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Overcoming Obstacles with Strength Training & Bodybuilding
By Brian Epstein
That’s what the mirror said back to me as I stood in front of it, shirtless. I was twenty-one and devastated. The fi rst girl I ever really loved had just walked out on me. Though there were other reasons why our relationship didn’t work, I felt inadequate, like I wasn’t a good enough me. It was that moment that I resolved to start with square one, my physique. I started weight training, and within two years my body had dramatically changed. The pear was gone: At 5’10” I maintained a weight of between one hundred sixty-five to seventy-five pounds for nine years and my waist was a size thirty. It felt amazing! At thirty-two years old, on a Saturday morning I was on my way to treat patients at the office. Do you know what it’s like to have a drunk driver slam into your driver’s side door at fi fty miles an hour? I do. It’s even more terrifying than you can imagine. The impact threw me to the right and then I recoiled back to the left. Waves of disorientation engulfed me, and pain throbbed in my neck, back and head. My ordeals were just beginning. Therapy eventually relieved my neck and head pain. But my back pain remained, and my lower left leg was a whole issue in itself: a deep ache that eventually progressed itself into a stabbing, unbearable pain. I got an MRI and found out I had a herniated disc that was crushing the nerve root. Things went downhill from there: in time it got to the point where if I shifted my weight in the wrong way, my leg felt like it was on fi re. This happened about one hundred times a day. I had to go on disability. If I got out of bed, the burning fi re would shoot down my leg, and I could only get up for meals and the bathroom. This was my life for eighteen months.
Doctors prescribed epidural injections, even neucleoplasty, an interventional procedure used to achieve disc decompression. Nothing worked. Depression threatened to overwhelm me. “I’m thirty-two,” I gloomed to myself, “I can’t spend the rest of my life like this.” I prayed to God everyday to make this torment go away. The answer came in the form of a radio ad for spinal decompression therapy, a non-invasive method to remove a herniated disc off a pinched nerve. I was blown away. I immediately found a doctor who performed spinal decompression therapy and signed up. Thirty visits later over four months, the fi re in my leg dissipated to nothing, even if my back pain remained. I was beyond relieved! I was so happy to not have leg pain I told myself I never wanted to feel like that again and avoided physical activity. Weight training was no longer an option. I thanked God that I had a normal life again. But because of my choice, my body, healthy and vibrant before the accident, transformed into a fat mess. My weight blew up to one hundred ninety pounds. Fast forward seven years to 2009. I was a father with a six month- old son. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and felt disgusted. How could I have let myself get this bad? I, the former physical specimen, was two hundred pounds. The fat rolled over my thirty-six inch pants, so bad I couldn’t tuck in my shirts. I loved my life but I was no longer in love with my body. But more importantly, I didn’t want my son to see me like this. That was it, decision made: I am going to be the man that I once was and be a role model for my son. I took a “before” picture (right) and got started. I jumped in with the fi rst step, eating healthily, followed by a light exercise program and then the Perfect Pushup routine. But something was wrong, I was doing the right things, I still was fatigued. My sex drive had taken a dive too. What was wrong with me? I just didn’t feel right. The cavalry came again in the form of a TV commercial for “Low T”, short for low testosterone.
Intrigued, I did the research: chronic opiate use is the number one cause of low testosterone. I had been on opiates for years for my back pain! I was determined to beat this. I got tested at the Precision Pain Management Center in Willow Grove by Dr. Brad Ferrara. Sure enough, my testosterone was low. He put me on a testosterone therapy program, and I felt like a new man! My weight dropped twenty pounds and my muscle tone came back. Before 24 | PHILLYFIT March/April | 267-767-4205 | www.phillyfi t.com March/April | 267-767-4205 | www.phillyfit.com PHILLYFIT | 25 But I still wasn’t one-hundred percent satisfied. I stayed with the Perfect Pushup for a year and then transitioned to P90X, an intense commercial home exercise regimen. I wanted to be fit, but I also wanted to strengthen my core to lessen my chance of future back injury. My body was changing again; I wasn’t embarrassed to take my shirt off at the beach. I ate the right foods, did P90X and continued my testosterone therapy. I felt like I was back on track finally. I felt good about myself. I kept up this routine for three years. Then it happened, the turning point in my physical fitness life. I went to an NPC show and learned about the Men’s Physique division. Bodybuilding was never an option for me, but the Physique division looked doable. I found a competition and registered. I pushed hard and tightened up my diet. It was three weeks till competition, and I knew that I didn’t look good enough despite my hard work. Doing some Internet research, I found Tad the Diet Coach at positivemuscle.com. Tad sent me my first diet plan with a note that I’ll never forget, “This is gonna hurt, but we gotta tighten you up!” I never ate like this before. Six meals a day? Fish? Lots of fish! Yuck! But I was determined, I had tunnel vision, and I changed my body in those three weeks. When show day came, I was conditioned and ready. I was down to one hundred seventy pounds. Still, I came in fourth out of five guys. But hey, I was forty-one years old and the next oldest guy was twenty-seven. Not too shabby! The judges had a Q&A session with us afterwards. When I asked what I could do to improve, each judge said the same thing – that my conditioning was great, but I needed to get bigger.
When I told them that all I was doing was P90X, they actually laughed at me! “Get in the weight room,” they said. And so I did. My physique looked bigger and better. My next competition came two months later, and I competed in the Master’s division for men over thirty-five years of age. I came in third place in the open and second place in the Masters. With a taste of success I was officially hooked. So much for the “weight training isn’t for me” attitude! Next I flew to Vegas for the NPC Las Vegas Classic, entering the Master’s division again. Of the seventeen contestants, I made first call out, placing fifth. I was excited and surprised, but I also knew I could do better. After that, I had my sites set on my first show of 2013, five months away, the NPC Steve Stone Metropolitan in NYC. I ate more, trained more heavily. My goal was to make the top five. When I saw the other guys my confidence dropped. Maybe top five was a reach after all. The judges declared me the winner! I was out of my mind with joy! But more importantly, my victory fueled my fire to succeed. One month later I entered the Pittsburgh Championships and won. With this win, I set the goal to earn my pro card from the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB).
I worked hard and ate right for a national show, the NPC Team Universe. I had never looked this good. But I only came in fifth. I didn’t let my placing at Team Universe get me down. Master’s Nationals were twelve days away and I was determined to earn my pro card. I practiced my posing and kept my diet tight. Show day came and I was ready. I came in second place, earned my pro card and was finally at peace! Or was I? I did ten shows in fourteen months and my body rebounded hard! I gained twenty-five pounds in two weeks and looked and felt horrible. It was my fault because I didn’t reverse diet. My body got used to a lower calorie diet, but I ate like a normal person and paid the price. I needed to set another show date to get back in condition. I set the modest goals to not come in last and to look like I belonged with the pros. Then day of the show came and I made the second call out! The judges let me know that I belonged with the pros. I met my goals and shot past them. Now I couldn’t stop. There were two more shows in the season and I wanted to do them both. I competed in the very first Masters Pro and came in third. Then it was off to Louisville for the Kentucky Muscle Pro (left) where I made the second call out and came in tenth place. Testosterone therapy gave me my youth back. I feel young and strong. In transforming my body, I have transformed my life. I am humbled by my success, but I am not done. I have set my goals high – the 2014 Mr. Olympia contest – and I will do all that I can to qualify. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “Bodybuilding is much like any other sport. To be successful, you must dedicate yourself one hundred percent to your training, diet and mental approach.” Hard work pays off, and hard work beats talent when it doesn’t work hard. I refuse to be outworked and I won’t quit. As long as I give it my all, there will be no regrets. I love this lifestyle.
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