You are not a bodybuilder, figure competitor, basketball, soccer or volleyball player. You are a competitive fitness athlete; therefore, you need to train like one. Many fitness competitors are somewhat misled when it comes to training and nutrition. The athlete can't be blamed for this.
No matter how much research and education you do, most of all you find is training from a male bodybuilder's perspective. This is enough to get most women started in shaping their bodies, whether it's for general fitness, recreational bodybuilding, or to compete in the sport one day.
I began researching the sport in 2001, two years before I ever stepped on stage. I compiled lists of information from the internet, magazines, and from training and sports nutrition books, and was armed with enough knowledge to make some positive changes to my physique and enter my first figure competition.
But the more shows I did, and the more time I spent training for both aesthetics and performance of a fitness routine, the more I realized there were changes that needed to be made.
You see, as a fitness competitor, you are primarily an ATHLETE. You have to get this in your head before you can train and eat properly.
As part of being a fitness athlete, you are also a bodybuilder. Since you are both (and the fact that you are a woman, while most training is geared towards males) requires you to formulate a program that enables you to build size for aesthetics/symmetry, functional strength and flexibility for a fitness routine, and to eat properly for both sports performance and muscle gain/body fat reduction.
In this article, I will share with you my tips on formulating a complete training program to balance all entities of the sport, for ultimate results and maximum performance.
Bodybuilding For Fitness Competition
No matter what division you compete in—bodybuilding, fitness, figure—you are a bodybuilder. Thus, you should devise a weight training program very similar to that of a bodybuilder.
You will have to play with individual variances, such as training volume and split routines, but the goal and desired end result is much the same—add muscle to balance out your symmetry, and reduce body fat to meet the requirements of your competitive division and organization.
When laying out my training protocol, I always place my resistance training as the number one priority. All other sport-specific training and cardio will come secondary to this. If you are currently in training for competition or are already a competitor, you should know what improvements need to be made to your physique.
If you don't know this, I suggest enlisting the help of an accomplished competitor and/or trainer in your division, who can honestly assess your physique and get you on the right track.
There are many factors that go into developing your training regime. You have to consider available time, allowing adequate rest from total training, your current fitness level, and your physique goals. Since I work at the gym as a personal trainer, I have much time to devote to my program.
I usually follow a 4 or 5 day training split, working no more than two body parts per workout, and not training more than two consecutive days without taking a rest day. Below is a sample training split that I've used in the past:
Sample Fitness Competitor Weight Training Split
- Monday: Back (7-20 sets)
- Tuesday: Chest, Biceps, Triceps (13, 8, 8 sets respectively)
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Legs (25-30 sets)
- Friday: Shoulders, Calves (15-18, 8 sets respectively)
As far as exercise selection, I prefer to choose bodyweight movements such as pull-ups, dips, and push-ups. I also implement powerlifting, Olympic lifting and kettlebell training to help gain functional strength. Machines are very limited in my training program, since they incur injuries and limit range of motion.
Try to choose exercises that will not only help you with mass gaining and shaping, but will also yield strength gains that directly correlate to you routine performance.
Once your weight training split is decided, you can add in supplemental sport training. This is again based on available time, allowing for adequate rest, and current fitness levels. If you are taking any group exercise classes as part of your training, consider when your gym offers these classes, and plan your schedule accordingly.
Yoga and Pilates
If your time and money is limited, at the very least I recommend taking up Yoga and/or Pilates. Yoga is excellent for increasing full-body flexibility, a necessity in fitness routine conditioning.
Pilates is great for building core/functional strength, a great way to improve your presses, planches, push-ups, and gymnastics. I recommend taking 1-2 of one or both classes, per week.
Even if you don't perform mind-blowing tumbling passes in your routine, you need to train like a gymnast. Many of the fitness routines skills are gymnastics movements (presses, jumps, etc.), so you will strengthen the muscles needed to improve your skills and learn new ones.
You don't have to enlist in a class or take private lessons if you can't afford them; there is much information available about training and drills, which you can take and use to develop your own workouts. I recommend 1-2 gymnastics drill practices per week.
Speed, Agility, Quickness
SAQ training is very common for most athletes in sports such as basketball, lacrosse, football, etc. It's also very beneficial for fitness competitors. Adding one session per week to your training program can help you perform your routine cleaner, faster and sharper.
