When I was prepping for my first competition, I remember reading an article written by world renowned coach Phil Learney regarding what it takes to get in competition shape. He spoke about the fact that he had hundreds of people approach him each year, claiming that they would do everything it takes to get the body you need to get on stage, but that only a handful of these people would ever truly be willing to make all the sacrifices you need to get to the top. Immediately I put myself in the 'willing' camp, I mean who wouldn't set a goal and do everything they possibly could in order to make it happen? But, honestly, I didn't really understand the journey until I had been through it from start to finish. Then and only then did I understand why so few succeed, and how tough it really is. Bodybuilding is not a sport that fits alongside 'normal' life and you really do sacrifice alot.
In my opinion, there are hundreds of articles out there on how you should train, what your nutrition should look like, and what to do with your tan and your makeup, but not so many on the other stuff. So here's my take on what you need to do not only to step on stage, but to make a statement, from a slightly different perspective.
People will not understand. Even your friends and your family, the people you thought were on your side, some of them will try and pull you off track, tell you that you looked better the way you were before or encourage you to have that glass of wine! You have to be ok with being different, with doing things that make you feel like the odd one out. Not drinking at social engagements, eating out of Tupperware from your handbag at a friends wedding, taking every ounce of food with you to France for a friends hen party whilst you watch everyone else eat cheese and drink wine. I've done all of these things. The truth is, the supportive people in your life won't care what you do, they will accept it and let you get on with it, no questions asked.
In all honesty, every article I've ever read regarding competition prep talks about the crazy, super high intensity training over the last few weeks. Rumours fly around of grown men passing out on the gym floor completing giant sets or 100's of reps during carb depletion. No surprise then that during my final week I was prepared for hell on earth. So when my coaches were telling me to train less, hold back, rest more, I questioned their sanity. But it makes sense. As you eat less, you need less stress on your body not more; more training just increases cortisol levels and can actually lead to fat storage, not fat loss!
So, anyone who tells you you need to do 3 hours of cardio a day, on a diet of 800 calories is wrong. It's stupid, and it's dangerous. Start you prep early enough so that you can dial it in slowly and safely, without any crash dieting.
Figure competition is a tough sport, the judges are critiquing your body and ultimately it can feel like they are scoring you. You need to be able look at your body objectively, to take criticism constructively and think of it as an art form, a project that you build on year on year.
It's easy to compare yourself to the top competitors out there; Nicole Wilkins, Dana Linn Bailey, and be disheartened with how far you have to go. But you must remember that they have spent years training, refining the process, sculpting that body, working with some of the top coaches in the world, and that it doesn't happen overnight.
Ultimately you are only in competition shape a few days of the year, so it can't just be about the body you want. You have to love the process; the training, the way of life. Yes it's tough; in fact mentally it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but that's part of the fun, the challenge. It's about knowing that you have made sacrifices that your competition weren't willing to make, it's about always striving to do better. Yes, there were times when I screwed up, times when I questioned why on earth I was putting myself through the weeks and weeks of sore muscles and going to bed hungry. But was it worth it? Of course, it was worth every second.
There's no doubt about it; competition prep is probably one of the most mentally, emotionally and physically challenging things you can do. But it gives you a drive, a complete focus to achieve something that most people couldn't even contemplate. The best part? I've made some great friends, people I both respect and admire. You realise that you are a part of this tightly knit community of people who are competitors, but also completely supportive on each other. Only they understand what you have been going though, and no matter what happens on stage, you have earned a physique that no one can take away from you.