More and more I get questions from women who are in their 30’s or 40’s who’ve been working out for some time and would like to compete, but they are afraid that they won’t be able to compete with younger competitors. The other day I had a 39 year old woman come to my gym telling me how ‘everyone‘ said she could never compete with younger figure girls. I showed her pictures from a recent show in which all of my competitors were 35 or over (35-45). They won mutiple classes and one of my competitors missed a pro card by 1 point.
Just look at the ages of some of the current bikini pros! A woman’s body doesn’t mature until she is in her 30’s!
The really great thing about this sport is that age is not the hindrance that it is in many other sports. Recently while watching the Olympics I would hear the commentators praise competitors who are in their 30’s… for still competing with the younger athletes. In figure, age brings about wisdom, grace and often a better physique. I explained to this potential figure competitor that the over 35 competitor makes up the backbone of my entire team. I explained to her that each competitor from the recent show, besides leadership, brings something different to the table.
Then I hear this: “Won’t the judges always go for the younger competitor?” It doesn’t matter what your age is… if you have the best physique you will win, besides, judges respect the over 35 competitor… most judges are former competitors, and they know how much hard work goes into getting onstage at 40 or 45’s, when your metabolism starts to slow down, your skin is not quite as tight as it use to be and you have more life responsibilities which makes it more difficult to find enough time to train for a show…. they respect that.
So don’t listen to the naysayers… most don’t know what they’re talking about. If a trainer says you are too old, then find s trainer who is knowledgeable and willing to work with you – the truth is, a lot of trainers only want to train ‘easy’ competitors women who are 24 years old and in shape, who may have competed and done well in the past. They don’t want to start from square one with a woman who is 37 and never competed before… Ironically, as is often the case… that 37 year old will find another trainer (I hope it’s me) and show up at a competition and kick the other trainers competitor’s butt! Nothing like a little sweet revenge!
So without my ‘veterans’ …there would be no “Stokes Crew”
Since the explosion of women athletics in colleges, along with the increased number of women in gyms… doctors have noticed that women have a much higher percentge of knee injuries than men. There are a number of reasons for this… but one of them is squatting technique – either in preparation to jump (as in basketball or volley ball) or in the gym doing squats, lunges etc., and not being careful with technique. Below (video) is something I see much too often that can lead to injury, if done on a regular basis: “The Bounce”
Bouncing at the bottom of a squat makes it easier to get out of the lower squat positions – similar to bouncing the bar off your chest while bench pressing. The problem is that the knee tendons/ligaments are under a lot of strain during this bounce. Tendons are very strong and designed to handle more stress that the actual muscle the are attached to… BUT, you don’t want to repeatedly test their strength.
In the video below, the first few reps are done correctly (…no bouncing at the bottom). The remaining reps are done INCORRECTLY (bouncing at the bottom). Ideally, you should try to pause for a split second at the bottom of your squat to eliminate any possible bouncing. This is not only safer, but you get a better workout, because your leg muscle have to do ALL the work …with no help from the much stronger tendons.
Bouncing has always been a problem when doing regular bar squats, but it is even more of a problem now with the many plyometric based exercise programs that use jump squats and simiular types of movements – it’s very important to stay in control of these movements especially when you are tired or going for speed (form can become very sloppy wheh trying to ‘beat the clock’). Figure competitors must always keep in mind that an injury will make it very diffcult to reach competition condition… especially if your legs/knees are affected – because trying to do jump squats, cardio etc., on an injured knee is next to impossible.
The most often asked question of me is: “How do I build bigger, tighter, rounder etc… Glutes?”
I see so many magazine articles, online workouts and totally ridiculous infomercials showing how you should target the glutes. Most people know that most infomercials are nonsense but the magazine and online articles carry a lot more weight with women. The problem is that many of these ‘glute’ workouts/programs that I see is will build bigger quads and have little effect on your glutes. Understanding why this happens is the important so that you can avoid it… and target the glutes instead of the quads.
Everyone wants great glutes, but the location of them makes it very difficult to target them. Muscles like the biceps are very easy to target. You could do just one exercise like dumbbell bicep curls 3 x week and build nice biceps. You could even do them seated… it really wouldn’t matter. The glutes are a much different story. Because of their location/attachments, the glutes are hard to target without building the quads just as much. Good glute exercises such as lunges involve a lot of quads also. I see the magazine articles with these ‘glute’ workouts that, in actuality, will build bigger quads, than glutes.
What I’ve done is developed a system for training glutes that minimizes the quad involvement in these exercises. Don’t get me wrong, the quads still have to work… but the balance is shifted so that the glutes get more of the benefit. Pre-exhaustion is KEY when trying to target the glutes!
