It’s been almost 7 years since I made the decision to get into better shape. It’s a decision I am so happy I made as I have learned a lot about myself along the way. The lessons learned during that time have been invaluable. I thought I would share a few of these lessons so that you can hopefully avoid some of my mistakes.
Lesson 1. You can build muscle much later in life then you think. When I first started training at 46 I thought it was to late to build muscle. Then when I found out you could build muscle I thought I had only a few years left. This caused me to put a lot of pressure on myself to build as much as I could as I raced against time. Currently I am 53 with plans of stepping on stage in 2020 at the age of 55. I should have more muscle compared to when I competed at 49. How much older can you get and still keep improving? I have no idea but I intend to find out!
Lesson 2. Spend more time building muscle and less time dieting. The first three years that I trained I dieted for two out of the three years. In 2015 I ended up not training at all do to a very stressful time in my IT career.
In 2016 I started training again. I spent most of that year in a deficit or at maintenance, so not much muscle building happened. On top of that I ended up not training for the last two months. In 2017 I finally got back to training seriously and have been steady ever since.
In September I reached out to Alberto Nunez who was my contest prep coach in 2014. I was unsure if I should keep trying to loose weight or not at that point. Alberto suggested I stop trying to lose weight and focus on building in a moderate surplus. Up until that point I had again spent most of my time in a deficit. The last 19 weeks of 2017 I spent training in a surplus.
So far in 2018 I have continued in a surplus for a total of 34 weeks. This is the longest stretch I have ever been in a surplus for and I know I am adding some decent muscle. My training is at the point of breaking lifetime strength PR’s and I am feeling really great! I had considered competing in 2019 but that would have only been 10 months in a surplus. Instead I have decided to complete in 2020. This will give me 22 months to focus on building muscle before moving to contest prep. This should give me the results I am looking for. Natural bodybuilding takes time and most of that time should be in a modest surplus and not dieting.
Lesson 3. Dieting to slowly. One of the reason I ended up spending so much time dieting all the time was that I would always targeted my fat loss at about a pound a week. This is a good strategy for a long contest prep. However if you are just trying to drop some weight so you can get back to training in a surplus you should be more aggressive. This will minimize the time you spend in a deficit and maximize the time you can spend in a surplus.
Lesson 4. Be as consistent with your training as possible. I have stopped training several times since I last completed in 2014. When I do get back to training it takes me longer to get back where I left off compared to when I was younger. In the past I had an all or nothing mentality when it came to training and this has limited my results. Now if I can’t train where I am able to push hard in the gym I know to just try and maintain until I can get back to where I can. This way there is no regression and I can get back to making gains much faster.
Hopefully by sharing these 4 lessons you can learn from my mistakes. Looking back these lessons seem pretty obvious to me now but it can be hard to see when you are in the moment. Also for awhile there it was pushed fairly hard not to get to far above stage weight in your off season so again more time focused on staying lean instead of maximizing building muscle. For the record how much above stage weight you should train in will vary from person to person. For myself 30 to 35 lbs over seems to be the sweet spot at least so far. I am sure I will make more mistakes and learn more lessons as time goes on. That is part of the fun of natural bodybuilding as you push the boundaries of what is possible.