Lifestyle Prior To Change
I was always saying that I was “too busy” to workout. I had a new teaching position and I was working on a Masters degree and I was letting both of those things take up all of my time and, more importantly, my energy. Prior to that career change I was a “regular” in the fitness center of the office complex where I worked and had begun to see some muscle development happening, but that all went away.
What was your low point or turning point?
I hit a turning point in 2006. I had been browsing around various bodybuilding websites and decided to register at one that I visited often and began “talking” on-line with other middle-aged people who, somehow, were training and working and taking care of their families. Over that summer, as part of my Masters program, I was teaching four mornings a week at a local reading clinic and had to provide online documentation of my students later each day. I started to come home and head straight to the free weights in my basement. After about an hour of heavy lifting, my body felt great and my mind was clear and all my documentation work suddenly seemed easy.
When the school year began again in August I kept up that schedule; I’d come home and hit the weights then tackle any work I’d brought home with me (teachers always bring work home). I found that I was more relaxed, more productive, and I was developing the kind of muscular body that I had envied on other men. When I found that my upper arms had grown by one inch and I was building full biceps and big pecs and lats, I was hooked. Four years later (and counting) I’ve got the best physique I’ve ever had, I get compliments and respect from others, and I feel great about the man I see every day in the mirror.
Were there any unique challenges or circumstances that made your transformation particularly difficult?
My greatest challenge was developing a nutrition plan that would fit with my work schedule. Since I work as a reading specialist in an elementary school, I don’t have total control over my schedule. I often have to “eat on my feet” when I have to supervise our lunchroom, and it’s difficult to eat while working with students. I had to spend a good amount of time looking at what times of day I could count on being able to eat, what I could stash in the faculty fridge and in my desk, and how I could get the right servings at the right times. It was a challenge, but once I worked it out I could see the change that proper eating had when added to my weight training routine.
- Transformation Start: April 2006 – I got tired of wanting bigger muscles and decided to do what I needed to do to get bigger muscles.
- Milestone: Summer 2006 – I took up an on-line competition to see who could grow their biceps the most in six months. (Now that sounds silly, but at the time…) I didn’t win, but I did add an inch to my arms, saw my first quality muscle development, plus the guy who won e-mailed me and said he was surprised he won since he figured I was the guy to beat. It made me take this seriously.
- Milestone: June 2007 – I started logging my workouts in an on-line journal forum to get feedback from other people my age with similar goals. This is when I started learning the most about what it means to build muscle on a 40-50 year old body – and that age is not a limit.
- Milestone: Summer 2008 – I finally bit the bullet and started doing deadlifts and focused my training more on heavy compounds. With the increases in strength I also saw increases in the quality of my muscles; I started to get a thicker, stronger look.
- Transformation End: Summer 2010 – My body fat is the lowest I can remember, I have solid muscle mass, and, biggest surprise of all, my 32” jeans are loose and my 34” ones all but fall off of me. A couple years ago I declared that I would never see a 32” waistline again. Man! Was I wrong! And I never thought I would do that with this much muscle.
Dan's Training And Cardio Approach
What was your weight training approach and split during your transformation?
My current split incorporates principles of Power-Density Training and is designed to give all my body parts sufficient rest before being hit either directly or indirectly.
For most exercises I do a pyramid of increasing weight/decreasing reps followed by two high rep/ light weight “chaser” sets. Warm-up sets are at about 60% of my heaviest working weight. I also work in some FST-7 sets to really “finish off” some muscle groups.
Because my schedule sometimes has me getting home too late to train on that day, I don’t build my splits on a “Monday, Tuesday, etc.” plan, but rather on “days” dedicated to different body parts with cardio and/ or rest days built in that can also be shuffled out if I cannot train for one or more days.
This plan shows my target reps for each exercise. When I hit clean target reps, I increase the weight by small amounts (somewhere between 2-5%) and drop back to at least two reps below target.