Pre-Exhaustion makes the glutes ‘temporarily’ weaker than the quads. When trained in this ‘weakend’ state, the glutes will have to work much harder during any exercise that involves them such a lunges or step-ps. The goal is to target the deeper muscle fibers of the glutes which normally are not worked hard, because the quads dominate the exercise. This may sound a bit confusing… but trust me, IT WORKS very well!
Women use pre-exhaustion for glutes and guys use it for pecs:
Very few people understand or use pre-exhaust techniques in training. It can be used for any body part. For example, with men, the chest is a body part that some have trouble building because their shoulders take a lot of the load (shoulder dominant). These guys often have big shoulders but small pecs. Pre-exhaustion can shift the ‘load’ of certain exercises, such as the bench press, and place it more-so on the chest.
Glutes and Genetics:
Just like any other body part, glute development depends a lot of genetics. The problem is that most women NEVER realize their true potential because they can’t ‘reach’ their glutes enough with traditional exercises. They just say something like: “I’ll never be able to build my glutes!” That’s nonsense! If you can build your biceps you can build your glutes.
If you want to try this technique out, this is the only glute workout program that uses pre-exhaustion for building glutes: http://www.ultimatebikinibutt.com/
(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.
One of the biggest misconceptions in physique sports is that it’s possible to build muscle and lose body fat at the same time. Sorry to go against all of the ‘experts’ out there, but this is impossible to do! Whether it’s a trainer telling a client, someone selling a book or someone repeating what they heard another person say, it’s just not possible.
Basically in order to lose weight you need to take in LESS calories than your body needs to maintain it’s current weight. The exact opposite is true of someone trying to gain muscle/weight: you need to take in MORE calories than your body needs to maintain it’s current weight.
Can’t count the number of time I’ve read something online about someone losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time….. STOP please! This sport is filled with nonsense – from competitors believing that if they aren’t champion material by the beginning of the final week before a show, that there are some secret prep-week tricks that will get them into championship condition by show… uhhh No! Or the 110lb figure competitor who thinks dehydration will make her look leaner before a show – in actuality she will become a 105lb figure competitor who will look flat onstage because she just sucked the water out of her muscles! ….I could go on for hours!
Back to muscle building and fat loss: I just don’t understand why this simple concept is not more easily understood among those in this field. Sometimes you just have to tell the truth to clients/competitors: “No you will not be gaining any muscle while losing body fat, what you can do is maintain your existing muscle as you lose body fat by doing resistance exercises.” It may not be what a client or competitor wants to hear, but it’s the truth, and you should never lie just to attract or keep clients.
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.
For a few, figure can be a lottery hit the first time they step onstage… but for the vast majority it’s a longer journey requiring patience and the ongoing desire to improve. When I first met laurie she was soft spoken, humble, shy and amazingly nice. Three years and 3 pro cards later… she is still the same person. When she won her last overall (NPC) there was no big celebration, no fist pumping… just a nervous smile as they brought her the trophy. Afterwards, almost every picture she took she made sure her daughter, Paris, was in it… that’s because she has always kept everything in perspective. When she first started competing the victorys didn’t come easy… after finishing 5th in her first competition Laurie could have easily given up… but instead she used that as motivation to become the best she could be.
Now she is on her way to compete in the Arnold Classic in a few weeks!
Known for her intense training, Laurie is well respected by the other competitors she trains with. She’s so focused that she rarely talks during her workout. She finds a corner in the gym, goes 100% during her workout, changes clothes… and goes home.
Precontest fat loss workout: A bunch of hard exercises done back-to-back with no rest… until she is ehausted. The idea is to work the entire body and burn as many calories as possible.
“Get Uncomfortable” – Laurie doesn’t feel she is getting a good workout until she gets into her ‘uncomfortable zone’ – the uncomfortable zone is usually when most would stop and rest… her goal is to get into that zone and stay there. This is why she doesn’t have to do a ton of straight cardio to get lean… because she burns so many calories in her resistance-cardio workouts. What the uncomfortable zone really means to me is: “Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk because I’m trying to catch my breath… please go away!” Check out the short video clip of her showing me that she doesn’t want to be bothered.
Laurie is the tye of person everyone roots for. Just as gracious in victory as she had been in defeat. Never one to put other competitors down or brag on herself. I realized just how humble Laurie was when I went to her Facebook page looking for some good pitures (since I didn’t get too many good shots at the show), when I noticed that she had not posted one picture of herself… after winning a show she has been trying to win for 3 years! The only thing she posted were things about her daughter… I think that says it all! Congratulations Laurie! Oh yeah, and good job at the competition too!
Laurie performing one of her favorite exercises:
I have to admit that my competitors do some pretty difficult exercises – but I’m seeing more and more exercises on the internet that I consider too dangerous because the chance of injury is too high. This one exercise I’ve seen numerous times is the squat jump to a pullup. I must also admit this exercise looks cool and can give you a great workout… But one slip from the pulllup bar and it’s a possible torn bicep. I’ve seen it happen and there’s nothing like seeing a bicep snap and curl up, like a Fruit-Rollup, toward the shoulder after being torn.
