I guess the official start of my journey to the Northern was three years ago when I attended my first bodybuilding contest. I went to the NPC "Monster Mash" contest in the fall of 2003 to watch a friend compete. I considered myself a powerlifter at the time (I had competed in three powerlifting events and had won two of them). But, as I watched the show I thought, "Heck, I can do this".
A year later, I found myself getting ready to compete in the same show. It was my first bodybuilding experience and I had no idea what to expect or how much preparation was required. I started my contest prep six weeks out at about 12% bodyfat. I did what I thought I should do, kicked up my cardiovascular training and probably got my bodyfat down to the low 7% range the week of the show. My abs were coming in, but my legs weren’t. I had size but very little definition in my legs. I finished 3rd in the novice class and 8th in the open class.
I went to the Northern Kentucky Bodybuilding Championships as a spectator in March, 2005. I wanted to check out the competition and get a feel for how I might do at this show. I was inspired. I realized that to compete at a show of this caliber, I had to make it a point to work my legs consistently and with more intensity. My goal was to get myself ready for the "Monster Mash" later that fall. Being new to the sport, I really didn’t know of many other shows and just thought I would stick to this one due to my familiarity with it. Unfortunately, my job required me to be out of the country for three weeks in September so the Monster Mash was nixed.
In November, after much contemplation, I made my decision to compete in the 2006 Northern Kentucky. My goal was to make the top five in the open class. I started watching my food intake a little more closely and then in December attended Beverly International’s Contest Countdown workshop. At the first session, twelve weeks out from the show, we came up with a game plan for the next four weeks. It was two weeks before Christmas, I had several parties and family gatherings to attend, and I wasn’t ready to stick with the nutrition plan. I did follow it when there were no social functions, but on the other days I had a tendency to indulge myself with cookies, breads, ice cream, pizza, etc.
The second Contest Countdown workshop at Beverly was January 7th. I did not make much progress (less than a half percent drop). The importance of sticking to my diet was now much clearer. I was ready to get serious. I decided to stick to my diet. Guess what? When you stick to your diet, it works better.
The Contest Countdown workshops were scheduled every two weeks, and goals for the next assessment were set at each session. My improvement was continuous. I didn’t even have to change my diet from the ten-week-out point to four-week-out.
Meal 1: five egg whites, one whole egg; one-half cup oatmeal; six ounces lean meat (I usually used 96% lean ham). I’d mix the eggs and oatmeal together cooking them in a ten-inch skillet with one tbsp olive oil. I seasoned with ground black pepper, Tabasco sauce, and salsa. (I also used ketchup on occasion until about four weeks out.)
Meal 2: eight ounces lean meat (typically I used chicken, occasionally I would use steak); six ounce sweet potato; one or two cups green beans.
Meal 3: eight ounces lean meat (chicken or tuna); one apple.
Meal 4: I made a shake as follows – add ten ounces water to a blender (less water for thicker shakes and sometimes four ice cubes), two scoops Muscle Provider, two tablespoons heavy whipping cream, and six strawberries (I used frozen strawberries to make the shake more like a frozen treat) then blend.
Meal 5: eight ounces lean meat (chicken, steak, or fish); one or two cups vegetables (green beans, or sometimes salad greens).
I would pre-cook two bags of frozen chicken breasts every three or four days; thaw the chicken, cut it into smaller cubes, marinade it overnight in a low fat/low sugar marinade, and then bake it the next day.
I always used frozen vegetables because they were the easiest for me to prepare. I’d just microwave them for three minutes.
Snacking: Sometimes when I’d get really hungry I’d have a snack between meals. Dill pickles were a life saver – almost no calories and they relieved my hunger. Sugar Free Jell-O was also a lifesaver. To be perfectly honest there were a few times when I’d eat one small granola bar, or a couple of Cheese-It Crackers, too.
My water intake was right at 1¼ gallons per day at this point.
Leg Worries: I started worrying about my legs and voiced my concern at that week’s workshop. Roger suggested that I add a second, lighter, leg day to my routine (three supersets of hack squats and front squats with just thirty seconds rest between supersets). It was at this point that I established a consistent cardiovascular routine rather than the hit and skip program I’d been doing.
The transformation really started to go into high gear at the eight week milestone. I saw changes in my body from week to week. My bodyweight was dropping consistently – not too much at once, but just a nice, steady drop as my condition kept getting better and better. This really helped my outlook. I started getting a little more excited, which in turn made me want to work even harder. I started to pay attention to the finer details of diet and training. For example, I took a closer look at the condiments I was using with my meals. Rather than just going to the gym and going through the motions, I evaluated each exercise to see how I could get the most from it. I also tried to get to the tanning bed twice a week.
A Diet Change
At four weeks out the people at Beverly decided to raise the bar. I’d made great progress but now I had to set my sights even higher. It was time for my first diet change in eight weeks. I started stressing. In my mind I was making great progress and feared the thought of change this close to the contest. However, I knew Beverly’s crew has been through this contest prep thing with competitors at all levels. Now, this experience would pay off in my reaching a condition I did not know that I was even capable of reaching. Basically, the diet removed the main carbohydrate foods from my meals and added one carbohydrate only meal to Monday and Thursday.
After three days on the diet my bodyweight had increased and I thought I was smoothing out. Later, I came to realize that I was unconsciously taking in more sodium and therefore holding more water, thus the slight weight gain. I eliminated the foods with the higher sodium content and my confidence started to return once again. I even started to increase my water intake. I worked my way up to 2-2 ½ gallons per day by the final week.
