Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Double-Edged Sword

I have a photoshoot this afternoon!

As usual, though, I realized that I needed to do some shopping before the shoot. I like my wardrobe, but my everyday clothes aren't usually suited for photoshoots. At the mall last night, I tried on a couple dresses. They fit like a dream! I LOVE my body at this size! It seems like everything I try on looks amazing!

There's only one problem: I won't look like this for long.

It's not that I plan to blow up and gain a bunch of weight after my show next weekend. It's just that the level of leanness that my body is at now isn't maintainable nor healthy. Sure, I'm small and clothes fit great, but I'm wiped out all the time and often feel like I'm moving under water. (Ah, the joys of prep!)

Being in contest shape is a double-edged sword.

Because I feel so great about how I look, I want to go out and buy a bunch of cute clothes now. Sure, I need a few new clothes because most everything is just hanging off my body and it'd be nice to have at least ONE pair of shorts that fit. But I don't want to spend too much money on clothes that won't fit next week. Even adding 5 lbs of weight makes a difference in how my clothes fit. (Ah, the curse of being short and petite.) I don't want to end up with a closet full of beautiful clothes that don't fit or that I can only wear for one week out of the year.

I did a few twirls in the pretty dress, mulled over the practical matter of "how exactly does one wear a bra with this? Oh, maybe you don't? Oh that looks so inappropriate," and then brought the dress back to the sales rack. I have enough dresses that fit me right now.

One of my favorite dresses!
Do you feel the urge to buy clothes when you're in contest shape?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh, You Noticed?

"Looks like your diet is finally starting to work," she said, as we passed by each other in the gym.

Huh? FINALLY starting to work? What do you mean? It's been working for the past 3 months; you just haven't noticed because normally I wear long-sleeved shirts to the gym. That day, I was wearing a tank top for the first time in months.

Last year, J informed me that I'd need to wear long sleeved shirts during contest prep. He had his reasons for the recommendation (read: directive), many of which didn't quite make sense to me. But he's the coach and I follow what he says to do. I stocked up on cute long sleeve shirts and resigned myself to feeling like a furnace while training. For a girl who doesn't like to sweat, it was not a fun experience.

This year, I voluntarily began wearing long sleeve shirts when I started contest prep. I discovered that I focused more on the mind-muscle connection when I didn't have the distraction of critiquing myself in the mirror while training. Again, I felt like a furnace while training, but I wanted to get the most out of my workouts.

Typical gym attire: long sleeve shirt and capris

Two weeks ago, J told me to start training in tank tops. It was time to unveil all the hard work I'd been putting in and actually SEE what I looked like while training. It may not make sense to those of you who don't compete, but what I look like at home is completely different than what I look like in the gym. It's all about lighting and muscle pump. Sure, I'd seen myself in the mirror at home and in restrooms, but I didn't know what I really looked like.

That's when I got the sarcastic passive/aggressive "compliment" about my diet finally working.

I can finally break out all the tank tops I've been collecting over the past year!

I've been getting a lot of comments and questions from other gym members lately, especially as the show is getting closer and closer. With very little exception, I've received a TON of support and encouragement. I'm overwhelmed sometimes by the outpouring of cheers, especially from people I normally don't converse with.

At this stage of prep, every supportive comment means so much. The mental rollercoaster than happens day to day and even hour to hour can get exhausting, and all it takes is one "Keep up the great work!" or "Hang in there!" to keep the smile on my face and the focus in my mind.

I'm still surprised every time I look in the mirror while training and see striations or a bicep vein. It's like I was sculpting and molding a piece of art under the cover of a tarp, and then I whipped the tarp off to reveal the almost-completed structure. Seeing the results of my hard work over the past few months is so rewarding, and one of the reasons why I love to compete.

What type of outfit do you wear while training? Have you tried training in long sleeves? Do you get support from other gym members?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Caffeine: The Breakup and Makeup

I read an article that said that 90% of Americans consume caffeine daily.


I've always been up front about my love of caffeine and Endorush, especially during prep. But last Fall, I did something I didn't know was possible: I quit caffeine cold turkey.

Yep, caffeine and I officially broke up. And it was glorious.

I learned to wake up in the mornings without stumbling to the refrigerator for that first gulp of Endorush. How to push myself through a workout based on sheer willpower and determination. How to stay awake through the 3 pm sleepy hour at work.

