In today’s bodybuilding and fitness world, there are more shows than ever before and more athletes competing in them fighting for that top placing. It’s a fantastic time; nothing builds character, fortitude, and strength of all aspects better than some damn good competition. In 16 years of involvement in the NPC, I can’t help but smile from ear-to-ear when I see someone become interested in the idea of competing for their first time and follow through with making it to the stage.
But a fair warning to everyone: Competing is HARD. It’s extremely HARD. It will likely be one of the hardest mental, physical, and emotional endeavors you will ever pursue.
Everything you do (not just during your prep, but year round) can affect your physique. Are you stressed at work or home? Are you not getting enough sleep? Do you party on the weekends with your bros and drink excessively once or twice a month? Do you fail to keep your meal prepping consistent? DO YOU HAVE A GAME PLAN? Do you understand, truly understand, the amount of time and finances you will be investing into this?
I’m not out to scare anyone away from competing in the NPC. If anything, I want to help you better prepare yourself and understand how utmost. Here are the top 5 ways to improve your first contest prep experience!
HIRE A SEASONED, EXPERIENCED COACH WITH A GOOD TRACK RECORD
Do this. Don’t question whether you need one or not –because you do. Put forth the financial commitment, and your prep just got a million times easier. Here are some factors you’ll need to consider in picking out a coach because, honestly, there are far more underqualified ones than there are great ones.
DO THEY COMPETE OR HAVE THEY COMPETED?
I want you to imagine this: You’re stepping into a dojo for the first time, and you want to learn Tae Kwon Do. You walk in, you look around, and you see all the people sparring. You see white belts, blue belts, a few black belts, and then you see the instructor. Which person are you going to talk to about getting started with your new venture into mixed martial arts? THE FREAKING INSTRUCTOR! NOT the guy who started last month who’s still a white belt. A few fights in the ring does not equate to a valid amount of experience to instruct others. It just doesn’t. There are too many variables, factors, and outcomes that they have not experienced themselves yet. HIRE A COACH WHO’S WALKED THE WALK.
ARE THEY EVEN CERTIFIED?
As of now, there are no official ‘contest prep’ coach certifications. However, there are plenty of incredible certifications related to training, biomechanics, injury prevention, diet, and nutrition as well as college degrees – from Bachelors to Doctorates.
A good coach will always be seeking new knowledge through certifications, research, literature, and their own mentors. Or they may even be testing theories themselves (i.e. maybe they test a workout idea for chest and prescribe it to you after experiencing firsthand success).
HOW ARE THEY ON COMMUNICATION?
This is vital. No matter how badass your coach is or how attractive their social media presence is – if they fail to reply to your check-ins, questions, and concerns promptly, then you might want to seek help elsewhere. You wouldn’t put up with a doctor, teacher, or manager doing this to you so don’t put up with it from your coach.
Respectfully so, if the coach establishes their frequency of communication at the beginning of the contest prep (i.e. updates once a week, email replies twice a week, etc.), then respect that and understand that they will get back to you. However, if they don’t, drop them.
DO THEY TRULY MOTIVATE YOU?
Not all coaches will work out for you, but not all need to. Find the ONE coach that will educate, inspire, and motivate you, and STICK WITH THEM. Allow your coach to learn your body and how you react to the diet, the training, the contest prep.
Your coach should be someone who PASSIONATELY and TRULY cares about you as a person and your health. You will need to search around and talk to several. Feel them out and pick a coach you will be comfortable with and want to work with long term. Remember, it’s okay if the first doesn’t work out. Always try to part ways on good terms and then continue your search for another.
DON’T QUESTION/DOUBT YOUR COACH
If you’ve spent the appropriate time seeking the best professional coach for yourself and you’ve paid your dues, then you now have one simple task: FOLLOW THE PROGRAM. Just follow it. It’s that simple. Don’t try to modify it based on other people’s opinions or something you read online. If you spend enough time online, you will find 99 other ways to diet/train/prep.
If you follow number 1’s protocols on finding the best coach for you, then you have a hired professional to do all the dirty work for you. They’ll up with the latest research on diet, supplementation, and cardio/training techniques that might be more optimal. This is what you pay them for. Let them put together your routine. Of course, you should always ask questions so you may learn the reasoning behind your diet, your training, and your coach’s approach. But do so for educational purposes.
Texas is known worldwide for its high school football. We produce some of the top recruits in the nation, and that’s not by mistake. Much of this falls on the coaches and their ability to teach their players fundamental aspects of training, competing, teamwork, self-confidence, and perseverance when times are tough. However, it’s also up to the players to TRUST their coach and to not QUESTION their approach, techniques, or abilities.
In summary, put your trust in your coach and know they want you to succeed and prevail by following the program. Now, go get it!
FOLLOW. THE DAMN. DIET.
So your coach has invested his/her time into creating your diet and narrowed down exactly what they think you need. They’ve tailored it perfectly for your physique, your goals, and your schedule. It’s now in the hands of the client to follow it! The WORST thing you can do to sabotage an entire contest prep is cheating on the diet and not telling your coach. That’s CONTEST PREP SUICIDE. Now, there may be times where you are in a very low caloric deficit and need some extra calories for energy or to function at work. Talk to your coach! Don’t feel like you’re ‘failing’ or a ‘bad client’ because you are struggling. If you and your coach agree you do need more food one day or maybe even for a few days, then they will hear you out and make the best decision.
Prepping is a beautiful process because nothing is set in stone. Diets can and will constantly change as your physique and energy levels do. A good coach will work with you, but you must keep them updated. The best coach I personally ever worked with was constantly bombarding me with questions about how I felt, my energy levels, and my mental state. The more you communicate with each other about your progress, the better both will feel about the process and its outcome.
