Pre Contest Training

How to become lean without sacrificing muscle mass

By: Roger Riedinger
Owner Beverly International Nutrition
Magazine 9 #3

In this article I will outline a training routine for the competitive bodybuilder, or anyone who wants to reach peak physical condition. This program should be started in the eight to twelve weeks out range.

Your goal is to become the very best you can be within a certain time frame. If you want to set a goal on where you will place in the contest that is fine too, but remember the real contest is with yourself. If you win that one it doesn’t matter if Ronnie Coleman shows up at your contest, you’ve already won.

One of the prerequisites to maximize your contest-training program is a Training Journal. Even if you can normally keep track of your sets, reps, and weights in your head it’s imperative that you start recording your pre contest workouts.

Chris journals his workouts
Download a Training Diary from Beverly to help you progress towards your goals

1. You want to be able to monitor your progress from workout to workout. There are three parameters of progress that you should be concerned with during contest training.

  • Increase reps with same weight
  • Increase weight for the same rep range
  • Decrease rest intervals between sets – best for pre contest

Don’t go below one-minute rest intervals between sets.

If you’ve ever been on a strict contest diet you know that it’s tough to increase exercise poundages as your carbs and calories are reduced (it also becomes very difficult to remember your name much less your weight, reps, and rest intervals for every exercise).

But, as you get into better and better condition you may be able to reduce your rest intervals between sets while maintaining your training poundages. Another advantage to reducing your rest intervals is that it increases your metabolism and you will burn more calories during each training session.

A quick example.
Let’s say you normally take two or three minute rests between sets of bench press. The first two weeks of your precontest training program establish a baseline by actually timing the rest interval and start each set two and a half minutes after you started the preceding set. This will in effect give you a two-minute (120 second) rest period, as the set will take about thirty seconds to complete. You can use a fancy wristwatch with timer or just keep an eye on the second hand of the gym’s wall clock.

A training journal lets you repeat what went right and avoid what went wrong

After two weeks you will have established a rep range for that rest interval; the next step is to try to increase your reps to the top of that rep range. If you can reach the top of the rep range for each set, then increase weight and continue with the two-minute rest interval. However, when you can no longer increase weight or reps, decrease your rest interval between sets by fifteen seconds. Initially this may cause a decrease in reps for your second, third and fourth sets, but as you adapt to the reduced rest interval you may be able to achieve what you originally did rep-wise. Then, it’s time to reduce the rest interval again.

You should reduce your rest interval no more often than every two weeks, and it is best not to reduce your rest interval to less than a minute between sets or you’ll be sacrificing the amount of weight you can use too much. Now you can see why a workout journal is so important in tracking progress. You’re going to be tracking weight used, reps and rest intervals for every set. Always look back to your last workout and try to improve in one of these areas. Remember, you can’t be losing muscle if you are increasing in any of the three parameters of progress.

Chris db shoulder press
Chris Myers at four weeks-out focuses on intense concentration and strict form

Keep Tracking Progress

2. Another advantage of keeping a training journal is you can refer back to it for your next contest. A journal lets you know next time what went right and what went wrong. It lets you repeat what went right and avoid making the same mistakes.

3. You should take your training journal with you to the gym. It’s best if you record each set as you go. Don’t rely on your memory. After the workout you should record how you felt during the workout, whether you got a good pump, and rate your concentration, strength, intensity and total workout effectiveness.

4. You should review your journal every week to give you a good idea of how you are doing and what you plan to do. Resolve to do even better the following week.

Train to increase muscle mass

Now let’s get right into the training program. Train to retain and build muscle while losing as much fat as possible.

Here are the best training formats to follow in four-week intervals leading up to the contest:
Twelve Weeks Out: 2 on, 1 off; 2 on, 1 off
Divide your body up into four workouts over six days.
Day One: Chest and Biceps (optional abs)
Day Two: Back and Abs
Day Three: Off
Day Four: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
Day Five: Shoulders, Triceps, and Abs
Day Six: Off
Chris Meys single-arm curls
Chris activates the mind-muscle link during a set of DB Curls

Eight Weeks Out: 4 on, 1 off
Same splits as above but train four days in a row, take one day off and repeat.

Four Weeks Out: 3 on, 1 off on the following program.
Day One: Chest and Back
Chest: 12 sets total
4 sets 6-8 reps Bench Press
4 sets 8-10 reps D.B. Flyes
4 sets 8-10 reps Incline Bench Press(If you wish to add another exercise, reduce sets above to three.)
Back: 15 work sets
Front Chins (work up to 3 sets of 12) or 3 sets 10-12 Wide Grip Pulldown
3 sets 6-8 Bent-over Rowing
3 sets 8-10 one arm D.B. row or Cable Row
3 sets 10-12 Close Grip Pulldown
Alternate 3 sets 15 reps weighted Hyperextensions one workout and Deadlift 3 sets 10 reps
Abs: Total of 200 – 300 reps split up over three or four exercises. For example:
3 sets 25 Crunches
3 sets 25 Leg Raises off bench3 sets 20 Cable Twisting Crunches
Total Reps equal 210 in example above.
Day Two: Legs
Quads: 9-12 work sets total
3-4 sets 8-12 Leg Press supersetted with
3-4 sets 8-12 Leg Extension
Alternate 3-4 sets 10-15 Squats one workout and Hack Squats the next
Hamstrings: 6 work sets total
3 sets 6-10 Leg Curls
3 sets 10-15 Stiff-Leg Deadlifts (on alternate workout days that follow back "deadlift" day
Perform Seated Leg Curls, One Legged Leg Curls or DB Leg Curls)
Calves: 10 sets with any combination of three exercises. For example:
4 sets 15-20 Calf Raise
3 sets 10-15 Seated Calf Raise
3 sets 20-25 Donkey Raise
Chris front raise front raise dumbbell working his anterior deltoid
It is often beneficial to start with an isolation exercise like the front raise for delts before going to a compound movement
Day Three: Shoulders and Arms
Shoulders: 10 work sets total
3 sets 8-10 Side Lateral Raises
3 sets 10-12 Rear Lateral Raises
4 sets 6-10 Shoulder Press (Smith Machine, Behind Neck,
 Dumbbells – your choice)
Biceps: 9 work sets
3 sets 6-10 Concentration Curl
3 sets 6-10 D.B. Curl
3 sets 6-10 Barbell Curl
Triceps: 9 work sets
3 sets 10-12 Triceps Pushdown
3 sets 8-10 Lying Triceps Extension
3 sets 6-10 Close Grip Bench Press
Abs: Total of 200 – 350 reps split up over three or four exercises.
Day Four: Rest Day

