They are questions that I’ve been asked with alarming regularity over the years and in many different ways. What got you started in the first place? Can anyone do it or do you have to be born with some kind of special genetics? What would I have to do to look like that? What keeps you going? An unkind person would label these simply as questions from “wannabees” but I always put these sort of messages together in one folder on my laptop called “Desire” and I answer every one in as positive a way as possible, I’m hoping that writing this piece will answer those questions for those that need the answers.
Pretty much ever since I started my bodybuilding career with a win in my first show at the ripe old age of 50 I’ve offered my help, free of charge, to anyone that has asked for it. Enquiries were at a peak when I was regularly on TV a few years ago but they have started coming in again a lot more over the last two years since I moved to America and I always reply to people genuinely wanting help, you could say that it’s my way of giving something back to a sport that I have always loved ever since I was an amateur boxer in the late 70’s and early 80’s but a wannabee bodybuilder at the same time. I always wondered what it would take to make the transition from boxing to bodybuilding and I was fortunate enough to be working at the time for a good friend, Barry Lockwood, who was then one of the best 80 kilo bodybuilders in the country. It was about then that I stopped boxing after realising that I would never be good enough to turn pro and I decided to start proper weight training instead. Barry gave me a lot of guidance and advice, I will be forever grateful for that. That was 30 years ago when I was 5 stone lighter and I tell you all of that now so that you can do the math in your head, realise that it is a long term commitment and stop reading here if you want to.
Of course things are very different today but tell me a sport that has not changed drastically over the last 30 years? With bodybuilding the basics will always remain the same – work hard, rest and eat properly. It’s not quite that simple though, these days especially, there is much more to it than spending an hour or so lifting heavy stuff and then drinking milk mixed together with some raw eggs like we used to. Although that worked then and would still work now it makes sense to approach things from a more scientific angle. So with that in mind let’s see if I can answer those questions that I started with.
Well the first one I’ve already answered and considering that I was only about 180 pounds (13 stone) and 6ft 3 ins when I started I would say that the genetics question is partially answered. I was never that big, tall and with a decent physique yes but that wasn’t because of genetics. My Mum and Dad were just average size but the one thing that I did inherit from my beloved parents was a great work ethic. Bringing up four kids in London in the 60’s and 70’s meant that they both worked as much as possible to make sure that the whole family never went without anything and it was bred into me from a very young age that you worked for what you wanted; you didn’t beg, borrow or steal for it and I have carried that into every single thing that I’ve ever done, it has served me well throughout my life. So if you want to class the teachings of two amazing parents as “genetics” then yes I would say that something like that is a great advantage. Bodybuilding is a tough sport, don’t go into this expecting it to be easy or you will be very shocked. Self discipline is essential, you won’t do this without it, or indeed anything much in life without it so if it was bred into you from when you were a child then you have a head start on those people who seem to think that the world owes them a living, that’s for sure. I can’t think of any lazy or negative people like that who I know who have ever done any good at anything, in fact I can’t think of any lazy or negative people that I even know, there were a few but I soon cut them out of my life, maybe that’s another thing that you need to do or maybe that was just something that worked for me, that will be for you to decide.
So onto the other two questions, these are the hard ones and although there are many ways to do what you need to do these are the things that have worked for me and the numerous very successful athletes that I have coached over the years. The best answer that I ever heard to questions like these were from my friend Martin Stevenson, who when I last saw him had just won the NABBA super heavyweight British title. His no nonsense answers were as follows :- What should I do? – Do as you’re told. What should I take – Take your time. He always did have a way of getting straight to the point so I will expand on what he said.
Do as you’re told means what it says, listen to ONE person, choose someone with a proven competition record, coaching record and who still looks in good shape. Not me I hasten to add, I’m retired and although I still train hard 5 days a week and look about six weeks out from a show, writing is what pays the bills for me these days. There are many very good coaches about though, just do some research and base it on the criteria that I have set out. To find the right person will take some doing as these days everyone calls themselves an expert and the fitness industry is full of people who will take your money without so much as even guiding you in the right direction. Just look online at how easy it is to sign up to a course to become a PT nowadays and also take a look at how many people sign up for these courses. They pay a lot of money to get a piece of paper that says that they are “experts” yet they have never competed, never coached anyone who has won anything and they look like they have never lifted a weight in their life. When I owned a gym I was shocked at just how many “PT’s” approached me for a job. They expected to represent me and my gym looking like they needed a few good dinners inside them and a few years of proper training? Really? Stay away from these people, all you will get is relieved of a lot of money for no return.
