Approaching the 2020 IFBB Olympia still feels a bit surreal, but I’d like to take the time to step back and remember the journey that got me to this point. Obviously, I had to endure some physical labor in order to achieve an Olympian-level physique. My mind, however, was my greatest tool along the way.
It takes a certain mindset to reach a high level in bodybuilding, a career, or even academics. Your mind is what will give you the grit to push through the physical challenges, see out your vision, and set goals beyond what you thought were your limits. Your own mind can also be self-limiting—giving you doubts and fear—which prevents you from achieving your goals. Even today I still struggle with the same issues as I did when I first competed. The difference is that I have fostered a mindset that allows me to achieve more than I thought possible. Here are some ways to keep your mind on track.
Manage Your Emotions
You will have days on prep, and life in general, that will be hard. There will be days you wake up and look worse than the day before. You will have moments in the gym where strength drops and pumps are long gone. Whatever it was about bodybuilding that brought you happy feelings won’t be there, and you will be left with disappointment.
This can easily drive you to make not-so-good emotional decisions. Waking up looking small and soft might drive you to double your cardio or add in a cheat meal when you shouldn’t. You should separate yourself from these types of emotional reactions.
If you feel an emotional response from something, sit with it and talk yourself through it. I think journaling is a huge help in understanding your own emotions and responses to those emotions. As humans we have emotions, but it’s in our control to manage our reaction to those emotions. So write down the emotion and why you felt that way, logically think out why that emotion is present and if your reaction is appropriate or not, and think of how you should react instead.
Make a Team and Trust Them
You need to surround yourself with educated, goal-driven people that will keep you straight. My first prep was a mental nightmare. I was angry most of the time, always looking for more progress and making wrong choices. I had no one to give me that outside perspective on my current progress and set my mind at ease.
Now, I can bounce my ideas, thoughts, and feelings off of my current coach. I have a wife that won’t just tell me what I want to hear but what I need to hear. These are the people I listen to. I don’t listen to everyone on social media praising or condemning me. I don’t know them; they don’t know me. Drop anyone on your team that is not building you up. Don’t even hesitate. Get them out of your life. If I had a wife, a coach, or a friend—anyone—that was trying to break me down and make me feel like a lesser person, they wouldn’t be part of my life at all.
Perspective With the Negatives
In bodybuilding, we are judged so much on our appearance that we are almost always seeking to find the negatives or weaknesses to improve. Now this can be a very positive thing, but it can easily take you down the wrong path. Your weak biceps can suddenly make you think “I am not cut out for this” or “how will I ever compete at that level?” These types of statements will only drive you down and make you live in a sheltered hole your entire life. If you want to be great, it’s your choice. As crazy as it sounds, focus on positive self-talk and gratitude: “I will win the Olympia,” “I can beat my goals,” or “I will grow my biceps.” If your greatest worry is about big biceps or winning the Olympia, consider yourself pretty damn fortunate. Be grateful for everything in your life and you will be content in all situations.
Humility and Growth
I competed the first three years without a coach, learning and reading everything I could. When it came to my intelligence, I felt that I had something to prove. I lacked humility in this regard. There were people that knew way more than me that could help. You need to be humble in order to have a growth mindset. Approach everything with a critical but open mind. You should question all things and not accept anything blindly, but also not shut yourself off from learning. Seek out those better than you and learn everything you can.
I visualize a lot during a contest prep. The physical aspect of cardio is the most challenging for me as it is so monotonous. I often close my eyes during my cardio sessions and visualize myself, shredded to the bone, walking on stage, posing flawlessly, and winning. Thinking about the feeling of success gives me the endurance to bear the physical punishment of contest prep. This process will develop your mind into a greater weapon than you ever had before—you could achieve your fullest personal potential possible and self-actualize.
Not all of us will have the physical attributes to be an Olympian, but we all have the ability to have an Olympian mindset. With that kind of mindset, you will make the most out of your abilities whether it be in bodybuilding or another area of your life. Train your mind and achieve your goals.
Stop doing cardio and you will never lose your gains—this answer seems like the obvious one, right? It’s commonly thought that in concurrent training—the combined training of aerobic and resistance training—endurance training creates some interference that can limit hypertrophy signaling. As a result, bodybuilders all around have been trying to limit cardio to prevent muscle gains from slipping away, but if implemented correctly, cardio won't steal your gains. From a bodybuilding standpoint, cardio must happen sometimes to create the energy deficit possible to get stage lean. From an off-season perspective, there is some merit to continuing cardio for general health reasons, such as aiding sleep and stress management, and allowing those squats to wear out your quads before wearing out your lungs. I am going to cover how to implement cardio with the least impact to strength and hypertrophy gains.
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