By: Kurt Weidner
A troubling observation I have made over the years is the inability of most to possess what I would call long term vision. I am constantly approached or contacted by youngsters seeking improved size, strength or speed. They usually bring great initial enthusiasm, which is coupled with an expectation for instant results. When the realization sets in that it will take not only lifestyle changes that call for great discipline on a daily basis, but that the approach must be executed over a long period of time to yield the wanted results, all of a sudden the enthusiasm dwindles.
My father started me doing push-ups and sit-ups when I was eight years old. As a youngster I was very driven to excel, whether on the athletic field or in the classroom. I recognized the significance of paying my dues. I knew that I wanted to be bigger, stronger and faster and I will was willing to work to make it happen. I also realized that I was not going to see results from day to day or week to week…I put my time in anyway, knowing down the road I would be able to cash in on my hardwork.
I was not a naturally big guy. In high school I was somewhat strong with more of a wiry athletic build. My legs were long and thin. I punished them with insane workouts. I was willing to implement any training method to make them bigger and stronger…numerous exercises and sets, drop sets, supersets, giant sets, plyometrics, sprints, etc. Week after week, month after month, year after year I would continually torture my legs, insisting that they grow. I never stopped to think about how long it would take for them to gain the size and strength I wanted…I just focused on doing what needed to be done.
The quest for bigger legs along with improved overall musculature never ceased. I am now 35 years old and have competed as a professional bodybuilder for several years. While I will never be satisfied (a sign of complacency), I can look at my physique now and see the fruits of my labor over many, many years. I also recognize the sacrifices made over all of those years along with an unwavering attitude and commitment towards attaining my goals.
Each little decision made every day to push myself harder on each set, to only eat clean, healthy foods, to get enough sleep and to consistently take the extra measures is an investment in my body and my future. Every day is a new investment…it’s the next workout, the next set, the next meal…it doesn’t stop…it’s like clockwork. You keep investing every day and you don’t think about the size of the return or when you’ll see it. This type of structured behavior requires faith or you won’t stay the path. The routine has to be part of your belief system. You can never question the value of what must be done every day…you just do it without thought or hesitation. It has to be important enough to you that you not only keep doing it, but that you would actually feel incomplete without the structured routine. It becomes part of who you are…it defines you.
With this lifestyle many who fail to understand might ask you, “Don’t you ever get tired of working out or eating healthy?” NO!!! I DON’T and I NEVER WILL!!! This would be like me asking someone with religious devotion, “Don’t you ever get tired of believing in god?” They would think I’m an idiot.
If you take a minute to think about the idea of saving and investing, how much money would you need to save and invest on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to significantly increase your net worth and how long would it take you? If you understand money, then you know it wouldn’t happen overnight. Investing time, energy and resources into your body is no different…it takes a long time to see results, but with persistence and patience they’ll be there. Ultimately, you need to be realistic. Success in any endeavor never comes quickly, nor should it. The more you’re willing to invest yourself and the longer the period of time over which you’re willing to do so, the greater the reward.
Lastly, there is not a real starting or ending point. As a person I have continued to evolve over the course of my life to become who I am now. As I strive forward to meet new goals, I am constantly raising the bar for myself and setting loftier goals. At 35 years old I can look back to see how my physique has changed since I was a teenager as a result of my investment in myself…for me this serves as motivation to work even harder, so that looking ahead to 40 years old I can redefine my best.
The next time you think about a goal you’d like to attain or achieve, ask yourself the important questions: How bad do I want it and what am I willing to do to make it happen?
Below is a picture of me when I was 19 years old after several years of very rigorous training.
This is a picture of my legs about 14 years later
My article entitled “Humility” in my Animal Instincts column is featured on page 34 of the November 2011 issue Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness. This magazine can be found in Barnes & Nobles.
One of the most important lessons learned from my career as a natural bodybuilder and one of the most important attributes of one who aspires to be a successful natural bodybuilder is humility. Early on when one becomes involved with this lifestyle it’s easy to become impressed with the strength gains, physique improvements or even success at the amateur level that one might experience. Unfortunately, this mindset often allows for complacency, which impedes progress.
Sometimes it takes a rude awakening, like stepping up to the pro level, in order to realize an important life lesson…you’re not that good!…regardless of how good you are, there’s always someone better! Think you are strong? There are plenty who are far stronger! Think you are lean? There is someone who makes your contest condition look like off-season!
Sometimes the best motivation a competitor can ever experience is getting his/her ass handed to them…I was certainly nothing special as an amateur, but this is exactly what happened to me when I first competed as a pro. I realized that I was going to have to work a lot harder and sacrifice a lot more if I ever wanted to succeed as a pro. Simply put, I need to take it to another level.
