Contest Prep Priorities Part Three: Training

Well hello there! It seems like you’ve stayed around. Now we’re on part three of the contest prep priorities series. We covered mindset in the first one and nutrition in the previous one. The next topic to cover is training. As a disclaimer, if you have come here expecting some new fangled method, strategy, technique to implement into training to improve size or condition during a prep, you’ve come to the wrong place. But I will dispel some myths often associated with training during prep.

I will start this off by saying that training within a prep, in an ideal situation, shouldn’t start at prep. “What do you mean?” you ask? It really should begin in your offseason. In the offseason the goal is to manipulate training and nutrition in a way to maximize muscular growth. In a prep or even an extended fat loss phase, the training that helped build muscle should and most likely will help retain it. That’s what we all want, right? We all want to lose fat and maintain as much muscle as possible.

Myth 1

“But what about building muscle while losing fat?” You hear this all the time from people. “I lost xlbs of fat and gained ylbs of muscle.” Hate to break it to you folks, but this isn’t going to happen for the majority of people. Notice I said the majority of people. These are the people who this segment doesn’t exactly apply to:

Novice lifters

People coming off an extended layoff

Lifters utilizing anabolic steroids

For the majority of us, you will not be gaining muscle in a prep. When in a caloric deficit you lack one of the primary catalysts for muscle growth, and it’s simply a hyper caloric state…aka a calorie surplus. As calories go down training output goes down and thus training volume does go down. And as you get deeper into prep it becomes harder and harder to maintain lean tissue. Personally in my prep in 2015, I lost anywhere from 8-13lbs of lbm in my prep according to a DEXA scan(take that with a grain of salt but you get the idea).

So what does this all have to do with training on prep? The key is strength. Maintaining strength and volume throughout prep is key to maintaining as much muscle as possible in a deficit. Training should suit your goals as a competitor, but should also not shy away from the basics. Meaning, as a bikini competitor for example, you shouldn’t steer clear from heavy compound movements in exchange for every fluff instafamous bikini model exercise recommendation that does nothing for you but garner her more views. Training programs should be centered around the major compound lifts in a variety of rep ranges with accessory movements needed to help prevent muscular imbalances in one’s structure.

But why maintain strength? Typically a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. So, to help gauge muscle retention, strength degradation can be extremely useful to gauge how much muscle you lost or retained throughout your prep. This segways into the second myth

Myth 2

“High reps, low weight for cutting.” You see this all the time on social media, magazines, forums, etc. High reps and low weight for cutting. Some would say this is due to it potentially having greater cardiovascular output. The thing is, you go into the gym to stimulate muscle to either gain muscle or in this case retain it. You aren’t going into the gym to do cardio and then go and do cardio afterwards. Go in, lift, and worry about cardio afterwards. There needs to be a certain threshold of resistance and intensity(% of 1RM or how close you are to failure as in the RPE scale) to induce a response necessary to achieve the goal we are after. If every set is for sets of 20, you’re probably not achieving that goal.

To sum things up, in a prep/fat loss phase you want training to:

A continuation of your offseason programming

Be centered around heavy compound lifts with accessory movements to prevent imbalances

Be heavy enough to warrant a muscular adaptation to stimulate muscle growth/retention

In the end all we can do is retain as much muscle as possible while in a deficit.

-Coach Gavin McCort