There is little doubt that prepping for a bodybuilding/physique contest, especially if it is your first time doing so, can seem like quite a daunting task.
After all, there are so many vital “moving parts” necessary for bringing to the stage a shredded, separated, proportioned, symmetrical and muscular body that it is very easy to become seriously confused, overwhelmed – or both.
That is precisely why I am writing this piece for Muscle and Strength!
I want to help decrease the anxiety that often comes with attempting to map out a sensible plan for competition prep.
I myself have competed in over twenty bodybuilding competitions and have worked with 100’s clients all over the globe (novice to pro level – in every division) assisting in their contest preparations for over 25 years.
And while each of us is somewhat unique in the manner we respond to specific diets, workout programs and supplement regimens, I have been able to lock down a rather “universally effective,” 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!
Note: While in this article I will touch upon all aspects of successful contest prep, the main focus will be in providing the reader with detailed resistance training schedule for maximizing muscle retention while on a hypo-caloric, body fat incinerating, competition diet.
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The Prep Period
Before I begin to discuss the various vital areas of contest preparation I would like to mention an important point regarding the “off season.” It is my firm belief that those who are serious about competing, and ascending to the highest levels of the physique sports, should keep their body fat in a range that will allow for a prep period of no longer than 12-16 weeks.
By keeping your “conditioning” at a respectable level year around you will not only make your contest prep period smoother, easier and less mentally/physically exhausting, but will also allow for maximum retention of muscle mass (with cuts to spare) when you finally hit the stage.
Below you will find a list of high quality foods that can be included in your diet throughout your prep.
- Proteins: 96% (or better) lean beef, 95% (or better) lean turkey, turkey breast, chicken breast, lean cuts of steak, egg whites, game meats (bison, venison, ostrich), white fish, salmon, and very low carb protein powders (can be used for up to 2 meals per day).
- Carbohydrates: brown rice, white rice, sweet potato, white potato, red potato, whole grain bread, oatmeal, cream of wheat, quinoa, rice cakes, millet, carb powder, and all fruits (I recommend cutting out fruit at 4 weeks out).
- Vegetables: all green and colored types.
- Fats: walnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, olive oil, fish oil, flax oil coconut oil, nut butters.
In future articles I will discuss contest diets in greater detail, but suffice to say that each week you will likely need to reduce calories, usually in the form of carbohydrates. In addition, calories consumed on weight training days will be higher than on those days that you are sedentary or doing only cardio. I generally recommend for most a schedule of between 5 and 7 meals per day.
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 an intelligent supplementation regimen can make a significant difference to the final product you present to the judges.
Here is a list of some time-tested and scientifically validated products/compounds that should be included when preparing for competition.
- Beta Alanine
- Omega-3 Fish Oil
- Engineered Carbohydrate Powder
- Vasodilators/Pump Increasers
- Pre-Workout Energizers/Focus Enhancers
- Post Workout Recovery Facilitators
- Natural Sleep/Relaxation Aids
- Digestive Enzymes
Yes, there are a few (annoying) genetic freaks out there that have such naturally high metabolisms that they do not even 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 off lean muscle. I recommend starting off with a base amount of cardio (like 20 minutes per day on training days and 30 min per day on off days, for example) at the beginning of prep and then progressively increasing the amount by 2.5 to 5 minutes per session each week.
Additionally, my experience has shown me that morning; fasted cardio (when possible) leads to the most rapid and efficient decreases in body fat.
The Contest Prep Training Program
The goal when preparing for a contest is to retain every ounce of muscle you worked your rear-end off to accrue during the “off season.” To accomplish this you must not only continue to train intensely, but also intelligently vary your methods so that you are stimulating every physiological pathway responsible for hypertrophy.
This is precisely why I am presenting to Muscle & Strength readers a muscle-mass-stimulating protocol that I developed after many years of research and experimentation that is known as POWER/REP RANGE/SHOCK™.
