Let’s take a look inside the mind of a fitness competitor the day after the fun is done. And speaking from experience it can be anything but healthy.
So, you’ve decided to enter a competitive Fitness Show (let’s use “Fitness” as an umbrella word for the Bikini, Figure, Fitness, Bodybuilding, or Physique categories). Congratulations! If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already achieved your goal getting on stage, OR you’re getting pretty darn close to “the big day.”
I am crossing my fingers that you have been working with a good, credible coach. Someone who will be there for you after the fun is done. I have successfully coached both men and women to compete in Fitness Shows, and I personally have a stellar coach that mentors me through an organization called, Cathy Savage Fitness. Without my coach, my head would be all screwed-up in this crazy sport that we deem as a healthy hobby. The sport of Competitive Fitness will make or break you mentally and emotionally if you don’t act appropriately post-show.
I’ve been on all sides of the fence with this sport – as a competitor, as a judge, as a coach, and as a show promoter. I’ll tell you this – the competitor role was the least stressful of all the roles for me!
As a competitor, I focus on myself – that is it. I do not enter a competition to beat anybody else, but myself. The main reason I got into competitive fitness was to have a platform to perform and entertain people. I missed my years as a professional dancer and longed to have the opportunity to be among some of the most inspirational athletes in the competitive fitness arena that I looked up to for years. I have competed in other categories, but the Fitness Routine round is where my passion lies.
As a judge, it was tough! Boy, it made me see competing in a whole new light. It was very hard for me to place a value on the way a person looked. Sounds funny, right? Me being a competitor, putting myself out there to be judged – but I did not like judging others. At most shows, there are countless amazing athletes with phenomenal bodies that after a while, it can be very challenging deciding who is “the best.” I took my role as a judge seriously. It bothered me though to subjectively give my opinion on someone’s physical appearance. It felt kind of…degrading. After the show, competitors would line up and ask me for feedback. It seemed no matter what I said; my answer was not satisfying to them. I would be honest and praise them for their hard work, encourage them to improve on an area and then thank them for being an inspiration! Really the majority of the time the athlete needed to work on things like, getting their tan darker, a better-fit suit, working on posing and stage presence, and/or proper nutrition. All very fixable things with the right coach. But often I would get this look like, “What the hell? Is that it?” And “YES” that is usually it. You need to be in the sport a few years to really improve your body composition and feel natural on stage!
As a coach, I LOVE training passionate go-getters! But it breaks my heart when they talk badly about their physical appearance or when they don’t place where they want to place. I wish they could see themselves as I see them. I get to see their entire journey from day 1 up until show time. It’s amazing to witness their transformation. But they can’t see themselves as I see them! The clients I have helped coach, each are unique. They are more than just their physical body. But here comes the screw-with-your-head-part; THEY DON”T SEE WHAT I SEE! They tell me, “I need to be tighter,” “I need to work on my butt,” “I don’t have enough muscle.” And the list goes on. What I try to pound into their mind is this – When you get on that stage, you must remind yourself that you did EVERYTHING you could do to be there! No regrets! No “should haves.” Each show you will get better because you are learning more about yourself and the sport. There is only one winner. So, if it’s not you, be happy for him/her. And know that your day will come as long as you do not give up. This notion is very challenging for me to convey to my clients. They are comparing themselves to such a small sea of people on this planet that are super fit, super healthy, super good-looking, and they FORGET that they have each earned the right to swim in the same sea and that they are now viewed as a person who inspires others to do the same! BUT many times they mentally abuse themselves after they have a treat meal, or if they don’t have six-pack-abs 4 weeks after their show. It’s like the show made them appreciate themselves LESS, instead of loving themselves MORE! It’s literally an INSANE thought process.
As a show promotor, it is challenging, I enjoy it, however I experienced a lot of frustration along the way with people not following directions, or basically not taking the advice given to them in order to succeed. It sort of feels like your babysitting … it’s not a very glamorous side to the sport. You must bust your but to make sure everything runs smoothly and you feel like you are being ripped into a hundred pieces days leading up to the event. The way I’m wired I like to have things run according to plan. I am OK to deviate slightly, but I despise when things are delayed. It’s the nature of the beast I suppose.