I was doing great! I was happy and felt healthy and whole.

My plan was to stay away from caffeine until I absolutely needed it during prep. I knew the day would come when I'd need it to function while I deprived my body of calories and overtrained it in the gym. I hoped to hold out for as long as possible because I didn't want my body to be addicted to anything.

That's not to say that I NEVER had any caffeine. I'd have sips of J's Diet Coke here and there, but my body wasn't dependent on it.

Caffeine and I stayed broken up until Memorial Day weekend, when we made up and got back together.

We were in Texas for FitCon, and I knew it was going to be a difficult weekend for me - long hours and social obligations combined with the usual stress of staying on my diet and getting in all cardio and training workouts. I brought along a couple bottles of Endorush, and sipped them very sparingly. Just a sip made a huge difference in my performance! The added boost of energy enabled me to push through my cardio and workouts with intensity.

Endorush: We're back together again
I have conflicted feelings about going back to being on caffeine. On the one hand, I don't feel like it's healthy for the body to have an addiction of any kind - and then feed into that addiction. I don't WANT to feel hazy and stumbly in the mornings if I don't have some caffeine. On the other hand, the caffeine is impacting my performance in all areas on my life in a positive way. I'm more productive at work, and I can train more intensely in the gym. It's like a double-edged sword.

I've come to terms with the fact that in order to continue functioning at a high level for the next few weeks, I need to consume caffeine at various points throughout the day. I don't want my performance at work to suffer - I need my job! I don't want my performance at the gym to suffer - I'd like to push myself to be my absolute best on stage. After the show, I think I may try to wean myself off of it again. Until then, it's time for another sip of Endorush!

Are you addicted to caffeine? Have you ever quit cold turkey? Do you find that caffeine helps your performance?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Locker Room Confessional

This prep has been full of interesting and new challenges. I've been pushing harder than I've pushed in a long time, and it's really starting to take a toll on me mentally and physically. My sprained ankle has mostly healed, but now I'm battling another injury. The quad teardrop above my knee on my right leg feels like DOMS x1000. I thought it was just a normal sore muscle, but during my run yesterday morning, it cramped up so badly, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it home from my run. It hurt to run, it hurt to walk. I very nearly called J to come pick me up, but he was at the gym with a client, so I toughed it out and made it home. We modified the plyos in my workout last night, and it was Delt Day, which gave my leg a bit of a reprieve.

I'm frustrated, tired, over-trained, and emotional.

Basically, this is the non-glamorous side of prep. Here's a video I put together last night at the gym. A very real and honest confessional about thoughts that run through my head during prep.

Despite the struggles and emotional breakdowns, not once have I considered backing out of the show. I WILL get through this, and I'll be stronger for it! When I stand on stage in 3 weeks, I'll know that I overcame injuries, challenges, and struggles, which will make the moment that much sweeter.

What struggles and challenges have you faced during prep? Do you identify with any of the feelings I'm experiencing?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Angry Ankle

Contest prep is hard on the body, no doubt about it. Every year, I've battled some sort of minor inconvenience like a sore shoulder or a pulled hamstring. This year, I battled something far more painful and challenging: a sprained ankle.

I don't know how or when it happened. Shortly after I began running outside, my ankles started hurting. I figured it was just an adjustment period and just pushed through the pain. After awhile, the pain lessened and I thought everything was fine. Then I found myself slightly rolling my left ankle and feeling tweaks of pain. The pain increased until it was extremely painful to run or even walk. I then discovered one night that my ankle had swollen to the size of a golf ball.


Apparently, I'm great at ignoring warning signs.

For the next two weeks, I diligently iced my ankle every night and took ibuprofin throughout the day (which I hate having to take!). I didn't let it deter me, though, and simply wore a lace up ankle brace during cardio and my workouts.

Speaking of cardio ... running was out of the question. So we moved all my cardio to the elliptical. Since we don't have an elliptical at home, I did some sessions in the fitness center at work and some at my gym, much to the surprise of the morning gym regulars. (I got a lot of, "What are YOU doing here so early?!" and "Who are you, again?" questions.)

One of the trainers at the gym pinpointed the issue as being in my upper calf. After working on my calf muscles for a few days, my ankle started feeling a bit better. Just in time too, as I ended up having to go running for cardio while at FitCon in Texas.

