Longevity in Bodybuilding
By Dennis Hopson IFBB PRO
I began my competitive bodybuilding career in 1992 at the age of 21. At the time, I was attending Montclair State University, majoring in Sociology and Criminal Justice. I had been a fan of bodybuilding since first seeing Arnold Schwarzennegar win the 1980 Mr. Olympia on WABCs Wide World of Sports. After watching these larger-than-life superheros, I knew that I wanted to be just like them. My goal at the age of 9 was to one day become Mr. Universe. Thirty-six, YES…36 years later, I became the 2016 NPC Overall Champion in the 40+Masters Class at Team Universe… So, in a sense, I became Mr. Universe. The question is, how was I able to stay the course for 36 years?
Obviously, I was young when I first started training. I’ll admit, I did a lot of stupid shit in the gym. At times, I was a numbers kid, meaning I had personal bests (heavy lifts) and I continuously tried to beat them. I’ve deadlifted 600 lbs., bench-pressed 455 lbs., and squat 500 lbs. As a bodybuilder…BODYBUILDER , I had no reason to test myself with these weights. To many, these numbers are not impressive. For me, it was MY best. But, for what? My ego ruled me in my 20s and into my 30s. Often, I would go into whatever gym I was training at and try to prove that I was the strongest dumbass in there. Yep, that’s being a dumbass! If this is you, you too are a dumbass! Don’t be a dumbass if you want to have a long competitive career. Bodybuilding is not a numbers game. Powerlifting is. As an aging bodybuilder, I tend to fear powerlifting, knowing that one bad lift or one too many injuries can be career-ending. And, personally speaking, if I didn’t have bodybuilding, I’m not sure what I would do. On a personal level, bodybuilding has been there for me when no one else was…but, that’s a different article.
Longevity in bodybuilding also requires visits to medical professionals…chiropractors and general practitioners. Think of your body the same way you think of your car. When you need an oil change, you get it changed. When you need new tires, you get new tires. If your car has a flat tire, would you continue to drive your car and ruin the rim, axle, etc.? Of course, you wouldn’t. So, when you’re injured, why would you continue to train that muscle? Other muscles, tendons, etc. can be negatively affected in the same way the rim and rotors would be affected driving on a flat tire. It’s called maintenance. I can’t stress the importance of finding a good chiropractor. I visit my chiropractor once a week for maintenance…and, NO, I’m not addicted to it. There’s some myth that once you start going, you have to keep going. NO. Once you begin to understand the concepts of chiropractic care, you realize that it’s only beneficial to go on a regular basis. Humans move in so many ways throughout the day (and night). Without realizing it, we tend to throw the alignment of our spines off a bit. When this occurs, nerves are sometimes pinched resulting in pain in various parts of our bodies…wherever those nerves lead to. The medical profession has a tendency to push pain killing drugs on us. These drugs usually don’t cure the issue. They alleviate the pain, causing us to believe the problem is cured. The spine is most likely still misaligned. Therefore, when the effects of the drug wear off, the pain returns. A good chiropractor can realigned the spine through hands-on manipulation. The vertebrae can be moved which will take pressure off the nerve. I’m not suggesting that we refuse or deny medication. The best use of medication in this case would be to use a mild over-the-counter medication for pain relief, and see a chiropractor to deal with the root of the problem. In a perfect world, the pain meds would wear off as the nerve is relieved, resulting in true healing.
We are in the business of pushing our bodies past its natural limits. It’s necessary for growth. Unfortunately, we will get hurt at times. Feeling a “tweak” or a slight pop is not a green light for 5 more reps. Sure, we always want to have killer workouts, but sometimes our minds and our bodies are on 2 different pages. Our minds may tell us to GO HARD. But, our bodies can whisper or scream, NOT TODAY. It is imperative that we listen to our bodies. Ignoring red flags can result in torn muscles, strained muscles, or other various injuries. Then, we are forced to take time off to heal. Usually, serious injuries can be avoided. As a bodybuilder, the last thing we want to do is miss workouts due to injuries. Longevity requires paying strict attention to the body’s signals. At the same time, listen to your body when it says, LET’S GO A LITTLE HEAVIER. But, as for sustaining a long career in the world of bodybuilding, it is imperative that we pay very close attention to how we are feeling during a working set. DO NOT LET THE MUSIC IN YOUR HEADPHONES DISTRACT YOU! YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY! Remember, you are a bodybuilder. You are not a weight mover. You have a specific reason for how you are moving apparatus. If it’s not your day, take off the hooks, straps, wraps, or whatever and go home. Try again tomorrow.
