Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Operation Pro

I'm swamped with projects at work, so I don't have time for a long post. Just wanted to give you a quick update that Operation Pro has officially begun!

Operation Pro is my focus for the next 31 weeks. It's a clean diet, intense workouts, and a focused mentality. I have to admit, my focus has wavered quite a bit since my last show. I've debated competing in Bikini, then decided to stick with Figure. Then I incorporated plyos into my workout ... and discovered that they don't work for my body. Then I wanted to drop some weight to maintain at a lower weight, and then I decided not to.

Enough wavering back and forth! Thank you for sticking with me on my off-season roller coaster ride! Now I'm asking for your support for the next 31 weeks while I train for my title match: Team Universe.

If I want that pro card, I need to focus on it. As IFBB Pro Candice Houston said in an interview earlier this year,
"If you were a Pro, how would you train? How would you eat?"

I need to train like a Pro and eat like a Pro.

And most of all, I need to THINK like a Pro. I need to believe in myself ... to believe that I CAN earn my Pro card.

It's Go Time! Let's do this thing!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Speedbump and Thanksgiving

For the past month or so, I've been wrestling with the issues I discussed in my Title Match blog. Namely, do I really want to give my all to my Pro card quest this year, or do I want to try to have some life balance? I have to admit, the life balance option is far more appealing ... yet ultimately, less satisfying. So ... I've made the decision to just go for it! I'm excited! And scared.

Leaping off the threshold ... kind of

I was all set to take the reins on my diet this past Monday ... and then I got sick. I'm not just talking about a cold or sinus issues (cuz I train and diet through those issues). I'm talking about stomach issues and a fever. I actually went home from work on Monday afternoon, which I very, very rarely do. (Srsly, I have a desk job, where I just sit all day. I have to be really sick before I go home from work.)

I've been on a saltine crackers-pedialite-Jello diet for the past two days, which feels really weird to me. I'm so used to eating on a schedule, that it felt weird to not eat much during the day. And I can't remember the last time I had saltines. I can't help worrying slightly about losing muscle mass by not training or eating any protein for two days (strange, I know, but it's the mindset of a competitor). I'm well aware that my body needs rest, and it's depleted, so I don't want to push it and prolong getting well, but I'm itching to eat some protein and get to the gym again!

Giving thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I fully intend to celebrate without thinking about training or diet (not that I'll be eating much cuz of my tummy issues anyway). Gotta be honest here, I'm so sick of hearing and reading about all the tips to "stay fit during the holidays" and "how to lose weight during the holidays." Why do fitness people think it's not ok to enjoy holiday food once a year? Unless you're in contest prep, there's absolutely no reason NOT to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. There's no need to go for a run after dinner, or do morning cardio so you won't feel so guilty about eating. Detach guilt from food. Ok, 'nuff said about that.

Eye of the Tiger

I'm ready to do this thing. I'm going to take a couple days to let my body fully recover, and then it's on like Donkey Kong. (Anyone remember that game? Did I just date myself?) J and I have talked about my approach to competing this year, and we both realize we'll face challenges and frustrations along the way, especially when we're both dieting at the same time (yikes!). It's so important to discuss this decision with close friends and family, though; I don't want to run the risk of alienating people who mean a lot to me. I know some people won't understand, and that's ok. All I ask for is support, and an occasional encouraging comment.

Team Universe 2011

My next show is on July 9, 2011. I have 32 weeks to get myself into the best conditioning of my life, so when I walk out onto that stage, there's no doubt in the judges' minds who should win.
“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds."
~ Orison Swett Marden

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Figure Girl World is Official!

Figure Girl World is now an official website! Yep - check the URL ... no more "blogspot" in the link! I also want to let you all know that I appreciate all of my readers and official "followers" so much! You have all inspired me to actually spend money on my blog (this is a big deal cuz I'm a notorious cheapskate).

If there are any topics you'd like me to address or discuss, please let me know! I'm open to suggestions and love hearing from you. :)

~ Kari

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Title Match

"Have you ever had a huge goal? Something really big that you dedicated yourself to? Something that consumed you?"

