Be Like Conan

I can feel the suns heat beating down, hitting my upper shoulders, back and skinhead.
I stand before a homemade sixty-pound barbell laid in the concrete yard at my feet.
It’s not much to look at but it’s ours. Vince and I, my best buddy, 13 and 14 years old, respectively.
Two paint tins filled with lead found at the beach, we scouted for lead weights on the beach, from fishing lines caught in the rocks. As the months went by we melted them down and rammed a small bar into each end. Painted and weighed; it weighted a fraction off sixty pounds, and we used it for just about every exercise we could come up with. Olympic it was not, but a barbell it was.
Stripped to the waist – my wrangler bell-bottoms jeans hanging off my skinny hips.
I took a deep breath and bent over and took a grip on the pitted rusty – but painted white bar – I measured my hands against the black electric tape and heaved the bar to my upper chest in one grunt and stood firm, all of five feet tall.
Vince had just done fifteen reps on the shoulder press and I was determined to beat it.
I locked in and pressed, as the reps notched up I could feel the blood rush to my shoulders, arms and upper back – the suns heat felt more intense now, and I visualised myself as Conan.
Plucked right out of the pages of my comic books – strewn at the other side of the yard. At ten reps I was starting to strain, eleven and I was shaking – twelve was a doubtful rep – I reset, looking at Vince as a slight smirk crossed his face.
I drove thirteen up held it like it was five hundred pounds and promptly fell backwards landing on my left arm.
I still have the scar today, but treasure the memories more.

I have never been what you would call your typical bodybuilder, even after all the years of competing.
The only time I have, could we say strictly “bodybuilded” has been a few weeks prior to a show or appearance.
The rest of my training life has covered many other aspects of training.
For instance – running, hill running, boot camp training, climbing, biking, boxing, powerlifting, bodyweight training, strongman training, Olympic lifting, sandbags, kettlebells, grip work, stone lifting, and many more aspects of physical fitness.
After many years I started to cut down on many aspects of my training and just focus on a couple, namely bodybuilding and powerlifting. This as I see it now was a mistake and you may beg to differ, and that’s fine. But for me it was a mistake, as all the years I racked up just doing only heavy basic power work and normal bodybuilding caused tightness and injury. It was not until I thought long and hard about ‘my’ training and how it affects me and no-one else, that I realised, I had to do as I have always done and combine everything.
This made me strong, supple, agile, and fit from every conceivable angle, and the overuse of just one or two things wasn’t a problem anymore, I found small doses of everything made me better at the ‘thing’ I wanted to achieve. Basically just being in shape physically allowed me to be able to turn my hand to anything.
For all intents and purposes, I feel like I did as kid again, each day an adventure and each day of physical exercise for the love of it and the feelings of inner and outer strength.
As a kid I realised I needed to be good all round. Now don’t laugh but my basic premise for this came from the comic character Conan.
Conan was an early influence that shaped my life and here’s why.
Conan as I saw him, was strong, fit and agile, and had muscles – drawn by my favourite comic book artist, John Buscema. John Buscema depicted Conan with a physique that was not just for show-but for strength, action, and survival.
I knew then in my own mind that muscle for the sake of muscle – without being able to run, climb, or do anything else with it, for that matter was a waste. So my early training covered all bases and I did something every day.
Vince and I would routinely test our strength – not only with weights but odd objects. We would also test our endurance and fitness, running miles or walking for hours on end, camping then hiking our way home again.
Even today I joke – about being Conan – or Conan like – surely I am not but I love the simplicity of being a man’s man and being a good all-rounder. Those feelings I had when I was a lad have never left me. Think about this for a moment, this is your own journey-your motivation – “your thing”. I have opened mine out to you, this has been my motivation and journey through my training and life; to be strong, fit and agile, and enjoy many aspects of physicality. Find yours whatever it may be or how daft it may sound to others –as long as you are happy –and not harming others –who cares?

Today – I train how and when I want with the same wide-eyed expectation of the future just as I did as a kid.
So in effect I seem to have come full circle. Taken away now is the dogma of following a training system – or pigeon holing myself into HIT – volume – powerlifting or any other system out there.
I now make my own system, and do as I feel my body needs.
This can be high reps – low reps – heavy light many sets or as low as one intensity set. You name it and many you cannot name. I just do!
This is very similar to my start in this sport. I would train every day. Sometimes twice a day and do whatever I felt like doing. I put on forty pounds and gained all my initial size training on this “non-routine”.

I have met some awesome bodybuilders in my time, the more I was aware of this instinct way of training the more it was proved to me. Time and time again I noted that there are some awesome physiques that seem to work and be built in chaos.
So with this in mind, just as I did as a kid I started to train by instinct. Those initial feelings and intuition direct you more in the right direction than wrong.
Granted as a kid you are not advanced enough to over train and if anything you may work at the top end of your capabilities simply because you know no other way but to train and enjoy what you do.

I was lucky in a way that I was training in the era before the net. The only information for training was gathered from buddies at the gym – magazines and books, why would I say that was lucky? Well I look at it this way, because I was not bombarded by science and every routine and diet under the sun I focused on just training, doing the exercises, I felt were the best for my bodybuilding and fitness goals.
I picked things up by doing them rather than reading about them.
I trained when I wanted and did want I felt would be the best for me that day, whether that be a run, weights, chest expander work or bodyweight exercises. I just did it till I felt enough was enough.
Do you know what; I gained incredibly, for a number of reasons.

I didn’t know I was not supposed to gain muscle doing these programs I knew nothing of drugs and was very naïve.
I went to bed every night expecting to change. Yes expecting to change, not hoping, expecting, and I did.

There was an incredible amount of variety in my program as there is now present day. Like I said I have never been your typical bodybuilder or powerlifter. I could never see the point of being huge and not being able to run up a flight of stairs, or be able to bench 350 pounds but not be able to do chins, skip, box or move athletically.
With the variety my body became strong and agile from every conceivable angle. When I ever focused on only one or two things I had problems in recovery – tightness and overuse issues. Go figure.
Seems the more I do-the better I am at the things I want to excel at when I don’t focus just on that but everything around it. Basically put – when I’m in shape, I’m in shape for anything.

So now years later I’m like a kid again, full of excitement and expectation, free of the constraints of a “program”.
Training is just training, doing what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it.
Pure instinct and love for training hard and feeling good for life, just like when I was a young-un.
Today it’s even better than being a kid because I am even more in tune with myself and know myself my training and nutrition inside out.
So with this ramble coming to an end–the point is.
Think for yourself- feel the motivation within you and listen to it. Enjoy your journey whatever it maybe. We are not here long enough to not enjoy what we do, so live it and love it.
I still love my journey as much today as I did as a kid-I still feel like a kid.
At fifty-two years old I feel awesome – I wonder what Conan looked and felt like at fifty two.
Love to ya all Ian

2 replies
  1. peter yates
    peter yates says:

    HI Ian, been waiting for a new post from you, and totally resonate with this mate. Have always been an all rounder too and believe as we get older we need to do more not less with plenty of variety. And as you say you gotta enjoy your training just for the shear joy of it. Having said that anyone who still wants to focus on pure bodybuilding need look no farther than your great training templates in your books and on this site.
    All the best,Peter.


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