Longevity requires understanding the concept of Marathon vs. Sprint. Again, I started my competitive bodybuilding career in 1992. I wasn’t in a rush to turn Pro. I enjoyed my journey. I knew that bodybuilding was my lifestyle. With that being said, I knew that sooner or later, I would make my dream of turning Pro a reality. Even to this day, at the age of 47, I don’t see an end to this journey. You can’t call it a “lifestyle” and constantly suggest that bodybuilding will come to an end. I’ve been asked, “D, how much longer are you going to do this?” My response is, “I never thought for one second that it had an expiration date.” It’s a LIFESTYLE….LIFE STYLE. LIFE…… it’s how I live. I’ve looked in old magazines that I’ve been in, and I’ve seen guys that used to compete that may have even beat me at one time or another. But, where are they now? In this MARATHON, so many have dropped out for whatever reason. The term “moderation” and “marathon” go hand-in-hand. To the young men reading this, read between the lines. You get one body. Don’t abuse it. Enjoy the journey. Don’t be in a rush to gain 20 lbs. in a year. That’s a sprint. Gaining a solid 5 lbs. in a year is a good year. Gaining 20 lbs. in a year is, in a sense, cramming 4 years into one….SPRINT. Learn how the body works and give yourself time to grow with proper training, rest, and nutrition. Bodybuilding is a science. Treat it that way. It is a discipline…like martial arts. There’s as much reading as there is grabbing a pair of 80 lbs. dumbbells. Educate yourself. Don’t just rely on some so-called guru. If you decide to put a chemical in your body without knowing what it’ll do, that makes you a dumbass who probably won’t enjoy a long competitive career. Here’s an idea… there’s a long rectangular box on the Google home page. Type a word or words that you want to better understand. For example, type: GYNECOMASTIA. You get my point? Don’t have someone walk you down a path of destruction. It’s YOUR body. You are in charge of creating your own masterpiece.
I don’t think I need to stress the importance of not smoking…ANYTHING. Your lungs and your heart are a major part of this whole thing we call fitness. “Cardio” is short for cardiovascular. “Cardio” refers to one’s heart. The heart and lungs work in conjunction with each other. When you clog the lungs with toxins and all the garbage contained in a cigarette, it forces the heart to work harder to get oxygen to the muscles. Muscles NEED oxygen. Don’t smoke or vape if you want your lungs to work optimally. “Vaping is just mist or flavored water.” If you’re this person, don’t expect to be in this game long. Do yourself a favor and read the ingredients on the side of a vape flavor or whatever they sell that poison in. Can you honestly say what glycerin or glycol does to the body? “Well, there’s no nicotine in it.” My response… Okay, jackass, good luck. The more oxygen your lungs can hold, the longer you can train for. Therefore, keep your lungs clear of anything detrimental to deep breathing.
Consistency is the key to longevity. Like our teeth, if you ignore your muscles, they will go away. Taking a significant break from the gym is never a good idea. If you sustain a torn pec, for example, you can still ride the stationary bike or train legs, lower back, calves, or abs. My point is, you can always train other body parts if you’re injured. You want to stay in the habit of going to the gym. You never want to get comfortable sitting on the couch watching TV “healing” or “nursing and injury”. You can still heal in the gym training around your injury. A strained bicep has nothing to do with your hamstrings. I can’t understand guys who say, “I took a year off.” Why would you do something so self-defeating? What is the benefit of taking that kind of time off? I understand that somethings we feel over-trained or burned out. That may require a week off from the gym. That should be enough time to reset your focus as well as provide adequate rest. To use the analogy of the car again, I bought a new car in January of 2017. I loved the feel of the bigger, faster car. It had success written all over it. I had parked my old car in the garage and hadn’t even thought about it for about a month and a half. I went in the garage one day to start it, and to my surprise, it wouldn’t start. The same could be said for the human body. If it’s sedentary for a long enough period of time, when you want it to work, it may not. Keep the blood flowing and keep the muscles flexible. Provide your body with healthy foods and fresh air as well. And, don’t forget water. Drink plenty of water each day. Avoid excessive use of alcohol. This is YOUR body. You only get one. Respect it, and you will enjoy a lifetime of benefits including a long competitive career if that’s what you choose.