by Mike Arnold Iron Magazine
Of all the different subjects associated with the world of bodybuilding, no other is potentially more confounding than contest prep. Whether this is due to the wide range of knowledge required to effectively and efficiently manipulate all the variables involved, or being overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the endeavor, makes little difference. The fact is, despite the combined experience of multiple generations of bodybuilders being freely available to us, no other undertaking provokes such self-doubt. At a time when bodybuilders should be growing increasingly more confident in their ability to navigate this complex, yet necessary aspect of competitive bodybuilding, we are seeing more and more individuals just throw their hands up in the air without even bothering to educate themselves on the basic principles required for getting in contest condition. Hence, the ever-rising number of career coaches in this industry.
Still, with contest prep involving so many moving parts and each individual responding to them differently, it is not surprising to find even the most devoted knowledge seekers occasionally needing correction. On the surface, contest prep may seem simple—strip away body fat, maintain muscle mass, eliminate subcutaneous water, and make the muscles as hard and dense as possible via appropriate supplementation. Simple, right? Not really.
The ability to maintain maximum muscle size and fullness while achieving top condition is a skill requiring extensive experience, along with considerable knowledge in multiple areas of learning, including biology/physiology and related sciences, nutrition, pharmacology, psychology, etc. With bodybuilding science rapidly expanding in all of these areas, it is easy to get overwhelmed and start looking to others for guidance. This is all fine and good, as none of us know everything, but how do you know if the information you are receiving is correct? With so many different opinions and methods out there, searching for answers through non-acknowledged/respected sources is a risky proposition.
In addition, those who have prepped only themselves tend to recommend what has worked for themselves. Because they lack experience in dealing with large number of individuals on a one-on-one basis, they are not equipped to deal with the wide range of personal responses that one is sure to encounter when dealing in the realm of contest prep. I recently saw an example of this in Muscular Development Magazine; a popular bodybuilding publication which has signed multiple professional bodybuilders to exclusive media coverage. Each month, these pros will answer questions sent into them by fans, but in this issue, several pros were answering the same question and guess what? They all gave different answers. Knowing a bit about each of these bodybuilders, it became readily apparent that the advice given was neither right nor wrong, but simply based on what worked for them—their own experiences.
While bodybuilding is often a matter of finding what works best for you, there are certain rules, universal rules, which tend to apply to all. It is with this is mind I have decided to list some of the most commonly made mistakes in contest prep. While some of these may appear rather obvious, you might be surprised to realize how many bodybuilders, even professionals, have fallen prey to these misguided tactics. Even when pressed with a logical argument as to why their methods are faulty, it is often rebutted with something like “then why is everyone else doing it?” to which “if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it to?” would be an apt response.
In fact, I encountered a similar situation just the other day, when a member of a popular bodybuilding website failed to recognize the error of his way, even after being provided with strong scientific evidence that his belief was based on nothing more than hopes and dreams. What was his reason for rejecting said scientific evidence? Apparently, a pro bodybuilder from the early 90’s claimed that a particular drug (which has never been proven to have even the slightest muscle-building effect since its release about 30 years ago) added tremendous muscle mass to his body within a short time. Never mind the fact that not a single other professional bodybuilder, that am aware of, has made the same claim, and disregard the fact that it is rarely ever used in bodybuilding circles (only occasionally by the ignorant), despite being inexpensive, easily accessible, and well known in the bodybuilding community.
Lastly, this pro bodybuilder also said he added growth hormone to his regimen at the exact same exact time as this other drug, making it literally impossible to attribute a certain amount of growth this its use. If this board member’s IQ was bordering on mentally handicapped, perhaps I would overlook this fault, but this was fairly intelligent man, who has posted many other worthwhile comments on the boards over the years.
This just goes to show how easily bad advice is accepted when backed by the majority, or when coming from those who hold a certain degree of respect (ex. professional bodybuilder). In these cases, logic tends to go out the window. If you look back through the history of contest prep, or just bodybuilding in general, you will find un-told examples of things that were once accepted as truth, which have since been rejected completely.
The point here is that you should question everything you do. Don’t blindly accept anything as truth without first validating its accuracy. Use your own brain. If something doesn’t make sense to you, research it and find out whether what you are being told is right or wrong. In some cases, a definitive answer may not yet be available, but be leery of anyone who claims something is absolutely true without the support if either scientific evidence or extensive anecdotal evidence. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk. With that said, let’s move on.
Going balls-out right from the start
One of the biggest mistakes I see inexperienced bodybuilders make is taking things too fast right out of the gate. Before you can say “let’s get started” they have already chopped 1,000 calories out of their diet, are eating barely any carbs, are doing 1 ½ hours of cardio a day, and are using enough Clen and T3 to make a baby whale get ripped. Big mistake!
Fat loss is best done in slow, steady increments, gradually adjusting the known variables in order to elicit just enough of a fat loss response to keep them on target for the big day. Anything more and you not only run the risk of losing muscle mass, but the body begins to adapt to these extreme measures early on. This can cause big problems for you later on down the road.
