CARPE DIEM – this Latin phrase translates into, "seize the day." Basically, this mantra means to not let a precious day pass or go wasted without striving to achieve your goals. In other words, stop procrastinating and putting your dreams off until tomorrow, get off your rump and do it! It was this type of energized thinking that I had to employ if I was to enter and do well in a major bodybuilding contest like – The Northern Kentucky Bodybuilding Championships.
It has been a dream of mine to compete in this show for a long time. Every year I’d check out the results and hear great things about the show, BUT like a lot of people, I always had excuses for not entering. "I’m not big enough, I’m too busy, It’s too far away.. It’s not the right time... etc." Unfortunately, I let these excuses rule the day and each year I’d stand idly by as I squandered another opportunity to bring my best to that stage in Kentucky.
My mindset started to shift in 2005 when I won the light-heavyweight class at the Show-me-Naturals. This victory gave me the confidence to start seriously considering doing some larger bodybuilding contests. But again, over the next three years, the time never seemed to be right. My wife and I both changed jobs, we were looking for a new home, I started coaching varsity basketball, I began serving as a moderator for theirongame.com and most time consuming of all-- my wife became pregnant with our first child. Not only did I now have an excuse to not compete, but I had an excuse to get fat as well. I believe they call it sympathy weight. Well, if my wife was eating for two, so was I. (Actually, I may have been eating for three.)
Nine months and 20lbs of unneeded "sympathy" fat later, I found myself 3 years removed from my last contest, out of shape, and no closer to my bodybuilding goals. Finally, after my son, Derek, was born on 7/16/07, I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized there would never be a time when EVERYTHING was perfect, where my life wasn’t hectic or busy, where my body looked exactly like I wanted it to. If I waited for this mysterious "perfect" time, I’d just be waiting forever. The time was now! No more excuses! I’d decided it was time for me to CARPE DIEM! So I seized the day and started preparing for the toughest competition I’d ever done-- The 2008 Northern Kentucky Bodybuilding Championships.
CHAPTER ONE (23 Weeks Out)
I knew at a bodyweight of 225lbs (not pretty) that I’d need more time to diet than in the past. A simple 12-16 week diet just wasn’t going to cut it. Also, I realized that by losing weight slowly my ectomorphic frame would be able to retain (or maybe even gain) more muscle. I followed a diet similar to the one Todd Jackson used at the beginning of his contest prep in his article "Classic Physique" (NNN Volume 10 # 1). So at 23 weeks out, here is what my first diet looked like:
Meal 1: 1 whole egg, 4 whites, 4-6 oz of extra lean beef, omelet veggies, 1 grapefruit, and 1⁄2 cup of oats
Meal 2: 2 scoops of vanilla Ultimate Muscle Protein (sometimes with a few frozen strawberries)
Meal 3: 8oz grilled chicken, 2 cups of vegetables (mostly green beans or broccoli)
Meal 4: 2 scoops of Muscle Provider with one tbsp of heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon of Omega-3 Peanut Butter (just enough water to make pudding)
Meal 5: 8oz flank or round steak with 2 cups of vegetable or salad
*Had one or two cheat meals each week, almost always on Sunday
Supplements: 3 Ultra 40 with each meal or in between meals
3 Mass with each meal or in between meals
1 Super Pak
Cardio: 20-30 minutes, 4-5 times a week. I usually did moderate intensity walking at a low incline. However, I was sure to include at least one or two HIIT cardio sessions each week. Training – I followed a DC style program similar to the one Mike Milas wrote about in his article "Can A Natural Bodybuilder Continue to Improve in His Mid– 40s?" (https://bodybuildingworld.com/vol10_4/natural40.html) Essentially the program is based around progression, you are striving to increase your weight or reps every workout. To ratchet up the intensity, you also incorporate rest/pause techniques and extreme fascia stretching. It is a very intense program that, in my opinion, works best in the off–season or a bulking cycle. However, in this first stage off my contest prep., I felt I was able to handle it AND gained a few pounds of muscle before I had to go into the second, more difficult stage of my preparations.
