By Myron Mielke
If you’re thinking of taking the next step and entering a bodybuilding competition, you’ve probably heard many bodybuilders use a contest prep coach to help them get ready for the show. Here are a few things to consider if you want to use one as you prepare for the big day.
Over the years I have helped many people get ready for bodybuilding competitions. They’ve been at all different levels of physical development and they’ve also had varying degrees of knowledge of nutrition and training. Some people have never even done one serious day of dieting while some people weighed all of their food every single day of the week — without fail. Despite their differences, the thing they all have had in common was they wanted to stand on stage knowing they had done everything they could to achieve the best level of conditioning possible.
Can You Do It All By Yourself?
Do you really need a coach? That’s the most important question, but it’s not a simple, one-size-fits-all answer. It all depends on your definition of “need.” If you’ve competed several times and have gotten close to a high level of conditioning, but you’ve come up shy of taking home the first-place trophy, you might want to use a coach if you’re stuck and don’t know how to improve.
If you’ve never done a show and the whole prep thing is a mystery to you and you’ve got the cash to spend on one, it’ll be a good idea to use one. If you’re the type who likes to treat yourself as a living guinea pig, however, and you like to try different training techniques and diets to see how you respond, a coach might not be for you at this time.
A lot of information is available online about how to prepare for a bodybuilding contest. Diets, training, and various guides are readily available at your fingertips. You’ll find out very quickly, however, that much of the information seems to directly contradict itself. One diet might outline the “perfect” diet with zero carbs and the next diet states never to drop below 200 grams of carbs per day. Do you cut your water at the end or drink gallons of water until you step on stage? You know what I’m talking about here, don’t you? Until you’ve figured it all out for yourself and have done a few shows, the whole process can seem overwhelming. It can also be very confusing and that is where a coach can be very useful.
One other important aspect of a coach is having a second set of eyes to objectively analyze your condition. If you’ve never done a show and have never attended a show, you do not know what you’re supposed to look like to be contest ready. A coach will know that and tell you honestly if you’re ready or not. I’ve seen many guys standing on stage in disbelief because the guys standing next to them are completely shredded and they themselves are not. They thought they were super ripped until they arrived backstage and saw the other competitors who were actually contest-ready.
What Services Can You Expect?
A contest prep coach will give you a diet to follow. That’s a given. Some will also oversee your training. Some will not. They’ll most likely take charge of your cardio sessions because most diets work best with certain amount of cardio. For example, if a coach puts you on a zero-carb, which is also called a “keto” diet, the coach will most likely not have you doing any high-intensity cardio. You’ll be doing lengthier low-intensity cardio on a treadmill. If a coach has you eating higher carbs, HIT cardio could be the protocol for that coach.
It should be expected that a coach will ask for photos at the beginning of your prep and also ask to see weekly photos to monitor your progression. This is important and a coach should give you feedback ASAP and you, of course, should not slack taking and sending the photos to your coach. If a coach asks for photos on Sundays, do not send them on Tuesdays or Wednesdays each week. Diet or cardio might need to be adjusted and you do not want to lose two or three days of your prep because you dragged your feet in taking and sending photos.
E-mail, text messages or phone calls will be the primary means of communication. See which one works best for you. (I’m partial to e-mail because I can answer the questions quickly and concisely, but texting is good for short answers) A coach should get back to you the same day with an answer to your question. If he takes longer than that, let your coach know you need replies to be faster. It also needs to be said that you shouldn’t send 50 questions per day and expect immediate replies.
When it comes to posing and presentation, not all contest prep coaches offer posing advice. Some offer it, but aren’t that skilled at posing themselves and it’s hard to teach if they just don’t have it.
If your prep coach doesn’t know the art of posing, it’s helpful to seek out a posing coach. Again finding one in your area is very helpful so you can get one-on-one advice and instruction. It’s difficult to show someone how to do a stomach vacuum or control the back muscles over the Internet. Critiquing mandatories can be done online with photos and Skype is an option, but you can’t beat the instruction from a person standing in front of you.
What About The Last Week?
Peak Week seems to be shrouded in mystery. Many coaches have their own protocols and will give you a game-plan to follow. It could be depleting all carbs in the beginning of the week and carb loading at the end of the week. Or they might have you not carb deplete but eat high carbs in the beginning of the week and taper them down closer to the contest day. There are a variety of methods out there. If the coach has lots of success with other athletes, listen to him or her and follow the advice to a “T” and don’t deviate from it.
Where Do You Find One?
There might someone at your gym who helps bodybuilders get ready for shows and they might really know their stuff. If that’s the case, use this person — if you’re okay with the rates.
I usually work with athletes I meet at the gym, but I’ll work with guys through the Internet as well. If you can find a coach in your area, it can be beneficial but not entirely necessary. Most correspondence is done through e-mail or texting anyway so face-to-face meetings aren’t necessary.
Most bodybuilding message boards have contest prep sections. These are excellent places to find coaches or leads to find coaches. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to find one in your area too.
This is very basic advice, but you can also just do an Internet search. Aaron Weldon found me by simply entering "Contest Prep Coach Lancaster California."
A Few Of My Examples
The first guy I prepared for a contest was myself. That’s probably not a big surprise. I got most of my information from muscle mags and other bodybuilders. I made mistakes and learned some things the hard way a few times.
I heard too many times that I wasn’t quite sharp and I was holding too much water. That was very frustrating because I followed a guide from a muscle magazine to a “T” and I still came in with a layer of water on show day. My body fat was gone and three to four days out I was shredded and then on the day of the show, I looked like I was two to three weeks out. I tried a few things and was able to fix that and I’ve been able to pass on that information to other guys I’ve helped.
I contacted three of the guys I’ve worked with and told them I was writing this article and asked if I could use them as examples of the guys I have helped. It didn’t surprise me, but each one enthusiastically told me, “Yes!”
Michael Hairston — 2004 Natural Mr. California Class Winner and 2009 Night of Champions Class Winner
Joe Swartz — 2010 Junior and Novice Overall Winner and Heavyweight Open Winner at the ONB Natural Ohio
Aaron Weldon — 2010 Natural Armed Forces Junior Overall Winner and Natural San Diego Class Winner
It helps a coach to be a competitor or former competitor. It definitely can help by being able to relate how an athlete feels on low to zero carbs with very low body fat. I myself know exactly what goes into a prep both mentally and physically because I’ve lived through contest preps. (Notice I did say live, because some days near the end of the prep, it will feel like you’re not going to make it!)
There are some knowledgeable coaches who have never stepped on a stage too. A coach doesn’t need to be a former competitor, but it is helpful for some aspects.
There you have it. This is just a few things to consider when you’re getting ready to compete in a bodybuilding contest. If you have some questions on picking a coach, go ahead and shoot me an e-mail. I’d be glad to give you some advice.
I'm also available for contest prep coaching so don't be afraid to inquire about that either!