It is a mythical place — a place where only magically awesome things happen. Before I knew what it was, I had heard the almost unbelievable tales of growth while staying ripped, and skin splitting pumps while feeding the muscles as if there was a garden hose in them, blowing them up.

“You can grow muscle like you have never seen before,” they said.

Even though it sounded like a really bad infomercial, part of me wanted to believe it. We all want to believe it. Bitch is, I should have known better, because that is not exactly what I found and I don’t recall anything too “mythical” about it.  I remember it being absolute hell.

A Decade Hiatus

I hadn’t competed in almost ten years when I first moved to Colorado. I got back into it a few years after settling in Denver and even though I came out with a class win (missed the overall by a point — story of my life), I was smart enough to know that I needed to add a lot of size for the following year.  I put together a plan that I felt confident in and pushed the envelope in the off-season to make great gains.  At the same time, I gained an exorbitant amount of body fat. I didn’t much care, though, because the gains I made were great and I knew how to peel off body fat. That is what I do, “Skin Is Overrated.”  (Shameless plug, I know.)

The prep was a bitch and this is grossly understated.  I lost roughly sixty-five pounds by the time I hit the stage and even though I was very happy with my condition, clearly I had beaten my body to shit for that twenty-two-week prep. I was happy with the outcome of the show but I had one more show to do two weeks later. I had no idea what was in store.

post show hell 031615

One week after the first show I was in the gym going through a shitty workout where I had no energy and felt like ass. This was pretty typical as I had done this many times before, but this workout was different. The energy was a lot lower, the weights were ridiculously heavy, and my guts hurt.  And when I say my guts hurt, they hurt in a weird way — deep in the left side of my rib cage.  After a couple days of sucking it up and pushing through, my wife remarked one day upon waking that I had a couple sores on my back. I didn’t much care so I didn’t bother to take a look figuring that I had other shit to do that was more important like train, be bitchy to her, etc. I got to the gym later that day and during my warm-up sets I remember thinking, "maybe this is what cancer feels like."  Something was wrong. Really wrong.


I put the weights down and headed straight to the Emergency Room. By the time I got there, I was sick to my stomach. I feared the worst.

When I took my shirt off to show the nurse, she winced and said that she had not seen a case that bad on someone so young. I was thirty-three and in great shape; they were perplexed. I wasn’t surprised as much as I was relieved to hear the diagnosis of shingles. How bad can THAT be? Hell, I was just glad they hadn’t used the word cancer. Some Tussin and I would be well on my way to recovery, right?

Listen, if you have had shingles or have known someone with shingles, you have a better understanding of how bad it can get.  There are cases that are mild and there are cases like mine that are really bad. The next few weeks were hell and nothing helped: medicine, heating pad, cold packs, a fan, topicals —NOTHING.  Had I been given the chance, I may have jumped in front of a bus. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t go anywhere; and I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t itch the sores because they would bleed and hurt.

I won’t go into all of the details of shingles other than to say you don’t fucking want them, even a mild case. Plus, explaining how bad it was could take up another five pages, easily. It has been eleven years and I remember it like it was two minutes ago. Why? Because the nerve pain hits me every twenty to thirty seconds of my life, day or night — even 11 years later. I will likely take it to my grave. It is a constant reminder to me of what I did to myself. That’s right, I did it to myself.

post show hell off stage 031615

Too many bodybuilding competitors think it’s cute to gain absurd amounts of weight after a show and they think it is part of the game to be a fatass during the offseason. They then beat the shit out of their bodies for a prep phase to get into shape for a show. Once the show is done, they start the next phase by eating like a hog and basically continuing to beat up their body. Understand this: the body can only take so much.

It takes extraordinary effort to get into great shape for a contest.  By the time the show rolls around your body is in a very weak and vulnerable position. If you don’t respect this and allow it time to rest and recover after a show, you are asking for trouble. What happened to me is not a freak situation. It happens a LOT.  Many people get sick post-show with everything from bronchitis to shingles to just simply being sick for a few weeks. I recall after one show I actually dealt with narcolepsy for almost three weeks.  I would be in the middle of a conversation at work, with many people standing around, and I would fall asleep right there in my chair. The demands that we put on our bodies for a show end up beating the immune system to shit and that leaves every one of us vulnerable.

Post show is a time to rest and recover. It is not a time to go right back to the gym and add in a ton of supplements and try to take advantage of some mythical growth period. You will grow coming off of a show even after you take the time to rest your body for a week or two. In fact, your gains will likely be better in the long run if you hold off and rest, because you won’t lose time being sick or lose time from an injury.  Focusing on hydration, eating more calories (but not going crazy), and just plain enjoying not having to do cardio or train should be a welcome change. You will miss out on growth in the post-show phase about as much as you will miss out on growth if you don’t get nutrition during the 30 minute post-workout window.

Just Sayin’.

columnist author photo