How the weeks have flown! Here we are, back with Part 2 of I Am Thankful for the Mistakes of the Past. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part 1 right here. Let’s get right into it!
Movement is Not the Same as Progress and Doing Wrong Things Well Won’t Make Them Right.
While dedication, discipline, and passion can allow any goal to be achieved and surpassed, they must be guided, controlled, and channeled correctly. We cannot work hard just for the sake of working hard. As Eric Helms has said, “The goal isn’t to work hard. The goal is to make progress.”4 Just like a Ferrari needs a driver and a prize-winning horse needs a jockey, some of our most powerful attributes need to be guided and harnessed. You can be the best and hardest working driver in the world, but if you are using a map of Seattle to navigate through New York, your talents and efforts will be wasted.
To say that the training of the “Old Days” was intense would be an understatement. Every workout had to either cause you to vomit or make you sore beyond the point of functioning the following day. Each training session was looked at as the workout that would make the difference. Each session had to be balls to the wall, soul crushing, and “Animal Pak ad-and-Rocky-training-montage-worthy.” Intensity techniques like drop sets, forced reps, and rest pauses were used freely and frequently and were absolutely necessary to make serious gains. There was not a single workout that I didn’t use those techniques…not one. The “Old Days” had us chasing soreness. They had us going to failure and beyond. They had us chasing the pump and burn. We went “beast mode” and took pride in “going there.”
We grinded away, sawing and chopping without looking up to see if we were even cutting the right tree (or in the right forest!). We got trapped in a positive feedback loop because as we grinded, we got better at grinding. We got better at sawing the wrong trees with dull blades. And as Tim Ferriss says, “Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.”5
Proper training volume and structure were dictated by either the most grueling workout in the magazine, whatever Arnold used at Gold’s in Venice Beach, what the biggest guy in the gym followed, or something seen in a motivational bodybuilding YouTube video. Needless to say, things have since changed. That being said, I still succumb to the “Bro-urge” and sneak in an unplanned drop set or rest pause, chase the burn, and blast past failure from time to time. Sometimes you just can’t not! Don’t lie…you’ve done it, too!
Embrace Failure and Mistakes
I did take away several lessons from the training of the “Old Days,” however. I learned what it felt like to “go there” and find that gear. The “Old Days” allowed me to get comfortable being physically and mentally uncomfortable. I learned how to maintain form and composure while tolerating high levels of pain and fatigue, which is a lesson that spans far beyond bodybuilding. In life, this lesson taught me to be comfortable with failure and the idea that pain and mistakes can in fact lead to gains, change, and innovation depending on my response. Although misguided when it comes to training, I bought into the idea that failure was a necessary step for success and that how we carry ourselves when faced with failure makes all the difference. Did we crumble and lose form as we approached failure on that last set of squats? Of course not. We kept our composure and allowed the pain to sink in without overcoming us.
Until an individual knows what repetitively and consistently going to failure, and beyond failure, feels like both physically and emotionally, things like the RPE scale become less effective. I now know what 1 rep left in the tank feels like, what 2 or 3 reps in the tank feel like, and what going beyond failure feels like because of my mistakes of the past. Many of us have never swum 200 meters. Why does Michael Phelps know the exact number of strokes left in a 200-meter race? Because he has swum 200 meters over and over again, just like us training to failure over and over again. Michael Phelps knows his remaining strokes not because he’s read about what 200 meters should feel like, but because he’s been there before and has “gone there” before.
Many know the consequences first-hand of making the mistake of compromising form and composure for intensity. I have been very fortunate thus far to have not sustained any serious training injuries over the years. I am blessed to say that the mistakes made in my misguided training philosophy have not had a permanent or lasting negative impact. Much like looking back on our teenage years, we can only hope that our mistakes of the past will not lead to lasting consequences. In life, how we carry ourselves when we reach failure makes all the difference.
Failure is a necessary step to success. The more mistakes we make, the better off we’ll be moving forward. I did not come up with this but imagine someone told you that you would achieve success only after your 25th failure. How would you feel after your first failure? Probably pretty good. “All right! One down and only 24 more to go!” How about after your 20th failure? Would you dwell on the 20 failures or focus on the fact that all you need are 5 more failures until that successful breakthrough is reached?
