When I finally started serious weight training when I was fifteen all I could think of was getting big muscles and competing on stage and being successful. I think back to those days and recall how confident I was that I believed that in no time at all I would have overwhelming size and be as good as the bodybuilders in the magazines. As the saying goes 'ignorance is bliss', and it certainly was in my case. I was yet to fully appreciate the total level of commitment needed to be a top class bodybuilder, nor did I realize the huge role that genetics plays in developing a body. Nevertheless, I was on a mission and competed for the first time at age nineteen. After 16 weeks of a grueling diet I placed 2nd in the Junior division of the UK's Natural Bodybuilding Federation (A.N.B.) although this was a good achievement, I was not prepared what happened next.
Following completing my dieting I was left completely burned out. This was totally unexpected. I just thought that I would be back in the gym and gearing myself up for the following years shows. However, the reality was that the thought of competing again sent chills down my spine. This led me to actually do my Sport Science degree dissertation on 'The Effects of Burnout on Competitive Bodybuilders' which I have had a three part article series posted on Bodybuilding.com, click here to read it. Needless to say, I didn't compete again. Finally, after a long lay-off I managed to get myself back into training with the goal of getting stronger and building muscle, but the thought of competing again that was a big turn-off.
Finally, after seven years of not competing I have regained my urge to do so. No longer does the thought of dieting and sacrifice freak me out. Instead it gets me excited by the challenge. I learned a valuable lesson from reading Skip La Cour's book 'Thinking Big' he wrote a chapter on analyzing WHY you want to achieve your goals. When you know the answers to why the HOW becomes easy as your mind starts acting like a sponge soaking up information inline with your desires. Furthermore, your overwhelmingly positive outlook can expel any negative thoughts that you may have about pursing your dreams. You become a driven optimist. Having learned this lesson well I have many reasons why I want to compete again and decided that before I embarked on my new journey I should write down my reasons before I devised my game plan.
My Reasons For Competing Again:
- To look my all time best. Achieving great condition with full muscles and fantastic shape
- Get myself back on a competitive path, so I can set a base for future progress and be able to more efficiently analyze what progress needs to be achieved
- Allow me to really learn about my body and what dieting and training methods work best for me
- To be able to overcome internal fears about competing again after previously burning out. Prove to myself that I can successfully compete with no negative repercussions
- Develop huge levels of discipline and organization that I can utilize in other areas of my life. Becoming accountable for my actions and understanding that the accumulation of all small positive accomplishments makes a huge difference
- Take my knowledge of training, nutrition and supplements to a new level. Never stop learning
- To be able to share my experience with my wife Letitia. Make her an important part of the journey. Helping her with her training and diet. Motivation and positive attitudes are contagious, make sure mine helps her also.
I would recommend people to do this before they start their competition diet. Frequently referring to your reasons and goals makes it easier to follow a hard diet and training plan filled with many sacrifices and devotion of time to this pursuit.
Since having my article 'Burnout in Bodybuilding' posted on Bodybuilding.com I was amazed by the responses I received. I got so many emails from people who had competed and were now suffering from burnout and like me couldn't stand the thought of doing it again. After giving advice to these people as to how they could overcome burnout they would reply with emails of gratitude. This made me feel great. Actually helping people to deal with exactly the same problems I once had and assisting them back onto a good training path was very rewarding. Many people fail to recognize that bodybuilding is such a mental as well as physical sport. I feel that I now am in a better position to compete again and make it an amazing and positive experience.
The competition I am going to enter is next April. That might sound like a long way in the future but I want to do this right and not rush things. Having this as a firm long term goal works out perfect as I have many months to really concentrate on packing on some size, shedding bodyfat and experimenting with different training strategies with the motivation of stepping on stage in the near future.
Outline Of My Competition Plan
I'm a planner by nature and like to have a clear and concise map to where I'm going. I don't like to just leave things to chance with a vague goal and hope that I'll succeed. I don't believe that is productive or rewarding.
