One personality trait that lends itself well to being a successful physique competitor, is a certain amount of obsessiveness. The “I have to” mentality—“I have to get in my workouts or I’ll shrink”; “I have to get in every meal or I won’t make gains”. You get the idea.
In the last few years in our industry, this has translated to a slew of kitschy catch phrases plastered all over T-shirts, seen by the “hardcore sect” of modern bikini warriors. My two favorite of course have to be, “Beast Mode”, and even more insulting to the seasoned bodybuilder, “There is No Off Season”.
While I understand the intent of these shirts, as an individual who has been grinding it out in the weight room with no real breaks for almost 12 years now, I often want to take said pun-laden shirt off the back of the novice, and wrap it delicately around their throat.
Not only is it an insult to those who have actually spent years paying their dues (to use another cliché), but it also misses much of the reality of how hardcore bodybuilding actually works.
Last week, my family took a 7-day vacation to Deep Creek, MD. I had been feeling soooo burnt out in the preceding weeks, between crushing my own training, prepping countless other individuals, traveling to a slew of shows to be with my competitors, and just trying to run my damn business—I knew I was overdue for a break.
I debated whether I should find a local gym up there and at least get in a few workouts; try to stick to my offseason meal plan as best I could, even if that only meant 70%; and at least not have a “total wash” of a week, make some progress with my training, at least try to not back-track.
And at the eleventh hour, I said “Fuck it”, completely and totally. I decided to not train at all, and take off a full eight days from the gym. I decided I was going to eat whatever the hell I wanted, when I wanted, regardless of how gluttonous. I decided I wasn’t going to take a single supplement the entire time. And I decided I was going to fully embrace my “off season”, even there “there is no off season”, and lay on my fat happy ass for an entire week, doing everything in my power to fully embrace the transition from “beast mode” to “sloth mode”.
The week was heavily-laden with pancakes, pizza, ice cream, and of course, pound after pound of tourist fudge. Nothing quite as enjoyable as being a 290lbs bodybuilder, walking into a fudge shop, and proceeding to double-fist it in front of all the patrons.
It took about four days before I felt a little recharged—like I had finally started to get good sleep and recover.
When I got back home, I was a bit nervous to see the aftermath. We arrived back Sunday afternoon, so first thing Monday morning, I hopped on the scale and grabbed my fasted weight. I was up about 7lbs from when we left for vacation (presumably all bloat). We went in to lift on Monday afternoon, and took our weekly progress pictures afterwards to send to our coach. And something interesting happened.
First of all, I had one of the best workouts I had had in weeks. I was energized, excited, and happy to be sweating my ass off. But more interestingly, looking at my pictures, even though my weight was up, I looked leaner, fuller, and rounder. I compared pictures to the last few weeks, and sure enough, it wasn’t in my head. Somehow, an entire week of being a lazy sack of crap, coupled with eating as poorly as possible, and here I was, looking and feeling the best I had looked and felt in quite a while.
See, that personality trait of obsessiveness that can help us as competitors, can also bite us in the ass when it causes us to not step back, evaluate, and see if we’re doing the right things to make the progress we want to make. If you train as hard as you should be training, you need to take periodic breaks, lest you start to flirt with over training. And although it has also become cliché to say, “There’s no such thing as over training, just under eating and under sleeping” blah blah blah—well, bullshit. The human body’s capacity for work is not infinite. And if you really train balls-to-the-wall each time you set foot in the gym, true “beastmode” style, you’re going to need to take breaks.
I am particularly inclined to over training—not only my passion (bodybuilding), but also my hobby (following the sport), my career (personal training)—basically every single thing I do from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I go to sleep—revolves somehow around bodybuilding. Couple that with a hectic work schedule, a sleep schedule that doesn’t allow me to recover well, a young daughter at home, etc., and you have all the makings for running yourself into the ground.
The moral of the story? Learn to listen to your body, and whatever signals it is sending to you, be smart enough to read them. Most of us do not err on the side of “overdoing it”, and, to be blunt, could use a few swift kicks in the ass on most days of the week. Some of us, by contrast, err on the other side of the spectrum, and probably expect too much of ourselves too consistently, not giving our bodies that precious time to rest and recuperate when we desperately need it.
But end of the day, don’t let your emotions run you on this issue, and be another neurotic lifter putting in half-assed attempts because you “feel you need to”. Sometimes, the soul just needs pizza and ice cream, even if the “beast-mode” within you has convinced you that “there is no off-season”.
-David A. Johnston