Contest Prep, Wellness

I’m not as healthy as you think

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I had a bit of an epiphany a few days ago. I was speaking with a friend about my New Year’s resolution to get more sleep, and I mentioned that I have been doing the exact opposite. I’m not sure if it’s just resistance on my part or something else entirely, but the bottom line is that I’m actually getting less sleep now than I was last year. As we continued chatting it suddenly hit me…the reason why I’m sleep deprived is because I like it. It sounds twisted (and it probably is), but this whole lack of sleep thing puts me under a bit of extra pressure, and like some, I thrive under pressure. What’s more is that I like the feeling of being under pressure.

It’s pretty common for athletes to burn the candle at both ends, and with an extreme sport like bodybuilding it’s 24/7. The goal with competing is to be the best you can and bring your best to the stage each time and what you put your body through is not even slightly close to the norm. We get up at sunrise for fasted cardio, spent at least an hour and a half weight training each day, eat like we have OCD, drink crazy amounts of water, take massive amounts supplements, cut ourselves off from the outside world for weeks on end, all to be on stage for a few minutes, covered in spraytan and glaze with only a few inches of material covering us up. We are extreme athletes with extreme lifestyles and the truth is you can’t be a “normal person” with this kind of lifestyle.

Bodybuilding puts you into a thrilling (and slightly punishing) state of mind where you’re always pushing more, lifting more and seeing just how far you can take it. In my case, what I’ve noticed is that I love the way it feels to be tired, going to the gym, lifting super heavy and beating my previous week’s PRs. There’s nothing like being exhausted but crushing it anyway. It makes it that much more awesome when I pick up that barbell and knock out some deadlifts like it’s nobody’s business and then up the ante on my next set by adding an extra plate or two. Like I said, it’s a little twisted.

I know this is unhealthy, but bodybuilding in general is pretty unhealthy. There is nothing healthy about dehydrating yourself for several days, or dieting down for months at a time or exercising for 2-3 hours every day, but that’s the nature of the sport and being on stage is pretty addictive. Most people will stop after one show, but for those who stay the course, like me, you get the stage bug and can never seem to shake it. This is what leads to the extreme and the constant need to push yourself further each day.

As I sit hear writing this now, it’s about 1am and my alarm will be going off at 7:30 so I can head out to my day job and then of course hit the gym. This pattern and ritual that have created is probably not one that I can maintain in the long run and it’ll most likely lead me straight to a burn out. But even with all of this logic and awareness, I still consciously choose to keep going. Maybe it’s some weird way of my trying to rebel after spending my life being on the straight and narrow, or maybe it’s about my wanting to be in control of letting myself be a little out of control, or maybe, just maybe I’ve become a glutton for punishment. Again, pretty twisted.

I know how this all started too and what’s triggered this for me. This is the first time in my life that I’m fully on my own. I met my ex-husband when I as 18 and I went straight from my parent’s house to moving in with him years later. I always had some accountability to go to bed at a decent time (although that did change for a few years in my early twenties when I was living it up, going out all the time while still living at home). Overall though, I stuck to a schedule with school and work, and I never really had any kind of big rebellious phase. So maybe this is some kind of early mid-life crisis, and a fairly tame one at that J. This is still a whole new experience for me in that I can hit gym at midnight if I want (and sometimes I do!) or go out and do whatever I want whenever I want. I’m assuming some shrink would probably think that this is a kind of coping mechanism that has to do with partial avoidance (an issue that I’ve been dealing with my entire life), but now it’s only magnified by all of the massive life changes and shitstorm that I’ve gone through over the past two years.

On the bright side, I am fully aware of what I’m doing and that it’s not good, so I think that’s the first step in my being able to work through it and get back into a healthier space. What this is making me realize is just how hard it is to break unhealthy habits. We get real comfortable, real fast with these rituals of ours and it sometimes seems impossible to let them go. The way I see it is that eventually I’ll get my shit together and start getting some real sleep again, but for tonight I think I’ll put on Netflix and watch a little Gilmore Girls instead.