After six weeks of training, I do a deload week where I do all the same exercise with 50% of my highest working weight for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. This is to allow my muscles some active rest and let me check my form and technique before working with heavy weights again.
- Day 1 - Legs and Abs.
- Day 2 - Chest and Shoulders.
- Day 3 - Rest/Cardio.
- Day 4 - Back and Traps.
- Day 5 - Biceps and Triceps.
- Day 6 - Rest/Cardio.
|Day 1 - Legs and Abs|
|Squats (First set is a warm up)||6||12, 10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Still Leg Deadlifts||5||10, 8, 5, 15, 15|
|Hack Squats||5||10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Standing Barbell Calf Raise||3||18, 15, 13|
|Single Leg Calf Raise||2||12, 10|
|Day 2 - Chest and Shoulders|
|Bench Press (First set is a warm up)||6||12, 10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Incline Flyes||5||10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Incline Dumbbell Press||3||10, 8, 6|
|Behind The Neck Press (With EZ bar)||5||10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Face Pulls (FST-7 protocol)||7||10|
|Day 4 - Back and Traps|
|Lat Pull Down to the Front||5||20|
|Carlman Pulls - FST-7 protocol (Single cable pulldowns high to low, close to body)||7||10|
|Day 5 - Biceps and Triceps|
|Spider Curls||5||10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Skullcrushers||5||10, 8, 6, 15, 15|
|Chin Ups and Dips superset (Both weighted)||3||10|
|Incline Dumbbell Curls (FST-7 protocol)||7||10|
|Cable Tricep Extensions (FST-7 protocol)||7||10|
|Heavy Bag||2 minute round, 30 seconds rest, 2 minute round.|
|Stationary Bike||60 seconds full speed/30 seconds easy pace alternating for 16.5 minutes.|
|Heavy Bag||2 minute round, 30 seconds rest, 2 minute round.|
Please detail your cardio approach during your transformation?
I do cardio on non-lifting days to keep the energy flowing, but give my muscles a break from heavy weight work. Since prior to bodybuilding I studied Tae Kwon Do (I’m a second degree black belt), I mix in some martial arts techniques using the heavy bag. That also works my upper body muscles in a different way. The stationary bike gets my leg muscles pushing their limits and make my heart and lungs work.
Please list 3 things you learned about exercise, weight training and/or cardio during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- I’ve incorporated the principle of “microloading”, which means that as soon as I hit my target reps I increase the weights by a small amount, sometimes a little as 1-2 pounds. That may sound small, but those little increases add up over time. Continual increases keeps my muscles under just enough stress to promote growth.
- After experimenting with different “interesting” exercises that I read about on-line or in magazines, I’ve learned that basic compound lifts do the best job of building quality muscle mass. I now stick with mostly heavy compounds such as squats, bench press, deadlifts, etc.
- Rest is very, very important in promoting muscle growth. I plan my split so that muscle groups that get hit hard directly will get at least 48 hours rest before being hit again directly or indirectly. I also make sure I do a deload week every six weeks to provide active rest for my body, and I make sure I get good sleep at night and an occasional nap when I’ve been particularly active to allow my body to recover, rebuild, and be ready for more. Remember, muscles grow while their resting, not while their working.
How are you currently training, and has your training changed since the completion of your transformation?
Honestly, I don’t consider my transformation “complete.” I’ve made good progress and I’m proud of my current physique, but I believe that I can continue to build and improve my body.
Dan's Diet And Nutrition Approach
What was your diet/nutrition approach during your transformation?
I try to follow a portion control diet as much as possible, getting a portion of protein (palm-sized), carbohydrates (fist-sized) at every meal, and vegetables (open-hand-sized) three times a day, with some extra carbohydrate servings thrown in to promote growth.
Can you provide us with a sample daily eating plan (please be specific):
- Meal #1: 1 whole egg, 1 egg substitute, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 banana or ½ cup berries.
- Meal #2: ½ cup almonds, tuna or salmon, 1 cup dried apricots or dried mango.
