Sorry I've been away so long. There is a reason I haven't been writing much. Mainly because I was preoccupied with getting ready for a bodybuilding show.
So let's get right into it.
I think I bought every Flex and Muscular Development ever published for about 15 years. Plus all the other ones like MuscleMag and Ironman as well.
Dorian Yates was the guy who, when he came on the scene, I really identified with.
His work ethic, discipline, his love of hard work and having a reason behind everything he did really resonated with me. He went against the grain on so many of the things he did because he was a thinker in regards to his lifting and nutrition, and obviously it paid off for him, and I think he did ok.
Later I found myself more interested in powerlifting obviously, and got into the world of bloat eating and everything being about pounds on the bar. Not that there's anything wrong with that per say, but it really is about as different from bodybuilding as ice skating is from hockey. The only two things those have in common are the ice. And the reality of it is, the only things powerlifting and bodybuilding really have in common is that barbell and dumbbells are both used. And even then, that's not always the case with bodybuilders.
My love for bodybuilding never really died. It just lessened over the years. With that lessening came far more interest in perfecting my knowledge about powerlifting, and how to properly execute the big three, programming for them, and about as much as I could cram into my pint sized brain about it as I could.
As with anything, as you immerse yourself into one endeavor, knowledge of the other will wane. Or at least fall behind. Such happened with bodybuilding and bodybuilding style training.
But over the past two years, my interest in powerlifting began to wane, and my first love of bodybuilding became apparent again.
The world of bodybuilding I left looked totally different than the one I was getting a glimpse of now. Which would be expected in the social media age, but there were even more massive differences than one would even expect.
I mean, I've been aware of men's physique competitions for a while now. Guys getting onstage without having to show their legs was well....weird to me. Whether they had leg development or not, it was still a really weird deal to me that someone would be in a contest where "physique" was in the name, and he could have been sitting down in a cubicle chair with grandma's hand made throw blanket on his legs, and still win.
There were lots of other things as well. Bikini competitors have taken over competitions where they pack in by the millions and what used to be a day long event of looking at bodybuilding has become a 9 million hour marathon of watching women's bikini divisions where honestly, 90% of them have no reason being up there.
Before I piss off a bunch of bikini competitors, there's tons of physique guys and classic physique guys that really have no business being up there either. And despite the crybaby whine fest I read online when someone writes this, and goes on and on about how people can do what they want to do (yes they can), and that if they set a goal and go out to achieve it, that there's nothing wrong with that.
And I agree. But not in this case.
And the reason is because the guys who dieted their ass off for 10, 12, 14+ weeks (oh and the women that did so too), that had to lose 20, 30, 40+ pounds in order to be in good enough condition to actually compete to win, have to sit backstage all day long while those 12 million bikini competitors go through the 3,255 classes that they all have. Everyone in the audience does as well.
It makes for a very long and grueling day.
I mean, you only need attend a show to know this. But it's even worse, when you're back there waiting all day, wanting to get onstage to compete and have to wait while some chick that I can't tell has lifted a day in her life or dieting for 19 minutes parades around, for basically the sole purpose to say she did a show. Let me state that PLENTY of bikini competitors were in shape, and looked awesome. But there were plenty that I couldn't tell spent 12 minutes in a gym and zero time pushing away from the buffet line.
But at this point I'm semi ranting and that's not what this piece is really about.
As with most paradigm shifts in life, most of us have that one moment, where we decide we're going to make a change. There is usually some shark bites up to that point (a shark doesn't just eat its prey on the first bite, it takes a "taste" at first, to make sure that hey, this shit is good to eat), that leads to that choice.
I had a couple.
A few years ago I was attending a meet in Springfield, Missouri and the walk from the hotel to where the meet was being held, was a decent hike. Walking to the meet, I had to stop in the parking lot and lean against a car to catch my breath. This was at my heaviest bodyweight ever (I believe I was pushing 290 at this point), and while at the time I made a joke about it, I remember thinking in my head how fucking pathetic it really was.
On the walk back, same thing. Had to stop halfway in order to let my back stop aching and catch my breath.
Those two moments weighed on me for a few days. I hated it. I hated how I felt. I hated training. I hated how boring and monotonous it had become. Doing the same shit week in and week out. A squat, a bench, a deadlift, or some variation of those and I was just bored and fucking burnt.
But most of all, I just didn't feel like me.
I grew up playing sports. For years I was sparring partners for MMA guys, and being in shape was something that always made me feel good. Being able to do sprints and walk without my feet hurting and doing high rep leg work was shit I missed. I also missed feeling lean and athletic and really just overall....muscular.
