University was a fresh start for me. Having just got back from Gisborne, and with a newfound desire to learn beyond subjects related to physical performance, I threw myself into my studies. Given I wanted a break from golf and with little desire to get back into hockey, the question was what to do to get fit. Such was the catalyst for my next passion – bodybuilding.
Like most people who develop an interest in bodybuilding, I did not start with the intention of ever competing as a bodybuilder. Instead, I wanted to increase my size for the sports I was doing. I had been going to the gym with this in mind for a long time, but in the absence of competitive sport, what becomes the focus of the gym?
The turning point for me, as with my introduction to golf, was Andrew Watson (Watties). Together, we started a supplement and training regime called Metaphase. We would wake at 6 am to train six days a week. To say our bodies took to it was an understatement. Physique training hooked Andrew and me, and from then on through my university years, I continued to bulk up and cut down, eventually competing in 3 regional competitions. Taking a 2nd and 3rd and qualifying for the nationals in my last outing (photos below).
Like all my sporting endeavours, bodybuilding taught many lessons. These lessons have application well beyond bodybuilding and have focussed my business life as a psychologist, coach, and business owner.
Lesson 1: Turning up is half the battle
Unlike the other sports that I took up, bodybuilding had no skill component to the training. Instead, what was required was a dogged determination to turn up and train, rain, hail, or shine. I learned that discipline during a lifetime of sports but what was different with weight training was the steady improvement, especially in the early years.
Unlike learning a skill, weight training required me to put in the work. Given my focus was on my studies, this suited me. Much of the world of work requires a similar discipline. Turn up, put in the hours of focussed work, and rewards will come. It is inconsistency, not inability, that often lets people down and stops them from achieving their Futureselves.
Lesson 2: Rest is as important as doing
Bodybuilding taught me the value of rest. I learnt that the harder I worked, the more I needed to rest. This lesson has held me in good stead in my professional life. For the most part, I have avoided burn out by understanding the need to rest and prioritise rest as part and parcel. When I have burnt out, and for another post, it has come from not heeding my advice.
Bodybuilding taught me what I needed to know about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, ice baths and active rest. I learned how the body responds to both hard work and rest and realised that both are equally important if you are indeed a high performer.
Lesson 3: Everything is a system
I weighed 69.9 kilos in the photos above, the same weight I walk around at now. Bodybuilding was about creating the illusion of size, especially as a lightweight. The hard part was holding muscle while dieting. To achieve an illusion of body size on stage, one must get everything right, diet, training and rest. The system, not a single part, is the crucial component to success in bodybuilding and life.
Too many people would look for the wonder drug, the golden ticket, the one lucky break. The reality is that none of these things makes for a truly successful life. Success is getting a successful system up and running and following that to the letter. You are only ever as good as the weakest part of the chain.
Lesson 4: 90% of what you read on any subject is chunk science
Fortunately, as I started to plateau, I was introduced to Dorian Yates’ training system, Blood and Guts, shorter routines with heavier weights. That time of training, common now, was ironically revolutionary at the time. In turn, Mike Mentzer inspired Dorian Yates, a man I met, had dinner with, and watched re-runs of the 80 Olympia at his house! Mentzer was my introduction to Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
Mike, in turn, was inspired by Arthur Jones, the father of the nautilus system. I loved Jones scientific approach to training and his irreverence. Jones noted that 90% of the literature on bodybuilding was nonsense and pointed out that this was the case in most fields. Over time, I found this statement to be a truism, applicable in almost all intellectual inquiry areas, including I/O psychology. Knowledge of this fact had helped me tackle sacred cows, like Ipsative testing, before it was popular to do so. My endorsement of ketogenic dieting in the ’90s is another example of going against the grain. Thinking for oneself was valuable, something I had reinforced by Jones.
Lesson 5: You can take anything too far
Bodybuilding is a sport that you can take too far. I remember a show in Christchurch where I was on stage, and someone started to convulse uncontrollable on stage because he was so water depleted. Many bodybuilders have died young, including New Zealanders. After competing, I, too, was tempted to go for size over the shape. It was at that point that I decide that bodybuilding, while fun, had run its course. I would continue to train but only for fun.
More than then the other sports that I have taken up in bodybuilding, I made friends that have remained good friends for life. Much like golf, bodybuilding also provided me with lessons that I have been able to take with me through my life, nutrition, training and rest. I learnt my limits and when your willpower can be an enemy of sense and sensibility. I still have the tear in my abductor when the brain pushed where the body could not go. It is a daily reminder of how much I love finding my limits and how I need good people around me to stop me from doing so!