Three days in. Three days of waking up, taking my supplements, getting in my first meal on time, getting my fat ass on the treadmill and trying to huff through 20 minutes of hell. The first two days weren’t bad. Today, the shin splints officially started to take hold. The sad thing is, we’re still just strolling—three miles per hour, working up to a 10% incline by pushing the rate every two minutes, then bringing it back down the final ten minutes. And it’s hard. Wow, I’m out of shape. But I know if I grind out another day, it will get a little bit easier… and then a little bit easier… until it’s easy.
Cardio is a mixed bag for me. Sometimes, it’s where I get my best thinking done, my meditation and planning, my ideas for writing or advertising or projects that I like to undertake to keep me entertained. Sometimes, cardio is where I turn schizophrenic, as my brain rapidly darts back and forth down a laundry list of things I have to get done on that specific day, when I usually don’t have the time to properly address all the things on the list. Sometimes, I just blast my music through headphones, let it batter my eardrums, and let pure emotive feel run the session. Sometimes I read.
Today was a meditation day.
I thought about this past year and a half, since my last series of competitions in spring of 2014. That was my “comeback year”, my redemption if you will, after almost having walked away permanently from bodybuilding in 2012. I used 2014 to see if I still had the passion and fire necessary to put my body and mind through the ringer, and hit the stage at my all-time best. And I did. And it reignited me.
After completion of my 2014 shows, I knew I needed one last offseason to take care of business, family, and continue to make some improvements to my physique, before making one last run and finally hitting a national show—which I plan on being my one-and-only run. Why? Frankly, because I know there are other things that are beginning to matter to me far more than pursuing physique competition, and I don’t see myself wanting to invest the necessary effort to continue climbing the ranks. One and done, and I am more than fine with that.
I approached the second half of 2014 and most of 2015 with the mindset of being as good as I had ever been—you know, all of the stuff you always say you’re going to do in the offseason, and then resolve slowly fades and you fail to be consistent:
- I’m going to stick to my meal plan 100% this year, even while not prepping
- I’m going to consistently train abs
- I’m going to stretch and foam roll more
- I’m going to do cardio even when I’m not trying to get leaner
I did a better job of sticking to that plan than I ever have any other offseason. I kept my weight in check better, never getting much over 290lbs (when in years past, I have hit 315lbs). I actually did train abs almost weekly, and I did stretch more and do more foam rolling at home. Cardio—well, let’s just say that, try as I might to have embraced her, we were still acrimonious in the offseason, and are just now trying to befriend each other once again.
But I still wasn’t 100%. I have never had an offseason where I was the 100% dedicated bodybuilder.
I’ve heard “legends” of guys like that—IFBB Pro Roman Fritz, who stays shredded year round, and measures his ketchup out to the gram. Lord knows Dorian Yates was like this. And there are a few others.
As much as I respect these absolute paradigms of bodybuilding perfection, I’ve just never been able to get into that headspace where I have that degree of total devotion and obsessive perfection. In fact, there’s a part of me that rebels at it, and almost cherishes not being that devoted.
The question: why?
I remember interviewing one of the guests on the GEAR’D Up podcast (can’t remember who, unfortunately), and he said, “Bodybuilding should be there to enhance your life, not be your life”.
And I agree with this 100%. I have never seen my primary identity as a “bodybuilder”. There is far more to me than that, and my passions run the gamut and reach out in several other directions.
Bodybuilding, as a lifestyle and hobby, commands an intense amount of one’s focus, dedication, time and effort. Even in the offseason, you still have to get in numerous meals per day, devote time to training almost every single day, continue to research, take your daily supplements, etc. BUT, when in the offseason, if you miss a single meal—it’s not going to sabotage you to the degree it would while prepping for a show. And thus, I have always appreciated my offseasons for being 85% dedicated, with 15% freedom to not “be a bodybuilder”.
When I travel on a weekend, if I feel like skipping a workout and relaxing with my family, I cherish that. Between my job, my hobby, and my passion, bodybuilding already consumes 90% of my waking hours. And I like being able to shut it down on occasion—not worry about the macros in something I bought from a food truck, or whether I’ll go “catabolic” by skipping an arm workout.
No, I spent a decent chunk of this offseason taking my daughter to the movies on a Friday night, and I would buy popcorn—not on my meal plan. And I sincerely can’t say I regret a single kernel of that popcorn. And I’m pretty sure I never will. Same goes for the few training sessions I missed, the cardio I was supposed to do but didn’t (because I was too busy building an empire), and anything else that failed to meet the 100% dedicated expectation.
And hence we’re flipping the switch. Three days in, three days on the treadmill. Not officially prepping yet, but sliding the volume control up from 85% to 95%. We’ll linger here for the next three months, and then begin prep proper. During prep, I am the 100% dedicated bodybuilder. It’s the only way to be successful while competing.
But somewhere in the back of my mind, I will know that I did not hit my full potential, I could have been a little better, worked a little harder, been a little smarter.
I will also know that my daughter will love me all the more for it. And I will not lose a single wink of sleep over having never hit my potential. You can keep that “potential”, it isn’t worth it. And for better or worse, I was cursed with the uncanny ability to do the math.
-David A. Johnston
David Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within. You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( GEARDUp.com ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.
David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.