14 Weeks

I messed up my calculations and was off by a week. As of this weekend, I’m 14 weeks out from my show. Eeeeek. I’m scared.

Let’s talk about my training program. Because I compete in an aesthetic sport, my first priority when it comes to training is getting lean (e.g, reducing bodyfat). This means I need to burn a bunch of calories when I train without also burning myself out or boring myself to death. That brings me to the second and third priorities of my training program: conditioning and variety.

You could probably do this and get toned.

You could probably do this and get toned.

Since diet plays the main role in competition prep, physique competitors (of any division, really) actually have a lot of flexibility when it comes to what they do in the gym. Have you ever seen a famous /successful bodybuilder posting videos on youtube or instagram that make you scratch your head thinking, “well if that isn’t the most ridiculously stupid workout i’ve ever seen…?” A great physique can be maintained with a huge variety of training methods. I suspect that a lot of the “special variations that will get you massive” competitors reveal to their legion of followers are usually just weird exercises they made up to keep themselves from getting incredibly bored doing medial raises and hack squats day in, day out. Let’s be real – in the 20 weeks leading up to a show, there are a billion different roads you can take in the gym that will lead to stage lean. As long as your diet in on point and you keep moving, you’ll be fine.

With that in mind, I am doing some weird stuff. When I explained my program to a friend, they responded with, “So, you’re training for powerlifting, crossfit and bodybuilding simultaneously?” Yeah. Pretty much.

If you’ve followed this blog before, you know that I really love the Juggernaut Method for strength training. It’s a great program for intermediate to advanced lifters. It also moves slowly, is about 16 weeks in length, and gives you plenty of room to improvise. I’m running a variation of this program. Instead of programming for increased strength in the powerlifting style squat, deadlift, bench and military press, I am working on improving lifts that I can’t perform as technically well: front squat, high-bar (oly) squat, push press and bench (because chest day is best day).

I just finished up the 10s wave this week and am quickly moving on the 8s wave (I don’t take deload weeks btwn the first two waves, only after the 8s). Below is a video of my rep-out for Front Squat. You’ll notice that I’m only doing 120 lbs. I’m not that strong in this lift, so it’s actually quite nice that I can work on getting stronger without it being incredibly taxing to my system. It allows me to save energy for the other stuff I do, which I’ll talk more about in posts to come.

16 Weeks

Hello! I started this thing 2 years ago. Strangely enough, people actually read it. I’ve had people come up to me in public and ask me if I’m swolesister. Weird, but pretty cool. Sometimes i hear about other bloggers posting … Continue reading

Developing Work Capacity in the Offseason

In my last post I proposed a theory that all the recent hype about “metabolic capacity” is really just a bunch of bodybuilders mislabeling work capacity. Reverse dieting –gradually increasing your caloric intake over time — is effective because as … Continue reading

3 Weeks Out – I Am My Own Worst Critic

3wksout

This is what I look like this morning.

Am I as lean as I wanted to be with 18 days left until my first figure show? 

No.

Do I weigh 127 lbs like all the other figure girls claim they weigh?

Not by a long shot.

Could I have been more restrictive with my diet and come in leaner?

Most definitely.

Does it really matter in the long run?

Probably not.

The last few weeks leading up to a show are psychological torture. Because I have worked so damn hard, for so long, there is a undercurrent of anxiety telling me to just PUSH THROUGH these last few weeks and CUT CUT CUT so that I come in extra super lean and “do myself proud”. I also look in the mirror every morning and my brain tells me I’m getting fluffier, even though my body has remained largely unchanged for the last week. In sum, this is a really shitty headspace to be in. It is very difficult not to beat myself up every day over everything I eat (“It’s only 3 weeks away! Do you really need those oats? Shouldn’t you be hungry all the time and doing more cardio?”). Ugh.

I do not enjoy this part of prep, and I can imagine how a lot of women develop eating pathology during this phase of prep in particular. The amount of pressure you put yourself under is enormous, and it’s very difficult to avoid, since bodybuilding requires an abnormal level of perfectionism, discipline and drive to take on in the first place. Even looking at my progress photos, all I can see is how undefined my hamstrings are. How, well, fat my backside looks.

Bodybuilders almost universally meet diagnostic criteria for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Yes, it's a real thing.

Bodybuilders almost universally meet diagnostic criteria for Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

However, I am doing my very best to ignore all the craziness going on in my brain and focus on my REAL goals (because, let’s face it, a plastic trophy is not a real goal); mainly, to learn about myself and to serve as an example of a healthy approach to physique competition.

This whole figure thing was intended to be a learning experience. Just like my first powerlifting meet, I am going into this without expectations of placing. I just want to get a feel for it, prove to myself that I can compete, and learn some things along the way.