Then there are the social media gurus. Now I accept that social media has it’s place, I’ve lived in the USA for almost 2 years now and it has made it possible for me to stay in touch with lots of people and in some cases continue to give them advice when they ask for it. The problem is that people tend to believe everything that they read on the internet and that is a big mistake. If you read something on the internet it just means that you’ve read it on the internet, nothing more. Let’s be honest, anyone can create a Facebook page, flood it with pictures of good bodybuilders and then claim some form of association with them. They can then cut and paste from the internet what I call the “fad of the week” and people will start buying into it, sometimes literally as the person writing the nonsense starts offering diet and training plans. Meanwhile that same person is sitting with a beer in one hand and a bacon sandwich in the other laughing all the way to the bank with your money. This is not a paranoid rant, it actually happens. The other thing when choosing a coach is to understand that someone who has had a minor placing in a “beauty contest” won’t be able to turn you into a champion. Winners breed winners, social media talkers breed social media talkers, decide which one you want to be, so pay your money and take your choice as they say.
With all of that in mind and remembering the basics of working hard, resting and eating well that should answer the question of what you need to do. There are no shortcuts and no magic formulas, even steroids, should you choose that route, aren’t magic and they will do absolutely nothing good for you unless you get everything else right too. My overused phrase is that “all parts of the model must be in perfect working order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts”
Which leads me nicely to the most difficult question and the one that I’m asked the most, especially about February and March when the new years resolution mentality has worn off, vacation season is approaching and the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. How do you keep going / what’s your motivation/ how do you keep the fire burning? This is the hardest part and that’s why I’ve left it until last. Let me start by telling you what you shouldn’t do. Do not do this so that you can post pictures on social media bragging about improvements that only you can see, that is just attention seeking and you will become a laughing stock. Bodybuilding fans are very knowledgeable and hugely appreciative of genuine progress but they can, quite rightly, be harsh on disillusioned people. Do not do this so that you can tell everyone that you use certain supplements as promoted by someone, that is really stupid and it’s just seeking validation by association, you might as go the whole hog and live your life vicariously through them and save yourself all the hard work. Look, it’s simple, if you’re going to do this do it for yourself, do it to make yourself healthier for your family or in better shape for your partner, things like those are genuine reasons that will give you genuine self motivation.
So how to get started then. The best metaphor that I can offer up is that of the oil tanker. An oil tanker takes ages to get going but once it’s up to full speed it takes even longer to slow down or to turn around, the only thing that it needs to make this happen is fuel. You need to be an oil tanker and you need to let your progress be your fuel. As long as you’re working hard and improving just looking in the mirror will fuel your oil tanker. To make this all happen you need to make a commitment and I mean in a big way. I’ve always said that you need to let this become a lifestyle but not let it take over your life, trust me if you ever compete it will soon take over your life but that’s a whole other story for another time. It needs to become part of your daily and weekly routine, if that means replacing some aspects of your life with going to the gym instead then so be it. Tell me, how many people waste an hour or so most days watching soap operas whilst eating unhealthy snacks? What if they replaced the soap operas and rubbish food with going to the gym? Would missing soap operas and junk food impact upon their lives? Is that too much of a commitment? How much time do people waste every day scrolling though their Facebook feed when they could be training or prepping some healthy food for the next day? I once knew someone who would rather do that and live off of sandwiches all day at work than commit to the lifestyle, he relied on that, “fashionable” energy drinks & gym clothing and excuses not to train hard, needless to say he looked terrible then and he looks much worse now. It really is that simple or that difficult, you just choose what you want to be and that will tell you whether or not you have just wasted your time reading all of this.
If you’re still with me and wonder what my personal motivation is then I will tell you and maybe parts of it can be yours too. My own oil tanker has been running so long that it is regularly fuelled, for example when people in the gym still give me compliments even though they are half my age and they look great. Or when I go to the local sports bar for the occasional beer and people will come and talk to me about keeping in shape, when I tell them that I’m 58 and retired they are shocked and hugely respectful, I’ve made so many friends here in that way and that fuels the oil tanker too. There are other benefits too, I can’t remember the last time that I had a girlfriend who wasn’t technically young enough to be my daughter, apparently girls like men with good physiques regardless of their age; who knew?
But most of all subscribing to the lifestyle that I have lived for so many years really does breed a tremendous amount of positivity and it proves that age is just a number. I am honestly as active now as I have ever been in my life and I welcome every day and everything that it brings. I always urge people to take control of their lives and power through the bad stuff because the good stuff is waiting for you, usually it’s much closer than you think but you will never know if you don’t start looking for it will you?
© Kevan Wilson 2017
Categories: Kevan Wilson