Overall Goal: Compete in the SNBF Georgia Bodybuilding Show in 04/04
Stage 1: An Off-Season Mini-Diet (6-8 Weeks)
Even though the competition is many months away am not going straight into the traditional off-season route of just aiming for more size. The reason for this is that I first want to get my bodyfat down to a very comfortable level. Where I can actually see the changes in the mirror, instead of adding a combination of muscle and some fat which will have to be shed later anyway. Instead, I am going to kick-off my competition journey with a mini-diet.
The goal of this mini-diet is to shed ten pounds of bodyfat, taking me down to a weight of 185. This won't be competition standard rather a good level which I can easily maintain and will be able to actually see the improvements that I'm making in the gym and better analyze what is working for me. I will lose no more than half to one pound per week. Observing how many great naturals like Jeff Willet and Bill Davey stay lean in the off-season is testament to this approach, plus expelling the myth that you have to 'bulk-up' to gain size. Furthermore, when I reach the competition diet phase I won't have that much fat to lose reducing the stress, and the likelihood of becoming burned out.
Looking back in the past when I dieted I made some big mistakes. Firstly, when it was cheat day I would go overboard and have too much junk after a week of being calorie deprived. Secondly, I would then consume too few calories on my 'clean' eating days in attempt to make amends for the excess on the cheat day. I believe that I could actually consume quite a good deal more quality calories and take in more carbs if I just reduce the volume of my cheat days. This would allow me to maintain my strength levels and muscle mass better and as long as it is slightly below my calorie maintenance level I will still be able to shift the fat. Therefore, I will aim to consume between 2700 - 3000 calories a day, compared to the 2200 - 2500 previously.
Stage 2: Increase Muscle Mass With No Fat Gain (6 Months)
After completing my mini-diet I will be about 10 pounds out of contest shape. In this stage I will have six clear months to really concentrate on increasing my lean mass. I will have my calories in a slight surplus to support my recovery and growth. However, I will be taking my nutrition as serious as you would pre-contest. This way I will maximize my progress in the gym and be able to keep my new level of bodyfat in check. If I ever find myself gaining some extra fat I will increase my cardio for a while and evaluate my diet to see if improvements need to be made.
During this period I will be shooting for new levels of strength and will center my training around heavy basics work for low reps. I will cycle my training among the following training strategies:
Cycle 1: Max-OT Training - Learn More
1-2 body parts a day, 5 days a week, heavy weights in the 4 - 6 rep range, with 9 sets for large body parts and six for others. Each session will be intense and short in duration. No more than 40 minutes.
Cycle 2: Heavy Duty Style - Learn More
Similar to Dorian Yates style of training. Low frequency (no more than 4 times a week), heavy weights in the 6-8 range, including high intensity strategies such as drop-sets, negatives, forced-reps and pre-exhaust.
Cycle 3: Power Lifting Style - Learn More
Just concentrating on the 3 major lifts - Squat, Bench and Deadlifts. I will be putting my effort into getting really strong on these big lifts. This will mean that the other assistance exercises should be completed with less intensity in the 8-12 rep range so not to harm recovery, or increase chances of overtraining.
Cycle 4: German Volume Training - Learn More
This is a new style of training which I have only recently been introduced too. The idea is that you take opposing muscle groups eg. Chest and Back and work them together in alternating sets but almost in circuit training fashion from one to the other with no more than 1 minutes rest. This means that you have to use less weight, but the intensity is incredibly high. I will follow this for a cycle anytime I feel that my joints are getting sore from the heavy lifting as this will give them a break while still being able to workout hard. This style of training is an excellent way of changing things up and I will devote an article on how to get the most out of it soon.
Stage 3: Pre-Contest Diet (8-10 Weeks) - Learn More
My aim is to be lean enough at the end of Stage 2 that my time needed to diet is greatly reduced. Making the whole process less stressful and more enjoyable. I will document my pre-contest journey on Bodybuilding.com so that I may share my experiences. Also, so that I can give advice on how I will be avoiding burning out again and other mental strategies to keep your mind positive and focused. Throughout the next few months I will keep you up to date on my progress and let you know how things worked out during the different stages. I'm really looking forward to the challenges ahead and feel confident that my approach laid out is a great plan to make competing again an amazing experience.
All the best,