As a trainer, I spend a lot of time in the gym and have become a staple of the environment. The regulars know me by face and name and are true fans of my work. I am amazed at how much support I get from the staff and gym members, especially when I begin to prep for a bodybuilding competition. Even though I get so much support, there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to the sport and what it takes to prepare to get on stage through the reverse dieting afterward. It was said to me in some form or another on several occasions that bodybuilding should be easy for me because I spend so much time in the gym. That couldn’t be further from reality!
I compete in the women’s figure division, which calls for symmetry of muscles from head to toe. There is so much more to bodybuilding than merely working out and lifting weights. Yes, quality gym time is very critical to be able to build the muscles needed for my division.
However, having muscle is not the only factor the judges take into account.
There is the sculpting of the muscles and the number of striations and muscle separation that plays an important role in how we are judged. You can have massive muscle, but if you do not properly diet and dry out (dehydrate the muscles), you will not have the right look for the division and could fair much lower in the rankings than a woman with less muscle. There is also a matter of conditioning. This requires not only performing the right amount and type of cardio but also posing for hours on end.
I have a strong cardio background from being an ultra-marathoner and triathlete, therefore, my cardio plan is much different than the average bodybuilder. Because I have such high cardiorespiratory endurance (CRE), it takes much more energy, time and activity to get my heart rate up high enough, which can cause me to “feed” from my muscles reducing my muscle mass, whereas the “typical” bodybuilding athlete burn the same number of calories in a shorter time frame because their CRE is not as high. This is where my diet is absolutely critical to ensuring that my muscle mass stays present while my body fat continues to drop.
There are so many factors that come into play when preparing for a bodybuilding competition. Each one is a key component to being able to be competitive in the judging come showtime. Each of these is equally important and lead to the next component. In other words, it takes so much more than just working out for you to put your best possible physique in front of the judges and crowd.
You must work out – heavyweights, 4-5 sets of 15 or more repetitions.
You must do between 45-120 minutes of quality cardio per day. Also, you must eat every 2-4 hours – staying within your dietary plan mapped out between you and your coach. You must stay as stress-free as possible in order to keep your cortisol levels as low and steady as possible. You must drink between 1-2 or more gallons of water a day and you must get sleep. As the show approaches, you must keep off your feet whenever possible. You must take your daily vitamins. You must stay focused and disciplined.
Please know that not everyone has the same reasoning or motivation for getting on stage. Depending on their “why”, they will approach their show(s) differently. For me, I put my all into each and every show prep. My “why” is to not only perform better than the other ladies on stage, but I want to annihilate the woman I was at previous shows, always improving on my shortfalls or deficiencies and putting forward my best physique and performance every time. I have an amazing support team that helps me stay focused and motivated.
My workouts take hours, my posing sessions are even longer. Whether I am in prep for a show or not, I continue to pose so that I do not get out of practice with my movements or muscle contraction exercises. How you practice is how you will perform and I have learned that from experience.
All in all, bodybuilding is like any other sport an athlete plays.
I cannot think of a single sport that can be mastered by simply performing one aspect of it. There are many contributing exercises and routines that must be performed and practiced. Bodybuilding is no different. Yes, working out and exercising is mandatory but nutrition, hydration, and practice are critical. So the next time you see someone that is preparing for a show, understand that they are (hopefully) doing more than just lifting weights and getting on a stair machine. It is a very complicated sport that most people do not realize just how difficult it actually is.