Good question. J asked me that last week while we were discussing competition plans for next year. I pondered the questions all week, and then when we watched the Rocky movies on Sunday evening, it brought the conversation to the forefront of my mind again. This question keeps running through my head like a skipping CD:

"Have you ever dedicated yourself fully to something?"

I could argue that I dedicate myself fully to every competition I do. But is that really the truth? Do I do everything I possibly can to win the show? And right now, am I truly doing everything I possibly can to achieve my Pro card?

Before you say, "Yeah, you're dedicated, Kari!" think about this: I've always tried to find a balance between my prep and other things in my life, such as work, family, friendships, and relationships. I've always said that "prep is my own thing - it's not anyone else's issue." And so I've tried to still lead a halfway normal life, doing "normal" things like going out dancing, going out to eat (either finding something not too detrimental to my diet on the menu or even bringing my own food), and being an attentive girlfriend.

But as I really think about it ... did I really do a good job balancing it all? Or was I simply doing an adequate job and not really succeeding in all areas?

I keep asking myself these questions:
  • "What if I gave it my all?"
  • "What is my 'all'?"
  • "What does it mean to give everything?"
  • "What would giving everything entail?"
  • "Could I really do it?"
  • "Am I mentally strong enough?"
These are not feelings of self-doubt; they're simply a deep introspection and honest search for the truth. And since this blog is about me being honest with myself and with others, I'm going to open up and share with you some of the things I've been grappling with in my mind lately.

What does it mean to "give my all"?

Let's get this out of the way: Since I compete naturally, giving my all does NOT include taking drugs, prescription fat burners, or prescription diuretics. So that's not even an option.

I suspect that my "all" means training hard from now all the way up to the show. Not that I don't already train intensely, but my focus would be strictly on the exercises and muscle groups I need to improve for the show. I keep remembering the scenes of Rocky training in a dungeon or in the snow in Russia - he trained with an intense purpose. Heavy training may mean getting bigger and carrying more weight than I'm comfortable carrying, looking bigger than I prefer (cuz let's face it - most of us girls don't want to feel like we look "big").

Hardcore training!

It means dieting harder than I ever have before. That doesn't mean fewer calories (don't want to destroy my metabolism after all!), but it does mean no Treat meals through the whole prep period. That's right - no cookies. (Can't believe I just wrote that.) I've never dieted without periodic Treat meals before. I'm talking about a 16 - 20 week prep ... which is about 5 months of no carbs.

Wait a minute ... I said no Treats, but I bet you're asking yourself why I just said no carbs too. The reason for no carbs is because I use the Keto diet to get lean: high protein, high fat, no direct carbs. Before you get your posing suit in a bunch, remember that every body is different, and my body does NOT process carbs efficiently. I've tried several other approaches, but none have been as effective for me as keto. And believe it or not, I have the most energy on keto, and don't lose muscle.

So, to recap thus far, my "all" includes 35 weeks of intense training, with 16 - 20 of those weeks doing straight keto, no Treats, no carbs. (Am I crazy?!)

What does it mean to give everything?

Well, I guess that giving everything means not attempting to lead a "balanced" life. It means dedicating everything I do to my goal - every activity I do, every piece of food I put in my mouth brings me a step closer to earning that Pro card. I would not attempt to do Normal activities like sight-seeing at the Smithsonian, going on vacations or family visits, or spending the day at the beach. Essentially, my social life would be put on hold for roughly 5 months. I wouldn't worry about being a good daughter, sister, friend, or girlfriend. I wouldn't move to Russia, like Rocky did, but I would essentially isolate myself.

Training in any condition

This last part sounds awful, to be honest! I don't know if I could intentionally isolate myself and not be the best person I could be to the people who are important to me. On the other hand, nearly every person I can think of who successfully achieved a significant goal made personal sacrifices at some point in order to achieve their goal. Perhaps if I explain to them beforehand and help them understand that I'll be back to normal after the show, then those close to me will still be there at the end?

I honestly don't know how I feel about this yet. While it seems like a solitary sport, bodybuilding at a high level is almost a team sport. Nearly every successful bodybuilder (and I use this as a generic term for everyone who competes) has a strong support team behind them, helping them along the way.

