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Contest and Photo Shoots

After seven years away from the stage, I made the decision this year to compete again in a bodybuilding competition. I didn’t plan on ever competing again, it was sort of a last minute decision that I made and I just did it on the spur of the moment. It was similar to when Arnold decided to compete in the 1980 Mr. Olympia only 2 months before the contest. His decision sparked a controversial outcome that is still debated and talked about to this day. Mine ended up in disappointment and humility and will hopefully never be discussed ever again.

After getting ripped for my Ironman Magazine cover shoot in May of this year, I decided to stay in very lean condition after the photo shoot. I liked my new lean look and it was easy to maintain it because I liked the food I was eating on my diet. I did another photo shoot in June and then another in August. Many of my friends and associates in the bodybuilding industry were urging me to get back onstage and compete again when they saw how ripped I was. I started thinking about it but decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

It’s much different just flexing for a photographer than it is getting up onstage and competing. In a bodybuilding contest, the judges are scrutinizing your physique from all angles and in a variety of different poses. If you have a weak bodypart, it will be exposed in the mandatory poses. You can’t get away with wearing long shorts or a tank top onstage in a contest. You are reduced to wearing skimpy little posing trunks that won’t hide anything.

At 48 years old and 7 years off from competing, I didn’t think I was up for the challenge of getting onstage again. However, I started to change my mind after I promoted my ABA Natural North America contest in Chicago on August 13th. I had Bill Pearl fly into town to receive the Natural Bodybuilding Lifetime Achievement Award and I got a chance to talk to Bill when he was in Chicago for the weekend.

One of the things we talked about was how age is going to affect everybody. No matter how amazing your physique is (or was), age will catch up to all of us. Bill looks fantastic for 81 years old and he still gets up early to train every day. He is a big man and he looks healthy as a horse. However, he will never take his clothes off and pose onstage ever again. He once famously said, “Bodybuilding is a young man’s game” and “There comes a time when a bodybuilder should never take his clothes off in public”.

After that weekend, I started to think about how fast life goes by and how little time we all have on this planet. Not only is life itself short but our years when we can consider ourselves young and vibrant are also very limited. I’m only 2 years away from 50 and I look very good for my age (the headline on the September issue of Ironman read “Looking Great for 48”) but it won’t be this way forever. I can try to emulate my friend Murrell Hall, who at the age of 70 still looks incredible, but I’m sure even Murrell himself would admit that he looked better at 50 than he does at 70.

Finally, I decided to just get back onstage and embrace life. I knew I was already in great shape so why not? As soon as I got back from Chicago, I made the conscious decision to compete again.  I decided to do the Natural Olympia in Reno, Nevada. They had a Masters Pro division so I picked that particular contest to make my comeback. It wouldn’t be an easy contest but I would be competing against competitors over 40 so I knew I would have a better shot than competing in an open division.

It wasn’t an easy road by any means. As soon as I got back home from promoting my contest, I injured my back. I think it was so tight from standing all weekend (promoting a show ends up being a very long day!) that my lower back went into a spasm a few days later. I took off a week to let it heal but the injury wouldn’t go away. It turns out that I somehow aggravated the sciatic nerve in my lower back and I was experiencing pain throughout that area for over a month. First, the pain was in the left side of my lower back. Then, it moved into my hip area. Finally, it was in my hip flexors in my left leg.

I was going to a chiropractor and an experienced sports therapy massage therapist and both of them were dumbfounded on how to make this injury go away. They both did their best but it was one of those injuries that I had to try and work around while I waited for some relief.

After over a month of pain, the injury finally started to subside when I went to the Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas on September 15th. When I got back from that trip, I was able to start training again pain free. I’m sure I lost some muscle during that 6 week period when my training was so compromised from the injury but I decided to just go forward and get as ripped as possible for the contest because I know that conditioning wins shows and I was really lean and ripped for the first time in a very long time.

I started my diet by limiting my carbs to only 250 grams and increasing my protein to 250 grams. I kept the fats in the 40 gram range. I noticed significant changes each week in how lean I was getting. With only a couple of weeks left until the contest, I was able to start increasing my carbs to 275 and then 300 grams per day because I was really getting lean and my metabolism was going faster. I could see that I was much leaner than I was for my Ironman Magazine photo shoot in May.

I was now practicing my posing a lot and I could see changes in my physique every week. There was more detail everywhere and my skin was getting very thin. My back and my intercostals were really getting freaky and my vascularity was becoming more pronounced as the contest got closer. I could see veins all over my calves, my quads, my delts, my pecs and even in my lats. I didn’t remember ever being this ripped and vascular.