I'm so grateful to my gym family for all the support and encouragement they gave me while my ankle was giving me issues. People are still continuing to ask me about it and to cheer me on. And also thank you to J for his never-ending support. He has the difficult position of being in two roles at the same time: boyfriend and trainer. Sympathizing with me while at the same time helping push me toward my goals.

We didn't know how long my ankle would be injured or if it would get worse, so we decided to push even harder with training and diet and try to get ahead a bit in case the ankle sidelined me for awhile. So my training and cardio got more intense, and the diet got even more tightened up. I didn't argue, though. I didn't want to fall behind!

My ankle is feeling a LOT better now (thank goodness!), although it's still not 100%. I still have some twinges and shoots of pain periodically after I've been sitting for awhile and then get up to walk or when I step wrong. I look at the situation as just another challenge that creates a life lesson - we're always stronger than we think we are.

In the words of Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman:
You have to remember that the hard days are what make you stronger. The bad days make you realize what a good day is. If you never had any bad days, you would never have that sense of accomplishment!
When I stand on stage in four weeks (EEPS! Time is flying!), I'll know that I overcame obstacles and injuries to get there, and it'll make the moment even sweeter.

Have you gotten injured during prep? What happened? Did it set you back? How did you recover?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FitCon Weekend 2014

Last weekend, J and I went to the 2nd annual FitCon expo in Waxahachie, TX (just South of Dallas). As I mentioned, we gave a talk about how we make our relationship work with him being both my boyfriend and my coach. As promised, here are more details about FitCon weekend!

The official FitCon 2014 t-shirt

FitCon is the brainchild of Jason English, aka Big J's Extreme Fitness. He grew the event from a small gathering last year to an expo this year with booths, speakers, and an ANBF bodybuilding show. Big J's vision of connection many of the fitness YouTube channels brought together people from all over the U.S. Attendees could meet their favorite YouTube personality in person, buy t-shirts and training gear, and get samples from some of the awesome supplement vendors in attendance.

J had a table where he sold his t-shirts and signed photos of himself. We were so excited to meet others who watch his channel and listen to his advice, experience, and stories!

J and me near his table at FitCon
I was his "camera crew" all weekend, so I walked around and shot footage all day. We're high tech - using an iPhone for all footage. ;)

Metroflex Arlington

We spent all of Saturday at the expo hall and then when the event wrapped up, we all headed out to Metroflex Arlington to train at the famous gym where Ronnie Coleman used to train when he was Mr. Olympia.

The sign is indicative of the state of the gym
Metroflex was ... um ... well, it was small. And dirty. And gross. J loved it, I was ... less than impressed. The place was packed with FitCon attendees and I quickly saw that there was no possible way I could get my workout done in there. I did a few sets to say that I've trained there, then I headed to a 24-Hr Fitness club to do my actual workout. To my surprise, I found a bunch of other FitCon peeps there too, who also realized they couldn't train at Metroflex. I ended up having a great workout! It's so motivating to be around others who are also training hard and having a good time.

Sightseeing, Family, and Friends

On Sunday, J and I went up to Dallas and checked out Dealy Plaza, where JFK was shot. It was both somber, moving, and fascinating to be there.

Across from the "grassy knoll"
The "X" behind us is where one of the bullets struck JFK
We met my cousin, Mike, and his kids for lunch. I hadn't seen my cousin for about 7 years and had never met his kids, so it was so wonderful to spend time with them!

Me with Cousin Mike and his kids, Matthew and Caleb
Later in the day, I met up with an online friend, Faith, and her family. We'd never met in person before and had a fun time chatting.

Faith and me with her son, Lidon
The Prep Elephant

The only sort-of downside to the weekend was that I didn't get as much sleep as I wanted to get because I needed to get all of my cardio sessions in. That meant I woke up 1.5 hours before J in order to have time to do cardio, get ready, and be places in time. We had to be at FitCon at 7:30 am on Saturday ... which meant my butt was up before 5 am in order to do cardio. On Saturday night, my evening cardio began at 10:30 pm. That's usually when I'm in bed. I wasn't happy about having to get up early and stay up late, but prep isn't about being "happy"; it's about doing what needs to be done. And cardio and training needed to get done.

Another challenge was that while the hotels we stayed at claimed they had "fitness equipment" ... in reality, NONE of the equipment actually worked. What a disappointment! I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago, and was relying solely on equipment to do cardio instead of running while my ankle healed. I didn't have an option, though; I laced up my running shoes and hit the road. Thankfully, my ankle held up and I was able to get the cardio done.