When you’re one of the only bodybuilders in your gym, it’s easy to attract attention and compliments that allow you to be impressed with yourself. Remind yourself who is out there. Do yourself a favor if you’re interested in improving…compare yourself to the best physiques out there, not the average individual in your hometown. When gym members compliment you, remember that they are not measuring you against the top physiques in the world. They’re comparing you to the average person in the gym they see. Looking good in clothing amongst the other people in your gym is far different than looking good while standing next to other top physique competitors who dedicate their lives to being their best onstage.
Instead of giving yourself credit for your accomplishments, spend more time focusing on your weak points and aspects of your physique or training methods that need improvement. Remind yourself that there is always someone out there training harder. Focus on what you have not accomplished yet…don’t admire what you did yesterday. Yesterday is gone…what are you doing today? What goals are you chasing after tomorrow?
Over the last several years that I have competed I have had my doses of humility. I trained with Brian Whitacre for 2 years. I watched Brian win almost every show as an amateur and then go on to win an overall in his first pro show. Brian and I trained and competed together numerous times, while becoming close friends. Coming back home from shows, Brian was always the one who won and I was the one who didn’t do as well. Brian went on to win 3 lightweight titles at the WNBF Pro World Championships, while I came home with several disappointing subpar placings. It was always a nice reminder to me, “You aren’t that good and you need to work a lot harder if you ever want to become better!”
After Brian’s departure Vaughan Twigger eventually become my new workout partner. As an amateur, I quickly realized the insane potential of this British phenom.Vaughanearned a pro card in 2006, tearing apart his competition. Since that time I have watched him grow like a weed. It seems like he gets bigger, stronger and leaner every week. I look back and realize that I was no where close to his level of development when I was that age! Every day I train with him, I am reminded by his freakish physique that I am still not that good! There are plenty more out there like him: Huge quads, cannon ball delts, triceps that look to be possessed by aliens, no waist, wide thick back, etc, etc. I look at my physique in comparison and am left to think, “You better work even harder!!! You better find a way to take it to another level or the judges aren’t even going to notice you on the stage!”
While the constant reminders of humility can be frustrating, you must learn to use them as motivation. When reminded that “You aren’t that good!” there are two choices: quit or work harder! I’m not a quitter! I also hate mediocrity, so I will do anything to be more than just an average bodybuilder who simply gets overlooked in the line-up. While I constantly remind myself of how good the competition is, I also continue to do two important things:
1) work as hard as I possibly can every day
2) maintain faith in my ability to continue improving my physique
Fortunately, there are plenty of stories of those who did not attain success right away, but rather had to persevere. As a former hockey player and lifetime hockey fan, the recent Stanley Cup Playoffs offer a great example of a humble hero, who always worked hard, never gave up and realized a life’s dream. Tim Thomas, goaltender for the Boston Bruins, not only led his team to a Stanley Cup, but also captured the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. While Thomas has reached the pinnacle of his career at age 37, having won the Stanley Cup, Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy, his road to NHL stardom was a long and arduous process. Thomas spent years shifting around the minor leagues, before ever making it in the NHL. He didn’t make it to the NHL until he was 28 years old and did not become the starting goaltender for the Bruins until he was 31.
While we all need reminders that we are not that good, we also need inspiration that enables us to believe we can become better, so that we never stop working towards our goals. Humility and perseverance work hand in hand in the success of many late-blooming stars. Athletes like Thomas remind us of that. Stay grounded, work hard and never lose sight of your goals!
A Sense of Urgency
By Kurt Weidner
In recent years, I have gained attention and interest from others with my approach to training. I field questions regarding my workout split, volume, exercise variation, focus on eccentric vs concentric, etc. While these are all pertinent topics, they all miss the overlying theme that embodies my approach to not only my workouts but contest preparation as a whole. The most important piece of advice I could give someone, who wants to look his/her best onstage is to train with a sense of urgency. By that I mean every time you walk into the gym to workout, you have to treat each set as if your success or failure as a competitor is going to be determined in that very moment. Maybe your next show is 4, 8 or 12 months away. It doesn’t matter! You have to train as if it’s the last opportunity you get to gain an edge on your competitors.
One of the unfortunate side effects of our modern civilized society is that most people have become soft in their nature. Humans have lost touch with their primal instincts that once enabled them to survive as part of the food chain. There is an overwhelming reliance on others for the most basic needs. Training with a sense of urgency requires you to abandon this mindset and return to one far more primitive in nature. If you want to train like an ANIMAL you have to think like one, which I cannot sum up better than the following proverb:
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
This is the type of thought process that gets you out of bed at 4am to do cardio. This is what motivates you to find it in you to turn a 15 rep set into a 20 rep set. This is what enables you to set a new PR on squats when you’re only eight pounds above your stage weight. Do or die every day! How good do you want to look when you hit the stage? How bad do you want it? Convince yourself of what must happen every day! There can be no option in the matter. You are not allowed to be tired! You are not allowed to have a mediocre workout! You are not allowed to slip on your diet! Success or failure is defined at every moment and every moment is equally important so you must always act with a sense of urgency!!!
