Ever since I started training, I've always had the mentality that I needed to do everything possible in order to be successful in this sport and get the "body I've always wanted." To me, that meant that I needed to put as much time and effort into my training and nutrition, both in and out of the gym. For years I subscribed to the "all or nothing" mentality. I subscribed to the notion that I always had to "eat clean" (whatever the hell that means). and I subscribed to the notion that I had to train differently every time I went in the gym in order to stimulate both hypertrophy and strength.
Sure, over time I had made progress. I had lost fat, (and gained it back, going through and endless cycle of fat loss and regain). I gained some muscle, then lost some muscle, and the same happened with my strength. I was grinding myself into a pulp both mentally and physically and literally just spinning my tires. All of this effort that I was putting into my training/nutrition was literally going nowhere.
One of the reasons that I wasn't seeing the results that I had hoped to was because I was doing way too much at once, hoping to perfect everything about my body all at once. This is something that I see with people who train all of the time. Instead of trying to be really good at one or two things, they attempt to be good at a whole bunch of things and end up being mediocre at all of them.
A couple months ago, after attending the Arnold sports festival, I had come to conclusion that the strength aspect of training was more important to me than the aesthetic benefits of "hypertrophy based training." As such, I reevaluated my training and trimmed out all of the junk that I didn't need. As a result, I literally cut the variety of exercises I would perform in half and decided that I needed to focus on becoming proficient in the big compound lifts, (Bench, squat and deadlift). And then do accessory work that I believed would translate into increased performance in those three lifts.
By trimming off the "junk" I had moved from doing a ton of unnecessary stuff, to focusing on getting really good at a few. The results have been amazing. By focusing at becoming really good at getting strong in the big lifts, It has allowed me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. It really made me realize that trying to do too much at once is a recipe for disaster.
As for my nutrition, I realized that when I put extreme limitations on the foods that I could eat, I was setting myself up for failure as well as putting myself in a position where I was unhappy all of the time. By setting limitations, I put myself in a position where I was worried about not being able to go out and eat good food or be around people who were eating this apparent "dirty" food because it would make me unhappy. Not too mention, when I did happen to fall of the "clean eating" bus, I fell off hard, resulting in bingeing. Once I realized that having a beer and a burger twice a week wasn't going to ruin my physique and strength, I had opened a door of possibility of enjoyment of food and people, coupled with overall happiness and subsequent success with my goals. Eating food is something that is necessary and an integral part of life, and if you can't enjoy yourself often, you are missing out on utilizing it. Of course I still watch what I eat and often opt for foods that will give me more "bang for my buck," that being more nutrient dense and more in line with my goals, but I then allow myself to enjoy food that may not be exactly inline with my goals. (Eating things that taste good from time to time will not ruin your physique or the rest of your week like some would have you believe, I promise).
As for the results of this life change of mine? Well, for starters, I'm happy. The truth is, that before, I was very depressed. I was constantly unhappy with my results which lead me to become even more strict with everything and then even less happy with my results. Once I "set myself free" I was able to realize that there is more to life then putting on a facade that I am the most hardcore lifter both in and out of the gym. By doing this, I was able to focus on my strength (which has resulted in some pretty awesome strength increases) and be happy for the first time in a long while. As for my strength increases as a result, my bench, for example went from maybe hitting 315 for one here and there (my bench had gone down as a result of my "hardcore" lifestyle) to now my recent bests of 320x4 and 350x2. That's just an example of the types of benefits I've received from my change. As for my physique, I feel even leaner than I did when I was eating so strict. Granted Im not at 5% bodyfat, but I'm not far off either. I feel healthy and I feel strong. Not too mention, what good is your physique if it isn't functional? The question is do you want to only look like you're strong or do you want to look strong and actually be strong? For me, I'll take the latter.
So what should you take away from this? Give yourself a break! Some people will have you believe that "you're not hardcore, unless you live hardcore" (a quote from the great Tenacious D ;-) but I'm hear to tell you that's just ridiculous. Live your life, train hard, and be happy while you're doing it. The fact of the matter is that if you're not happy with what you're doing, you'll never succeed, not too mention, if you're not happy with what you're doing, what's the point?