Preparing for a competition usually propels many a gym-goer into the realm of Hard Core training. After all, when you went to your first competition and sat in the audience, didn’t it make you want to jump up out of your seat and rush to the gym to replicate all that you saw on stage? Of course! That’s why seeing a physique in perfect condition is so motivating. You see that it’s actually possible to achieve what’s in your mind’s eye.
However, as most people who train know, getting from that seat in the audience as a spectator and up onto the stage as a competitor requires a lot of footwork and planning in between time. Now, no one is suggesting that the first thing a newbie’s a sure set- up for failure and has caused a great many people to quit doing something that could really enhance their life for year’s to come. gym rat should do is to jump into the next competition on the NPC calendar. Actually, that
However, one of the greatest motivating factors and best methods for getting the results you want, is to set goals and attach some form of a time frame to when you would like to achieve them. To some, that means carefully outlining goals that satisfy only them. To others, that means training for an actual competition.
Regardless of whether or not you want to seriously endeavor bodybuilding as a sport, the fact is, it’s always a great way to push yourself into action. Action is half the battle. Whether you fall slightly short or come in right on the money, the point is that you actually took yourself from Point A and went to Point B in a methodical fashion. This can be just the ticket to teaching you how to get into shape.
Remember those motivational speakers in the 80’s and 90’s who used to say, “The best way to achieve a goal is to write it down”? Well, that’s truer than you may imagine. Writing down what we eat on a daily basis, for instance, not only keeps us honest, it keeps us from deviating from our plan to reach our goals. This simple tool allows us to know exactly what is going on with our bodies and what is working or not working. We think to ourselves, ‘I don’t have to write it down because I lived it’, but then why can’t you remember how a particular meal affected you from 4 days prior? Or, why can’t you explain the fact that you’re not losing any body fat even though you’re “dieting”?
Planning is virtually everything when it comes to bodybuilding success. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t alter your plans during a workout or diet meal, if it will suit you better for that day you can! However, starting off without any kind of plan at all can be disastrous and lead to aimless training or dieting that amounts to very little by year’s end. Having a goal prevents this from happening. Just remember that goals are living, flexible things and can accommodate life in the process. —
When people gripe about not getting the results they want out of a weight training program, it’s usually for one of four reasons, or perhaps a combination: Either they aren’t working out hard enough, they’re over training and failing to get the rest they need, they aren’t supporting their workouts nutritionally, or they simply were never shown how to work out! But there’s an underlying reason that is a foundation for all of these reasons for failure: Not having a plan!
Even if you were to choose to transform your body and diet using the principles explored in last issue’s article, “The Body-Type Training Regimen”, you need to understand what your particular body type holds in store for you, and what you need to do in order to work within that modality, otherwise, you would surely fail. It’s the same with setting a time-related goal for your physique. You need to be measured and planned about it, otherwise, why waste another moment in the gym? Why eat another chicken breast, if all you’re going to do is mindlessly chase it with a Hershey Bar?
Will forging a plan ensure success? Not in and of itself. However, provided it’s a sound, realistic plan and you actually follow it, one day at a time, in a combination of days that total at least 12-14 weeks, yes it will!
So let’s pretend you’re entering a bodybuilding competition. It’s 15 weeks until the big day and you have been training for a little over 2 years with some good results and some mediocre results or plateaus. Forget all that. We’re going to take you through the entire process; from planning, to execution, to success on the day of the show. Follow this, and you won’t have a problem seeing big changes in your physique using a frame of time and a few well outlined goals.
- Outline goals
- Define what an effective diet is for you.
- Rid your home of anything that will not support that.
- Start ridding your diet of junk food (candy, fast food, sugars).
- Enlist the aid of a workout partner who’ll be in it for the long haul.
You aren’t going to begin your diet yet, but you are going to outline what a good diet consists of for you. Check in with a nutritionist, but somebody who has direct contest prep experience. You need to know what works best. Next, you’re going to actually decide what it is you want to look like. Do you even know what you look like beneath that layer of fat? Are you lean, but need to pack on some size between now and then? It’s beneficial to know your direction so that you can start walking! Oh yeah, and find a friend or training partner who will push you for the next 12 or 13 weeks in the gym.
