Oh, to be a competitor in the world of bodybuilding. It is empowering, exhilarating, inspiring, stressful, challenging and at times heartbreaking. A fascinating psychology exists in this world which can best be described by listing some of the quirks competitors have.
Ripped versus “Fat”:
First of all, competitors develop a bizarre love-hate relationship with their bodies in which they marvel at their bodies when they are lean and muscular and in contest shape, but will curse their bodies when they are the slightest bit mushy or fluffy. Competitors live in a world in which the bar is set VERY high. Competitors will see themselves as fat when others see an amazing body and will say so. Competitors will always believe that the more ripped and lean they are, the better they are. While this is a necessary component of contest prep, it plays games with a person’s self-esteem because it is a constant battle to reach or remain at the pinnacle of leanness and muscularity.
Some competitors will overtrain in an effort to get their bodies dialed in, without considering the inevitable damage they are doing to their bodies. Yes, we are warriors, and yes, it can be a great thing to push through, but with too much training, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I completely relate to the principle of training constantly for a big contest because I have done it many times. I have endured double training and double cardio sessions which at times had me in the gym for five hours at a time. I have sustained injuries in my foot, ankle, knee, shoulder and forearm and continued my training because a big event was looming around the corner. Was it smart to train through injuries? No, but at the time I couldn’t imagine slowing down or stopping just because of a silly injury. This is the very thing I now scold clients about. No contest is worth hurting yourself!
“A judge told me I suck!”
Another thing that competitors have a habit of doing is worrying about what judges say and taking criticism hard. Competitors need to remember that bodybuilding, to a considerable degree, is a subjective sport, and if you are going to allow a judge to rip you apart and kill your spirit, then you probably shouldn’t be competing at all. The word of one judge is exactly that. Now if you speak to a bunch of judges and people in the sport who know what the ideal for the division you compete in is, and they all tell you the same thing, then you can probably assume that what they are all telling you is constructive criticism which you can then use as a reference when you make adjustments to your training program. That way, you will address certain weaknesses without throwing in the towel.
Bodybuilding is a VERY expensive sport. When you tally up the cost of food, supplements, coaching, competition apparel, spray tanning, accessories, hair styling and makeup application, travel expenses, and entry fees, the financial load can be immense. Competitors will often go broke, scraping up whatever money they have to make the dream of competing happen. This is not a poor man’s sport! That is why I tell competitors to establish a budget and be judicious about which events they want to do and what they can afford to do. I also advise competitors to seek out sponsors to help out with the enormous costs of competing. It is not unusual to see competitors forgo other hobbies and vacations in an effort to gather enough funds to support their competing habit.
As a competitor who used to dream about food, I completely understand the fantasizing which occurs in competitors when on a contest prep meal plan. Contest prep meals are usually bland as a result of how clean they are, and some meal plans are so restrictive that one may eat only two food items throughout the day, such as chicken and asparagus. It’s only human nature to rebel against this type of meal plan after a while, because it is quite a chore to adhere to it every single day with no treats and no cheats. It is a normal occurrence for competitors to discuss what foods they plan to eat post-contest. What’s also interesting is that some competitors will become so rigid and so fearful of backlash from their coaches that they will only have a quasi-cheat meal post contest, then return to the same rigid eating plan they were on before. Other competitors may go off the deep end, eating everything in sight for days or weeks, only to deal with considerable rebound.
Those of us who compete are indeed a strange breed. We are disciplined, driven and focused. I am fine with our quirks and accept them as part of the sport.