If you are interested in other types of training, dance classes are a great option (salsa, hip-hop, jazz, etc.). Working with a sport-aerobics instructor or competitor is also an excellent way to hone and learn new skills, since most of the skills can be used in a fitness routine. Also, consider a full-body training day to improve your conditioning and endurance.
With the above training recommendations, you'll already have your schedule full and probably won't want to do any cardio! The good news is you don't have to do much at all. If anything, I suggest doing 1-3 cardio sessions per week that are specific to conditioning yourself for your routine.
My favorites are running outdoors and cycling/spinning, but I also add in a full-body conditioning workout as part of my strength training once per week. This prevents me from having to add in even more training without neglecting any muscle groups in my resistance program.
Putting It All Together
After you've allotted time available to train, rest days, and developed your weight training program, you can begin adding in sport-specific training by prioritizing the areas in which you need the most improvement. This will likely require you to train twice per day on some days, so plan accordingly based on your work schedule and social life.
Saturday and Sunday can be considered as well, but I always recommend one full day of rest per week. Here's an example of my entire current training program:
- Monday: Back and Chest (13-15 sets each)
- Tuesday: Full Body Strength and Conditioning (Kettlebells)
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Biceps, Triceps, Traps (8, 8, 4 sets each)
- Friday: Quads and Hams (22-30 sets total)
- Saturday: Shoulders and Calves (13-15, 8 sets each)
- Sunday: Complete rest from all training
- 1 Yoga class OR 1 Pilates class per week
- Gymnastics drills 1-2 times per week
*Flexibility and core strength are my primary goals during my off-season, as well as learning some new routine skills.
Most fitness competitors follow a diet designed for a male or female bodybuilder, or a figure competitor. This is definitely helpful in losing fat, but it does nothing for energy and performance.
Many competitors follow a pre-contest diet high in protein and relatively low in fat and carbohydrates. Unfortunately, a certain amount of carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the grueling routine practices.
I've competed in all three divisions of the sport, so I can say from experience that it is much easier to muster up energy for a weight training or cardio workout than it is a fitness routine practice. If you don't have the fuel in your body, no amount of fat burner will make up for that!
The nature of your fitness routine encompasses both aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Unlike cardio or weights, you can't lessen up on intensity or take a longer rest between sets when you feel tired.
You have to go all-out when you are running routines, and the endurance has to be there. If it's not, you risk injury and you don't have enough energy to perform at the level necessary to make improvements on your routine.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your diet is filled too high with carbohydrates, you'll be required to add much additional cardio into your program. On top of weight training, routine practices and sport-specific training, a fitness athlete doesn't have time for that, and it leaves you risking overtraining as well.
The solution is to experiment with varying amounts of carbohydrates and find a happy medium that works for you. Depending on the time available to train, how long you have until the show, and how difficult it is for you to drop body fat, these numbers will vary for most individuals.
I found that by cycling my carbohydrates up 25-50 g several times per week, I was able to sustain that energy for my training, as well as keep my metabolism boosted to ensure continual fat loss.
Individualizing A Program
The key to individualizing a program that is best for you is to keep a sound training and diet log, and be consistent in what you do. This will allow for the least number of variables, all of which throw off your results and don't allow you to learn how your body works.
The off-season is a great time to try new training methods and macronutrient ratios. In general, I recommend your bodyweight in grams of protein, 25% of total calories coming from fat, and the rest filled in with carbohydrates.
Vary the amount of carbohydrates based on your physique goals and training requirements, and you'll be able to fine-tune a program that's much easier to follow and yields tremendous results in performance and fat loss.
- Prioritize your weight training, and develop a split based on physique goals.
- Add in sport-specific training instead of general fat-loss/maintenance cardio.
- Think of yourself as an athlete, and eat for performance.
- Enlist the help of an expert trainer/instructor if needed.
- Prioritize your sport-specific training based on the areas you need to improve.
- Experiment with different macronutrient amounts to fine-tune your diet for performance and your physique goals.
By realizing that you are a fitness athlete and you should train and eat like one, you will be able to maximize your performance and take your physique beyond your limitations.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box and try something new. Every elite athlete and bodybuilder has a program customized to their body type, goals, and lifestyle. As a fitness athlete, you should too.