Despite the fact that so many guys in powerlifting think they are jacked, most are really just fat guys. And hey I love my powerlifting friends, but I was one of those fat guys too. And being fat is not being jacked.
There's a really big gap between those two things.
And I missed being jacked. And I hated being fat.
The second shift was when I went in and got my blood work done. Of course, some people are going to say it's related to gear. But it wasn't. I mean, unless a replacement dose of test puts you on pace for an early heart attack and shit, it wasn't that. It was my eating, my lack of "moving" and those layers and layers of fat that covered what underneath I suppose was muscle.
I had to fix this. I don't really give two shits about what I squat or deadlift if I'm headed for my deathbed before 50. My eating had become undisciplined and my conditioning had taken that utterly stupid fucking motto of "anything over 5 reps is cardio" that is so proudly boasted by the lazy as fuck crowd.
I decided on the drive home from that appointment that things would change that day.
I sat down and wrote out my diet, wrote out how I would start my base conditioning, and scrapped all the training that was based around powerlifting. I wanted to have fun again. I wanted to get back into shape. I wanted to feel good again, and look good again. I didn't give a rats fucking ass about hitting some one rep max anymore. I'm not demeaning powerlifting in any way by writing this. I am saying this was about MY life. And my training, and what I wanted and needed to do.
I had zero plans to do a bodybuilding show. I just knew I was tired of how I felt, and disgusted with how far I had let myself fall in regards to health.
Once I had everything in place, I was machine like in my plan. I would allow the occasional cheat, but with my goal setting completely rearranged, I rarely got off track. I didn't even crave junk. Shit man, I had spent years eating all I wanted. Anything I wanted. I'd had enough of it. I enjoyed having a plan again, and one that was a means to an end. Or at least, led me into something I could wake up to everyday and be happy about. And the current state wasn't it.
A few months in I had some convos with my good friend Trevor Kashey who said he'd work my diet for a while if I was open to it and I was more than happy to let him. Trevor is probably one of the smartest diet guys I know, he just doesn't have the following or name a lot of people have because he likes to stay under the radar. But to say he knows his shit is like calling the grand canyon a ditch.
So he shot me over his plan and I put it to work.
It was boring as fuck. Same few foods all day long. And I had zero problem with this. I'm not one of those people who bitch and cry with their first world problems about not having enough variety in their diet. Boo fucking hoo. That really annoys the shit outta me.
Anyway, I ate the same shit everyday for months on end, and I got leaner and leaner and leaner. And no, don't fucking ask for the diet. Go hire Trevor, as this is what he does for a living, and get him to help you.
After a while, being the thinker that I am (yes I do think) I started to make some changes myself as I hit plateaus. I would let Trevor know this and he never had an issue because he trusted I knew what I was doing and knew my body.
Once I got down into the 240's, and was in decent enough shape (Trevor still said I was fat), my friend John Meadows chimed in one day to me and said "you're looking pretty good man. You know, you should do a show."
Let me explain something to you about John. He's really nice. No, he really is. But he has this way of talking you into things like your grandmother does. Like getting you to plow her a garden or build her a new fence. But she asks or tells in a way that prods you along to do it, and makes you feel kinda good about doing it. Until you're knee deep into it, exhausted, realize it's really hard work and and then you think to yourself "fuck you, Grandma."
Don't worry we'll get back to that.
So I was like "yeah, that'd be cool. To actually do a show. Why not? I grew up on bodybuilding. Do a fucking show. Why not?"
So it just so happened that Muscle Mayhem, the biggest NPC bodybuilding show in the midwest was about 10 weeks out at that time.
Hey, 10 weeks! That's like, a normal kinda bodybuilding diet type thing.
Why not? What could be so bad?
Let me preface this with the fact that this of course, was my first show. So by no means is everything I will write here some veteran penned prose. This is just my account of what I did, what shit felt like, and what everything was like for me.
Once I registered for the event and paid for my NPC card, I knew I was locked in to doing this. So I sat down and plotted out my diet and strategy for training and cardio and went to work.
I had a goal. Not only that, the goal would require me to slather up in the salad dressing in my draws and pose in front of a crowd. Something I had never done, and was exceptionally nervous about. But I'm down for doing shit I am nervous or scared of doing because that is indeed how you grow, get better, and reward yourself with new experiences. And that's what living really is to me. Doing the shit you never thought you'd do.
Within reason, I mean.
