Improvement Season 101: The Good & The Not-So-Good

Right now I’m in the middle of “improvement season”. For fitness competitors, this involves not being on a super-strict competition diet, and not doing 2 sessions of cardio per day. Instead, it involves giving your body the rest and fuel it needs to be emerge stronger in the 2012 competition season.

For me, “improvement season” means I’m eating a diet higher in calories with a wider variety of foods. I’m eating foods that I wasn’t allowed to touch before – lots of potatoes, for instance! It is awesome.

During “improvement season” my workouts involve lifting heavier for fewer sets and lower reps. Here’s an example of the difference: a few weeks before a competition, I might do 20 reps of a certain exercise, and do it back-to-back with 20 reps of another exercise (this is called a superset; it’s intense! Supersets keep your heart rate up the whole time you’re lifting weights). During the improvement season, I’ll do much fewer reps as heavy as I possibly can, with a longer rest period in between sets. The goals is to emerge from “improvement season” with a few more pounds of quality muscle and a changed body “shape” that reflects what judges are looking for in a top figure competitor.

The Hard Part of Improvement Season

Improvement season is nice because I get to eat more and do a little less cardio. But it also means that I’m not as lean as usual (my bodyfat is a little higher). I am trying to accept this and not feel “fat”. But I’ve struggled with body image issues since I was young (as many women (and men) have), and although my state of mind is MUCH healthier now, that fear of being “fat” always lurks in the darkness. I try not to obsessively scrutinize my progress pictures and keep in mind that I’ll be grateful for the changes I make during improvement season when spring rolls around.

Mirror, Mirror…

Also, I had an eye-opening moment today at the gym that illustrates why we are poor judges of our own personal progress. I caught the image of a woman in the locker room in an odd angle of the mirror, and thought “Her abs look good. Wish mine did – I have muffin top, man.” …Then I realized I was ALONE in the locker room, and that woman was ME! I couldn’t believe it. This is the exact reason why I hired coaches to help me – I am a terrible judge of my own progress. My brain is extremely critical. I need objective opinions to help me see what changes need to be made (as well as when I deserve the occasional, “You’re doing great!”).

 Final Note…

I hope that if you’re struggling with your own progress in the gym, you’ll remember my story and know that you could be doing far better than you realize. Heck, if you even make it to the gym and make an attempt to eat clean, you’re already on the right track, and that deserves acknowledgement. Please feel free to comment here or write me on Facebook with your own stories or thoughts – I love to hear them.

P.S. Here’s a picture of my new toy for the gym: VersaGripps! I got them because my forearms frequently get tired and give out before my stronger bodyparts do (like back and chest). So VersaGripps help my little forearms keep going until the real bodypart I’m trying to work gives out. 

Where to Begin…

Law School Exams, I Loathe You & Will Kick Your Butt

Well, it’s 6AM on Saturday and I am awake due to habit. The gym doesn’t open until 8, so it’s a perfect time to blog.

Since I last posted, I’ve completed two of my three law school final exams. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for me during the last couple of weeks as finals approached. I’ve had moments of utter fear and hopelessness (“I can’t do this. Why am I in law school at all?”) but also moments of calm acceptance that I’ve prepared the best I could, and that everything truly will be alright.

During this time, I did not slack off from the gym because training is what kept me sane. It’s a scary feeling to know that you can’t control what is on your Civil Procedure exam, and you can’t control the grading curve, etc. But you can control whether you go to the gym and stick to a healthy diet. I continued hitting the weights at 5AM and doing cardio afterwards. I followed the diet almost 100 percent. (Except for a Cheesecake Factory birthday dinner with my dear friend Caitlin, but that was important!).

My friend and law school classmate Karen told me that she continued attending ballet classes during finals because it allowed her to focus only on ballet, leaving thoughts of law school exams at the door. I hope that everyone is able to find something in life that allows them to quiet that constant stream of thoughts running through our heads, whether it’s dance, weight training, basketball, meditation, running, or something else. What is that thing for you?

Where Do I Begin?

I got a couple really wonderful Facebook messages this week. One of them asked about where to find meal plans to correspond with workouts. I recommended a couple of good places to start:

If you’re a female, pick up a copy of Muscle & Fitness HERS magazine at the grocery store/Target. It’s an awesome resource for both training and meal plans. Usually there’s a meal plan designed for if you want to build muscle, and one for if you want to maintain or lose fat.

For guys or girls, check out this website, part of Bodybuilding.com:
http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/fitness-360.html

There are pictures of 6 male and 6 female fitness models with different levels of muscle and leanness. Pick the body that you are aiming for, and check out his/her exact diet and training programs. I love this website!

The other message I got completely made my day (I might have even felt tears welling up, but don’t tell anyone). It was from a classmate from undergrad who said he’s been following my posts, and since I’ve seen him, has made huge improvements in his health. Reading made me realize that I love to help people learn about fitness/health stuff, because there’s so much confusing, inaccurate information out there — I want to help people sort through it so they can reach their goals like he did.

Figure Competition Progress Update

It’s the “off-season” right now for most competitors, because nobody can keep their body in “competition shape” all year round (… think about that the next time you admire a lean, ripped fitness model on the cover of a magazine. Prior to the photo shoot, they probably hardcore dieted, did countless hours of cardio, and depleted their body of water. They do not look like that all the time.)

My training team calls this time “improvement season”, because it’s a time to allow your body to rest, recover, eat higher calories, and build quality muscle. So that’s what I’ve been working on. As I’ve complained about before, my body adds muscle very slowly and it’s frustrating. But I try to remain patient and accept my body for what it is.

My goal is still to compete in my first figure competition in March of 2012, but as the competition gets closer I’ll listen to my coaches’ advice regarding whether I should wait a bit longer. I don’t want to get onstage looking like a fool, ha ha. I want to make everybody proud.

See how my back has SOME muscle, but not enough! Need to drop body fat of course.