Lessons From An Unlikely, Introverted Competitor

Over the weekend, I competed at the 2014 NPC Texas State show in the open middleweight bodybuilding division. If that sounds something out of the norm for an introverted, life-long skinny guy, well, that was part of the motivation.   Like most sporting events that require pushing the body to the extreme, it was a very difficult task. As with most difficult goals, there is a lot to be learned…

It is good to get out of your comfort zone. As someone who is fairly introverted, getting up on a stage in front of more than 1000 people spray-tanned like an Oompa Loompa and wearing nothing more than a speedo is something well outside my comfort zone. But that was the point – to do things outside my comfort zone. As I have aged well into my 40s now, I notice many people in my age demographic seem to settle into a risk-adverse life and accept a fair amount of perceived safety and complacency for fear of change. Often, this manifests in staying in jobs they no longer have a passion for, but the job is comfortable and changing jobs may require effort (picking up new skills) and risk (the grass may not be greener…but, then again, it might be). As well, other life goals that are hard fall by the wayside. Maybe I have hit a mid-life crisis, but I just do not want to be one of these people who never take a chance on doing something outside my comfort zone.  Taking risks means there will be failures and success, but we all learn from failures and that makes us better in the long run. It also means not reaching some point late in life and having regret about not trying something daring or on a bucket list.

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Challenging goals are hard. Most people will fail. You better figure out why you want to do it. Like any other event where you push your body, contest prep is really hard. Training at a serious gym (Destination Dallas), we get a lot of people interested in doing a show. They will work with one of our contest prep coaches, come up with a show, and a plan to be ready for that show. By the time that show comes, more than half will have quit along the way or will have failed to achieve the conditioning for that show and have to target a later one. It takes a great deal of discipline and time to go on a strict diet, cardio, and lifting sessions for 12-20 weeks. Most people cannot handle the rigorous regimen. Often, the ones that do it successfully really wanted to achieve the end goal; the ones who dropped out, didn’t — it is really that simple most of the time. It seems like a lot of folks sign up to do a show with other motives: other people in the gym do it, so they do it to “fit in”; attention seeking (daily social media posts about their workouts and how difficult it all is in-between daily selfies); etc. Internal motivation is often more powerful than external ones, which is why internally-motivated people usually see the challenge to the end.

Always be accountable. I ended up dieting around 20 weeks and strictly followed the instructions of my friend and coach TJ Clark. I never cheated, missed a weigh-in, or progress check-in. I am always surprised by those who do not make the progress they should insist they are following their coach’s instructions, but being tagged by a friend at a bar (and looking wasted) on a facebook photo or being seen at a restaurant having food not on their diet plan would contradict that. If you screw up, own it, so that any slow-down in progress can be mitigated.

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There is no coach who has secret, magic way to escape hard work. Not too uncommon is the practice of coach-hopping. People who quit along the way to doing a show will switch to another prep coach. Sometimes, this will happen more than once. Almost always, these are people who failed to follow their coach’s plan and rather than take responsibility for that, they switch to another coach as if the new coach has some magical – hoped to be easier – plan. Typically, they fail there since the problem is their own lack of discipline in following a plan, not what any coach has come up with.

If you are older, the secret is to get ahead of schedule. The cruelty of getting into your 30s is that stripping fat off your midsection is a lot harder than it is when you were in your 20s. As someone in their 40s, it only gets harder. For this show, I really wanted to be ahead of schedule, so I was fairly close to show-ready 4-5 weeks out, and that allowed the final weeks to be more about fine-tuning. It was a tough path – there were about 5 weeks midway through of double cardio sessions each day and no cheat meals, but I got to the show in the leanest shape I have ever been.

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Work with a good coach and one you have a good rapport with. At the gym, we have a number of trainers that compete and prep people for shows. Use a coach that has a successful track record of getting people ready for a show. Also important is having a good relationship that allows both parties to be open and honest on progress. As mentioned above, TJ Clark did my diet and would be recommended. I also workout once a week with Armon Adibi, who also has a strong track record of getting clients ready.

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