My training had already changed months ahead of going into this thing. I had torn a pec doing dips quite a few months before, and my pressing strength has still never really returned to full capacity since then. And honestly, that's ok. It really is. Which was another great thing about making this transition. No longer was my "worth" as a lifter based around pounds on the bar.
The bad thing was, all those years of powerlifting had left me mostly in a forgotten state about performing movements for "bodyparts" in very particular ways. You see, training to "isolate" (yes I'm aware you can't REALLY isolate off any area completely) a certain muscle group requires far different mechanics and execution than just training to move weight through space. In fact, because there are so many different movements you need to be able to do in bodybuilding to maximize this effect, the amount of knowledge to do so is infinitely larger than for powerlifting.
So I had to go back to sort of relearning and unlearning at the same time. I had to relearn a lot of things that I used to do, and unlearn the powerlifting way of doing a lot of things.
Routine wise, I had a rotation of movements I cycled through based on what I felt like I needed to improve upon. Now being 10 weeks out, the truth is, I was going to walk into the show basically with what I had. Especially once the calories started to drop. At those points, you're just doing your best to hold on to the mass you've spent all that previous time building. However at 10 weeks out, calories are still high enough to train exceptionally hard and make some minor improvements here and there.
Since my arms suck, I generally hit arms two or even three times a week for quite a few weeks.
I did an absolute metric shit ton of hamstring work, and even more lunges. As I felt my hams and glutes were probably quite a bit behind where they needed to be.
For quite a few weeks, training was usually twice a day, with a conditioning or steady state session thrown in as well. So it was a LOT of work.
As the weeks went on, and the calories slowly came out, I reduced training down to once a day, but still trained 6 or 7 days a week for the most part. Of course, two of those sessions were usually arm training and those are not hard to recover from.
As the show drew closer, I then reduced volume a bit, but added in some intensity techniques (I was already doing them but not quite as often) for those sets to extend them as far as possible. That generally meant 1-2 true working sets but with strip sets AND rest/pause work in both sets.
As calories hit an all time low the last month or so, you are basically a zombie. And loading plates just isn't something you really want to do, and machine work really becomes your best friend. This is often why you will see videos of lots of guys in prep mode just doing machine work for the most part. Barbell and dumbbell work is exceptionally taxing, and when you are dragging ass all day long, moving a pin in a stack takes a lot less energy then moving plates and dumbbells around. And once again at that point, you're just trying to hold on to whatever muscle you built in the offseason, and machines will suffice just fine for that. Training is still "hard", relatively speaking. It's as hard as your mind and body can muster up. But you make adjustments due to exceptionally low energy reserves.
Trust me when I tell you that the last few leg workouts often took half the day of me talking myself into doing them. Surprisingly enough, some of them would be really good. But the very last few leg training sessions were mentally very hard to get up for.
Diet wise, I didn't get stupid. I slowly lowered carbs by about 25 grams a day every few weeks. Down until I got to about 150 grams total a day. That was my rock bottom intake for prep until peak week, where I did 50-75 grams a day for three days during glycogen depletion.
My conditioning/cardio work was mostly HIIT style work until those points. And then it all turned into steady state work because the energy for sprints and training just isn't there anymore. Or at least, it wasn't for me. Hell, the steady state cardio was even hard at that point.
Peak week - the biggest mind fuck ever
So for months on end you slowly watch your body rid itself of excess fat and get to see all the veins and striations come in. It's slow, but it happens.
During the week of the show, most people have what is called "peak week" where you manipulate water, sodium, carbs, and protein intake in order to show up your best the day of the show. The point is to arrive as dry and full as possible.
Now up until this point, your diet has been really constant throughout the process. As mentioned earlier, you're just lowering carbs a bit each week so there's nothing dramatic going on.
Well during peak week, all of this shit goes out the window, and you're going to be moving shit around every few days and as you do, your body will change in appearance - sometimes hour to hour.
One hour you might look so amazing you feel ready to hit the stage right then. 56 minutes later, you look like a bloated whale carcass and think "what the fuck, there's no way I'm doing this shit!"
Now everyone has a different method to their peaking, and despite everything you're going to read on the net, there's no "one shoe fits all" here. I spent plenty of time talking to vets who told me that it took them quite a few shows to nail down their peak week to find what worked best for their body. Everyone is different, and responds different to different protocols. What sucks is, when it's your first show, you have zero point of reference. So you're just going to have to figure out an intelligent protocol to use, that makes sense from a physiological perspective, and roll with it.
|Post first spray tan #toastmode|
The best advice I can give here is this - while your body is doing all this weird shit just keep your head on straight. Understand there is a process to it, and that it's all about the day of the show. Now about what you look like the day after you did your carb loading and you spill over and look like an Elephant carcass that's been sitting in the sun for a week.
