I am competing in my first NPC Bikini Contest this weekend and the past 16 weeks have taught me a lot of things I want to share.
Besides gaining a bigger booty and biceps, I gained more than I anticipated, despite losing 7.5 pounds.
From a fat loss standpoint I proved my own coaching theories right.
From a training perspective I learned that I can keep powerlifting and get the results I want.
By following my own programs and keeping record of all of my actions regarding training, sleeping, eating etc. it’s neat to be able to quantify everything, see the results and make observations on the process as a whole.
Am I bodybuilder? I wouldn’t say so.
I will always identify as a powerlifter/ athlete and in fact I will be competing in powerlifting meet this winter.
What’s been so entirely different is not shifting the focus of training to aesthetics, but rather adding that aspect into my training.
In the past it’s been about what I can do, not how I look.
The most interesting part of focusing on aesthetics is how it forces you to re-think your training (to a point) and how you feel even more excited about the PRs in the gym.
In example, a 250 lb deadlift PR translates to a bigger booty which translates to a greater chance of winning on stage.
Here are my “before” photos:
Read on to explore 21 odd thoughts I have had during this process and why I would do it again in a heartbeat.
- For anyone considering competing my number 1 tip: get strong first
Being strong and getting strong takes time, practice and it gives you more than you realize.
Physically you have the ability to handle more weight in the gym.
Being strong means you’ve practiced lifting for a while and you have probably learned how to dial in on specific muscles. This helps with posing.
You also understand what muscles are working during certain exercises and you know how to feel the muscle work and stress the muscle to make it stronger.
Being strong also means having more muscle mass which can make the leaning out part much easier.
When it comes to strength training and muscle I always tell my clients that fat loss it is kind of like the chicken or the egg question…
…….when you lift you gain more muscle and when you get more muscle you can lift more… and lifting more makes you stronger….. being strong with more muscle means you have more metabolically active tissue so in theory you can handle more calories.
To get strong I stayed consistent with my powerlifting training.
I used simple, basic structural strength exercises that incorporate multiple, big muscle groups like the squat or chest press first to gain overall strength.
In example, I did not start this process by doing bicep curls, tricep kick-backs and calve raises.
I started with the squat, bench and deadlift (which I had been working on for about a year prior to my prep) and then as the weeks progressed I began to work on the smaller muscles with accessory lifts.
I did two bodybuilder-stye pump circuits in the final two weeks.
I never missed a squat, bench or deadlift day the entire 16-weeks.
Side note: Don’t do weird things with cables. Lifting heavy things with big muscles groups will be more worthwhile.
If I were to give you “three steps to bikini prep” I would say:
- LIFT HEAVY first
- eat LIGHT second
- do accessory work third
2. You have to love yourself a LOT, first.
To be really honest, when I posted this picture 15-weeks out, I thought “Wow! I look good!”
And I still think that.
I feel that I look good because the strength I possess (from achieving heavy lifts in the gym) gives me the confidence in my body because I don’t see it for what it looks like, but rather I see it for what it can do!
But this competition is all about the looks, right?
To combat that side of this process I had to fully love me for me first and then make this whole thing like one big science experiment.
The reason I enjoyed being my own coach is because it helped me further practice self-love, being objective with my body and controlling every aspect of it.
For instance, I told myself when I needed to get bigger glutes– not some random coach being critical of me.
3. Every part of the process has to be pretty much sustainable long-term.
Sixteen weeks is a good chunk of time. If I had been given a meal plan to follow for even two weeks I would have failed right out of the gate. I don’t follow directions well.
This has to be enjoyable (I <3 my training!!!); it has to be a part of your life.
In example, I teach Cyc Fitness classes every week so my cardio was built in.
I LOVE teaching a Cyc!
When it came to doing cardio for this prep, there was no crazy shift! It wasn’t like I went from being a non-moving powerlifter to a cardio fiend.
My lifestyle stayed the same.
4. Speaking of the “c-word” (cardio), I did ZERO fasted cardio.
Okay, so if you count the time I woke up late and had to rush to teach a Barry’s class and coach a one-on-one client without eating breakfast, then technically I kind of did “fasted walking?”
Anyway my point is I didn’t emphasize that in my training. It was not necessary.
