From Pain to Gain

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

It's a good mirror test for every man: Look yourself in the eye in the morning and ask yourself how much time and talent you've wasted. It's like asking how much better you could already be.

"I take nothing for granted," says Mario West.

With reason: West's biological mother was a heroin user. He entered foster care in the home of his nowadoptive mother, Lisa West, when he was 3 weeks old, and doctors told her he'd probably been born addicted. "He was jittery, stiff. I couldn't put him down," she says.

As West grew, he had learning disabilities and trouble with fine motor skills. But then came a flash of something else. When he was 3, Lisa took him to the circus. "One of the performers rode with him on an acrobat's bike," she says. "And for no apparent reason, Mario stood up on the handlebar and did a flip off it. He landed on his face, knocked out a tooth, and needed 17 stitches."

From that day on, he was a gymnast. He's 18 now, and headed to Ohio State on a gymnastics scholarship. He has a shot at qualifying for the national team and then the Olympics.

It's a funny way to fall in love with something, but we're often driven to defy physical challenges. We try something, it hurts, and we want to make it hurt less-- not by avoiding it, but by succeeding at it.

Sure, any 18-year-old kid can build his body. But West? His pursuit of fitness has led him to a fractured sternum, ankle, and fingers. At a national team qualifying event last year, he fell and broke his foot. Shoulder tendinitis and knee problems create daily pain.

Still, he persists.

"I just thought success was the only option," he says. "Gymnastics trains your mind to think like that. Even when you did well, you have to do better. Success is the only way."

Think of that next time a muscle burn slows you down. You can push through.

"I delete everything I can in my brain because I know if I don't do something right, I'll be ticked off about it," West says. "So I tell myself, Your fear, your anger don't matter. Finish your job. Most times, it works."

The other times, he guts it out.

Read on to learn the ultimate pushup and how to build a gymnast's abs...

The Ultimate Pushup
For coordination, core fitness, and strength, try this balance challenge.

Assume a pushup position--by gripping an upright weight plate in each hand, a little beyond shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. When that's easy, slowly do pushups. (Feel unsteady? Use medicine balls instead.)

Build Abs like a Gymnast
Everything gymnasts do challenges their balance. They need a strong and stable core, says sports performance coach Barry Lovelace. Follow their lead.

LOSE YOUR BALANCE
Reducing stability in an exercise helps you focus on activating your core to maintain steadiness. For pushups, lift one foot off the floor. Try single-leg squats and deadlifts. Do rows, pulldowns, and presses with one arm at a time instead of two.

GO, STOP, GO
With weights and cardio exercises, work at a 1-to-1 ratio of work to rest, starting with 30 seconds of each. Once you build up to 60 seconds, shorten your rest periods. You'll turn as lean as a pommel horse.

GRAB SOME AIR
A gymnast trains for power, not strength. Do jump squats onto a box or bench, and make sure you squat and stick your landing on each rep.