Note: It is OK to use some variety. If you like, you can do barbell bench presses on the first chest workout and use dumbbells the next. The important thing is that you always try for some progression from the previous workout whether it is another rep, reduced rest interval, or increased poundage.

Never go to failure during the last two weeks

Training Methodology

Warm-up sets are not included in the sets above; only working sets are listed. You should perform each set in perfect form. If you reach the top number of the rep range for at least three sets then increase weight the next workout. During the first four weeks you can use a forced rep or two at the end of your last set of an exercise. The next four weeks you should take each work set to either the top of the recommended rep range or to positive failure in perfect form.

The final four weeks you should not try to go to your absolute limit on each set. Instead concentrate on reducing rest intervals, perfect form, and establishing the mind – muscle link. This will prevent overtraining while you are at your lowest calorie level and you can really increase muscle density and separation by concentrating entirely on each rep.

High reps with less weight is not a good precontest training technique

Another good technique to minimize rest time is to add supersets at four weeks out. Alternating push and pull body parts seems to work best as you can continue to use decent training poundages. For example on day one you might superset a chest exercise (bench press) with a back exercise (wide lat pulldowns or chins). On day three supersetting biceps and triceps exercises works great as well.

It is also beneficial to split your training up into two sessions on your training days. For example, train chest in the morning and back late afternoon. Of course not everyone’s schedule is conducive to such a program, but double split training does have its advantages. Your metabolism gets another boost from your second workout and energy levels remain high since each training session is shortened due to training just one bodypart.

Chris rear laterals
Rear lateral raises can be performed face down on an in incline bench

One final note on the above training program: Many of the body part workouts start with an isolation exercise – biceps (concentration curl), triceps (triceps pushdown), legs (leg press/leg extension superset) – then moves to the basic movement for that particular bodypart. This is by design and allows you to really concentrate on the first exercise and provides a mild form of pre exhaust.

Common Contest Training Mistakes
High reps – less weight. It’s very hard to hold muscle mass if the reps are too high. Keep doing the rep range that built your muscle mass. Usually this is in the 6–12 rep range.
Too many negatives, forced reps, and drop sets. Sure, those final four weeks you want to squeeze every ounce of growth out of each exercise; but stop and think for a minute.
Overtraining on reduced food intake forces your body to break down amino acids from the muscle tissue. This causes you to lose muscle size and muscle density.

Too much cardio

The proper amount of cardio can maximize fat loss, but too much cardio can also accelerate loss of muscle tissue. We recommend the minimum amount of cardio needed (in conjunction with your diet) to lose one to two pounds of fat per week. If you are overfat, you’ll need to add a cardio component to your precontest training, but you should always rely on your diet first for fat loss. Think, Low carb diet and moderate cardio are the fat fighters.

The Nutrition Factor

Nutrition is at least 80% of successful contest preparation. There is no getting around it. A proper nutrition and supplement program is the only way you can strip fat and retain lean muscle mass. There are a number of examples throughout this Newsletter of nutrition plans designed to fight fat and hold muscle. With a superior supplement program a number of Beverly clients actually add lean mass during their contest prep. I cannot emphasize this enough. Supplements are not created equal and Beverly International supplements are made with the highest premium grade ingredients in every product.

For contest preparation Muscle Provider, Glutamine Select Plus BCAA, and Muscularity (or Muscle Mass) are essential to retaining the greatest amount of lean muscle mass during a strict contest diet. I highly recommend mixing 2–4 scoops Glutamine Select in a shaker and drinking it during your workout to deliver these important amino acids when your muscle most needs them. This combination accelerates your fat burning metabolism, spares muscle amino acids, and helps synthesize new muscle protein. What could be a more perfect supplement during contest preparation?

For fat loss 7-Keto MuscLean once you seem to have hit a metabolic set point and Lean Out as soon as your calories go below maintenance. Of course there are other Beverly supplements that will maximize your precontest fat burning, muscle-building environment like Ultra 40, Muscle Synergy, Energy Reserve, and Mass Aminos, but if I had to choose just four it would be Glutamine Select, Muscularity, Lean Out and Muscle Provider for the best protein supplement you can buy.


Remember! Always train to increase muscle mass even during contest training; diet and cardio are the fat fighters, and targeted nutritional supplements help you retain lean mass and burn fat to achieve your best contest condition.

NNM 9 #3

» Joe Fogarty
I Turned My Dream into Reality with Precision Nutrition and Training