We can’t dwell on mistakes. We cannot go back in time. The mistake happened and there is nothing that can be done now to change that. You can however, learn from it and use it to improve moving forward. Imagine a set of squats where either you compromised form or just couldn’t really find the groove of the movement. It just didn’t feel right. Now what? You wouldn’t do another set to somehow attempt to make up for it, but rather you would use the feedback from the mistake to improve your next set. Remember, as Bedros Keuilian has said (quoted in Biliyeu), “scar tissue is much more resilient than regular tissue.”6 It is imperative that we learn from mistakes and leverage them moving forward.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different
It’s OK to be different. If you were a true “Bro” in the “Bro Days,” it is likely that you were very different than 99% of the general population. This created a great sense of camaraderie and belonging to a subculture. Just think of how the combination of Pumping Iron and the camaraderie of Gold’s Gym Venice Beach helped spread that sense of belonging to the extended members of the culture while providing acceptance, clarity, reassurance, and a safe place to land for all those who felt alone. Research byBaumeister and Leary from 1995 (quoted in Pink) found that belongingness profoundly shapes our thoughts and emotions. Its absence leads to ill effects, its presence to health and satisfaction.7
Keep in mind that the shared values and beliefs of subcultures are not always correct, properly guided, or accurate. The fact that many of the concepts from the “Old Days” can be directly traced back to Pumping Iron goes to show that just because something brings people together doesn’t mean it is right. A gang is a perfect example of this. A gang is a subculture with shared values and beliefs among its members that, just like the “Old Days,” provides a sense of acceptance, belonging, clarity, reassurance, and a safe place to land. Just like the camaraderie of the “Old Days,” the camaraderie of a gang is misguided and inaccurate.
At first, I was ashamed and embarrassed to be a part of the bodybuilding subculture. I would refuse cake at a birthday party and blame it on a stomachache. I would whisper when asking the waiter or waitress to please not put any dressing, croutons, cheese, or the like on my grilled chicken salad while out to eat with a group. I would refuse alcohol and say it was because I was driving, or I was tired. I would sneak meals and protein bars in my pockets and escape to a bathroom to eat. True story…while on a 12-week clinical rotation at an inner-city hospital, I put cottage cheese and flax seed in a Ziploc bag and kept it in the pocket of my scrubs from about 7am-11am. Then, when that midmorning mealtime came, which couldn’t be missed or be anything but cottage cheese, I would escape to a bathroom, bite a hole in the corner of the Ziploc bag, and slurp out the cottage cheese, like a Go-Gurt. Oh you think that’s bad?…I have many, many stories…
In the end, being afraid to be different allowed me to go through the painful process of confidently finding myself and living authentically regardless of what everyone else was doing. I am now able to own my life and not hide what I’m passionate about for fear of being different. Negative comments, questions, and jokes used to throw me. I would feel anxious when around others for fear of a comment that would highlight my uniqueness.
Do the negative comments and jokes still exist? Of course. Sometimes they are harmless and in good fun but other times they can be quite hurtful and rooted in envy or jealousy. People still make fun and crack jokes about my lifestyle, but it’s ok. More often than not, they are the same people that complain about difficulty losing weight and sticking to a routine, lose control around food, think that almonds and hummus are protein sources, and switch from yoga, to Pilates, to P90X, to the gym, back to yoga, then to running, then to CrossFit with no results and a heaping pile of poor motivation, disinterest, and no drive. I’m always willing to help, just ask. Regardless of the type of comments, they don’t impact my security. Don’t make fun of the way I live my life because it is different from the way you and the majority live yours. It’s ok, I’d rather be different.
By experiencing that fear of being different and eventually overcoming it, I learned that it’s OK to be different. I learned how to be confident in my life and way of life. I learned that it’s ok to have unique goals. I learned how to confidently work toward a goal and be proud of it, no matter how weird or different it may seem. This sense of confidence and self-security has absolutely carried over into all aspects of my life. It has made me the man I am today.
How to Manage Decision Fatigue with Proper Planning and the Development of Effective Structure and Routines
Countless studies show that thinking and decision-making are highly metabolically taxing on the brain and require a great deal of energy. The more decisions we make throughout the day, the more physical and mental fatigue we will experience. By automating the “little things” through proper planning and the development of effective structure and routines, we are able to save our energy for more important decisions that will require our brains to be firing on all cylinders.
It is very well documented that the less decisions we are faced with throughout the day, the better our decisions will be as the day progresses. Similar to a gas tank, the less you use, the more you’ll have. If your goal was to drive as far as possible on one tank of gas, would you waste half of the tank idling in a parking lot? Of course not! You would save that finite energy for goal-oriented behaviors.
It has been said that Albert Einstein wore the same type of gray suit everyday so as not to waste his brain’s energy and crucial decision-making capabilities on fashion. Einstein automated an aspect of his day and developed a routine that partitioned his brain’s energy to what he felt was important.
The “Old Days” are notorious for highly structured, and therefore restrictive, lifestyles. It’s pretty hard to break from a routine when you have to do things like eat every 2-3 hours, slam your post workout shake immediately after your last set of the session, slam a casein shake immediately before bed, train to and beyond failure every session, and only eat from a limited list of “clean” foods that were bodybuilder-approved. Although it was misguided, adopting this type of structure introduced me to not only the process of proper planning, but also how to actually carry out the plan. Planning something and actually acting on it are two very different things. The “Old Days” have introduced me to the importance of both planning and implementation.