You’ll likely also want to rid your body of its taste for fast food and junk food. You’ll be thankful you took a few weeks to do this before actually beginning a diet.
- Buy all stored/ frozen food for diet.
- Purchase supplements and protein powder.
- Outline your training regimen for the entire 13 weeks.
- Start building endurance by including cardio if you have been inactive aerobically.
This is the week prior to starting your diet, so you need to be prepared on the morning it starts. Buy all the food you can that stores or freezes, so that on that Monday morning, you are prepared. Frozen chicken, cans of tuna, yams, oatmeal, protein powder, supplements (both for dieting and recovery) and anything else you may need apart from fresh fare.
Remember, think ahead about the type of person you are… do you get hungry at night? What will you do when hunger strikes? Outfit your cupboards with small snacks that are almost calorie free so you can munch on things to tide you over into the next day. Cheating isn’t an option!
The last thing is, you should start to do cardio work, maybe 2-3 times per week within this week prior to hitting it hard. You’ll be thankful you did. Start with the treadmill and up the ante each day you do cardio so you’re pushing yourself into aerobic fitness. Purchase one of those small lunch coolers so that you can pack all of your food for the day. If it’s there, it’s a no-brainer and you won’t need to tempt yourself going into a fast food restaurant or grocery store. Pack baggies of protein, or scoop protein into empty 12 oz water bottles, ready to fill.
- Cook the night before, pack the next morning.
- Start writing down everything you eat.
- Write down your workouts and details about them.
- Get extra rest this week.
This is your start week. On the day prior to this, (usually a Sunday night) you should have cooked a few chicken breasts, some yams, perhaps a little rice, etc. so that you aren’t rushing around trying to put it all together in time. A lot of people buy those Rubbermaid storage tubs, in various sizes, to accommodate salad lettuce and cabbage, cooked chicken breasts, and hard boiled eggs, in order to always have something prepared and on hand when hunger strikes. Keep replenishing these in the refrigerator so that it’s easy to just grab and put together your meals for the day. Once in the gym, make sure that you bring a small spiral notebook to record what you’ve done and basically, what your set and rep scheme was. Make comments about how it went once you arrive home so that you can assess what’s working and what isn’t.
THE CYCLES OF CONTEST PREP
Look at a contest prep cycle as a series of four 3 week periods of time. Within each three week cycle, there are certain things you need to do in order to push yourself into the next realm of fitness. We’ve been clear about how to begin to prepare, now we’ll get more into the fine points of actual tips for training and dieting that will point you in the right direction. It’s pretty methodical, and definitely isn’t rocket science. Just follow the plan and path that thousands before you have taken and you’ll end up successful.
Weeks 10, 11 & 12:
Diet: Each meal in your daily diet should contain some form of protein. Whether you get that from protein powders or from actual meat, poultry, eggs or fish, the protein is crucial for repair and building, as well as speeding up your metabolism to lose body fat. Your diet should also include 1-2 meals that have some kind of substantial carbohydrate, such as yam or brown rice. Try to quit eating those things by 3-4pm in the beginning. You’ll also include 1 cup of cooked oatmeal for breakfast with egg whites, etc. during this phase. Your last couple of meals should consist of quality protein and vegetable carbohydrates, such as broccoli or spinach. Record everything, including amount and gram count. If you don’t know, go buy a book that lists the food values of common portions. Your protein can include some red meat, but make sure it’s lean. You can also have a yolk or two with your egg whites. Keep calories up, but make sure the food you eat is all good food and not junk!
Recap: Record every bit, take in protein at every meal, go easy on the starches after 3pm, don’t cut calories down too far.
Training: Training during the first few weeks should include the weights you always use, but the repetitions should increase slightly. You’ll be howling at night from the extra soreness, but you’ll speed up your metabolic rate, keep your strength and begin shaping muscles in ways you usually never see because you don’t push yourself to this point. Try to take less rest between sets, and trade out one exercise for each body part with a new one that you haven’t done very often. Keep great form, despite fatiguing your muscles much more in these three weeks.
Recap: Move rapidly, less rest between sets, keep weights heavy, increase variety.