Could it have made me leaner? Maybe! But I didn’t want to go crazy doing this.
Cyc classes are 45 minutes and a good portion of it entails me walking around the room (using my cheerleader voice obviously).
I’m clearly not “anti-cardio” because I love teaching these interactive shows at Cyc; however, aside from those 3-4 times a week, walking is my cardio… and my anti-drug.
5. There are no special fat loss foods. There is no special meal timing required for fat loss.
I tested this is the most dramatic way possible. I ate almost all of my meals from 3:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily.
- 3:30 am: 1/2 cup oats + 1/2 cup of egg beaters + pancake syrup (the real stuff for the first 10 weeks) & on lifting + Cyc days I would have a Quest bar too
- 7 :00 am: Quest bar or more oats and eggs
- 9:00 am: Protien shake with spinach and/or kale
- 11:00 am: Varied depending on the week. 16-Weeks out to 8-weeks out included egg white salad, apple, spinach, turkey and PB2. Later it became just tilapia or chicken with Shritaku noodles and mushrooms. Or bison. And another shake or two.
I came to find out that what worked best for me was intermittent fasting. It only occurred to me I was IF at 6-Weeks out! On Thursday and Friday nights when I teach late evening classes I have a late night snack afterward for obvious reasons but no more than 100-300 calories.
6. Alcohol was included.
I am not a huge drinker but I like to have fun.
In the beginning of the process I did not drink at all. I simply wasn’t doing a lot of social things that included drinking. I went on a few dates and had a few cocktails about 4-5 weeks into the process.
I had wine with my friend Luca 9-weeks out. (I also had an amazing desert from Mike’s Pastry’s that night).
I had probably 4 to 5 drinks with my friends in Chicago 4-weeks out.
Ten days out I had two drinks with my friend Matt.
At the end of the day it is calories in and out that matter the most.
Is it ideal to drink alcohol on prep? No.
But, I said from the beginning I wanted this to be as sustainable and as enjoyable as possible.
There were a few nights I said “no” to drinking:
- my parents were in town for a Lexus event and I drank nothing
- my BFF’s engagement party I drank nothing;
- out to dinner with my friends and drank nothing (pretended though!)
7. I did not lose as much strength as anticipated.
Five days out from the competition I deadlifted 215 pounds for three sets of three at a bodyweight of 110 pounds.
Six-weeks out I actually PRed at 250 at a bodyweight of 114 (video at the top).
I noticed my squats did not improve much at all. However my goal was not to move more weight; it was to maintain the loads of 135-165 pounds and build volume each week.
I finished squats on three weeks out with 15 sets of 5 at 135-155 (3, 5, and 7 sets at those numbers).
I finished two weeks out at 135 for 8 sets of 5… the deficit was real.
To give you comparison, see below. Before I started #bikiniprep I did 4 sets of 8 reps at 175.
At 8-Weeks out I attained the 24 kg chin-up.
Five days out I did three chin-ups with a 30 lb kettlebell (24 pounds less).
8. I turned into Buddy from Elf.
I put sugar-free pancake syrup on EVERYTHING right now.
I friggin’ LOVE it. So good!
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my blueberry pancake syrup on my eggs and oats, however, it is very rich.
The sugar free stuff is the ish— I am hooked!
9. There was never a moment when I wanted to quit.
I laughed to myself today thinking back when I told my Mom I was going to do this NPC Competition 16-weeks out and she booked a flight to Boston seconds later.
When she told me she booked the flight I was stoked and had no thoughts like “Oh no! But I might nottttt…”
I have been ALL IN since I clicked “sign-up” online.
I don’t complain too much because this is self-motivated and brought on by ME… I wouldn’t complain because I did this! I signed-up for this!
I ate carbs without worrying about gram amounts until 2.5-weeks out…. I had some booze and I counted calories.
And I made progress.
Here’s before to 6-Weeks Out:
5-days out after eating oatmeal breakfast with a Quest bar:
10. Steroids are a thing in this industry; they are a reality very much spoken of.
Based on past experiences with people very close to me I am vehemently against the use of steroids.
In fact I was heart broken very recently to know that that certain powerlifters I looked up to were on steroids.
Steroids are such a foreign thing to me I would have never thought that powerlifters I knew and followed were on them because nobody I knew spoke about them.