Even when he isolated himself, Rocky still had a support team with him.

Am I mentally strong enough?

I honestly don't know if I have what it takes to give everything. Part of me wonders if I even want to do it. It'd be the most difficult thing I've ever done, but has the potential to be the most rewarding.
"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
~ Theodore Roosevelt

I ask myself, would the reward be worth the risk of losing everything and everyone that means anything to me? Would the reward be worth the price? I don't want to be that person who stands all alone with only her cold trophies beside her because she alienated everyone who cared about her along the way. I don't want to become a leech - sucking energy from everyone in order to bolster myself, and not giving anything back. I don't want to not be true to who I am, what I stand for, and what I believe in.

At this point, 35 weeks from Team Universe, I honestly don't know if this is the path I'll take.

If I do take this path, after the show, regardless of the results, I could honestly say I did everything I possibly could do to prepare to win the Pro card. But on the other hand, would I be happier knowing I somehow found a balance during prep, at the expense of not doing everything possible? Or would I always wonder if I could've won it if only I'd done everything I could do?

Standing on the threshold

I now stand upon this threshold ... excited at the prospect of the greatest challenge of my life ... yet scared and apprehensive. I'm sure this is how Rocky felt at the prospect of the Title Match. In a sense, Team Universe is MY Title Match.

Mr. T is my Pro Card

Is embarking upon this challenge something I truly want to do? Because if it's not something I want with 100% zero doubt, I will not do it ... I won't be able to. If my resolve and belief in myself aren't 100%, and my dedication isn't completely solid, there's no way I'll be able to commit to the challenge.

If, however, I decide to give everything, I will do it. And I will give 100%, even though there will be difficulties, frustrating challenges, and times when my mind will be my worst enemy. It will be like Rocky overcoming doubt and adversity just to get in the ring for the chance to win.
"Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome."
~Booker T. Washington

It will be both the best and worst times of my life. And no doubt - it will be an immense learning experience with lessons I can't even fathom at this time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Does it Mean to be Hardcore?

Ever since I started dating a bodybuilder, I keep hearing the term, "hardcore." J and his friends use the word as if it's a status symbol: "Yeah, our gym is hardcore!" or "All the hardcore guys wear "hip sacks." ("Hip sacks" is a whole 'nother blog for a different day. I'm not even gonna get started here. But suffice it to say, my Grandma also owned and proudly wore one of those so-called hardcore "hip sacks.")

Being an English major, I often investigate the etymology (origins) of words. So the more I started hearing the word, "hardcore," the more I started questioning what it really means and how to use the word in its proper context.

What makes a gym hardcore?

Let's first discuss what makes a gym "hardcore." My understanding of a hardcore gym is one that is dirty with broken equipment, and is often either in a decrepit, run-down building with spray paint on the exterior, or is located in a basement. It must be dank, dark, and may have exposed light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

Is this gym "hardcore"?

There are very few machines, but the dumbbells go up past 150 lbs and the weight plates may have rust on them.

Equipment is all crammed in here and doesn't look new, so this gym is hardcore.

Only "serious" bodybuilders train in these gyms; other people are too intimidated. (Or they just don't like cracked benches with perma-sweat stains on them.)

This gym is so hardcore, it's not even in a building!

It's not a fancy, expensive gym that has brand new, shiny, matching equipment and more stability balls than dumbbells.

Is the couch there so you can rest in between sets?

The only cardio equipment in a hardcore gym is either old treadmills or jumpropes. No fancy elliptical machines, each equipped with their own TV.

No sweating allowed!

What does it mean to be "hardcore"?

Now that we've taken a look at the elements that make a gym hardcore, let's think about what it actually means to BE hardcore. My basic understanding is that being hardcore means training hard with intense focus. It means going to the gym to TRAIN ... not to "work out."

AnimalPak ads are known for depicting hardcore training.

Or it means doing good, old-fashioned drills outside ... in the middle of winter ... in Russia. Like Rocky.

Rocky was the definition of hardcore!

To most of the bodybuilders I've talked with about this, being hardcore doesn't only mean training hard; it also means looking the part. Hardcore involves hoodies, string tank tops, work boots, clown pants, fanny packs, and oversize t-shirts a la Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

The hoodie and work boots make this guy hardcore.

