Techniques and Concepts

Blow Away My Best Bodybuilding Condition

Over the last 20 years of competitive bodybuilding I’ve used many different techniques and concepts. Here are some that might be useful to you:

By: Mike Katsenos
Magazine 14 #1

Progress Tracking

I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again if you want to get somewhere you have to 1) know where you are at the moment, 2) where you"re going, and 3) track your progress on the way.

I plotted out my 18 pre-contest weeks on a spreadsheet. I tracked just two things: weight and body composition. I used the seven site body composition caliper measurements (Jackson Pollock formula). The measurement sites are: Abdominal, Triceps, Chest, Midaxillary, Subscapular, Suprailiac, and Thigh.

Body composition testing is probably the most important thing for you to measure. Weight doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what that weight is composed of. I’m sure this is a review for most if not all of you. If you are 200 pounds, is that good or bad? Well it depends: you could be 200 pounds and 5% body fat which is really good from a bodybuilding perspective or you could be 200 pounds and 35% body fat - not so good. Over the years I've tried many different methods: bioelectric impedance, underwater weighing, various skinfold calipers, etc. I obtained the most accurate and reliable readings from a very high quality skin fold caliper (Lange). It's pretty expensive but if you look on eBay you can try to find it for a lower price (that's what I did). Also various health clubs or fitness centers offer body composition testing too and you can check if they have this type of caliper.

I used a spreadsheet that contained the body composition formulas and thus I was able to track weight, lean mass, and fat. I also had graphs in the spreadsheet so I could graphically see my progress.

Aware of my progress

By posting these graphs on my bulletin board I was always aware of my progress. This is where objective criteria really pay off. Some days you feel good, you look in the mirror and think "Woo hoo, I’m making a lot of progress." The next day maybe you’re not feeling so good, maybe you're tired, maybe the moon is now full, who knows? You look in the mirror and think: "I look horrible." Objective measures can help you track your progress and let you know that what you"re doing is working. If it's not working then you can fix it.

It’s really important that you are consistent in taking your measurements. For example, suppose one week you measure your body composition, the next week you have your spouse do it, and the next you have it measured by someone at the gym. You might get a lot of variation in the readings that don’t reflect the true measurement but reflect the differences in how the people perform the measurements.

Try it out. Take a measurement on your abdominal site point (about half an inch to the right of your bellybutton; taking a vertical fold). Then move that location by an inch in any direction, hold your fingers differently, and take a different "grab". Do you get the same number? Most likely not and these subtle variations will throw off the accuracy of your body composition. Thus, it is very important that you take these measurements in the exact same spot every single time.

In order to make the body composition measurements as accurate as possible I took a permanent marker and made a small mark on each of the 7 sites. I took the readings myself (my wife took the subscapular and triceps sites). In this way I felt confident that we were measuring in exactly the same location time and time again.

Even though I’m an advocate of body composition metric, I also used the Beverly Pre-Contest workbook Sum of Six concept. This is the sum of six skinfold sites: pectoralis, triceps, subscapula, suprailiac, abdomen, and thigh.

The workbook states that if your sum of six is under 30, in general, you’re in good contest shape. Every point under 30 is a marked improvement in your appearance. That's what I was focusing on more than anything else in the last several weeks because some sites just stop decreasing after a while. You get to a point where you just can't decrease the fat in certain areas.

Check the Appendix 1 Body Composition Tracking spread sheet.
* click to open Appendix page 1 spread sheet

Training

If I could sum up my training philosophy in one word it would be "variety." I performed various training techniques for about three weeks and rotated. Why three weeks? I found that after three weeks my body adapted and progress slowed. The following are some examples:
  • 5 x 5: five sets at five reps for a particular exercise.
  • Trisets: 3 exercises performed back to back for a specific body part; 10 reps each with no rest in between. Take chest for example:
  • Incline Smith press
  • Incline dumbbell flyes
  • Incline dumbbell press
  • High reps (30 reps for legs; 15 reps for other body parts). You don't know pain until you’ve done 30+ reps for legs!
  • Partial reps
  • I learned this one from Arnold. In one of his articles he talked about going to failure on dumbbell side laterals and then doing partials where he could just barely lift his arms; maybe raising them only a few inches. I did maybe 3-5 at the end of my set.
Check the Appendix 2 for a sample rotation, split, and exercises that I used.
* click to open Appendix page 2

