The sport of bodybuilding teaches many great lessons including but not limited to determination, sacrifice, planning, prioritizing and hard work. It teaches you how to get by in life with a little less than what you’re used to and gives a whole new meaning to the saying “Suck it up and get it done.” It’s an experience that I don’t regret and am very proud of but one I wish I had thought twice about before jumping head first into. I blindly jumped without giving it a second thought because people around me were doing it (yes, like the old adage if your friends were jumping off a bridge would you?), desperately convincing myself towards the end that it was something I had always wanted to do but never really taking into consideration my personal values and what makes me happy. If you’ve ever had a thought about competing consider these three things and don’t get to the end of your 20-week prep thinking, “Why did I do that?”
WHY DO YOU WANT TO COMPETE?
The stage does not dignify being healthy and the sport of bodybuilding is not meant to be long term. Low body fat percentage, visible abs and muscle striations do not make someone healthier and if you’re thinking you want to compete in terms of physique goals stop now—don’t compete. Even though the sport of bodybuilding is rooted in aesthetics the root of your "Why" should not be. At the end of the day bodybuilding is a sport, there is dedication and hard work required, and if your “Why” is only to finally have a physique to be proud of you will not be happy with the results because a bodybuilding physique is fast, fleeting and non-maintainable. If done right, and with the right intentions the lessons learned along the way can be maintainable but if not, serious mental, physical and emotional damage can be done. Make sure your “Why” is in check and that you want to compete for more reasons other than changing your appearance. Root your “Why” in performance, strength and challenging yourself out of your comfort zone—because all of those things are in your control, the way your body looks and changes is not.
DO YOU HAVE THE FOUNDATION?
Last year, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. If I were so inclined, I could go back to school and receive my Master’s degree but by no means would I have been ready, or do they even allow, someone to pursue a Master’s degree before they have their Bachelor’s. Think of Bodybuilding as the Master’s degree—before you pursue it you should have the Bachelor’s or the foundation in nutrition and training to be successful. If you don’t have the foundation spend time building the foundation because the stage isn’t going anywhere. If you think you might like competing but don’t know how to track macros (or even what a macro is), or if you haven’t spent at least six months strength training I urge you to put in the time to build a strong foundation. I knew what a macro was and I had been working out but I didn’t know how to track my food and I never had any experience following a specific strength-training program. I had a small foundation but I wish it had been much bigger and much stronger. The bigger your foundation the more successful and enjoyable your first time on stage will be.
ARE YOU READY TO MAKE SACRIFICES?
I still remember Derek (my coach) asking me before prep began if I was ready to make sacrifices. I thought, of course I am. I consider myself a strong, hard-willed, determined person and I felt ready to sacrifice whatever it took—but was I really? At the beginning it was easy to be gung-ho. It was easy to give up occasional treats, cut my carbs and spend more time in the gym—those were things I had done before and I was fine sacrificing but as the weeks went by it became harder and harder. I remember Fourth of July weekend at my lake house while my entire family was enjoying huge breakfast spreads, barbeque, and my favorite American flag cake while I was making my own breakfasts, asking for grilled chicken without the barbeque sauce and longingly looking at the treats. This, for me, was where the sacrifices were not worth it. I wasn’t missing out on spending time with my family but a big part of my family values stems from enjoying food around the table with the ones I love and not being able to enjoy what they were eating was really hard for me. Where do you draw your line? For me, it was there. Are you willing to sacrifice life and limb to be up on the stage? Are you willing to pack your meals and say no a lot? It’s fine if you’re not but understand that that’s what it takes. The sacrifices are temporary but if you’re not ready for them and aren’t willing to follow through they can throw your prep into a very negative and unhappy spiral. Make sure you’re ready, prepare your mind for what’s to come and if you’re not willing to give something up draw your line and stick by it without feeling guilty--this sport isn't for everyone.
People ask me all the time if I would ever compete again and without hesitation I say “No.” I’m simply not ready to even consider stepping on stage again and that’s OK. Maybe my answer will change as I grow and learn or maybe it won’t and that’s OK too. I’m learning and growing in my own life and interests just as much as everyone else and I hope that through my experiences of trying and failing and finding what I like and don’t like others can find what they like and don’t like and be a little more educated before jumping into things. There’s a lot to learn from bodybuilding and if you’ve ever had the slightest thought about competing I say go for it but make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.