12 week contest prep is the magic number, right? (…because Oxygen said so)
With some clients, I can tell right off the bat that a 12, 16, etc. week prep will be perfect for them. They’ve usually got a great foundation of muscle, don’t have a significant amount of body fat to lose and already have a good foundation with training and nutrition. Then, there are the clients who have a significant amount of body fat to lose (20+ lbs), yet they have decided to compete in 12, 16, etc. weeks based off of some magical number they may have read somewhere that says a competition prep diet is 16 weeks. Unfortunately, there is NO magic number of weeks it will take every person to get stage ready.
So let’s address that for a minute – what does “stage ready” even mean? This is also something that is very individual, just as the amount of time it will take to get stage ready, everyone’s idea of what stage ready means to them is different. Some clients “just want to get on stage and be in the best shape of their life” and don’t really care if they look like they “belong” or if they win. Others, want to at least look like they belong (again, this is very relative) and lastly there are those that want to be shredded and are coming to win!
I just want to look like I belong on stage! (what on earth does that mean anyway?)
So the first thing you should ask yourself when you are thinking of getting on stage for the first time is “what is your ultimate goal” for getting on stage? What do you envision yourself looking like when you step on stage for the first time? Do you want to look like Dana Lynn Baily or Nicole Wilkins? (btw…completely unrealistic goals for the majority of first timers…but we’ll address that in a bit) Or are you happy just being in the best shape of your life because you just lost 50 lbs and want to show off your hard work? Keep in mind, when deciding what “look” you want on stage, you must also understand the methods of the people you are comparing yourself too (i.e. chemically enhanced or not – using performance enhancing drugs, number of years training, supplements, genetics, etc). If you chose to go the “natural” route, be sure you are looking at the physiques of those who compete in drug-tested organizations and not just someone in a magazine or on social media whom you have no REAL idea what their methods are. (OMG…is she saying that there are people on social media who aren’t natural…um…yeah she is!
Yup, I wanna look like DLB…woohoo…let’s do this!
Now that you have decided on what look you would like to have on stage, you must take a good, hard, look at where YOU are currently. And I mean a real, hard, honest look at where you are. You may have already come a long way in losing weight, putting on a little muscle (although you still can’t really see it through some of the body fat), and you should be VERY proud of that accomplishment. Do you know if you have enough muscle to compete in the category you’ve chosen? Have you ever been really lean before or have you mostly been 20+ lbs overweight? Do you have any idea how your body responds to certain types of nutrition, training and cardio programs? If you are doing this stage thing for the first time, the answers to most of these questions are likely ‘no’…and that’s just the cold, hard truth. So how the heck do you know how long it will take to get on stage?
Competition prep is like Project Management...
In Project Management, a good rule of thumb is to determine your “work breakdown structure”; which means you basically determine ALL the little things that have to happen to get to the end goal of your project. For instance, if your project was building a house (like building your body), you’d have to clear your lot, run electric and water to the lot, level the ground, pour the foundation, order the lumber, hire contractors, etc. If you were a contractor and I told you I wanted my house built in 16 weeks so it was ready for a big party I wanted to have, and oh by the way, I want this really rare type of wood for my frame. And oh yeah, it’s winter, so weather is likely to be a factor too. Did I even consider how long it might take to have that rare wood shipped from the depths of the rain forest in Africa? What if there are non-stop snow storms this winter? Have I accounted for this? There are a LOT of things that have to happen to build that house! Remember, building your body is just like building a house. You must have a foundation and frame before you can put the roof on! You need to understand how long EACH of these individual parts of the job will take, then add those up to determine how long the whole project will take (also taking into account things that could stall your job, like bad weather).
No way man! I want what I want when I want it!
Prepping your body for a competition is no different! So let’s say you’ve decided that you want to compete in women’s physique, and you want to be shredded on stage. You’ve only been really training seriously for a year or so and you just started to learn about the proper nutrition and you have more than 20 lbs body fat to lose (this is me buying a lot for my house with no water, electric and full of trees). Now, you’ve come to me, the contractor, and told me you want to build this body in 12 weeks because you’re going on a big vacation…and well…you heard that 12 weeks is the magic number for building a body like this because that’s what it said in the brochure. You’ve never been lean before, and don’t really know how your body will respond leaning out. No idea if you can consistently lose 1-2 lbs of body fat per week, if you will stall at some point (you will definitely stall at some point). The fact is, you aren’t really even at a place to accurately determine how many weeks it will take you to get the look you want because you’ve never even been close to it. Just like with my 16 week house building project in the winter on a lot with no water or electric and my desire for exotic wood from Africa; your prep is likely to leave you disappointed and frustrated…and may lead you to incorporate dangerous and extreme tactics to get there. Like me and my new house, I may be able to force the contractors to get that thing up in 16 weeks, but they’ve cut corners to me where I want…and now I’m living in a dangerous situation, in a house bound to collapse on me with the first strong wind. Are you willing to do this to your body too? Incorporate extreme measures to get to your goal…only to have a moment on stage and then have your body give out on you post show (i.e. the dreaded rebound)? Or be severely disappointed with the look you bring to the stage? And of course, even though as a good coach (or contractor) I have told you that what you want is unrealistic, you were determined to make it happen….and now it’s my fault right?