UNDERSTAND THAT CONTEST PREP IS SUPPOSED TO SUCK
Trying to explain how you’ll ‘feel’ when you’re suffering on a diet is, at times, pointless. Simply put, it’s just not comfortable for anyone. Whether you’re a novice rookie in the NPC or competing in Mr. Olympia, the struggle is real. This process isn’t about being comfortable, however. And frankly, the more you’re suffering and resisting temptations (skipping cardio, cheating on the diet, etc. ), the better you’ll end up looking. Talk to any of the top competitor, and many of them will say their most challenging prep was their first. This is simply because they were unaware of the self-inflicted mental and physical struggle that a lengthy calorie deficit can create. Many will also just tell you to SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!!!
Understand this; THE BODY DOES NOT WANT TO DO THIS. Let me repeat that. THE BODY HATES CONTEST PREP. Your body wants to minimize muscular growth and maintain a steady body fat. It’s going to fight you tooth and nail and tell you it needs food. Our bodies are NOT meant to be 3% body fat with pounds of lean muscle. You will be at war with yourself trying to achieve it.
While this may be true, there’s an incredible adaptation that begins to happen as you prep for shows over and over; your body will begin to react sooner, you will be able to drop body fat quicker, and you will be able to maintain more muscle fullness. It’s a simple adaptation to an external stimulus and diet. It will never be ‘easy’ but who the hell wants it to be? We become better individuals when we conquer challenges, struggles, and prevail through the hard times. This single point alone is also why we should all have the upmost and equal respect for ALL clients regardless of their age, division, or level of experience.
On a final note, I want to elaborate on something. As I have established and as you will experience in your first contest prep, if you have not prepped before, THIS SHIT IS HARD. HOWEVER, this is a LUXURY!!! It’s probably one of the greatest luxuries in the world honestly. We have limitless, wholesome, nutritious food at our disposal whenever we want it. We’re blessed to have a training facility we can work out at whenever we want to. We have the financial means to pay for a coach, posing trunks/bikini/suit, and for entries into the show along with traveling expenses.
Millions if not billions of people in the world do not have unlimited access to food or the funds to obtain the food they desire – let alone think about doing some bodybuilding show. So never forget when you are struggling because you’re in a caloric deficit, THIS IS A LUXURY. Not only that, you chose to do it. You decided one day, ‘I’m going to put myself in Hell, and then I am going to love it.’ So, there’s no need to tell everyone how much you’re hurting, how depleted you are, or how you haven’t had carbs in two weeks. You chose to compete, you hired a coach, you picked a show, and now you need to pick yourself up and humbly cross that finish line with your head held high and a damn smile on your face. Now, go get it!
DON’T DOUBT YOUR ABILITY
Time and time again, we hear it in the gym and online. Someone who’s thinking about competing but just isn’t sure they’re ready. Let me make this clear;
***If you HESITATE and PROCRASTINATE, you will never feel like you are ready, and you will never make it to the stage or accomplish greatness in all walks of life.***
We all struggle with self-doubt at times, whether it’s at work, at home, in the gym, or getting on stage. HOWEVER, that does not make it acceptable nor should it ever be allowed to deter you from accomplishing anything. The number one absolute worst habit I see in those wanting to compete, and in many other aspects of life, is the act of HESITATION. Thinking about doing something and never stepping out of your comfort zone will result in a life filled with REGRET. Reality check: maybe you won’t win your first NPC show (hate to tell you, but it might happen). Maybe you won’t turn pro, maybe you won’t be Mr. Olympia. But will you let all those ‘maybes’ cloud your ability to give it everything you got?!
If you focus on your minute flaws, doubt your ability to succeed, and/or if you constantly compare your own physique to those of the best in the world, then you will never be the best competitor you can be if you even make it to the stage. Ever. Period.
BE CAREFUL WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media saturates this world now. There are millions of videos/photos showing off toned bodies, ripped abs, shredded arms, and striated quads with hashtags abound talking about motivation, hard work, and dedication. For many, it very much can be just that. But be aware, we can spend all day looking, liking, following, and critiquing what we think looks good. But to the inexperienced and the uneducated/misinformed, this constant bombardment of bodies and visuals creates a false sense of realistic expectations.
Reality check: If you want to TRULY dedicate yourself to achieving Pro Status in this sport/contest, if that’s what you truly want, then you better be prepared to invest years into it. I don’t mean 2 – 3. I mean 5, 8, 10+ years. A true champion will not limit their goals to a time frame. A true champion understands all competitors and athletes will progress at different rates. There will be a competitor who’s genetically superior to you and can accomplish in a year’s time what might take you 5. Never let others’ abilities or their flaunting of success detract you from your will to succeed and thrive.
I’m not going to tell someone to delete their social media, although for some that might be the best thing they ever do for themselves. But I do strongly suggest that you spend your time wisely. Instead of spending an incredible amount of time on Instagram and Youtube watching others lift, flex, and show off, utilize that same time to educate yourself on all topics related to competing. This includes muscular development, nutritional and supplemental studies related to bettering your body and mental health, as well as techniques that better your ability to think more clearly and create a better sense of mindfulness.
BALANCE YOUR TIME SPENT ONLINE so that it is productive, educative, and of course entertaining as well.
Lastly, just ignore the keyboard warriors that talk negatively about you. Just block them. It’s that easy. Don’t bicker with them and give them crumbs to feed on because they will forever eat them. The best way to silence them is to never speak to them.