While I cannot go in to detail in this article about the specifics of this program, and why it is so effective, I can provide for you a detailed (3 week) sample program that can be utilized for an entire 12-16 week prep period.
|1. Bench Press||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|2. Incline Bench Press||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|3. Dumbbell Fly||3/0/X||2||6-8|
|4. Dumbbell Pullover||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|5. Barbell Preacher Curl||3/1/X||3||6-8|
|6. Incline Alternating Curl||3/1/X||2||6-8|
|7. Single Arm Cable Curl||3/0/X||2||6-8|
|8. Hammer Concentration Curl||3/0/X||2||6-8|
|9. Seated Barbell Wrist Curl||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|10. Cable Crunch||2/0/1/1||3||13-15|
|11. Weighted Leg Raise||2/0/1||2||13-15|
|1. Leg Press||3/0/X||2||6-8|
|2. Hack Squats||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|3. Leg Extensions||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|4. Walking Dumbbell Lunge||3/0/X||2||6-8 Each|
|5. Stiff Leg Deadlift||2/0/X||3||6-8|
|6. Seated Leg Curl||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|7. Single Leg Curl||3/0/X||2||6-8 Each|
|8. Seated Calf Raise||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|9. Single Leg Calf Press||2/1/X||3||6-8 Each|
|1. Wide Grip Seated Cable Row||2/0/X||3||6-8|
|2. Underhand Grip Bent Over Row||2/0/X||3||6-8|
|3. Close Grip Pull Down||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|4. Dumbbell Pullover||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|5. Rack Pull||2/1/X||2||6-8|
|7. Weighted Leg Raise||2/0/1||3||13-15|
|8. Weighted Incline Sit Up||2/0/1/1||2||13-15|
|1. Arnold Dumbbell Press||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|2. Single Arm Cable Lateral Raise||2/1/X||3||6-8|
|3. Single Arm Cable Bent Rear Delt Fly||2/1/X||3||6-8|
|4. Barbell Upright Row||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|5. Barbell Shrug||2/0/X/1||2||6-8|
|6. EZ Bar Extension||3/0/X||3||6-8|
|7. Weighted Tricep Dip||3/0/X||2||6-8|
|8. V Bar Pushdown||2/0/X/1||2||6-8|
|9. Standing Calf Raise||2/1/X||3||6-8|
|10. Seated Calf Raise||2/0/X||2||6-8|
|1. Cable Crossover||2/0/2/1||2||16-20|
|2. Dumbbell Fly||2/1/2||2||13-15|
|3. Smith Machine Bench||2/0/2||3||10-12|
|4. Dumbbell Incline Press||2/0/2||3||7-9|
|5. Spider Curl||2/0/2/1||2||13-15|
|6. Machine Curl||2/0/2||2||10-12|
|7. Incline Alternating Dumbbell Curl||2/1/2||3||7-9|
|8. Barbell Reverse Wrist Curl||1/0/1/1||2||16-20|
|9. Rope Cable Hammer Curl||2/0/2||2||10-12|
|10. Leg Raise||2/0/1||2||Max Reps|
|11. Weighted Crunch||2/0/2/1||2||Max Reps|
|1. Leg Press||2/0/2||2||16-20|
|2. Hack Squats||2/0/2||3||13-15|
|3. Leg Extension||2/0/2/1||3||10-12|
|4. One Legged Leg Press||2/0/2||2||7-9 Each|
|5. Adduction Machine||2/0/2||2||16-20|
|6. Seated Leg Curl||2/0/2||2||13-15|
|7. Stiff Leg Deadlift||2/0/2||2||10-12|
|8. Lying Leg Curl||2/0/2||2||7-9 Each|
|9. Seated Calf Raise||2/0/1||2||16-20|
|10. Single Leg Calf Press||2/1/1||3||10-12 Each|
|1. Wide Grip Pull Down||2/0/2||3||16-20|
|2. Smith Machine Row||2/0/1||3||13-15|
|3. Wide Grip Seated Cable Row||2/0/2||3||10-12|
|4. One Arm Dumbbell Row||2/1/1||3||7-9|
|7. Lying Side Crunch||1/0/1/1||2||Max Reps Each|
|8. Leg Raise||2/0/1||2||Max Reps|
|1. Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise||2/0/2||2||16-20|
|2. Cable Front Raise||2/0/2||2||13-15|
|3. Smith Machine Military Press||2/0/2||2||10-12|
|4. Single Arm Cable Lateral Raise||2/0/2/1||3||7-9|
|5. Dumbbell Shrug||1/0/1/1||2||16-20|