In nature only the strong survive. Unlike animals in the wild, humans have the choice between thriving and just surviving. If you choose to go through the motions, you may someday look back on your life, defined by mediocrity, with great regret…or worse you’ll die having accomplished nothing of significance. It is your animal instincts that will enable you to excel, not only on the stage, but in life, so that one day you can look back with pride.
Also, I wrote a piece about incorporating Squats and Deadlifts in the WNBF Pro Tips section on page 84
This was the article I wrote that was featured in the May 2011 NB&F magazine in my Animal Instincts column
People often ask me, “So when do you start training for your next show?” I’m sure a look of extreme aggravation quickly appears on my face, before even beginning to formulate a response. I honestly find this question insulting. Do these people think that there are times of the year that I just stop being a bodybuilder, stop working out and resort to sitting on my ass while eating pizza and doughnuts??? This is a job! It’s not a part time job! It’s not something I do during certain months of the year for fun! It’s my life!
Competitively, it began when I was 21, but the journey towards building my physique started well before that as a youngster and has been a continual process throughout my life with no end point. At no point during my 14 year career have I ever stepped away from this. I have remained focused on the task at hand even during years in which I did not compete. My reasons to take a year off have been for progression, not a break. Each year I have devoted more time, energy, effort and focus towards improvement. Every day I wake it’s about what must happen in that twenty-four hour period to become better. It is how I challenge myself each day to provide purpose in my life.
I will only step away from competing if get to a point where I either feel I cannot make further progress or I just simply do not enjoy it anymore. I will never stop training, though and I will never discontinue a regimented lifestyle dedicated to health and fitness. At this stage in my life, working out and eating in a strategic manner is about more than just bodybuilding and competing. As a personal trainer and nutritional consultant IT IS MY JOB to practice what I preach, regardless of whether I’m getting onstage or not. Performing year round cardio, eating clean year round, working my butt off in the gym every day and taking care of my body are all part of my belief system. Some people go to church…I go to the gym!
In order to be able to respect others you must first be able to respect yourself. You can’t respect yourself if you do not take care of yourself. The gym is my place of worship as it has taught me many things over the years. It has enabled me to gain strength and self confidence. It has shown me humility. It has taught me about consistency, persistence and determination. It has provided a means to measure myself against an unwavering and unchanging opposing force. In that regard, it has taught me how to honestly assess myself. It has taught me what I’m capable of. It has taught me how to believe in myself, when I had nothing else to believe in. If you choose to believe in something and it defines your character, then you believe in it EVERY DAY and your actions reflect it ALL THE TIME!!! This is called passion!
One of my favorite excerpts from the Book Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshun reads,
Peace is a lie. There is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory my chains are broken.
For me training to step onstage clearly defines my fitness related goals and gives me purpose on a daily basis. Without purpose and the goals that are defined by such, you might as well be dead, because there is nothing to guide your spirit and you will become lost in the sea of mediocrity! Beyond this, your passion is the driving force behind your purpose. You can choose to challenge yourself with anything (it doesn’t have to be bodybuilding), but if you don’t truly believe in what you are doing, then you cannot be passionately invested in your purpose and you will fail to reach your goals. If you find nothing else in your life, find your purpose and find your passion and your life will be one worth living.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that one’s relentless pursuit of excellence, which is driven by his/her passion is about something greater than themself. This is big picture thinking and can only happen for the right reasons. I never got involved with bodybuilding for any materialistic reasons (we all know that even as a pro you spend far more than you’ll ever make). I was never interested in seeking attention (if anything I do my best to avoid mentioning that I’m a bodybuilder and I don’t like attention). I never trained to improve my physique with the idea that it would make me more attractive to females (I would have given up long ago if that were the case). I have been passionately invested in health and fitness for a long time and am simply programmed to push myself as a result. There is nothing motivating me beyond my own personal pursuit of excellence and fear of mediocrity. I do this for me! At the end of each day I can look in the mirror and be happy with the person looking back at me. I may not have a lot of money, I may not have a lot of friends, and I may not have many possessions, but I’ll always have inner peace, which is the result of knowing that if I died tomorrow, I did something with my life.
this is the fifth article I wrote for NB&F magazine, which appeared in the February 2011 issue
Physical strength is the product of mental fortitude. The human body is designed to adapt to stresses imposed upon it. In order to become physically stronger (which can be defined in various ways) you must continue to impose stress greater than that which your body has already enabled itself to sustain and recover from. In other words, you have to take it to another level if you want to continue improving. Success in any endeavor requires one to get out of his/her comfort zone. In bodybuilding that translates into the willingness to endure pain.
