By Terry Grant
“In every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent advantage. In every defeat is a lesson showing you how to win the victory next time.”
“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not frighten them, but to challenge them.”
In Body Transformation Part I, we peered through a window into my past to get a better understanding of the challenges and adversity I experienced early on. It was these trials that eventually led me to training, and the desire to transform my body and my life.
We will all face the heaviness of life at some point or another. The question is will we learn to grow, adapt, and overcome it or collapse under its pressure?
It was around the age of eighteen that I began the process of making a body transformation. However, most of my attempts have been only moderately successful at best and downright failures at worst.
Few of us have the wisdom or capacity of succeeding at our first attempts at something. Who knows why?
Maybe we weren’t experienced enough? Maybe we weren’t disciplined enough? Maybe we didn’t focus hard enough? Maybe we just didn’t have a strong enough desire to put forth the required effort? Maybe we didn’t hold ourselves accountable?
I realize that although I may not have achieved my ultimate goal and potential so far, there are many lessons I have learned along the way. Here’s a few of them I’d like to share with you now. Take them for what they’re worth.
Body Transformation 101- The Lessons Learned
As you know, the lessons we learn will often follow the tests and experiences that life throws at us. It will be the same in this article.
As you can see in the picture at the beginning of this article, I started out as a skinny lil guy at 130lbs. Through training I was able to gain thirty pounds of muscle, but then I got careless and fat. After concentrating my efforts on performing a metabolic conditioning phase this past summer, I was able to reduce my body fat levels down to 10%.
I had made several attempts to gain more muscle while at a higher body fat percentage, but noticed that my surplus of calories seemed to be turning consistently to fat rather than muscle. I finally realized that I needed to lose belly fat, focus on getting lean, and doing some corrective exercises to heal my body.
Now I’m lean again, but my ultimate desire has always been to weigh between 185-195. So, that means I’ve still got to gain about thirty to forty pounds.
Lesson Learned # 1: Plan well, do your homework and do it right the first time.
Due to years of not knowing what I was doing I had back problems, muscle imbalances, and a shoulder injury. It was due to these preexisting muscle imbalances and injuries adding up over time that I couldn’t train with enough intensity to convert all of these calories into muscle. I was mainly getting fat and in denial about it. My body fat percentage was a whopping 24% and my waist was closing in on 39 inches.
I wanted to build muscle fast and so badly that I never took the time to set my self up for success when I was younger. Time and time again I would just jump into a mass phase and start piling the weights on without first preparing my body and mind for what was to come. Big mistake. It was like I was banging my head into a wall and kept wondering why my head hurt.
What I didn’t realize then is that lifting weights is really hard on your body, especially the ectomorph body. You must build a solid foundation before trying to build on it.
What I should have done was spent several months using bodyweight exercises only. Using upper body exercises like: Handstand and pike push-ups for your shoulders, push-up variations and dips for your chest and triceps. Then pull-ups, chin-ups, inverted rows, and rope chins for your lats, mid-back, and biceps.
For lower body exercises I could have selected from: Rear foot elevated split squats, step-ups, lunges, and unilateral (single-leg) squats for my quads. Then hit my hamstrings and glutes with unilateral deadlifts, single stiff leg deadlifts, hip thrusts, and glute bridge variations.
To finish off a full body workout I could work my core by using ab wheel rollouts, or stability ball jack knives, stability ball pikes, front and side planks, or even knee raises. Then to strengthen my neck a stability ball wrestler’s bridge, or front and side neck bridges would have worked great.
I now know that many coaches like Vince Delmonte, Alwyn Cosgrove and others believe that you have no business applying an external load (lifting weights) unless you can handle your bodyweight first. You should be able to do 30-40 push-ups easily, 20 dips, 10-15 chin-ups and hold a plank for at least 3 minutes before ever touching a weight.
Starting off with bodyweight exercises like those listed above will develop a solid foundation that will strengthen the entire body.
Using bodyweight exercises helps to condition the body, strengthen the muscles, joints, ligaments, stabilizer muscles and teach the body to move in a functional and integrated way. This enables you to handle heavier weights more safely and with less chances of injury once you do apply external loading.
Lesson Learned # 2: You must earn the right to lift weights by first lifting your bodyweight.
If you just start lifting heavy, balls to the wall, letting your ego run the show you’re going to get hurt. Lots of young guys don’t think about this when starting out (I never did), but a lot of athlete’s, bodybuilders, and power lifters get pretty banged up and end up with a host of injuries to their backs, shoulders, knees, etc. Many are forced to get surgeries, retire early and end up with severe pain in their joints and bodies as they age.
Lots of people fail to understand this and they’re all hardcore about lifting heavy weights at all costs. That’s cool and all, but one of my goals (besides getting bigger, faster, and stronger) is to also be healthy and live an active life, well into old age. Call me crazy, but I want the best of both worlds!
