Q: Hi Denis,
I would like to start competing and I would like to know how often it is possible to compete each year. A guy at the gym told me that I can only maintain contest shape once or twice per year. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. I notice you only compete once or twice in a year.
. . . Bruce Alsten
A: Hi Bruce,
That’s a tough question, since it depends on so many factors. I did compete two to three times most of my competitive years, and even competed up to four times when I won the regional, provincial and national shows in 2005! But it is hard to be at your peak more than once a year.
Usually, if you have to compete several times in a year, you select the one contest in which you want to be at your very best and then you plan your yearly preparation according to that reference. That means that at some point you will be in contest shape but just not at your "very best." Otherwise, you will end up completely drained, and you don’t want that because the body will react to an extreme deprivation state by slowing down the metabolism, and it will pack on unnecessary weight once you resume a normal diet and training regimen. This will occur because the body uses it as a protection mechanism to resist subsequent stress exposure. Afterwards, it will be even harder to get in contest shape again (especially if you’re a drug-free athlete).
Personally, I like to do shows that are close to one another because it allows me to adjust over time and come in better. To do that, however, it is best to have the contests quite close together, because you won’t be able to maintain that much muscle mass on a restricted diet over a long period of time. It’s a good strategy, though, because you can use the first contest to get in pretty good condition (without burning yourself out) and then use the rest of the time to further improve and come in better and better. A lot of people spoil their condition as they get closer to a contest by making last-minute adjustments or attempting to rush things, so this method gives you some time to test your body. For example, some people complain about loose skin when getting ready for a show. If you lose too much weight in a short amount of time you will have loose-looking skin, since it doesn’t have enough time to adapt to the smaller version of your body that you create. So you must start earlier. On the other hand, if you start your preparation too late, you will still have some visual body fat left under the skin and it will still look "thick."
I like to do more than one show, because it allows me to drop most of the body fat I want to lose and leave time for the skin to tighten up and adapt to a smaller frame, and then get back up on a mass-building program (e.g., heavy weights and lower reps), but with the same number of calories, which will have the effect of really stretching the skin. You can already picture the end result: a much fuller physique with a thinner skin (which is why some have suspected me of using growth hormones, which I’d never use). In fact, this is just one of my tricks to get that Saran Wrap-like skin onstage. I start most of my high-volume training two to three months before the show so that I’m close to my contest shape a month before, and then I decrease the volume and increase the intensity to "fill up"! That way you don’t end up looking either ripped but flat or full but fat!
When I first went to the world championships in 2006, I did just that and showed up with an even better package in the Czech Republic (fuller muscle bellies at the same body fat) and placed seventh out of 25 of the best guys from all over the world. Last year, my plan was to place higher at the world championships. In order to do that, I had to qualify first by winning my class nationally (which I did for the third time). At first, I was quite unsure of how I would manage it because the national championships were in March and the world championships in November, which makes an eight-month span! Obviously, I couldn’t stay in top condition all summer long and expect to still be that good in November. Plus, I was going to attend the Arnold Classic and decided to compete there too, since it was two weeks before the national championships, anyway.
One day before the 2009 IFBB World Bodybuilding Championships.
So, to sum it all up, my goal was to come in relatively good shape at the Arnolds, be a little better a few weeks later to ensure a win at the national level, but not be too exhausted, so that I could continue to slowly improve my physique and my condition until the end of the year. This is just what I did and although I wasn’t 100 percent happy with the physique I brought onstage at the first two shows, I managed to come to the world championships at my all-time best and eventually placed fourth!
As you can see, doing more than one show can be tricky, but it can also pay off if you select your main goal and carefully plan your preparation in advance. If you've followed my articles, you are also aware that I’m not a fan of "bulking up" in the off-season and prefer to stay in fairly good shape year-round. Sculpting a physique is a work in progress that takes time and dedication and it is much easier to improve condition that way. For example, apart from those three contests I entered last year, I did two photo shoots and two guest-posing appearances and still managed to stay in shape all the time. But that’s me, I like to be in shape and love to be on the stage. I could also say it’s easy for me, since I’ve been living a bodybuilding lifestyle for 15 years now and can manage my schedule pretty much like I want to. Nevertheless, I definitely felt a need for a break and to go into "off-season" mode after my last preparation.
Backstage at the 2009 IFBB World Bodybuilding Championships.
As I said at the beginning of this article, you have to take into account many factors such as: stress level, work, lifestyle, age, nutrition, revenues (yes, bodybuilding is costly!). If I have one piece of advice to give you after all that’s been discussed in this article, it would be this: don't forget to get a life! Don't get me wrong, I love bodybuilding, it’s my sport and one of my passions, but it’s not everything. And just as I don’t think it’s worth the risk to take drugs and ruin your health in order to compete, I don’t think it’s any healthier to poison your life with extreme behaviour for a contest that will be over in a few months. Oftentimes, people get carried away in the mindset of competing and neglect their friends and/or families and other good stuff they usually enjoy and end up with troubles that are not always easy to patch up afterwards. Competing is a rewarding experience in so many ways, as it inspires dedication and forces you to challenge yourself. That means that it should indeed come with sacrifices in order to improve and get better, but not at the cost of what makes your life healthy and enjoyable. Try to keep that in mind.
Train, eat, sleep, compete and stay clean!
. . . Denis Pedneault, Canadian Champion 2005, 2006, 2009