When I look at my own physique and I see the progress I’ve made since being a skinny little boy earlier in life, I am reminded of everything I’ve put myself through over the years to get to where I am. I also know that I need to continue finding new ways to challenge myself, so I can force my body to adapt and become stronger. The longer you’ve been training, the harder this becomes. Each day I walk into the gym I think to myself, “what are my competitors doing?” Part of my philosophy as a competitor is to choose a path that few are willing to follow and even fewer are able to follow. When I plan a leg workout, I often try to come up with things that would make others uncomfortable just to watch. Why? Because when I step onstage, I’ll know that no one standing next to me worked harder and while my physique may not be the best, it will demonstrate my willingness to work.
Since I have been very young, I have always thrived on the ability to do things that others either can’t or would not want to try. The fact that I’m willing to do these things voluntarily lets me know that I am different. Why is this important to me? Because I do not want to be like everyone else! My greatest fear in life is mediocrity! Over the years, I have realized that I seem to be very different than most other people. They don’t understand why I would want to do what I do on a daily basis and I can’t understand how many of them are so easy to give up at the first sign of resistance. How can they not have more resilience?
You can study workout methodologies, splits, rep schemes, etc all day long, but in the end if you aren’t willing to endure some pain, then you will never have an exceptional physique. Not everyone is mentally tough enough, however, to voluntarily put themselves through such rigors. Having worked with numerous clients over the years I have grown to realize that I cannot help someone become physically stronger if they are mentally weak to begin with. Furthermore, mental toughness is something you can’t teach. It’s acquired and learned on one’s own over the course of one’s life. I owe much to my parents for teaching me the value of hard work and sacrifice. I learned very early in life the concept of hard work being equivalent to money in the bank. It’s been said before, but YOU GOTTA PAY YOUR DUES!!! Some people just never figure this out I guess. You can give them all the knowledge you have, but it’s useless because they can’t implement the most basic concept: HARD WORK! I’d rather have a client who’s terribly out of shape, but willing to work over someone who’s very fit, but can’t handle a little bit of pain and is afraid to make sacrifices. It’ll be easier to enable the first type of person to see improvement and results.
Being mentally tough is essential, not only for bodybuilding, but for life. So where does this trait come from? I would argue that it is the result of hardships faced throughout your life. If you haven’t faced some level of hardship in your life, then either you’re too sheltered or you’re just lucky. For everyone else, hardship builds character, enables you to cope and most importantly imposes mental stress that allows for adaptation. This adaptation of mental strength is what provides the foundation for what you must do in order to attain physical strength. A strong healthy body is often the sign of a strong healthy mind. When you look at the very top WNBF pros, you’ll likely find many differences in their approach to training and nutrition. One thing they’ll always have in common, however, is mental fortitude, because without it they would not have gotten to where they are.
This is the fourth article I wrote for NB&F magazine, which appeared in the November 2010 issue
I stated in one of my previous articles that bodybuilding is as much about breaking through psychological barriers as it is physical ones. When I initially wrote that I was referring to one’s ability to make their body do something it doesn’t want to do (body follows the mind). It also pertains, however, to the concept of plateaus, which is what I would like to focus on here. When you’ve been training for 10-20 years or more, it is inevitable that you are going to encounter plateaus with your training. It is crucial that you are able to find a way around these sticking points in order for you to continue making your physique progress. The longer you’ve trained and the more your physique progresses towards your ultimate potential, the harder it is to continually make gains. You have to be willing to sacrifice much more, be more detailed and more disciplined even in order to attain the smallest marginal differences. One of the most important aspects of breaking through these barriers is to recognize the difference between a physical and psychological barrier. Physical barriers, while annoying, are much easier to work around once identified. An example of this is not being able to attain a new personal best at a given lift in terms of weight or reps. It’s not that your workouts aren’t necessarily optimal. You may just need an extra day of rest, a change in volume (sets or reps) or modification to your workout split. Personal records are only one indication of progress, but should not be overly weighted. You can continue to stimulate growth of muscle fibers with effective workouts in which you don’t necessarily outperform yourself each time.
