The Legend of Baby Sumo

People see me now and make some quick assumptions.  I’ve competed in a few natural bodybuilding shows, done some fitness modeling, make a living as a fitness writer and personal trainer/physique coach, run this blog dedicated to fat loss, and strip for some extra cash under the stage name Little Shitake.  Just kidding about the last one…or am I?

“Nate probably doesn’t even know what a fat cell looks like.”  “He was born to be ripped.”  “He can do whatever he wants, eat whatever he wants, and still stay in shape.”  “He’s never had to go through a challenging transformation process.”  “There is no way he can possibly understand how hard it is for the average person to get in, and stay in shape.”

And on and on — I’m sure you can think of a few more reasons why it must be so easy for me, how I’m nothing like you, how I don’t understand body image issues, how I’ve never fought through body composition struggles, etc.

Ha.  I laugh at your assumptions, because none of them are even close to being true.  Dude (or girl), I wish you really knew how hard it is for me to get samurai shredded.  I am far from the genetically blessed.

Let me tell you a story about the legend that WAS Baby Sumo…

BABY SUMO IS BORN

My mom is a tiny little Irish lady.  I don’t think she has spent a day in her life above 98lbs.  But I’m confident she could kick your A$$, and I’m 100% certain she could drink you under the table — not on a pound for pound basis — I’m talking straight up drink for drink.

I have five older brothers and one older sister.  Growing up it was obvious they inherited my mom’s genes.  They were skinny, skinnier, and skinniest.  My sister was a ballet dancer.  One of my brother’s was a 98lb high school wrestler.  Another was so small and light that they allowed him to play Pee-Wee Football — as a sophomore in high school!

And then there was me.  They say I came out of the womb looking like a Mr. Potato Head — giant, round body with tiny arms and legs.

We didn’t have a lot of money around by the time I was growing up, and as a result our diets were horrible — cheap, canned and packaged foods (Pop Tarts were my favorite), fast food when there happened to be family deals (I’ll tell you the 10-pack of tacos story another time), and our annual fine dining trip to — you guessed it — Denny’s.

Now don’t start feeling sorry for me.  Man, I had a great childhood.  I actually appreciate it now as an adult, because it reminds me that you don’t really need that much to be happy.  Give me a couple of sticks and a rock, probably even just the rock, and I can entertain myself for hours.

I only mention it because of the dietary factor.  And on the typical processed food-heavy American diet, my brothers stayed skinny.  Me?  I ballooned up.  Yep, I was the fat kid in a family full of skinny ones.  Go to my mom’s house, and she’ll hand you a cigarette and proudly show you the Wall of Shame.

My brothers were ruthless.  Hey fat boy, get over here.  Are you ticklish?  And the nickname they gave me — Baby Sumo — was born.  It stuck throughout my childhood.

What do you think that does to a young kid in his formative years?  I’ll tell you what it does.  It scars him for life.  It turns an otherwise normal guy into an obsessive, fitness freak.  It forces him to seek answers and make fitness his whole damn career.  Thanks guys.  I could have been an investment banker and actually made some real money.

Of course I’m being dramatic and exaggerating for entertainment purposes, but you get the drift…

GENETIC FATE — SKINNY, FAT GUY

My dad has never been really out of shape, but he’s never really been in shape either.  He kind of looks like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid — ok not really, but body-wise it gives you an idea — kind of just normal-flabby with a little pot belly.  Sorry pops, this is for educational purposes.  And just so all of you know, the man has a heart of gold.

As I reached adulthood, I started to realize what my genetic fate was supposed to be — the dreaded skinny, fat guy.  After sprouting a foot or so, I was left with my mom’s skinniness and inability to put on muscle, and my dad’s not so firmness and inability to get lean.  I got the worst of both worlds.

The one thing I was blessed with was a moderate level of natural athletic ability.  I was a pretty good two-sport athlete in high school, and later went on to perform as an acrobat and professional wrestler.  I could perform well, but I never LOOKED the part, if you know what I mean?

