Contest Prep 101, Part 1

There is no doubt that preparing for a bodybuilding/physique contest can be quite intimidating, especially if it is your first time. There are so many vital components necessary for bringing to the stage a ripped, dense, full, and muscular body that it’s very easy to become both confused and overwhelmed.

I myself have competed in more than 20 bodybuilding competitions and have worked with clients all over the globe (novice to pro level), assisting in their contest prep for 25-plus years. And while each of us is unique in the way we respond to specific diets, training programs, and supplement regimens, I have been able to create a sensible, efficient, and healthy foundation protocol that will help just about anyone hit the stage with the kind of physique that will definitely grab the judges’ attention! 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, I want to mention something regarding the off-season. It is my rm belief that those who are serious about competing and moving to the highest levels of the sport should keep their body fat in a range that will allow for a prep period of no longer than 12 to 16 weeks. I actually prefer the first four weeks (16 down to 12) to be a “break in” phase, starting by simply eliminating all junk foods (alcohol, too, if needed) from the diet while also getting used to consuming six meals per day on a regimented schedule. By keeping body fat at a respectable level year- round you will not only make contest prep easier and less mentally/physically exhausting but also allow for maximum retention of muscle mass. 

 DIET 

Below you will find a list of high-quality foods that can be included in your diet for the first four weeks of prep, as well as a sample meal plan so you can see how to put things together. As we move along, more and more foods will be removed, and the macronutrient profile will be adjusted. This is to allow for continuous progress to take place every week right up till the show.

  • Proteins: 93% lean beef, 93% lean turkey, turkey breast, chicken breast, steak, egg whites, game meats, white fish, salmon, nonfat cottage cheese, protein powders (can be used for up to three meals per day).
  • Carbohydrates: Brown rice, white rice, sweet potato, white potato, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, cream of wheat, quinoa, rice cakes, pasta, carb powder, all fruits.
  • Vegetables: All green and colored types.
  • Fats: Walnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, cheddar cheese, olive oil, fish oil, flax oil, coconut oil, nut butters.

Now that we have a solid list of foods in place, let me give you an example of what a typical day of dieting might look like at this point for someone weighing about 200 pounds and carrying between 10% and 12% body fat.

  • MEAL 1
    • P: Whey/casein protein powder mix (approximately 2 scoops)
    • C: Oatmeal (3.1 oz uncooked) 
    • F: No added fats
  • MEAL 2
    • P: Chicken breast (7.1 oz cooked) 
    • C: Brown rice (6.7 oz cooked)
    • F: No added fats
  • MEAL 3
    • P: Tilapia (8.3 oz cooked) 
    • C: Large mixed salad
    • F: Olive oil (1 tbsp)
  • MEAL 4
    • P: Whey protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)
    • C: White potato (10 oz cooked) 
    • F: No added fats
  • MEAL 5
    • P: Top-round steak (7.1 oz cooked)
    • C: Sweet potato (5.5 oz cooked) 
    • F: No added fats
  • MEAL 6
    • P: Casein protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)
    • C: None
    • F: Natural peanut butter (2 tbsp) 

Totals: 300g protein, 200g carbs, 28g essential fats

 

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 SUPPLEMENTS 

When it comes to supplements, always remember that no matter how much you take, they can never make up for a faulty diet or training program! However, if everything else is on point, then certainly there are a plethora of excellent products on the market that will assist you in reaching your best condition. Here is what I recommend for this stage of your prep.

  • Creatine
  • Beta-alanine
  • BCAAs
  • Multivitamin/ mineral
  • Fish oil L-leucine 

 CARDIO 

Yes, there are a few genetic freaks out there who have such naturally high metabolisms that they do not need to utilize cardio as a fat-burning tool leading up to a competition. However, for the rest of us mere mortals, cardio is a necessary evil. That said, there should never be a need for excessive amounts, which will only serve to burn of  lean muscle—a definite no-no! As I mentioned earlier, the key to a truly successful, easy, and efficient contest prep is making sure you never let yourself get too out of shape during your off-season. I like to start competitors o with a base amount of cardio at the beginning of prep and then progressively increase the amount each week. I should also note that while there are tons of conflicting studies (and expert opinions) out there, my experience has shown me that morning/fasted cardio (except for five to 10 grams of BCAAs) is the best when melting body fat is the primary goal. 

