There are days when the gym resembles more of a comedy show than an actual place to train. I have witnessed some of the oddest and most painful-looking movements in my 20+ years of working out. Wait. I think I need an inhaler to help me catch my breath. Did I just say “20+ years”? I began my venture into exercise and weight training when I was a wee Longhorn, at the ripe age of 18, and it has been a whirlwind of a ride. But returning back to my original statement, the gym can often be an amusing and sometimes frustrating place at which to train. It’s my opinion that one’s ego, fear, laziness, or misunderstanding can truly hold a person back from lifting properly and avoiding injury.
I feel lucky that my serious entry into the weightlifting world began under the tutelage of a powerlifter, and powerlifting is where my true love lies. Then vanity entered the picture, and my foray into the figure/bodybuilding world began and still continues to this day.
So let’s get serious together.
Your choice in workouts should not resemble your choice in fashion trends, where certain exercises or programs act as fads, moving in and out of style. Just think about it. The step aerobics enthusiasm took a step down as the the pilates hoopla to lengthen muscles took over until the recent crossfit craze to annihilate muscles raced to the top of everyone’s hit list. All I can say is please don’t fall prey to what the mainstream media presents as a safe or productive workout regimen. Whatever it is you do for your body, make sure you proactively complete your research on the program, the gym, and the trainer(s).
Weight training is no joke. You can hurt your joints, tear a tendon, pull a muscle, and hurt yourself for life if you are not careful. Machismo egos have no place in the gym. But neither does fear. Men are guilty of grabbing the heaviest dumbbells possible and then acting like a dumbbell by swinging the weights in some odd manner just to try to move the weight mere inches, all with several grunts and groans added in for effect. Women are guilty of grabbing the lightest weights for fear of “becoming bulky” and “looking like a man.” Women, please listen to me, as I am here to tell you: Unless you are taking steroids, you are not going to look like a man because you curl with 20 pound dumbbells instead of the Pepto Bismal pink three-pound weights. Find the happy medium. Learn the proper way to lift, determine the number of reps you wish to achieve for each set, and then choose the appropriate weight so that you are struggling and working hard but are not trading form for appearances.
Again, I am very thankful for my powerlifting background, my anal retentive nature, and my competitive spirit. These three things allowed me to ensure that I treat the weight room with a true essence of seriousness. Only by doing the lifts correctly will I reap the benefits. And the same goes for you. For example, if you are doing a reverse grip lat pulldown, you have to know that this is a back exercise that does utilize the biceps as a secondary muscle. Because of this, you have to be careful that you don’t let the biceps take over. It also means that the biceps should be fresh for this workout and not worn out from being trained the day before, or else you might risk injury. Keeping in mind that the biceps can take over if the exercise isn’t done properly, this means that you have to know what type of curve to have in your lower back, at which point to lift your chest upwards so that the force of resistance is directly perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers in the latissimus dorsi. So, when I see a guy training a girl and not correcting her form and when I watch her pull the weight downward and allow the shoulders and chest to drop, I can only shake my head in utter disappointment because I know she is only working her biceps and not even beginning to attack the back. It’s sad because that girl will go on to do the reverse grip lat pulldown in the same wrong fashion simply because she didn’t do her research and make sure this person knows how to train. And a piece of paper showing that the trainer sat in a class for one week and passed a test isn’t enough. Does this person practice what he or she preaches? To me, that is the true question.
I am also thankful for my patience and consistency when I set a goal and then walk the path to achieve it. You may or may not know this, but I trained with weights for eight years before I ever stepped on stage to compete in a physique competition. This means that while I began eating healthy in college (or what I deemed as healthy at that point), I didn’t conduct a contest prep meal plan and work deliberately to shed body fat to an extreme percentage until I had eight years of heavy weightlifting under my squat belt. I think this is really important to consider when you hear that people question me all the time about whether I truly am natural and drug free. In today’s competitive times, people are impatient. They begin weight training and within six months some bozo in the gym is saying, “oooh…you should compete.” Then they hire a trainer and choose a show and diet down all of their hard work before stepping on stage, and they wonder why they don’t have the muscle maturity that other competitors have. That very same bozo then says, “Well, if you just take a little bit of this, then you’ll look like they do. I take a little bit of this, and I guarantee you they take a little bit of this, so it’s all good.” Next thing you know, that person is walking the dangerous road of steroid use, and once on the path, that person can never erase the footprints of the steroids on the body.
In essence, remember the fable of the turtle and the hare? And remember who won the race? Be the turtle. Be an intelligent, well-researched, hard-working, patient, dedicated, consistent, healthy turtle. And don’t be afraid to go inside of your shell when bozo jackrabbits in the gym attempt to thwart your steady pace in your own race.