Just over 1 year ago I set out to compete in a local, amateur “bodybuilder” competition. I chose the “physique” category which means you are judged on, mostly, your upper torso while wearing surfer shorts. There are only a few poses to learn so I figured it was a good step into the world of bodybuilding. A year later, there are numerous bits of knowledge I gained via experience and tutelage from individual’s smarter than myself. Below are the highlights of input I think many of you can use in your own fitness goals and training.
TRUST THE PROCESS
Starting off I saw great results. I leaned out fairly quickly and loved my new physique….and that was just after 3 months! However, I knew I needed to add more size and you can’t add muscle mass without adding fat mass. It’s the laws of biology. There are a few exceptions to this rule such as individual’s who have an enormous of excess fat and are extremely weak…..and people who take enhancers (i.e. steroids).
When going through the “bulking” phase of the program my abs began to disappear. For those of you who have never seen all of your abs it is extremely demoralizing to see them “go away.” Once you get them you want them to stay! Alas, I trusted my coach and trusted the process. I gained fat but I also gained muscle. Once we went through several months of “bulking” we began the “cutting” process for 12 weeks prior to the competition. Slowly and steadily the abs came back. Yay!
All this is to say…TRUST THE PROCESS. The abs came in once before and they can come back again.
MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE
Twice a week my coach would have me weigh in (Mon. & Thu.). It would be the first thing I would do when I got to the gym so it would be as consistent as possible. Weight would fluctuate a few pounds depending on the day. I was instructed not to worry about the weight moving either direction. My coach would track the OVERALL weight trajectory through each training cycle and give me adjustments based on the numbers. A little healthier fat here, fewer carbs here, etc.
While the scale is not the ultimate judge of what’s happening with your body it does help keep you consistent. To ensure the weight was shifting correctly, and all the hard work in the gym was paying off, I would track body fat percentage, muscle mass, and hydration using an InBody 370 machine at my facility once a month. Closer to competition time I would test ever 2 weeks. This is where I learned that for every pound of muscle I gained there would be 3-4 pounds of fat to accompany it. Again, this was shocking to me! I thought it would be the reverse! Well, that’s not how our bodies function. Again, I trusted the process and focused on following my coach’s directions.
Finally, I would take photos once a month. This came to be the ultimate method of determining how my physique was changing. For example, at one point of the bulking cycle I was back up to my starting weight and even body fat percentage (muscle mass went up by a bit but nothing significant). However, the photos told a different story. I could see my lats spread out, abs were more defined, etc. If the numbers were the same shouldn’t I look the same as before? Guess not! The muscle developed in a manner that changed its shape, to an extent, producing a different look. Remember, these judges don’t care how many pounds of muscle I have or what my body fat percentage is on the scale. All they care about is how it looks.
So, if you’re trying a new diet or a new training program start measuring and take photos! It’s the only way to make sure all the time and effort is paying off.
WORKOUT PROGRAM VARIETY
Some of you who have read my previous articles dealing with exercise variety (and my distaste for the “pop” fitness definition of “muscle confusion”) know that I am a strong proponent of keeping a program simple in order for it to be effective. The training program I followed over the last 12 months was a pure testament to that statement.
I followed a program designed for Men’s Physique competitors (with some minor adjustments) and lifted away. Same exercises, same workout set up for 5 weeks at a time. That’s right, nothing changed week-to-week for 5 weeks except number of sets, reps, weight, and rest time. After 5 weeks I would make minor adjustments. If I was doing flat bench press in the previous 5 weeks then I would do incline bench press. If I did pull-ups as the first exercise on Monday’s workout I would move it to Thursday and make it the 3rd exercise. This is the equivalent of rotating between paprika, salt & pepper, and garlic flavoring on your chicken; Just enough to keep your body excited and changing but not enough to bore it to death.
I understand that for many of you following the same workout routine for more than 5 days, let alone 5 weeks, would drive you bonkers. Sure, there are other programs out there with a little more “excitement” that can yield decent results but the most effective programs don’t dance around. In the end, you have to enjoy your training or you won’t continue with it. However, if your goals are truly important to you and the program you’re following isn’t yielding the results then you have to decide if you want a workout routine you enjoy or a training program that will get the job done. There’s no “wrong” answer to that question. It’s simply your preference. If you go with the more exciting program over the more effective program then, please, don’t complain when you don’t get the results you want. There are plenty of benefits to performing rigorous, physical activity 30 minutes a day for physical and mental wellbeing.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!