Lifting Heavy Makes Me Happy

In these last few days before my competition, my life is consumed by macros. It’s very dull. On the upside, my body has decided it’s OK at this level of lean, so I’ve been able to be fairly lenient with my caloric intake while maintaining stage-readiness. So that’s nice. I’m a happy girl when I get to eat more peanut butter.

My favorite snack: rice cakes smothered in all-natural PB and sprinkled with cinnamon & stevia

My favorite snack: rice cakes smothered in all-natural PB and sprinkled with cinnamon & stevia

But enough talk about food. I want to show you some heavy lifting, because that’s really what it’s all about.

Smolov Jr. for Bench

So far so good! I completed Week 1 without a hitch. The thing I love about Smolov and its variations is that it forces you to do a LOT more sets than you would normally do at high percentages of your 1RM. What that does for me (and for others I know who have run this program) is something kind of magical: the sets get easier as you go.

My last day of Week 1 had me doing 10 sets of 3 reps at 140lbs, which is roughly 85% of my training max (165). The first 4 sets are a little shaky and slow, since I’m trying a new wider grip. At the 5th set, however, I start to feel confident and get into the swing of things. That’s when the reps started speeding up and the weight felt lighter.

Coan/Phillipi for Deadlifts.

I gotta say, this program is also pretty magical. I set my goal for the 10 week program to 335 and completed it over 20 weeks while cutting for my figure competition. Yesterday, I finally pulled that 335 and it felt like buttah. I can’t wait to run this again in the offseason.

Well, that’s all from me today. Peak Week begins tomorrow technically, although I started my carb-loading yesterday. It involved a lot of rice, so it wasn’t as fun as I expected it to be. I miss my protein pancakes.

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

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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. 

5 Weeks Out – Sh*t is Getting Real

If you don’t feel like watching words come out of my face, here is the rundown:

I’ve finally registered for the NPC Southern State Championships on July 12. That makes me 5 weeks away from my first competition! The last 3 weeks have been ok, but I haven’t been losing much weight. I dont’ know why, since I am eating at a pretty huge deficit now (about 700-800 cals below maintenance per day!), but that’s just how it goes I guess. In order to lean out in these final weeks, I’m adding more cardio to my training. I have been doing about 20-30 minutes per day of things like Hill Sprints, Stadium Sprints, Wingates on the spin bike, Plyos, Jumps, and Track Sprints. My goal is to do interval work as much as possible instead of steady state, since it’s way less boring as well as supposedly better for fat loss (keeps your metabolism up ALL DAY instead of just for the duration of your cardio workout).

I tried something new today, the Bear Barbell Complex, which is comprised of the following movements performed in 1 fluid rep:

  • Power Clean
  • Front Squat
  • Push Press
  • Back Squat
  • Push Press

You do that 7 times in a row, then repeat for 5 sets. I did it with the women’s olympic bar loaded up to 85lbs and it was KILLER. I will definitely be doing this again – any kind of cardio that involves lifting weights is fine by me!!!

cardio

Posing Practice has also been a top priority for me recently. Presentation is just as important as your physique, so I’m trying my best to have a confident and fluid presentation on stage. It’s so much more difficult than it looks though, especially for someone as ungraceful as me. These are my static poses right now:

posing06_07

My plans for this weekend are to finally FINISH MY DAMN SUIT – oh lordy so many crystals to glue!! – so I can start practicing in the suit and get a better feel for how it will look. I am also going to Sephora today to get some help doing my makeup (I am extremely averse to super heavy eye makeup, so I need some guidance here). A HUGE HUGE thank you to my girl Alyssa for showing me how to do my hair – she is a MAGICIAN when it comes to hairdos. She showed me some of the contents of her bag of tricks, including the Conair YouCurl and the BumpIt, which has a hilarious TV commercial.

In any case, the primping aspect of bodybuilding is SO MUCH WORK. I never thought I’d be challenged by makeup application & hairstyling, since I’ve been a makeup junkie and product whore since the ripe old age of 11, but stage makeup / hair is a whole different ballgame. Especially when you know you are going to be sprayed 6 shades darker than your natural skin tone and glue a bikini to your ass. This is when I’m really glad I have girlfriends!

Oh, btw I squatted 260 lbs this week, which is almost 2x bodyweight. I may not be the leanest chick on stage, but I bet I’m the strongest. 😀

The Beast is Back

Hey Y’all. 

