My client Mark was loaded, a true “baller” in every sense of the word—amazing house, beautiful cars, trips to Vegas that would blow your mind, and all the fixins’ of a successful 21st century alpha male. My other clients would see how Mark lived and comment, “Geez, must be rough. I wish I had his life”.
Mark was the owner of a chain of auto body shops in Baltimore. And what people didn’t see was the work he had put into building that business—the innumerable nights with no sleep, the 24-hour-a-day stress of never truly shutting down the business pipeline, the inability to take a vacation for fear that his business would fall off the rails if he wasn’t there to personally see to every little detail.
But that’s how most people are: they see the end result, without seeing every ounce of effort that was poured into crafting that end result, and they say, “I want that, too”. If they actually saw the effort that went into creating that result, they would cower with their tails between their legs. “Oh. I didn’t realize it was going to be that difficult. I’ll pass”.
I witness this daily with people interested in physique competition. Everybody sees the abs, the striations, the glistening muscles, the sparkly suits, the tans, the trophies, and thinks, “I want to do that, too. I can do that”. And of course, they are missing all of the details that went into making that possible.
So before you take the plunge, hire a trainer, and decide that physique competition is right for you, you should first run through a checklist, and ask yourself, truly:
Am I meant to compete?Let’s take a look at what is involved.
First of all, do you like being miserable, hungry, tired, exhausted? Then you are a prime candidate for physique competition. See, chances are you’re going to spend a good chunk of your prep time feeling like dogshit. You’ll be hungry most of the time, and hunger is a sensation that most Americans have never truly experienced. I’m not talking about that momentary, “Geez, I’m hungry, let’s hit up McD’s”. No. I’m talking about an on-going, days-on-end, weeks-on-end, possibly months-on-end, gnawing at your ever-so-slightly-but-always-present-in-the-back-of-your-mind hunger. And you can’t just go to the cabinet and resolve it. You have to deal with it. You have to embrace it. There’s no other option. So goes contest prep.
Same with tired and exhausted. Chances are your sleep schedule will go to hell, especially by the end of prep, when metabolism is running so fast that you have difficulty sleeping for more than two hours straight. Not to mention, waking up to pee at least three or four times per night. Who needs blocks of uninterrupted sleep? When deep in contest prep, sleep becomes a luxury that most can’t afford. You just learn to live without it. So if you need your solid eight hours of beauty rest, chances are, physique competition is not for you.
Do you enjoy having a social life? If so, forget competing. No going to the bar, no going to restaurants, no hanging out with friends and ordering a pizza. Hell, by the end of my prep, I can hardly handle going to the movies, lest the smell of popcorn puts me in a foul mood for the rest of the day. By the end of your prep, you can pretty much expect to be sequestered in your house, hiding from the outside world. Your friends will start to give you a hard time—“Where have you been, man? How come you don’t hang out anymore?” Parties are out. Family functions become infinitely more difficult. Office parties?—hell no. Essentially anything and everything social will cease to exist, at least for a stretch of time.
And speaking of family get-togethers—are you the type of person who cares at all what your parents and family think of you? If so, good luck competing. You can expect weeks or months on end of, “Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you getting so skinny? You don’t look healthy. Is this healthy? Why can’t you eat my meatloaf? It’s got protein in it. You’re not normal anymore”. Nag nag nag, bitch bitch bitch. If this sort of thing bothers you, well then, competing probably isn’t for you.
Are you a planner, or more of the free-spirited type? If the latter, forget about competing. By the end of your prep, virtually every minute of every day will have to be regulated and accounted for—timing your meals to the minute, trying to cram in hours of cardio, hours of training, hours of tanning, hours of practicing posing. Getting ready for a show is much like a second job, only the pay sucks, the benefits suck, and there’s no retirement plan. If you can’t mentally handle being a well-oiled regimented machine that runs efficiently like clockwork on a day-to-day basis, give up your dream of getting on stage.
Related to that is your degree of OCD. Successful competitors are often a bit on the obsessive side, counting calories, grams, ounces on the scale, minutes on the stepper, sets, and reps. Everything needs to be weighed, portioned, timed, stored, toted, and lugged around with you, everywhere you go. Planning on running out for a few hours to take care of some errands? You better bring your lunchbox with you. Going to be on the road? Better find a gas station with a microwave. Going out of town for the weekend? Better arrange to have a hotel with a fridge and a microwave, and plan on prepping and bringing all of your food with you. There are no breaks, and there is no vacation, at least until the show is over. At that point, you can go back to “somewhat normal”. But until then, life becomes a bit like Groundhog Day, where each and every 24-hour block is a ritual of repeating the same meals, the same motions, the same schedule, going to the gym, sometimes two or three times a day, grinding it out, meal by meal, week by week. And you can’t wing it. It simply won’t work.
How about physical pain? Are you a fan, or no? If no, forget about competing. By the end of your prep, you can expect every part of your body to hurt, pretty much all of the time. Your feet will start to blister from the endless cardio sessions. Your legs will feel like they are made of lead from the sheer workload. Your joints will start to dry out and simple tasks like ascending a flight of stairs now take on epic proportions of difficulty. Muscles will recovery slower, and your immune system will probably drop, making you more likely to get sick, or at least feel under the weather at all times. You will even find that you start debating internally when it’s worth it to talk, and when it really isn’t that important, as talking itself becomes a chore when you’re that tired. Your eyeballs will hurt from lack of sleep, your lips will dry out and crack from being dehydrated, your lower back and hamstrings will be chronically tight from hours on the treadmill or stepper. Basically, you will hurt. Sound awesome yet?
And how about self-esteem: do you like having it? Because chances are, once you’re in prep mode, you will do nothing but obsess about all of your physical flaws, and completely overlook the beautiful physique that you built. You will stare at all of the other competitors and think, “Geez, that person looks amazing, and I look like shit”. Rationality and objectivity fly completely out the window, and life turns into a rollercoaster of emotions, with far more downs than ups. Then come show day, you can expect to take the stage and be told that you’re not good enough, because somebody who has been training five times longer than you, or simply has better genetics, decided to show up and make you look like an asshole.
This is what you can expect, if you decide that physique competition is for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love prepping for a show. I love the discipline, the daily purpose, knowing that with each step on the treadmill I am a few inches closer to achieving my goal. During those moments, I wouldn’t trade contest prep for anything in the world. But I’m also something of a masochist by nature—I like seeing how hard I can push myself, what I can take both mentally and physically, before I cave. Right now, before hiring a coach, before picking out a show, before any of that, you need to look deep within your soul, and ask if the same is true for you. Are you meant to compete? Only you can answer that. Unfortunately, most people are too delusional to really find the truth. If you do go through with it, you will always look at it as one of the greatest things you ever did with your life. But it will be a long and painful road to get there.
Don’t just look at the end result. Look at the road that leads there. And then, you will be able to honestly answer the question: Are you meant for physique competition?
-David A. Johnston