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
I’ve mentioned before that I do not think physique competitors are accurate in calling themselves athletes. I say this because athletes train for optimal human performance, while physique competitors train for optimal human appearance. Looking good on stage very often necessitates … Continue reading
At the end of February I decided I needed a change of pace and set my sights on competing in a Figure competition in July. I thought, at best, I’d get leaner, learn more about the bodybuilding world and training … Continue reading
People keep asking me if I’m excited about the competition. Excited? I’m fucking terrified. In this moment, I am a few hours shy of 2 days away from standing on a stage wearing an absurdly tiny sparkly bikini, heels and mahogany … Continue reading
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?
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?
Does it really matter in the long run?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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:
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. 😀
I always think it’s weird when bodybuilders refer to themselves as athletes.
While there is a very important performance component to bodybuilding, the methods physique competitors typically use to get “stage lean” put them in a state of dehydration & malnourishment that wouldn’t lend particularly well to athletic performance. Even in the Fitness category, equal weight is given to the creativity and artistic merits of a routine as is given to its difficulty.
So while the preparation for a physique competition occurs in a gym, ultimately success isn’t determined by performance, i.e. how well you can walk on stage, pose, flex or smile. If it was, the palest of hipsters could perfect his routine, hop on stage and be considered a legitimate contender (in reality, he’d probably be dragged off by security).
The truth is, placement in physique competition is determined primarily by aesthetics. As it should be. If you want to see the extraordinary achievements the human body is capable of, go to the Olympics. If you want to see the extraordinary beauty the human body is capable of, get a ticket to Vegas and a seat at the Olympia. This is why I think bodybuilders would be more accurate if they referred to themselves as aesthetes rather than athletes. Although they build it with sweat and tons of hard work, a bodybuilder’s ultimate success depends on “the whole package”, not just how hard they train.
So how does training for aesthetics differ from training for athletics? Instead of focusing on improving aspects of a specific action or movement, the focus is turned onto improving aspects of size and symmetry. Thankfully, since getting better at lifting weights has the fortunate side effect of making your muscles bigger, there is a lot of overlap between training for strength sports and bodybuilding. (If there wasn’t, I’d probably be screwed.)
Keeping this overlap in mind, one of the first things I decided before switching directions was that I didn’t want to lose all my strength just so I could put on a sparkly outfit and feel pretty. It would be a shame to give up the feeling of benching more than my bodyweight for a silly little trophy. Besides, as Physique Pro Dana Linn Bailey put it, “What’s the sense of having all these muscles, and not being able to lift heavy sh*t up like an animal?” . Preach it, sister.
How My Training Hasn’t Changed
This is why I kept barbell work at the core of my training. You might remember that a while ago I employed nonlinear periodisation to correct some imbalances and put on some overall size while continuing to develop my competition lifts. It ended up working out pretty nicely (OHP got back on track and legs got a bit bigger), and I enjoyed the program, even if it didn’t add a ton of poundage to my lifts. Using a similar approach, I now do heavy compound exercises on a weekly basis near 80-90% of my 1RM. I have one Overhead Press/Deadlift, one Squat/Bench and one Clean/Bench day in every 2 week cycle. Accessory work revolves around both vanity and supplementing strength. For example, this is what my squat/bench day looks like:
How it Has Changed
I no longer spend the majority of my time at the gym in the rack. For every day that I do heavy strength work, I also spend 2-3 sessions blasting away at my shoulders, back, hamstrings and calves, using low weight & high reps with things like circuits, drop sets, and supersets. These are the areas of my physique that need to grow, so I have targeted exercises split into an upper body hypertrophy day (heavy on the shoulders) and a lower body hypertrophy day (heavy on the hamstrings) that I alternate. To get an idea of what I do on my hypertrophy days, below is a video of the delt raise circuit I start with on every upper body day. I’m simplifying the program, of course, but that’s the basic gist of it.
How it’s Been So Far
Strangely enough, I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve been on the new training program for about 5 weeks now. In that time I’ve dropped about 6 pounds of bodyweight, but set a new Bench PR at 165 lbs and a new Squat PR at 250 lbs (shown in the video below). I don’t expect to continue making strength gains as I progress in weight loss, but I am excited by the prospect of at least maintaining my strength and familiarity with powerlifting training. Most importantly, though, I feel challenged again. The hypertrophy days were really hard at first, because I wasn’t used to such short rest periods and high volume work. I was very sore after the first cycle, but I love the high intensity & frequency of this kind of training.
Obligatory Progress Pic
I’m currently 14 weeks away from the 1st competition I put on my calendar (I picked out a few nearby this summer in case it takes me longer than I expect to get into condition). I have actual progress photos in a bathing suit, but they are embarrassingly awful, so I will refrain from posting them for now. My legs are still quite fluffy and I have a lot of work to do in the shoulder-department, but so far I see no reason not to be optimistic about the prep ahead of me. There is a lot of potential here.
Up next time: Nutrition! I promise lots of recipes and pretty pictures of food.
Thanks for listening!
Nicole Wilkins Lee (pictured up top) took home her 3rd Ms. Figure International title from the Arnold Sports Festival this past weekend in Columbus, OH, due in part to her spectacularly round and well-developed shoulders. My bony-shouldered self is ‘mirin, so I threw together a simple circuit today designed to target the deltoids. Continue reading