A much trickier obstacle to get around is the psychological plateau. This is when your mind becomes desensitized to the ordinary stimuli. Every competitor has experienced being in a rut at some point. Not having the usual excitement to hit the gym, frustration with lack of drive and inability to equal usual workout intensity are typical symptoms of what is otherwise termed as feeling “burned out”. This is arguably a much harder problem to deal with and requires one to step outside his/herself and establish an objective perspective on their own methodology. This kind of psychological barrier is generally caused by a feeling of monotony. Bodybuilders are notorious for being creatures of habit. Our days follow a similar pattern, which provides structure. This is a good thing 99% of the time. Now and again, however, it becomes the enemy! When you sense this is happening, it’s time to start changing EVERYTHING up. You need a new structure or outline to your day to break the monotony. You need to make both big structural changes and changes in small minor details. Anything to refresh your mindset: Change your workout time, change your meals up, design a completely different workout split, get new music on your ipod, try working out at a different gym, trying working out with someone who can challenge you in a different way, incorporate new types of physical challenges (tire flipping, martial arts, stadium steps…anything different from what you usually do), invent new pre-workout rituals. The bottom line is that you can’t continue to get effective results from a routine that your body and mind has become overly accustomed to. There are limited opportunities to make an impact on your physique before you step onstage again. Don’t allow yourself to be the victim of psychological monotony for another day. Refresh your daily routine and walk into the gym with a vengeance so you can make every workout count!!!
This is the third article I wrote for NB&F, which appeared in the August 2010 issue
When you look at the top pros in the WNBF, you may stop and notice that the vast majority of them are not spring chickens. They’ve been around the iron game for awhile. Most are probably in their mid to upper thirties, while many are even in their forties. What does this mean? First it’s good to know we’re involved in a sport that allows us to continue competing for as long as we can stay healthy and injury free. Second, if you want to make it to the top you have to pay your dues, because there are a lot of guys who have put in their time. A common denominator amongst these top pros is that most of them have been training for 15-20+ years. If you consider an average of 5 resistance training sessions a week, 52 weeks a years over that many years, you’re looking at some tremendous repetitive stress being placed on the body, namely tendons. How is it then, that many of these pros are able to continue coming back to hit the stage, year after year, demonstrating greater and greater progress with their already top level physiques? When you’ve been training that long and you train with the intensity required to consistently place at the top of WNBF shows, it is inevitable that you are going to encounter some nagging injuries and setbacks. I am far from being a top pro, but I am 34 years old, I’ve been competing for over 13 years and I have been training for over 20 years. My next show will be my 30th competition and while I have had disappointing placings, I have continued to make improvement, despite battling numerous bodily issues along the way. In my 13 year career, there were only two years in which I did not compete. I’ve dealt with tendonitis in my arms, shoulders and knees, rotator cuff issues, lower back problems, etc. I still have never had to step away or take time off from training. I have just found ways to work around injuries and aggravations, so that I can continue to make gains, while my body is given time to repair itself. It’s not always about training harder…sometimes it’s about training smarter. Don’t beat your head against a brick wall. As we grow older it becomes necessary to adjust our training methods so as not to continue aggravating existing issues. First off, when you start to develop nagging aches and pains, it’s time to incorporate therapy and preventative maintenance. For instance, rotator cuff exercises for 5 minutes at least three days a week can help keep shoulder pain at bay. Consider how you can strengthen areas that cause problems. Example: Lower back issues can be related to hamstring weakness or inflexibity. You also need to identify specific movements that are aggravating. Sometimes, adjusting your foot positioning on a leg press or squat can take stress off the knees. Consider the angles at which you push and pull…do any feel better or worse for your shoulders, if you’re having issues with them? In the case of tendonitis in the forearms and elbows, experiment with different types of grip (wide, close, medium, pronated, supinated, neutral) and figure out what feels best and worse. You don’t have to completely eliminate anything, but you may alter certain movements while an area is attempting to re-cover. You can also change rep schemes and workout formats/methodology. For instance, instead of working down to a 6-8 rep weight, try picking a weight and a number of reps and continue doing sets (with the lighter working weight) until you achieve the number of reps (50,75,100). Use variations of the same movement. My lower back can’t handle doing traditional heavy deadlifts anymore, but I can get great work for my lower back, hams and glutes doing stiff leg deadlifts with slightly less weight. I concentrate more on form and keep reps higher with more controlled speed. I actually feel like I benefit more from this than when I used to go extremely heavy with conventional deadlifts. On certain exercises, I’ve figured out that it’s not beneficial to exceed a certain amount of weight, even though the strength is not an issue. I have also gotten a lot stricter on my form with everything. As we get older, it becomes a little easier to check our egos at the door and focus on performing exercises correctly rather than just seeing how heavy we can go. Despite not being able to go as heavy on certain movements like squats and deadlifts as I once did, I know that I am overall stronger and have a better physique. This is the result of smarter, more effective training methods. Dealing with injuries over the years has taught me a lot about my body. I have learned something from every ache and pain I’ve encountered. Bottom line: don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do and figure out how to keep moving forward.
