How I Went From Being Bullied To Being A Bodybuilder

Hello! Who are you and what did your transformation look like?

Hi, my name is Branden Westlund and I have been through multiple transformations! This may sound odd but my story is probably like many of yours out there, and it is one that highlights the ability to never give up! I retired from playing soccer after winning the WJCAA Men’s State Championship at UW Fox Valley. I then started going to the gym with my older brother and it was then that I decided to take up natural bodybuilding. In the beginning, I made some good progress; but even from early on, I was plagued with injuries and sickness. It is my love for the lifestyle and my desire to never give up that has led me on this journey for over 12 years!

It has always been my goal to gain weight while maintaining a lean physique. I graduated high school at 140 pounds, and my first goal was to simply hit 145 pounds. Ever since setting my first short-term goal, I have continued to set more short, attainable goals. Setting goals is what got me to my heaviest weight of 178 pounds! If there is one thing that rings true throughout my story, it’s consistency. I have always said one thing to anyone who asks me what it takes or how I got to where I am:  It’s all about consistency!

What’s your backstory and why did you decide to transform yourself?

After being bullied in high school (and some of college) for being pencil-thin, I wanted to do something about it. After my soccer career, I decided I would start to put on some weight and get bigger in the gym. I wanted to feel more confident in myself and help my self-esteem, which was at an all-time low. I began working out as a means to fight back against the bullies.

When I got started and was learning more things about myself, I began to learn more things about life in general. I learned that these bullies weren’t just picking on me because of who I was, but because of their own personal insecurities. I began to feel more confident not because I was getting bigger and stronger, but because I was developing a stronger mind.

Bodybuilding can teach you so much more than adding weights in your head and counting sets and reps. This is one thing that kept driving me, it kept me coming back for more. You will learn so much if you decide to go on your own fitness journey, and for this reason alone I would highly suggest putting that effort in to learn more about yourself and grow as a person.

Along my journey, I have decided to go through many transformations from cutting to the lowest body fat percentage possible to bulking to the heaviest weight possible to taking on the challenge of bodybuilding to doing grip strength incorporated workouts and seeing how much I could lift with each grip instrument. 

I have always kept physical activity or going to the gym a core of my progress, but my goals have always been shifting and changing somewhat.  I have always found different varieties of things to challenge myself to keep my time in the gym fun and exciting!  Just like with anyone, interests change and your perspective may slightly shift.  I went through a time that I wanted to bulk as much as I possibly could. Life is going to always throw curveballs your way, and this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your fitness goals. When times would get tough, I would pivot and begin a cut.  It’s all about leveraging situations and making lemonade out of lemons!

Take us through the process of transforming yourself.

My transformation has always been about learning and growing.  If you would have asked me these questions five, six, even 10 years ago, my answers would have been very different!  One of the biggest things that has transformed throughout my journey is my knowledge of food and how to read labels.

When I first began, I was eating whatever I could because I didn’t have much money, and also because my metabolism was so high that I could eat straight junk food and still maintain sub 10% body fat.  I began to learn more about eating smaller meals and more frequently to keep my metabolism up. This would work well for me to spend money on smaller meals and keep within my budget. I began to learn about body timing from my long-time family friend and business partner Pete Knox.  He opened up my eyes to the world of anabolic windows and what I should be doing for nutrition (protein vs carbohydrates) and when.  From here I really started to gather more knowledge are learn more about the correct ways to train, and more importantly eat.

When I met Macy, she taught me all about eating closer to the ground. This was really what set me apart from my previous training. When I began to cut out all the food that I thought was ‘healthy’ and began to cut out processed food, added sugar, and all the other added garbage in today’s “health food”, I noticed an immediate difference in my physique and overall health and well being. Like I mentioned in the beginning, the one thing that rang true was my consistency.  It was always a process to learn and grow, but without grinding day in and day out, I would have never made the progress I have made or learned what I have learned.

Along with a proper diet, my favorite part of the journey is spending time in the gym polishing my craft.  I’ve met and trained with a lot of amazing people, one of which was a man I only knew by the name of Joe. He had competed in several bodybuilding shows and was built like a house! He taught me to really focus on my muscles and think about what I was trying to accomplish with each lift. It wasn’t until later on that I found Kai Greene, a runner up in the Mr Olympia competition, that I began to truly understand the mind-to-muscle connection.  This was easily the best piece of advice I had ever gotten in the gym.  When Kai talked about how he was a bodybuilder and his goal was to build his body to his goal physique, this hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so concerned about how much I could bench or how much weight I could add to do weighted dips; when in reality I needed to focus more on the contraction and getting the most out of each rep and each lift.

Since your transformation or hitting your goal, what has worked to maintain or keep making progress?

One of my favorite philosophies when it comes to making progress and avoiding plateaus is muscle confusion. Too many times would I get stuck in my routine of:  Monday is chest so I would warm up on the bike, stretch, start with the bar and warm up the muscles, and then do whatever sets I needed to do if I was bulking or cutting.  It is important to switch things up; this might mean instead of doing flat bench you do dumbbell bench instead.  If you go into the gym and do the same routine over and over again your body will adapt to that. A fun way that I switch things up is by doing unilateral movements. This allows me to really focus on one side at a time.

