. Research is always changing. Question things that we’ve done 10 years ago, five years ago, three years ago, and even one year ago. As the saying goes, “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
The Importance of Seeking Out Differing Opinions From a Wide Variety of Sources
The “Old Days” taught me the importance of actively seeking out differing opinions with empathy and not limiting myself to only those sources that feel the same or believe what I believe. If I found a person or belief that I truly connected with, I would find myself seeking out only those who thought similarly. If my respected sources said something different than a new source, I would ignore that new source. I placed blinders on and greatly limited my learning. If I was able to seek out differing opinions early on, I could have emerged from the “Old Days” faster than I did.
Don’t dismiss other sources due to close-mindedness. We want disagreement and conflicting ideas so we can come up with the best interpretation of reality. As the saying goes, “If two people feel the same way, one of them is irrelevant.”
The Importance of Source Selection and Credibility
Let’s face it…we all can’t be experts on everything. Someone on Wall Street would be better qualified to talk stocks than me. In the “Bro Days,” I would choose my sources wisely, or at least what I thought was wisely. I wanted only the “best” information from the most credible sources. Who were my go-tos and what was my process for judging the credibility? That’s easy. The biggest guy in the gym, the strongest guy in the gym, supplement store employees, articles with the catchiest titles, Mr. Olympia winners past and present, the model in the ad, judges at a competition, and of course Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding to name a few.
I may have not been the greatest judge of credibility and my criteria for credibility may have been inaccurate, but I was still going through the process of checking, questioning, and choosing my sources from the vast ocean of possible sources. I was actively choosing to go to these sources and actively choosing to ignore others. In other words, I had a BS Detector, but it just needed some tuning up. Although my process for measuring credibility was inaccurate, it did allow me to think about both the content and the content creator.
My errors in judgment have allowed me to experience that awful feeling of taking advice from the wrong source, working hard to implementthat advice, and ending up with diminishing returns. I was great at driving, dedicated even, but I was using the wrong map.
Here’s a personal example:
After a bodybuilding competition, it is smart to speak to the judges and ask for feedback. At my first show, I weighed in at 165 lbs at 5’8”. My current stage weight is between 135 and 140. At my first few competitions, I realized that the top guys had a different look to them, particularly in the legs. My upper body was much leaner than my lower body and I lacked definition and muscle separation in my legs. I didn’t even know one could have striated glutes! Perplexed, I sought out my “credible” sources including the judges after the show. The advice I received varied. I was holding water and needed to dehydrate myself, said one source. I “spilled over,” said another. I needed to gain weight and bulk up. I needed to foam roll to break up the fascia and “adhesions,” this way the muscles will be able to separate, said another. I needed to pause and really squeeze hard at the top position when performing leg extensions in order to bring out the separation and striations in the quads, said another. Luckily, I didn’t take all of the advice, but I did take some.
I competed steadily over the next 2-3 years without taking time off to recover and grow. I competed at lighter and lighter body weights and as I became leaner and leaner, I started noticing more definition in my legs. I learned that the reason my legs weren’t as defined as others was because, quite simply, there was fat covering them. It was only then that I began to see results. I realized that the improvements I was seeing were a result of slow, gradual reductions in body fat rather than things like water manipulation or how hard the peak contraction of a leg extension was squeezed. I had that aha moment when you realize that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more…***Now all of my hard work and dedication could be channeled toward the right things. I was now able to use my driving skills with the right map.
So if you’re currently a “Bro,” fear not! The best time to change would have been years ago, but the 2ndbest time to change is today! If you know a few “Bros,” don’t hate. HELP! Chances are they have the necessary dedication and grit, they just need the right map!
How to Let Go
How long did it take us to truly understand, believe, and implement into our lives the idea that missing the post workout window would not negate the benefits of the preceding training session? How long did it take us to not feel that rush of anxiety if we were unable to eat every 2-3 hours? How long did it take to actually realize that our muscles would not eat themselves and atrophy if we missed a meal? What about the fact that a white potato or white rice would not cause rapid fat gain due to the dreaded insulin spike? I would venture a guess that it took a long time to truly (consciously and subconsciously) let these things go. Chances are we didn’t read one article and suddenly buy into the concept. We were passionate about that post workout window! It felt good knowing that the high glycemic sports drink was pumping nutrients into our muscle tissue so rapidly that we were recovering and actually growing before we even had time to rinse out our shaker cup! Why would we want to stop believing that? Being married to old concepts prolongs and sometimes prevents the necessary process of letting go.
In order for us to improve, it’s sometimes not that we have to do more, but rather do less, and let go. In other words, trim off the fat. Hit the brakes, but also take your foot off the gas. Sometimes letting go can set you free and help you see things in ways you hadn’t before. It has been rumored that Michelangelo said some rendition of the following words when speaking about the statue of David… “All I did was chip away everything that wasn’t David.” Not sure if he actually said that, but it would be pretty cool if he did!