Training Log

Why keep a training log? Here’s why:
  • Focus: Whenever you begin your training session you will know exactly what you're going to be doing (and in what order) for that session. You need to have a plan, execute this plan, and leave. Otherwise you’ll waste time and I have yet to find someone who has an abundance of free time on their hands.
  • Rotation: tracks whether you’re changing your program regularly
  • Progression: you can easily refer back to the exercises and poundage that you used in previous sessions. Thus, you can ensure that you are increasing the weights used.

Cardio

Everybody loves cardio...
I didn’t perform much cardiovascular exercise during the off-season since my goal was to gain muscle. During the pre-contest season, however, I started off with 20 minutes two times a week.

Here are some example exercises:

  • Recumbent stationary bike
  • Jog outside
  • Jog on a treadmill
  • Stair machine

It isn’t reliable to use "how you feel" subjective criteria to determine your intensity level: "Oh, I feel like I’m really exerting myself today!" Monitor your heart beats per minute instead. This is your objective measurement tool. You could be exercising at the same intensity but it could be having a dramatically different effect on your body. It could “feel” very difficult but maybe you're just carb deprived, perhaps you're tired, maybe you have a slight cold that hasn’t developed fully yet. My plan was to systematically increase the cardio duration throughout the pre-contest phase. Although planning is critical you also have to be flexible and be able to change midstream. I plotted out my cardio plan and the regular increases in duration and/or intensity but it didn't work out the way I planned. The last four to eight weeks of the pre-contest phase was very difficult in terms of losing fat. I had to increase my cardio earlier than planned.

Nutrition

During the off-season I followed a method I found in the No-Nonsense Magazine by Beverly International: alternating a Gaining Phase with a Hardening Phase. This rotation kept my off-season my bodyfat relatively low. I was about 20 pounds over my competition weight during the off season. I easily could’ve been 35 lbs over but the cyclical gaining/hardening method worked really well (see examples). From the Beverly International workshop manual I derived and used three nutritional phases for the pre-contest preparation

Nutrition Log

I carried my log with me at all times: at home it was on the counter; at work it was in my briefcase. I filled this nutrition log with preprinted sheets (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet format) that listed all my meals, supplements, and the quantities for each.

I would print out just a week or two of log sheets at a time, punch some holes in, and put them into a binder. I don’t have a lot of time to waste so I prefer this method over having an empty notebook and writing down every single thing that I eat (which will be repetitive because you’re going to be eating a lot of the same things every day). Instead, you enter it once in the computer, print it out, and put it into your binder. All you have to do is check things off and write comments as needed.

Supplements

Beverly International supplements are absolutely essential for the natural competitive bodybuilder. In my 20 years of competitive bodybuilding I’ve never experienced such dramatic improvements nor have I seen a company so committed to quality.

During the pre-contest phase I start taking Muscle Mass Branched Chain Amino Acids (3 every 10 minutes during resistance exercise). This guards against muscle loss during the workout. I also found that they gave me energy especially as I started cutting calories in the pre-contest phase. At certain points I could hardly get through a training session but the BCAAs helped me sustain my energy level.

I would take three scoops of Beverly’s Glutamine Select plus BCAAs during resistance training and during a cardio session. This really helped me prevent muscle loss.

Creatine Select plus Phosphates? Strength increased. Size increased. There’s not much else that needs to be said. I took three scoops of Creatine Select mixed in about 20 oz of water when I woke up and that’s about an hour and a half before training. I used this to drink down all the other supplements. I took 6 GH Factor and 8 Muscle Synergy (this gave me unbelievable vascularity). I took 7-Keto to get going in the morning and to help with the fat metabolism. 2 Energy Reserve also helped with fat loss.

Density really helped me to improve my conditioning. I took 5 in the morning before training and then three every few hours. I was concerned about losing mass as it got closer to the contest so I began taking this every hour. Density seemed to help with my hunger and if you’ve competed before you know you get a little bit edgy (that’s an understatement). Density surprisingly helped to sort of take the "edge" off things.

