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The Mindset For Physical Transformation
By now you have all seen them. The before picture: sloppy, out of shape people looking miserable while posing in a swimming suit. The after picture: tanned, trim and smiling look-alikes (minus the fat). In shocked disbelief or cynical skepticism, you analyze and scrutinize the pictures with great interest. Are these people really your genetically average “Everyday Joes?” Are they a bunch of people who previously had wonderful physiques, got out of shape, and then made a comeback? In a nutshell, are these contests truly a legitimate mechanism to help thousands of people acquire their dream body, or are they just commercialized opportunities for supplement companies to profit by infecting the masses with a “fitness epidemic?”
ARE THESE CONTESTS ALL THAT THEY ARE CRACKED UP TO BE?
They can be. But having a proper (healthy) perspective on the transformation contest mindset before competing is most important. To be truly successful, transformation contests need to be part of, not apart from, a realistic, lifelong fitness program. This article is based on many of the same principles I teach people about how to think in order to achieve noticeable results. It is meant to give you a starting guide for consistently getting results while helping you to stay motivated and excited.
A few months before I turned forty, I was a stereotypical middle-aged overweight male. I had literally lost any semblance of a neck, and at five foot eleven inches tall, I was at the point of graduating to a pant size with a 40-inch waist. The only difference that separated me from other “Beefy Boys,” was that I had spent most of my adult life researching, then trying, most of the weight training / fat loss programs out there. Faithfully, I would work out, focusing mostly on lifting weights, my motto being: “I may be fat, but I’m strong.” But, regardless of how I tried to rationalize it, I knew I was overweight and I felt rotten. I was constantly tired, often irritable, and spent my days trying to conserve energy, just to be able to complete my workouts. Something was not clicking. I could not figure out how to get into the shape I wanted.
It was in the summer of 1998 that I decided to compete in the EAS Physique Transformation Challenge. For 14 weeks I used every piece of information on nutrition, training, and supplementation that I had ever got my hands on. The difference now was a “carrot at the end of the stick” which seemed to motivate me as never before. During the contest, I lost 47 pounds of scale weight while taking my body fat from 25% to 8%. My transformation placed me second runner-up in my age category, earning me a notable amount of magazine exposure and other prizes from EAS. As a result of that experience, I pursued my dream of becoming a certified personal trainer. I began training others and sharing with them the means to acquire such drastic results.
This led me to my second contest in the spring of 2000. I competed, and placed, in the Met-Rx© World’s Best Personal Trainer Contest. This contest involved training a client for 12 weeks and submitting pictures, training journals, workouts and nutrition plans. My winnings included a spot on a Met-Rx / GNC television commercial, all expense paid trips to California (on two occasions) and prizes including workout gear, supplements, clothing, weights, etc.
Looking back, this was pretty heady stuff for a small town boy, and I am grateful for these opportunities. After all, these contests inspired me to make a career change and reset my standard for my own physical health, which continues to improve day by day. But now that I have trained numerous other individuals for contests, I realize that my own post-contest mindset seems to be an exception to the rule. With this observation, I have needed to take a look at the bigger picture of transformation contests. The realm of physique transformations can be a double-edged sword, and I believe it is necessary, especially as a trainer working with others involved in contests, to take a closer look at this.
Anyone considering entering a physique transformation contest needs to understand that the contests’ key purpose is, in my opinion, to market products / supplements. The sponsor wants to make money, plain and simple. What better way to do that than to take a group of discouraged, frustrated people and entice them with money, trips, and media exposure if they have success with their product. Don’t get me wrong, supplements can be helpful, and I am all for using any healthy approach to allow people to quickly reach their goals. But without good training, good eating, adequate rest / recovery, and strong determination, all the supplements in the world are not going to make your “before” and “after” pictures worth sending in.
In spite of all the marketing genius involved in the design of the successful contests out there today, you’ve got to keep focused on the most important reasons people make great (natural) gains – commitment to good eating and hard training.
Another important area is the struggle to stay focused on an overall training program that is reasonable and healthy. Many people find that contests make it hard to stay focused on life-long, healthy training principles, due to the desire to “totally transform” in only 12 short weeks. THE CONTEST suddenly becomes an idol, while learning and practicing good fitness habits take second place and become only a means to a very short end. I believe that transformation contests should only be stepping-stones. They should be opportunities to learn and practice good training and eating habits that should be built upon for the rest of your life. Drastic changes in eating habits, reoccurring or new injuries, obsessions, compromises in time, and relationship commitments can all end up being worthless sacrifices if people see them merely as means to the ultimate (contest) end. Do not make that mistake.
THE CONTEST MINDSET
Physique transformation contest sponsors use (effective) marketing strategies to “set the hook” so that anyone believes that he/she can, and will, win. This is a very effective and generally true approach if you really look at the odds.
In the 1998 contest I participated in, there were 10 categories, each with one first place winner. This only allowed 10 top winners out of 200,000 entrants, odds of winning: 1 out of 20,000 original entrants. However, in that contest, 9 out of 10 people didn’t even complete the contest, which brings the odds for taking first down to 1 out of 2,000. By the sheer fact that I stuck with the contest from start to finish, I moved ahead of 180,000 people, into the top 10 percent. Only by being in that top 10 percent did I have a chance to win at all. I can only assume that the dropout rate for other contests is similarly high. Therefore, making it to the top 10 percent can be a motivational force in making a commitment to not just enter a contest, but to stick with a program and complete it.
