Contest prep is not for the faint of heart! Don’t let that statement scare you, I only mean that through it all you will truly find out who you are, how hard you can work and what you are made of. Be ready to find out what truly motivates you, drives your will to get through tough times and how amazing it is to challenge yourself mentally and physically. Everyone who competes is challenged by different things – it could be the gym part of the program, it could be you are new to following macros, or the challenge can be stepping outside of your comfort zone when it comes time to “work the stage” and be proud of your results. You will find that through-out the process, different things may come easy and other weeks the same things may feel harder; but being able to “grit down” and get through it for both the highs and lows is a very exhilarating feeling.
There were times during my prep where I didn’t feel 100% physically, or had an off day at work and was mentally drained; but I found the time I was spending in the gym became almost therapeutic and really made me proud to see that each week I could lift a little more (or go one more rep). Those changes were immediately gratifying. It was a sense of confidence to go to the gym and be comfortable there, when a few short years earlier the gym was the last place I had wanted to be. I was physically confident in my strength. It was also a sense of accomplishment to hit a groove when monitoring my nutrition and getting a handle on understanding what it takes to fuel my body was a revelation. Remember, contest prep is more than the few months you spend doing it and the time on stage. Going in to it prepared to learn about yourself, and how to support a healthy lifestyle is more important than a trophy (although the potential to win those are nice too!) From my experience, you will find that in the process what drives you will not be about being the ultimate winner, rather, as your first time competing – you get driven by all that you are learning and each day is like a “tick” on a list of successes. Did you lift more weight today? Tick! Did you have a bad day at work, but went for a run and got it done – or feel 1000x better? Tick! Did you learn to walk in your heels confidently? Tick! Did you finally get your macros perfect? Tick!
You learn to persevere and to be patient – what a growth that can be internally. Looking in the mirror, you may not notice - but every day you are putting in the effort – it all adds up. Some days you may be frustrated that you do not see drastic changes like you do on social media or TV – but don’t let that get you down! It cannot be your mindset to compare yourself to “should-be’s”. It may be hard when you feel you are “comparing” yourself to these people – but remember to only compare yourself to your own being – everyday through the process you are better than the next day (I say this even on the bad days!) I spent way too much time before doing a competition, doing the compare game. I learned through-out the process trying to desperately copy what everyone else was doing was not the solution and I was only spinning my wheels!
I wanted to compete to prove to myself that I had the ability to commit to me for once instead of putting others needs and wants ahead of mine. It was challenging to learn to say “no” and do what I needed to do – whether that was a run, a gym session or I just needed a rest. I learned to be a stronger person mentally for myself and to listen to what I needed at that time whether it was a workout or some down time. You learn to balance to get it done when you compete.
Again, the process is not easy – but the months you will spend with a supportive coach, and immersing yourself to committing to yourself – you will learn more than you may ever even realize (I am still figuring out months later, all the amazing things it did for me). Am I the same person I was when I started the process? NO – I am healthier (mentally and physically) and I am a stronger woman. I know I can push through bad days, figure things out and make it happen for me! You are your own creator of destiny and you get to decide how to push yourself!
The day(s) of your show(s) fly by. Enjoy the experience. It seems nerve-wracking at first, but you will find everyone is in the same boat as you and you will make some new friends backstage you may not have ever met before. As much as it is a competition, as a first time competitor, or anytime competitor – make that day about a showcase to celebrate all the work you put in! You did it!
After the show, it is important you put the effort in to transition back into real life. Working with a reputable and excellent coach, you will start preparing for this and she will assist you in giving you the tools you need, however – post-show, it is all up to you. Some people’s hesitation with shows may relate to the fear of rebounding, whether they lack the knowledge themselves from a bad coaching experience, or have known people/watched people who didn’t prepare for the after part of prep struggle with that transition. It does take time, and I would be lying to you to say it’s realistic to expect to look “stage” ready forever. However, in my experience, I was given the tools and let myself learn throughout the process to be able to transition into a post-stage life where I am very happy, fulfilled and still very confident and happy with where I am at. Like everyone, I have my good and bad days, but I have grown so much and learned to appreciate becoming stronger and fuelling my body with food as I maintain at a more “normal” weight. I am not stage lean, but I still practice a fit and disciplined lifestyle with food and gym. I can eat out with friends without guilt (which is not so easy on prep) and my mental mindset has grown so much. Prep gave me the building blocks, and it is up to the competitor on what they want to do with that foundation.
Learning and mentally reminding yourself to appreciate and accept your body at both it’s leanest, and during post-competition is all a mind-set you must be prepared to handle in contest prep. Am I sad to not have a six-pack some days? Yes – but now I know how much work and how tight a diet needs to be to have that six pack. I have learned I am happier eating food at a maintenance level and being a little stronger physically than having an aesthetic ab region. I am stronger than ever, mentally and physically.
I would recommend competing to everyone who is willing (and ready) to learn and grow throughout the process. If you enter into prep without that growth mentality, I fear you might not get as much out of it as competitors who want to immerse themselves into trusting the experience and achieving throughout the process (both little goals and huge milestones). Working with an excellent coach is so crucial and you have made a great first step in reaching out to someone who will give you the tools you need to succeed. A good coach is so important – but only YOU can get yourself through the prep and only YOU can take away learnings. You will get out of it what you put in!