CHAPTER 2 (16 Weeks Out)
The first seven weeks of my program had shed those 20lbs of "sympathy" fat and resulted in a few new pounds of muscle. I was now sitting at a bodyweight of 205 which was much better, but no where near competition ready. I knew that I had to really start attacking the body fat during this next stage.
The first change I made was to increase my cardio to five days a week. Occasionally, I performed two 25 minute sessions on non-training days. My diet switched to the typical Beverly precontest diet which can be found in the "Contest Countdown Workshop" article. (NNN Volume 11 # 4)
My new diet plan no longer had any cheat meals. It consisted of the following:
Meal 1: 1 whole egg, 3 whites, 4 oz lean beef, 1 grapefruit
Meal 2: 2 scoops UMP with one teaspoon of heavy whipping cream
Meal 3: 6-8 oz grilled chicken and 2 cups of green beans or broccoli
Meal 4: 2 scoops MP made a pudding (occasionally added a spoonful of Omega-3 Peanut Butter)
Meal 5: 6-8 oz of chicken, 2-3 cups of salad with Newman’s lite dressing
Meal 6 (if necessary) – 2 scoops Muscle Provider or 1 egg and 4 whites
Monday/Thursday (refeed)– on Monday and Thursday night in place of meal six I would have the following high carbohydrate meal : 1 banana, 1 and ½ cup oats, 8 oz sweet potato, 1 cup of low carb veggies, and 1 spoonful of Omega-3 peanut butter.
* I used the same supplements as before, but added 1-2 Lean Out capsules with each meal.
These adjustments to my diet and cardio worked well. They brought me down to a solid 195lbs with no noticeable loss of muscle. I was starting to look pretty good, but it was now time to flip the switch into full blown, all out, contest prep mode!
CHAPTER 3 (12 Weeks Out)
Time to go ALL out! I knew that in order to achieve my best condition ever, I’d have to analyze every aspect of my diet, cardio, training, and supplementation. After scouring through all my issues of the No Nonsense Newsletter, I formulated a final plan of attack.
Diet: My diet was working well so I didn’t change much. I went down to 1⁄2 a grapefruit with meal one, cut the cream or peanut butter out of my final shake, and rarely had the -only if I’m starving–– sixth meal. (I still kept the Monday/Thursday refeed meals. Do NOT be tempted to take these out thinking that it will help you lose fat. Your glycogen levels will plummet and your metabolism will slow down making it even HARDER to lose body fat.)
Supplements: In the last 12 weeks, I am a big believer in quality supplements. I do not feel that natural competitors can do the necessary cardio, weight training, diet, and achieve their best condition without supplementation. I stick with the brand I trust, Beverly. These are the supplements I took the last 12 weeks and what each supplement does for me.
I know this seems like a lot, but it really helps me recover and maintain my muscle mass on such a strict diet. For an ectomorph like me, this is very important.
With cardio, I had to walk that fine line between too much and not enough. I needed to increase my cardio to get ripped, but too much could cost me some precious muscle. The best way for me to balance this is to do HIIT cardio, which seems to be much more muscle sparing. I used Dave Payne’s "High Intensity Cardio" article as a guideline. (https://bodybuildingworld.com/vol6_3/cardio.html )
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is when you alternate periods of all out intense cardio work with low intensity periods of work. Using a 20 minute cardio workout on the Stairmaster as an example, you begin with a few minutes of warm-up at maybe a level 2 (out of 20). Then you bump up the level to 10 and grind out 2 minutes, then back to level 2 or 3 for a couple minutes, then up to level 12 for a couple minutes, then back down, and so on. You continue with these "intervals" until you hit your target time or calorie goal.
I started doing cardio (mostly HIIT) 5– 10 sessions per week, sometimes once a day, sometimes twice, sometimes not at all if I needed more recovery. Instead of minutes, I charted calories burned. I started at week 12 with 1500 calories burned and just increased it by 10% each week. (Until week 4, after that I just maintained). Also, instead of increasing the time, I tried to increase the intensity and burn more calories in the same amount of time.