So yeah, I feel the competitor role is easiest! For me at least…it has made me mentally stronger. I have had “good shows” and I have DEFINITELY had “not-so-good-shows.” But I LEARNED from every single one. I never gave up after a not-so-good-show. Sure, I may have thrown myself a pity party after a show or two (God bless my husband and family for those days), then I would talk with my coach to get my head out of my ass and I tried harder the next show. My first personal trainer, Dave Wingenroth, once told me, “You cannot control what the judges think, so LET IT GO, have fun, and just be YOU!” Dave taught me so much more about life than I ever thought a trainer could do. His wise words that will resonate with me every time I set foot on stage.
Here are some things to focus on in order to become mentally stronger post-show:
Post-show goal getting. Like planning a wedding, training for a Fitness Show takes a long time to prepare for. Depending on the individual, some athletes may train for an entire year for JUST ONE DAY! Yikes! That’s a whole lot riding on one day out of your entire life. However, training for any type of physical sport is a process and journey…it’s more than “just one day.” As a competitor, we place a ton of importance on our moment to shine on stage and when we wake up the next day, with or without a trophy, the post-show blues begin to creep in. I’ve noticed that most first-time competitors get bit by the fitness bug and are ready right away for their next big show. So, for some of us, we have another goal a few months away that we’re ready to gear up for. I have fallen into this category since I started competing in 2007. BUT, I do not recommend this for everybody if you are getting cray-cray, selfie OBSESSED about your body! Wait, what did I just say?! Good lord, if you’re reading this, you’re obsessed with looking good just like I am! Nooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! But come on, we CAN find a balance here.
Ok, so maybe doing another fitness show in a few months is NOT the best idea if you find yourself focusing too much on superficial things and you are annoying the crap out of your good friends and family members because you act like doing a show is the epitome of being successful.
Instead of another show right away, how about signing up for a special weekend yoga workshop? A fun, mud run? Take a local painting class! Or, how about planning a surprise party for someone you care about? Set out on tackling that house hold project that you’ve been putting off. Sign-up for a continuing education seminar! Whatever you do, take the attention off of the obsession to look like you stepped out of a magazine 24/7! I know, I know…easier said than done….so let’s work on this.
Know that you can’t always look like you stepped out of a fitness magazine. Believe me, I’ve tried. But the fact is, we are HUMAN and not perfect. And honestly I don’t want to send the message that I am trying to be “perfect.” I want to be approachable, down to earth, and real. I aim to be consistent. I don’t like the feeling of being either “on” or “off” with my training and nutrition. There must be a middle ground where you can relax at holiday functions and summer social gatherings without feeling guilty or “feeling fat.” OH, and remember – FAT IS NOT A FEELING. So stop saying that! A gradual weight gain of 5-10 pounds is actually quite normal post-show. But anything more than this can be a red flag signaling that you have been derailed and have not established a healthy, mindful eating approach (NOTE: if your goal is to put on 15+ pounds of muscle mass, then this does not apply to to you). Which leads me to my next topic…
Body weight, schmody weight! I actually do not weigh myself after a show. What good is it? Do you really feel like pissing yourself off by stepping on the scale the day after you celebrate post-show? Put your scale in the closet or throw it away! You are more than a number! So let’s think about this. For the last 12 weeks or so, you have been OCD about numbers. Your body weight, your girth measurements, your body fat, your calories, your placing at the show, your scores from the judges – AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! Numbers! Post-show is the time to get back to YOU. Your core values and establishing balance between exercise, mindful eating, your family, career and enjoying life! The weeks that follow your show, you MUST focus on your mental health and reconnect (if you have lost connection) with your loved ones. I recommend journaling positive affirmations every evening or buying a few good books about the power of positive thinking. The scale is not always our friend. And, we are all smart enough to grasp the FACT that our body weight changes – a lot! It’s OK to be human and to gain 5-10 pounds during the “improvement season” after your show. But PLEASE be bigger than this! Stop talking to people saying, “OMG, I’ve gained like 5 pounds in a week since my show!”
Boo-effing-hoo! It’s most likely water weight!!! And, no one cares! So stop talking about it! BUT if you feel like you are on a binge eating roller coaster, please seek professional help and communicate this to your coach. Disordered eating post-show can be common and very serious. Circle back with your coach and if the behavior gets out of control, a degreed professional with a focus in eating disorders should be consulted.