With my shirt on, my coaches (and later promoters) would say, “Miyaki, you are fast and strong and athletic and whatnot, but you need to gain some damn weight.”  Then, training in the gym or running sprints with my shirt off they’d say, “Dude, you need to lose some of that flab.”  Good thing that after growing up with my bros, I had some pretty thick skin.

Even as a high-level stunt performer/performance athlete, I thought six packs were just as much of a myth as the Black Pearl until I switched gears and trained for my first bodybuilding show.  And that was no easy task.  It never has been and it never will be.

First came the knowledge accumulation phase.  I had to study the game in depth — both formally (through University science courses and training/nutrition certifications) and informally (self education reading books, studies, articles, and talking with other bodybuilders).  I couldn’t just rely on genetics or natural ability, because I had none when it came to physique development.

Next came the practical implementation phase.  I had to be rigorous and disciplined, focused and committed.  No skipping workouts or cheating for me.  I just didn’t have that type of freedom or leeway.  Everything had to be absolutely perfect to get the type of results I was looking for.  My kitchen and Tupperware got some pretty hefty workouts.

Meanwhile, I had a training partner that was eating doughnuts and McDonald’s twice a day, and was shredded at 4% body fat.  He wasn’t even training for a show.  He was a kickboxer, not a bodybuilder.  But he looked like a bodybuilder without even particularly wanting to.

That, my friends, is what you are thinking of when you believe someone has a genetic advantage.  Not me.  One set of side lateral raises with 10lbs and that guy’s shoulders were so pumped full of blood that it looked like they were going to pop.  Yes, everyone in the gym, including me, hated him.

Nonetheless, I stopped worrying about how easy he had it, and started worrying about what I had to do to get the job done.  Ultimately, I achieved my goal and reached a pretty shredded condition — naturally.  And not that I really care about that debate, its just that people usually either point to genetics or drugs as the reason why they can’t push beyond perceived limitations and achieve a lofty goal.  Excuses, excuses.  I had neither advantage, but I did have a pretty strong will, and an obsessive personality once I set my mind on something.

From that point on I just said to hell with genetics. There is no fate but what we make (Terminator II, I think).  We can achieve way more than we think we can if it is important enough to us.  And it doesn’t matter how easy or hard someone may have it, or what advantages anyone else may have.  The only thing that is of any real significance is YOUR situation, and what YOU need to do to achieve your goals.

But you can’t just talk about how important something is to you.  I’ve learned that the hard way several times over.  It must show in your daily actions.

THE REAL MIYAKI

For the two people still reading, this has all been a long, roundabout way, of telling you that despite what you may think (because after all this is my profession), it is not easy for me to stay in shape. These days it’s true, I live under 10% body fat and visit low single digits a few times a year.  But it wasn’t always that way.

I have to be committed.  I have to be disciplined.  I have to sacrifice.  I can tell you what I ate two weeks ago on Tuesday at 10am, because it was the same thing I ate on Tuesday morning three weeks ago, four weeks ago, etc.

Now, I’m not implying that you want or should take it this far.  I understand there are people all along the spectrum with their individual goals, and not everyone is as crazy or obsessed as I am.  I just don’t want to ever hear anyone say again that it is easy for me to get samurai shredded, or I don’t understand how hard the body composition transformation process really is.

When I let things slide too much, I easily and quickly regress back into my skinny-fat guy, natural disposition/homeostatic preference.

Here’s an example.  This is Little Shitake, I mean me, back in 2006.  At that time it was right smack dab in the middle of my last bodybuilding comp in 2004, and a fitness model shoot I dieted for in 2008.

Now I know I wasn’t completely out of shape.  But you can see the spare tire, love handles, and itty-bitty-man titty-committee starting to form.  No visible abs, certainly not the “6-packs are for pussies, you want a 12-pack complete with obliques” line I’ve been come to be known by.

And, this is only halfway to my most out of shape.  I weighed about 175lbs here.  I compete or shoot generally around 155lbs, and have weighed as much as 200lbs.  I don’t have any pictures of that, because I wouldn’t step in front of a camera.  My brothers started to say, “Hey, Baby Sumo is back!”