This is the second article I wrote for NB&F magazine, which appeared in the May 2010 issue
Importance of Off-Season
For the natural bodybuilder, gains are made in the off-season. Period! It’s unlikely for one to add muscle when they are in a caloric deficit preparing for a show. So if you don’t want to look the same as you did the last time you stepped onstage, then YOU BETTER TAKE YOUR OFFSEASON TRAINING SERIOUSLY!!! What you do on a daily basis in the off-season is just as important as what you do in-season. I can’t understand competitors who don’t get serious about their diet or training until they decide to start prepping for a show. It’s too late then! A true bodybuilder is always getting ready for the next show. The day after you’re done competing, if you’re a true competitor, then you’re already thinking about what you need to do in the off-season to get ready for the following year. EVERY DAY IS AN OPPORTUNITY THAT EXISTS ONLY ONCE AFTER WHICH AN ADVANTAGE IS EITHER GAINED OR LOST! Are you letting your competitors gain an edge over you while you waste valuable opportunities to grow. Every workout, every day needs to be optimized!!! I don’t care if you’re next show is 2 years away. You don’t miss meals! You make sure you get adequate rest and recovery. You don’t compromise your body doing stupid things! And you TRAIN YOU ASS OFF like you’re next show is only 2 weeks away! This requires sacrifice and it requires you to have faith in the fact that your success in the future is reliant upon every little thing you do, every day leading up to that event over a very long stretch of time. You cannot measure the effects of your actions from day to day or even week to week. You can, however, recognize when someone has paid their dues in the off-season when they step onstage a year or two later. Likewise, you can tell who didn’t take their off-season seriously when they show up looking the same as the year before. Where do you stand?
Ok, now that we’ve addressed the importance of off-season, let’s talk about strategy. I constantly hear bodybuilders talk about or ask me questions about bulking in the off-season. In simple terms, bulking refers to an ingestion of calories that exceeds caloric expenditure, creating a caloric surplus. Theoretically, a caloric surplus should prevent catabolism and enable greater anabolism (assuming calories are properly allocated and come from good sources). The question is how much of a surplus is actually beneficial? Many bodybuilders think they are going to get big by eating tons and tons of food in the off-season. This may work for the chemically enhanced bodybuilder, who is providing the body with exogenous sources of hormones, insulin, hgh, etc, which enable greater synthesis of protein and other nutrients. For the natural bodybuilder, however, I would maintain that there is a limit to how much extra food you can really benefit from. Consider the role that each macronutrient plays. Once the body has what it’s capable of using at one time, force-feeding any additional nutrient is only going to result in one thing: the excess being stored as fat! While you should maintain higher bodyfat levels in the off-season (within reason), the more you have to take off come contest season, the more energy must be expended towards doing so. This means more cardio and more drastic caloric deficits, both of which translate to less energy expended towards your workouts and greater chance of catabolism…kind of defeats the purpose of what you were trying to attain with all those extra calories in the first place.
When determining sufficient amount of calories to allow for growth, you should monitor the progress of your physique throughout your off-season with progress pictures, tracking of bodyweight (same scale, same time of day), and bodyfat measurements (I use a 7 point skin caliper test). Make sure the test is administered by the same person under the same conditions (same time of day, day of week, etc.) These three measures will indicate whether or not you should be increasing your calories. Weight should be tracked on a weekly basis, while bodyfat measurements and progress pictures can be taken about once every four weeks. These will help keep you honest and on track. This will also ensure that you have a solid starting position for your next contest season.
I would also advise that while you are taking in more calories in the off-season, that is the time to incorporate cardio, contrary to popular belief. Cardio vascular health and efficiency enables blood circulation. Oxygen and nutrient delivery are dependant upon blood circulation, which determines both short and long term recovery (how fast you’re able to recover from one set and perform the next and how long it takes to recover in between workouts). Being in better aerobic and anaerobic conditioning as a result of cardiovascular exercise increases your work capacity, enabling you to work harder during your workouts, which translates to more intense workouts and more muscle. You can’t get your legs to grow from doing squats if you get tired and winded after the first couple working sets. Aerobic and anaerobic capacity is a limiting factor to muscle growth. Furthermore, by incorporating cardio in your off-season routine, you’re more likely to utilize the extra calories you take in and the cardio itself is less likely to cause catabolism during this period since you are taking in more calories. If you play your cards right, you may actually to able to taper cardio down or even phase it out as your contest approaches, saving your energy for your workouts and posing sessions.
In order to have a productive off-season, in which strength and lean mass gains are made, you stay lean and focused on your next goal, you must have a strong transition from the end of one season into your off-season. At the end of a contest season, if all you’re thinking about is food and how much you want to eat, then your off-season will likely suck, because your mind has already set the tone for what is going to happen after your show. Just like you have a plan of action to get yourself in shape for a show, you need a plan of action to come off of a show and work towards the next one. Right now I have six weeks left in my 25 week contest prep. I have already created a sample off-season diet to start following the Monday after the show, which includes more calories (mainly from added carbohydrates and fat). I thought about how to structure my meals, so that they seem slightly different than what I was doing for the 25 weeks before. I’ve also started jotting down some lofty strength goals that I am going to pursue. I’ve picked a weight that I want to perform for a given number of reps on several different exercises, beyond what I was capable of doing in my previous off-season. My mind is already thinking about making progress as a bodybuilder when my last show of the season is over.
