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Advice to a Younger Me


As a reader of this blog, you may have come to know that this digital space is the creative canvas for most all things Eureka Springs, Arkansas. To narrow down the wide array of things to focus on, www.iloveureka.com lives within the following five core values.

  1. Cultivating Community

  2. Making Memories

  3. Curating Culture

  4. Spreading Joy and Love

  5. Living Well

Sometimes the blog-posts here will fall into two or three of these core categories. Other times a post may just focus on one core value.


People first flocked to Eureka Springs in the late 1800s, drawn to the healing powers of more than 60 natural springs creating a culture focused on wellness that caused thousands to relocate here. Today, Eureka is seen by many as a healing place, a place for wellness, relaxation, getting out into nature, and renew. When I write about this part of life here, those blog posts fall into core category #5 - Living Well.


There are so many ways in which we can take care of ourselves. My personal fitness and wellness journey has spanned over 30 years and so I thought I would take a moment to tell me - a younger me - about five mistakes that I made.

John-Michael, age 23 (1993) Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica

These mistakes are derived, not only from my own experience, but also with people that I've seen along the way as well as some of the trainers that I've personally connected with in gyms.


If I had somebody around regularly when I was first starting out that I could have leaned on with my questions that would have really helped me understand what I was doing and how to get better.


1. Consistency

When I got into fitness and nutrition it was just a transient interest for me (at first) like it is for many people. I started out with a couple of my friends. We would go to the gym together but it was this unspoken understanding between us that it was not something were going to undertake for a long period of time. It was just a social activity or a way to pass the time with my buds.


But, eventually, I noticed something big! I realized that I had a passion for it. This realization did not happen right away but when it hit me I had to come to terms with the fact that the passion is in the weightlifting itself. It was weird. I was just going to the gym with my buds and never really took any of it seriously. Until one day, I did.


Looking back now, I realize that I did have an internal obsession with weigh training but other than learn, read and gain knowledge, I didn't realize that it was even something I thought I could do and do well.


When I was around age 16 or 17, in Medford, Massachusetts, I used what little money I obtained as a teenager and purchased the top weightlifting and bodybuilding magazines with muscle men on the cover and I also purchased this book - The Modern Bodybuilding Encyclopedia by Arnold Schwarzenegger.


I literally went through that book page by page in Junior High and High School and focused on lifting weights (super light weights, mind you.) In addition, Since I was also in my sexual prime, and hormones were raging, my parents and brothers (knowing I was struggling with my sexual orientation) thought I was in awe of the muscle guys in the magazines and books but what I realize now, looking back, was that I wasn't interested in them, I was interested in the idea of manipulating the way my own physique looked and little did I know it would be a matter of time for me to unleash that obsession and make my own gains.


John-Michael, age 25 (1995)

In Junior High, High School and even in college, I was skinny. I was on the high school swim team so I had a swimmer's build for a long while. I had spent some time being active, being in the gym along with dance and movement classes which came later while attending The Boston Conservatory at Berklee.


It wasn't really until I graduated the Conservatory and moved from Boston to New York City that I joined a gym and started to take things a little more serious. I mean, after all, gyms in New York City are serious. Intense at times. So this caused me to up my game and it was when I started to become more diligent and consistent with my training and nutrition.


Only now, I was a busy twenty-something, trying to make ends meet in the most expensive city in the world. This caused me to have periods where I would be super passive and some periods when I would not even train at all. Often times it came down to the availability of facilities, the cost of facilities, and the availability of my own time as well. As a recent college grad, I had to put a lot of effort into earning a living in New York City or face the reality that I needed to head back to Massachusetts with my tail between my legs - something I refused to let happen - which is why I juggled three jobs in NYC at one point.


So, to the younger me - while you want to look good, feel good and be healthy, you don't really have any hidden desire to look like a heavily muscled cover model, but you should do everything that you can to be as consistent in your wellness journey as possible because small progress keeps the momentum forward every day.


At the time, in the 1990s, my mindset was like "OK! if I'm gonna do this particular program (that I got out of a book or a magazine) then I'm gonna do it for the full 12 weeks. It's an all or nothing approach so that I can get something out of it.