Cardio: Your calories have dropped slightly, despite best efforts, because you’re now eating good food and probably don’t know how to eat the same number of calories and have them all be good for you. That’s okay. During this phase, you’re going to really bump up your cardio fast. Add 10 minutes to each session and make sure you get 4-5 sessions this week. (Don’t do cardio on leg days). Use only the treadmill this week and start with 30 minutes, go to 40, then 50, then 60 and start back at the beginning at the first part of the week. Really play with intensity here too. Lots of ways to do this, considering that on a treadmill, you can play with pace, incline, program, time and interval work. Push yourself to do at least two 2-3 minute sprint-like runs in the midst of each session. And elevate the treadmill a few times.
Recap: Use only the treadmill these first 3 weeks, add 10 minutes each session, vary intensity.
Weeks 7, 8, & 9
This is where the fun begins!
Diet: These are the weeks that try men’s souls. You’ll cut back to one starch (Example: 1 cup of brown rice, or 1 yam), and will cut your oatmeal in half in the mornings. Eat extra protein and have steamed vegetables or a salad to add fiber. Make sure you finish that one starch by 2pm. You’ll be eating about 6 times per day and increasing your protein to make up for the lack of the one starch. You’ll also add a little flax seed oil in with a protein shake or with your afternoon/ evening meals. This will also take up the slack for the lack of that carb and give you energy to go on. Remember to keep writing this all down each day.
Recap: Cut oatmeal in half, cut down to one starch, increase vegetable intake, increase protein intake, and supplement with a few well-placed teaspoons of flax oil over 2 meals.
Training: Training should intensify during these weeks. The weight you have been able to use is likely waning a bit. To make up for that, increase your number of sets, or keep the number of sets stable and increase repetitions. Add in the occasional super set. You’ll be trying to take less rest between sets. If you feel yourself not getting a pump, use glutamine in 4-5 gram doses a couple of times a day, along with a small amount of creatine, mixed in with about 6 oz of Gatorade and 6 oz of water just prior to workouts.
Drop compound movements such as bench press and start using dumbbells, still trying to keep the weight up as much as possible, while set and rep numbers go up. Begin to pick up the pace and train faster.
Recap: Intensify training, increase set or rep numbers, add super sets, use more dumbbells than bars, train slightly faster.
Cardio: This is where things get tricky. You can keep a constant time of 40-45 minutes for each session, rather than continually adding, but you need to keep intensity high. Use a variety of equipment during this phase, including treadmill, elliptical trainer, stepper, etc., but do interval training on each apparatus. Speed up with less resistance, slow down with greater resistance. Wear a heart rate monitor and dip into the anaerobic zone 4-5 times during a session.
Recap: Keep time constant, keep intensity high, increase variety of apparatus, use interval training, wear heart rate monitor and dip into anaerobic zone several times.
Weeks 4, 5, & 6
Diet: This is where you’ll begin to cycle your macro nutrient groups. You’ll move in a 3 day cycle, similar to a training cycle, when you do this. It will look something like this:
Day 1: Low fat protein sources, 2 grams protein per body weight, no added fat and 2 starches for the day, along with lots of vegetables.
Day 2: Moderate protein (1 gram per pound of body weight) both lean and semi-lean sources, (lean beef okay), 1 starch, multiple vegetables, and 1 tbsp flax oil
Day 3: High protein, variety of sources, (egg whites + yolk, chicken, steak, fish), high vegetable intake, including a salad at each meal, 2-3 tbsp of flax oil (spread out over a few meals), or 2 meals with flax and one with 1/2 cup walnuts.
This will define for you how fast your body can change.
Recap: Follow this exactly, and keep cycling through the 3 day plan over the course of 21 days.
Training: Training sessions for each body part should include fewer exercises, less sets, and higher repetitions. Because you’re doing less overall volume in your workouts during this phase, try to increase the weight again in some exercises. Still use dumbbells and any attachment that lends itself well to full range of motion in each movement. Vary the exercises you do each time so you’re never doing the same exercise twice in one week. Keep the pace as quick as you can, but take appropriate rest when you need it. The variance in diet will likely throw you for a loop! Take in plenty of glutamine in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Recap: Include fewer exercises, less overall sets, but more repetitions. Try to increase weight, and increase the glutamine intake
Cardio: Do 8 sessions of cardio this week – one in the morning and one in the evening – over 4 days, avoiding leg days. Vary apparatus. Also, vary times throughout the week, randomly. One morning, do 30 minutes, and at night, do 25. The next day do 50 in the morning, then do 25 in the evening, going by how you feel that day. Throw in one good intensity based session during the week, but make sure it’s in the morning.
