Recovery Days Matter
Recovery days during contest prep are absolutely necessary.
Your physique is already under the high stresses of the daily caloric deficit, hard training, posing practice, and the anxiousness that comes with contest prep. Add in the inevitable feelings of hunger that natural bodybuilders deal with on a constant basis, and you have the ideal storm for getting shredded.
But recovery must remain a priority. If you do not recover, you will put yourself at a high risk for noticeable losses in muscle and performance in the gym that will undoubtedly cost you on stage.
Less Is More
The bodybuilding culture is all about more is better. It’s a good theme, but to a degree.
The idea of using more weight, doing more reps, and even performing more cardio are sprinkled all throughout bodybuilding. Consistent progression over time is the primary goal, as all natural bodybuilders want to be stronger and leaner. But the most important thing is that it’s all about the dosage of the work.
Sleep, water, and quality food are also healthy. But too much of them will have disastrous effects on your health and well-being. Try eating too many brussels sprouts or kidney beans and see what happens when you are walking around looking bloated and passing gas like Exxon.
Training falls under the same premise of being healthy, but you still have to control the dosage, or you will overtrain. Now some folks don’t believe in overtraining. But most of the folks who make that claim either take anabolic steroids to mask the effects of overtraining or just aren’t training that hard in the first place.
Overtraining is a real concern for natural bodybuilders if recovery is not managed. This statement in no way promotes the idea that you now should train without intensity due to a fear of overtraining. It just means you have to really know how to design a program to mostly avoid overtraining.
Almost every natural bodybuilder is guilty of overtraining and under recovering and I’m going to tell you why.
If you are wired a certain kind of way and you are entering a natural bodybuilding competition, your goal is to win the overall. That means you are going to do everything (except take banned substances) in your power to win.
Bodybuilders with what I call the lion mindset, that win it all costs mindset, can fall into the trap and sabotage themselves by doing too much work at the detriment of our physique.
My 2022 Lack Of Recovery Days Story
Going into the 2022 OCB Jersey Natural Open I was feeling great.
I had recently achieved a career goal by winning the overall at the 2022 NGA Mr. Natural Philadelphia. By winning, I earned my pro cards in bodybuilding and classic physique. A few weeks after Mr. Natural Philly, I did a Dexa Scan in April 2022 to test my body fat.
I was at 7.2 percent body fat, and I was as lean, muscular, and symmetrical as I had ever been.
I decided that for the last month of contest prep I was going to max out my activity levels to make an attempt to get under 7 percent body fat. My plan was to train every single day, with absolutely no days off.
My lifting split was 3 days on and 1 day off. I walked and practiced posing every day. And I sprinted and did conditioning at least 3 days per week.
This was an experiment as I wanted to show up at the Jersey Natural Open and be dominant, especially in terms of conditioning.
What Did I Do?
My calories were not super low, (2000-2300cals a day) so I felt very good going in implementing this plan of action. On top of lifting weights and sprinting, I added in a ton of walking.
Walking is a great recovery tool and an easy way to eat up calories, but I overdid it. Again, when you have that lion mindset, you will do anything you can to maximize the chances that you win the show.
My sleep during this time period was not the greatest. When you combine all the training, sprinting, walking, posing practice, lack of sleep, running a business, and the typical pre-show stress you create an ideal environment for losses in muscle.
The next time I took a DEXA scan in May 2022, the day before the show, the results of my plan were revealed: I had lost 5lbs of muscle mass during that month! Too much activity did me in!
The proof is in the protein pudding as it hurt me on stage. I lost quality mass in my upper body where it’s hard for me to hold it genetically.
I ended up getting second in my class. I was not satisfied because I did not bring my best physique to the stage, and I ended up not in the running to win the overall.
My goal at every show is to win. I won’t win every time, but that has to be my mindset because I don’t do anything in life to get 9th place.
There are lessons in losing and I learned. To retain your muscle mass, you’ve got to put an emphasis on sleep and reducing your stress levels. It’s easier to talk about recovery than to implement it, especially during the actual contest prep process. But it’s entirely possible and necessary to do so.
I was in this recovery state of mind in April. And with better sleep and less stress, I had built my best physique ever. But I took a chance with my experiment and couldn’t hold that physique.
I’m never afraid to try things because I love to learn. Losing hurts, but it’s exciting because it creates another opportunity for you to get better.
Don’t let your wins go to your head and your losses go to your heart. Adapt and move on.
I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,