Ok, so….. how DO I know how long it will take me to get stage ready?
In all seriousness, the BEST thing you can do is talk to a professional BEFORE you make any decisions on contest dates or time frames. And I mean a professional, someone who has experience in getting all different types of people ready for competition (not your local gym trainer who has no competitor experience). And a MUST in my book, is to already have a strong foundation in training and nutrition, prepping your food, weighing and measuring, etc. (This is why we started our JumpStart program). This person should be 100% honest with you and understand exactly what your goal is to look like on stage. With that, you can make an assessment (WAG – or wild-ass guess) at how long it will likely take you to get there. For example, let’s say you talked to a professional and based on experience, their best guess is that you have approximately 25 lbs to lose JUST TO LOOK LIKE YOU BELONG (again, whatever that means)…and at least 30 or more to really be competitive. You’re currently losing an average of 1 lb per week doing 4 days of cardio and training 5 days a week eating X amount of calories that are likely too low to begin with. If you continue losing 1 lb a week consistently, or maybe on a really good week you lose 2, the soonest you might be ready to step on stage would be 20-25 weeks (giving yourself 1 lb a week fat loss – btw, much more than 1-2 lbs a week fat loss is NOT advisable…this is what will lead you into the dangerous practice zone). And I would consider this a relatively aggressive schedule (20-25 weeks) because we really haven’t given any leeway for weeks that you don’t lose anything (or that snowstorm that keeps me from pouring my house foundation). No trainer, I don’t care how good they are, can guarantee that kind of consistent fat loss because there are always too many unknown factors; factors which you must take into consideration when making the decision to compete on a certain date. Is this starting to make any sense?
So what’s my best advice?
- Talk to a professional about your goals BEFORE you decide on a date (no you don’t have to hire someone to do your prep) and get a professional opinion. Have a “come to Jesus, no shit” conversation and assessment of where you are, where you want to be and how you will meet your goals in a safe, effective and healthy manor. ***All that know me know that I am usually telling clients not to look at how far they have to go, but rather how far they have come...but in this instance, it is actually very important to look at how far you have to go. It is the only way to accurately assess your "work breakdown structure" and all the things that must happen to get you to the stage.
- Assess if you have enough muscle, size, shape and symmetry to be competitive in your chosen category. Determine your end goal – what your “stage ready” means to you.
- Look at pictures of athletes’ transformation pictures – if you plan to go the “natural” (i.e. no WADA banned substances) route, be sure you are only looking at the transformations of those competing in drug-tested organizations.
- Get an accurate assessment of your weight and body fat if you can (bod pod is best, calipers by someone with experience is 2nd best, those Tanita scales and hand held things suck).
- Determine approximately how much body fat you have to lose; and allow yourself at least 1 week p/pound of body fat you need to lose. Also ask yourself if there are any potential obstacles in that timeframe that might keep you from making progress (vacations, etc). And give a few weeks “padding” for weeks where you may lose nothing. It is FAR more desirable to give yourself too much time then not enough time.
- Get yourself to under 20% body fat (preferably 15% - measured accurately by a bodpod if possible) FIRST - BEFORE settling on a date. This is where you can potentially and safely, give yourself a 12-16 week prep and will be able to see more accurately what your body looks like and if you have the appropriate amount of muscle, shape, size and symmetry for your category.
If, and only if, you have honestly completed steps 1-6…..
Set your competition date, put your plan in action, hire a professional if you can afford it, stay consistent, keep your eye on the goal, get up when you fall down and most importantly, be the bad-ass you know you were meant to be….and most importantly…
TRUST THE PROCESS and ENJOY THE JOURNEY!
Check out some of the natural athlete transformations below. Most of these transformations were first-time competitors. Their methods of getting stage ready are varied (some IIFYM, some meal plans, some done safely and others not), but ALL are 100% blood, sweat and tears and absolutely NOTHING on the WADA banned substance list. These are real transformations, and real people.
**These photos are not filtered, photo shopped or modified in any way to make them look better***