Maybe I was dumb, but I didn’t realize steroids are such a huge part of the powerlifting environment.
Similarly they are often brought up and discussed in the aesthetics world.
Steroids are more openly discussed in the bodybuilding realm. It is nuts!
People warned me about it and have definitely heard them come up a few times. However, at least the people doing them talk about it and own their decision.
There is slightly more transparency with the people I have met in the bodybuilding realm.
11. The hair!! The Posing!!!
The hair is such a [silly] thing in this division of the NPC.
I got extensions to do this competition full-out and you know what?! I think I’ll keep them until my hair grows out.
I LOVE them.
Click on this link to see posing videos for 14, 12, 10, 6, and 1 week out!
It is crazy to see the changes in my body, my confidence and poses.
Let’s be real, I do not have fake boobs and I was called “pancake butt” in junior high.
I am not blessed with those assets and I never will be.
However that did not deter me from trying to get leaner and stronger for my own body.
And, while I may not be the leanest one out there or the fittest etc, I had fun learning about myself in this process.
I truly believe people can find the best versions of themselves when they compete with themselves and nobody else.
13. I broke a lot of rules.
I wanted to test out all the things I tell my clients.
- meal times are not of huge concern
- calories are KING
- protein is second highest priority
- there’s no secret fat loss food
- eat what you look forward to within your calorie limits
And, contrary to popular belief and some bodybuilding plans out there, flexible dieting works.
I did not eat meals spread out throughout the day.
I did not eat broccoli or salmon or almonds.
I did eat weird low calorie things (see below) but I loved what I ate everyday.
Some days I ate three meals, some days I ate one big meal.
Some days I went over my calories and had pizza (Thank you, Mista’s Pizza).
I wanted to prove that fat loss happens when you are in a caloric deficit over time and you prioritize protein.
A wise man I used to work with once used a metaphor that stuck with me.
He said, “It’s like you are polishing the hood of a car without wheels.”
That quote is something I use a lot with clients who are worried about the grams of sugar in their apple, the amount of sodium in their sauce and the percentage of carbs in their diet when they still quite can’t figure out how to eat enough protein and stay in an energy balance or slight deficit week after week.
I did not start watching my fat intake until about 3-weeks out. I did not start looking at the grams of carbs I ate until 1 week out.
Low carb version:
14. To the point above, I did not cut carbs.
I spent two days low-carb (50 ish grams) just to see what my body would do… and I know, that is not quite enough time to see much difference.
However, those two days I taught two fitness classes and trained three clients and myself so I felt depleted. I also walked over 4 miles.
When I ate carbs the following morning for breakfast felt a difference in my body!
The low-carb life sucked. I learned that having carbs after a few low-carb days gives me a look I want, and that was enough for me to know what to do competition day.
15. I ate vegetables one time the final week.
I had one protein shake with spinach in it yesterday (4-days out) and that was it.
I wanted to cut out the things that do not do much for my palette and the things that I have to add flavor or sauce to in order to make them taste better.
When you are limited on calories you have to be resourceful and creative.
Also, veggies tend to make me bloated.
From 7-weeks out to the competition I am pretty sure the only vegetable I ate was spinach…except when Matt was here an I had some very unhealthy, roasted cauliflower on buttery cous cous at Met Bar.
16. Spot reduction is not a thing… but(t) you can build things.
Exhibit A) I made some glutes! #glutesbygarrett
When you are in a calorie deficit your genes determine *where* you lose weight first.
For some it’s their face, for others it’s their glutes. For me it’s my boobs, face, and arms. My stomach loses fat lastly.
Five days out and my abs appeared!
Better late than never!
Most people lose fat last from the place they want to lose it the most.
The cool part about body building is that with strategic training you can actually build bigger muscle to give your body the shape you want.
Want a smaller waist? Build a bigger back and shoulders!
My legs dont really store fat… which brings me to my next point….
17. Genetics are underrated.
Exhibit A) My Mom’s legs.
The best part? I texted her asking for these pics while she was at the gym doing push-presses.
No preparation went into her sending me this quick snap of her legs. Also, she is 50 years old and #stageready.
I was blessed with her body (for the most part); like her, I never really put any fat in my legs or glutes.