Another big influence on my bodybuilding journey is Julian Smith.  One of my favorite takeaways from his is TUT or time under tension. When trying to increase my bench during heavier seasons, I utilized this process when doing the negatives, or the down movement. You bring the bar slowly and controlled down towards your chest for a two, four, or even 10-second count, and then explode with power on the positive or up motion.  This really helped my strength, and again, brought me back to that mind-to-muscle connection.

Have you started any supplements, vitamins, routines or swaps that have assisted on your journey?

Besides diet, learning about supplements has been quite the experience. Early on in my journey, when I was reading magazines that would be geared towards achieving my goals, I was sucked into the visuals. I knew that steroids existed, but I did not know to what extent and who was on them. I believe a big part of the industry needs to be revamped to be more truthful because I don’t have a problem with steroids, I just have a problem with people lying about it for their financial gain. 

When talking about supplements that are most beneficial, I would highly recommend checking out Derrick at More Plate More Dates. He is very knowledgeable when it comes to biochemistry and physiology of the supplements. I have done my own research and I would suggest you do the same. Being a bodybuilder, or taking up any hobby, it is important to always learn and educate yourself!

The main supplements I take are a preworkout, creatine monohydrate, and a greens supplement for gut health.  I love the greens supplements because I believe everyone should be on one. The gut is the second brain of the body.  If you clean up your gut health I guarantee you will notice a difference in some ailment that has been nagging at you for years! Bodybuilding, diet, and supplements have all been a journey and I will continue to learn more and more.  One thing will always remain the same however, and that is that I love my preworkout powders!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, my girlfriend Macy and I are new homeowners! Right now my gym schedule is non-existent as I do projects around the house and am working on unpacking and finding a home for everything! I know that it is only a short amount of time that I will be out of the gym which is why I have been trying to add in a little longer walks with our puppy and doing push-ups or sit-ups before bed. Life is going to constantly throw curveballs at you, which is why I always say it is about consistency! It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. You may be off your routine for a little while which is okay, but even if you can squeeze in one workout one week, and two the next, it is better than just throwing in the towel altogether and waiting for the perfect time to get back in the gym.

Through your transformation journey, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

This question could have a television series that could run 100 episodes and still not cover all of the things that I have learned along the way! I think from that synopsis of my journey, that should tell you everything you need to know about starting your own! Never compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter. They may have been on their own journey for years and years; they may have a very different situation than you. Your journey is your own and you have your own hurdles to get over and hoops to jump through, that is what will make your transformation unique to you.

Personally, I found that the best way to learn and grow throughout my transformations has been to fail.  A big part of my training is failure. One thing I like to do is have a spotter or set the safety bars on the bench press and literally go until failure. What I mean when I say failure is not going until it is difficult and then rack the weight; I mean keep going until the weight is on my chest/safety bars because I literally cannot push the weight back up again. Give this a try, you will probably be surprised with the outcome.

What platform/tools/apps do you use for your transformation?

When I was trying to reach any goal, I never used an app or a tracker, the only thing I used was accountability and the scale. For me personally, one of my goals was to gain weight. A lot of people say to not worry about the number on the scale, but I think that is weak-minded and will not help you achieve your goals. I was always skinny and wanted to gain weight, so the only measurable number that would help me track this progress was my weight on the scale. I used my own negativity to my benefit, I turned the disappointment of a lower number on the scale into fuel to help me increase that number the next time I saw it.

The other tool I used was accountability. Whether it was my girlfriend or a roommate, I was vocal in describing what my goals were and how he/she could help when I wanted to get a cheat meal or help motivate me to get into the gym while I was bulking.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I have found personal mentors and friends/family to be some of the biggest resources. So indirectly, these people have gathered knowledge from various sources and I in turn have now gathered knowledge from these sources.  I like to surround myself with people more knowledgeable than myself and connect myself with people who are experts in the area I am exploring.  

Another huge influential media has been YouTube. I follow a lot of different people and find this to be a great learning tool for someone who is a visual learner.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Rich Piana’s (Rest In Peace) bigger by the day series as well as Kai Greene, CT Fletcher, and Ronnie Coleman. The bigger by the day series by Rich Piana was a form of accountability that I used to reach the highest weight that I have ever been at (178 lbs).

Advice for others who want to get started or are just starting out on their transformation journey?

I will keep coming back to this and it is a recurring theme throughout my life:  It’s all about consistency!  When getting started you may be overwhelmed or feel a sense of uneasiness. But remember – you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you put in the work and stay consistent! There are many cliche sayings (Rome wasn’t built in a day…) but I feel like being consistent with anything can make anything possible. When you put the time day in and day out, you not only work towards achieving your goals, but you slowly become a master of your craft or hobby. If you are planning on becoming a strongman, and you want to be competing, you slowly set goals for yourself along the way and keep pushing no matter the obstacles, this journey will lead you to many different facets.  You soon find yourself diving into every nook and cranny and learning about this you didn’t even know you wanted or needed to learn about.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find me on Instagram @brandenwestlund.