Now part of all that is just the price you pay for being a warrior. Injuries happen and are a part of the game. We shouldn’t live in fear of injury. If you lift weights or play sports expect to experience an injury at some point. That’s just reality.
My whole point is that a lot of injuries can be prevented all together by training smart, dropping the ego, and learning to listen to what your body is telling you.
If you’re listening, your body will tell you what you need to know and do 99% of the time. Yet, our bodies speak a very subtle, almost intuitive language. If we aren’t in tune with our body we will not heed its message and instead we’ll end up listening to our ego. The ego usually gives you bad advice!
Lesson Learned # 3: Drop the ego and listen to the wisdom of your body.
You can see the result of not listening to my body by checking out the middle picture above.
A funny thing about this screw up is that I thought I was only 12-15% body fat at this point because I had my body fat scale set to “Athlete” mode instead of “Normal.” When I switched it to the proper setting it shot through the roof.
I guess I was just happy to finally see the scale moving in an upward trend for a change, so I overlooked the fact that I could no longer see my feet! I’m exaggerating a little bit there.
Anyway, I can laugh about it now because I trained like a warrior this past summer doing complexes, bodyweight and core circuit training, heavy bag drills, trail running, and carries.
I burned off what was left of my gut, and strengthened my core and weak points. In addition to that I had been rehabbing my injuries over the past year or so and have also healed my back and shoulder injuries about 95%. I’m still working on correcting my posture though, but I’m seeing improvements.
My waist measures 32 inches and the scale now reads 155 lbs at 10%. Yes, that’s on the “normal” setting!
Lesson Learned # 4: The scale is a valuable tool, but the mirror doesn’t lie.
There’s so much information out there on how to make a successful body transformation that it’s hard to know who to believe or where to place your trust. Most of it is terrible misinformation and even harmful to your long term health.
It’s very easy to get confused, especially as a hardgainer or ectomorph seeking to build muscle. I know because I’ve been that ectomorph. I’ve literally spent years weeding through all of the differing and opposing views. The problem is everybody has a different view!
One important thing I’ve realized is that there are many different paths up the mountain. Each path has its own difficulties and challenges and it’s own positives and negatives. It’s easy to get lost when we walk around aimlessly, trying to find our own way to the top.
The wise traveler seeks out a knowledgeable and experienced guide (or several) that has already reached the summit and asks him or her to lead the way. Personally, I like to learn from many different sources and approaches.
So after years of frustration, I decided to learn the principles of body transformation once and for all. I bought tons of programs, ebooks, and courses on how to build muscle as a skinny guy. Many of the better ones are featured on this very site. I love the internet!
I’ve been reading, learning, and searching for the principles that each program has in common. Only the details change from program to program, but I noticed that the underlying principles always remained the same. Once you know the principles you know what truly works.
Lesson Learned # 5: Learn the principles from those who have walked the path before you.
One thing I am is persistent. I refuse to quit. I refuse to give up. I know that I can succeed as long as I can keep going forward and apply what I learn from each mistake and failure I experience.
It may take some of us longer to reach our goals, but each of us is unique and has a different set of problems and difficulties to work through and overcome.
One thing to recognize is that only a fool keeps repeating his mistakes over and over. A smart man or woman will learn from his or her mistakes and make insightful changes. However, a true wise person will learn from other’s mistakes and make the most rapid progress in life.
For many years, I was a fool, repeating the same mistakes over and over. I think most people would have given up by now, but not me. I’m stubborn that way. I don’t think I can yet claim to be a wise man, but I’m definitely learning from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. Are you?
I want you to know that it’s okay to make mistakes, we all do. Mistakes and failure are a part of the learning process of life. Failure is simply put, an illusion. Never let it be anything more than that. Never be afraid to fail. The reality is that the most successful people in the world are often those who have failed the most.
If you want something bad enough, never give up. Keep going until you succeed.
Lesson Learned # 6: You never truly fail, you only quit trying.
Thanks to the many experts and coaches featured on this website, I can safely say I know more about body transformation than 90% of the people in the world. Yet, knowing is only half the battle, as G.I. Joe taught me as a child.
I’m not saying that I’m an expert and that I know it all (far from it), but I KNOW what I need to do. Now I just need to DO IT. I realize now that the missing ingredient for me has always been APPLICATION.
Did you get that? That right there is the key to success in life: The Application of Knowledge.
Why oh why didn’t G.I. Joe tell me about the other half of the battle? 🙂
It’s like Vince said in his No Nonsense Muscle Building Book, and I’m paraphrasing here: “I KNOW are the two most harmful words in the English language. You do not know until YOU DO.”
It’s easy to understand the principles behind a concept. Grasping the principles is a very important component, but the MOST important thing is being able to put those principles into ACTION.
That my friend is also the biggest challenge of transforming your body and your life!
