prep coach

Posted 9 months ago

Competing: When should you hire a coach?

So, you’ve decided you want to compete in a bodybuilding show. This might be for the first time, or it might be your return to stage. Whatever the scenario, there tends to be differing opinions as to when it’s most appropriate to hire a coach. Some of you might decide to do this the week before or a couple of weeks prior to starting prep, but some of you might decide to do so much earlier.

I personally turned down 3 people this year who asked me to prep them when they said they were 16 weeks out. Why? You will find out as you read on, as the purpose of this article is to discuss when you should hire a coach if you want to compete, and to give you my opinion/experience on doing so.

Stepping on stage for the first time

Many of you know that I first competed back in June 2017, in the men’s physique category. I had actually decided I wanted to do this in May 2016, and it was then that I hired a coach. Yup, you read that right: just over a year before the show, I signed up with a coach to take me through the process.

Why? There were multiple reasons. Firstly, I knew nothing about competing, federations, posing and what it would take to get there. I wanted the expertise of someone who had done it before and had a track record to show he had done it with his clients’ time and time again.

Secondly, I also knew that I didn’t quite “look the part” yet, and that I had muscle I needed to put on to fit into the men’s physique category. From the offset, my coach knew exactly what to do with training, food, and the direction we needed to head in to reach our goal. What this did was remove any stress or thought process from the equation from my end: I simply followed instructions and improved every week.

Thirdly, hiring a coach meant that I was able to ask questions as to why we were doing things in a certain way, which improved my own knowledge and the service I was able to provide to my clients. In short, hiring a coach made me a better coach, as I learnt new methodologies and ways to program nutrition that took my service and knowledge as coach to the next level.

At this point, I had been following my own way of training for a long time, which changed drastically as I began my journey. My training was designed (by my coach) in a manner that would bring up some lagging body parts (areas underdeveloped vs other areas) to allow me to develop the necessary muscle I would need for the following year. Most of you will know that growing muscle mass takes time, therefore it made complete sense in my head to get started on this sooner rather than later.

Time frame

Having given my coach at the time plenty notice about my competing goals (13 months, to be precise), he was able to decide after a few months of growing whether he felt we should compete the next year or whether we should wait. This was of course dictated by the level of growth we had seen in my physique, which we felt was enough to go ahead with competing the following year. If we had not seen the response we expected or that we had hoped for, I have no doubt that it would have been recommended that I wait and compete the following year. And yes, I would have 100% listened. I think I speak for most of us when I say that no one wants to step on stage to make up the numbers, and that we’d rather do so when we feel ready!

Over the years, one of my main observations from attending bodybuilding shows is that many athletes step on stage with not enough muscle mass and it’s always very noticeable. For the most part, if other competitors show up with more muscle mass than you, you will undoubtedly be beaten on size. As such, ensuring you have enough muscle mass is crucial. Any good coach in the United Kingdom will advise you not to compete if they feel you need more muscle. Therefore, commencing your work with them sooner rather than later will ensure that whenever you do compete, you’ll be “big” enough.

Another thing you may have not considered is posing. Being able to nail the quarter turns, the I-walk, or the routine, takes time. To give you an example, I started posing practise in July 2016, just under a year before my show. Similarly, for my July-August 2021 competitive season, I learned my routine for stage in October 2020. The first time you do any posing it’ll feel unnatural, awkward, and very, very hard! Holding your breath or breathing shallow whilst tensing every muscle in your body and smiling is no easy feat!!! I found that hiring a coach encouraged me to start posing early, as I was also able to get feedback and tips on what to do. This might not be the same for every coach, but most coaches will encourage you to hire a posing coach or at least book in a few sessions to get yourself started.  The competitors that pose the best and look natural when doing it tend to do better.

If you haven’t ever posed, and then you start working with a coach on day 1 of prep, do you REALLY think you will look like those competitors who make it seem natural? In truth, this is highly unlikely. It’s also important to note that if you are adding muscle mass or dieting down, the physique can look different in the same poses. Specifically, if you’re in a gaining phase strategically trying to add tissue on glutes (for example), and you can’t hit a bikini side pose, it will be really hard to see whether the program and gaining phase is working as intended. On the flip side of that, if you can pose, your coach will get a better idea of whether pose is developing according to plan, and it will help them make any adjustments to programming if they need too.

Competing for the 2nd, 3rd+ time

We’ve discussed the pros of hiring a coach if it’s your first time on stage, but some of you reading this article might be thinking: “Well, I’ve already competed before”, and that’s all well and good. But a few things you need to ask yourself are: “Was I lean enough? Did I have enough muscle? Have I worked on the feedback I received? Have I improved since my last outing? Do I want to place higher this time around?”.

Being a coach myself, I work with a lot of athletes who have competed before, and some of them have had a great experience, but others not so much. The general theme for those who haven’t usually relates to the fact that they weren’t lean enough and/or didn’t have enough muscle mass. I relish working with these athletes as they are often very hungry to do whatever it takes to come back better next time around. This means they follow the program I design for them, and execute every variable (training, nutrition, steps, cardio, sleep etc) ruthlessly. What it often means is that they mutate over time! Working with them for a longer period of time also allows me to learn about their body, the response it has to certain variables, and to make changes accordingly. If we have long enough and are able to run a small recomp in that time frame before starting prep (usually needed) then I also get a rough idea of how their body responds to dieting.

Having put people on stage for a while, I also know the look some federations want, so I am therefore able to suggest to clients which shows I think they should do based on how the physique is looking. The best example of this is the standard bikini side shot vs the IFBB front shot. Some girls simply look better in one or the other and not all federations will allow both. This type of nuance is more important when a client has developed enough tissue, whereas the first time they compete they may not have looked the part in any federation simply because of a lack of muscle.

Your competitive goals and target shows might not be till next year, but working with a coach sooner as opposed to later can ensure you enter a dieting phase in the right place (body fat levels) and ensure that, come show day, you will be ready. I’ve went into shows not being 100% personally and it’s never a great feeling and having to play catch up after is hard! Your coach will ensure you’re ready on time.

In summary, if you are looking to compete, regardless of whether you’re a first timer or not, I recommend hiring a coach as soon as possible. This will ensure you are in the best possible position to stand on stage, having spent months building lagging body parts, nailing your posing, learning about your body, and improving your craft along the way. It’s no secret that the men and women who do well in competitions have been working with a coach for a very long time, so don’t sell yourself short.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons

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