Don’t get me wrong, I will enjoy some good food when the show is over and will have my cheat meals here and there, but structure, planning and discipline must be maintained. Allow yourself a certain degree of leniency over the first month or so (you don’t want to set yourself up for failure), but keep some rules and phase yourself back to a completely structured plan over a period of several weeks. You have to realize that by the end of a rigorous contest season the metabolism has been slowed significantly. If you just go ahead and eat whatever you want for days on end, your body will store fat very efficiently. Your winning physique will quickly be lost, you will physically look and feel terrible and worst of all, it will affect you psychologically. When you’re used to looking in the mirror for several months and seeing a shredded physique that then suddenly disappears in a matter of days, it can cause depression! The best way to combat this is to start working towards your next goal right away and keep things in check so you don’t look like a water buffalo inside a week. A few tips along these lines: Sunday is generally a travel day to get back home, but Monday you should be back in the gym working out. Get back in your routine! You’re going to want to eat certain less than healthy foods that week, so build some cheat meals into your structured plan. For instance, give yourself a 24 hour period from the end of the show Saturday night until Sunday night when you go to bed to eat whatever you want. Monday morning you’re back to a structured meal plan with more calories (incorporating some different foods, so it doesn’t seem the complete same) and wait until Wednesday night for your next cheat meal. Stay on track Thursday and Friday and wait until Saturday afternoon/evening once you’ve gotten a certain number of good meals in. Leave Sunday open to eat what you want. Over the next month, work on making your cheat meals cleaner or less frequent. Continue incorporating some cardio while your body becomes acclimated to higher calories. Remember, a true bodybuilder is one who is working towards improvement 12 months of the year!!!
This was the first article I wrote for NB&F magazine back during the fall of 2009 when I was prepping for the WNBF US Cup and World Championships
What It Takes
By: Kurt Weidner
As I sit here and write this article, while I consume another delicious serving of chicken and broccoli, I begin week 16 of a 25 week preparation for the WNBF World Championships. This preparation really began over a year ago last summer, when I returned home from the WNBF Mid-America. The end of this summer also marks over twelve years as a competitive natural bodybuilder, for me (Worlds will be the 29th show of my career). In that time bodybuilding has certainly become a very large part of my life. So I would like to share with you my perspective on what this sport is about to me and what it takes to succeed not only onstage, but also as a competitor carrying out all the other demands that life places on us. First of all, what is natural bodybuilding about to me? For me it is about challenging the limits of the human body. Every day I am manipulating my physique via specific regimented training and nutritional methods with the end goal of maximizing muscle mass, shape, definition and symmetry while minimizing subcutaneous fat and water to look as close to perfect as possible for a single day…in an event in which I am compared to others trying to do the same thing. Everyday leading up to that event the actions I take bring me closer to my goal. In each 24 hour period I am focused on every detail…every hour of sleep, every meal, every workout, every posing session…it’s all part of the bigger picture even if my next show is a year away. The package I present when I step onstage is the culmination of all those things. Discipline, focus and sacrifice to be my absolute best for one day. My lifelong challenge is to see how far I can take my physique. Part of the challenge is to do this without the use of performance enhancing drugs. In my eyes, those who choose to build their physiques using drugs lack the mental fortitude, patience, discipline and dedication required to do it naturally. Besides, I am not interested in destroying my body, which is what drugs do, no matter what kind you are talking about.
Having competed in sports my entire life, I can honestly say that this sport (I prefer to call it a lifestyle) is very unique. It requires complete focus and attention to detail all the time…not just while you’re onstage or in the gym. If you truly want to succeed at the higher levels you must be willing to devote all of yourself, not just for days or weeks, but months and years! While I do not claim to be more than an average bodybuilder, I do feel that I have worked hard enough over a very long period of time to demonstrate considerable positive changes in my less than genetically optimal physique. It took me a long time to get there. I began competing at 21 years old and I did not win my first overall title until I was 26 (if I remember correctly) and had competed in nine or ten shows already. Let it be known that I am an extremely competitive person and I do not enjoy losing…for me taking second place is a loss (it’s not a win). I took my fare share of second places as an amateur and as a pro have yet to win a class. Every single time, year after year, contest season after contest season I go back to the drawing board and figure out what I need to do to improve. How can I train harder? What can I do to bring up my weak points? How I am going to make sure the outcome is better next time? How am I going to assure myself that the overall package I bring to the stage the next time around is going to be harder to beat? If it’s not, then there’s no point in me ever stepping onstage again.