We are creatures of habit and our habits become so ingrained in us that summoning the effort, desire, will, and energy to change them is more than most people can bear. However, if you truly want to make a transformation in this lifetime, you must find it within yourself to apply all that you are learning.
Lesson Learned # 7: Knowledge isn’t power, until it is has been applied.
We live in a cause and effect universe. If you understand the cause of something you can determine the effect or results you’ll get.
The formula looks like this:
Beliefs >>> Thoughts >>> Feelings >>> Actions >>> Experience
Many people “believe” that the external world is the overriding influence on our lives. In other words, they “believe” that their circumstances are creating the way they feel. The reason someone is (feeling) sad, is because X (experience) happened to them. It seems logical, but is it really true?
What scientists are now discovering is that it is our internal world, the world of our beliefs that are actually the initial and overriding cause of what we experience. In other words, what we “believe”, “think”, and “feel” determine how we act and thus how we experience life. (see the formula above)
So, knowing this the question we need to ask ourselves is… Do I have the right beliefs?
It was my lack of belief in my own abilities that allowed me to give in to fear and doubt for many years. This cycle had repeated itself many times over and the truth is that I could have achieved a lot of my goals by now if I had eradicated these limiting beliefs.
It was these limiting beliefs that were secretly sabotaging my efforts in the gym.
I had the belief that I was a hardgainer. I had the belief that I truly didn’t deserve to succeed. I had the belief that no matter what I did I still couldn’t gain muscle. I had the belief that my injuries were holding me back. I had the belief that my genetics where to blame.
These were beliefs that were circulating underneath my conscious thoughts. It wasn’t until I started eliminating these negative beliefs that I started making progress in all areas of my life.
Lesson Learned # 8: Your beliefs are the ultimate determinant of your results.
Many people would have you believe that your life is preordained or predestined and there’s nothing you can do to change your destiny. Others would have you believe that your life is simply a matter of chance or luck. Well, neither of these is accurate, but if you “believe” them then they will be true for you. That’s how powerful belief is!
What I’m here to tell you is that the outcome of your life is a result of what YOU believe to be true for you and what you know or feel deep in your heart.
If you have a very strong dream, then you should follow it. Make it happen. Realize that you are 100% responsible for how your life turns out. It’s up to you and only you.
Realize that no one is going to come along and save you. You must save yourself. You are responsible for every single thing that you experience in life. That’s right… the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When I think back over the last fourteen years of working out, many of the worst experiences in my life (the failures, the injuries, etc.) have turned out to be my greatest gifts and teachers. I know that I am responsible for everything that I had to go through. I brought these experiences on myself, so that I could learn from them.
The secret that I didn’t recognize then is that in every moment of adversity there lays a hidden opportunity.
It is through struggle that we grow stronger. It is through overcoming resistance that the muscle grows larger. It is through the pain of sadness that we learn the pleasure of joy.
You are the creator of your world. Now take responsibility for making it what you want it to be. Choose wisely!
Lesson Learned # 9: You must take 100% responsibility for everything that happens to you.
For many years I was stuck in my ways. I only cared about myself and what I wanted. I thought I knew it all and had this whole thing called “life” figured out. I had closed my mind and wasn’t willing to really listen to other people’s views, opinions or advice.
I wasn’t willing to learn, grow, and change. I wasn’t learning the lessons life was trying to teach me and so round and round I went. Ever wondered why you keep experiencing similar frustrations over and over again in your life? It’s because the lessons we need to learn will keep repeating themselves until we finally decide to learn them.
The sooner you learn the lessons, the sooner you will meet with success in whatever you do. Our survival is based on this. It is how human evolution works.
Speaking of evolution, many times you’ll often hear “Only the strong survive.” In other circles you’ll hear “Brains over brawn.” So, which is it? Which characteristic ensures a species survival up the evolutionary ladder, strength or intelligence?
Here’s the answer by the man himself, Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
In the end it is those who are willing to learn, grow, and change who will be able to adapt to anything life throws at them. This is both the secret to our evolution and the key to making a successful body and life transformation.
Lesson Learned # 10: Keep an open mind, learn, grow and always embrace change.
These are several of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last fourteen years. If you’re smart you’ll take them to heart. If not, you’ll probably have to learn them the hard way like I did, that is if you haven’t already. And that’s okay too. Sometimes experience is our best teacher. It may take twice as long, but the lessons seem to stick that way.
About the Author:
Brandon Cook is creator of The Awakened Warrior Blog, and co-creator of HardgainerMuscleBuilding.com, a website specifically designed to teach hardgainers how to build muscle fast using the laws and scientific principles of body transformation.
HargainerMuscleBuilding.com features a free email class covering the basic principles of training naturally, eating a nutritious, muscle-building diet, and understanding the truth about supplements. The website is filled with free articles, videos, and the programs you need to create your ideal body.
Please visit us at http://hardgainermusclebuilding.com
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