So far I’ve learned a ton. I’ve learned how well my body responds to a well balanced nutrition plan. I’ve learned that my brain goes haywire if I eat too little, while my body can still perform very well at a moderate caloric deficit. I’ve learned the critical importance of carbohydrates. I’ve discovered new favorite recipes and ingredients. I’ve become much more efficient at food prep. Most importantly, I’ve learned how my mind responds to the pressure of competing. These lessons will be a huge resource in the long-run. Much more so than coming in “perfect” for my first show ever.

You will see a lot of women on stage that look much more cut and lean than I will. I may look absurd compared to them. I may embarrass myself by even putting on a figure suit and pretending to know what I’m doing. But no matter who I’m standing next to, all that really matters is how far I’ve come since starting this journey.

progress_3wks_blog

The difference in weight between these two photos is only 10 lbs. (148->138)

The real prize, no matter how I end up placing at the show, is the physique I have built. Especially since the body I have today isn’t a figment of dieting smoke and mirrors, dehydration, extreme carb depletion, or absurdly intense training techniques. I am stronger today than I was in March. I continue to eat a diet that is varied, delicious, and maintainable at ~1600 calories a day, including plenty of carbs.  If I wasn’t so stressed out about my upcoming competition and feeling like I should be eating tilapia and asparagus for every meal to come in leaner in 3 weeks, I’d be a pretty damn happy camper.

Most importantly, what I have is maintainable. I am not going to reduce my calories any further, or add in a bunch of extra cardio. I want to bring the best package that I can to the stage, but not at the expense of my physical or mental health. In particular, I want to avoid restrictive dieting techniques that prime me for post-show binge eating and the associated rebound.

This is what I want to avoid.

This is what I want to avoid. This is unhealthy.

Anyway, that’s what is going on with me. I’m really trying to keep it together and just hold steady, but it’s hard. Even though I feel like I could look better, I’m still pretty proud of how far I’ve come.

4 Weeks Out – Getting Stronger, Wrestling with the Scale

Image

The clock is ticking!

At this point I’ve dropped my calories to about 1600 per day, in addition to doing short bursts of HIIT cardio 6 days a week. However, my scale doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that I’m running an average daily caloric deficit of 800 calories.

Hence, I’ve been struggling a lot these last few weeks with doubt. There is a part of me that is content with how I look and thinks, “Do I really need to drop cals even lower to try to get leaner?” But there is also that nagging voice that answers with, “It can’t hurt to try!”. So many competitors seem to suffer through the last few weeks of prep, pulling out all the stops to shed that last bit of fat. Why should I be any different? I’ve never done a show before. WTF do I know about how a figure competitor should look the last few weeks leading up to a show?.

On a normal day, my weight fluctuates 2 lbs up or down. In the last 2 weeks my lowest weight was 136.8 lbs, which I clocked in after a day of eating only 100g of carbs in an attempt at “carb-cycling”, which basically just turned me into a miserable, awful person (well, more miserable and awful than usual) and left me with a deep gnawing feeling of hunger and psychological torment that I imagine is what it feels like to be one of the many unfortunate people in the world who are legitimately starving*. So yeah, that was short-lived. My highest weight in the last 2 weeks was 140.9 lbs. Generally, I’m stuck somewhere between 137 and 138, and while I continue to notice new cuts and veins every day, my weight is Just. Not. Moving.

So, I’m conflicted about whether or not I should be worried. I know that the scale isn’t as important at the mirror, but I don’t trust my own judgement about what I see in the mirror because I don’t truly know what to look for besides comparing myself to pictures of figure competitors who are tanned and under stage lighting. So, back to the scale- the only objective data I have. Sigh.

In any case, my plan going forward is just to maintain what I have and try to get better at posing. If I can’t control my physique anymore, I can at least control how I present it.

Thanks to everyone who has given me notes on posing. I am still trying to work on projecting confidence and moving with fluidity. The hardest pose is definitelty the back pose. When I flare my lats, I feel like my shoulders drop forward and my rear delts disappear. I may end up having to sacrifice a bit of width to achieve those peaks, but I like the aesthetic I’m hitting here.

Another worry of mine is that I’ll be docked for having a much leaner upper body than lower body. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything that can be done to help that right now. I just have a genetic predisposition to fat-assery. If I want to have more definition in my hamstrings and glutes, I will need a good 6-12 months of building those muscles up so they can be seen through the flab. But I only have 3.5 weeks and I like carbs, so oh well.

My tasks for the last 4 weeks are practicing my makeup application and hairdo, hitting those poses like it’s my job, and trying not to go crazy. Wish me luck.

Oh yeah, PS I hit a 5lb PR on my squat this week. Apparently I can get stronger on an 800 calorie deficit but not leaner. My body makes no sense.

* If nothing else, experiences like this make me recognize how goddamn lucky I am to have been born into a first world family that was able to provide for me and my future. Anybody who thinks dieting is hard should take a second to think about how lucky they are to even have food choices.