- Meal #3: Tuna or chicken on whole wheat bread or wheat tortilla, 1 cup baby carrots or broccoli crowns, 1 apple.
- Meal #4: 1 cup cottage cheese, ½ cup grapes or berries, 5 Triscuit crackers, 1 cup baby carrots or broccoli crowns.
- Meal #5: On weight training days: Whey protein shake made with 2% milk – pre- and post-workout. On non-weight training days: 1 cup fresh fruit salad, ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ½ cup almonds or peanuts.
- Meal #6 is the one I share with my wife so it varies the most from day to day. Meat or fish, tossed salad or steamed, vegetables, sweet potato or pasta.
- “Bedtime Snack” on weight training days: 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 tsps peanut butter.
Were there any diet/nutrition mistakes you made that you learned from?
In the beginning I put too much of an emphasis on protein and was relying on protein shakes for much of my between-main-meal nutrition. I discovered that I needed to get more than just extra protein in my diet and that needed to come from whole food sources. The shakes are now there when I need them for training.
Please list 3 things you learned about diet & nutrition during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- As I stated above, get most of your nutrition from whole food sources. Save protein shakes and protein bars for replacements only when necessary.
- Even though muscle is made of protein, a balanced plan of good quality carbohydrates, vegetables, and fats are needed to build a strong healthy body.
- Little things count. Just like the little increase in weights I use in my training, little decisions not to eat certain things and take certain healthy snack options all add up in an overall healthy eating plan.
Did you allow yourself cheat meals?
Of course! Not often, but life is meant to be enjoyed and I can enjoy an occasional cheat because I know that on a day-to-day basis I’m making healthy eating choices. And what I see in the mirror confirms this. That once-in-a-while cheat is one of my rewards for what I’ve done for myself.
What supplements did you use during your transformation?
- MHP Trac Extreme-NO – 1 serving pre-workout.
- Schiff brand Glucosamine HCI (Costco) – 2 a day, a.m. and p.m.
- Whey protein powder – 1 serving pre-workout and 1 serving post-workout.
- Scivation Xtend – 1 serving consumed during each workout.
- Kirkland (Costco) brand multivitamins – every morning.
Advice For Others
What are your best 3 tips for someone looking to make their own transformation?
- Set small, attainable goals for each workout, like one more rep or 1, 2, or 5 more pounds lifted. Small steps add up to big gains. And keep a workout journal; don’t rely on your memory. Those records will keep you on track to make progress and can help keep you motivated.
- Do what works for you. Don’t get caught up in trying every exercise plan that gets published on-line or in magazines. There is no “one-size-fits-all” training plan that builds muscles on everyone. You need to determine what works best for you.
- Be Patient. Muscles respond positively to exercise, but the changes don’t happen overnight. The cool thing is that often you’ll suddenly see muscle and strength increases when you weren’t looking for them.
And take “before” pictures, even if you never show them to anyone. You can use them to track your progress and provide proof to yourself of the changes you’ve made.
How do you stay motivated? What advice would you give to someone who’s having trouble staying on track?
The same thing as #3 above. There is a saying that goes “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Don’t be frustrated if you don’t look like that guy in the magazine or on the website. Look at your journal and see how you’ve increased what you can lift and then look in the mirror and see what has changed. (You can also use those “before” pictures.)
More From Dan Bergstrom
What is your life like now that you’ve made a transformation?
I have more confidence in myself and what I can accomplish. And people ask me to move heavy stuff with an attitude of “Well, sure, he can lift that.”
What motivates you currently to keep improving yourself?
The progress I’ve made so far makes me what to get more. I also look at the progress pictures of other men my age and see what they’ve done and what I can do. I no longer believe in limiting myself.
Anything else you would like to share?
Don’t think that a big, strong, muscular body is only for “other guys.” All of us are “those guys” or at least we could be if we eat, rest, and train properly. We are often our own greatest limitation.
How can people contact you?
- E-Mail: BergMuscle@hotmail.com