I never trained calves in this process, except the times the squat rack was a little high… then okay, sure, I had to do some heavy calve raises to unrack the bar.
But my point is that a lot of people can do this with ease when they have good bare bones with which to work. That, and they are strong before they start.
A lot of hip thrusting, 1.5 RDLs and banded deadlifts were involved.
If you want to know exactly what I did, go to the “News tab” on the top right corner of my website. I list my weekly training every Sunday on the CROF Weekly Update. You will see every move I made to build these glutes.
18. To survive the calorie deficit….
Pick one thing you really love to eat and strategically figure out how to make sure you can eat it almost every day.
It could be anything! Having a favorite thing to eat each day ensures you will never feel deprived.
Next, give up the crap.
Do you need extra butter on things? Do you want to add extra sauce or cheese?
It was making little modifications like this to my everyday diet that helped me hit my maintenance calories more easily in the beginning of this process. See my article on “How to lean-out without severely restricting.”
Drink bubbly water or diet sodas! They saved me!
Also, besides Quest bars, so long as I could have egg beaters and oats each day with pancake syrup I was a happy girl!
19. The weirdest things I did on the diet.
- I put syrup on my tilapia when my microwave broke and couldn’t heat it up
- I almost OD’ed on potassium. I used too much salt-free seasoning that was potassium and felt horrible on multiple occasions
- The whole intermittent fasting thing was weird
- I stopped craving things I used to crave… like tacos, pizza and cookies…
- I felt “on deck” like I had a pit in my stomach this entire last week out. I have been nervous to eat sleep and even lift.
20. Remember, unlike cutting for powerlifting meets and spur the moment vacations… you have TIME.
When you prepare for the show in advance you have time on your side.
What’s cool about this is that you can have days where you go slightly over your calories in the beginning. You can have days where maybe your protein isn’t the best.
You can celebrate your best friends 25th birthday with no repercussions!
Time allows you to not have to be a perfectionist if you started off lifting heavy and you continue to lift heavy throughout the prep.
If you eat more on a certain day than you planned to eat you can lift heavy, PR in the gym and move on with you life, no sweat.
If you don’t let yourself indulge now and then you will go mad!
21. My one mishap:
I feel as though if I could go back and change something I wouldn’t have tapered calories as soon as I did.
I went low early and didn’t exactly rebound but at 8-weeks out I felt too hungry. I hit 113 pounds that week.
There was one night I felt guilty for going over my calories out of hunger (not boredom) and I shouldn’t have.
I had not been eating enough I don’t think. But the thing is, you don’t know if you’re doing it right until you do it!
Looking back now and knowing how quickly my body will respond to diet changes, I probably could have started 8-weeks out, although wouldn’t recommend it.
Having time on your side is nice.
I told my mom 3-Weeks out that I felt like I baked a cake for a birthday party 3 weeks too early.
Eight days out I told her I was worried the cake had molded as the nerves settled in.
It was nice to feel okay about my progress early on but the bottom line is, you never know what is going to work or not until you experience it!
I had read so many fear mongering articles about how horrid bikini prepping was that I was extremely scared to do this process.
If you read my 16-weeks out article I list my fears… there were a lot of them!
I promised myself that the second it felt weird, too uncomfortable or unhealthy I would stop.
Honestly it taught me more than I expected.
I learned how to program for myself and be my own coach.
It made me stronger.
I made my glutes bigger.
I learned what it’s like to walk in my client’s shoes.
I trained harder because the results were evident on my body.
This process empowered me.
Every time I stepped in the gym to train I was excited and if I hadn’t been allowed to do what I love, then this would not have been for me.
It is so rewarding to see the PRs in the gym transfer over to your physique!
I <3 powerlifting and now I know I can keep powerlifting and compete in bikini! I am already setting my sites on another show.
If you want to read more about my #Bikiniprep experience check out these articles to learn about my process from start to finish:
- 16-Weeks out: Beginning Phases
- 12-Weeks out
- 8-Weeks out: Powerbuilder Status
- 4-Weeks out: What I love and Miss
If you are in Boston and want to watch me on stage the show begins at 6 p.m. at the John Hancock building this Saturday, November 14th. You can buy tickets at the door.
I want to compete again because I was to learn more an make even more improvements!