10 Things I’ve Learned Over 10 Years In Bodybuilding.
I recently talked with one of my clients during a training session about things I have learned from so many years in the gym and things that I once did that I learned were not effective. This got me reflecting back on the last decade of working out and training clients and thinking about what lessons can be learned that would help people just like you. What I want to do with this list is help you streamline the learning curve in the gym and avoid making mistakes that could hold you back.
Here are 10 helpful things that I have learned after 10 years of bodybuilding and personal training.
10. Technique above everything!
Too often have I seen new gym goers that are going hard in the gym but sacrifice learning proper technique for intensity. Don't get me wrong I love seeing people getting after it in the gym but when you don't have proper technique then we got problems. Just like with most things that are new to us, there is a learning curve and levels you must progress through. In fitness, the very first step should be to learn the proper execution of training techniques. With strength training, if you don’t spend the time to perfect your technique you set yourself up for failure in the long term.
My advice to anyone just starting out or trying to improve their performance in the gym is to learn the fundamentals! Take the time to learn and execute proper technique and the strength will come. You might even save yourself some injuries and not waste time you could be spending progressing in the gym!
9. Keeping cardio year-round
For some reason, cardio has become a dirty word in the gym culture, personally, I don't know why. Cardio workouts are the perfect low-cost entry exercise you could do! It does not require much learning to get started, and you can scale up or down the effort based on your current fitness level. The health benefits of cardio go without saying but having a good aerobic capacity will also improve or enhance your performance with strength workouts.
As a bodybuilder, I get a lot of people thinking I only do cardio when preparing for a show and that the rest of the year cardio is not in my plan. This probably comes from the idea of "Bulking" and not wanting to lose muscle. However, that could not be farther from the truth. I keep cardio in all year and the only change is the type of cardio, and duration of the effort. You can still get big and strong when cardio is in the plan and the best part is you won't get winded when doing other activities.
8. Including GPP into your training protocol.
When getting into a fitness program, along with learning techniques on compound lifts, and isolation work we need to add some GPP. This is General Physical Preparation, this lays down the groundwork for general conditioning to improve strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, structure, and skill. I love including this with my clients and even my own training, GPP is fun grunt work that is great to do in groups.
Let's be honest, it can be easier to get up and go to the gym to do some bicep curls or machine chest presses, or leg extensions. But those are tools best used for isolating and developing muscles from an aesthetic standpoint. But when it comes to building strength these are not going to be your best option.
If you want to build some true strength and not just be the guy or girl that looks strong then here is what you should do. Include some sled pulls, loaded carries, sandbag work, band training, and kettlebell work. These are some great options that the skill level required is minimal or moderate and come with huge rewards when done consistently
7. Changing your training modalities throughout the year.
When it comes to fitness we don't want to be a one-trick pony. The best thing about fitness is there are so many ways to improve your fitness and not get stagnant! We all have met that guy or girl at our local gym who comes in every day and does the same thing day in and day out for years at a time. This person also never looks any different or makes any improvement.
I want to make sure that this person is never going to be you! Look at your training as having cycles, an easy way to do that is to split up the year in half, quarters. In each training cycle, you focus on one training modality only (this does not exclude aerobic training or GPP we talked about earlier) like having a strength cycle and a hypertrophy cycle.
This method is used in some manner by all trainers/coaches, professional athletes, and even actresses and actors. For my fellow New Englanders here a common way is to spend the colder months building strength and work capacity and starting a "cutting cycle " or hypertrophy cycle leading into the summer months. The key here is to have each new cycle piggybacked off what you improved in the last training cycle.
6. Improvements are made when you follow a plan.
This could have been number one on this list but I put it right in the middle so you don't leave without reading it!
Always have a training program that you are tracking your progress. As the saying goes "Failure to plan, is planning to fail". If you are taking your fitness seriously, no matter the goal, you should follow a training plan. Having a training plan gives you structured workouts and training days.
Following a structured training plan means that you will be doing workouts that work synergistically with each other. This means you will not be over or under-training bodyparts, you will have rest days when most needed, and even cardio training is programmed to be optimal. Along with that, you will be able to track progress consistently and weekly so you can avoid plateaus.
You can sign up for great rebuild or custom training programs built by me at this link https://www.thebunkerfitness.com/plans-and-pricing
5. Eat for your goal, consistency is key.
This might be pretty obvious to some of you that your nutrition needs to align with your goals. But so many people use diets as a temporary thing only to lose weight and then throw proper nutrition out the door the rest of the year. Full disclosure there was a time when I let that happen to me. Only being really controlled with diet when in prep but once the show was over so was my proper eating.
Doing that would lead to me only making minimal improvements in my “off-season” and having a lot more body fat to cut than what I should have if I stuck to a plan in the off-season. The other downside of bad nutrition is bad performance in the gym and not being able to recover as well.
If you train hard you want to be able to have excellent recovery and be able to push yourself in the gym. But when you are just eating whatever you want or are craving that's not going to be the outcome you get.
For anyone that wants to get real results and look good year-round nutrition really needs to be part of your lifestyle. At this point of my career, my eating habits are not much different from when I'm in preparation for a show or in my improvement phase. The biggest change is to the amounts of food and then when it comes to flexibility I have that too.
It's what I call the 90/10 rule and that's if I am on point 90% of the time I can have a 10% allowance to deviate from that plan.
4. Take progress photos regardless of the training phase.
Progress photos are one of those things that so many people take for granted. So many clients I work with its like pulling teeth to get them to take photos. I get it that taking photos of yourself is not fun especially when you are not happy with how your body looks. But that's only at the beginning because once you start following your plan those pics start to improve each week! Seeing those weekly changes visually can be a huge motivator to keep going even if the scale is not moving the way you want it to.
Like, As I mentioned before I like to track a lot of different metrics and there are many things we can look at to determine progress. Things like scale weight, body fat percentage, and strength increase in the gym are just some of these things.
Consider this would your scale weight going down be as valuable if you saw zero changes to how you look?
I don't think it would, because weight is just one way to measure progress, taking photos is another and one that can really build you up. Taking weekly photos will show you all the small changes that have been happening that you would not normally notice.
So don't be scared to take photos and keep track of them each week. You don't have to show or share your photos publicly. They can be a tool that you use to stay on track, stay motivated and keep improving.
3. Have a routine that sets you up for success.
We talked about training plans or “routines” but what about your daily routine?
Having a good daily routine will help you avoid not having time for the things that are important to you. Daily routines can be very simple or very complicated and I have tried all kinds. The key is just taking the time to find out what works best for you.
For example, with me, it can be hard to manage my time or get done all the tasks that I want to because I work for myself. Some might think working for yourself makes time management easier but that's not necessarily true. Working for yourself there is no prebuilt systems or structure, you wear many different hats and a lot of things come up throughout the day that takes your attention away from your plan. That's why I found having a routine and a plan so helpful and I took that concept from my approach to the gym.
I get it your days are busy and you might like the freedom to do what you want when you want. But if you don't have a routine for when to prep food, when to go to the gym, or when to even go to work will you be as productive? Probably not…
Make it a point to have fitness be a part of your daily routine, not just something extra that you can put off until everything else is done. Make time that is designated for your morning cardio or stretching, set a time to work out each day and stick to it, pick your time to meal prep and make it a habit.
Everything about fitness is making it part of your lifestyle. Most people make being sedentary and unhealthy a part of their lifestyle and are miserable but dont know why. I'm willing to bet if they spent less time on the couch watching CNN and F-boy island and more time improving their health and fitness they would be much happier.
We all have a limited amount of time, I suggest spending it on things that lift you up and make you better.