Last time I updated I was taking a week off to recover. Guess what? It totally paid off. When I returned to the gym I hit a 255 lb squat, then a few days later a 315 lb deadlift, which was a goal of mine for a LONG long time. 

In addition to getting stronger, I also managed to lean out a bit more. Although it’s been difficult recently to tell how much the scale really translates to aesthetics, I’m 138 in the progress pictures below, which were taken this past week:

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I’m really not sure how I am managing to do this whole leaning-out-while-getting-stronger thing, since I can assure you I don’t have the resources to either afford or locate illegal anabolics. I wonder if my body is just responding well to the increased attention to macros and rest. 

In any case, I feel like my physique is pretty decent for normal people, but not quite lean enough for stage. I don’t have much time left and my motivation to get super-duper lean is depleting rapidly, especially because it means more cardio and less food, which suuuuuuuuuuucks. My program is also getting really freaking boring, so my plan going forward is to add planned progressions to my squat and bench, and try to do some kind of compound movement at every training session. I’m also going to reduce the training frequency so that I can do more cardio (booo!)

I’m still not 100% on which shows I’m going to do. I’m terrified that I will look like a fat idiot on stage, so unless I lean out a lot the next few weeks, y’all might have to wait until August to see those stage pics. 

I’ve been working on my posing as much as possible recently, and might actually be starting to get a handle on it. Videos soon.

Anyway, already looking forward to competing in PL this fall! 

The Basics: Cooking Healthy Food That Isn’t Boring

I made a video this week because why the heck not. I’m not particularly eloquent, but I think I got my major points across. Take a look:

I am a big believer that you can make food that tastes delicious on a fat-loss diet. I do not believe you have to subsist on boiled chicken and broccoli to be a bodybuilder. Or plain sweet potato and watery tuna straight out of the can (wtf are you a cat?). If you are capable of paying attention to detail, weighing and measuring things, and actually taking time out of your busy life once a week to prepare your food with some creativity and care, there is no reason contest prep dieting should be as interesting to your palate as cardboard.

But Renee, what if I don’t know how to cook?

For those of you who have very little cooking experience, I highly recommend watching the Food Network series Good Eats with Alton Brown (full series available on YouTube here). This show is very entertaining and goes into the science of cooking and baking. The recipes involved are not health-minded, but if you want to learn some of the basics of cooking, it’s a pretty good place to start.

I also recommend finding a family member or friend who is a talented cook and asking them to teach you how to make their favorite dish. I learned to cook by helping my parents in the kitchen, and still learn things from people from different backgrounds all the time by cooking with them. If you live in the US, PBS also has a channel called Create TV that has tons of cooking shows (and is available for free on public access!). One of my favorite programs is America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a little hokey, but its great for learning how to avoid a lot of the common mistakes people make when following recipes for popular dishes. 

When you decide to put your apron on and get cooking, first check your local library or bookstore for basic cookbooks such as Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, The Joy of Cooking,  and the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. These books are particularly useful for the novice chef, since they walk your through techniques and typically stick to simpler, familiar American recipes. 

In terms of stocking your kitchen with the tools you need to get started, here are the items I have found to be essential to cooking a wide range of dishes:

Cookware

  • Stock Pot with lid (8-10 quarts)
  • Small saucepan with lid
  • Large (9″+) nonstick frying pan
  • Small nonstick frying pan
  • Mesh strainer or Colander
  • Large cast-iron skillet
  • Medium to large enameled cast-iron casserole dish (rectangular or oval, doesn’t matter)
  • Aluminum cookie sheets
  • Muffin tin
  • A set of mixing bowls
  • Set of small prep bowls 
  • Cutting boards (1 for meat, one for veg)

Utensils

  • Large wooden spoon
  • Plastic wide-headed spatula (for use on nonstick cooking surfaces)
  • Silicone mixing spatula
  • Whisk
  • Tongs
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Can Opener
  • 8″ Chef’s Knife
  • Paring knife
  • serrated knife

Extras

  • A set of oven mitts or potholders
  • Oven thermometer
  • meat thermometer
  • A good scrub brush for cleaning up
  • Kitchen towels
  • Food processor

Anyway, I hope this helps some of you out there who have the desire to eat good healthy food, but not the means or knowledge. If you have any more questions, hit me up on here or on facebook. If people like the video, I might try doing some more.