The final week before the show, I was eating 300-325 grams of carbs every day to prevent flattening out. I was worried about retaining water but I my lower abs were tight leading into the show. I really thought I was going to freak some people out when I finally got back onstage.

I left for Reno, Nevada on Thursday morning. I actually missed my flight in the morning because I had the alarm set for P.M. instead of A.M. (D’oh!!). I flew on stand-by for the next flight and finally made it to Reno about 2 p.m. I went shopping for the food I would need and checked into my hotel. I had to bring two suitcases and a very heavy carry-on bag because I was packing a hot plate, a small George Foreman grill, my pots and pans as well as all my food (some frozen, some already cooked). It was a major inconvenience but I had to be prepared to spend days out there for the contest.

After checking in on Thursday night, I had to wait for my contest on Saturday. It was a two day event with lots and lots of divisions but the Masters Pro division would not be judged until Saturday afternoon. I was posing on Friday at the hotel and I looked really good. I was still full but I was really ripped and lean. I felt really confident going into this show.

My friend Wil flew in from Chicago on Friday to help me out with the contest. He was really impressed with my condition too. Just to make sure I was really dry for the contest, I ate asparagus (a natural diuretic) about 3x on Friday. That night, I had a hard time sleeping because I was getting a little anxious to compete. I got up about four times during the night to urinate so I knew I would be really ripped come Saturday.

When I got up Saturday morning, I was very dry and lean. It was a noticeable difference from the night before. However, I did look a little flat but I thought I would still look good onstage because of my structure and my size. My class wasn’t being judged until about 2:30 in the afternoon so I was going crazy sitting around waiting. Finally, Wil and I decided to go down to the contest (it was being held in a ballroom of the hotel) because I couldn’t handle waiting in the hotel room anymore.

We went backstage and I was waiting to pump up, figuring I still had a lot of time. As soon as I started to take my clothes off, the expediter started calling for us to line-up. I did about 20 quick push-ups while Wil was applying the oil as fast as he could. I didn’t feel pumped or full as I lined up with the other competitors. Before I knew it, we were being led out onstage.

When I stood in front of the judges, I felt very out of place and uncomfortable. Even though I’ve competed in over 40 contests in my life, that 7 year layoff really made a difference. It felt so weird to being hitting the poses in front of a judging panel again. Most of my competitors, on the other hand, were experienced pros. Many of them had competed the night before in the amateur Masters category so they had the whole pumping up and posing onstage thing down pat. I felt like a deer in the headlights and they were right at home.

In the end, I didn’t make the top three in the contest. Three smaller but very hard and in condition bodybuilders placed in the money. Although I was very hard, I was extremely flat onstage and my posing was off. My color was also not dark enough and that made a difference under the very bright stage lights (the ballroom lighting is much different than the lighting in an auditorium).

To say I was disappointed and bummed out is the understatement of the year. I was so confident that my sharp conditioning would easily get me first place that I was devastated not to make the top three. For two days, I didn’t talk to anyone or answer any text messages. I was pissed off and depressed at the same time.

After I ate a meal or two, I started to fill out again and looked much better. My vascularity came back and the muscles started to fill out. However, it didn’t happen right away. It actually took about two days before I could see the difference. That showed me how flat I got in the days leading into the contest. Being flat, along with my inexperience both backstage and onstage, relegated me to the second tier category.

I did some photo shoots after the contest and those turned out much better than the contest itself. On Sunday night, I flew from Reno to Los Angeles, California. On Monday morning, I drove to Dave Fisher’s Powerhouse Gym in Redondo Beach to shoot with Mike Neveux from Ironman Magazine. Mike was joined by his lovely daughter, Savannah, who was doing some video interviews in between Mike’s photos.

I shot with Mike for about two hours so we got a lot of good stuff. We shot all the exercises for my back and shoulder workouts so look for those training articles in some upcoming issues of Ironman Magazine. Mike is, hands down, one of the best and most experienced physique photographers in the fitness industry so it’s always an honor to shoot with him.

The following day, I drove out to Palm Springs, California to shoot with photographer Ian Sitren. I shot with Ian in May after I did my Ironman Magazine photo shoot and I wanted to shoot with him again since I was in the area. I love the Palm Springs area, it’s so beautiful with the mountains in the background and the gorgeous warm weather. Ian decided to do our shoot in the Palm Springs desert so it was really cool and we got some great shots.

Now that I’m back home and my contest experience is over, I am really looking forward to next year. I decided to do this show on a whim and it’s possible that I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I REALLY want to come back next year and add about 5 pounds of quality muscle while competing as ripped or even more ripped  than this year. I will also do a few warm-up shows to get the kinks out so I have the onstage experience I need to be the winner. Stay tuned to this blog as well as my Naturally Huge column in 2012 to see how I transform my physique in the next year!

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