Diet from 4 weeks to the tuesday before the show
Meal 1: five egg whites, one whole egg; six ounces lean meat; one red grapefruit. Condiments included ground black pepper, Tabasco sauce, salsa, or diced jalapeños.
Meal 2: six ounce can of tuna, one tomato, three egg whites, dill relish for flavor (after a week I eliminated this meal altogether for a week, then brought it back and replaced the canned tuna and eggs with six ounces of chicken.
Meal 3: eight ounces chicken breast, four cups salad (lettuce, tomato, carrot, green peppers, etc.) I used a fat free Italian dressing on my salad. This dressing seemed the most harmless as far as the carb and sugar content. I also added sliced jalapeños and sliced banana peppers to the salad for some kick.
Meal 4: two scoops Muscle Provider or Ultimate Muscle Protein, ten ounces water, two strawberries.
Meal 5: eight ounces chicken breast, two cups green beans (sometimes I replaced ½ cup green beans with ½ cup diced bell peppers).
Meal 6: (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday only): six egg whites, one cup omelet vegetables, five ounces chicken.
Meal 6: (Monday and Thursday Carb Up meal): one and one-half cups oatmeal; plus a ten ounce sweet potato; plus a large banana; and one cup green beans.
On Tuesday and Friday I ate just the first five meals listed.
The hardest part of my contest prep was finding time to practice my posing. I always had an excuse. Then, three weeks out from the Northern I happened across a little booth at the Arnold Classic that was selling a little device called the "Gym Boss" that you can set to vibrate at a certain timed interval. You’re supposed to use it to time your rest intervals at the gym, but it worked perfectly for me to practice posing. I started out by setting it to 15 second intervals and practiced holding each pose for 15 seconds. Each posing session I increased the time. I worked my way up to holding each pose for a full minute. Another trick I learned was to hold the front relaxed pose as long as I could while in the tanning bed. The more I posed, the better I looked. I wish I’d started posing practice a lot earlier in my contest prep.
Final Two Weeks
The last two weeks were the toughest. My energy levels had decreased significantly. I was getting fewer calories; I was a bit more "on edge", and sometimes downright grouchy. Fortunately, I worked through it thanks to the support of my girlfriend, my parents, my girlfriend’s parents, and everyone that helped me at Beverly International.
My diet remained the same through Tuesday the week of the show. I added half a cup of oatmeal at meal one and half cup of white rice at meal three on both Wednesday and Thursday. I also had my regular carb meal on Thursday evening. The reasoning for this was to start replenishing glycogen with no chance of spillover. Friday was basically beef and grapefruit throughout the day and a cup of oatmeal before bed.
I weighed in Friday evening at 170. Saturday, I showed up for the competitors’ meeting with 233 other athletes. This show was going to be huge. The prejudging was intense. (Lucky I’d finally got my posing practice in gear.) In fact, I was actually able to have a little fun onstage. We hit every pose multiple times and when not doing a comparison pose it was back to that front stance (remember, I’d been practicing holding it while tanning and now it was paying off). The evening show came and I was called out in the top five. That meant I had achieved my original goal. Then I surpassed it when I was awarded the first place trophy in the open middleweight class.
Super-Set Hack Squats with Front Squats; 3 sets of 12 reps on each exercise
30 seconds rest between sets
Wide Pull-Down – 4x10
Narrow Pull-Down – 4x10
Bent Rows (Alternating 3 weeks with Dumbbells then 3 weeks with Barbell) 3x10
Super-Set Wide Seated Row with Reverse Flye – 3 sets of 10 reps each
Random 3 Exercises – I often Super-Set dumbbells with one exercise (heavy-light)
Super-Set Barbell Curl with Alternating Dumbbell Curl – 3 sets x 10 reps each
Top Pulley Cable Curl – 3x12 (Hold at peak contraction to simulate bicep pose)
20 minutes on Stepmill (Escalator style of step machine)
Seated Military Press – Warm-up followed by 3 sets of 10
Seated Arnold Press – 3x10
Upright Rows – 3x10 (with a drop set after 3rd set.)
Front Raise (dumbbell or cable) – 3x10
Lateral Raise (dumbbell or cable) – 3x10
Shrug – 3x10-12
Random 3 Exercises
Rope Extensions – 3x20 followed by 3x10
Super-set Dumbbell Kickbacks with Cable Extensions. – 3 sets of 10 each
20 minutes on an Elliptical Machine THURSDAY LEGS 5 minute warm-up on Stepmill Squat (Week 1: 4x10, Week 2: sets of 15,10,8,8,6,6, Week 3: 5x5) Leg Press (super-set sissy squats with the leg press) – 3x12 Straight Leg Deadlift – 3x10 Leg Extensions – 3x12 (every other week do single leg) Leg Curl – 3x12
SATURDAY BACK Wide Pull Ups – 3 sets max Medium Grip Pull Ups – 3 sets max Dumbbell Pull-Overs – 3 sets 12-15 BICEPS Three (Random) Exercises – 3x10-12 each
Walk on a treadmill at an incline for 20 minutes
NOTE: Coming from a powerlifting background, I try to go heavy with almost every exercise. I’ll often reach failure 1 to 2 reps short of my target rep range and have to force the final reps. I get my abs and calves in by doing abdominal exercises or calf raises while I’m waiting for a particular exercise station.