As trainers we must look at every exercise and weigh the risks and benefits. for example, I see a lot of trainers getting caught up in this Crossfit movement and having their clients doing movements that they should NEVER be attempting… or having them lift maximum poundages when the clients only previous workout experience was jogging around the local park, aerobics classes, Zumba or the occasional spin class (that had them sore for a week!). Neither trainers or trainees should get caught up in trying to do the most difficult exercises they can… it’s not necessary to reach your goals.
When you see someone in one of my videos doing a difficult exercise, it’s because I now they can do it safely. Although there are others who can do the same movement, I know from watching them train that it may not be safe for them to do. They may even ask me “Why can’t I do that exercise?” and I explain to them the reasoning behind my decision… but i also explain how they can get great benefit from another exercise that may be similar but not as dangerous. Be careful!
Congratulations Brittany Murchie for doing an awesome job at the NPC Nationals (North american Championships) this past weekend. Introduced to me by a pro competitor I also trained, the first thing Brittany said to me was: “I will do whatever you tell me to do, I want to go as far as I can.” Then she preceded to train with me for the next hour. She didn’t say one word during that workout …and she trained her butt off. I knew then that she had the mentality and work ethic to do this.
The goal with Brittany, as with all competitors, was to get better with every competition, which is what she did. She qualified for the nationals after winning the overall title in the NPC Rochester Bodybuilding and Figure Championships.
On my way home I started thinking of what it takes to be successful in figure competition. What do competitors that do well all have in common. You see, on the outside, Brittany looks like the type of competitor who is naturally in shape… not having to work too hard. She never says a whole lot, doesn’t asks questions just to hear herself talk… she makes it look easy. Then I started to think about Laurie who is doing NPC Nationals in 3 months. Everytbody thinks it’s easy for her to get in excellent condition… she never says a whole lot… she trains hard, says little, she sort of makes it look easy! Hmmm…. seems like a pattern.
Then I thought about all my competitors who have repeatedly done well, often against great odds, doubters and haters… and they all had the same quality – they all make it look easy! But… I know the truth!
I know that they struggle like everyone else, I know the doubts they have… I know when they want to quit sometimes after a day of ‘not so clean eating’ – what I realize is the difference with winners is their ability to focus, to keep setbacks in perspective and bounce back quickly. How easy it is for too many competitors to get distracted during contest prep when things get hard. They concern themselves with things totally irrelevant to their success onstage, they start to listen to everyone who wants to give them advice… they find excuses not to push harder during workouts, or for not following the diet strictly. To become a champion, it’s important not to let irrelevant things distract you. Not to get caught up in the B.S. that often comes with competing.
I love it when one of these veteran competitors (who will remain un-named – but you know who you are) walks through a class and yells: “Stop talking and get to work, you have a competition to get ready for!”
Champions think in a straight line, which is why they don’t say much, they don’t complain and they only ask questions that will help them get better. Often my competitors will wonder why I don’t spend a lot of time talking about certain things, why I ignore them sometimes. I’m not trying to be a jerk. What I’m trying to convey to them is that certain topics/conversations are not going to make them any better or further their progress towards their goal… so I don’t bother talking about it.
Winners ask the question: “What do I need to do to get better?” Winners can be awol for 3 or 4 days and I don’t worry because I know that they still trained hard, they still followed their diet to the letter and they still did their cardio… I don’t have to worry. All my winners have this trait – the ability to avoid a pleasure now (whether it’s food or just slacking off), for a greater pleasure… in a few months!
Here are my thoughts on dehydration before a figure competition…
I get so many questions about last week prep and dehydration/cutting water. My stance is still the same… It doesn’t work! Although it SOUNDS legitimate when someone explains how it supposedly work… that doesn’t mean it works.
As far as dehydration before a show to increase definition (bring out your ‘cuts’)… I’ve always said that it makes muscles smaller and decreases definition (and women can’t afford to lose any muscle size or definition going into a competition). Below is a video about one of my favorite bodybuilders, Kai Greene, and his prep for the Arnold Classic. This excerp shows how dehydration can have very negative effects on muscle size and definition of one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world. If it can negatively effect him… what in the heck do you think it will do to your physique!?
Not only is dehydration ineffective in making you look more definined… it will most likely have the opposite effect!! The only tricks are hard dieting and hard work. Competitors are always surprised when I accuse them of dehydration (when they sneak and do it against my advice). They don’t realize that I can tell from the audience and from pictures. It may be a day, a week or a month … but they eventually confess. They think they are going to make up for that last 5lbs they should have lost with diet and training, by losing 5lbs of water right before the show… this doesn’t work and you may very well lose placings because of it.