prep coach

Posted 6 months ago

How to know when to end your season

If you are reading this, you are more than likely a first timer or seasoned competitor, who is currently well into the season having done multiple shows and are currently wondering when to wrap things up for the season. You might also be about to embark on your first prep and simply just want more information about the process.

Having done multiple shows in one season and having coached many athletes who have done the same too, I feel it’s important recognise – and know how to recognise – when the time has come to end your season, even if there is part of you that doesn’t want to bring it to a close yet. Therefore, the aim of this article is to discuss the tell-tale signs to look out for to inform when to end your season.

Deviating from the original plan

Before the start of the season, you may have planned to do two or three specific shows, but find that when these are over, you still feel unsatisfied, like the stage itch has not yet been fully scratched; it could also be that you were simply met with bad luck, or just don’t feel done yet. I think the latter is something all competitors can relate too, once you’re ‘done’, you’re done! However, if you still feel like you can keep going, and still have that bite between the teeth, you may want to continue to and aim for another show.

This is of course something that you will discuss with your coach, but it is important to ask yourself a few questions before you do so.

Firstly: “Have I achieved everything I set out to achieve?”

At the start of prep, you may have wanted to grab a top 3 placing in one of your shows. If you’ve done this, there might be no need to continue! But if you haven’t achieved that and have actually been met with some really strong line ups, I can fully understand the want and desire to go again. Opting for a different federation, with a different set of judges, could lead to a different outcome.

Secondly: “Can I bring a better look to the next show?”

I’d argue that this should be the main question you ask yourself before you jump into another show. If the feedback you received was to get leaner, can you push harder? Perhaps your coach didn’t get your peak right and you feel you could trial doing stuff in a slightly different way to bring more dryness, and/or conditioning. However, if you feel you got it right, and it was the best you could have looked, then it might be time to call it a day. It’s hard knowing that your best isn’t quite good enough (yet!), but the last thing you want to do is enter a show hoping for a weaker line up just so you get a placing.

Lastly: “Will bringing an improved package make a difference?”

Again, this is something to strongly consider, particularly if your feedback has been that you just need more muscle mass in the right areas. You might be able to get leaner, sure!, but you won’t be able to add more muscle mass in the right areas whilst staying in a deficit, especially when you’re stage lean. You must then consider whether it is wise to continue the season or whether it is best to wrap things up.

From experience, asking yourself these questions is imperative before making decisions around deviating from the original plan. If you’ve grabbed some placings, got a British invite but been told you need more muscle, it might not be wise to continue with prep till finals. Instead, it might be wise to simply just enter an off season and begin making improvements. However, if you are right there and are achieving top placings in each show, and if you’ve got the muscle mass required, then you can continue on, and set your sights higher.

Mental health and diet fatigue

This is a topic that is rarely discussed but that really must be addressed if you are thinking about extending your season. If you didn’t know by now, competition prep is a tremendously tough mental battle. You get all-consumed by it: every aspect of your day revolves around your show(s), which can impact on your self-worth, self-perception, and also on food focus.

You might find that you start to constantly question whether your physique is “good enough”, and even though you’re in the best shape you’ve ever been in, you won’t see it in that way because your head will be too wrapped up in the moment. This can subsequently lead to experiencing negative body image, fuelled by that “never good enough” mentality, which could also lead to self-sabotaging behaviours in the form of binge eating. Noting any of these signs should be seen as a red flag: it’s fine to be able to take feedback from judges on the required improvements you need to make, but if you feel yourself continually putting yourself down, it’s time to pull the plug and bring your prep to a close.

It’s worth mentioning – related to the binge eating comment above – that your food focus is likely to be incredibly high towards the end of prep, especially as a first timer. As you enter your 2nd or 3rd season, this does become less intense. However, if you are extending your prep and this starts to ramp up, one of the red flags to look out for is the strong desire to binge. This can often be brought on by stress but could also simply be linked to struggling with mental health and dietary induced fatigue. Small things can quickly become big things when you’re lean and have been living a very regimented life for months.

Staying at those low levels of body fat can take its toll on our body, and if you’re smart, you’ll see the signs and pull the plug sooner rather than later. If not, you risk having a poor rebound, struggling to recover, and creating a poor relationship with food and your body.

In addition, that dietary induced fatigue we have spoken of can really impact the final look. It’s often that you scroll through Instagram, see an athlete who has decide to do another show at the end of prep, not got the result they wanted, and then said how ‘bad’ they felt they looked on stage.

Now, of course they didn’t look ‘bad’, but they may have felt they weren’t quite as dry, full, hard, or in fact look quite soft. If that is the case, it’s simply that they have been dieting for too long that the physique simply isn’t responding. There is only so much stress our body can cope with before it doesn’t start to play ball. If that is the case, wrap things up: there will be little you can do to sort it, and in fact, the only way to fix things is to stop dieting and increase your kcals and levels of body fat.

Work and relationships

Not everyone that competes is an online coach and has the luxury of planning their day around when they train, do steps, cardio, and meal prep. In fact, there are quite a few people that compete, work a 9-5 job, and that have kids. Having recently had a wee boy, I can attest to how difficult that would be to do. In fact, I’ve had a similar conversation with two clients this year, who just said they didn’t want to continue with prep because their work was suffering too much.

In these cases, it was mostly due to their work being manual labour intensive and they just didn’t have the energy to get through the day. Thus, their performance was slipping, and it was being noticed by the manager. It’s at that point where you must realise that there are far more important things than a bodybuilding show, and that your show doesn’t pay your bills. For us, it was a no brainer to wrap prep up and no longer continue onto further shows. If you are in a job that requires intense manual labour or high levels of concentration you may only be able to last for so long before it’s time to call it a day. However, if you’re an online coach, like myself, you might be able to just plough on as all you need to do is sit in front of a laptop all day. However, don’t ever feel like you have to finish a prep just because you started it: trust me, your coach will not be disappointed, and if they’re good, they’ll support you through that process and help you set goals that are more tangible for you.

Lastly, acknowledging that prep can affect relationships is really important, especially romantic ones. Prep is incredibly selfish, and without the support of your loved one, it simply wouldn’t be possible to see through till the end. Therefore, if you find that your relationship is worsening due to the extended time frame you’re adding to prep, then remember, there are much bigger things than a bodybuilding show.

In summary, it is important to consider several factors when it comes to ending your season or extending it. You need to ask yourself if you’ve achieved everything you set out to, whether you can improve your package, and whether it would make a difference to the end result. Taking care of your mental health should be your number one priority, and if it worsens, it’s time to pull the plug. Dietary fatigue can mean that no matter what you do, the final look simply gets worse, not better. Remember that there are more important things in this world than your bodybuilding show, so if your work and relationships begin to suffer, it’s time to wrap it up.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons