I started the ten week journey full of confidence, excitement, ambition, but most of all CARBOHYDRATES! Yes, I had been enjoying a little off season yummy for my tummy but now it was time to get serious. At the very start things were much different than the past. I started to train in the morning at 5:00 a.m. instead of the 4:30 or 5:00 pm workouts in the past. My wife wanted to train with me and that was the only schedule that would work for us both. At first, I dreaded it. I couldn't imagine having intense workouts that early in the morning. I'd be half asleep most of the time, I thought.
I was dead wrong! After a brief 2 day adjustment, I started to notice how my energy level was the highest in the morning and I had not just intense but EXPLOSIVE training sessions. They were even more intensified by the fact that I had a competent and ever-present partner for assisting and pushing me beyond my "perceived limitations". Not only that, we began to see things in each other that we had started to be taken for granted.
Another different approach I tried, in preparation for the upcoming contests, was training on an empty stomach. Again, I had always felt it was necessary to eat prior to training to make certain you had adequate energy to perform at your best. Wrong again! This time instead if eating a meal, I took several grams of Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) prior to training to avoid muscle tissue breakdown and increase my fat burning potential. Worked like a charm. I discovered that when you train on an empty stomach, the hungry sensation that you feel after a good nights sleep will be blunted by the release of a chemical called "serotonin" in the brain. That hungry feeling is suppressed by the fact that you are training! It's true!
Next change, cardio! I had avoided cardio in the past an relied on strict dieting and posing to make up the difference. This time, I added 10 minutes of cardio to each workout. No more, no less. I varied the type as well. One day I'd hit the heavy bag, the next day the stationary bike, the next day the stair climber...etc. The fact that I did it post-workout enabled me to reap greater fat burning benefits as well. I actually was able to lean out in 2 weeks to a point that I could be contest ready in 10 days! This was awesome considering I still had 6 weeks to go. This allowed me to keep my calories a bit higher until I hit the 2-3 week point where I went into the "Zone".
The "Zone" is where you really cut calories/carbohydrates/fat and increase protein. To accomplish this the easiest, I switch to eating more fish and turkey. In the past I would stick purely to Whiting or Orange Roughy fish, however, this time I opted for Cod for it's higher caloric count. I even ate beef (96% lean of course) off and on during the final 2 weeks! The diet didn't start to affect me until the final week. This was also a first. In the past, I had struggled through the final 3 weeks at a minimum. This time, 1 week! I feared that I wouldn't be as conditioned as I would need to be in order to win. I always gauged my level of conditioning on how the diet made me feel and since I was feel really good and strong, I didn't think I was going to hit that so-called "peak".
Well, on the day of the show and after an 8 week journey, I stepped on the scale to weigh-in. As I did, the judge asked me how much I thought I weighed. I realized another first! I hadn't weighed myself for the two weeks. I replied, "Hopefully 175". I was close! For the first time ever I hadn't kept track of my weight and somehow tipped the scale at 174 lbs. Right on target!
As I think back, it definitely made my final weeks much less stressful. I just payed more attention to conditioning and thought that no matter what weight class I came into, I'd be in my best condition. After weigh-in and during the athletes meeting, the head judge announced the total number of competitors. The count was 130 and not counting cross-overs! My class alone would have 28!
I was psyched to say the least. I did everything to keep my anxiety under control. It's important to remain calm since nervousness can lead to water retention. I knew at that instant it was going to be a very long and intense day. I remained confident though because I knew I was ready.
During my pre-contest preparation, I had, as always, practiced posing every day. I started it at the 8 week point with 20-30 minute sessions until the last 2 weeks. At the 2 week mark, I practiced for 30-45 minutes each day until the final week. During the final week and starting the Sunday prior to the Saturday show, I practiced 45 minutes through Tuesday and from Wednesday until Friday I switched to 1 hour! I tell you, as I have before, you will appreciate posing conditioning the most when you find that you are in a large class of competitors. It takes time for the judges to evaluate each competitor and being conditioned gives you an advantage that stands out while you remain tight and flexed, can keep your breathing under control, and have smile on your face, the entire time! Trust me, it does not go un-noticed by the judges. It indicates to them your commitment. Pose practice is the most boring and tedious experience. I hate to do it but I do it nonetheless. I sometimes will practice at work during lunch. I just shut my door and for 15 minutes, I practice. The people I work with probably think I'm taking a nap or something, however, I use my time wisely and to my advantage.
When you want to win, you will do what it takes even when you don't want to. As I had guessed, the day turned into a long and grueling one. My class didn't take the stage for pre-judging until nearly 5 p.m. (yes, no sh**!). This really tested my preparation as well as dedication like no other. I realized how important it really was to prepare my entire meals for the whole day in advance. I prepared 6 meals so that I would have a meal to eat and maintain my energy level. It consisted of 6-8 oz. of beef (eye of round) and 1/2 grapefruit. You'd be surprised how good it is! I ate the 8 oz portion first thing in the morning 2-3 hours before weigh-in and right after pre-judging. The 6 oz. portions I ate following weigh-in and before prejudging and throughout the rest of the evening.
