Most bodybuilders are used to people approaching them with comments on the way they look. And why not? Bodybuilding is a sport you wear all the time. It's obvious to onlookers if you've achieved any success, especially in the warmer
months when clothing is sparse and flesh is exposed. "How long does it take to build a body like yours?" I am often asked. I usually reply, "All my life." The reason I respond that way is this: Bodybuilding is an ongoing pursuit;
always a work in progress, never finished. The bodybuilder reaches a strange balance of continually striving for something better while appreciating current accomplishments. I must also stay aware that no matter how hard or for how
many years I train, I will never look like a pro. Not even close. But that's not the objective, or it shouldn't be. Bodybuilding isn't about winning contests, it's about looking your best, whatever your best may be.
Anyone thinking of beginning a bodybuilding routine needs to focus on some basic principles right from the start. Successful body alteration requires physical effort and mental discipline, but there must be something more than sheer tenacity. You must want to live the bodybuilding lifestyle, for there will come a time when enthusiasm will wane. Results come slowly and the need for comfort food can be denied for only so long. The idea of lifting heavy objects loses its appeal, and most people drop out of the game after a year or so. That's when you have to want it more than ever. Only the strong survive.
What's kept me going for over 20 years is the belief that every time I enter the gym. I'm doing something good for myself. I will leave a better man than when I entered. And although the progress may not be apparent after every workout, the cumulative effects are certain. This is why a time limit can't be put on results. The results will come if you're persistent.
There are other motivations that separate the lifelong bodybuilder from the fitness dabbler. Call it pride or call it ego, but the fact remains: It feels good to know you stand out from the crowd. You look like someone who has used his time, effort and energy in a positive manner. I don't mean to deride those who don't train. As the Zen masters have espoused, comparing yourself to others is ultimately futile. If you find yourself to be greater, you become vain; if you feel you are lesser, you become bitter. It isn't the way to go. There will always be those greater and lesser than you.
Nevertheless, too many people don't respect their bodies. They brush off the importance of a lean muscular physique; they play down the attributes of superior conditioning. They're weak and lazy and I pity them. They don't know the joy of feeling strong. They live with their shortcomings and the physical consequences. Nobody wants to be out of shape, they just don't want to put forth the effort necessary to stay in good shape. The fact that getting and staying in shape requires commitment makes it that much more noble.
Bodybuilding helps develop moral fiber that carries over into all aspects of life and there's no better proof than its brightest star - Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has purpose of mind, irrepressible willpower and an unyielding sense of ambition, vision and duty. That's why he's been successful at everything he's undertaken, even though he didn't start with the greatest advantages. His body was unbalanced, yet he went on to become Mr. Olympia seven times. He was an immigrant, yet he went on to become governor. He was hardly a skilled actor, but as James Cameron once said, "The thing about Arnold that makes him a pleasure to work with is that he'll give you 100 percent whether it's the first take or the 500th." Doesn't that sound like the mindset of a dedicated bodybuilder? One more set. One more rep. Every one counts. Always give more than you think you can. Never give up. In today's sophisticated, ultra high-tech world these principles may sound quaint and archaic, but they work. Always have, always will.
Naturally, not everyone can be an Arnold Schwarzenegger, but we can all employ the basic principles of the body-building lifestyle that have become more obscured over the years. Charles Atlas was one of the forefathers of modern bodybuilding who sold a simple but highly successful exercise course through ads in comic books. As far back as 1930, Atlas had a motto: "The truest success is but the development of self." Think about that. Long before self-help gurus, psychotherapy and new-age thinking, Atlas hit the nail on the head, and he knew that the development of the body was a big part of self-development. Compare that to the slew of first-year trainers who peruse the Internet to find which steroid stack is best for someone who's been working out for a year and has "peaked." I'd bet the bank that these people won't be training a year from now - they don't have the stomach for it. They want results without the effort. But they may never discover that the effort produces more results than can be seen with the naked eye. The weights may build muscle, but the effort builds character, and when your character is strong you can do anything.
Your bodybuilding journey also reflects your personality. Like it simple? Squats and presses will work just fine. Like to be creative? Use your imagination to concoct a myriad of routines. All roads lead to Rome. Along the way you'll stumble, but there's never a reason to stop. Never. That's because you need it -more than you realize.
Bodybuilding is the ultimate therapy. It puts you in a frame of mind similar to meditation. Some speak of being in a "trance-like" state during their workouts. Do you lack self-control? Bodybuilding is the answer because it offers structure. Are your thoughts scattered? A workout provides focus. It's you against the iron, and pushing it feels good. Are you sluggish? Exercise and proper eating generates energy, endurance, hormonal balance, efficient digestion and elimination, and clears the mind. Are you nervous? Lifting weights calms the spirit. Are you feeling alone or neglected? Not as long as there are barbells and dumbbells nearby. They never let you down. Are you overwrought with worry? Load the bar, start squatting and your troubles will be the furthest thing from your mind. Bodybuilding is the fix. No one can take it away from you - not your boss, the government, or your ex-wife. What you put into it is what you get out of it. Where else in life are you going to get a deal like that?
Still, the ultimate goal for most people is a more muscular physique. So how long does it take to build a great body? Maybe the best answer is: "As long as it takes not to." Either way, the time will go by. Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day. All you need is one hour every other day to change your life. Will you use it? Will you have something to show for it at the end of the year? I know I will. Stay true to your purpose of having a better body and a better life and you will never regret it. That's not a prediction, it's a promise.