5 Lessons I Learnt By Taking A Year Off Competing
What are you getting yourself in for?
Reading Time - 15 Minutes
Word Count - 1600 Words
Topic - Bodybuilding Off Season
Written By - Aj Morris
At the age of 18 I decided to enter my first bodybuilding show - it was 2014 and I’d only been training with weights (properly) for around 10 months. It was a huge learning curve but one that set me up for the future very well. 2015 was my final chance to compete in the Teenage Categories here in the UK - and I thought I’d take the opportunity to ‘go out with a bang’ from the Teen Class & prove that I could make great progress in a short Off Season. 4 Months away from Dieting and I came back with a completely different physique. Shocked!! - Seriously, I was! It made me excited to see what could be gained from a FULL 8 - 12 Month break from the stage. Away from the competitive stage we have…..
A Calorie Surplus.
Progressive Weight Training.
Exciting stuff right - So I was PUMPED for my year off. It’s now December 2016 and I’m coming to the end of what has been a LONG gaining phase, and I’d love to share what I’ve learnt with you guys.
1 - Mental Progress is just as important as physical progress.
When I approached my gaining phase around November 2015, I was… Food Focused, Irritable and had OVERALL a fairly poor relationship with food. This was caused by the psychological effects of Contest Prep Dieting - I was dieting for around 10 months and this took it’s toll!
Recovering the mind was super important for me to progress. I would not be able to complete another contest prep diet without allowing myself to settle into some form of normality again, and I really do believe this is where A LOT of competitors go wrong - they try to diet again too soon and they are already tired, on their last legs, and they wonder why they don’t look any different the next year. The mental preparation for a contest prep phase is just as important as the physical - you just won’t be able to hack it if you aren’t in the right place mentally. I honestly think it took me a good 5 - 6 months to fully recover mentally from the dieting phase, to completely re-set my food focus and get my mind on the right track to gain well.
I was initially very scared of the weight coming up on the scale and this is something that a lot of competitors will have to deal with - you will NOT gain muscle tissue without the scale heading north at some point, and staying lean forever is simply not healthy, nor is it possible. So in reality I’ve learnt that it is of utmost importance to recover psychologically before trying to diet again, I never really knew the true meaning of this until I got SUPER lean - once you get there, you will KNOW you need to spend some time recovering.
2 - The Body is capable of incredible things.
One of my BIGGEST goals in the past year was to get STRONG as f*ck. I had a huge dream of getting 180kg on my back and squat it for reps. At the end of my competition prep I was squatting 140kg for 2 or 3 reps - this was a struggle!! I was motivated to get it back up to where it was before I started dieting and that was really important for me - however, I definitely surpassed that! Just after Summer Time I Squatted 180kg for 4 reps - I was massively massively happy with this, however I had a little set-back, which meant that progress was halted for a bit. However, after coming back, just yesterday I squatted 190kg for easy sets of 4. Seriously if someone had said that I would be doing that this time last year I’d of laughed at them! - I don’t ever doubt my ability but I’ve been seriously impressed with my own progress, being able to consistently add weight to the bar and shift it is incredible. I’ve truly learnt that the majority of what we do inside the weight room is mind over matter. Once the mind allows us to accept that it is possible, the body will follow… I really do believe that. The take home for you guys should be that setting goals super high is a GOOD thing - the higher they are, the harder you have to work, the closer you will get. Believe to achieve and all that ;)
3 - Sitting on the Sidelines is not fun.
Around Summer Time I got hurt. It was the weirdest injury I’ve ever had….
But I wouldn’t be able to train without my head being in a lot of pain. Multiple trips to physio and acupuncture to try EVERYTHING to get it fixed, but nothing seemed to help.
I was seriously seriously down.
Contemplating whether I could continue to make the great progress I was making. At the end of the day it came down to two things…
I was doing TOO much. & Resting TOO little. I was pushing the boundaries on what I could do and therefore something had to give.
I got hurt and I suffered the consequences.
The body needs time to heal, and therefore I gave it the time it needed - unfortunately it coincided with a lot of my clients shows and that was super frustrating for me as the shows would motivate me, then I’d get home and wouldn’t be able to train. I struggled, it wasn’t fun, but it made me about 10x more mentally strong. I am now very aware of my limits and how far I can push before it becomes diminishing returns, and I’d advise anyone that reads this to do the same - be kind to yourself and learn to know when you need a break! It’s really important.
Sitting on the sidelines is where people make no physical progress, but plenty of mental progress.
Just think about that.
4 - The Scale is only one measure of your progress.
When we gain weight as a physique athlete - we are usually bombarded with recommendations as to ‘how much we should gain’....
1 - 2 lbs per month…
It’s kinda difficult, right? But this year I’ve found it really important to combine and measure two variables - what I see in the mirror/check in pictures & the scale. I’ve been scared of gaining above the ‘recommended amount’ and for the most part, I’ve been gaining steadily at 1 - 2 lbs per month for a while, with one mini cut in the middle of Summer where I lost around 7 lbs. I think as a younger athlete ( I’m 20 Years Old ) you have to be aware of your bodyweight however we can definitely afford to gain a little faster than most, as there is potential for more muscle to be added given we don’t drastically rush the process. The Stats have been -
188 lbs - Start Weight - 2014
143 lbs - Stage Weight - 2014
165 lbs - Peak Off Season - 2015
140.4 lbs - lowest ever weigh in - 2015
143 - 144 lbs - best stage weight - 2015
182 lbs - Peak Off Season Weight - 2016 (Picture of Rear Double Bicep Is RECENT) So as you can see - I’ve actually been HEAVIER than this before, and obviously with less muscle and much much weaker.
So I’ll be very interested to see how next year’s contest preparations go - I’ll be giving it a lot of time (30+ Weeks) - but I imagine I’ve got around 30 - 35 lbs to lose and I predict my stage weight to be high 140’s, low 150’s (lbs). The main take home is that you SHOULD be taking physique pictures and you should be analysing your progress using multiple variables - not just the scale.
Scale - Photos - Measurements - Clothing Fit.
5 - The Stage isn’t the only goal you can have. I’ve spoken to other competitors about this - they seem to struggle with goal setting when they aren’t competing. For me, it was a little tough, but it ended up being a fairly simple cross-over. I went from focusing on my physique. The cuts. The striations. The aesthetics. The veins. The jawline. To focusing on…. My strength in the gym. Growing my business. Helping others step on stage! Investing in myself and my own health. And this kept me super motivated throughout the entire year. I’m always excited to train and it’s the best part of my day - this is because I’m eager to progress and I’m eager to beat the log-book. I honestly think my advice would be to stop looking at your physique and watching the condition fade away (that WILL happen) but instead lay your attention on your log-book and your job/business etc, investing yourself in these areas will help distract from the fact that you havn’t got shredded abs anymore… (you’re not supposed too!).. There are definitely OTHER things that can keep you motivated to train that isn’t competing…. You should be motivated to beat your previous best physique regardless of whether you are ON of OFF season anyway! What do you think the best NFL or NBA players do in the off season?! Train f*cking hard!! They want to be the best, and so should you.
~ What’s the plan moving forward? - Start my competition prep in January. - Aim to compete in the later qualifiers for BNBF, UKDFBA & NPA. - Enjoy the journey!! - Help several other Team MBM Athletes compete on stage. Thank you for reading and I will see you guys in the next post. Aj