Five Bodybuilding Illusions Amateurs Need to Ditch

TAGS: Five Bodybuilding Illusions, bodybuilding vs powerlifting, bodybuilding competition, Mark Dudgale, bodybuilding

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To some extent, all of bodybuilding is an illusion. Tiny joints, cartoonish muscle bellies, and extremely low body fat cause a great physique to appear otherworldly under proper stage lighting. The illusions bleed into the bodybuilding lifestyle and often get embellished via publications. Today we tweet, update our status, and Instagram such things. When you think about it, much of it is smoke and mirrors.

I certainly hope that my professional bodybuilding career is far from over, but one thing I know is that it’s 10 years closer to ending than when I won the 2004 USA. Here are a few things that I wish I had understood when I began this journey. Perhaps they will help you see past some of the illusions…

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

My first foray into bodybuilding entailed teen and junior divisions, which are exempt from weight classes. I still remember the nervousness associated with weigh-ins when I moved on to the open class weight divisions. Milling around waiting your turn to step on the scale with competitors sizing each other up...I hated it. I always felt like the smallest guy in the class, especially in sweats. However, I quickly learned that oftentimes the “small” looking guy in clothes proves to be the most dangerous on stage. Bigger isn’t always better. The guy who can create the biggest illusion tends to win.

The Rewards of Hard Work Are Different Than You Think

Bodybuilding isn’t like punching the clock. You don’t put in X amount of time and receive X payment for your effort. Monetarily, the return on investment of competing often doesn’t pencil out, and that’s OK if you aren't mortgaging your children’s future to pursue it. Hard work builds character. Hard work met with defeat onstage when handled professionally builds integrity and displays humility.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a British preacher from the 1800s, said, “Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil and let us see what we are made of.” Too often, a long list of victories dilutes a man’s character, integrity, and humility. A tall tree weathers wind storms via a strong root system, so don’t get discouraged when working against a stiff wind in your face.

Hartmann Pressdown

Live in the Now

In 2006, I cracked the top five at the Iron Man Pro, placing a good 10 slots higher than a relatively unknown competitor at the time, Kai Greene. Now, consider the delusion of me walking around saying that if Kai and I ever met again on stage, I should easily beat him or the judges suck. I’m no longer even in Kai’s league, yet I hear IFBB pros talking this rubbish all the time. Past success doesn’t necessarily equate to present day outcomes. Thinking and talking this way annoyingly equates to the crusty old man in your gym talking endlessly about what he bench pressed in the early 1970s.

Similarly, how many guys say that they plan to enter their first bodybuilding competition once they put on a little more size? I just assume they don’t possess the willpower to diet, but let’s take them at their word. The problem with the “more size” argument is that it’s too vague and there’s always going to be someone bigger.

It sounds simple, but countless guys live either in the past or the future. Why? Well, I think we tend to gravitate toward a time in which we believe that things were or will be better. The problem is that we never enjoy the present. The future may never come as expected and the past is well…the past. Enjoy today while it’s available to enjoy.

Bodybuilders Are Born

Somewhere along the line, we erroneously painted everything in life with a broad brush with Thomas Jefferson’s “unalienable rights” endowed to us by the creator in the Declaration of Independence. I contend that elite level bodybuilders are endowed as such by their creator, but the creator didn’t endow everyone. As “Americans,” I know we bristle at such a notion because public school taught us that we can be anything we want to be if we just set our minds to it and work hard! Well, if your pelvis is wider than the span of your clavicles, you can kiss that Mr. Olympia dream bye-bye.

Don’t hate me for delivering the truth. Listen, letting this sink in actually brings forth freedom. You can stop chasing the illusion that if you just hit upon the magic drug combination, perfect meal plan, and precisely prescribed training program, your dreams will materialize. Stop banging your head against the wall and just go after being your best. If endowed with world-class genetics, your hard work and discipline will get you there.

Harris Curl

Bodybuilding Is about the Inches, Not the Pounds

Friend, former competitive IFBB pro bodybuilder, and Olympia emcee/host Bob Cicherillo once told me: “Remember, it’s not how much you can lift but how much you look like you can lift.” Ah, there’s the illusion again. Exempt from the judge’s score cards—lifting totals. This seems like an often forgotten fact among bodybuilders.

If you can get big lifting lighter weights in a more intelligent manner, why not save your joints and extend your career by dropping the desire to possess weight lifting bragging rights? I’m paying for the sins of too heavy lifting in my past, so I get the exhilaration of moving big weight. However, if that’s how you’re physically built and mentally wired, go down the powerlifting road and chase pounds. Bodybuilding has more to do with inches on a measuring tape than pounds on a barbell.

I’ll conclude with one last analogy. Driving a car in a rainstorm with fogged up windows decreases your likelihood of survival. My hope is that this article clears some of the fog from your windshield. Bodybuilding taught me plenty of lessons. Some I learned the hard way. Keep your head clear and sober and you won’t fall prey to some of the aforementioned illusions of bodybuilding.

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