Before we begin, I need to give credit to Dave Tate and his story, “The Education of a Powerlifter” (Part 1 here; Part 2 here). What follows is inspired by Dave’s words and his ability to relate the journey of a single lifter to all of us. This may be a feeble attempt at recreating the piece for a bodybuilding crowd, but let’s see what happens.
This is the story of a fellow we’ll name Pete. Pete is none of us and Pete is all of us, so let’s follow his journey into the world of bodybuilding.
It was a Saturday in early March. Pete wanted nothing more than to sleep in and spend the day eating Doritos and watching Netflix. But Pete had been seeing this new girl, whom we’ll call Patty. Patty worked across the street from Pete’s company and had met Pete at the coffee shop during their lunch break a few weeks ago. Patty had invited Pete out with her for the day and he agreed before realizing she wanted to go to some fitness convention. He had no idea what was in store for him, he was just hoping he might get lucky afterwards.
Pete wasn’t much of a fitness buff; he had worked out occasionally in college with his fraternity brothers where they would hit the gym to get a quick arm pump before heading out to the bars on Friday and Saturday nights. Pete had never benched more than 185-lbs and had no idea that people trained legs sometimes, too. But Pete’s new lady crush was quite the fitness connoisseur and was very good looking so he wanted to feign interest in her hobby in hopes that she might like him more.
Pete set off to Patty’s apartment to pick her up for the convention. They headed to the convention center, looking for parking and making idle chat while Pete drove in circles, missing several spaces and parking garage entrances. They finally found a spot that was about half-a-mile from the convention center. It was a long walk in the cold; Pete wanted to offer Patty his coat but his complete lack of muscle tissue rendered him incapable of this gentlemanly act – he was freezing.
The pair entered the building and Pete was immediately struck by their surroundings. Almost everyone walking around in the entrance hall was jacked and tan with bedazzled jeans and drowning in Axe body spray. Pete felt quite small and wondered how Patty could find him attractive after spending the day around all these buff dudes and dudettes. They walked into the exhibit hall which was packed full of various tables and vendors peddling products and handing out free samples. Pete witnessed all kinds of odd-colored drinks, numerous chunks of protein bars, and even small cups of pudding – all of which looked entirely indigestible. Pete couldn’t believe his eyes, there had to be tens of thousands of people here and they all looked like they knew what they were doing. Patty noticed Pete staring in wonderment with his mouth agape so she grabbed his hand and led him around some of the tables and displays.
Pete drank several disgusting concoctions, shook hands with massive dudes, lost an arm wrestling match to an incredibly strong woman, and even managed to get a single pull-up in a competition for a free bag of protein powder. Patty got 15 pull-ups and won a free water bottle with an odd cap which made Pete continue to feel worse about his physical state.
Eventually they got stuck in a long line. Pete couldn’t see what they were waiting for but he could tell there was some sort of major attraction at the end of the line; people were craning their necks and taking pictures with their cameras well above their heads to try and get a peek at whatever waited at the end of the line. When the light at the end of the tunnel came into view, Pete saw what was waiting for them and what Patty was so excited about. It had to be the most massive human being Pete had ever seen – a Silverback Gorilla was the only appropriate comparison. He quickly deduced, from the several posters and signs around the table, that this man had won something called the, “Mr. Olympia” which must make him a pretty big deal in the fitness industry. Pete couldn’t help but be amazed by the man’s immense size and strength. Quite suddenly, Pete developed an enormous urge to learn how he could build muscles like that. When Pete finally had his chance to shake the giant’s hand he was stumbling over his words. He wanted to ask this man so many questions but he couldn’t spit out a single proper sentence. Pete ended up grunting unintelligibly and hurrying away before the giant man could ask what his question was. Patty got a signed poster from Mr. Olympia and was beside herself for the next 15-minutes.
As they rounded the corner near some poisonous-looking energy drink display, Pete saw a stage with several hundred spectators gazing at it. On the stage under a flood of bright lights was another massive and shredded man not unlike the giant Pete was unable to speak to minutes ago. Pete watched with amazement as the man flexed his muscles and displayed his years of hard work. Pete ended up dragging Patty into a pair of empty seats so they could watch the rest of the show.
The show ended with the most ripped and jacked competitor winning by a landslide, no one else could match his conditioning or stage presence. Patty was amped from watching the show and wanted to leave and hit the gym as she had a renewed desire to compete in physique sports. Pete was still struggling to comprehend what he just saw. He had no idea that people actually competed in bodybuilding but he absolutely knew that he wanted to get involved in the sport and better his life and physique.
Pete quickly found another long line that appeared to lead to another popular name in the fitness industry. He grabbed Patty’s hand and led her to the line. This time Pete was the fidgety one, trying to get a better look at the massive figure at the end of the queue. When they finally got a chance to meet the gigantic man, Pete blurted out, “How can I be like you!?” The giant threw his head back and let out a powerful laugh. “Be like me? Boy, you’ve got a long way to go!”