Here’s what I would imagine you are expecting me to say.  “Ah, I wasn’t training then.  I was eating like crap.  I was eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, ice cream every night, drinking all the time, and so forth.”

Not even close.  I have never NOT trained (relax English majors).  I enjoy it too much.  I have averaged training 3-5 days a week since high school.

Diet?  I would say I was eating well 80% of the time.  I have consistently followed a relatively structured eating plan since college.  Was I cheating more, maybe sneaking in larger portions?  Sure, but the overall base plan was structured and entailed a clean eating base.

That’s what I look like on a consistent training routine and a relatively healthy diet.  Nothing impressive huh?  I look like just an average looking, kind of skinny-fat dude.  Not really out of shape, but not really in physique shape either.  Nothing like this guy:

So you can imagine the amount of effort and discipline I must have to put into getting into that type of condition.  100% on is the name of that game, and it ain’t easy for me suckas.

NEXT TIME

Sorry this blog topic is running way longer than I thought it would.  I’m going to cut it here.  And sorry it was all about me, me, me…

In the next one, I promise I will make it up to you.  I am going to tell you how lessons from my journey can help you.

Here’s a preview, because I want you to know this whole post — I guess now posts — are really about how I can help you filter through the B.S. in the fitness industry and actually reach your lofty goals (not my journey, but I guess I just like talking about myself J):

1.  The fat loss industry is a business just like any other business.  It is geared towards what sells/creates profits, not necessarily what works/is effective.  I learned that the hard way.  And what sells?  Marketing fluff, quick fixes, magic pills, faster than physiologically possible results, etc.  I found that none of those worked for me, a regular dude in the real world with average genetics.

2.  If you have average genetics, you are going to have to make lifestyle changes that you can sustain, not short-term, quick fixes.  Trust me.  Don’t think you are going to go on some plan for 12 weeks and then live “rippedly” ever after just because that’s what the commercial or ad implied.  What happens after 12 weeks?  Can you maintain an extreme plan indefinitely?  Are you going to just go back to being out of shape?  If you revert back to bad habits, you’re going to revert back to your old physique, because that’s what your average genes want you to do.  That’s why so many people yo-yo — they don’t think long-term.

3.  In an ideal world (or for those with great genetics or performance/physique enhancing drugs), body composition transformations are fast, easy, and can include a haphazard or random approach (oh I’ll run this day, do yoga this day, lift weights this day, whatever I feel like).  In the real world (or for those with average genetics or trying to do it naturally), body composition transformations take consistency and discipline, go slower than we like, and require adherence to some kind of appropriately designed structure.

4.  Most trainers don’t know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to physique development.

Many come from great genetics, and could probably do whatever they wanted to do to stay in shape (wouldn’t it make sense that the genetically gifted might lean towards a career in fitness).  They just haven’t had to learn the science and practical application of the body composition TRANSFORMATION PROCESS.  Sure, jump around like a male cheerleader on crack or hammer that weight that shakes like it’s a good masturbation session and you’ll be ripped.

And you have to remember this: the training industry is a business too.  It is geared towards what sells training packages, gets you dependent on the trainer, etc. — especially in commercial gyms — not necessarily what works.  So gyms these days are full of “new, cutting edge, innovative” exercises, gadgets, programs, and even training certifications.  They look cool, are marketable, and seem to sell, but are they effective?  That is debatable.

Tell someone they need to consistently work hard on the basics that actually produce results and (1) there is nothing new or marketable, and not much to sell for profit.  (2) It looks/sounds uninformed, and some egotistical trainers always want to be perceived as cutting edge.  (3) It puts accountability back on the client, where it belongs; instead of duping them into thinking they can buy their way to fat loss.

5.  All of this means that if you have average genetics, you must take a proactive approach in educating yourself about the physique development process.  You can’t just take advice or follow programs on blind faith.  Otherwise, you have great odds of getting burned.

I don’t want to paint you a bleak picture, but I do want to paint you an honest one.  See you next time for some fitness truth…