I get very frustrated with young competitors, who think that because they trained hard and dieted strict for a few months that they should be able to step onstage and win. YOU HAVE TO PAY YOUR DUES!!! There are competitors out there who have been paying their dues for years and you are going to face them when you step onstage. You want to win? Ask yourself: How many years are you willing to train as hard as possible, eat right everyday, practice posing, do the right thing both in and out of the gym DAY IN AND DAY OUT??? Don’t tell me about it, just do it! Then one day you’ll step onstage and it’ll be your turn to reap the rewards.
Bodybuilding is a very physically and mentally demanding LIFETSYLE. Everyday we are putting pressure on ourselves to bring our physique to the next level…to raise the bar and set a new standard of excellence! Physically we are pushing ourselves to the limits. What’s more is that we are doing it while in a constant caloric deficit. Ultimately, we are making our body do something it doesn’t want to do…THAT’S WHY IT’S AWESOME! WE WANT TO PROVE THAT IT CAN BE DONE! THAT’S WHAT THAT DAY IS ABOUT WHEN YOU STEP ONSTAGE!!! You must be willing to do whatever it takes to get there, because you know that the feeling of achievement far outweighs any degree of sacrifice you had to make or pain you had to endure to get there. If you’re like me, you’ve experienced that feeling onstage enough to know that you’re willing to put yourself through anything (no matter how hard) to get that “high” again, but only better. This is why I don’t need drugs. I get a natural euphoria from competing that I created myself. It comes from within.
This is where I would like to point out something else that I think is very important. While the lifestyle is demanding and implementing it to the degree that will bring you success at the highest levels is even more demanding, you have to remember one thing…YOU CHOSE TO DO THIS! Why? For me, it gives me purpose, it provides a challenge and gives me a constant goal to strive towards. NOBODY IS MAKING ME DO THIS! For that reason, I do my best to never complain about feeling tired, light-headed, exhausted, etc. I am a bodybuilder and it is part of my life, but life goes on. I have plenty of other tasks that need to be performed on a daily basis and they are indifferent as to what I’m putting myself through. Housechores must be done, the dogs must be walked and given attention, I have to continue to devote myself to my clients at work. I must invigorate them and motivate them to continue improving their own lifestyles. The lawn has to be mowed. Life does not get put on hold during contest preparation. You must be able to balance things and get it all done and most importantly, be able to do so without complaining about it or without it affecting others’ perception of you or your bodybuilding lifestyle. If you are going to constantly complain about how tired you are, how hungry you are, hard much carb depletion sucks, then CHOOSE another activity. This is not for you. We all have our days when we may be a little irritable, but the bottom is, if you are in this for the long haul, then you need to learn to suck it up and deal. Besides, while I love bodybuilding and I am willing to dedicate quite a bit of time and effort towards improving my physique, it does not pay the bills and it does not take precedence over certain other priorities. It shouldn’t have to. You must learn to balance it with everything else.
Along the same lines, remember that since you chose this lifestyle YOU NEED TO LEARN TO ENJOY IT! I have often heard competitors gripe about what they have to go through and they dread beginning their contest preparation diet. You should look forward to the beginning of a new season, enjoy the transformation process that your body goes through and not just simply look forward to it being over so that you can eat your favorite foods again. Preparing for a show is an exhilarating experience. Take pride in what you are capable of doing during this time. When I get light-headed, walking my dogs up the hill by my house in the later weeks of contest preparation, it tells me that I’m getting closer to my goal and thus I enjoy it. I take great pride in finding a way to work just as hard in-season, completing 50 set leg workouts on 1500 calories less than my off-season maintenance level. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I remind myself before every workout that I absolutely cannot allow caloric restriction to prevent me from having a good workout. This lifestyle is as much about breaking through psychological barriers as it is physical barriers. On your absolute worst day of contest prep, when you are as run-down and depleted as you can be, remind yourself this: there are many people out there who deal with pain and suffering everyday with no choice in the matter. Some face conditions that offer little for them to look forward to and they would give anything to have the opportunities that you have, yet somehow they don’t complain and find a way to smile each day.
Focus on the positives. Don’t think about the food you can’t eat. All the restaurants and grocery stores will still be there when your season is over. Don’t think about being tired. Find it in yourself to give more and convince yourself that your body will follow your mind. Think strong and be strong. Remind yourself everyday of why you measure all your food, plan every meal, push yourself to exhaustion in the gym, , endure more pain…because you know that in the end IT’S WORTH IT! There’s no better feeling in the world than producing a finished product worthy of your own satisfaction when you finally hit the stage and more importantly, being able to look back at the 6 month journey leading up to the show, knowing there was nothing else you could have done that would have made you look better.