Finally, after three failed previous attempts I completed the 12-week 'Body For Life Challenge. The journey I went on over that 3-month period was fantastic and has positively improved my life in many ways.
Firstly, my training was at new levels in terms of dedication, intensity, enthusiasm and continuous improvements. This last time my workouts were going so well was leading up to my last bodybuilding competition back in 1996, six years ago!
My aim in writing this article is to relate back to the previous article I wrote titled 'How I Plan on Winning the BFL Challenge' and seeing how well my plan went that I set at the start of the 12 weeks, including any ups and downs.
Also, I would like to give people who are thinking about doing the BFL Challenge a summary of what I did in order to improve my physique, so that they may adapt it to their own personal situation and successfully change their bodies as well.
The Original Plan
My original plan was to lose at least 20 pounds of body fat. I ended up losing 19 pounds, which was pretty damn close! I went from 207 pounds to 188 pounds. I wanted to lose the weight slowly, as I remember when I competed previously I lost the weight too quickly and subsequently lost too much muscle and strength.
By monitoring my daily nutrition intake, I was successful in losing no more than 1-to-2 pounds per week, which allowed me to actually increase my strength levels in the gym as my body wasn't being 'crash' dieted as some people mistakenly do. I lost over 4 inches off my waist and although my leg size decreased as the fat came off, I was happy the way my arms stayed nearly the same as I got lighter.
I learned a lot during the 12 weeks about my body and how it responds to different diet and training strategies. The great thing about having a time driven plan is that you are more motivated to find new information that will help you improve further.
That's why many competitive bodybuilders improve more over a course of a year than non-competitive. Having a date for when you have to look your best gives you more drive and motivation to succeed, than compared to when you can slack off for periods of time with the thought that "you'll get back on track later!"
I am now going to discuss the different areas that made up my BFL Challenge:
My BFL Training Plan
When I previously competed I followed a plan of decreasing my weights and increasing the reps. For my 12-week transformation I just didn't want to get leaner, I also wanted to improve in all areas. These being increasing my strength levels, use heavier weights than ever before and also increase muscle size along the way.
That's not too much to ask is it! This was one of my major goals set at the start and I achieved this by keeping my training journal up to date each day. I would write my mental state, (which was usually always positive), my food intake for the day and the timing, and also how my training went. Each weights session had strength goals set for it, even a couple of reps more was enough to satisfy me, as long as each session I was moving into new strength territories then I knew things were going in the right direction.
I would concentrate on the compound exercises for the major exercises, re-introducing Military Presses, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts and the Flat Bench Press, which I hadn't done for years due to an old shoulder injury.
I hadn't trained more than three times per week with weights since 1998 and with my motivation being high I decided to follow a 4-way training split to see how my body responded to that. Below is my routine:
- Day 1: Chest, Calves, Triceps, Abs
- Day 2: Back, Rear Delts, Traps, Biceps
- Day 3: Off Weights, Aerobics And Abs
- Day 4: Delts, Triceps, Biceps
- Day 5: Legs, Deadlifts, Calves
- Day 6: No Training
- Day 7: Aerobics And Abs
As you can see I designed my workouts to incorporate more arm work. The reason for this is that my arms have always been a weak point for me. I have been conscious in the past to not overtrain them, and always followed a low volume, high intensity, and just once per week arm work routine. But my arms never really improved.
I noticed that my arms recovered fast after hard workouts, and when I train chest and back I'm good at feeling just those muscles and not really incorporating too much biceps and triceps as a lot of people do. Even when I do weighted chins or heavy rows I feel my back more than my biceps, which is the way it's supposed to be.
So, I wondered if I was actually 'under-training' my arms. I found this method productive as I maintained my arms size through the weight loss, and now they actually look more muscular. In addition to this my strength increased consistently.
My aerobic work consisted mainly of cycling to work and to the gym. This took me 30 minutes each time and was up and down hills, so I got a bit of interval training along the way. I don't really enjoy doing aerobic work in the gym and find it boring, so this was perfect as I had a destination to get to and couldn't stop half way due to boredom or tiredness like you can do in the gym.
My BFL Diet Plan
Before I did the challenge I thought I knew a lot about bodybuilding nutrition. I am now amazed at how much I didn't know. I read many articles on bodybuilding.com about pre- and post-workout nutrition, cycling your carbs daily intake and the importance of eating healthy fats. Previously, when I dieted I ate the same foods and same quantities all the time.
This time I changed things up, I would have 2 days of lower carbs (approx. 150 grams), followed by 2 days of higher carbs (250-300 grams) and then take in more medium amounts for 2 days (approx. 200 grams). I would also change the type of carbs I was taking in, having more fibrous carbs on low/medium days and more complex carbs on higher carb days.