I took 2 Lean Out per meal. In the middle of the afternoon I take another 8 Muscle Synergy, 6 GH Factor, another 3 7-Keto. During the last three weeks I took 3 7-Keto three times a day: one dose in the morning first thing, one in the mid-afternoon, and one in the later afternoon. My cut off time was about four o’clock because I didn’t want the caffeine to affect my sleeping. Speaking of sleeping, I found that taking over-the-counter sleep aids made me really groggy in the morning. It’s hard enough getting up, being tired and having to go to the gym before you go to work; I didn’t need the added obstacle. So I started taking Bev ZMA for its sleep enhancement properties.

EFA gold was taken with 2 meals; 1 Super Pak in the morning after training and with a meal.

Check the sample nutrition logs because the supplements changed over the different phases.

I wanted to put all my efforts into one contest and try to optimize my chances as much as I could. I was certain that the supplements from Beverly International would help me to do that. I achieved a level of conditioning that I have never achieved before. At 38 years old, I can say with all confidence that I was in the best shape of my life. In fact I blew away my fitness level at every other competition in my life; even when I was younger, at 19, 21, 26, etc.

Posing and Presentation

One of my goals this year was to improve my mandatory posing and to engage the audience much more during my individual posing routine. I created a schedule for my posing; every morning, first thing after I drank my coffee or took my 7-Keto I’d go into my cold basement (I’m in Chicago and this was during the winter!). I put my little space heater on, had my full-length mirror there and practiced my posing. It became challenging to do after a while. The last thing I wanted to do when I’m tired in the morning is practice posing in a cold basement.

In terms of the individual routine I thought "Why should I spend my time trying to choreograph a routine when I’m not the best choreographer or poser?" So rather than trying to become an expert I decided to consult an expert. I purchased a posing video from Russ Testo titled "Posing The Extra-Ordinary Way". If you’ve been in bodybuilding for a long time you’ll know his name; he’s one of the best posers in the history of bodybuilding. This DVD teaches proper execution of the Quarter Turns, Mandatory Poses, some Optional Poses, and Choreography.

I also used his services for the individual posing routine. You provide certain specifications (e.g., what are your best poses, strong poses, what poses you want to avoid, what are your favorite body parts, what type of music are you thinking of, what’s your style, etc.,). After you provide him with the music and after considering all the criteria and discussing those certain "Specs," Russ will choreograph a posing routine on video to your music. He will actually instruct you, breaking it down step by step on how to perform that routine.

I engaged an expert in music as well. Many competitors just perform to their favorite song. Some people go a step further and use two songs usually by beginning with a slow song and then changing suddenly into a fast/ powerful song.

I wanted to go above and beyond that. I wanted to do something different that would really, really get the audience excited. You need a balance between what music you like, what energizes and motivates you and what the audience will like. It won’t be as effective if you go to one extreme or the other.

My strategy was to pick 5 or 6 songs that were very popular and mix them together. Typically, there is a diverse spectrum of people in the audience so I wanted to get the most popular songs possible from different time periods. I picked my songs in collaboration with an awesome DJ friend of mine (http://www.djgeezer.com). He’s been mixing since the 80’s and is an expert in his field. We reviewed each song systematically and looked for parts of songs that could be usable for a routine; something within that music (beats, lyrics, or pauses) where you can strike a pose and hold it.

Once we narrowed the list down to a usable subset we further filtered it based on which songs would work together as a group.

Here is the list of songs we selected for the mix:
Song Title Artist
Lose Yourself

Eminem

Mama Said Knock You Out LL Cool J
In Da Club 50 Cent
It Takes 2 Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
The Power Snap
Yeah! Usher
Summer Love Justin Timberlake

If you would like to hear this mix it is on http://www.djgeezer.com/remixes.php. I burned the music to a CD and sent it to Russ Testo and he did his magic. He sent me the video (it was awesome) and I started practicing. I’m very happy to say that I did achieve my goals for posing and my individual routine. The crowd went crazy and after the show many people approached me with positive feedback. What did the judges think? I requested copies of the judge’s scorecards, here are the scores and comments:
Presentation Scores:

Judge 1: 1st
Judge 2: 1st
Judge 3: 1st ("possible best poser")
Judge 4: 3rd
Judge 5: 1st ("nice posing routine!")
Though I took second place in the competition (I was up against someone who looked like a young Lee Haney) I know in my heart that I put everything I had into it. And that’s something that no one can take away.

