by Natural Pro Bodybuilder - Alberto Nunez
I first set foot in a gym when I was 16 years old and recall it vividly as if it were just yesterday. Everyone seemed so big and intimidating and I certainly felt a little out of place. Looking back now it has been quite the ride. What a wonderful journey, from that first summer when I was able to see my chest finally poke through my clothes, to the summer of 2008 when I earned my pro status. I would not change anything, even the times that were not so good. I have learned from these times and in the end they have made the final product a bit better and a bit more complete. Most importantly these experiences have given me much more information that I can share with other athletes who are new to the sport. It has made my personal experiences worth sharing: the unique, the blunders, and even the good habits I picked up right away. In this article I am not going to touch any specific subject like how you should structure a good workout routine or how the final week leading into a contest should be organized. More so, I plan to touch on a few random lessons from my perspective. So, here are some key pointers that I think most athletes trying to leave their mark on the stage can benefit from.
Very early on in my training I took a liking to a select few movements, one of which is the Dumbbell Chest Press. Initially I took to this lift because I was able to lift without a spotter. On top of that I felt like it recruited everything I wanted from a horizontal press; I found it to be a very complete exercise. Over time I became very good at it, to the point where in 2006 I was able to record a lifetime best of pressing the 160’s for 4 reps. I became very efficient at this movement, and nothing has brought me more consistent gains in my chest, shoulders, and triceps. Unlike many, my answer to a plateau wasn’t to get away from this plane of movement and start using an incline smith press simply for the sake of hitting my chest from another angle. If I had chosen to follow this path I would have had to relearn the movement and then finally after weeks of neural adaptation, start creating muscular overload again. A much better tactic is becoming efficient with a specific collection of compound movements early on. Find a movement that recruits your targeted muscle groups optimally, and grow within the confines of it. Neurological adaptations will have taken place long ago, and any progress you make will likely show on your physique via structural adaptations. Now I do suggest you taper volume, fluctuate intensity (loads), and adjust frequency, for the sake of staying healthy. Simply because overuse injuries can sneak up on your from training at full stride with the same movement for weeks at a time. In a nutshell, pick some movements as your money makers; these should feel safe and make sense for your goals. I have had days where I have gone into the gym and simply done 10-15 sets of squats, some calves and called it a day. This is a much more efficient way of training compared to trying the new angled leg press machine and having to wait weeks until you are actually challenging your body from a muscular standpoint. Switching movements every week is comparable to hitting the batting cages one week, the driving range the next, and then playing a game of cricket the following week. Not only do you have to relearn movement patterns, but in the meantime you are detraining the movements in which you are already well versed. Keep your money makers in more often than not, and don’t fall into the trap of believing a marketing ploy stating that a new angle will make your chest development more complete.
Some of my favorite money makers.
There are certainly some selfish aspects to competitive bodybuilding. There’s no way around it, but to be fair, any sport requires their athletes to be hyper focused at times. And to be even more fair, many times life in general tends to be this way. If you want to excel at anything outside of competition it will require you to be in a bit of a frenzy at times. What makes a cosmetic athlete’s journey a little different is that it is something that requires attention around the clock. So it can, and surely will, leak into your personal life and can make for some clashes. But, both of them can co-exist and finding this balance is a feat in and of itself. While it can be a tricky process you can find some normality in your everyday life with the right approach and perspective. In the words of Coach Eric Helms, “I am Eric Helms and I bodybuild, I am not the bodybuilder Eric Helms.” Bodybuilding is just one of the many dimensions and flavors to you and the less time you can spend watching yourself in the reflections of windows the more you will enjoy it and the less it will resemble an obsessive compulsive disorder. As a matter of fact, most of our happiness in life is not developed via personal achievement, but via all the great relationships we have made during our lifetime. Being in tune with your family and friends will in the long-run bring you the most happiness. Don’t ever give these crucial components to a wonderful, happy, healthy life the short end of the stick. Be open with them about how much this sport/lifestyle means to you and your good friends will surely understand and support you. During my last competitive season I made it a priority to hang out with my friends and in the midst of it all, still found a way to remain loyal to all my ambitions within bodybuilding. It was a balancing act indeed, but it was certainly well worth it. I don’t regret it one bit and the best part, and most memorable to me, was sharing my success with them. All the best and most memorable moments didn’t involve me on stage alone with a new sword, but rather in the company of all those who supported me. It would not have been the same if I didn’t have them in the audience, or have a barrage of text messages to answer after the show. While focus is a good thing, anything past working hard in the gym and sticking to your diet is not going to give you an edge. On the contrary, it will be counterproductive. Go to that party and dance your butt off and don’t stop coaching your kid’s soccer team. After all, this sport is and should be, just one of the many “to do’s” on your lifelong list. Make it an effort to keep up with all those things you enjoy in life. As I like to say, a happy bodybuilder is a productive bodybuilder. Have a diversified portfolio of happiness, this is important and an essential component to being a successful bodybuilder.
Enjoying a rave with my friends AJ and Juan, I am about 10 days out here.
Post contest celebration with my family!
Friends that surprised me by making the 100 mile drive!