How To Not Be Envious or Jealous of Someone Better or At Another Level Than You
The thing about humble beginnings is that they are just that…humble. Almost by definition, when we first embark on a journey, we are a few steps behind those who are already on the journey. When we first started our journeys, we were at a level much lower than everyone else that was already in the bodybuilding and fitness communities. There are those that started their journeys 40 years before us, 20 years before us, 5 years before us, and even one day before us and generally speaking, those individuals are better and more experienced than us. How do you handle that? Can you deal with other people being better than you? Sometimes it is not easy, especially with photoshopped magazine ads, enhanced physiques claiming to be natural, and filters on social media.
The “Old Days” helped me develop the ability to look up to others and have inspirations, while not wanting to be them necessarily. I got comfortable looking at an ad in a magazine, then looking at myself in the mirror, and being OK with the idea that they looked better than me. I knew that I was going to do everything possible to improve to someday be at that level and it did not make me upset or self-conscious. I had to come to terms with and understand that we are all at different stages of our journeys. I learned the importance of not trying to be the next Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman, and trying instead to be the first Nick Licameli… and the best version of Nick Licameli that genetics would allow. Instead of getting discouraged, I focused on the tools that those individuals used to get results. The “Old Days” helped me appreciate, rather than envy, the journeys of others.
How To Sacrifice For a Goal But Maintain Life Balance
I am the last person to speak about proper balance in life. One of my weaknesses is that I dive into things 100% and get blinded by passion and achievement. I’ve gotten better as of recent and have the “Old Days” to thank for that. It is because I’ve done it wrong in the past that I know how not to do it. I know the repercussions and impact it can have, because I’ve experienced and lived through it. Veterans of the sport will preach about the dangers of tunnel vision and the importance of not shutting out friends, loved ones, significant others, occupations, or other hobbies, but unless you actually feel and experience the sting that accompanies falling victim to this mistake, the message will not be as impactful.
I now approach bodybuilding, as well as all of my endeavors, with a different mindset. I’ve realized and have gotten comfortable with this simple truth that is self-evident, undeniable, and timeless: saying yes to one thing is saying no to another and sometimes you need to sacrifice what you want now for something greater later.
From the outside looking in, our way of life may seem like a sacrifice, but not to the ones doing the sacrificing so long as we love the journey.
“When a person has a vision that transcends himself, that focuses on an important cause or project that he is emotionally connected to, then the real course of least resistance is to put service above self. To such a person it is no sacrifice. To an outside observer it would appear to be a sacrifice because he is denying some present good… Rather than being the course of most resistance, sacrifice is the course of least resistance to one who is deeply, spiritually and emotionally connected to a cause or a calling or the serving of another.”2
I learned the power of delaying gratification and sacrificing something appealing now to pursue goal-directed behavior for later outcomes. Although the sacrifices of the “Old Days” were misguided, they still taught me how to go through that process. Sacrifice was not difficult, but rather welcomed like an old friend. We took pride in sacrificing, like a badge of honor. The interesting thing about sacrifice is that it only seems like a sacrifice to those other than the one doing the sacrificing. For those of us that are driven to and passionate about some higher purpose greater than ourselves, sacrificing the now for the sake of the future is easy.
A famous experiment in psychology tested the ability of young children to delay gratification, or in other words, the ability to sacrifice something appealing now for something better later. At its basic level, researchers gave the children 1 marshmallow. The children were told that there was a chance of getting 2 marshmallows if they waited to eat their original one. Those who were able to understand that by delaying instant gratification and refusing the single marshmallow would eventually gain a more beneficial outcome, were shown to have better life outcomes including academic achievement and the ability to cope with stress and frustration later in life. Whether the goal is to obtain the greatest amount of marshmallows or compete in a bodybuilding competition, we must voluntarily postpone instant gratification and persist in goal-directed behavior for the sake of later outcomes.3
Please note that I am not promoting an “everything in moderation” mindset (be sure to check out this article for more on this). Everything in moderation makes you mediocre at everything. I’ve learned that life is a constant series of choices and decisions as to how we spend our time. A quick excerpt from my previously mentioned article:
When walking across a tightrope, one does not stay perfectly straight for the duration of the walk. While still maintaining balance, the walker is able to lean this way and that way with each step. I do allow myself to dive into things and say no to others, but it is a very conscious and thought out approach. As I say no, I make sure that I have built up enough trust in the area I am saying “no” to during the times when I was present (truly present) in that role. That means that while you are on your date night with your significant other, you are actively engaged and present, not thinking about how the uncomfortable restaurant chair is going to affect your squat session the following day!
I hope you’ve enjoyed and, more importantly, found value in Part 1 of this two-part journey. I’ll be back with Part 2 in a few weeks! See you then!
1Covey, S. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.
2Covey, S. R. (2004). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. New York, NY Free Press.
3W. Mischel, Y. Shoda, MI. Rodriguez. Delay of Gratification in Children. (1989). Science.Vol. 244, Issue 4907, pp. 933-938. 26 May. Words from abstract obtained at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/244/4907/933.
**Don’t know this reference? Smh…muggles.
*** Do I really need to cite this?
Nicholas M. Licameli, PT, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy / Pro Natural Bodybuilder
Every single thing he does, Nick believes in giving himself to others in an attempt to make the world a happier, healthier, and more loving place. He wants to give people the power to change their lives. Bodybuilding and physical therapy just act as mediums for carrying out that cause. Love. Passion. Respect. Humility. Never an expert. Always a student. Love your journey.