Written By: Jared Bichler, Ian McCarthy, and Victoria Smith
Each year, as competition season rolls around, you tend to see the same people upping the frequency of their social media posts so as to track their progress for another round of physique competitions. Unfortunately, many of these people largely replicate their placings year after year. It’s as if they think simply going through the same contest prep process, over and over again, is all they need to do to improve. This is frequently not the case.
If you consistently place poorly at shows, and desire to significantly improve your performance, something needs to change. In many cases, this change should take the form of a least a full year away from competing. This has numerous benefits, including:
1. Better physical and psychological health
In most cases, getting into true stage conditioning entails any number of a variety of negative physical and psychological effects, including extreme lethargy, low testosterone, amenorrhea or other menstrual disturbances, low libido, anxiety, depression, and obsessive thoughts relating to food. For some, these negative health effects don't go away until deep into an offseason. As such, giving yourself more time between shows allows you fully recover from, and prepare for, the stresses of contest preparation.
2. Greater improvements in muscularity from show to show
As a general rule, contest preparation (taken as a whole) is not a period in which you will be able to improve your muscularity. In addition, if you're a natural athlete, it's probably going to take longer than a 3-6 month offseason to gain enough muscle to present a significantly better-developed physique on stage. As such, if you are placing poorly because of a lack of sufficient muscle mass, that’s unlikely to change if you continue to compete on a frequent basis, unless you simply enter shows with a lower standard of competition. Keep in mind that gaining weight more quickly in the offseason, in hopes of speeding up the process of making improvements while still making prep deadlines, probably won't generate better hypertrophy than will gaining weight more slowly, and will likely result in excessive fat gain; the end result is that you will probably begin the ensuing prep with no more muscle than you would have otherwise, more bodyfat, will have to cut longer and/or harder to get in shape, will risk losing more muscle in doing so, and may ultimately look worse on stage.
3. Increases in macronutrient intake and a better understanding of your metabolism
Although we don't endorse extended reverse dieting, we do believe a longer offseason gives time in which to increase your macronutrient intake to the highest possible level at which it can be set baring excessive fat gain, which may eventually allow you to cut on higher macros and/or with less cardio. In addition, this extra time allows you to experiment with different macronutrient approaches, and get a better sense of that which works best for you.
The bottom line is this: don’t bank on serendipity to do well in shows. Be patient, and recognize it may take a lengthy offseason to look remarkably different on stage. In taking the long-term approach, you take one step back in order to take ten steps forward. While your competition will be slaving away in contest prep for half or three-quarters of the year, only to look much the same on stage, you will be laying the foundation necessary to present a profoundly improved physique. Oh, and you get to eat donuts.
Note: this post was written specifically with those who desire to be competitive on stage in mind. If you compete simply because you enjoy it, this post may not be relevant to you.