Training: At this stage of the game, I needed a workout routine where I could hold on to as much muscle mass as possible and maximize fat loss. I followed a routine almost identical to the one found in the article, "Pre Contest Training: How to become lean without sacrificing muscle" (NNN Volume 9 # 3). It incorporates a lot of supersets, short rest periods, a quick workout tempo, and an emphasis on proper form and really squeezing the muscle. I knew this routine would help carve and etch out those last muscular details. Plus, this style of training is very different from what I normally do, so I think the radical change "shocked" my body and stimulated new growth.
My final workout split was done in a 3 on, 1 off fashion and looked like this:
Day One: Chest and Back
Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps, supersetted with
Rack Chin-ups – 3 sets of 8-15 reps
Pec Dec Flyes – 3 sets of 8-12 reps, supersetted with
Seated Lat Rows – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Hammer Strength Chest Press – 3 sets of 8-10 reps, supersetted with
Hammer Strength Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Deadlifts – 3 sets of 8-12 reps OR
Hyperextensions – 3 sets of 8-15 reps (I alternated between these last two exercises each workout)
Abs – 200 total reps split over four to five different exercises
Day Two: Legs
Leg Press: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps supersetted with
Leg Extension: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Front Squats: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps alternated every other workout with
Hack Squats: 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
Lying Leg Curls – 3 sets of 6-10 reps
Stiff-Leg Dumbbell Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-12 reps alternated every other workout with
Seated Leg Curls: 3 sets of 8-12
Donkey Calf Raise: 3 sets of 8-15 reps
Standing Calf Raise: 3 sets of 8-15 reps
Seated Calf Raise: 2 sets of 8-12 reps
Day Three: Shoulders, Arms, and Abs
Side Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-12 reps supersetted with
Rear Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 6-12 reps supersetted with
Dumbbell Upright Rows: 3 sets of 6-12 reps
Triceps Pressdowns: 3 sets of 10-15 reps supersetted with
Cable Curls: 3 sets of 8 -12 reps
Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 8-12 reps supersetted with
Lying Triceps Extensions: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Barbell Drag Curls: 2 sets of 8-10 reps supersetted with
Wide Grip Reverse Triceps Bench Presses: 2 sets of 8-12 reps
Abs: 200 total reps spread over 4 to 5 exercises
Day Four: Rest, then repeat.
This routine worked wonderfully. I just had to be careful not to fall into the low weight/high reps trap. This is a common misconception in bodybuilding where people erroneously believe that if they reduce the weight and just pump out tons of easy reps–-they’ll get cut. Knowing that approach would only cause me to lose muscle, I was sure to keep my weights as heavy as I could while still maintaining good form. Also, I made certain that I only went to positive failure or just short of it. (No forced reps or extra negatives, rest/pausing, etc.) At this point, my body and muscles could only recover from so much. My goal was to stimulate, not annihilate.
TIPS FOR THE FINAL WEEKS
Journal- keep a log of all your workouts, cardio sessions, and diet. This way you know exactly what is working or not working and can analyze your program and make changes. I’ve met guys who are dieting for a contest, but have no idea how many grams of carbs, sodium, or protein they’re eating! Don’t do that; be meticulous about writing everything down. Plus, if you compete again, those notes will be very valuable.
Posing - Be sure to practice your posing at least every other day. Go through the mandatory poses and work on holding each one for thirty seconds. Posing is more difficult than most people realize and you don’t want to be the bodybuilder on stage who’s cramping, shaking, and looking like he/she is about to die. In addition, make sure you practice your evening routine. This will make you more confident and lead to a better presentation of your physique.
Be Consistent – Pick a plan and a strategy and stick with it. Do not change your diet or workouts every time you read something new on the internet. Once your diet and workout strategy is formulated, stick to it every day. Put your blinders on and adhere to the program you’ve or the people helping you have lain out. Your success will come from being consistent day in and day out.
