3 Fitness, Bodybuilding, & Weight Loss Pearls of Wisdom from Dr. Dan Gwartney

I sat through a lecture on a topic I am very interested in, and became physically nauseous. Nice introductory sentence, eh? Let me backtrack a step and properly introduce myself.

My name is Daniel Gwartney, and I have been involved in strength training for over 30 years. Many of you may be familiar with me through my prior competitive years as a natural bodybuilder, or as a writer for titles in the bodybuilding and fitness publications. I was decent, not on Lee’s level, but I was ranked as high as 10th in my weight class in world-class events.

Let’s get back to my nausea before I blow my horn any more. I love learning. I would be a lifetime student if the real world didn’t intervene. Fortunately, I was able to advance through my education, receive my medical degree and complete a residency in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology (lab medicine) before deciding to focus on ergogenics, body composition, and “aging” related medicine. I experience sensory overload daily from all the articles, abstracts, news reports, and continuing education material before me. I try to take online courses in related classes to refresh lost skills (e.g. statistics, writing); and I love reading for leisure (WTH? this reads like horn blowing). Nerdy, eh.

So, I am at a conference, pretty good one up that point, and then for fifty minutes was subjected to the worst and least informative lecture of the event. Seriously, it sucked. I generally am pretty involved, writing questions, or points to review later. Here I was rolling my eyes, doodling, and whispering less than complimentary comments to my wife. She is the only one who hears specific criticisms from me. I hate the whole mud-slinging thing, but a man should be able to vent his frustrations to his wife privately. Criticism and reactions to criticism are really bad in academics, fragile ego syndrome or something.
The experience gave me an appreciation that I am using here (in my first article); don’t waste ten minutes of a reader’s life saying nothing of value and try for the sake of all that is holy to be slightly interesting, even entertaining if possible.

So, since I have already disposed of about two minutes you will never get back, here are a few pearls of wisdom.

First, try. Every successful lifter, bodybuilder, figure/physique model, athlete, general “look good, feel good” type person is doing something. Granted, some of them are doing something anatomically incorrect, or simultaneously challenging their kidneys and your olfactory tolerance (sense of smell). But you cannot make progress if you are not putting forth effort. You have to be smart and keep track of whether you are making progress or need to change your program. Sometimes, you are doing the right things in the gym, but screw up the minute you leave the parking lot, or get home, or late at night.

Second, when you are comfortable with the commitment you need to make, and your general ability, get a little advice. However, do not ask for advice without having enough basic knowledge to get a feel for what makes sense. Many people put their money in the stock market, trusting mutual fund managers, or brokers to treat the money like it was their own… and it’s gone. Little tip, most mutual funds do no better or worse than the general market. This means they add nothing to the decision, just cost you some of the potential profit you might make in a good market. You do not need to be an expert in nutrition, kinesiology, physiology, etc. Just know if someone says something foolish. Second little tip (in medicine these are called pearls), most people trying to lose weight sabotage their goals by doing way too much cardio. You might get your endorphin high, and your co-workers may get all giggly when you talk about your spin class that you take after that high-intensity BodyWiggle class (not an actual class, but there will probably be one someday – I shudder to think of the infomercial) and then spend 30 minutes on the treadmill. But if a month or two later, your weight loss has plateau-ed and you look, well, blubbery, it might not be the thing for you. If you are weight training regularly (four to five times a week), then 30 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity cardio is enough. Use interval training if you have to get short of breath.

Advice at this stage doesn’t need to be complicated or cost a dime. There are at least a couple people in your gym, club, or whatever who have achieved one of your goals. If you want to bench three plates, ask the guy who looks like he is a) not homicidal, and b) seems to be focused on his training. Some people are just naturally strong, young, or reckless. Not a good source of info. I want to learn how to handle a car traveling 140 miles per hour, I talk to Carl Edwards (NASCAR driver), not the d-bag who has lost his license for speeding on public roads. Remember, these people are working out, so time your question (without being a stalker) for when he/she is done working out, ask a direct and intelligent question, and be courteous. You might find you were doing the wrong set/rep range, starting with isolation exercises instead of compound movements, failing to warm-up, etc. If you are trying, your mentor may stop by and offer more guidance and support. Then you are with the “in crowd.” Nothing makes you feel more legitimate than to have people who seem to know what they are doing accept you as a newbie.

Third tip, find a partner who will motivate and inspire you. It doesn’t need to be dominatrix-style motivation (not that there is anything wrong with that, just not gym appropriate), and the inspiration needn’t be the basis of a Lifetime Channel docudrama. My wife, a powerhouse weighing in at 118 pounds, is my partner. She never complains, works harder and more intensely than anyone else at the gym, and is learning all the time as well. Her goals are different, our workouts are not the same, but we go together, spot each other, encourage each other, and keep the energy of the environment upbeat and positive. Plus she makes my heart beat a little faster (yes, I am a blessed husband).

Fitness/bodybuilding/weight loss is a team sport. Anyone who thinks you are not subject to mental stress when trying to make changes hasn’t tried, or at least hasn’t succeeded. A partner can make or break your journey to new personal records. A negative partner will detract from your training efforts, but a great partner is the most effective performance-enhancer you will find.

OK, there went those ten minutes. Over time, I’ll be writing about more specific tips on diet, training, supplements, etiquette, goal setting, measurements, injuries, setbacks, and achievements. If current events relating to sports doping seem appropriate, I may comment on that. Here is a preview of the next installment. I never really knew where my physique stood in comparison to classic aesthetics (e.g. Greek sculpture, Renaissance art), Golden-era bodybuilding (1970s & 1980s), and today’s pros (completely different species). I will try to provide some basis for standard measurements that describe an aesthetic physique, including: body fat, muscle mass, fat-free mass index, skinfold caliper measurements, and specific body part measurements and ratios. See you next time.

_DSAbout the Author

Daniel Gwartney, M.D. took the path less traveled and combined his passion for health, fitness, and bodybuilding with the knowledge and experience learned during his medical training. A former world-ranked natural bodybuilder, appearing on the covers of Muscle Media 2000 and Ironman Magazine, and a regular contributor to several of the top bodybuilding and fitness magazines, he provides unique insight into the application of fitness into medicine and medicine into fitness.