My First Contest: Experimenting So You Don't Have To (Part 1)!

First-timers contest prep - Hopefully, my try-it-and-hope-for-the-best approach will take the guesswork out of your own preparation. The following is an account of my program and the reasoning behind my choices... Learn more.

Article Summary:
  • You should enter bodybuilding because of your passion for the lifestyle.
  • I avoided most junk food during my bulking phase.
  • Training during the cutting phase was more taxing and less enjoyable.
  • This past November, I competed in the University of Pennsylvania's annual "Mr. and Ms. Penn" bodybuilding competition and placed third in my division. Open to all full-time students at the university, the contest attracted everyone from undergraduate business students to varsity athletes to doctoral candidates, creating a rare opportunity for an entire campus to interact.

    The experience was truly a life-altering one, as I not only transformed physically but mentally as well. Since this was my first competition, everything from my diet to my training regimen was trial-and-error.

    Hopefully, my try-it-and-hope-for-the-best approach will take the guesswork out of your own preparation. The following is an account of my program and the reasoning behind my choices, an ideal guide for those contemplating venturing into bodybuilding or competing for the first time.

    Anthony Lee
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Everything From My Diet To My
    Training Regimen Was Trial & Error.

    Please keep in mind that these are strategies and techniques tested only on one individual and therefore not rigorous enough to constitute proven science. Also keep in mind that I am 5'6" and about 155 pounds, so any figures and numbers must be adjusted to fit your physique.

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    The Decision To Compete
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    Bodybuilding is not a sport, it's a lifestyle. Whereas improvement in basketball and football demands a few hours of your day, success in bodybuilding demands that eating habits, training splits, and even sleep patterns are all tailored to meet the needs of a perfect physique.

    Nothing is easy. Pub crawls are quickly replaced by pushups, all-nighters by abdominal exercises, and barbecues by bench presses. Academics, work, personal relationships, social activities, and leisure time find new spots on the ladder of priorities to make room for the bodybuilding lifestyle.

    RELATED POLL
    Have You Ever Thought About Competing?

    Yes - I Want To Compete
    No - I Don't Want To Compete
    I'm Not Sure If I Want To Compete

    In other words, you should be entering bodybuilding because of your unfettered passion for the lifestyle and its results. Success depends on your own decisions and actions, not those of family, friends, teammates, or coaches. If you simply want to get in shape, jog a few times a week. If you enjoy competition, play some bridge. If you want to impress a girl, get a new suit and a haircut.

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    The Program
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    The advice about when to start preparation for a bodybuilding contest is highly inconsistent and varied, but this is perfectly explainable. It depends heavily on your current physical condition and genetic predispositions.

    For example, I decided to start my diet and training regimen twelve weeks before the actual competition. Numerous sources had suggested an eight to ten week range, but I wanted to ease into my diet and training while leaving room for any unforeseen occurrences associated with my trial-and-error approach.

    I was in fairly good shape when it all began, as I always try to eat nutrient-dense foods instead of calorie-dense foods and train four to five times a week with a mixture of resistance and cardiovascular work.

    Anthony Lee
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Was In Fairly Good
    Shape When It All Began.

    Specifically, I carried about 155 pounds on a 5'6 frame, with around seventeen percent body fat. As for my genetic makeup, I am an individual who gains muscle and bulks quite easily, but one who finds it quite difficult to shed unwanted body fat.

    Those last few percentage points of fat are always h-ll for me. Therefore, I opted for four weeks of "clean bulking" followed by eight weeks of cutting. I would then incorporate peak techniques into my program one week prior to showtime.

    Looking back, this program worked well for my specific circumstances and allowed me to achieve a muscular physique with impressive striations and very low body fat. There were obviously minor mistakes and room for improvement, but those issues will be discussed in a follow-up article.

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    The Bulking Phase
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    dot Diet dot

      My basic strategy for an effective and clean bulk was to be in a hypercaloric state (consuming more calories than burned) in order to build muscle.

      Because muscles would be readily fatigued and effectively torn during training, excess energy would be needed for protein synthesis to repair these muscles and increase their size.

      I therefore focused on consuming approximately 2600 calories a day, with forty percent of my calories from carbohydrates, thirty percent from protein, and thirty percent from fats. In other words, I was consistently consuming roughly 250 grams of carbohydrates, 185 grams of protein, and 80 grams of fat.

      RELATED ARTICLE

      [ Click here to learn more. ]
      Bulking Without Fat!
      While you do require additional calories to build muscle, you can only assimilate so much. Follow these simple ideas to minimize fat gain while bulking.
      Author:
      Shannon Clark

      Although many individuals use this bulking phase to indulge a bit, I avoided most junk food because not all carbs, protein, and fats are created equal.

      My meals usually consisted of whole grains, lean meats, and mono and polyunsaturated fats. I reminded myself that the more unwanted body fat I put on while bulking, the more work I would have to do while cutting. Call it bodybuilding karma.

      Below is a typical day in the bulking phase, and of course, many components of the diet can be replaced to add variety:

    dot Training dot

      Bulking is blue-collar work, and there is nothing cute about it. It should not involve any innovative contraptions or new-age exercises.

      I personally made it a point not to focus on specific obscure muscles, but entire major muscle groups. Exercises were compound movements performed with the heaviest free weights that allowed about six repetitions and did not compromise proper form. If I didn't feel the tightness and pain the morning after a workout, I simply wasn't working hard enough.