Stay Motivated – Getting ready for a bodybuilding competition is very difficult and demanding. Be sure to incorporate things that keep you motivated. This will lessen the chances of you straying off your contest-prep path. I was lucky. My dad, who was my bodybuilding mentor and on and off workout partner for the last 15 years, came back to training after a 2 year layoff. He really gave me a boost. Also, I attended The Arnold Classic where I met Roger Riedinger and the Beverly gang. I came back recharged and ready to give my all for the upcoming contest.
Be Ready Early – Try to plan your diet/training so that that you are ready–– physique –wise–– for the contest a week or two early. This allowed me to test a few different dietary adjustments to see how they would affect me and then decide if it was wise to do it the last week. Also, this will allow you to cruise into the contest rested, less stressed, and ready.
Here is a little secret about the final week: if you look good, don’t plan on doing anything crazy. Most people think that there has to be some radical changes that occur in the final week in order to achieve peak conditioning. This is simply not true. If you did your work in the gym and on your diet for the last few months, you should look very good going into the last week. If you didn’t put in your time in the gym and cheated on your diet, nothing done in the final days can save you. That being said there are some final adjustments that I made in the final week to make sure I "peaked" and made weight. (I weighed in right at the 176lb limit.) After getting some great advice from professional bodybuilder Layne Norton, I made a spreadsheet of the final week that listed all my training, cardio, macronutrients, sodium, water, and supplements. I laid my plan out in a manner similar to how Tim Camilli did in his article "Not for the Faint of Heart: Part 2" (NNN Volume 11 # 3) I printed this spreadsheet out and put it on my living room table. I must have checked that thing 10 times a day just to make sure I was doing everything correctly. I would highly recommend creating your own spreadsheet plan for the final week.
If this former skinny kid can map out a plan to compete in a major bodybuilding contest, you can too. Don’t say, "Oh, I’ll maybe compete next year, or I’m waiting for the right time." Remember there is no perfect time. Your bodybuilding dreams can start today if you make the decision to go out and achieve them. Carpe Diem, my friend. Seize the day and make it happen.
The Northern Kentucky show was a great success. I had a lot of fun and gained invaluable experience/knowledge which will enable me to be even better next time out. I was able to place seventh in an ultra competitive Open Men’s Middleweight class. In the eyes of some individuals, this may not constitute a successful contest experience because I didn’t win. However, these individuals are missing the big picture. Bodybuilding is not solely about one’s placing in the show. It is about winning that 15-20 week battle with yourself in order to achieve the best possible physique YOU can achieve. I, with the help of Beverly International, was not only able to do this, but had a wonderful time challenging myself to be my best. I look forward to the challenge of bringing an EVEN BETTER physique to the stage the next time I compete.
Personal Profile: James Dalton Age: 31
Occupation: High School Teacher and Coach
Family: Wife (Colleen) married for 7 years and 1 son (Derek)
Residence: Saint Louis, MO
Years Training: 15
Height: 5’ 11"
Offseason Weight: 215
Contest Weight: 185
Favorite Cheat Food: Toasted Ravioli (a Saint Louis favorite)
Favorite Bodybuilding Meal: egg whites and oatmeal
Most Inspiring Bodybuilder: Schwarzenegger and my Dad
In CD player: I have very eclectic musical tastes. Rap to rock to classical, and everything in between.
Most Inspiring Book: As an English teacher, I’m constantly reading and love books in general so I could
never narrow it down, but the NNN is pretty inspiring.
Hobbies: Reading, writing, spending time with family and friends
Why take Beverly? First and foremost they make quality products. Also, their whole philosophy isn’t
geared toward making a quick buck. They are genuine, honest people who really have roots in bodybuilding and
care about their costumers almost like an extended family. The first time I met Roger he talked with me
for a half hour, answering my questions and giving me advice. Would all supplement company CEOs do the same?
Favorite Supplement: Ultra 40 because you can use it for everything. It can increase endurance,
strength, pumps, help you gain or loss weight, plus it contains of plethora of valuable nutrients.
This is the one supplement I will never be without.