Monthly Archives: February 2012
The one big thing I see competitors do in the off-season is train totally wrong! I’m talking about competitors who want to put on more muscle. Particularly, if you are a younger competitor and you notice that the women 10-15 years older have more muscle and do very well in competition. The reason is that they’ve been training longer. When lifting weights was not ‘cool’ they were in the gym working out with the guys. If you’re trying to play ‘catch-up’ then you must know how to train as effectively as possible…. you don’t have time to waste.
The training world has been swamped with so many different training methods that the line becomes very blurry when trying to decide what to do to gain muscle size. There’s plyometric training, circuit, cross-fit, core training and the list goes on. All of these different styles of training have their place – but if you’re trying to gain muscle, the last thing you need to do is perform squats on a balance disc or Bosu ball. For someone who needs to develop core strength or improve balance, these would be great tools… but for muscle building everything needs to be done on a solid, stable surface or you won’t be able to lift enough weight to stimulate muscle growth.
Choosing the wrong training style makes it nearly impossible to improve muscle size, which means you may go into your next figure show looking exactly the same as you did for your last show. Women have a more difficult time gaining muscular size therefore, you don’t have time to waste. Then there is the issue about off-season cardio. Trying to build muscle while doing cardio is a topic that makes me nuts!! This is why I put together this guide on how to properly gain muscular size in the off-season. I give you exact workouts and I also discuss that off-season cardio issue. If you are looking for some fancy dancy workouts, then this guide is not for you… this is bare bones, basic muscle building because that should be your main focus in the off-season!
Figure competitors ask me about plyometrics all the time. “Is it a good way to train?” …”Are they safe?” …”How often should you do them?”
Plyometrics were one of the greatest breakthroughs in sports training… ever! Developed by a Russian doctor, Yuri Verkhoshansky in 1964, helped the communists countries (Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc) dominate track and field. The United States went over to see why a small country like East Germany with the population equal that of New York State (abut 17,000,000 people) could dominate the United States (with a population 10 X that of East Germany – 180,000,000) in Olympic competition. They discovered that they were using a training techniques named plyometrics.
Plyometrics are designed to stress the body in a way so that it becomes stronger, faster and more powerful. They were designed for high level athletes. These exercises place high levels of stress on joints, ligaments and muscles – but this is necessary for the muscular and neurological adaptions to take place in the body that will lead to improvements.
That being said…. plyometrics were never meant for group training classes where participants perform hundreds or thousands of repetitions during a single class. Participants, many of whom, may not even have an athletic background – I know quite a few people who who are starting to complain about sore knees etc., from these plyometric classes/workouts that are popping up.
Because of the many workouts and hours of cardio you must do to get ready for a figure competition, It’s easy to get nagging injuries. Too many plyometrics may push already exhausted joints and muscles over the limit… so it is imperative that you listen to your body and stop any exercises the second you feel something “weird”
It’s not that plyometrics should not be done but you have to:
- know your body’s limit
- don’t do entire workouts using just plyometrics
- perform the ‘safer’ plyometric exercises
When done alongside other exercises, plyometrics can get your heart rate up and can help you burn a lot of calories.
- For example: instead of trying to get your heart rate up doing 35 jump squats. You could get your heart rate up on a spin bike, get off immediately and do 12 jump squats. Now that’s a workout… and you cut your jump squats by 2/3.
One leg dominant exercises: Exercises that requires you to support all or most of your weight on one leg should be avoided or done in a limited fashion. I never have anyone do one-legged jumps/bounds and only occasionally will we do jump lunges. These are exercises I used when I did plyometrics to increase my vertical jumps 20 years ago. They worked great back then for increasing my vertical jump (I ‘posterized’ a few people) but my knees are paying a price nowadays. It was definitely not worth it! My problem was that I did too many reps and exercises. The key with plyometrics regardless if you’re just trying to improve in sports or lose body fat is QUALITY over QUANITY…. don’t overdue it!!! I got an x-ray of my knees few weeks ago and the pictures were not good… the doctor called it right away: “You must have been a jumper?”
Safer exercises: exercises like jump squats are much better because your weight is distributed more evenly when you land, but still not everyone can do them. A small percentage of people can jump really high…. the large majority should be more cautious and jump less aggressively. The landings should be soft so that the knees can absorb the shock as you lower down into a squat position. True plyometric exercise is done exactly opposite (knees don’t absorb the impact) but the strain on your knees would not be worth it… plus you get a better fat burning workout when lowering into a squat position.
conclusion: Plyometrics can definitely be a part of your fat loss workout program. Put them in your workout to get the maximum benefit from them… but don’t build an entire workout around plyometrics.
This is a picture of Karen we will get to her story in a moment. I often get emails from women who are interested in competing in figure but think that they can’t get into figure shape. They think the deck is stacked against them and that they can’t compete against younger competitors. The truth is that there are great advantages to being a little older (and wiser) which make it ‘easier’ to get ready for a show.
#1: Increased focus: older competitors are more focused – they seem to be able to block out a lot of the B.S. and just do what they have to do to get ready for a show
#2: Hard working: older competitors work hard – their extra years of wisdom helps them truly understand that ….you only get out of it… what you put into it
#3: More responsibility: When you’re 40+ years old you feel a sense of responsibility to show other women that they can do it too. I remember when George foreman came out of retirement to win the heavyweight boxing title at age 45 over an opponent that was 19 years younger… He said he just wanted to show people that you can do whatever you want if you work hard enough and dedicate yourself to it.
#4: Good muscle size: It takes a longer time to build muscle in women, so the older competitor may have more muscle if she’s been lifting for years. A lot of older competitors were lifting years ago when lifting (for women) was frowned upon – which is why the over 40 category is sometimes the best in the entire competition.
Now back to Karen …age 51
Before meeting me, Karen, who is a personal trainer (with a successful blog: http://www.getfitover40.tv/) competed but was not happy with how she looked on show day. Karen, being a trainer and not being able to get the results she wanted for competition was extremely frustrating… because as trainers we are supposed to ‘know it all’ – what she realized was that ‘competition’ training was a completely different beast from ‘getting in shape’ training. When I first met Karen she was in good shape but she didn’t realize that to step onstage she would have to push herself beyond anything she had ever done.
Karen was the perfect competitor, she possessed all 4 qualities I mentioned above she just didn’t know how to reach her goal of getting onstage and competing for that 1st place trophy. BUT… she had the usual concerns of an over 40 figure competitor:
Extra fat on the thighs: ‘I will never lose the fat on my things’
Age: “I can’t compete with younger women… I’m too old”
The unknown: “I’ve never gotten that lean before… I could never do it”
One thing that comes with age is knowledge and wisdom… when I asked Karen about each one of these ‘fears’ she realized that they were just excuses to not give 100%. She’s known people in her life who have overcome much greater obstacles to succeed in different aspects of life… so she realized that she would not let the ‘standard’ excuses get in her way. Once she decided to give 100% …the results were amazing!