The Final Week

Months of training and strict nutrition boil down to those few minutes on stage. With all the opinions and misinformation about the final week what is a bodybuilder to do? Trust yourself and consider these steps:
  1. Pinpoint the time of day when you look your best in the few weeks before the show
  2. Make note of everything you’ve been doing up to that point
  3. Recreate that scenario during the final week and the day of the competition
Personally, I found that I looked my absolute best after morning training. I knew exactly what I did up to that point (this is where the training & nutrition logs come in very handy) to achieve that condition so this became my blueprint for the final week.

Just to be on the safe side, I tested certain things in the weeks before the contest. I tested the potassium/sodium manipulations, monitored and analyzed the results and it didn’t change one thing. Given that fact and also given the fact that I don’t normally manipulate sodium or potassium I concluded that this potassium/sodium manipulation was not necessary for me.

The same thing happened with the carb deplete/loading. Everyone "knows" that you need to carb deplete/load for a contest so saying anything else to the contrary would be considered heresy in the bodybuilding world.

However when I started to take in precisely measured carbs at specific times during the final week my appearance started to worsen. I didn’t have enough time to test it thoroughly. I just had the facts. I had to have faith I would make the right decision by considering the facts that were in front of me.

Fact #1: I wasn’t carb loading when I was training and I thought my condition was really good. Fact #2: I started the carb load and my appearance deteriorated. My decision? Don’t carb load. So I backtracked and reverted to the diet that I had been following in the few weeks leading up to the contest.

What did I eat and when on the day of the competition? Again this was based on data. I reviewed my nutrition logs in terms of what I ate, when I ate it, what are the intervals then I applied these patterns to the day of the contest.

I took my supplements about 30 minutes before starting to pump up and the beginning of the pump up routine would be about 30 minutes before going onstage.

Being onstage is very strenuous and I needed every ounce of energy (especially since I did not carb load). I made the Beverly "Goo" with 2 scoops vanilla UMP, a cup pure natural honey, and a fourth cup of peanut butter. I used less peanut butter because I thought that the fat in the peanut butter would slow the absorption down and what I really needed was quicker absorption for energy purposes.

I took this mix 30 minutes before pump up. I also took two tablespoons of pure honey about 10 minutes before going onstage. This was for energy purposes but I also found that it positively affected my vascularity. I brought the following with me to pump up with:

  • Dumbbells (pair of 15s)
  • Elastic Bands with Handles
  • They come in different tensions so test out which ones work best for you. These are really handy for pumping up since you can perform many different movements.
  • Push-Up Handles
  • The floor backstage could get really slippery from the oil from different competitors; it could get really dirty etc. You don’t need your hands slipping or worrying about washing them at this point. The push-up handles were good for push-ups, decline push-ups, dips, etc.
You be the judge of what equipment you need but bring equipment to pump up. Don’t rely on what they "may" have at the competition (other competitors might be using them).

The other advantage of bringing your own equipment is that you can plan out your pump up routine. Test out this routine prior to the contest and write it down. There is so much on your mind that every little thing that you can do to make it easier on yourself the day of the contest, the better. As a result, you won’t have to worry, just follow the plan.

Doubts

Sometimes I’d talk to people in the gym and joke that next year it was their turn to compete. People responded with "Oh no, I could never do that; after three weeks I’d want a cheeseburger" or "It’s too much work, I could never have the discipline to do something like that." Time and time again I hear the same thing from different people and basically it comes down to "doubt." They doubt that they can do it. It’s not that they don’t want to do it. I think many people would like to compete or for that matter would like to improve their physical fitness level but they doubt they can. "Oh, I don’t have the discipline." "I don’t have this or that" "I’ve got two jobs" "I’ve got kids" "I don’t have time".
"If you truly want to do something you will find a way, if you don’t you will find excuses."
- unknown
"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we might oft win, by fearing to attempt."
- Shakespeare
Just have faith in yourself. It’s really simple once you clear your mind and make a decision.