Recap: 8 split sessions, vary apparatus, vary time randomly, throw in one session geared toward intensity.
Weeks 2 & 3
Diet: Bump your meals up to 7 or 8 each day, and decrease the overall food volume in every other one. Keep protein intake very, very high, eating at least 2 grams per pound of body weight. All carbs should come from vegetables, but you may have either ¾ cup of oatmeal or ½ yam, if you feel you need it, on odd days. On even days, have extra fat from sources like flax oil or olive oil, if you feel you need it. Keep vitamin supplementation high. When you start your second week, you’ll be cutting out whey protein powder. This is a sad day for anyone, but necessary in order to get that last bit of film off the abs, legs or lower back – where ever you have a problem. Replace this with 3-4 egg whites per normal protein shake meal. Drink extra water this week if you haven’t been. Try to get ½ to full gallon per day.
Recap: Double protein, all carbs from vegetables except on odd days when you may have a small amount of carb (low glycemic: ½ yam or ½ cup of oatmeal cooked). At start of second week, cut out all protein powder and replace with egg whites.
Training: Training should be fast and furious and super sets should be the norm for you for the first two days of each week. Then, take a rest day and hit it again for one day of super sets on the fourth day. Train at normal pace for another day and take 2 days off.
Try to do as much ab work as you can in these last 3 weeks. It’s crucial to your appearance. Calf work should also be stepped up slightly. Giant set abs, superset calves, and use interesting attachments for all other body parts (ropes for triceps, hands on high cables for biceps curls, etc.).
Recap: Fast and furious for the first two days, one day off, then super sets and intensity again on the fourth day, train at a normal pace the next day and then take two days off. Do this for two weeks. Use interesting attachments and step up ab training
Cardio: Cardio sessions should be about 25 to 30 minutes, 4-5 days per week. Vary equipment and keep the pace totally fat burning. Keep track of that by wearing a heart rate monitor.
FINAL WEEK – Week 1
You should be tired, but you shouldn’t feel like dropping either. If you do, take 1-2 days off from training during weeks 2-3. During week 1, you’ll only train for the first 2 days and then take 3-4 off. The fourth is a contest Saturday, usually.
Diet: Drop meals back to 5 or 6, and make sure that you alternate chicken and steak as protein sources in each meal. So, if you’re eating 6 meals total, you’ll be taking in 3 chicken breast meals and 3 steak meals. Be encouraged that you can cook Ribeye steaks on the grill during the first few days, and eat plenty of vegetables with it. Drink plenty of water, up to about ½’t cut it down to nothing. You’re not eating starch so it doesn’t matter. Toward the end of the week, about the last few meals of Thursday, you’ll throw in a yam with your steak or chicken and then go to bed. Wake up on Friday and have 3 meals only of steak and baked potato. Go easy on the butter, but you can have some. This should fill you out in plenty of time for the next day. Don’t go jamming M&M’s and candy bars into you. Eat only things that have plenty of fat with them too… french fries are a good choice, steak is good, and so is Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream (just about ½ to full cup only). Come Saturday you’ll look like a million bucks! gallon or less. About Wednesday, cut that amount in half, and then keep your water there. Don
Training: Do detail work this week, for the first three days only. Then rest.
Cardio: Only 2 sessions this week – Monday and Tuesday.
It’s unlikely that after following this plan, you’ll look like anything but a superstar compared to the person who started. Training using a time frame can be one of the most rewarding because you’re giving 110% every day, over the course of several weeks. That’s because you know it’s for a finite period of time. It becomes much more difficult when you try to apply that to life.
It’s impossible to keep up a contest prep pace forever, but you can find some kind of moderate way of living, employing these principles, by just altering your concept of time frames and by continuing to refresh your goals. The best way, of course, is to have a lot of shorter term, less frenzied goals, such as I’m going to lose 10 pounds in 2 months…or… I’m going to increase the weight I use in squat workouts by 20% in 6 weeks”. String those all together and you end up with a way of living that never becomes stale or boring and always finds you achieving some goal or end result.