If you play all your high cards right away, you will have nothing left to fall back on in the 2nd half of prep, when the body begins to resist against further fat loss and the going really gets tough. You will be forced to use starvation tactics and excessive cardio, and that is the last thing you want to have to rely on. It might make you ripped, but you will look more like an emaciated anorexic than a bodybuilder. When trying to get in shape, you should not add, increase, or decrease anything unless you need to. Contest prep is not a race to see how fast you can get ripped. It is about maintaining maximum muscle tissue as you get into contest condition, but that is not going to happen when you push your body beyond what it is capable of enduring.
Many people will ask “how do I know when I need to pick up the pace?” and the answer is simple, but before this question can be answered, we first need to establish an appropriate rate of fat loss, as the answer is found therein. In short, if you need to lose any more than 2 pounds of fat per week in order to get into true contest condition, over a normal length contest prep, then you are probably too fat to be thinking about competing. This means that you first need to figure out how many pounds of fat you have on your body and if this number requires you to lose more than 2 pounds of fat weekly, you should focus on dropping some bodyfat before selecting a contest.
By making sure you start prep with an acceptable amount of bodyfat, you will never need to push things so fast that muscle maintenance becomes an issue. For most, dropping fat at a rate of 2 pounds or less per week (I prefer 1-1 ½ pounds) will enable one to get into contest condition without sacrificing lean muscle mass. If you haven’t already answered the above question with the information just provided, use the following formula:
• Find out how many pounds of fat you have on your body
• Figure out the total amount of fat you will need to lose in order to reach 2-4% BF
• Figure out how many weeks it will take for you to lose that fat, without exceeding 2 pounds per week.
For example, if you need to lose 20 pounds of fat to hit 4% BF, then it will take you 10 weeks to get there at a rate of 2 pounds per week. However, whenever you are lean enough to do so, I recommend losing bodyfat at a slower rate than 2 pounds per week. Using the above example, a better scenario would go as follows. Instead of losing 2 lbs of fat per week over 10 weeks, drop only 1.5 lbs of fat over 13 ½ weeks. Either way, you will still end up at 4% bodyfat, but because you don’t need to push bodyfat as quickly with the later approach, you will most likely end up tighter and fuller on contest day.
Answer: You only do what is required to keep your fat loss progressing at the pre-determined rate.
Too much reliance on calorie cutting
The most basic principle of fat loss states that one must take in fewer calories than they burn in order to lose bodyfat. This is true, but it is an overly simplistic view of the fat loss process, leading one to believe that calorie cutting should be the first thing we turn to when attempting to decrease bodyfat. While calorie cutting will always remain part of the equation, it is just that—part of it. An overreliance on this aspect of the fat loss process will lead to muscle loss, so we need to lean to temper our calorie cutting with other methods of fat loss designed to reduce bodyfat without putting muscle mass at risk.
Fortunately, there are numerous variables we can manipulate to our advantage. While bodybuilding drugs such as clen do increase metabolic rate and therefore overall calorie burning, they also enhance fat loss through other mechanisms, allowing us to keep our calories higher than we otherwise would have, while still burning fat at the same rate. Because the calorie deficit doesn’t need to be as extreme, muscle mass is more easily preserved.
Although clen has been shown to cause muscle growth in animal studies, the doses required to have an anabolic effect were much higher than what humans can tolerate. However, many bodybuilders have testified that, despite the lower dosages utilized during contest prep, that it still imparts a minor, positive effect on muscle maintenance. Whether this is due solely to the body’s ability to continue dropping fat in the presence of additional calories, or a pro-anabolic effect, it really doesn’t matter, as experience has shown clenbuterol to be a great drug for preserving muscle mass in the face of fat loss.
Growth hormone is another drug with similar effects, although they are mediated through completely different mechanisms. Unlike clenbuterol, GH does not increase the rate of calorie burning at all (at least not to any meaningful degree), yet it accelerates fat loss by increasing the rate of lipolysis (the release of fatty acids from fat cells into the bloodstream, where they can then be oxidized for fuel), while simultaneously providing a positive effect on muscle maintenance via elevated IGF-1 levels. Science has also recently revealed that the GH molecule itself has anabolic effects. Still, it is GH’s lipolytic effect that is responsible for allowing us to eat more while continuing to lose fat. Now, don’t misunderstand; GH is not a miracle drug in this regard—you can’t eat like a hog and still get expect to get ripped, but it does allow us to eat more while getting into contest condition, and that, along with its pro-anabolic effects, leads directly to improved muscle retention.
Although GH and Clenbuterol are two of the most well known and effective fat loss drugs, there are several others which can be use to accomplishing the same objective with varying degrees of efficiency. Aside from specific fat loss drugs, we also have hormonal manipulation at our disposal. Insulin, estrogen, and AAS are three of the major hormones which can be manipulated in our favor, in order to augment fat loss without a need for caloric reduction.
While I have only mentioned a few of the factors at your disposal, the bottom line is that you want to minimize your reliance on calorie cutting to lose bodyfat, as those make it their go-to fat loss tactic almost never bring their best physique to the stage. Rather, you want to implement as many alternative methods as possible, as doing so will increases your chances of achieving contest condition while maintaining your hard-earned muscle mass.
Part 2 coming soon.