This one took me awhile to master, especially after that initial burst of gains that came when I first set foot in the weight room. While my initial gains were just barely enough to satisfy my need for overnight success, once the incline became less steep, my expectations didn’t necessarily acclimate to the new rate of progress. I recall the first ten or so pounds of what appeared to be clean muscle that came in the first 2-3 months time. In the adolescent stages of my lifting there were still many summers were I assumed I was going to gain another 10 pounds of clean mass, or that I was going to add 75 pounds to my squat in that same time frame. The truth is your gains will slow down very rapidly after your first year. However, the keys to you not being one of the guys at the gym that looks the same year after year are these two things: your patience and your ability to be more crafty and intelligent in your approach to training, nutrition, and supplementation. You need to acquire new perspective on what progress is and attain more realistic expectations as you become more advanced. I first set foot in a gym in 1999, and now over 10 years later my expectations have completely changed. While I still progress, I do so at a much slower rate now. For example I have made it my end of year goal to hit 145’s on the Incline for sets of 4-6, and I am currently at 135 for 4-6. It will not just be about going in there and working harder than last time, but a combination of hard work and tinkering with many of the variables to ensure continued progress. This is the price you pay for being a trainee who is leaning more towards the advanced side of the spectrum. Every chapter in your journey is going to require a slightly different approach and they will all yield different results. The quicker you can identify this and come to grips with this idea, the faster your progress will be (or at least as fast as it can be). Success in this sport usually goes to the guys that can have a long term approach and treat the sport as a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is rewarded, so train with ambition, but be realistic about how much you can chew at one time.
Be it a nagging pain that won’t allow you to train at your full capacity, or the deep pitfalls that a serious accident can bring, injury can be a major factor in preventing you from reaching your full potential. In my case these have been my biggest limiting factors and while I am not proud to admit that, I hope many others out there will learn from my mistakes. In the long run, investing some time into injury prevention will help you minimize the risk that is involved with getting off your couch and doing something in the world. The efforts will be worthwhile and will likely save you time that would have otherwise been wasted squatting on egg shells, or worse, completely sidelined for an extended period of time. I would advise anyone who is serious about training and wanting to continually get better to invest some time into prehab work. Injury prevention starts in the gym, where your intentions are to get better, not decay. The most common types of injuries come from repetitive motions. These can be minimized by simply learning the correct biomechanics for a movement and learning good technique. Not only will you likely get stronger and more efficient this way, but your training will be safer and the cumulative wear and tear will be minimized. It really is quite horrible what extreme positions can do to joint surfaces. Things such as extremely wide grip barbell presses, behind the neck presses, and leg presses and squats with stances that are much too wide or narrow are not only sub-optimal for your physique, but will cause structural decay over time. Outside of training time, I try to invest at least 1-2 hours a week into prehab work. Be it stretching, foam rolling, or corrective exercise, I make sure to get it done. It’s certainly not the most exciting part of my training, but it completes my training, not to mention keeps me healthy and productive. When I am productive I have fun, so while foam rolling, or working on keeping my serratus anterior strong are not my favorite things to do, they help my other days remain fun as they ensure my time lifting is productive. Injuries will happen, but investing time into preventing them will almost always help minimize them. I will leave this portion with a few wise words on training and injuries from Dr. Mel Siff, the author of “Supertraining”.
When I hurt myself in 2008, I was limited to movements that looked more like physical therapy exercises.
I think during my first 6-7 years of training I might have spent a combined $300-400 on supplements. I just never had the means to afford everything new that was coming out. I focused more on my efforts in the gym and having a sound nutrition plan and being consistent with both. Pretty much everything that can’t be bottled is where I focused my efforts. Not until the first year I decided to compete (2007) did I buy a multi-vitamin, and some BCAAs. Prior to that I bought the casual tub of protein here and there, and honestly the supplement industry never really caught my attention since I was making great progress without their products. It might have even gotten to the point where I was anti-supplement, but this was more so because the weight room was riddled with guys who had no work ethic inside and outside the gym, but were always on at least half a dozen of the newest trendy supplements. These also happen to be the guys that made the least progress and the poster boys for the good old placebo effect. The truth is the majority of my development was built on consistency with my nutrition and training. I do not attribute my physique to crafty supplementation stacks. The reality is that the supplement industry spends more money on marketing than they do on research. Perhaps this is because we already know what works, and bodybuilders are looking for the newest product that will give them that extra edge. While the right supplementation will surely aid you, your progress doesn’t depend on it. I am no longer anti-supplement and I suggest you stick to the back-bone supplements and not spend your money on any new exotic product if you don’t already have the following:
Eric Helms’ efforts are powered mostly buy his nutrition, training and desire.
This was the thing about bodybuilding that attracted me to the sport initially and has kept my passion burning after all these years. It’s empowering and really builds confidence! Goals in bodybuilding are unique from goals you might have in other aspects of your life. Most of us surely have long term goals, be it moving up in your company, earning your degree, etc. We want these things, but they can take many years to accomplish. I compare this to being in a rowboat on an ocean, you know there is land over the horizon, but it feels unattainable and not currently tangible. We find ourselves discouraged and sometimes even stop paddling. We may slow down or even worse, get carried away in the wrong direction by the currents. While these surely will be momentous times in our lives, they can be so far away as to be discouraging. The goals we set and achieve through bodybuilding are great ways to build skills that echo throughout our lives. Bodybuilding has always helped me reaffirm the process and trust that the fruits of my labor will be even better than I imagined. Through bodybuilding I’ve learned that patience and sacrifice for the greater good should be favored over instant gratification. Goals that I set, such as dieting 20 weeks for a show, have always been great ways to gain confidence in what I can achieve when I really put my mind to something. Even if you are not competing, or a competitive bodybuilder, setting goals is something that will help you get the most out of your efforts in the gym. If this is not a habit/skill that you have developed, you should do so. Perhaps focus on adding a certain amount of weight to your squat over a 12 week span, or losing 10 pounds during the next two months. Having very specific goals, and even better writing out deadlines and the exact roadmap to these goals, will not only aid you in having success when it comes to your training, but will enhance your ability to be effective in other facets of your life. The work ethic, tenacity, and strategic planning that bodybuilding breeds are great things and it’s a shame when they’re not put to use outside the gym.
I really love this sport and enjoy every minute of it.