These people are all hardcore.

I'm not trying to poke fun of people's wardrobes, or what elements make someone hardcore. It's my understanding that most modern bodybuilders think of the 1990's as the age of true hardcore bodybuilders. Which, in turn, means that they associate the fashion of the '90's as the definition of hardcore.

Bodybuilding fashion is starting to finally evolve, and GASP clothing is now very popular among bodybuilders. Not only is it nice quality, it's cut for bodybuilders.

What's the fascination with being hardcore?

Being hardcore is a status symbol of sorts. Not everyone can or wants to be hardcore. To be hardcore, you must be focused, determined, intense, and driven. The work boots and fanny pack are optional.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eye of the Tiger

Last night, I encountered a milestone in my life.

Was it a life-change decision? Nope.

Was it a great accomplishment? Nope.

What was the milestone? It wasn't anything as profound as a life-changing decision or a great accomplishment, but it could definitely lead to either of those things.

The milestone was finally watching several of the Rocky movies ... for the first time in my life.

Sly Stallone as Rocky

Talk about a motivating series of movies! These movies have been on my must-see list (along with The Goonies, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club) for awhile, so even though I missed the first part, I decided to keep watching and have J fill me in on what I missed.

Not only was I impressed with Sly's level of conditioning in the movies (can you say shredded?!), I was impressed with Rocky's determination and will to overcome all obstacles to win.

The movies raised a couple questions for me that I'm still mulling over.
  • What does it mean to be "hardcore"?
  • Have I ever done everything I could possibly do to achieve a goal?
  • Would I ever do everything I could possibly do to achieve a goal?
  • Do I have a goal of the same magnitude as Rocky's that would require an extreme amount of dedication, commitment, and training?
  • If I do have a goal, do I even have the mindset and mental toughness required to achieve that goal?
  • How many people ever set high goals and actually achieve them?
  • How in the world did Sly get so shredded and still have enough energy to train so hard? (This answer may actually have to do with the non-reality nature of movies.)
At this time, I don't have any answers to these questions, but they're definitely swirling around in my head. And they'll most definitely be the subject of future blogs, so stay tuned!

In the meanwhile, I'm going to use my renewed sense of motivation to train hard and grow some muscles!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween and the Guilt Complex

This past weekend was a celebration in honor of sugar and sweets ... so I, being a fan of all things sugary, decided to celebrate as well! No, I didn't eat clean. Yes, I ate the mini candy bars. No, I have no remorse. Should I? No, I don't think so.

Office potluck goodies

So often in this industry, we're bombarded with guilt trips about what we should and shouldn't eat. And really, it's no one else's business but our own! Who cares what I do or don't eat?! But I digress. Because we lead a "healthy" lifestyle, we're encouraged to feel like failures if we don't eat completely clean all the time. Talk about putting undue pressure on someone!

I'll be the first to admit that I love cookies and candy bars. And I eat them! But the key is to not eat them all the time. I select certain days or time frames in which to indulge my sweet tooth and mental cravings. And then I go back to eating healthier. I've found that a structured plan and goals helps me to maintain some balance and mental sanity. And yes, my structured plan does include cookies (albeit every so often).

We had 50 lbs of candy in the house ... and we handed out nearly all of it on Halloween!

Attaching a feeling of guilt to foods and thinking of certain foods as "bad" only perpetuates negative thinking and self-loathing when you eat them. It's not "bad" to eat candy bars; just eat them in moderation. Enjoy them, and then go back to eating clean food, sans the guilt complex.

While I enjoyed the candy bars on Sunday evening, and the office potluck on Thursday, I do have to admit that I struggled more with my workouts after those meals (and it felt weird to be eating candy at work!). I was able to train hard, but my body definitely didn't process the sweets as efficiently as it processes my lean turkey. I felt more sluggish and bloated all over. Those feelings were actually a good reminder of why I eat clean the majority of the time. My body responds very well to healthier food, and as a result, I feel better - physically and mentally.

I'm glad I had some treats last week, but I'm also happy to be back on my clean food plan this week!