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Contest Preparation

Six Pros Talk Contest Preparation

Precontest. Contest prep. Getting ready for a show. No matter how you refer to it, the sacrifice, planning, energy, training, diet, cardio and all those other little details that result in your favorite bodybuilding stars showing up onstage in shredded, full, muscular condition is the toughest challenge any bodybuilder can take on. Musclemag decided to sit down with six IFBB pros to do a roundtable discussion on their views and strategies for successfully getting ready to do battle. Take a look at what they had to say and see how you can use the information to help you achieve your own physique goals.

When do you start getting ready for a show?

Craig Richardson:

I usually start preparing about 12 weeks before a contest. I stay reasonably close to contest weight in the off-season, given that I compete at 215 and only go up to about 240.

Brian Chamberlain:

I actually learned a valuable lesson when I won the North American and turned pro last year. In the past, I would usually start preparing about 12 weeks out, like Craig. When I started preparing for the show, I was really getting ready for the Nationals, which were going to be about 8 weeks after the North American. As I was dieting, I saw that I could actually be ready for the North American, which was only 5-6 weeks into my prep! I was apparently overdieting in the past. Now, I intend on only taking that same 5-6 weeks to get ready, because I got in the best shape of my life and stayed much bigger and fuller than ever before.

Idrise Ward-El:

I usually give myself about 14 weeks to get ready. I go from the mid-280’s to the mid-250’s to compete, so that’s about 30 pounds. If you average that out, it’s about two pounds per week, which means that I’m giving myself enough time to lose the fat without having to overdiet and lose muscle.

Will Harris:

My situation is different. Getting big comes real easy, getting ripped takes a lot more time and effort for me. I start a three-phase diet about 25 weeks out and cut the diet progressively as I increase the amount of cardio that I do. That’s what works for me.

Eryk Bui:

For me, it’s usually 8-10 weeks. I tend to do a lot of cardio, so even though I’m usually dropping about 30 pounds or a little more, this has always given me the time to get ripped.

Johnny Stewart:

I’ve always started 12 weeks out. The only exception for me has been when I’m already in shape from a prior show and there is another one coming up in the next few months. In that case, I’ll take a break for a few weeks and then get back on the program, so the actual precontest period for that second show is much shorter than 12 weeks.

What is your overall diet approach and do you think there is anything unique about how you diet precontest?

Contest Preparation and dietCraig Richardson:

I opt for what I would call a high protein, high fat, moderate carb approach. I eat approximately four pounds of red meat a day when I’m dieting, so that’s probably pretty unique for a bodybuilder.

Brian Chamberlain:

My diet is high protein, very low carbs and pretty high in fat as well, although I don’t eat all that red meat like Craig does. I have two tablespoons of peanut butter at each of my six meals every day. I also eat pork tenderloin several times per day as I find that my body really reacts well to it. 

Idrise Ward-El:

Here’s where I deviate a bit from Craig and Brian and probably fall more in line with most. My fats are very low, carbs are moderate and protein is high. I eat five times per day as opposed to the customary six or seven.

Will Harris:

I’m a high fat, low carb guy. My body doesn’t react well to carbs when I’m dieting. I just stay heavier and more bloated. I love eating high fat, high protein and it took me a while to figure out that I could get shredded eating salads with chicken and blue cheese dressing, whole eggs, red meat and nuts as long as my cardio was right. That’s exactly what I did for the USA and was in the best shape of my life.

Eryk Bui:

Low carbs, low fat, high protein. I eat six times per day when dieting. 

Johnny Stewart:

I eat seven meals per day. My overall philosophy is high protein, low carbs and very low fat. I also alternate my meals that have starchy carbs, like rice for example, with meals that have only fibrous carbs, like broccoli.

What are your strategies when it comes to cardio for a show?

Contest preparation

Craig Richardson:

Man, I do a lot of cardio. From the first week of my prep, I do two sessions per day, 45 minutes each, six days per week and one 45-minute session on the other day, which is my leg day.

Brian Chamberlain:

I do not do much cardio precontest. For example, during the three weeks before the North America, I did cardio a total of three times for only 30 minutes. In the past, I would typically start cardio eight weeks out and stop two weeks before the show. I learned a valuable lesson this year that I really don’t need a lot of cardio to be shredded. I think that allowed me to come into the show fuller and harder than I ever have before. I must have been stripping too much muscle in the past by overdoing my cardio.

Idrise Ward El:

I start cardio 12 weeks out with 4-5 sessions per week…30 minutes on either the Stepmill or Treadmill. They are both great for burning fat and working the glutes. I gradually go up to as much as two sessions per day of 45 minutes each, six days per week. It all depends on my condition.

Will Harris:

I start cardio 25 weeks out a few times per week and go all the way up to as much as 2 ½ hours per day, six days per week, in the month or so before the show. My body really responds to extreme cardio, so if that’s what I need, that’s what I do.

Eryk Bui:

I start doing serious cardio 8 weeks out for two 45-minute sessions daily. Two weeks later, I bump my cardio up to two 60-minute sessions daily, seven days per week.

Johnny Stewart: 

I start out with one 45-minute session per day, seven days per week. From there, I will evaluate my physique at the 6-week mark and up my cardio if I feel I need to. If so, I will go up to two 30-minute sessions per day.

Do you think that training should change precontest?

Craig Richardson:

I train the same whether I’m getting ready for a contest or not. I’ve always relied on heavy basic movements.

Brian Chamberlain:

I will do a bit more volume training before a show, using a little lighter weight and few more reps. In the off-season, I will do a few less sets and less overall volume.

Idrise Ward El:

No. I train the same year-round.

Will Harris:

Yes. Because of the amount of energy that goes into my cardio, I have to take that energy expenditure from somewhere. I’ll do a few less sets per bodypart as I get closer to the show as a precaution against injury.

Eryk Bui:

My precontest and off-season workouts are very similar. I try to maintain my strength throughout my entire diet. When the going gets tough, I usually back off to 70% of my maximum and go for 20 reps. However, when I get the urge to go all out, I do. Most of the time, I train at 85% to 95% of my maximum workload.

Johnny Stewart:

I do the same amount of sets per bodypart, but the reps change. Precontest I do 20 reps per set with the same weight. However, in the off-season I will pyramid up the weight and the reps will start at 12 and go down to 6.

What is the toughest thing for you in getting ready for a show?

Craig Richardson:

That’s pretty easy… having to stay away from all the food I enjoy that tastes good.

Brian Chamberlain:

Being hungry and tired all the time.

Idrise Ward El:

I have to agree with Brian. That feeling of being tired as I go through the day can wear me down sometimes.

Will Harris:

Cardio, cardio and cardio. Am I being clear enough here? (laughing)

Eryk Bui:

For me it’s the diet. Not being able to eat food that tastes great is a denial of one my greatest pleasures.

Johnny Stewart:

My answer is related to diet as well, but it’s more about the lack of variety in the foods I eat than the taste aspect of it. Variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to getting ready, there’s very little variety…or spice!

If one thing should be clear after reading the often diverse precontest approaches that these six pros employ, it’s that there are diverse paths to getting into supreme condition. They’ve obviously experimented a lot to unlock what works for them, and now you have a peek into their general strategies so you can do the same. Good luck!

If you are interested in the exact details of how over 30 top pro and national champion bodybuilders get ready for a contest, you can visit www.PrecontestBible.com to find out more about the book that some of your favorite pros have called “the best bodybuilding book ever written!”

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Larry Pepe is the author of the new book, The Precontest Bible, which can be viewed online at www.PrecontestBible.com. Larry can be reached by email at Larry@MuscleFlex.com.

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