      Although I am not going to specifically outline my routine, I will tell you that my new best friends became the deadlift, squat, power clean, bench press, and pullup. Because of the heavy weights and exertion, I allotted plenty of rest between sets.

    Anthony Lee
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Bulking Is Blue-Collar Work.

      As seen by the schedule below, cardio was involved while bulking, and you are probably wondering why. As mentioned, I bulk easily and have trouble shedding body fat, so I wanted to maintain regular cardio in order to keep fat at bay and so I would transition easily into the cutting phase, where running and swimming would be daily and h*llish occurrences.

        Monday:

          AM
          • Rest
          PM
          • Chest
          • Back

        Tuesday:

          AM
          • 30 Minutes Swimming
          PM
          • Arms
          • Core

        Wednesday:

          AM
          • Rest
          PM
          • Legs

        Thursday:

          AM
          • 30 Minutes Jogging
          PM
          • Shoulders
          • Delts

        Friday:

          AM
          • Rest
          PM
          • Chest
          • Back

        Saturday:

          AM
          • Arms
          • Core
          PM
          • 30 Minutes Jogging

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    The Cutting Phase
    dot

    dot Diet dot

      Unlike bulking, cutting requires that you remain in a hypocaloric state (consuming fewer calories than burned) so that your body can utilize excess fat as energy instead of stored muscle glycogen from food.

      Keep in mind that the body's preferred source of energy is this glycogen (stored carbohydrates), followed by fatty acids, and then amino acids (muscle protein).

      The key is to consistently enter states where glycogen and fat are burned for energy while muscle protein is spared, and this is achieved through increased cardiovascular activity and more intense training sessions.

    Anthony Lee
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Cutting Requires That You
    Remain In A Hypocaloric State.

      My diet therefore required me to reduce overall intake while continuing to consume enough nutrients to keep catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy) at a minimum.

      My daily intake was gradually reduced from 2600 calories to about 2200 calories for the first half of cutting, then down to 1900 calories for the home stretch. Specifically, I gradually reduced carbohydrate intake from 250 grams to about 150 grams over the cutting period, while holding my protein intake steady.

    dot Training dot

      I focused on two major changes when transitioning from bulking to cutting: intense cardiovascular work and increased isolation of specific muscles. I made it a point to enjoy the bulking phase because frankly, I like training hard and heavy.

      The cutting phase was more taxing and less enjoyable, with each morning starting with intense cardiovascular work, whether it was sprint intervals, swimming, or long runs. I endeavored to perform this work first thing in the morning on an empty stomach because my body's glycogen stores were already depleted from a full night's rest, which forced my system to immediately turn to body fat for energy.

    Anthony Lee
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Like Training Hard & Heavy.

      After the day's activities, I would then lift in the late evening. In addition to the compound exercises that were a staple of my bulking phase, I incorporated exercises and machines that targeted a specific muscle, such as dumbbell flyes, calf raises, and oblique crunches.

      I focused on higher repetitions, working until failure for areas such as abdominals, and less rest time to increase fat burning. I learned to strategically use supersets and drop sets to efficiently accomplish my goals. Below is a sample week in the cutting phase:

        Monday:

          AM
          • Interval Training
          PM
          • Arms
          • Upper Abs

        Tuesday:

          AM
          • 30 Minutes Swimming
          PM
          • Chest
          • Upper Back

        Wednesday:

          AM
          • Interval Training
          PM
          • Shoulders
          • Delts
          • Lower Abs

        Thursday:

          AM
          • 30 Minutes Swimming
          PM
          • Quads
          • Glutes
          • Hamstrings

        Friday:

          AM
          • 30 Minutes Jogging
          PM
          • Abs
          • Lower Back

        Saturday:

          AM
          • Interval Training
          PM
          • Forearms
          • Calves
          • Obliques

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    Peak Week
    dot

    About a week prior to competition, I stood in front of a full-length mirror in my underwear and stared. After eleven weeks of calculated dieting and training, training and dieting, I had noticeable muscularity, excellent proportionality, and unmistakable definition. But I simply wasn't where I wanted to be.

    I was in the best shape of my life, but I didn't have the comic-book striations and wince-inducing vascularity that's seen on stage. Taking that last step had little to do with training and a lot to do with peak techniques to manipulate the water, sodium, potassium, and other nutrients in the body.

    Please refer to my last article, titled "Peak Week: Get Tips for Final Contest Prep" for more elaborate information about this topic.

    RELATED ARTICLE

    [ Click here to learn more. ]
    Peak Week Contest Prep! Enter the 'peak week,' a grueling final step to help you achieve maximum muscle definition and a shredded physique. Get tips right here!
    Author:
    Anthony Lee

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    Conclusion
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    I hope my experiences in preparing for my first bodybuilding competition can take some of the guesswork out of your own training. Due to the many topics and volume of information involved, I glossed over many important issues. Please consult my previous articles as well as other reliable sources to further your knowledge about various diets and training programs.

    Part II of this article, which will document specific strengths and weaknesses within my program, will be shared shortly. It will address various facets of preparation that I did well, helping me gain an advantage over the competition, as well as areas that could have used more focus and attention.

    Part II will also gloss over the actual competition itself and what can be expected on the big day. Stay tuned, thank you for reading, and best of luck with your future bodybuilding endeavors!