Pete and Patty awkwardly walked away from the situation with Pete feeling rather down on himself. Patty had no idea that Pete had a sudden interest in bodybuilding but she couldn’t help but giggle to herself and agree that Pete had, indeed, a long way to go.
Oddly enough, another large man overheard the interaction between Pete and the jacked bodybuilder. He walked over to Pete and Patty and introduced himself – we’ll call him Ted. It turned out that he was a local bodybuilder that was working his way up something called the, “NPC ranks.” He asked if Pete wanted to train with him sometime and learn more about bodybuilding. Pete immediately said yes and they exchanged phone numbers, agreeing to meet at the gym the next morning for training.
Turning a New Page
Patty invited Pete to stay at her place that night but Pete declined. His house was much closer to the gym and he wanted to get a good night’s rest before hitting the gym; he didn’t want to disappoint his new training partner on the first day. Pete woke up super early the next morning and drank some coffee before heading to the gym. He walked inside and got his membership information squared away before Ted showed up. He wanted to show Ted that he could be a prepared and reliable training partner.
Ted got to the gym shortly after and beckoned Pete to follow him to some cardio equipment. Pete thought they would start off hitting some insane weights but didn’t want to argue. Ted led Pete through a, “warm-up,” bike circuit that had Pete’s legs feeling like they were on a rotisserie cooker. When Ted announced it was time to move on, he hopped off his bike and started walking towards the free weights section of the gym. Pete hobbled after him, half trying to keep up and half trying to not vomit. Ted set his gym bag down by an odd-looking cage with a barbell in it. “It’s leg day and we’re starting with squats.” He told Pete.
Pete couldn’t force himself to admit that he had never squatted before so he simply nodded his head and watched as Ted put the bar on his back and starting sitting down and standing up. Ted made it look so simple and easy that Pete figured he’d have no problem with this. Ted put the bar back in the rack and Pete walked up to take his turn. He centered the bar on his back and slowly lifted it off the safety hooks. “Wow, that feels like it’s ripping all of my skin off.” Pete thought to himself while he took a few steps back in the rack.
Pete tried to emulate the motion that Ted had performed, but he immediately starting shaking and falling forward when he tried to squat the weight. Ted told him to put the bar back right away. “Have you ever squatted before?” Asked Ted.
“Uh… no. No I haven’t.” Said Pete, sheepishly.
“No worries, take this.” Said Ted.
Before Pete knew what was happening, Ted was forcing a dumbbell into his hands and saying something about a goblet. Pete knew all about Harry Potter and started to speak but realized Ted was showing him how to squat, so he shut his mouth and listened. Ted made Pete do three sets of ten squats with the dumbbell while Ted did several sets of squats with the barbell, all with perfect form and execution. At this point, Pete’s legs were cramping and he didn’t think he could walk. Ted re-racked his many weights and led Pete over to a wooden platform where they would do something called, “stiff leg deadlifts.”
Ted was prepared to deal with Pete this time, so before Pete could admit he had never deadlifted in his life, Ted was placing something called a, “kettlebell,” between Pete’s feet. He told Pete to push his butt back like he was closing a refrigerator door with it and to keep his chest up like he was showing off his t-shirt logo. Pete did both of these things and immediately felt his hamstrings scream in protest. Ted said to perform the lowering portion of every rep like this while the positive portion would involve an exaggerated humping motion towards the kettlebell. He performed his three sets of ten reps with the tiny kettlebell while Ted made all kinds of racket with massive weights on his deadlifts.
Pete really thought he might die at this point but he didn’t want to disappoint Ted. “What’s next?” He asked, trying to sound like he wasn’t on the verge of tears.
“For you? Go home. You’re done for the day.” Ted said, rather matter-of-factly.
Pete was crushed. Did he do something wrong? Was Ted sick of him already? Ted seemed to read his mind and quickly explained that there was no point in Pete doing anymore that day, he was going to be super sore as it was, so he needed to go home and rest and eat lots of food. While Pete still had some function left in his legs he hit the store on his way home – Ted had sent him a grocery list of things for him to get. Pete’s cart was full of fresh vegetables, eggs, meats, and bags of rice. Pete couldn’t believe how much food he had to get but it ended up not being terribly expensive. He spent the rest of his day cooking and eating while reading all of the bodybuilding articles he could find online.
Pete woke up in agony the next morning. He couldn’t move. He texted Ted asking if something was wrong only to get a laughing face emoji as a response. Ted following the laughing face with, “You’re just sore bro, don’t worry about it. Take today off and meet me at the gym tomorrow evening after work.”
Pete took Ted’s advice throughout the day, eating plenty of food and chugging water. He skipped his usual soda with lunch and decided against fast food on his way home from work. Pete was already feeling better, even with the daggers in his legs.