Then I would dive in and then I would kill that program for the full 12 weeks but when I reached the end of 12 weeks and it was over, I HAD NO PLAN FORWARD. Without any kind of plan, I would start missing the gym, not focusing on nutrition and not sticking to any kind of plan.


When it comes down to it, I really didn't have a plan at all to begin with, I had a simple idea to do program after program for a specific set amount of time and bounce to the next program when I was ready to do so. I didn't know anything about technique, good form, aligning my nutrition efforts with training efforts, and managing my recovery & sleep.


Being consistent is way more important than being perfect.

John-Michael, age 33 (2003)

So, the all or nothing approach was good, but I wish I could go back and learn the value of maintaining the all or nothing approach even during those big gaps in my training. Those gaps in my training really did have an impact later on (in my late twenties and early thirties) when I started to take the idea of lifting more seriously. If I had spent the time adding muscle tissue earlier in life and being much more consistent in the gym, and getting stronger ALL THAT would have sped up my journey and I would have had more muscle at a much younger age. I also think this would have helped my habits later on in life.


This is why young men like CBum (age 28) can become the reigning Mr. Olympia Classic Physique winner. He figured out the power of being consistent and didn't allow himself to have any inconsistent gaps in training or nutrition. He treats it all with attention and intention and goes on to win multiple titles.


Winning titles has never been a goal of mine, but when I feel like I am not actually making progress this is when I know deep down inside that I am actually making the most progress. I know that sounds insane but I have learned that small changes over a long period of time have much bigger impact than those first initial changes that I made in the first few months because when I choose to stop lifting, I lose all those adaptations which require me to revert back to the start of progressive overloading.


In order to gain strength, size and definition, you have to keep up with the momentum of those very necessary adaptations, remain consistent and keep lifting and you will see results over time.


2. Overreliance of Supplementation

Q. OK, how does someone lose body fat?

A. Move more and eat less.


Even though I knew this, it was apparently very important for me to be taking the latest and greatest supplements on the market. I thought it was like magic that these lifters needed to consume in order to manipulate their body growth. So, when I was younger and "that newest supp was hitting the market" - like creatine - I would be all over it.


Funny to think about creatine now knowing what we know. Creatine has proven to clearly be a staple of every lifter's supplementation routine. But to think that a supplement is going to improve progress is misguided. Supplementation, while it has its benefits, is really only there to augment an already in place solid plan of consist lifting in the gym along with a solidly aligned diet and with sleep and recovery focus.


Supplements on their own don't do ANY of the work.


In the mid-90s, we all thought, Well, if I'm not taking a supplement, I'm missing out ... but that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. You'll see great people with great physiques putting in a lot of work and they really don't need much supplementation at all.


John-Michael, age 24 (1994)

Today, at 53 years old, I am a lifetime natural lifter. I do use basic supplements, like creatine and whey protein but I've given up on the mindset that relies too heavily on supplementation (versus training.)


Never underestimate the power of your actual training over supplementation.


3. Too much emphasis on protein

When I hit my mid-30s, I didn't really care about anything except getting my protein!


What's more, back in the 90s, it was very common to hear in all the books and magazines that the amount of protein we needed was some astronomical number. Often times, these magazines would quote two times our body weight and when I attempted this, I felt terrible and I got fat!


I didn't like the way my body composition was and I didn't realize all this at the time but a person's protein goals actually can be much lower than their body weight and they are still gonna put on muscle. At this point in my fitness journey, I am proof that this approach works.


So, here is a good formula to consider when attempting to pack on the muscle -- set your protein target (in grams per day) to your goal weight (in lbs) and you're going to be good. So, for example, if my goal weight is 190lbs, I should target 190grams of protein per day for my own nutrition.

Arnold

It's much better to focus on the proper amount of carbohydrates and fats. This is because carbohydrates are jet fuel for muscle building and fats are vitally important because fats provide all the support we need for our hormones, digestion and a number of other things.


It's a good balanced approach to nutrition rather than taking in vast amounts of protein. Consuming too much protein (300-400grams per day) can actually make you feel pretty terrible.


4. Scale Focus

Over the years, I was sometimes too hyper-focused on the number showing on the scale.

