Posted 1 month ago

Improving from show to show

You may have heard people describe the process of competing in a bodybuilding show as being quite addictive. You might step off stage and be tempted to compete year after year! However, the last thing you’d want is to show up next season and look exactly the same as you did the last time around. This is the biggest fear competitors have, as everyone’s goal is to improve on their placing or present a better package on stage.

The only way that looking the same (if not worse) is possible, is by having quite a poor offseason. Therefore, the aim of this article is to highlight important factors you should consider if you want to improve your physique and present a better package every time you compete.

Judges’ feedback
One of the most crucial opportunities for self-improvement that many competitors miss out on is the chance of asking the judges for feedback. The reason this chance is missed is because getting feedback often involves waiting till the show is over. However, it seems silly not to ask for feedback from the very people who judged you, especially when they say it is available. Think about it – you’ve dedicated a large portion of the year towards competing, and it’s likely that you’ll plan to go at it again at some point in the future. Therefore, it is sensible to ask the judges what they suggest you improve on for next time.

Different federations structure their feedback process differently. For some, you can speak to the judges directly at the end of the show. For others, you might need to pay an extra fee to get written feedback. Alternatively, some federations will actually provide feedback a few days after the show – for example, 2Bros allow you to simply send them a DM on Instagram and you’ll get a reply a few days later. Whatever feedback you receive, it will no doubt help you shape your programming for your offseason. In addition, if your coach was at the show, they should also be able to give you feedback related to how your presentation or overall physique compared to other competitors’.

Lagging body parts
Often, in order to improve from show to show, it’s most likely that you’ll simply need to bring up muscle in specific areas of your physique. For example, if we consider the bikini class, competitors will often be told that they need to bring up the size of their glutes (you can read about how to do that here), and/or the cap on the delts.

If you know this, then your programming should reflect these considerations- as such, making sure that you are hitting these muscle groups frequently across the week will be a top priority. However, to ensure these muscle groups are actually getting bigger, you must constantly assess a few things: are the numbers in your logbook increasing? Is your execution on point at those higher loads? Are you able to recover? Is your body weight increasing?

If you continually assess these variables, you’ll be able to individualise volume for each muscle group across the week. More isn’t always better but knowing the minimum amount of work you need to do to see a response, and then being able to increase it over time, is incredibly valuable. With some athletes, I might push their volume up by 2-3 sets across the week, assess their physique weekly, and then 8 weeks later the response will be obvious – for example, we might see increased musculature in the glutes in the rear shot (bikini pose).

Take your time
In some instances, you may simply need more time to grow, so that you can come back and have the same level of musculature as those competitors who consistently do well. As I’ve said, one of the traps of competing is the temptation of doing it year in year out – this cycle inevitably leads to shorter offseasons, which don’t give you enough time to add the required size. Don’t be afraid to admit you need to take multiple years away from the stage before you can come back and be competitive.

I personally spent three years away from stage. In 2017, I competed in the Men’s Physique category, and when I stepped off stage, I promised myself I’d only come back when I was ready to compete as a Classic Physique athlete. It was only in March 2020 that I was ready to do so, because I had spent time in the trenches doing the necessary work. Don’t get me wrong, the urge and the want to compete beforehand was incredibly high, but I simply knew I didn’t have the muscle mass needed to do that class, so I waited – and I’d encourage you to do the same.

In sum, from personal experience and from the experience of working with many competitors over the years, I’d always suggest waiting until you’re absolutely ready. I’ve told some clients in the past that they don’t have enough muscle for the stage yet, not to be negative, just simply because I want what’s best for them, the athlete. If you want to improve your package for stage next time around, then buy into the long game and into the mindset of being patient.

Accept you might not look good for a while
There will come a time when you are pushing your bodyweight up, you’ll look in the mirror and you’ll think to yourself “I just look a little bit shit”. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I feel you. In fact, for me, I simply resembled a potato in that initial push up from 2017. Not a cute look.

What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t have much muscle mass, and you are looking to add a lot of it onto your frame, it won’t happen overnight, and you will have to get comfortable being at higher levels of bodyfat and bodyweight. Basically, gaining muscle mass over time requires pushing those boundaries of discomfort.

The crux is that you’ll only really see the value in doing this when you diet back down. This was the case for me: every time I pulled body fat levels back down, I would see new muscle mass, I’d be leaner at a heavier weight, and my physique shape would look completely different. Seeing those changes can help reassure you of the importance of those uncomfortable phases. For most athletes, these push phases are absolutely necessary; and although this isn’t the case for all athletes, if you’re clinging on to abs or lean legs in an off season, you’re diminishing the progress you could be making.

Bringing better conditioning
Alternatively, it’s possible that your feedback may have had nothing to do with levels of muscularity, but instead might have just been about the fact that you weren’t conditioned enough. In Layman’s terms, this simply means that your levels of body fat were too high and needed to be lower in order to be competitive.

With this in mind, it’s important to consider the following questions, especially if you want to improve for your next season: was your lack of conditioning due to a lack of time? Or was it dietary adherence? Did you set an arbitrary goal stage weight and worked towards it without properly assessing your physique?

If you ask yourself those questions, you’ll no doubt find out why you weren’t lean enough.

It may have also been the case that you simply didn’t have the level of muscle required to enable you to get as lean as needed. This is because the more muscle you have, the lower body fat levels you can attain.

So, my best advice for getting conditioned is that next time it comes to dieting, ensure you have a game plan for the entirety of prep: set out a plan of where you think you’re going to be by what months, and establish specific targets to hit. If you find you’re slightly behind, then you can act accordingly and manipulate energy balance to stay on track. You may also be able to add in lipolytic compounds such as Clenbuterol or Yohombine, which you can read about by clicking each word accordingly.

In summary, if you want to improve from show to show, you must consider the judges’ feedback and what body parts you have that might be lagging in development. This will then allow you to manipulate your training program accordingly to bring up that muscle, which might require more time than you think. For a while, you might have to accept you won’t be lean, but you’ll be able to see the benefit of big gaining phases every time you pull back down. This new muscle mass alongside mapping out the entirety of your prep will allow you to bring better conditioning. Ultimately, you’ll know that the package you present on stage next time will be the best version of you – and that’s what it’s all about, right?

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons