Last year, I met Rachael, a girl prepping for her first bodybuilding show in March of 2013. She was behind schedule with prep, so I stepped in and helped push her the final dozen weeks. She was literally killing herself at the end of prep—2 hours of cardio every day, no carbs, virtually no fats, all protein and veggies, and training like her life depended on it.
About 3 weeks before the show, while taking her through legs, Rachael had what appeared to be a mini seizure during a set of hypextensions (presumably because of the changes in blood pressure due to the odd angle, coupled with being so cardiovascularly fit during that stage of prep). The EMTs were called, checked her out, she was fine, but of course, they wanted to tote her off to the hospital for further testing. He response at the time was, “Fuck no, I have a leg workout to finish”. And sure as could be, she stayed and finished that leg workout. I knew then and there, that, even though this was her first competition, she would one day be a great bodybuilder, or competitor in general. Her head was in the right spot. She had what it takes.
So what does it take? Prepping for a show, that is, and ensuring that you bring your absolute best? It takes some insanity for sure. It takes the type of person who almost revels in pain and discomfort. It takes a little bit of obsessive-compulsiveness—the active desire to weigh and measure all of your food and fluids, meal after meal, for months on end; to make lists of the tasks you need to accomplish on a daily basis, and slowly scratch item after item off of the list, day after day, hour after hour. Being a good competitor requires a high pain threshold. But more than anything, being a great competitor requires having a bottom-liner mentality that supersedes any other aspect of who you are: the mindset, “I don’t give a fuck what I have to do, what I have to rearrange, how much I have to suffer—I am going to do it, and all with a smile”. That is what it takes.
So here we are, round two, just about a year later, and Rachael is again in prep mode, along with myself, my wife, and several other clients of mine. She has shown more improvements in this past year in the gym, than I think I have ever seen anybody make in under a calendar year. Because she trains like her life depends on it, every time. Because she eats her food like her dreams depend on it, every meal. Because she grinds out the stepper, even when she despises it, even when every fiber of her being is yelling for her to stop.
But of course, we all know history has a tendency to repeat itself.
Two nights ago, I was training clients at my gym, and Rachael was training legs. She was in the backroom squatting with her training partner. I walked to the front room 20 minutes later, and was bombarded with questions—“Is Rachael okay?” I had no idea what these people were talking about.
At 10 weeks out, Rachael dropped a 45-lbs plate on her big toe off of the leg press. It split the skin, and the bone was exposed. She hobbled off, got in her car, and was rushed to the ER. I talked to her over text that night. Thankfully, there was no break or fracture. They just super-glued the hell out of the womb, put her in a walking boot, and gave her scripts for a ton of painkillers.
So what did we end up doing that night? We brainstormed over text ways that she could still complete her leg workouts, and her cardio, despite the injury.
The next night, in the gym, Rachael came hobbling in, wearing her new-found hardware—gimpy foot encased in an oversized boot. When she walked in, she got a round of applause from all of the other meatheads who were training that night. She waved off the accolades, and proceeded to work her way through a blistering arm workout—before somehow, miraculously, getting her ass on the stepper, jacked up foot and all, less than 24 hours after the injury, and completing her cardio. I’m guessing the Vicodin helped make the session a reality. I’m also guessing she would have completed that cardio, painkillers or no.
And that is what it takes. That is what separates a real competitor, from an also-ran. It takes a mindset of, “Nothing is going to stop me, derail me, and shut me down”. Take your comfort and shove it. Take your enjoyment and bury yourself with it. Take your entitlement, your bratty attitudes, your complexes and neuroses, and squash them. There will be plenty of time to clean out the closet and face those skeletons in the months following the competition. But until game day—until you get on that stage and dominate with as much force as your genetics and will can possibly muster—you either call upon what it takes, or you don’t.
-David A. Johnston