Challenges

Suppose a little stream of water is rushing down stream and it encounters a large boulder. The stream is not going to be able to move this huge rock. So what does it do? It flows around it. It moves under it, on one side, on the other side, and gets back on its course. We must do the same in bodybuilding (and life in general).

I encountered many obstacles in my contest preparation. This was the absolute hardest, most difficult contest preparation I ever experienced. I encountered obstacles that I had never dreamed of. I had put together a work plan with all the things that needed to be done along with start dates, end dates, percent complete, etc. Despite all my planning I could not anticipate what challenges I would face. For example, I fractured my spine doing squats. It’s a condition called spondylolysis/ spondylolisthesis which basically means a stress fracture and vertebra shift.

The bottom line from my doctor was: no squats, no leg presses, no deadlifts. Well, thank you very much Doc! One of my goals for this contest was to increase the muscle mass and definition in my legs. I had been busting my behind on squats and leg press but now all of a sudden I wasn’t able to perform those movements. That’s a huge boulder in my path and I had to find a way around it. I researched leg exercises and I found which ones I could do and just focused, focused, focused on those. I performed leg extensions as heavy as I could and then with lighter weight with high reps. I did lying leg curls, standing leg curls. I bought some really good ankle straps that can attach to a cable machine. I performed standing hamstring curls and I simulated the hamstring flex pose. I also did dumbbell squats. Sure the doctor said no squats, but it was with dumbbells and I only used 35 pounders (never heavier than that) with high reps (30). These sets of 30 sure did burn! I also performed Sissy Squats (this movement didn’t put any strain on my back) as well.

The world does not stop because we’re in a pre-contest phase that’s for sure. My wife started a new job at a hospital (she’s a nurse) and she had full-time orientation. This created a lot of challenges for me because it severely decreased the amount of time I had to devote to training. I’ll spare you the details but it wasn’t pretty, especially with two young kids, a full time job, and a two hour a day work commute.

Nevertheless, if you have a goal, if you want to get something done, and something gets in your way... don’t give up! Find a way around it. Just because something "comes up" doesn’t mean you have to "give up."

Bodybuilding: A Team Sport

Most people consider bodybuilding to be an individual oriented sport. I disagree. We often try to do things alone and forget how much more we can achieve by working together. I know for myself that I couldn’t have done it without my top notch team. I had the support of my wife. My very good friend and world class DJ helped me with the music. I had the privilege of working with a legend in bodybuilding, Russ Testo, on the posing and choreography. I had another friend (a champion triathlete and cyclist) who helped me stay focused through the tough times. Beverly International (especially Rachel Wade) was in my corner with their world class supplements and support.

In closing, the strategy for competing in bodybuilding (or for any endeavor) can be summed up by a statement said long ago:

"First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end."
--- Aristotle
You can email Mike Katsenos at: mike_nnn_article@ameritech.net
Profile
Name: Mike Katsenos
Occupation: Project Manager (Information Technology)

Residence: Chicago suburbs, Illinois
Where You Train: Cardinal Fitness

Height: 5’ 8"
Off-Season Weight: 185
Contest Weight: 165

Favorite Cheat Food: pizza with ice cream (not on top)
Favorite Bodybuilding Meal: steak and sweet potatoes

Most Inspiring Bodybuilder: Arnold
What’s In My CD Player: Incubus, Led Zeppelin, 80s mixes, etc
Most Inspiring Book: The Turning Point by Fritjoff Capra
Hobbies Or Interests Outside Bodybuilding: I love reading about
business strategy and marketing.

Words To Live By: 
"If a man would move the world, he must first move himself."
—Socrates

What Would You Recommend To Someone Who Has Never Used Beverly Supplements Before: 

Try each product and see which works best for you.
If you’re new to bodybuilding, start off with the protein powders
(I use Ultimate Muscle Protein), Mass Aminos, Ultra 40, and EFA Gold.

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