As an IFBB pro 212 bodybuilder since 2015 and runner-up at the 212 Bodybuilding Olympia in 2019, I can tell you firsthand that competing isn't only about meticulous diet and slamming weights—although you can't leave those out of the picture either.
As bodybuilders, we don't just want to look good—we want top finishes to prove our hard work. And that hard work includes every last detail of our prep, from the coaching to our mental game. This is your plan of action. You have to take it seriously and follow through on it, day in and day out. And don't forget that it doesn't happen overnight.
Here are my five keys to creating an Olympia-caliber physique:
1. Pick the Right Approach
If you're at 15-18 percent body fat and decide to do a show in 8-10 weeks, think again. You're already setting yourself up for a miserable, unhealthy, and likely failed competition attempt.
As a male, coming from off-season into a prep, you should be under 10-12 percent body fat, ideally. Staying lean in the off-season will start you off on the right foot, and having the right guidance and nutrition plan is absolutely vital. You must follow everything exactly as the plan is set, but if the plan is not right for you, you will be working in the wrong direction.
You need a coach who is knowledgeable, understands what is in your best interest, and, most importantly, is attentive to you as an athlete. Once you find someone who knows what they are doing and cares about your success as much as you do, stick with them. The longer you work together, the better your coach will know how your body responds to certain foods, food quantities, and training, and can make adjustments suitable for you.
2. Be Mentally Prepared
At first, it's easy to get motivated. You should have a good amount of energy to train hard and still be able to spare time outside the gym to do "normal" things. Once the calories and body fat start decreasing and cardio starts increasing, it gets substantially more difficult to get through your day.
Most preps start at about 20 weeks out from the show. That means 20 weeks of consistently doing the same thing over and over. Eat, sleep, train. Every day, you must choose to take your mind and body to another level. Every day is an opportunity to progress. I take full advantage of every rep and set, every meal, and every cardio session.
As the show grows closer and the struggle sets in, you have to be focused. The strongest of minds will be the champion. Practicing stress management and equanimity are valuable ways to grow as an individual, or at the very least, cope with the grind.
3. Consistency Is Crucial
Having all the tools but not using them will never get you where you want to go. You are what you do consistently. If you eat, sleep, and train with max effort day after day, you will look like a bodybuilder and become one.
I know that the first thing I think about every single morning is what I will be training that day. It's not a conscious thought but a habit I created through my passion for training and bodybuilding. Now, it's just who I am. Becoming a bodybuilder means bodybuilding is who you are, not just something you do.
4. Don't Rush the Process
Be patient and do the work. Going from no cardio and eating whatever you want to more than an hour of cardio each day and dropping calories to nearly nothing will not get you where you want to go. It's definitely not healthy. You have to build into doing more cardio, just as you build up the volume in training.
A beginner bodybuilder will not be able to do nearly as much training as an Olympia contender, but the same effort should be made. Both bodybuilders can give 100 percent max effort every single day. Give your best effort on every rep, every set, and at every workout, and do it consistently over time. You'll notice that the more focused you are with your goal and the more effort you put toward it, the faster you can reach it. Crediting genetics is an excuse for people who don't want to give their best every single day.
5. Maintain Your Equilibrium
Remember who's looking up to you and the impact you are making on those around you. When you start any journey toward a goal, people will take notice. Be a positive influence and lead by example. Your work ethic and positive attitude won't allow you to give up. Stay poised through hype and through criticism.