How long do you need for competition prep?

There is no doubt about it… the competition circuit is tough these days. Really tough. No matter which federation or category you enter for your competition, overall, the athletes are coming in better and better each year. The competitors are leaner, harder, have better glutes, better abs and better everything.

But no matter how good you glutes are, or how good your abs are, if you are not lean enough to let that muscle shine through, your chances at taking out a placing are very slim.

So lets assume for a minute that you’ve put in the hard yards making gains in the off season and now it’s time to shred the bodyfat. How long do you need? Longer than you might realise! And here’s why.

Many competitors start out thinking they can lose a kg a week throughout their prep. 10 kg’s that’s 10 weeks right? Maybe add in a couple of extra weeks bonus.. 12 weeks.  But hang on a moment. Think back to when you have tried to lose weight before. Have you easily been able to cut 1kg a week? Week after week?

A kg each week might be relatively easy to lose when you start out, and more so if you are very overweight or obese. But most people starting on a comp prep journey are usually in a healthy body fat range and unlikely to be able to sustain this even if they are lucky enough to start out that way.

Let’s look at some numbers. So lets say you have 10kg to lose. A 20 week prep is going to be your absolute minimum time of your cutting phase, averaging a more reasonable half a kg a week fat loss. This would be an absolute minimum time frame and would likely need extra weeks to add onto of that. Why? Because you need to consider a few things here…

What if you hit a major plateau?
What happens if you get the flu and can’t train for a week?
What happens if you tweak your back and need bed rest for a while?
What if you pull a hammy and have to back off on leg training?
What if a family emergency crops up and training and dieting have to take a back seat for a while?

I’ve seen all these things happen in a competition prep.

As a responsible coach, I also like extra time on my hands to give you diet breaks and refeeds to keep you as healthy as possible, and peak week is ideally not the right time to try and lose body fat either, so extra weeks must be factored in for this! The leaner you get, the harder it is the shift more bodyfat due to a variety of reasons. And i like to have extra weeks on hand for when those unexpected things pop up.

No matter how good your coach is, he or she is not a magician and if you have not factored in enough time for your prep, you may have to bear the brunt of a more aggressive approach with some really tough weeks on lower carbs and/or fats and more cardio.The more aggressive it is, the more you risk losing precious muscle and running into further down regulation in your metabolism and hormones. Other than that, you risk getting there and not being lean enough and that really isn’t something you want to deal with on the day. You want to have as much confidence as possible knowing that you are in the best shape you could possibly get.

The photos on this page were taken at the Arnold Classic 2016. I was pretty much the leanest I have every been, you can’t see it here but my stomach was like a roadmap. I factored in 12 weeks to lose just 3kg, and I  allowed an average of 350 grams per week without peak week. My approach allowed me to get here without having to introduce cardio until I was 6 weeks out. I felt great the whole way through until a bit of a hard push the last few weeks and things got pretty tough at that point! So even though I was super lean, I think i could have started 2 weeks earlier and come in a bit tighter through my glutes, or if not, at least had it a bit easier in the final weeks. But I came easily out of this prep and only gained 2-3kg back in the first 8 weeks and was able to maintain a good off season weight.

Now compare that to someone who has say, 8kg to lose in a 12 week prep, which is not that uncommon. Average of over 700 grams per week. Doable in some circumstances, but the approach will be vastly different. More cardio, likely much more. Or much less food. Neither of which are nice. And many more horrible side effects to contend with and the risk of a bigger rebound and loss of control with your diet after the show is over.

So I think my biggest tip is to give yourself much more time than you think you will need. If you are unsure, ask an experienced coach well in advance for their opinion. And try to maintain a good off season bodyfat level so you will have an easier and shorter prep next time around. For most females, a 3kg to 6kg gain is a great goal to aim for in the following months depending on your overall bodyweight and height.

I hope this was of some help!  And I wish you a happy and healthy competition prep!

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