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.