Because I was so skinny, after every training session all I cared about was seeing the scale go up. That was it! I literally remember thinking about "I just want to weigh 170lbs or I just want to weigh 175lbs or I just want to weigh 180lbs!"


At one point, I got up to 190lbs and thought "this is where I'm gonna be happiest" but looking back I really did not feel like I could walk up stairs without getting out of breath. I had very little cardiovascular endurance. I was lifting very heavy for maybe an hour, five days a week and it was not doing much else because I didn't have the energy to do much else.


If I remember correctly, I was probably eating really, really poorly and way too much protein but the heavier I got, the more muscle I was putting on . . . or so I thought.


Today, I know that's not true, because when I dieted back down, I was the at the same body composition but I looked very different. Today, that journey has taught me that I need to focus on how I look and feel and I don't need to focus only on the scale going up all the time and believing that I am gaining another pound of muscle ... when I'm not.


When we tend to focus on fat loss (especially if we're focused on the scale going down) I think that this tool can be used to reflect the way you lose body fat however - be careful - it can also reflect when your body water changes. If you mostly cut out sodium or carbohydrates for a day or two, you're gonna drop some pounds. This is the intracellular, intramuscular fluid retention. Basically, you're losing water weight.

So, my suggestions is to place much more value on the three pronged approach (1) pictures, (2) measurements and also (3) the scale. The reason pictures are so important is because they don't lie. If you don't like what you see in a picture, that's on you.


It's harsh but I've had to learn this over the years. When I hired my first fitness coach in 2016 in Dallas, pictures were a huge wake up call for me and so was the act of taking my measurements.


Taking your waist measurement is something that I wish I could go back and tell my 17 year old self. Your waist should not be expanding rapidly while you're trying to add muscle. If your waist number is going up (at any point) that means you're adding an unnecessary amount of body fat.


Understanding that body fat gain can happen rapidly and muscle gain is a slower process is key.


There is a range where your body fat can go up while you're putting on muscle but the idea of bulking by going crazy with the calories will be a short lived. You're soon going to realize that you don't like the way you look and feel and you're just going to have to diet that body fat back off. If you can keep your measurements the same and the scale goes up overtime that is ideal action in the right direction.

5. Cardio

For many years, cardio was a bad word. When you opened up a muscle magazine it would say don't do cardio! Cardio is going to interfere with your ability to add muscle. Endurance training can impact your ability to add muscle so you don't want to do endurance training.


Wrong!


The thing I would most tell my younger self is - do some type of cardio almost daily to keep improving endurance!


Trust me when I tell you that the value and the benefit of moving throughout your life is going to help you with so many things. Being active and having multiple cardio sessions throughout the week is vitally important - like walking, bike riding, elliptical, Stairmaster, treadmill, etc. Whatever modalities of cardio that are easy for you to access is important. Also, be sure it is something that you can do daily and that you can find enjoyment in it.

Treadmill, age 47 (2017)

Years ago, I placed too much emphasis upon cardio when I was dieting down. I thought "OK if I wanna look really good I have to do high intensity interval training (HIIT) along with my strength training" and while I got results, I also found that it wrecked me.


Cardio is a tool to help you create a caloric deficit and build endurance. HIIT cardio is touted as most ideal and to some degree, I agree. I would do these short sprint sessions over the course of 15 to 20 minutes; basically run a few sprints and recover but then I would move much less throughout the day. While I would burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time, I burned fewer calories the rest of the day because I was much more sedentary.


So, for me personally, I prefer some form of low intensity, steady state cardio or moderate steady state cardio, like my treadmill. I have much better energy throughout the day and for the rest of the day.


Everyone is different and moves through life in different ways. HIIT may work best for you, but I find it wrecks me so this is why steady state cardio on my treadmill is ideal. It allows me to have consistent energy all day.


I do mix in cardio now with my weight training schedule but I do wish that I stayed on the cardio bandwagon as a younger guy.

(left) JM age 46 and (right) age 53

I'm happy where I am today, but I do wonder what would've happened if I was more focused on these five tips earlier in my fitness journey.❤️

 

Disclaimer: I am not a certified personal trainer. I never went to medical school. It is highly recommended that you consult with your own treating physician before beginning any change in your nutrition and/or exercise.

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