The change in daily diet also helped prevent the diet from getting too mundane. This worked really well, as my body couldn't get completely adjusted to the same amounts and this allowed me to slowly lose weight without hitting any stale patches.
Eating Healthy Fats
Previously I didn't really fully understand the true benefits of eating healthy fats such as; natural peanut butter, olive oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil. I now realize that these fats are actually good for you, can be a great source of energy when your eating low carbs and have numerous health benefits including lowering your blood pressure.
I have now incorporated these into my diet all year round. There are some informative articles on bodybuilding.com about this that I highly recommend you read.
Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition and Supplement Plan
I've known about the 'window of opportunity' post workout for some years now. Where the body is in an optimum position to absorb the carbs and protein ingested following a hard workout. Allowing a higher rate of recovery and growth.
However, only during the BFL Challenge did I find out the updated research into this area of pre- and post-workout nutrition and supplementation. In order to maximize my training performance and recovery time I would follow the plan below:
30 Minutes Prior to Workout:
- 25 grams carbs from TwinLab Ultra Fuel
- 30 grams Protein from EAS Simply Protein
Immediately After Workout:
- 50 grams carbs from TwinLab's Ultra Fuel
- 40 grams Protein from EAS Simply Protein
- With 5 grams Creatine and 5 grams Glutamine mixed in.
- Additional supplements: 1 gram Vitamin C, 800 I.U.'s Vitamin E
45 Minutes Later:
- 6 oz orange juice mixed with 5 grams of Creatine
15 Minutes later (1 hour after workout):
- Food meal: 200 grams of potato and 4 oz chicken
2 Hours later (3 hour after workout):
- 300 ml Skim Milk mixed with 30 grams EAS Simply Protein
From what I read the body can absorb a lot of the nutrients from these foods much more efficiently post-workout, so you can take in a good amount of calories and still lose body fat consistently. Also, by taking in the carbs and protein before your workout your body has fuel to burn during your session rather than hitting empty half way through your training.
AST, the popular Supplement Company, talk in great depth about the pre- & post-workout nutrition and supplement plan. They recommend that you actually take in a third of your daily calorie intake within the time span of 30 minutes before and up to 3 hours after your workout in order to maximize your gains.
When it comes to changing your lifestyle habits it is very hard to go from eating whatever you like one day to eating 100% clean the next. With this in mind I admitted to myself that in order to stay on my diet in the long run I would need to allow myself a cheat twice per week at the start.
For the first 6 weeks, I had a cheat meal on a Wednesday and Saturday. This made the process of following the diet the rest of the week much more manageable. As I became mentally stronger and adjusted to the healthy eating I was able to cut back the cheats to just once per week. By the end of the three months I was really enjoying my healthy food and was amazed how tasty 'good' food can taste when you eliminate junk food.
I think it's the way you function better when following a healthy eating schedule that makes a real bodybuilding diet easier to follow. Knowing that each healthy meal is taking you a step closer to your goals is a great way to keep yourself on track.
Overcoming Obstacles And Setbacks
Even the most motivated of people get overwhelmed with negative feelings and feel weaknesses creeping in urging you to break you diet or not train that day. The difference between people who succeed and those who don't is what they do when these 'urges' occur.
Whenever I felt a decline in my motivation or an increased desire to indulge in junk food I would immediately refer to my goals set at the start, look at how much progress I had made and then how much more work I had to do. This would give me the mental boost I needed to stay focused and not give in.
Sure, sometimes I would have unplanned cheat meals, due to one reason or another. But rather than beating myself up over it afterward I would really motivate myself to make sure that the extra calories I just took in would be put to good use by training to a new higher level of intensity, both on the weights and aerobic work.
Vacation in New York during Week 10 of BFL!
On week 10 of my BFL journey, I had a previously booked holiday to New York. Rather than using this as an excuse to accept less of myself during this week, I planned to make it productive and still be on target with my goals.
I organized myself so that I had plenty of protein bars, protein powder, creatine and glutamine along with my vitamin tablets. The friends I was staying with had a YMCA gym nearby so in the morning before heading off to see the sights I'd train hard and get a good start to the day.
Not to mention the amount of miles I must have walked around Manhattan! I enjoyed a nice cheat meal in Times Square, and yet I was still on track with my training when I returned to home for the final two weeks.
I wasted too many years, of not training consistently and eating far too much junk food. The Body For Life Challenge has been the perfect catalyst for me to get back into shape, love training again, and follow a healthy, bodybuilding diet.
I am using my experience over those fantastic 12 weeks to propel me back into competitive bodybuilding next year. Furthermore, with this in mind the remainder of the year I am really fired up to make some huge progress in the off-season to pack on some new muscle while staying lean.
I hope that my experiences will help others out there to take up the challenge and make some great progress.