As in any race or contest, I believe you should enter with the intent to win. The first step when taking on any kind of commitment such as this should be to analyze and decide what winning means to you personally. For some, winning means taking the whole enchilada and nothing less. There is no room for second or third, and it is all or nothing. If you are someone with this mindset, be sure you have counted the costs before entering and have determined that it is not more than you can handle. If it is not, then absolutely go for it. I tell people that if they are going to enter a contest, and intend to win, they will need to sell their soul to disciplined eating and working out for the next 12 weeks.
It involves coming out of the gate at full speed, and having very little time for transitional workouts or eating plans. I tell my clients that they need to start and finish the contest with the intent to train, eat and think at a level similar to professional athletes. When you look at some of the before and after pictures, you can see that many of the changes border on unbelievable, not the type of results you get from a slow 30 to 60 day transitional strength training and cardio program, or the kind of results you can expect without a complete overhaul in your eating habits.
However, I need to point out again the importance of not making THE CONTEST the end all, subjecting learning and practicing lifelong fitness habits to second place. Don’t make your “All or Nothing” attitude turn your physical transformation into a “flash in the pan” experience. I have seen too many people with this kind of mindset go back to their old habits after the contest was finished because they had not planned on making fitness a process for life.
For other people, to win a contest simply means starting and finishing the 12 weeks without throwing in the towel. It means achieving maximum fitness in minimal time while staying committed to an organized training program and enjoying the process. For as much as I encourage all my clients to enter to WIN, I also work hard to help people see that the best reason for entering a contest should be to improve their physical well being. Getting in shape, eating better, getting stronger, and looking better – this is the cake. Actually winning the contest should only be the icing. With strong egos and narcissistic dreams, this is easier said than done.
DEMANDS OF CONTEST COMPETITORS
Competing in a contest with an enveloping desire to win takes the stamina and mindset of a professional athlete. The problem is that very few of us tote “professional athlete” on our resume of life. For the average, non-genetically gifted contestant, the demands may need to become an all-consuming obsession, and the required stamina needed can throw some for a loop if they are not prepared.
The demand on your time in training for a contest is an area that people usually do not give much thought to. Suddenly, things like working a normal job, parties, or simply going to the movies turn into major events that need to be navigated and planned. Arranging, cooking, and even finding the time to eat the recommended meals can be frustrating. Trying to squeeze in cardio and weight training between a 9 to 5 job, family obligations, getting enough sleep, and personal commitments can all but cause some people to give up.
It is imperative that a person takes into consideration that there will be drastic changes on how they choose to use their time while doing a contest. Being flexible, meticulously organized, and having an adaptable frame of mind will make this demand less stressful. When I participated in the EAS© contest, I prepared my wife well in advance, letting her know that during the contest might not be the best time to paint the house or go on an extended family vacation.
The physical energy needed to successfully compete in a contest can be a major wake-up call, especially for someone with no previous training experience. My clients tell me that the first 2 weeks are the worst in terms of feeling any positive physical benefits kicking in. But by the fourth week, habits are forming, the body is changing, and most people begin to feel increased energy levels. However, the emotional energy needed to stay focused and charged up may be hardest to muster when you are juggling dozens of other areas in your life, let alone training for a contest. I think it very important to have someone that will offer support, even if just listening to your frustrations or holding you accountable to your initial commitment. In my case I had many conversations with knowledgeable people to help deal with obstacles. I also received tremendous support from my wife, who helped by taking on extra daily duties around the house until the contest was finished.
Another demand, that I am sure affects quite a few people, is the financial. Supplements are not cheap. If you throw in the cost of a gym membership and / or hiring a personal trainer on top of that, the crunch can be significant. It depends on how far you want to go. You can easily jack up hundreds of dollars in tanning, workout clothes, professional photography, exercise accessories and equipment, etc., etc. While training for the EAS© contest, I personally tried every way possible to keep financial costs low. I did all my workouts alone in the basement of my house, using a homemade power rack and second hand weights and equipment.
Some might think that this training environment was very limited, but it did the job. I did not hire a personal trainer, instead I relied on my own experience, and any training information I could get from people who seemed to know what they were talking about. Use a little ingenuity and imagination, and the financial demand can be minimal. Over the last couple of years most of the transformation contests have slacked off on supplement requirements which can help keep the costs down.
Whatever “winning” a contest means to you, one thing is for certain: you can walk away with achievements and a feeling of accomplishment that can be with you for the rest of your life. I believe that herein lies the greatest tragedy of physical transformation contests – when people base the value of their involvement on their final placements as winners / losers. The incredible transformation that people can make in such a short time is gloriously commendable. I believe that to give any lasting meaning to these contests, people must plan for what happens after the contest is over.
The intensity doesn’t have to stay the same – although it can. Transition needs to occur, or you run the risk of being worse off in the end than you were in the beginning. For people participating in contests, it is crucial that they get into a “normal” training and eating schedule once the contest is over. People need to realize that life is full of opportunities, bodily transformation being only one. The results gained from entering a transformation contest should be there to stay. They should instill at least some habits for life. That is a whole other area worth discussing later.
But for now, if you are one of those people considering entering a contest, I encourage and commend you for taking the challenge. I think the spouse of a former client said it best, “When the contest is over, win or lose, you still get to keep the body.”
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