Early morning run before FitCon
Speaking of cardio, one of the highlights of the trip for me was going to Destination Dallas, formerly Metroflex Plano. It's a newer gym and it's bad ass!! If you're in the Dallas area, I highly recommend it! It's where Adela Garcia, Branch Warren, Steve Kuclo, Alison Frahn, and many other top competitors train. And I can see why! It's not the biggest gym (although not as small as Metroflex Arlington), but it has such an electricity in it. Steve Kuclo was actually training there (SO COOL!) while I did cardio. Talk about motivation!

Destination Dallas. Badass gym!
I brought all of my food for the entire weekend with me in my new IsoBag cooler. I LOVE my new cooler!! I bought it in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, and this trip was the first test of it. It passed with flying colors! I was even able to get the ice packs through security (hint: make sure they're completely frozen). I was able to stick to my diet because I had all my food with me.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I was prepared all weekend!
All in all, we had a wonderful weekend, met some great people, and made new friends. I'm looking forward to FitCon 2015!

Have you been to Metroflex Arlington or Destination Dallas? What did you think? Have you stayed in hotels that claimed to have a "fitness center" that just contained broken equipment? How did you handle it?

Monday, June 2, 2014

When Quitting Isn't Really Quitting

I'm a self-proclaimed bookworm. Reading is one of my favoritest things to do in the entire world. Most of the time, I'd rather curl up with a good book than engage in meaningless conversation with other people. Reading relaxes me and sends me to different worlds, introduces me to new characters, and teaches me about topics, things, and events I might otherwise not have know about. In fact, I love reading so much, I majored in English in college. My dad was skeptical as to the benefits and applications of an English degree, but there was nothing I liked better in the world than reading, so the English degree seemed to fit.

During prep, I read a lot. Mostly because I spend lots of quality time with Mr. Treadmill or Mr. Elliptical, and reading helps me pass the time. (How do people do cardio without either watching TV/movie or reading?!) This year, I haven't been reading quite as much because I've been running outside (*gasp* Can you believe it?! I'll write a post about this soon.) instead of using cardio equipment. But instead of listening to music while I run (I'm lazy and haven't updated my iPod playlist for 2 years.), I listen to an audio book. So it's still kinda like I'm reading!

I use the Overdrive app, which interfaces with the electronic branch of libraries across the US. Instead of paying a subscription fee or buying all the books I listen to, I simply check them out of my local library using Overdrive, and then download them to my phone.

OverDrive App
I've been running into an issue lately, though, that I've been reluctant to face. Not all of the books I check out are very good. I find myself getting bored or annoyed after awhile, yet I continue listening to the book (I just wanna know how it ends). I have a difficult time making the decision to return the book without listening to the entirety of it. I feel like I'm giving up, cheating somehow. I have no idea from where this idea stems, as no one is telling me that I MUST finish the book (this isn't college anymore).

This morning, I took a huge step and STOPPED listening to a book in the middle of my run. I switched to the other book I'd checked out and downloaded. I just couldn't listen to Book 1 anymore. I was annoyed and bored with it. It seemed to drag on ... and on ... and on ... And I began to wonder why I was still listening to it.

  • Was it entertaining me? No.
  • Was I learning something from it? No.
  • Was I near the end of it? No.
  • Did I wish I was near the end of it? Yes.
  • Did I like all of the characters? No. They annoyed me.
  • Have I liked any part of this book? Um, kinda, I guess.
It was time to switch gears and move on to another book.

This reminded me of some situations in life. Sometimes we find ourselves doing things out of habit, just because we've "always done things that way." It's a good idea to stop periodically and assess our actions (or non-actions, as the case may be), and ask ourselves some difficult questions.

  • Am I enjoying this?
  • Am I learning anything from this?
  • Will this benefit me in the long run?
  • Is there something else I'd rather be doing or that would be more beneficial for me?
Sometimes these questions are difficult to answer, and once answered, the resulting actions are even more difficult to implement. But just as I discovered by listening to the new book, changing directions can be much more rewarding and entertaining. I really like the new book, and I'm so glad I didn't needlessly suffer through Book 1 just for the sake of finishing it.

Do you feel guilty for quitting books halfway through? Have you ever stopped in the middle of a goal and realized your priorities and interests had changed? How did you feel? How did you handle it?