Positive mirror talk. Raise your right hand – do you solemnly swear to tell yourself you have a healthy body – a body that you have worked hard for, a body that you will love unconditionally for the rest of your life! How about we all get CONSISTENT at reciting that every day? Couldn’t hurt.
Get your head out of your ass! Looking back on shows that I did not place where I wanted to, I later came to realize, I needed to get my head outta my own ass and LEARN from my experience. Each show taught me valuable lessons about myself. I learned that I lacked confidence. My confidence was only “for show.” I am a born performer, and apparently a half decent actress, because those who know me would think I am always confident. Not placing or not scoring well at a show taught me that I needed to have thicker skin, believe that I was good enough at that moment, as well as give respect and credit to other competitors who did well. One thing I always have done post-show, is give kudos to the winners. Be a good sport and not a sore loser! Get your head your head out of your own ass if you are saying or thinking that the winner did not deserve to win! Do you want someone talking smack on YOU when you win?!
Post-show gossip. This brings me to number 6….talking smack. Every single person who competes in a Fitness Show wants to do well…it may be safe to say that every single person sets out wanting to win. Rarely have I had a client tell me, “Yeah, I think 12th place would be great for me!” The advice given to me over the years that I share now with my clients is, “Aim for the Top 5. If you don’t hit it, we’ll work differently next time. “The Top 5 at a show can be big deal but it always depends on who shows up that day. This sport is very subjective and chances are if you are among the Top 5, you were neck-and-neck with number one. Soooo, feel good for that person who won! If “show politics” were involved, well sobeit. In the grand scheme of life, we live out our karma. My last big show I competed in, would’ve loved to have won. I came damn near close, but I was so happy. It was the best I had ever done at an International show. I think most people where happy for me. Now, there may have been people talking about me thinking, “Well, Aubrey shouldn’t have placed in the Top 5,” or whatever! To those folks I say, “You’ll learn.” You will learn to be gracious, you will learn to respect, and you will learn what it takes to be a force. To be the total package. If you are the naysayer, good luck ever doing well in this sport! If you are the person avoiding gossip, giving credit to others, and helping others shine, you WILL succeed and you will reach your goal. It’s just that simple. We all get what we deserve.
Eating instinctively, again. It may take a week or two for you to feel like your old self again. That’s OK. A book that I often recommend my clients to check out is called, “Am I Hungry,” by Michelle May, M.D. This book is also a program that helped me to get back into simply eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. I worked to not rely on what the clock said all the time. Instead, I focused on relaxing, eating a variety of whole, organic foods and slowly incorporated foods back into my diet that I omitted when dieting for my shows.
Remind yourself this is meant to be a healthy hobby. I am a natural, steroid-free competitor and Fitness America Pro. Because of my natural lifestyle and fitness credentials I am an athlete on Team Isagenix. I got into this sport for many reasons, but one main one was to be healthy. What does “being healthy” mean to you? Please, define “healthy” in your own words. Once you define this for yourself, do you need to continue to work towards that definition? Or do you need to maintain the definition. Aim to BE your best version of healthy. Being healthy does not = six pack abs necessarily. You can be a hot mess in the head with a rockin’ bod, but no one wants to be around you because you are a freaking narcissis. So, check your head, get back to reality and realize the big picture.
Know that the Show is a SYMBOL of hard work and dedication but it does not define you. When I first started competing, people seemed to only associate me with “doing shows.” I didn’t really like that because I am MORE than a person who “just competes.” Doing a show keeps me focused and goal-oriented. It keeps me just uncomfortable enough so I am constantly growing. But, we need MORE depth. We need to incorporate every piece of the wellness pie in order to be well-rounded, beautiful people and enlightened souls. Doing a show is a PERSONAL goal for most people. For very few of us it does not further us in our career, family life, love life, or spiritual life. It is just a small piece of what we do and who we are. It’s a symbol that can be applied into the other areas of our life. So, work as hard on the other areas of your life as you would train for a show! In my opinion, you will have less post-show problems and more post-show accomplishments throughout the entire year, instead of on “just one day.”