Feature photo: Insta: @adrift360
If you are a competitor, currently prepping for your first show, planning to compete, or know someone who is- I ask that you read or share this. Not because I want tons of views, but because I wish I would have stumbled across this information before it was too late. After 6 years, 8 shows, 6 preps, and a pro card.. these are some of the most important lessons I have learned.
1. The grass always seems to be greener on the other side.
This is what I call the “competitor paradox”, and you’re lying if you say it isn’t true. You find yourself six weeks out from your first show- hungry, tired, mentally exhausted- but nonetheless, shredded as crap. You’ve worked so hard, grinding to perfection for “X” number of weeks, only to find yourself that close to competition. You would think you
are completely content with how everything is going, and wouldn’t change anything. However, that’s not completely case. If someone were to ask you, “are you excited for your show?” Of course you would answer, “yes”. But most people wouldn’t stop there. Instead, they would continue with something like “I can’t wait to eat food, get strong, and bulk again!”. On the contrary, think of the times you were the deepest you will get into an off-season. You’re strong as hell, hardly ever “starving”, and the most muscular you have ever been up to that point. Yet, if someone were to ask you, “How are you enjoying the off-season?” You would answer by mentioning some of the off-season positives I listed above, but still, you wouldn’t stop there. Most competitors would probably say something like “I miss being shredded, I really miss the stage, and having something to work for!”.
Why is it that competitors, who are believed to be some of the most patient people in the world, always yearn for the other phase? Maybe we should soak up the moment, and stop taking the current process for granted. This very thought has boggled me so profoundly, that I not only try my best to consciously remind myself to avoid it with my bodybuilding goals, but with my life as well. For example, in 6 months I will begin my graduate studies for a physical therapy degree. This is probably the most life defining, exciting, and overall intimidating challenge of my life. However, I’m not focused on it, not even one bit. Instead, I’m focused on today, this very hour, this very minute. I’m focusing on getting every “I wish I could have tried that” opportunity out of my fitness business. I’m focusing on getting healthy, spending time with my family, hanging with my friends. I’m not constantly reminiscing on what is to be, but what is now. Physical Therapy school is to come, so it can wait; these current moments of my life? They’re happening right now, and if I constantly worry about the future, I might just miss them.
2. Goals are so much easier to reach when they are objective.
The most beautiful thing about a competitor’s goal is how tangible it is. Think about it. At the start of a prep you have a certain number of weeks, to reach a certain weight, to look a certain way, to get a desired placing. What other goals in our life are that freaking clear? Very, very few.
Competing has taught me to approach all of my goal’s in the same manner. Now, when I want to save money, I don’t simply say, “I need to save more money”. Instead, I make the goal as tangible as possible. When I want to save money, I write down an exact amount. I also write down a date at which I will get it, and the exact means of how to accumulate the desired amount. This is only one example, but I pretty much do it with everything I want to achieve in life. I attribute it to almost all of my most recent successes, and plan to use this method for the rest of my life.
3. Life is so much easier when we don’t care what other people think.
Lesson number three brings us back to the conversation of the off-season versus the competition season. What makes the off-season so absent of pressure? What makes it so much easier, mentally? Well, of course the diet and the training, but what else? The answer is simple; you don’t care as much about what other people think. Notice I said “as much”? We’re competitors, it’s part of the hobby; don’t ever argue that. What other people think determines how you place (judges), and whether you publicly own up to it or not, you care. Deep down, you care.
During the competition season we constantly have a weight on our chests (no pun intended lol). We aim to impress ourselves, because we are our biggest competiti…blah blah. Truth is, even the humblest of athletes feel the pressure of looking great in others eyes, and of course, the judges’ eyes. This isn’t just on show day, but throughout the entire prep, from the very moment we officially announce that we are “X” number of weeks out. This pressure is further amplified with cut-off T-shirts, more recently leggings (guys, you need to stop), and social media; emphasis on social media. Think of the times you took a picture for Instagram, and after looking at it, felt you didn’t look as good as you should at that point in the prep. At which point you find better lighting, maybe get a pump, and finally slap 2-3 filters on it. Boom; now it’s up to our perception of other people’s standards. The off-season is different, because we don’t care what people think. We don’t believe we are “required” to have a 6 pack, or striations to the tips of our fingers. We don’t have to post progress pictures, because we have no public-known goal to fulfill; no “quota”, if you will. We just lift weight, down food, and enjoy life.
How can we apply this to life? Well, we need to realize and accept that we will always care what people think. The true objective is not to try and stop caring about it, but to stop letting it influence how we live. If you post a picture of your six-pack progress and only get 20 “likes”, keep it up. If the best job you can get involves a visor and a spatula, embrace it. You have a job, and you’re working for yourself! Caring what other people think will always be there for 99% of us (we all know that 1% haha), and the sooner we stop letting it weigh so heavy on our actions, the sooner we can enjoy our lives’ the way we want to.
4. Your mind is the toughest opponent you will ever face.
If you have ever done a competition prep, then you know how powerful the mind can be. Think of all the times you’ve doubted yourself, judged how you looked, or found yourself anxious about how you will do on the big day. Better yet, think about how powerful your mind is AFTER you compete. Those first few weeks immediately following the moment you get home from your post-show celebration. It’s a tug-of-war game from hell. One side is obsessed with the lean look, and wants to do everything it can to stay that way- sometimes even pulling people into eating disorders. The other side, the innate human survival side, wants to eat; I mean eat! This can lead you into a binge-restrict-binge nightmare that can last for weeks and even months. No matter how much you want to stay lean or stop eating, you can’t, and you don’t. This is the hardest part of competing, and the prep doesn’t even fall at its feet in comparison. Most people will eventually solve this mental conflict, but only after a long and tortuous fight. Others, aren’t so lucky, and if that happens to be you, reach out for help. Don’t be ashamed.
The mental battles in prep have sharpened my realization of how much power my desires have over my needs, and to be honest, it scares the hell out of me. Yet, it has taught me important lessons on how to escape those times, and come out a better person. In fact, I make post-prep improvements each time. Anyway, the point I want to make is how I’ve realized how important it is to train and improve your ability to battle the wants and desires of your own human nature.
5. Life is all about balance.
If there is one thing I could change about competing, just one thing, it would be the balance issues it must cause. Let’s face it, even the genetically blessed cannot evenly balance a prep with life. At least not if they want to be elite. Striated glutes, glute tie-ins, and chiseled obliques do not show up if you are enjoying life, and freely spending time with friends/family. That’s just not how it goes. In order to be elite, you must make sacrifices; that simple.
During the last few years of college I let that balance get out of hand. Sure, I needed to during my prep, and I went pro because of it. However, that imbalance didn’t end after I walked off stage. In fact, it didn’t end until I missed out on special moments in my life I will never re-live. It didn’t end until after I put a girl, whom I thought was the one, on the back-burner for far too long. It was only after I had lost and missed out so many great things, that I truly realized how stupid I was, S-T-U-P-I-D. I gave up all of that to look good in a posing suit for 20 minutes, in front of a crowd of people I don’t even know- wow. All this negativity has a silver lining, though. It taught me to focus on what really matters. Now, even in the busiest of moments with my business and studies, I make time to enjoy life. I don’t find time, I make time.
I could name a million other things that competing has taught me, but these are the foremost profound in my life. I truly hope that you, like me, will take the lessons you receive from competing to make self-improvements. I hope that those who aspire to compete, or those currently in their first prep, learn from my mistakes. If you have anything you have learned from competing, please share below.