How Long Should You Expect Your Contest Prep To Be?

The million dollar question every competitor asks is “How long will be my prep be this season?”

The short answer: However long it takes for your body to get stage lean.

The nuanced answer: It will depend on a multitude of factors including your offseason, dieting history and starting body composition to name a few.

How many times have you seen or heard of the standard ‘12 week competition prep’ from coaches within the industry? This used to be the gold standard but realistically, 12 weeks just doesn’t cut it for most clients. While I don’t love giving absolutes, I’d say generally speaking most of our clients prep for 16-24 weeks before their first show of the season. Often, this timeline is longer.

So, what might influence a clients prep length? Let’s dive into some of the factors.

Dieting History

The most important factor when considering a competition prep is a clients dieting history. Have they engaged in yo-yo dieting for years and are now deciding to prep? Have they gone through multiple, rigorous contest preps? Have they been overweight, are now weight stable and looking to get stage lean? Have they engaged in little dieting over their life? These questions completely change the length of a contest prep.

If someone has extensive dieting history, in any capacity, that client will need to prepare for a longer prep and a longer recovery after that prep. Not taking adequate time in between preps is hard on everyones body, but especially those with longer dieting histories. Think of each diet as having a compounding effect on your metabolism.

Starting Body Composition

Where a client is starting their prep will inevitably influence the length of their prep. There are some clients who naturally sit at a lower body fat. These clients understandably have shorter preps. But notice how I said *naturally* sit at a lower body fat not ‘force themselves to sit…’ because that has very different effects.

Staying too lean for your own personal body in the offseason will take a toll in a few ways:

  • Your prep will be much harder because you’re already fighting your body from the start.
  • Your offseason will be less productive because you won’t have been able to build and recover optimally.
  • Your hormonal status will be off from the start (more on this below).

In short, 12 week preps and ‘staying X pounds above stage weight’ is generally poor advice.

Muscle Mass

While this is related to body composition, I wanted to highlight a distinction here. Having more muscle mass will generally lead to a better prep. Lean body mass is not only more metabolically active, but it’s also what gives competitors the winning shape you see on stage. Yes, low body fat is part of it but this is bodybuildingmeaning if you want to have the ideal physique for you division, you’ll likely need more muscle.

Spoiler alert: This is why offseasons are so important.

Lifestyle Factors

Another aspect to consider for prep length is your lifestyle. Do you have a high stress job? Are you back in school? Do you have a family? There are a whole host of lifestyle factors that need to be considered. Just because you have a lot on your plate does not mean you can’t prep, it simply means we need to be smart about programmed deloads, diet break weeks and generally taking a slower approach.

Hormonal Status

Having healthy hormones effects both female and male clients, but female clients typically get hardest from dieting adaptations. This is especially true if someone’s dieting history is longer and/or they’ve done multiple preps. Getting stage lean is very hard hormonally and can skew factors high or low, creating issues with clients cycles, mood, fat loss and muscle gain.

The best way to stabilize hormones is to simply take time away from a diet. I probably sound like a broken record about taking a long offseason but it’s that important! After you’ve taken adequate time off, worked up calories to an appropriate level and gotten to a comfortable body fat for your personal body, you’ve likely stabilized your hormones. In the advent you still feel off and/or if you’re a female with an irregular cycle, blood work is necessary to see what is imbalanced. Without blood work, you’re simply guessing.

When you consider all these factors, the harsh reality is that your prep will likely be slower or longer then you’d like.

While it can be a tough pill to swallow at first, consider all of the positives of a longer prep: You’ll be able to retain lean body mass more efficiently meaning you’ll be in a better position metabolically and bring a better physique to stage. You’ll be able to maintain optimal hormonal fucntion for longer, versus a crash diet with tons of cardio. You’ll be able to still train hard and maintain a social life. And last, but certainly not least, you’ll have an overall healthier system that will allow you to thrive for years during your competition preps and outside of them, too.

Set yourself up for success by committing to a quality offseason. If you need help, we’d love to guide you through this journey! Apply for coaching here and get connected with a coach to discuss your goals.

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