Mindset of a Competitive Bodybuilder

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This article is not titled “Mindset of a Champion” or “How to be a Champion,” or anything of the sort.  That’s not what this is about.  This is strictly talking of my own experiences competing in a regional level NPC competition.  I am not a professional bodybuilder, and I only classify myself as a bodybuilder because I happened to step on stage.  You would not stop me in the street because I look like a freak of a bodybuilder (I wish).  However, I do believe that my experience can translate to others whom have competed or wish to compete in the future.  This article will not tell you how to be a champion bodybuilder, or even how to be a successful bodybuilder.  But, the hope is to at least help someone; whether that is a new competitor or someone just trying to find a relatable piece to the trials and tribulations of contest prep.  I am sure everyone’s experience is not entirely identifiable to the next, but I can guarantee everyone can at least relate to some.

So, you are (insert number) weeks out and you have made the conscious decision to enter a bodybuilding competition.  Congratulations!  Truly one of the most difficult aspects in all this is making that initial decision.  If you have never competed it can be anxiety filled, deciding to enter a show.  You will also never be more excited about prep than the day you decide to begin prep.  “I can do this!”  “I have heard competing is hard, but I am sure it’s not as hard as people say it is.”

First off, competing is hard.  Everyone says it’s hard.  But until you go through it yourself it’s hard to quite understand how truly difficult it is.  Yes, it’s undoubtedly hard physically, but it’s beyond difficult mentally.  Competing will test your mental fortitude bounds above most anything else in life.  I am not romanticizing this; obviously there are many things in life more difficult to go through: death of loved ones, financial hardship, etc.  But, this is probably the most challenging thing you can cognitively choose to do.

One of the most difficult things to understand as you delve deeper into contest prep is the idea that you are choosing to do this.  You may question why you would want to even go through this quest to get on stage.  Why not just stop when things get a little deranged?  You are missing out on life: social events, family dinners, sleep.  When you are doing your cardio before your job first thing in the morning, these are the things that go through your head.  When you are scrolling through social media and see the seventieth food post in a row, you question the worth of this prep.  It’s a very odd dynamic to have the power and autonomy to choose when to quit.  Nobody is making you do this and torture yourself, but you continue anyways.  Why?

Cravings.  “But I am strong willed and food doesn’t bother me.”  Okay, just wait until you are sitting around the dinner table on Mother’s Day eating out of Tupperware while Grandma is sitting next to you eating a barbeque pulled pork sandwich.  You begin to fantasize about food, especially at the end.  This is not an exaggeration either, I would wake up after having dreamed about eating.  You will start to construct in your mind the perfect post contest food concoctions.  “I am going to eat an entire Little Caesar’s pizza with Oreos and a dozen donuts.”  That’s probably not a heathy mindset. 

You may begin to develop anxiety about leaving the house.  You know you ate two hours ago and you are not sure if there will be anything for you to eat for a few hours.  Taking prepped food with you everywhere is not fun. 

I became a pretty terrible employee the last few weeks leading into the competition.  You begin to think single mindedly, and it’s hard to break out of it.  I am lucky to have a flexible job and I spent the majority of my day sitting in my car.     

More than likely your family will not understand why you are doing this.  My family could not have been less supportive of the idea of competing.  “You look sick, why are you getting so skinny?”  “So best case scenario all you get is a plastic trophy?”  And there is some truth to this, once again, why are you putting yourself through all this?  Even if your family begins to at least support you, they still do not quite understand the process.  “Eat this apple, apples are healthy.” 

My wife and I decided to prep for our first show together.  She had never competed and I had never competed.  We decided together to prep for 16 weeks and keep it as quiet as possible.  The strain contest prep puts on a relationship is real; the irritability, tiredness, lethargy, moodiness; none of these bode well for a solid healthy relationship.  On top of this, also try to be a halfway decent parent and human.  The house will never be as clean as you want, and alone time is rare.  More than likely your sex drive will be in the tank.  That’s a very hard thing to accept.  We do not have a babysitter, so after work we rotate going to the gym; myself first, then her.  You begin to become roommates more than spouses.  You go to bed every night questioning in your mind your choice to do this.

Competing was the most rewarding thing I have ever decided to do.  I talked a lot about the negative, but in my mind the positives far outweigh the negatives.   The decision to continue on when you are questioning everything is such a cool experience.  Showing your family why you decided to get on stage and transform your physique.  Showing the willpower and grit required to adhere to a strict caloric deficit. 

With each passing training session your body starts to transform.  Taking progress pictures becomes less of a chore, and more enjoyable.  Seeing new definition, vascularity, hardness, detail; those things never get old. 

Stepping on stage is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life.  All of that hard work for the past 16 weeks is for this one moment.  But, that’s not necessarily the case.  In hindsight the process was a lot more rewarding than the end result.  The day in and day out; taking it one day at a time.  Conquering the day.  Leaving no stone unturned.

I do not want this to come across that my prep was any harder or any easier than the next person.  My hope is that it will at least resonate with a future competitor or someone who has competed looking for a little reassurance.  When you are deep in the trenches it’s nice to justify why you are being less than a reputable human being.

If you get the chance to compete, do it.  There are few things in life that will give more intrinsic reward than stepping on stage and pushing your body to its physical limits.  I would not trade that experience for anything.

-Daniel Henigsmith                   

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