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How much do Mental Factors
play into achieving a Great Physique?

June 30th, 2003

I understand that nutrition and training are the most important factors in achieving a great body, but how much do you think the mental aspects like dedication, discipline, and hard work have to do with giving someone an extra edge?

Shawn M.
Victoria, B.C. Canada

Great question Shawn, and you’re asking the right person. I am a huge believer in the mental aspects of training to set myself apart from other bodybuilders.

My first experiences with the mental power approach to training were back in 2000 when I competed in the Body-for-LIFE Program designed by Bill Phillips. Bill suggested that we aim to achieve “high points,” the point at which you cannot do another repetition no matter what. I remember achieving great results using that method as well as creating memories in the gym of some of my “best lifts.” Those are accomplished when you know you’ve given everything, more than 100% and you got that last rep up even if it took 20 seconds in the ascending portion of the movement.

When you accept the “never give up” or “need to succeed” mental approach to training it gives you an edge because you will push yourself harder than others. Therefore you will recruit more muscle fibers as you complete the final reps of the exercise, and stimulate more growth. If getting lean is your goal, you will do more cardio with more intensity and purpose than others just going through the motions to burn off a few calories (when they’re going home to eat cake anyway). You will also have the ability to stick to a strict diet, understanding the sacrifices necessary to be the best.

I remember that the most dedicated and mentally focused time of my bodybuilding life was in 2001 when I lived in Arizona. I was determined to accomplish goals I had set for myself. I used every tool that I talk about all over this website. I got up early in the morning and trained before work. I wrote down everything that I ate to calculate what I was bringing into my body. I rejected invitations to hang out with friends in order to stay home, consume food, and get enough sleep. When I trained in the gym, it was with an intensity that left me almost crying when it was over, and vomiting on occasion from leaving absolutely everything I had in the gym. I sought advice from other bodybuilders who had achieved what I was still working hard for. I took criticism and used it as fuel for motivation. It was a time when I wrote 82 of my own motivational quotes. It was the first time that I contacted magazines to feature me as a vegan bodybuilder. It was a time when I achieved many high points and some of the best workouts I ever had. It was also a time when I met bodybuilders for the first time. Troy Alves was the first and became my trainer. Jay Cutler was next and became my friend. Nasser El Sonbaty was the one who encouraged me to become a successful bodybuilder, and many other memories were creat ed that year with Mike Matarazzo, Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, and other pros that influenced the life changes that have made me the Most Recognized Vegan Bodybuilder In The World today.

My life was full of motivation, inspiration and a mental edge that kept me training hard and following a sound nutrition program.

I talk about 2001 as being my most mentally focused time in my bodybuilding career. It probably was, but don’t get me wrong. I am very mentally alert, aware, and driven today; I’m just a bit smarter. I mentioned the great things about 2001, but I didn’t mention the injuries and illnesses that came with pushing myself beyond 100% of what I was capable of doing. I suffered multiple injuries to my back, shoulders, and biceps from over training. I was almost too determined back then and even ended up in the hospital one day.

I learned many things from that experience. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing when I set goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them. I met and exceeded many goals in 2001 that I am very proud of. I also learned to set limits on what is too extreme and could be counter productive. For example, I would often stay up very late at night just to consume extra amounts of protein and calories. I would eat until it hurt and I could not eat anymore. That affected the amount of sleep I was able to get, in a negative way, as well as upset my stomach and my mood. I would get angry with myself if I didn’t consume a pre-determined amount of food that day. I learned that bodybuilding is just one aspect of life. I ended relationships to focus more on bodybuilding and lost contact with friends because I was “married to the gym” and did not want any outside distractions.

Today, I am very determined, motivated, and ambitious. I use my mentally tough ability to push myself hard in the gym, and my understanding of dedication to follow a great nutrition program, but I am logical and realistic about other aspects that can become obsessive and counter-productive. I train hard, smart, and believe that this year I’ll be in my best shape ever.

The most successful bodybuilders in history were the ones who knew exactly what they wanted and did everything right to get where they wanted to be. Jay Cutler is one of them. Refer to my Cut Above article to see what separates Jay from the rest of the crowd.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that you should challenge yourself to take accept the “never give up” attitude in the gym and experience what it feels like to give 100% into each rep, each set, of each workout. Just don’t go beyond 100% or you could end up in the hospital, and no goal is worth achieving, if that is where you’ll be after attaining it. Use the discipline to know that you need to eat a certain amount at certain times but don’t lose sleep over it and don’t let it affect your attitude and your relationships with people.

Good luck with your training, try new things, and when you get frustrated or feel like giving up, find an inspirational quote and a body you dream of having and post them on your wall. Look at them and ask yourself if you’re willing to make the sacrifices it takes to drive you to the next level and separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

Thank you for your question. I hope you got something out of my response.

Big Rob