My fitness journey

By John Litteral

As I am reaching my 50s, I look back and I am thankful for getting into fitness training in my early 20s. I was always very active as a child and in my teen years. I did not play many sports, but I enjoyed outdoor activities such as playing with neighborhood kids, hiking, fishing, hunting, riding bicycles, etc. At the time I never realized how those activities kept me in shape. I remember being able to run fast and I was naturally strong and was able to keep up the with other kids who were playing sports like football and basketball. But after I bought my first car my senior year of high school, I noticed that my ability to keep up physically with my classmates began to diminish because I was doing much less physical activity because I was driving around most of the time. I gained a lot of weight during that time. Even after I graduated high school, I continued to gain weight and get more out of shape. I was quite naïve and uneducated about physical fitness; therefore, I really didn’t understand why or how I was not able to physically perform like I used to.

In my early 20’s I got a job in a foundry. Many of the jobs I worked in that factory was strenuous. Once summertime came it began to get very hot in that plant. I noticed that my appetite started to decrease dramatically. I started to lose weight and get thin because I was staying active on the job and eating much less than I did before. During that time (in the early 1990’s), I started working with a coworker who was a weightlifter who had a great physic. We became friends and he was a big inspiration for me to get into lifting weights. I desired to look like him and he was a great role-model and example for me to follow. We started working-out together and he taught me a lot of things about weight-training.

As time went on, I was gaining some muscle, and family and friends started to notice, especially those who hadn’t seen me for a while. I started mostly working out on my own with very limited knowledge about fitness and nutrition, but that was about to change that following summer while I went on vacation in 1995. While shopping at a grocery store for some supplies while on vacation I was in the line to get checked out, and I saw a magazine called Muscle and Fitness on the magazine rack. It had a very impressive looking bodybuilder (Gary Strydom) on the cover. I decided to buy it and I took it back to the hotel room and I started looking through it. I began reading the article that featured that bodybuilder (Gary Strydom). It was a detailed description of Gary’s workout routine. I was pleasantly surprised that his weight training was not many hours a day, but rather no more than an hour at a time, and about 4 to 5 days a week. This was life-changing for me! I had always assumed that those massive bodybuilders would have had to train seven days a week for many hours a day in order to build that kind of muscle, even with steroids. But after reading that article I remember thinking to myself that I would be fully capable of applying myself to the same kind of training routine. After vacation I went straight to the gym with a renewed zeal for training, and I followed the basic routine that Gary Strydom had laid out in the magazine. I started noticing great results, and this led me onto a journey of fitness and nutrition that has never stopped.

Back in those days we did not have the internet, so the main source of my information came from magazines and books, and the occasional bodybuilding video. I also picked the brains of others in the gym who were obvious fitness enthusiasts themselves. I was like a sponge when it come to information about health and fitness.

I grew more interested in getting involved in the fitness industry, so I decided to take a course to get a personal trainer’s certificate. After I got certified, the plant that I was working at was shutting down for good. I applied at a local YMCA to work as staff and to be a personal trainer. I got the job and I worked for 6 years before moving on to another job in a different field. I maintained my active lifestyle and training.

I TRAIN LIKE A BODYBUILDER

I started training in 1994 lifting weights, as I mentioned above. I never really began to have an organized system of lifting until the summer of 1995 when I discovered that Muscle and Fitness magazine, which taught me how to be more systematic in a bodybuilder training routine. As I mentioned above that magazine pointed me into the right direction and sent me on a journey of learning and developing my own routine of bodybuilding. When I say I train like a bodybuilder, that does not mean that I ever trained to be a competitive bodybuilder, but rather I have a routine that is designed for body sculpting, which focuses on building muscles up with an emphasis for a fuller muscle development through a combination of compound and isolation movement exercises. This differs from resistant training routines that mainly focus on power and strength with little regard for isolation movement exercises, such as the sport of powerlifting. Powerlifting is centered around a few lifts with the intentions of lifting as much weight as possible in the most efficient manner as possible for lower repetitions. Bodybuilding is centered around stimulating muscle groups as much as possible with more exercises, sets, and repetitions for maximum growth and definition of muscles. There are other systems of training like Olympic weightlifting, Strength training, CrossFit, plyometrics, kettlebell lifting, calisthenics, etc.

WHY I CHOSE BODYBUILDING

Throughout the years I have tried many variations of resistance training. I have trained in martial arts and really considered fighting in MMA (mixed martial arts), which led me to train with Olympic weightlifting techniques and training programs that are similar to CrossFit. There are many useful techniques in other systems that can be applied to bodybuilding. What I appreciate most about bodybuilding is that if done right, it is the perfect training for high level fitness that is sustainable for an entire lifetime. Bodybuilding also has the potential to be tremendously eclectic and wide-ranging as a “system.” A person that trains as a bodybuilder can glean from other systems and blend in those things that improves their training. Even though bodybuilding doesn’t maximize the one rep power like powerlifting does, there is no doubt that bodybuilding develops plenty of power and strength to serve a person well in whatever physical demands that one has in life, whether working, playing, self-defense, etc. When done right, bodybuilding keeps the body very healthy and strong and preserves youthfulness and slows down aging. It helps to minimize injuries and helps to relieve ailments like arthritis.

But what appeals to me the most about bodybuilding is that as I get older, I know for certain that bodybuilding is training that I can sustain for the rest of my life, and it will contribute very significantly to improving my quality of life. Muscle mass slows the aging process, and strength becomes one of the most important things, if not the most important thing that a person can have as they get old. Strength coach and author Mark Rippetoe explains how strength is important…

“Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals – our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as the same man would be if he were strong.”1

Mark expounded on this further on his podcast saying that you won’t really understand the importance of strength until you find your parent laying in the bathroom unable to get themselves up because they did not have the strength (paraphrased). That comment really hits home for those of us who have experienced loved ones stuck on the floor unable to get up. I have seen too many people I know and love who lost mobility too soon in life because they did not do any training to improve their strength. As Mark has said many times, strength is the most important asset. And bodybuilding is an outstanding way to keep mobility as you get older.

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