 

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Contest Prep, Fitness

The illusion of bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is all about creating the illusion of the perfect physique. In reality, there is no such thing as the perfect body, but bodybuilding as a sport allows its athletes to strive for it as closely as possible. Everything is geared towards this from nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, supplementation and so on. Bodybuilding is a 24/7 endeavour that, when done properly, will produce that coveted dream body that most of us wish we had year round.

With the Bikini category, the illusion that we are trying to create is one of broad shoulders, small waist, developed glutes, a nice s-curve in the body without a lot of mass or muscle striations. Judges want to see someone lean with lots or definition minus the bulk of traditional bodybuilders. What most athletes will notice as they go through a prep, is that their natural body shape and genetics may not allow for this to happen, so they have to tweak their training to give the illusion of this look. A prime example is for an athlete who doesn’t have a small waist, but  that can build muscle really well to instead focus on building up the glutes and shoulders to create more curve that way, and give the appearance of a small waist by keeping everything in good proportion. For someone like me who is a hard-gainer (gaining muscle is very difficult), I instead would focus on leaning out without losing muscle by doing steady-state cardio for only 20-30 minutes instead of interval training like most athletes will do.

It’s not just exercise either. Nutrition is an exact science when it comes to competing and photoshoots. We tweak our diets every couple of weeks to make constant progress by gradually reducing calories and for many, cutting down carbs and fats. Usually the last phase of contest prep is the toughest where it’s all protein and almost no starchy veg or grains, and very little if any added fat. This is what gets us super lean. It’s what has to be done in order to look the way that we do. The goal with leaning out is to see as much muscle definition as possible and the less body fat you have, the more visible the definition will be. When I say super lean, I mean 8-10% body fat for the ladies and 2-5% for the guys. Just as an FYI, ladies are considered healthy at around 20% body fat and men around 15%. Yes, it’s that low and no it’s not something that can be maintained long term without hitting some serious health risks.

This is what 8% bodyfat and 50% muscle mass looks like:

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In the weeks leading up to the contest we chug water like crazies (about 2 gallons per day), drop the salt intake and start in on the diuretics in order to get as efficient at shedding water as possible. Then about 2 days out water starts being trappered off. This prevents any potential for bloating to once again be able to show as much muscle definition as possible.

Pre-spraytan vs post-spraytan

One thing that most may not take into consideration is posing. Posing will ultimately make or break you. You can hide almost any disproportionate, unsymmetrical or underdeveloped area with the right posing. In back pose, for example, you position yourself to slightly flex (but not squeeze) the glutes in order to make cellulite magically disappear and if your waist isn’t super small, but your back is developed then you can flair out your lats to make it look like you do. The smallest adjustments can have a huge impact. Posing is super technical, we are twisting and tightening certain areas to look a very specific way and show off our best assets. Another example is in front pose where you’re feet are shoulder width apart, toes forward, but you turn your upper body completely to one side and then have to turn your shoulders forward to give your body a lean and curvy look.

 

Then there’s everything else like the spraytan, posing suit, hair and makeup. The spraytan is mandatory FYI, and although up close we look super weird, on stage it’s all good. Without the tan the bright lights will just wash us out and no matter how shredded you are the definition will not show without it. The suit and hair and makeup are all to give us a glamourous look. Up close we look over the top, but on stage it’s a nice and well put together.

Pre-makeup vs post-makeup

 

As I’m sure you can tell by now, everything really is an illusion here. So the next time you find yourself wishing you had rock-hard abs and a cellulite-free tush, just remember the amount of work that goes into it and that your bodyfat has to get super low, but your muscle mass needs to go up (otherwise you’ll just look skinnyfat and puny). I must admit that there really is nothing quite like looking in the mirror and loving how your physique looks, or the way it feels when you place your hands on your belly and feel abs. But I honestly only appreciate it because I know the work that I’ve put into it. It’s not the endgame that matters but the road to it that really allows you to reap what you sow.