How to adjust training throughout contest prep?

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One of the key issues that we see people run into during a physique competition prep is the ability to keep up with the intensity level in the gym required to maintain performance. 

Being able to train at a high level of intensity and hold onto as much strength as possible is one of the most important factors in maintaining lean tissue. Since it isn’t just a weight loss contest, the goal in the contest prep is to maintain as much lean tissue as possible whilst dropping as much body fat as possible. 

However, painting strength becomes progressively more challenging as you get lighter, leaner and lower on energy throughout the competition prep. It is to be expected that you may see some strength decline on certain exercises due to various factors like body weight, leverage, stability, etc. However, it is not unrealistic to keep up with your “relative strength” and in most cases it should actually get better. 

For example, at the start of the prep you may be at 80kgs lifting 100kgs bench press for a 5 rep max. As you diet down you are now at a new body weight of 70kgs lifting 90kgs bench press for a 5 rep max. Absolute strength has dropped about 10% but you are actually stronger relative to your bodyweight (1.25xBW compare to 1.29xBW). 

Further, our individual structure and biomechanics is another factor to consider. For a lot of people, pressing movements seem to be affected the most. As you get leaner, the range of motion that you will have to press will be longer and that extra few cms can make a huge difference. In saying that, this also means that even though you may see some drop off in strength, the overall stimulus that you are creating should be the same.

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So here are the three things that I think can help you in structuring your programming through the contest prep: 

1. Periodisation. This should apply to your training in or out of the competition preparation. You should be organising training. Breaking your training program down to various blocks/cycles so you can optimise your performance and make any necessary adjustments along the way. 

When we train, we create a stress on the body in order to force adaptation (grow or maintain lean tissue). When we accumulate more stress than the body is able to recovery from we will need to properly rest so we can yield the rewards from the training aka gains. This is why organising and planning these peaks and back-offs are so important.

2. Auto regulation. Using intensity scales like RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) or RIR (Reps in Reserve) to adjust your target weights on a session by session basis. These are useful tools to use especially towards the back end of the competition prep. 

You may feel awesome one session but absolutely crap the next so always trying to use the same working weights may not be realistic and could potentially put you in a greater risk of injury. However, You can certainly aim to match your numbers as much as possible.

3. Exercise rotation. What I like to do is to switch up some of the compound exercises that require a lot of stability or heavily dependent on leverage to something that can allow me to get a greater muscular stimulus without being limited by those factors.

A perfect example would be over head pressing. At the start of the prep I will keep OHP in the program then as I get leaner, I will change to something else like a seated bb shoulder press and then towards the very end of prep I will switch to using a smith machine or machine work. That way I can maximise the tension required on shoulder without being limited by body weight or stability. 

Don’t forget to implement proper recovery and fatigue management. It’s already hard pushing training when you are well fed, it’s only to be harder when you dig deeper into the energy deficit. 

Optimising your nutrition, sleep and implement active recovery protocols that suits you (cold water immersion, mobility activation, stretching, meditation, soft tissue therapy, etc). Making sure you are functioning properly so you can get the most out of your training sessions. 

Structure, plan and manage your training throughout the competition preparation can not only allow you to achieve the most optimal outcome but also keep you safe and injury free. 

Diet Smart Not Hard

Coach Allen