Welp, that’ll do it. This season was funny- it started in a pretty unusual fashion. I used to eat a huge, family-sized bag of tortilla chips at work every day because it was convenient to pack and required no preparation. One day I decided that this behavior probably wasn’t an ideal nutrition choice, so I stopped.
I started losing weight. The weight loss was unexpectedly motivating, so I made a couple other tiny, easy changes to my training/nutrition. Before I knew it, I had a pretty solid weight loss trend rolling. Then I looked at the calendar and realized it was my last chance to scrape together a contest prep before starting my dissertation. So, all of a sudden I was prepping for a show, I guess. I’d estimate that about half of my prep occurred without me knowing about it.
But before you explode with envy, rest assured that it eventually got pretty brutal, as contest prep does. I didn’t just stop eating tortilla chips and coast onto stage a few weeks later. The goal was to make a hard push for my pro card, so I dug deep and grinded it out. Below are a few important things I learned and/or want to highlight as I look back at my season.
1) You don’t necessarily have to do cardio during prep
Energy balance works. Calories in, calories out, you know the drill. If it isn’t working, you’re messing up part of the equation. Sometimes it gets messy.
Bottom line, you’re free to manipulate whichever side of the equation you prefer. Frankly, I’m pretty willing to starve myself, and I absolutely hate cardio. From my personal perspective, cardio takes time, cuts into recovery, and generally leaves me miserable and hungry. So I opted to go on a super restrictive diet instead. It’s not for everybody, and I’d never make the blanket recommendation that people shouldn’t do cardio during prep. I’m just saying that I picked my poison (dietary restriction), it appears to be a viable and justifiable strategy from a conceptual standpoint, and I achieved my best ever conditioning with this approach while minimizing the “miserableness” of my prep.
2) I wish I bulked more aggressively in the off-season
I’ll cut myself a little slack here, since I didn’t really plan on competing this year. Nonetheless, as I look back at the stage photos, I’m very pleased with my conditioning but definitely need some more lean mass. Again, not a blanket statement that everyone should go start a “dreamer bulk.” How tightly or loosely you approach the off-season really depends on your capacity (and desire) to add more lean mass. At this stage in my career, I am confident that I can add plenty of mass to my frame, and I believe I held myself back by being a bit too shy with the calories over the past couple years. Lesson learned!
I’ve posted a few contest pictures below, so feel free to judge for yourself. If you’re interested, there’s a more extensive album of stage photos that is publicly available on my Facebook.
3) I’m really stoked
My biggest goal was to get my pro card, and I did! There are always shortcomings, weak areas, and room for improvement, but it’s important to be happy and take the win every now and then. I ended up turning pro in both bodybuilding and classic physique, and I’m incredibly excited and thankful about that.
4) I’m really thankful
Not just about reaching the goal- I’m thankful for the support group in my life. Friends, family, lab mates, advisor, the whole gang. Everyone was incredibly supportive throughout my entire prep. They showed interest, shared my joy, understood the times when I was a bit sluggish, and propped me up when I transiently slipped in and out of full-blown zombie-mode toward the end there. So, I want to openly acknowledge how awesome they are and express sincere gratitude for their support.
5) I’ve got some work to do!
Making my pro debut was a really fun experience, and I had a great time with it. I also got to compare myself with some pro bodybuilders to see how I stacked up- This was a humbling experience, and it showed me what I need to work on moving forward (more details on the pro debut are available here).
Overall, I was happy with how I looked at the pro debut, and I felt like I held my own on stage. I had the best conditioning in the pro class, but I definitely need to add some muscle mass, particularly from the posterior perspective (rear lat spread, back double bicep, etc.). Adding some mass to my quads, hamstrings, and lats will greatly improve these shots and give me much better chances of placing well moving forward. I also need to improve my posing quite a bit, as the pros tend to display a much more refined style of posing than at the amateur level. Plus, I don’t have the type of physique that’s good enough to overcome subpar posing (few do).
Despite very atypical beginnings, this turned out to be a great season for me. I learned a lot, which will certainly influence my preps in the future. Overall, I walk away with great optimism regarding my future in the sport. I’ll focus on adding some mass for a while, continue to work on posing, and I should show up to my next competition with some drastic improvements. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on building up my strength as I add mass, and potentially competing in powerlifting. More on that in my next post!