|6. EZ Bar Upright Row||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|7. Straight Bar Pushdown||2/0/1||1||16-20|
|9. Seated One Arm Dumbbell Overhead Extension||2/0/2||2||10-12|
|10. Single Arm Rope Pushdown||2/0/1/1||2||7-9|
|11. Seated Calf Raise||2/0/1/1||2||16-20|
|12. Standing Calf Raise||2/1/1/1||2||10-12|
|1. Bench Press (Drop Sets)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|2. Hammer Machine Incline Press (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|3a. Incline Dumbbell Fly||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|3b. Cable Crossover||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|4a. Incline Curl||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|4b. Barbell Curl||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|5. Dumbbell Preacher Curl (Drop Sets)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|6. Seated Barbell Wrist Curl||2/0/1||1||10-12|
|7a. Cable Reverse Curl||2/0/1||1||10-12|
|7b. Alternating Hammer Curl||2/0/1||1||10-12|
|8a. Leg Raise||2/0/1||2||Max Reps|
|8b. Side Plank||-||2||Max Time Each|
|9. Cable Crunch (Drop Sets)||2/0/1||1||16-20|
|1. Leg Extensions (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|2a. Leg Press||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|2b. Plie Squats||2/0/1||2||13-15|
|3. Smith Machine Split Squat (Dropset)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|4. Lying Leg Curl (1.5 Reps)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|5a. Seated Leg Curl||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|5b. Good Morning||2/0/1||2||13-15|
|6. Seated Calf Raise||2/0/1||1||13-15|
|7a. Calf Press||1/0/1||2||7-9|
|7b. Standing Calf Raise||1/0/1||2||7-9|
|1. Smith Machine Row (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|2a. Dumbbell Pullover||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|2b. Underhand Seated Cable Row||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|3. Close Grip Pull Down (Drop Set)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|4. Deadlift (Rest Pause)||2/1/1||2||7-9|
|5a. Crunch Machine||2/0/1||2||16-20|
|5b. Side Plank||-||2||Max Time Each|
|6. Hanging Leg Raise||2/0/1||1||Max Reps|
|1a. Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raise||2/0/1||2||10-12|
|1b. Seated Bent Over Lateral Raise||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|2. Machine Shoulder Press (Dropset)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|3. Barbell Front Raise (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||1||10-12|
|4a. Dumbbell Shrug||1/0/1/1||2||13-15|
|4b. EZ Bar Upright Row||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|5. Bench Dips (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||1||Max Reps|
|6. Cable Overhead Extension (Dropset)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|7b. Close Grip Bench Press||2/0/1||1||7-9|
|8. Standing Calf Raise (Dropset)||2/0/1||2||7-9|
|9. Calf Press (Rest Pause)||2/0/1||1||10-12|
Repeat workout for the 12-16 weeks by cycling the workout weeks.
Note: Tempo refers to the speed at which one completes the various contractions within each repetition. It is expressed in seconds, with an “X” meaning “as explosively as possible.”
The first number is seconds for the eccentric (negative) contraction; the second number is seconds at the midpoint/stretch; the third number is seconds for the concentric (positive) contraction; and if there is a fourth number, this refers to the peak contraction or squeeze at the end of a repetition.