Some competitors will run out and binge right after pre-judging. I used to do the same, however, my feeling now is to treat the day as though I will be in the overall posedown. If I plan to win, I am in a better position to win. The worst thing that I could do is to sacrifice weeks of conditioning and preparation and lose in the overall because of a post-prejudging binge. After 8 weeks, I can wait a few more hours until the show is over to celebrate!
When I finally took the stage for pre-judging, my confidence sored! Another first for me was using Dream Tan #2 to even my skin tone. Although I am African American, I have areas where my complexion is lighter or darker. I was fortunate to have been in the presence of another competitor, who I eventually competed against in the overall, who suggested it to me before pre-judging. Not only did he, Chantha Yun, suggest that I try it, he actually applied it for me. Thanks Chantha! The difference it made was amazing. Under the stage lighting, it really makes a big difference. Anyway, it also helped to raise my confidence even more.
With 28 of us on stage, it was a long pre-judging and as I said before, I was prepared and was more than ready to stay flexed, control my breathing, and smile throughout the entire pre-judging event. A competitor standing next to me on stage told me after pre-judging that he did all he could to remain tight and kept looking over at me and could not believe how relaxed yet tight I was the whole time. I told him the same thing that I'm telling you. Pose, pose, pose practice is the answer! There is no magic pill or secret. I just placed emphasis on posing and it has given me that "edge" many times over.
With pre-judging finally over, we had really no time to relax and unwind. It was after 6 p.m. and the evening show was to begin at 7 p.m. which meant that our athletes meeting was to 6:30 p.m.! Prior to the evening event, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with several other competitors. What made and always makes this experience so neat is that you find and meet people from all walks of life who for this one day have, as you have, given so much of themselves to be on that stage. No where else in life can you meet such an interesting and committed group of people. Being a tested contest, speaks even more for the quality of persons that I met. Being "natural" takes an especially dedicated and committed mindset. Also the fact that no monetary reward is expected, makes each and every one involved even more special. Where else can you find such a large number of self-motivated, self-determined, self-driven etc...group of people in one place?!
I again applaud the promoters of the show for making it happen. When the evening event began, my body started to feel the effects and I was starting to cramp, I had terrible gas/flatulence from eating the beef, I was achy all over from the intense pre-judging. I just wanted to go home and sleep! I knew that I was in the "stretch" and time was not long! I was over half way there. Class after class took the stage to perform there individual routine to music. This is fun to watch and learn. You can actually pick up or learn new poses or music to incorporate in your own future routines.
When our class was called to the stage, it was very late into the evening. To be considerate to the audience and to help make the event end at a reasonable hour, the individual routines were shortened to 30 seconds. Not much time to perform but at 11:00 in the evening and after waking at 5 a.m. earlier that morning, I wasn't mad!
The awards presentation followed our individual routine. At the moment that the top 5 were being called out, I began to feel a sense of anxiety I had never felt before. I looked around at the 28 "quality" competitors and thought to myself, "Man, to win here would really mean something...". I had never been in a class of 28 and even more, the guys were all in shape.
As each of the 5 placings were announced, my number had not yet been called. Finally, it was down to the top 2. The next number called would be mine or, if not, I will have accomplished a dream of all dreams. My number wasn't called! I was the first place winner of the middleweight class! I was totally overjoyed and kept in my mind that I still had the overall to get ready for.
When I took the stage for the overall, again, each of the competitors were of the highest quality. I knew I'd have to make the best impression to the judges that I could if I wanted to win the overall title. Best light, my strengths against their weaknesses went through my head as we all stood on stage for the overall. It's hard to imagine now that at 1:00 a.m., almost 20 hours since I had awoke to begin my day, I'd be still on stage and engaged in the most fierce competition of the day. It was, however, a reality and I gave everything I had left to give. Feeling nauseous, tired, and just plain sleepy, I dug down deep into my soul and find that "extra" that I needed and used it!
After it was all over, the overall winner of the 2001 NPC Natural Northern USA Bodybuilding Championship was Edmund Macky! Although I didn't win, I must say it was a show I will always remember. It was a show that brought out the best in me, it attracted the best quality competitors I have ever seen, and I was in the best condition ever.
Following the event, I took time to gather advice/criticism from the judges. I was told that I placed 2nd overall and was given valuable advice that I will use to my advantage for future competitions. Afterwards, my wife and I headed back to the host hotel, but first we stopped at a local grocery store. No, no pizza to celebrate this time. With a show in 2 weeks, we celebrated with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, oatmeal cookies, and red wine. Don't laugh. You'd be surprised what you enjoy after strict dieting for 8 weeks!
In my next article, I'll continue the Road to Final Destination. You'll see why it's titled that!
Thanks again for reading and until next time...
"What you achieve through the journey of life is not as important as who you become."
Until we meet again!