The Dangers and Pitfalls of Seeking Quick Fixes
The road to quick fixes and instant gratification leads to costly disappointment and I only know this to be true because I’ve experienced what it’s like to think differently. If I had never known what it was like to get “sold” something by an “expert” and watch as none of the promised gains came to be, I may have never truly understood the dangers and pitfalls of quick fixes. Unless you’ve actually spent your own money (maybe from a low paying part time job in high school or college) on some game-changing super supplement endorsed by Mr. Olympia and felt that pain of disappointment after realizing it didn’t work, how would you really know better moving forward? Someone can tell you something over and over and it may stick, however when you experience something for yourself, the impact is much deeper.
Taking NO2 and creatine for a month while neglecting proper nutrition, strategic training programming, progression, and recovery will not make a 16-year-old look like Mr. Olympia. There is a way though! Unfortunately, it’s a long, drawn out, and painstakingly slow process rooted in consistency and adherence. Want to get there? Better start loving the journey and stop focusing on the destination. This brings me to my next point…
Love the Journey and Focus on the Process Over the Destination
In the “Old Days,” the focus was on the here-and-now. Each workout, each meal, and each supplement were going to produce results now. If I could just squeeze out another rep on my 8thdrop set, my legs will grow! If I could just slam my post workout shake immediately after my last rep of the workout, I’ll finally get there! If I could just afford this one supplement, I would finally start seeing some gains! When I began to realize that changes did not happen overnight, I became frustrated.
I found such peace once I started viewing my lifting and bodybuilding careers as journeys. I stopped expecting it all now. Instead of viewing every workout as the workout or every meal as the meal that would make all the difference, I began to view the things I was doing as depositing pennies into a bank account (thank you, Jeff Alberts for the metaphor!). Each day became but a drop in the ocean of a life-long training career. I think this is one of the reasons why I chose to go the natural route and not take steroids. The same love and respect of the journey made me pursue slow, constant, long-term progress rather than drastic peaks and valleys.
Through my mistakes of the “Old Days,” I have come to love the journey in life and bodybuilding rather than be consumed by the destination. It is a mistake to focus on short-term goals like getting contest lean, hitting a PR, getting a promotion at work, or buying a big house or expensive car while dismissing the importance of the journey. Are you the kind of person that looks at your week and says to yourself, “3 more days until it’s Friday!” “2 more days until it’s Friday!” “It’s finally Friday!”? If you’re not loving your “everyday,” you’re setting yourself up to be unhappy. There’s no, “I’ll be happy when…“ I’ll be happy when I get this or I’ll be happy when that happens… You have to love the journey of getting to that goal of being happy.
It’s like the person who hates running and says to another person, “I gained ten years on my life because I ran everyday.” Then the other person says, “Yea, but you spent your life running…” If you don’t love running, is extending your life 10 more years worth it? If you happen to love running (I’ll never understand you people), that’s a perfect situation because you’re loving the daily grind of getting to the goal of living another 10 years (that’s obviously not a scientific fact that if you run everyday you will live 10 extra years, it’s just meant to help explain my point). If you love running and love that daily grind, then it’s absolutely worth it. But if you hate running and hate your “day to day,” is that extra 10 years worth a lifetime of unhappiness?
So yes, set high goals for yourself. Have dreams. Just don’t forget to love the means to your end. You have to love the journey. Find a journey that you’re passionate about and that is true to your core values. Find that beautiful intersection between your talents, skills, passion, and conscience and use it to help people. Leave a legacy of meaningful contribution that makes the world better because you were here. Love the journey.
Bringing It All Together
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely emerged out of the pits of ignorance and misguided dedication and discovered a better way. You’ve been exposed to the content of some of the best in the fieldand can now sit back with arms crossed and a smile knowing that you’ve emerged from the darkness and are able to help others do the same.
The lessons that I’ve learned from the mistakes of the “Old Days” have made me a more evidence-based, logical, practical, and adaptable bodybuilder as well as a better person overall. This is a result of that beautiful carry overfrom bodybuilding to life that we all cherish, revere, and hold deep to our hearts. That carry over is one of the most, if not the most important aspect of bodybuilding. I truly believe that my dedication, desire, and discipline of today are rooted in the mistakes and misguidance of my past. The mistakes of the “Old Days” helped make me who I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.
4JPS Health & Fitness (2018, May 17) Eric Helms & Mike Israetel- Individual Differences in Lifting Psychology Podcast Episode 40. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU6k83vc5SA.
5Ferris, Timothy (2009). The 4-Hour Workweek: Excape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. New York, NY: Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC; 70.
6Biliyeu, T. (2018, May 15). How To Build Success From Nothing. Bedros Keuilian on Impact Theory [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z2Kio2xlGI&index=15&list=PL8qcvQ7Byc3OJ02hbWJbHWePh4XEg3cvo&t=0s
7Pink, D. H. (2018). When. New York, NY: Riverhead Books: p. 189.
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.