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Contest Prep Training: The Importance Of Lifting Heavy

contest prep training

When a natural bodybuilder is deep in the bowels of contest prep, training will become absolutely brutal.  When your carbs and calories are low, and you are a true natural, even an arm workout can seem like an arduous task.

Contest prep for natural bodybuilding is a difficult, but worthwhile process.  And winning the overall and a big trophy at a show are excellent goals to have.  But the changes you make both physically and mentally are more important and will change your total outlook on life.

Training Mythology

Unfortunately, there are many ridiculous myths in the bodybuilding game about how contest prep training should look.  Many of these myths have been passed down from one iron generation to the next.

One of the most absurd myths is that you must start doing high reps with light weights to get shredded.  To the uninitiated natural bodybuilder, pumping up with light weights might seem like a good idea.  But in reality that theory is nothing more than a mummer’s farce.

Doing high reps with light weights does not get you more cut or defined.  The truth is that your energy input/output is responsible for reducing body fat.

When I prepared for my first show in 2011, I bought this snake oil by the gallon.  And I did not look my best on the day of the show or any other day for that matter.  Buying that snake oil got me nowhere except looking weak, skinny, and flat.  After my pedestrian performance at the 2011 NGA Mr. Natural Philadelphia, I went back to the drawing board and started applying the basics.

Tried And True

After the show I took a deeper dive into what really builds muscle.  And I began applying these tried and true methods to my developing training and nutrition system.  The consistent, quality effort over time was paying off as I was improving my physique every year.  And eventually my efforts really paid off as I earned my pro card by winning the overall at the 2022 NGA Mr. Natural Philadelphia.

A former client of mine, who won the overall for figure at the 2019 Ms. Natural Philadelphia, showed up in excellent condition at her first show.  She did not show up looking lean and muscular because she was pumping 30 rep sets with light weights.  She looked good and won the overall because she continued to lift relatively heavy weights during contest prep.

The Importance Of Lifting Heavy Weights During Contest Prep

contest prep training

The term heavy in relation to the weights you will lift during contest prep is relative.

When your offseason ends, you should theoretically be at your biggest and strongest.  Ideally your bodyweight will be a bit higher at this point in your season.  This is because you should have been in the habit of consuming more calories and lifting heavier weights to promote more muscle growth.

Now in the typical pre-contest scenario most natural bodybuilders do what I did in 2011 and stop lifting heavy.  They begin to lift light weights for high reps during the contest prep period.

You don’t get anything out of doing 10 easy reps in a set with a weight you could have done 20 reps with.  That type of set is the definition of fake hustle.  This fruitless approach, combined with an extreme caloric deficit and excessive “cardio” results in a very deflating, but predictable loss of muscle and strength.

This natural bodybuilder will absolutely lose points on stage for lacking muscle fullness and size.  And looking small and deflated on stage is not the way to win a show.

Losses in muscle will occur during contest prep for a natural bodybuilder due to the reduction in calories.  But there is a way to mitigate these losses in muscle to a degree.  The best way to retain most of your muscle is to continue to lift as heavy as possible throughout contest prep. 

This means mostly working in the 6-12 rep range with challenging weights.  The amount of weight you are using will most likely go down as you get deeper in the contest prep.  With low calories and carbs, you just won’t have the gas in the tank to move the same amount of weight as you did in the offseason.  But if your set of 8 in the squat is a challenging set of 8, you can mitigate those losses in muscle.

Lifting relatively heavy weights while in a caloric deficit (protein intake still high) will force your body to hold on to that precious muscle.  And having more muscle is how you can show up on stage looking bigger and leaner than you actually are.

Muscle retention is just as important as losing body fat during contest prep.


Lifting relatively heavy weights while you are training during contest prep is one of the keys to retaining your muscle mass.  If you program your training correctly, you will show up on the day of the show looking full, ripped, and muscular.

But if you program your training like a dodo, your presence on stage will be that of a dodo: non-existent.  For more information on customized training programs, check out my online coaching link.

I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,

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