This blog is the second of 3 instalments in which Martyn Pace, a Personal Trainer, will take you through his journey from ‘Gym Floor to Stage’.
What Did Your Training Look Like?
In the early stages, my training programme followed pretty much my usual structure, 60-75 minutes duration for each workout, 6 days a week with a rest day every Sunday. However as the contest got closer and closer, both the intensity and duration of each session increased.
At the beginning, my weekly plan consisted of:
Monday – chest, shoulders and triceps
Tuesday – back, legs and biceps
Wednesday – cardio (cross trainer and bike)
Thursday – chest, shoulders and triceps
Friday – back, legs and biceps
Saturday – cardio (running)
Although I was seeing good progress and a visible reduction in my body fat levels, at the week 4 point I was advised to gradually add 6 minutes of cardio intervals to the end of each resistance session. This was done progressively, with cardio added to the Monday and Tuesday workouts initially, and then in week 5, they were added to the Thursday and Friday workouts. Week 7 then saw the cardio elements increase from 6 minutes each to 12 minutes; and this is how it stayed until the last week.
For the resistance sessions, each sessions’ content varied day-to-day. I had a bank of exercises that I would use for each muscle group but these were chosen based on which machines were available at the time as I didn’t want to be sat waiting for specific equipment all the time. In terms of repetition ranges, I started out with 8-12 reps for every exercise, and typically I did 3-4 sets on everything. However, as I got further and further into my prep and I began to drop calories more, I found that my strength and energy levels took a significant nose-dive! Although I was expecting this to happen, it seemed to hit me more than I thought it would. Nevertheless I continued to push the intensity, and to make up for the loss of strength, I made the change to increase the volume intensity and decrease the weight of each exercise so I could complete more reps and was hitting the 12-20 rep range.
For the cardio specific sessions I performed a mixture of both aerobic and anaerobic intervals, with the determining factor being my energy levels that day. If I felt good and full of energy, I would opt for more intense H.I.I.T (high intensity interval training); but if I felt sluggish and tired I chose to perform steady-state exercise. I have always preferred to run when doing cardio but I knew that if I repeatedly ran twice per week every week, my knees would definitely take a hit and this would cause me to have to take additional rest days, which I didn’t want to do. Instead I chose to run only once per week and focused on the bike and cross trainer for the other session.
What About Your Nutritional Plan?
During the run up to my prep starting, I wasn’t counting calories and don’t usually do this so it took me the first week to calculate what I was consuming over the entire week. On average, this worked out as being roughly 2800 kcals and on average 200 grams of carbohydrates. Due to the nature of my job being a personal trainer, and having a full client base, my working days are extremely busy leaving just 5 minute periods throughout the day to grab some food. This short time limited my food choices as most meals would have to be eaten cold. In terms of selection and taste, this didn’t bother me at all. I like pretty much everything. I have still not once tried a type of food or ingredient that I can’t stomach. However, what this did mean is that I had to spend more time preparing my food for each day. This additional prep time did start to affect my home life and to be honest towards the end I was getting fed up of having to get up earlier to make food, or stay up later to make the meals for the next day. But knowing how key the nutritional element is during any show prep, I stuck with it.
Some of the meal choices I started with included:
Porridge oats with protein powder and peanut butter
Cottage cheese with almonds
Chicken breast with a spinach, cucumber and broccoli salad
Tuna and hummus salad wrap
Greek yoghurt with protein powder and fruit
As my prep progressed, my calories were reduced gradually; on average by about 50-100 each week. These calories were predominantly removed in the form of carbohydrates and this saw certain elements of my diet being replaced. Porridge oats with protein powder and peanut butter was changed to mackerel and feta cheese omelettes, and the wrap was removed with the tuna and hummus just eaten as a salad instead. I also gradually reduced the amount to carbohydrates I added to my post workout shakes further along my prep. To help prevent my hunger getting past breaking point I did throw in the occasional re-feed day now and then. This wasn’t in the form of a ‘cheat’ day that most people have; instead I still ate clean and healthy food…but just a lot more of it. I loved those days!
If I am going to be honest, looking back I probably reduced my calories too much towards the end and didn’t include enough re-feed days. In my honest opinion I feel I looked better 7-14 days before the show, as I had more muscle fullness and more visible size.
3 days before the show, my diet changed again but this time to re-feed my muscles. My calories were ramped up, and carbohydrates were added back into every meal. This was also accompanied with the end of my training programme. So the last 2 days all I seemed to do was eat, eat and eat. It was brilliant. Even though I understand the science behind doing this and had faith in my nutritional guidance, I was still worried that my body fat would re-bound too much. Looking back I could probably have increased these last two days even more and I think I would have looked better on the stage. But you live and learn, and if there is a next time I would definitely do this and may even look at adding an extra day of re-fuelling before the show to add more fullness to my muscles.
Were There Any Mental Obstacles Along The Way?
This was a daily struggle towards the end. Until about week 6 I felt very confident with my physique and felt that I had maintained a decent amount of overall size whilst still cutting body fat. However, during the last couple of weeks I started to become very negative towards myself constantly thinking I was both too small and not lean enough. Whether or not this was due to the reduced calories and my mental state being affected, or simply because I was being too critical on myself; nevertheless I regularly woke up and didn’t like the look of the person in the mirror. Initially it was that I was too small, which would lead to me eating more calories for the next few days with the aim of re-feeding my muscles. Even though this worked (and I probably looked better for it), I would then wake up the day after thinking I had gained body fat and was no longer lean enough. It was a constant struggle to stay positive and this cycle continued throughout the final two weeks. I never thought I would be so affected mentally with the whole prep process, and I actually remember saying to my fiancée at the start “don’t worry I won’t let it affect me”. How wrong I was! It was certainly an eye-opener and from looking back I have definitely learnt a lot about myself and feel that I have grown as a person.