This article could get super long, because I'm exceptionally verbose in my writing so from here I'm just going to give some high level overview thoughts -
- Know this about peak week - It's just there to fine tune what you've spent the last 10, 12, 14, 16 weeks doing. At best, you'll get maybe a 2% better look from it. But fuck it up, and it reduces it by 10% or more. I know, I just mind fucked you even more if you plan on doing a show. But this is why it's important NOT to do some crazy shit during peak week, and that MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU WORK TO GET AS MUCH FAT OFF AS POSSIBLE BEFORE THEN. So all the weeks preceding it are far more important than that week as a whole.
- Do NOT obsess over what you are going to weigh on the day of the show. I didn't. I was at least smart enough to know that. No one gives a shit what you weigh onstage. It's better to weight 10-15 pounds less, and have exceptional conditioning, than to weigh X amount for the sole purpose of saying you weighed that amount for your show. Not only that, but weighing less, and being leaner will actually make you look bigger than if you're carrying more fat. I weighed in at 224.9 pounds. But the truth is, I think I would have been tons better at around 215. I weighed myself throughout the process and I think I actually looked my "best" a week or two before the show when I was as low as 221. I may have just been a bit dryer that day.
- From my understanding however, every show you do, you tend to have the ability to dial bodyfat down lower and lower, so long as you stay on point diet wise. Maybe this is just about getting smarter with what works for you, and what doesn't. My guess is, it's a bit of both.
- To keep continuing on that path - everyone can get into condition. Conditioning is about willpower and discipline. If you show up fat on the day of the show it's a reflection of the fact that you did NOT have the discipline to diet properly. I mean, fuck if you have to just do the "fish and a rice cake" diet every fucking day for 10 weeks then do it. But there's no excuse for showing up out of shape. None. Zero. If you spillover and look smooth, that's a sign you fucked up your peak. Forgivable. Showing up clearly way too fat, where you still look 10 weeks out? It's a reflection that either you have no idea how to diet (and there's too many resources on the net to help with that, so it's not an excuse), or that you just have no fucking discipline and are mentally weak. Period.
- Speaking of which, you're going to have insane cravings during prep. I mean that unlike you've never had in your life. You will want to sneak shit in. DO NOT DO THIS. Your body is going to send signals to you to eat with the fury of 40 million Spartan warriors. And certain times are going to be worse than others. I can tell you this - when you fight through those times, that is when you will usually see the bigger drops in bodyfat. So just white knuckle that shit and bear through it.
- More on cravings - You might possibly find yourself doing shit like, salivating over foods you've never craved before in your life. I'm not a big cheese fan. Never was. However one night at the grocery I stopped in this section where they had these huge blocks of cheese and just looked at them all for about 10 minutes. I snapped out of it and wondered what the fuck I was doing since I've never really liked cheese. Cookie however, are a whole different ballgame. And one dark night at the grocery I stopped in the bakery and opened up a bag of lemon drop cookies and just stood there and smelled them for a while. Eventually I noticed an elderly lady behind me watching me do this. She seemed slightly mortified at the whole scene. Being as cranky as I was, I looked at her, probably fairly menacing, and said..."WHAT?!?!? I'm in prep!" Yes, that really happened. Trust me, you're not quite yourself the last few weeks.
- Naps saved my life. I've never napped in my whole life as much as I did the last 6-7 weeks before the show. Sometimes twice a day. Which is also because you can't sleep worth a shit at night. I usually woke up between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. pissed off that I was wide awake but exhausted. Sometimes I could go back to sleep, and sometimes I could not. So I would just go do cardio for 30-45. Then eat, then know I'd just get a nap in later on in the day. I also napped to music for some reason. Usually I like it to be quiet when I sleep, however for some reason I napped better to music playing. My go to was generally two songs. "The Last Goodbye" by Black Label Society, and "Hello" by Adele. Yes I know, you hate that song. But my girls love it and I would listen to it with them a lot, and the context helped me relax and sleep. So I don't care what you think. Since I was the last human on the face of the planet to have heard "Hello" according to my girls, I will link "The Last Goodbye" for you.
- The last few weeks you give very few fucks. Laundry takes a back seat. So does cleaning. You look down at the clothes pile on the floor and say "fuck it, not picking that up." And just put your dirty clothes back on. Why not? You're going to train 3 times that day anyway, and if you put on clean clothes for every training session you'd be doing laundry all day. And you don't have time for that because you're also cooking every few hours and napping between that time.
