Getting ready for the Jay Cutler Classic this season was very different than getting ready for the New England Championship in November 2014. Here are some of the obvious reasons:
This time I had a coach.
Coaches can be a big investment, both financially and mentally. Not only are you paying for someone’s expertise, but you’re trusting that they will keep your best interests in mind. You have to be able to communicate openly with them about you feel about the process and trust your gut. You are investing in your own progress by working with a coach, but I believe the mental investment is just as important to look at as the financial.
My current is an online coach and she’s young. She acknowledges that, which is another reason why her prices are reasonable. When I started researching last summer for coaches knowing I wanted to compete this spring season, I made sure to look at more than 1. do they win, 2. do they look good. I wanted to know their story because I wanted them to understand mine.
I haven’t always been heavy. This was an extreme weight gain in college, and then an extreme weightloss after college. I developed binge eating disorder and worked through it in talk therapy. I had been able to identify my triggers: events and foods and could analyze my feelings better to be able to prevent binges – for the most part. Many coaches that I had spoken with didn’t understand eating disorders and one even said it would be the clients fault if they developed an eating disorder. This goes to my point that you are trusting another person for their expertise to guide you through a prep that can be considered successful, regardless of how you’re gauging success. On her web site, she explained her story broadly and briefly, but I knew that she had been a survivor of an eating disorder. I didn’t know which one, but I figured she had a personal experience and would ultimately understand mine.
My first season I didn’t have a coach and this was soley based on cost. many of the coaches I had come across were very expensive – this sport as a whole is expensive. I hadn’t found a coach I believed would get me during my first season and I came to the conclusion that if they had learned how to do this and were coaching people, I could probably learn too.
So this season I had a coach and I knew more about exercise and nutrition.
Since I had competed on my own before, I had read a million articles about all the ways you could go about dieting for this kind of competition. I had followed a clean eating focus of IIFYM. Over a 22 week prep, I had lost 24 pounds. I felt great about my progress the whole time and I was never starving. I did, however, feel like I was missing something. I prefer to have a “dry” season of prep so I can eat my carbohydrates and while I thought this would be an issue the first time, it wasn’t. I found myself missing things like Oreos or deli meat. I wanted a damn sandwich. These are things that can be easily tracked and portion control, but at the time I thought the best way to go about this was clean eating. Post-November 2014, I am much more flexible. I have my macro goals and within that I have a fiber goal and I try to aim to have at least 3-5 veggies/fruits a day. I don’t always hit between 3-5, but I do hit my fiber goal. I had learned that the body, or my body at least, like carbohydrates and will effectively use these for fuel – doesn’t matter the source. I also learned that sugar makes me break out, so I do limit my sugars to around 60g a day. For perspective, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola is 39g of sugar. So I can kill it with a soda or I can consume a few different things and spread my sugar throughout the day. I also learned that protein keeps me full and even something like a protein shake in the mid-afternoon could count as a snack.
As far as workouts, I knew about HIIT, Intervals and Steady cardio before ever working with my coach. These three different styles of cardio can truly make a difference in your progress. They also work your body in different ways. For me personally, having these different style incorporated at different points of the week keeps it interesting.
Knowing what I knew from before has helped me tremendously in this prep. It’s helped me ask the right questions such as what is the purpose of a refeed scientifically and will a short term refeed over 24 hours really do anything for me? The answer: it’s supposed to help speed up your metabolism, you may hold some water for 1-3 days post a refeed, but essentially it helps you drop weight a steady pace. While a 24 hour refeed doesn’t have a great success with everyone, one day of refueling is good for the body. Some suggest refeeding for a week or two, obviously this isn’t something that would be conducive to a competition prep, but I will take a day of extra carbs and not complain.
I’ll admit as a lover of carbs, I was nervous the first refeed I tried about a third of the way into this season. It was new and scary, but I aside from asking my coach questions, I took initiative and researched what I could. I found this article on the blog Kyle Hunt Fitness. This helped further explain to me what I could expect after my refeed.