  • 12 Weeks Out
    • 30 minutes on non-workout days
  • 11 Weeks Out
    • 30 minutes on non-workout days and 15 minutes on workout days
  • 10 Weeks Out
    • 35 minutes on non-workout days and 15 minutes on workout days
  • 9 Weeks Out 
    • 35 minutes on non-workout days and 20 minutes on workout days 

 

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 TRAINING 

The goal when preparing for a contest is to keep every ounce of muscle you worked so hard to accrue during the off-season. In order to accomplish this, you must continue to train intensely but also vary your methods so that you are stimulating every pathway responsible for hypertrophy. At 12 weeks from a competition, I normally begin utilizing a workout protocol I developed around the year 2000, known around the globe as Power/Rep Range/Shock, or P/RR/S for short. While I cannot go into detail in this article about the specifics of this program and why it is so effective, I can provide you actual sample workouts that can be used for the first four weeks of prep. I should mention that you can change the exercises from the ones I list below when necessary, but make sure to stick to the rep range, rep tempos, rest periods, and basic structure. Weeks 12 to 9 will have you training in the first phase of P/RR/S: power. 

CONTEST PREP WEEKLY WORKOUT

 MONDAY 

  • CHEST
    • Flat Dumbbell Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3-4 min.
    • Smith Machine Incline Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3-4 min.
    • Incline Dumbbell Flye | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 3 min.
  • BICEPS
    • Alternating Dumbbell Curl | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/1/X | REST: 3 min.
    • Preacher Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3 min.
  • FOREARMS
    • Seated Barbell Wrist Curl | SETS: 2 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/0/X | REST: 2-3 min.
    • Hammer Curl | SETS: 2 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 2-3 min.
  • ABS
    • Seated Crunch Machine or Cable Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12 | TEMPO: 2/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.
    • Lying Straight-Leg Raise | SETS: 2 | REPS: Max | TEMPO: 3/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.

 TUESDAY 

  • QUADS
    • Leg Extension | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 3 min.
    • Hack Squat | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 4 min.
    • Single-Leg Leg Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 4 min.
  • HAMSTRINGS
    • Seated Leg Curl | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 3 min.
    • Single-Leg Lying Leg Curl | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3 min.
  • CALVES
    • Calf Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 2-3 min.
    • Seated Calf Raise | SETS: 2 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 2-3 min.

 THURSDAY 

  • BACK
    • Cable Row (underhand grip) | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/0/X | REST: 3-4 min.
    • Wide-Grip Pullup | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 3-4 min.
    • T-Bar Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/0/X | REST: 4 min.
    • Deadlift | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 4 min.
  • ABS
    • Weighted Hanging Bent-Leg Hip Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12 | TEMPO: 2/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.
    • Weighted Incline Situp | SETS: 2 | REPS: 10-12 | TEMPO: 3/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.

 FRIDAY 

  • SHOULDERS
    • Seated Bent Rear Dumbbell Lateral | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 3 min.
    • Seated Dumbbell Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3-4 min.
    • Barbell Upright Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 3 min.
  • TRAPEZII
    • Barbell Shrug | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/1/X | REST: 3 min.
  • TRICEPS
    • Incline Overhead Dumbbell Extension | SETS: 4 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 4/0/X | REST: 3 min.
    • Weighted Triceps Dip | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 3/0/X | REST: 3 min.
  • CALVES
    • Seated Calf Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.
    • Standing Calf Raise | SETS: 2 | REPS: 4-6 | TEMPO: 2/0/1 | REST: 2-3 min.

 FLEX 

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