The next few weeks were no different. Pete was starting to get discouraged; he was getting crushed by his workouts and he wasn’t seeing much progress. Ted was still making him do these sissy exercises and telling him to be patient. Eventually Pete explained his frustrations to Ted. Why wasn’t he huge yet? When do the massive biceps come?
“Let me show you something.” Said Ted as he pulled out his phone.
He proceeded to show Pete a picture of a sickly-thin young man and explained that he was the man in the picture. Pete was at a loss for words. The Ted he knew now looked like he could have eaten this skeletal twerp. Twice!
“It took me over 10-years of working my ass off and stuffing my face to build my body, Pete. Be patient, keep your head down, and the gains will come.” Said Ted.
Put Your Head Down and Work
Pete didn’t challenge this assertion and did exactly that for the next 6-months. His relationship with Patty had been nonexistent since he had bailed on her to prepare for his first workout with Ted. One day they ran into each other at the coffee shop – Pete had offered to walk to the coffee shop for his coworkers since he wanted some light exercise on his rest day. Patty couldn’t believe what she saw when she laid eyes on Pete. “You look great! What have you been doing?” She asked.
Pete didn’t understand. He hadn’t seen much change in himself but before he could respond, Patty pulled up a picture of them from their first date. Pete’s eyes widened, he had come so far in the last 6-months and he didn’t even know it. His muscles now had some definition to them, he had lost some of the softness around his midsection, and his face even looked more masculine and handsome. Patty looked great as always (which Pete made sure to mention) and the two agreed to get dinner later that week.
Pete told Ted about this latest development when he hit the gym with him the next day. This got Pete a well-deserved high-five and the two started developing a game plan on how Pete could impress Patty when they went out.
Soon after he had revamped his relationship with Patty, Pete was called to his supervisor’s office for an unannounced meeting and was understandably nervous. His boss, however, mentioned that he noticed a renewed vigor in Pete’s work ethic and wanted to give him a promotion! This would mean more time devoted to work, but Pete’s training wheels were off and he didn’t always need Ted at the gym with him anymore.
Another 6-months went by and Pete and Patty decided to hit the fitness convention in early March again. This time when they walked into the entrance hall, Pete knew he belonged. He loved bodybuilding just as much as any of these other people did and he walked around with his head held high, even if he was still quite a bit smaller than most of them. They skipped many of the vendor and celebrity lines and went straight for the center stage and bright lights to watch all of the different bodybuilding classes compete throughout the day. The evening culminated with the men’s open class where the underdog was crowned champion. The crowd went wild and Pete had to stop himself from jumping out of his seat when the winner was announced. Both Pete and Patty left the convention with more motivation to train than ever before.
Bodybuilder for Life
Throughout the next year, Pete saw less and less of Ted but continued to stay in touch with him. Pete’s work schedule made it nearly impossible to train with Ted but that didn’t matter too much as Pete now had a pretty good idea on how to train himself. He must have had pretty good genetics because he was making a lot of progress and people were telling him he should try a bodybuilding contest. Ted told Pete to keep building for another year or so, then he could do a show.
When the fitness convention came around the next year, Pete really felt at home. He recognized many of the attendees as he saw them around local gyms or knew them through bodybuilding friends. He particularly enjoyed introducing his fiancée, Patty, to these individuals and watching her show off her gigantic ring that he was able to afford through his continued work promotions. Pete greeted many of the bodybuilding pros like old friends and was able to shoot the breeze with the best of them. Pete was finally in his element in this fitness convention and it was quickly becoming one of his favorite times of the year.
As Pete and Patty were leaving the exhibit hall that evening, Pete overheard one of the professional bodybuilders laugh at a younger man who asked how he had built such large arms. The young man skulked away, clearly embarrassed and hoping to minimize the amount of witnesses. Pete knew this was his chance to finally make a difference in somebody’s life. He walked over and greeted the young man and offered to show him the ropes of training, just like Ted had done for Pete two years ago. The young man was ecstatic, he took down Pete’s phone number and promised to meet him at the gym the next morning, eager to start training for the Olympia stage. Pete’s bodybuilding career had come full circle, and he was only just beginning.
This is the Power of Bodybuilding.
From being a mediocre athlete, to professional powerlifter and strength coach, and now to researcher and writer, Charlie combines education and experience in the effort to help Bridge the Gap Between Science and Application. Charlie performs double duty by being the Content Manager for The Muscle PhD as well as the Director of Human Performance at the Applied Science and Performance Institute in Tampa, FL. To appease the nerds, Charlie is a PhD candidate in Human Performance with a master’s degree in Kinesiology and a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. For more alphabet soup, Charlie is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), an ACSM-certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-EP), and a USA Weightlifting-certified performance coach (USAW).