I was confident in the weightroom and it didn’t matter if she changed up my workouts as the season continued. My first season I was learning to lift on my own, from scratch. I watched a ton of videos about form and how to increase weight and when to, I didn’t necessarily always feel comfortable increasing and it wasn’t until this past fall that I really started pushing myself with my squats, going from 125 to 150 pounds in a few months. This time I knew what exercises were for the most part. Sometimes I do look up an exercise to check on form and movement, but mostly because there are three names for practically every exercise.
Aside from learning to lift, I was 174 pounds and female – I felt like I would be looked at when walking into a weightroom. That’s not necesarily the case. Mostly, gym goers are trying to get their own exercises done and if they are looking at you it may be because they’re thinking “good for you” not “why is she in here”.
I have never had an issue taking a selfie in the gym, but this time I really didn’t care if people saw me videoing or taking a photo. This is my journey an my progress, I want to document it. I do try to not get other gym goers in my photos because before 6 am that’s just not a nice thing to do.
I know how to present myself on stage. Aside from a coach that guides you through your workouts and nutrition, posing coaches can be costly too. I watched more YouTube videos than I had ever before during my first season. This season, she asked me if I had considered getting a posing coach and she suggested hers who was a judge for a few natural leagues in the midwest and has been involved in the sport since the mid-90s. Her clients typically place high and I think she pulls greatness out of people. Working with her has helped me figure out what posing works well for my body. In the NPC, there are standard front and back poses, but they don’t necessarily emphasize the best parts of people on stage. Working together she identified a few poses that highlighted my best features and also made me feel good. Feeling good on stage is reflected in your posing. If you don’t feel good and aren’t having fun, then you’re posing will suck and it doesn’t matter how good your body looks.
In some ways this prep is the same as the last prep.
My goals were never about winning. They have always been about being the best me and bringing the best package I possible can. The first time that meant a six 6, 150 pounds and 22 weeks of learning and hard work. This time it means a size 2, 131 pounds and 17 weeks of learning and hard work. I wanted to be better than my last package and I’ve already done that. My external goal, one that I cannot fully control, is to get as close to the Top 10 as possible. Last time, there were 34 women total in my height class for bikini. That is a lot of women. I tied at 15 with 19 of them. While it’s subjective and you never know who will show up that day, I don’t want to tie for last this time. I know I have a better body now and that with my posing I can be competitive.
I am learning every day just like I was before. I now know what a refeed is and how my body reacts to one. I’m basically a human science experiment and I’m ok with that. I know new lifts like Arnold presses. I now know that I am a much happier person when I get to bed between 9 and 9:30 for the gym at 5 am, otherwise you should stay out my way. I understand better the importance of a higher water intake and balancing your sodium.
I’m enjoying the process and watching my body change. It was exciting to see inches come off the first time and while I’m thrilled I’ve lost almost 20 pounds this time, I get more excited about new lines and more definition in my muscles. I love seeing what my body is capable of and how it’s adapting to different situations such as refeeds, variation in cardio and more structured lifting. I know that this is going to set me up for a successful off season to be able to develop the muscle a little further, lift heavier when not in a deficit, but more in a maintaining structure.
I’m having fun and I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Maybe it’s because I can see the progress happening and it’s because of my effort. I have been doubted in the past and there’s nothing worse than caving and believing those who doubt you. I have done a lot of soul searching this season, some I’ve talked about and some I haven’t. I feel like I am in a better place now than I was in January and definitely a better place than where I was four years ago when I was decided to get healthy. I have continued to impress myself with how far I’ve come the past four months and the goals I’m ready to establish and take on after season.
I wish anyone who has the desire to compete the best, just remember to ask yourself why you’re doing it and make sure that’s it’s genuine. It’s more than the trophy for me and I hope it is for some others out there too.
Three days until stage day, let’s see how this goes!