- I've never made so many grocery store trips in my life. "Why didn't you stock up, Paul?" Oh wait, you think I didn't think of that??? I DID! I stocked up. But you're still making a ton of trips. Honestly, it helped me focus as another task to prepare. And you better be focused.
- You will be irritable as fuck. I mean exceptionally so. So anyone who interacted with me on the net the past few weeks....I'm sorry.
- Posing - This is basically what cost me a placing (2nd in masters, 3rd in open) in each division. Posing is hard. It's not you flexing in your mirror for some Instagram selfies. You could be shredded to the bone with the most complete development in the world. If you don't know how to properly show it through posing, you will look lesser than the guy next to you who isn't quite as conditioned or as well balanced as you, but can show his strong points better. Get someone who can teach you how to pose, and start months out. I waited too long and thought 6 weeks or so would be enough time. I struggled with getting my hamstrings to contract properly in rear poses. I also had a painful right hip flexor that didn't always allow me to contract my right quad the entire time during a pose as it would spasm. Then I would find myself sort of relaxing all over due to it. Make no mistake, posing requires a different kind of "conditioning" than cardio or lifting. It's hard work. And it makes a MASSIVE difference on the day of the show. These are not "little" things. These things make a huge difference on competition day. Get on posing early and learn how to show your strong points and hide your weak ones. If I do another show I will not let this be something that costs me a placing. It will be a major priority.
- During the last few weeks of prep, the exogenous ketones were a fucking life saver, and what helped lift the brain fog from the starvation fatigue. I'd take them about 30 minutes before training. On the days I forgot to do so (and you forget a lot in this time), training was like being Ed Norton in the shower in American History X. On the days I remembered, training was solid. Of course strength was shit in the last few weeks, but as long as I got the ketones in, I at least had some focus and more energy for training. Then they would wear off of course, and I'd be back to being an extra in The Walking Dead. I would often hit another serving later in the day if I needed it so as not to forget to keep doing things like bathing, talking, breathing, etc. Funny enough, a few weeks before this I told Allen Cress, who also competes, about them and got him on them and he basically cursed me for not introducing him to these before. If you are dieting hard these are a life saver. If you're interested, here's my link for them....
- On show day, make sure to pack yourself a blanket, a pillow, some tunes to listen to, a ton of things to eat like normal meals you ate during prep, but also some snacks because it's going to be a long day - but also because your eating is part of getting fuller leading up to your time on stage. Again, that's a process you're going to have to figure out.
- My training partner, my middle daughter, made fun of my diet face everyday for the last month before the show. Attaining diet face is a badge of honor. If you don't have it going into the show, you're definitely nowhere near lean enough. Not even close. Shoot for looking like Skeletor. Or the zombie version of Michael Jackson in thriller. That should be your goal.
|Diet face on point|
- I can't remember what week I was in, but it was close to the end where I could barely function and would often find myself not knowing what day it was, or where it was I was driving to. During those times my thought always came back to this. "Fuck you, John Meadows."
- As bad you are going to feel on the day of the show, remember everyone else probably feels like shit too. Be courteous. Everyone is stressed. Not just you.
- I didn't post that I was doing a show on social media. I didn't want the attention about it, nor was it a bucket list item. I went in to win. I trained and dieted as hard as I could. My learning experience, and there will always be learning experiences in new things you do, was obviously that I should have spent more time working on posing. But back to the other part - if you ever plan on competing, have the mindset that you are going in to win. At one point, a guy that was helping me with some stuff told me "Paul, it's a local show. It's a huge local show, but you're approaching this like it's the Mr. Olympia." And that let me know my mindset was right. If you're going to compete, prepare to win. Don't compete and waste your time and other people's time so you can say you stepped onstage. Honestly, I abhor that. I do. And I don't care if that rubs anyone the wrong way. I can't understand how someone arrives at that half-ass mentality. Either be about it, or just don't do it. If you want to get in shape so you look and feel better and have a goal, don't make the show your goal. Set up a photo shoot, or look good for a vacation. If you are going to go into a show, then it IS a competition. Even if it's a subjective one, it's still a competition. And you should be going in with the frame of mind to do everything within your power to win. Period. If that's not your goal, do something else.
- I have so many people I want to thank that the list would go on forever. But some stand out more than others. Fred, Eugene, Joseph, John, Swede, Robin, Abby, Tiff, Bryan, Brandon, Eddy, Adam, Ryan, Susanna, Larry, True Nutrition.........tons of others I'm sure I am forgetting.
Was a great experience. I might do it again. Who knows?
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