(the article below was originally written for a course I ran for figure competitors… But this is actually the same advice I give anyone who has reached a plateau in their weight loss efforts. it’s simple advice but it comes from training hundreds of women)
One of the most frustrating things about getting ready for a figure competition is when you encounter a fat loss plateau. As a competitor you understand that there is no buffer for not getting in shape – you either hit your mark on contest day… or you don’t (then you kick yourself for training and dieting for 12 weeks and not getting in your best condition). So when you get to a point that fat loss slows or stops, it’s easy to go into panic mode. Slashing calories in half is what some competitors do. For those who decide to do that, they are going to have a miserable time mentally and physically as their body tries to adjust to 50% less calories. This is something you definitely want to avoid at all costs.
When overcoming a fat loss plateau you must attack it from 3 sides:
Diet: First you must tighten up your diet. This may mean cutting your diet by as few as 100 calories a day. You want to avoid cutting too many calories because this may cause your metabolism to slow down and go into ‘starvation’ mode. Once this happens, it’s hard to fire the metabolism up again.
Workout: You must increase the intensity of your workouts. Basically train harder: (1) lift heavier weights, (2) perform your normal workouts (same reps and sets) in less time, (3) add on an extra 15-20 minutes to your normal workout time, (4) take less time between sets so that the workout is more cardio-like etc. There are many ways to increase workout intensity. The important thing is not to ‘coast’ but make sure each workout is at a high intensity level.
Cardio: Step up your cardio intensity. This may mean just going harder for the same amount of time, for example, you may be able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes. What you want to do is try and run 3.2 miles in the same 30 minutes, then eventually 3.5 miles in that 30 minutes.
– Or you may change from a less effective form of cardio cardio workout (ex elliptical machine) to a more effective form of cardio (treadmill or outside running). This is a very effective way to increase the amount of calories you burn in a workout.
One mistake I see is when competitors try to do it all by slashing calories… DON’T do that! You will lose weight initially but your metabolism will slow down too much and all progress will stop. This will make it very difficult to lose further body fat. It’s much wiser to attack it a little from all 3 factors instead of just one.
Another Mistake I see is competitors who decide to double their cardio in order to lose body fat. This will work initially but it may take a toll on your body and mind… this can lead to burnout (mental and physical exhaustion).
So, If you do experience a plateau, don’t panic and do something drastic that will cause your metabolism to shut down or that will cause you to burnout… Just use moderation in adjusting your diet and training. This is the one ‘secret’ behind my success in training fitness and physique competitors over the past 10 years.
Over the past 12 months this issue has repeatedly been raised among newer competitors I meet. Figure competitors often want to know if they need to take steroids to compete in shows that are not drug tested. The answer is no. Many drug free figure competitors compete and are champions at every level. Do steroids give a figure competitor an advantage? If their goal is to gain muscle and lose body fat (depending on what steroids they take) then they absolutely will make it easier for a woman to achieve both of these objectives… but any competitor can gain muscle and lose enough body fat to compete, with time and hard work. Besides, when it comes to figure competition, you don’t need a ton of muscle to do well.
I just had two competitors compete and do very well in the Arnold Classic both are drug-free and one made top 10. Where there bigger more muscular competitors there? Of course there were – but figure is about more than just size, so my competitors never really worry about whether a show is tested or not – I just tell them to go in to competition in their best possible shape.
Although steroids can accelerate muscle growth, larger muscle may not be what the competitor needs. I’ve seen competitors change their physique so much that they began to do worse in figure competitions and had to switch to bodybuilding or one of the newer fitness/physique body categories that require competitors to carry more muscle. So competitor’s need to take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to take steroids.
I tell competitors who are worried because they think a certain competitor is on steroids or because a show is not drug tested, that their goal should be to bring the best possible package to the stage. Muscle size is only a part of winning a figure competition… symmetry, stage presence and proper conditioning are much more important. Just look at the top figure competitors in the world… they range from hard/more muscular to softer/less muscular. It’s the total package the judges are looking for. Therefore you should never let what anyone else does discourage you from competing.
Saxonny is one of those competitors who doesn’t say much… sorta gets in her zone and proceeds to bust her butt during her workout, sorta gets all sweaty and stuff. Then she will quietly leave and RUN home… running home is hardcore ’cause my workouts ain’t easy! So one day I asked her what motivated her to get in shape… then her eyes lit up, it was something a friend said to her once:
“You will never get in a size 4!”
I always say that successful people are more often driven by negativity that by positive feedback… Saxonny is no different. We’ve all heard the feel good stories of “The teacher who told me I was special motivated me to accomplish great things” – Those stories definitely have their place, BUT… proving others wrong, now that feels a whole lot better and is a much better motivator! The end result: A bikini champion and NO trouble getting into that size 4 anymore!!!!
The one thing Saxonny hears that makes her skin crawl is: “It’s easy for you to stay lean because you are naturally thin” (Saxonny) “It angers me when people assume that I didn’t have to work for the body I have. It took the proper diet and workout to get in this kind of shape. People are usually shocked when they see my ‘before’ picture… then they realize how hard I had to work. Once I started working out, I began to look forward to the adrenaline rush I got from being totally exhausted after a workout or run… now I’m hooked for life!