After coming to the end of a 19 week prep and 4 shows later, John kindly asked me if I'd like to write an article on contest prep which I was really excited about.
My first show was the Central Britain Class 1 where I placed 3rd.
Second show was the Yorkshire Classic where I came 1st in the over 90kg class.
Third show was Nabba England where I placed 7th in Class 1, and 4th show was PCA West Mids where I placed 4th and qualified for next years Britain finals.
As most of us know, contest preparation is something that requires a lot of thought and planning and will take up a good part of the year not to mention being very taxing on every aspect of our lives.
There's no easy way around it, no magic pill for when times get tough and you have to go to those dark places that only serious shredders will understand!
I have written this article to give my honest perspective on contest prep and the most important things to consider as well as what we go through during this time.
HOW LONG TO PREP FOR?
Well this is dependant on a few factors, mainly being what kind of condition you are in at the start and how lean you have kept yourself in the off season.
I like to give myself around 14-16 weeks to my first contest as I know I can be in prime condition within that time even if I have a lot of fat to shift (which I generally do!).
If this is your first contest you will certainly want to give yourself more time so you are not having to resort to drastic measures at the end if you're not ready.
Experience plays a big part in this also so if you prep yourself like me, and know your body then you should have a pretty good idea of how much time you're going to need to be ready.
You've been cramming in the calories in the off season. Keeping things pretty clean but having the odd treat and training hard consistently and made some good gains in and out of the gym.
How do you work out your calorie intake for dieting for your show?
This is where a lot of people go wrong and cut their food far too low from the start and within a couple of weeks they are starving with very low energy levels with no where to go but pound more cardio and expel more energy and/or cut food even more!
I like to cut out any sugar or empty calorie food that I may have been consuming, so clean everything up and drop my food slightly with a small amount of cardio added in to start.
You can then increase/decrease as necessary as the weeks go by.
There seems to be a trend of late of athletes bragging about how little cardio they are doing on prep, but often when you see them on stage and they are not in condition you realise there was nothing to be bragging about in the first place!
Cardio is the necessary evil if you want to get truly shredded in my opinion. Even the genetically gifted can not rely on genetics to be shredded it requires hard work, pounding the early cardio and it's not uncommon to have a competitor doing between 90 plus minutes of CV work per day as they get further into their prep.
Most opt for lower intensity type of cardio EG walking on the street or on a treadmill.
Some opt for high intensity interval training but this is usually done after weight training and not in a fasted state.
I like to build up to 2 cardio sessions per day; 1 fasted when I wake and 1 post work out both at a steady state.
I personally don't change my training that much during the main part of my prep - what built the muscle will keep the muscle - having said that I wouldn't recommend going for 1RM or trying to break PB's during prep as you will more prone to injury and its the last thing you want when you have comp to do.
As you get to the end of your prep your energy levels will be decreasing fast and recovery will not be as good so at this point I have no problem dropping the weight a little and squeezing every rep and making sure my muscle are working and not my ego.
Do you need them to get shredded?
Probably not! But if you have training, diet and cardio nailed then adding a good fat burner to the mix may well help in pushing your body that little bit more into burning more fat but don't rely on them they are only the icing on the cake like all enhancers are. There is no substitute for hard work!
SOCIAL LIFE / WORK / RELATIONSHIPS
Anyone who has ever prepped for a comp will know the impact it has on all of these things.
For me I find that once I get to about 6 weeks out ive been jollying along thinking I feel pretty good and then BANG! It hits me like a truck and that's me feeling like utter shit for the remainder of my prep!
Social life is almost none existent when you reach the dark times of prep. You don't want to talk to anyone, everything is an effort even waking up the stairs, everyone annoys you, you notice every food advert on the TV and people are asking stupid questions like "you look skinny are you still training?".
Getting through this part of your prep takes real grit and determination. You've got to constantly remind yourself why you're doing it and you have to really want it to push through to the next level.
Prep takes its toll on relationships and work.
What ever job you do I guarantee you that you will get to the point where going to work is a real struggle and if you don't have an understanding partner then you may find that you are single by the time you compete!
I'm lucky in the fact that I'm a personal trainer and can work my job around me to some extent but as I also work part time as a door supervisor that can be difficult when you really don't feel like being sociable.
My fiance also competes and we can prep together but that's not say that everything is rosey on prep. We will still annoy each other when patience is low but we are both going through it together which definitely helps.
To carb up or not to carb up! Just don't call it peak weak!!
I have heard many different methods in what people do their final week.
There is no right or wrong answer to this as it can simply come down to what works for you.
I have tried the depletion and carb load method which works pretty well. I have also tried not changing anything and doing a junk load which I find is more consistent for me.
They all work to some extent it just depends how much you want to push for fulness.
In my humble opinion if you look good a week out you probably shouldn't change a lot or you might ruin months of hard work!
For me I find that staying on my diet the week up to a show and having a cheat the night before works great and keeping my condition very tight and filling me out at the same time but again this is tried and tested on me and I know it works.
Taking all this into account there is so much to consider when planning a comp prep its always best to forward plan and make sure you're well prepared in every way possible.
Its a good job we soon forget how hard it is as I don't think many of us would ever compete again!