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You Might Be Sabotaging Your Contest Prep: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

The Cambridge Dictionary identifies sabotage as – the act of intentionally preventing the success of a plan or action.


Within us all we have a self-sabotage button that we use rarely, occasionally, or often, depending on the individual.


As children, our dreams are often watered down or shattered entirely.

Father “Son, what would you like to be when you grow up?”

Son “An astronaut Dad.”

Father “Don’t be so silly. You will never be an astronaut. You will be a plumber, like me”.

Immediately the child has been told that he lacks intelligence and will never be what he wants. And he will also be told what he will become.

As a child your father is God. Whatever he says, must be right. Right? 


It is game over for that child at that moment. He will never aspire to be anything extraordinary as he has been told he will fail. He will be a self-saboteur for the rest of his life just to stay within the safe-keeping box where he was placed. 


Contest preparation is a dynamic animal. It has many layers that when peeled back expose the true nature of a person. There are more than five mistakes to avoid during contest preparation. There are at least 50, and maybe 500.


I have selected five that I believe have the most success in sabotaging your contest preparation.




If you do not start today, you never will. This is the number one killer of contest preparation.


Remember when you first joined a gym and how daunting that was? You probably thought you were not worthy of being in the same facility as some of the “gods” that graced the vast array of machines, barbells, and dumbbells.


Then, after a period, you realized that you may have a place here in the gym. Albeit small, but significant to you.


After a year, or so you reflect on how intimidated you felt on day one at the gym reception counter. With your newfound confidence, it dawns on you that the other gym members are human and have the same feelings as you. You do belong here.


So now that you have conquered the gym, what is next? 


You overhear some gym members talk about a local physique competition and you instantly say to yourself ‘That is way beyond my level. I could never do that. Why not?


There are contest preparation coaches who provide an invaluable service for first-time, experienced competitors. A coach is a great resource for your contest preparation as they have walked that mile already, usually as a competitor themselves.


For further information on coaches see the Iron Man Magazine blog article; Should I get a Coach If I want to Compete in Bodybuilding?


I have a theory, if someone has done something before you, then you can do it too. And possibly better!


Excessive Cardio


Does cardio work? In short, yes. Anything that assists you to expend more calories than you consume, by placing you in a caloric deficit, will usually mean you lose body fat.


You can’t out-train a bad diet. This is especially pertinent during contest preparation. Going for a run the day after you ate a non-scheduled pizza just will not cut it.


Here are the numbers:

Domino’s Pepperoni Large Thin Crust Pizza                                                   1681 calories[1]

Running at 5 mph for 1hr (185lb person)                                                           772 calories[2]


In essence, you need to run more than 2hrs to burn the same number of calories contained in the pizza. You may think this is achievable but those two hours playing catch-up are then lost in your forward progress programming.  


Imagine if you still completed the run outlined above and you DIDN’T eat the pizza. Then the next day you did the same thing, and the day after. This would initially be effective but eventually counterproductive as you move into the excessive cardio zone.


Balance is the answer, calorie restriction, and mild cardio until you fall into a calorie deficit.


Quite often in contest preparation, the most commonly held beliefs are false.


Ulterior Motives


Most clients I have prepared for a contest are not doing it for themselves. This usually becomes apparent at some point during the preparation and can either galvanize or destroy the process.


People will usually have at least one reason relating to an outside influence that drives them to compete on stage. These include, but are not limited to:


Relationship break down;

Eating disorder;



Insecurity; and

Mental Health issues.


What first-time competitors do not realize is that a grueling competition preparation exacerbates your current situation. You are placing your body under extreme mental and physical stress and fatigue. You are literally killing yourself, or that is what the body perceives to be happening. If your body fat is below 3% (male), you die[3], it is that simple. It is not uncommon for bodybuilders to get down below 4% body fat.


This process plays tricks on the mind and makes the simplest tasks frustrating, complex, and tedious. 


Some clients may not fall into any of the categories above but may elect to start a competition preparation to prove a point to someone else. These people also usually fail.


If you like a serious challenge or are a high achiever, then a contest preparation may be for you. Preparing for a competition can be a very lonely experience where support ranges from little to zero, on most occasions. You need to prepare for a competition for yourself and no one else. 




They emerge at competition time, like bears in the Spring. They have been hibernating and can smell fresh prey. They seem obliged to earnestly provide their opinion on how you should be preparing for your contest. They will tell you what you are doing is wrong. They will put you down intentionally or unintentionally. They will try to mentally defeat you. Most times they will temporarily succeed.


I know this has happened to my clients before they contact me with self-doubt messages and questioning of the process.


Before you analyze and react to what somebody has said to you ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this person more experienced than my coach as a competitor and/or a coach?
  2. Does this person have years of bodybuilding experience behind them?
  3. Does this person know my whole contest preparation program up to this point as well as I know it, or as well as my coach knows it?
  4. Has this person coached and created multiple World Champions?
  5. Would my coach be deliberately trying to make me look bad on stage?


The bottom line here is to stick to your contest preparation program 100% – this is your best, and only chance, to be at your best on stage.


I have had clients who have followed other experts’ advice throughout their preparation. I knew this was happening as their measurements and pictures were falsified throughout the process and they avoided me seeing them personally close to the competition. They learned their lesson the hard way by looking terrible onstage.


There are two people in this world who know your bodies best, yourself and your coach.


Do not listen to the experts!


Social Media


There is no better way to build undue pressure upon yourself than by blowing your own trumpet on social media during your contest preparation. There is no law against documenting your progress on social media, but you must be prepared to take the positive, and negative feedback.


Many novice competitors will make the following critical errors:


Post regular pictures wearing underwear, contest posing in a suit/bikini, or sometimes nothing!


Result: you may be torn to shreds by online trolls. These people are self-ordained critics, and they are proficient at getting under the skin of most people. There are the usual race, religion & identity discriminatory comments. And you may also be subjected to body-shaming comments, drug use accusations, and anything else the troll can use to berate you.     

Ask an open question about their contest preparation on social media when they are paying a coach!


Result: you will probably be looking for a new coach after doing this. And yes, unbelievably this does happen. You are inviting the experts and trolls mentioned above into your home. If you have a coach, and you have a question, ask your coach in confidence.


Seek justification, support & sympathy online.


Result: You will sound like a self-entitled child.


Bodybuilding & physique contests hold a small niche in the sporting world.  Competitors are often mocked and tainted as drug users by those uneducated about the sport. We have no support!  


Often competitors will complain, to the world, about the difficulties associated with contest preparation. Guess what? No one is holding a gun to your head to make you get onstage. This is YOUR choice, and YOU have the option to quit at any time throughout the process.


Competitors need to look at the bigger picture. The world does not revolve around you, or your contest preparation.


So, you will not find genuine support online from random strangers.    


To conclude, there is a multitude of literature available on self-sabotage and the reasons why we do it. Competing in bodybuilding & physique is one of the most extreme sports due to its duration. It is one of the very few sports where minimal performance is required on the day compared to the training phase, or contest preparation.


The duration of the preparation is what makes it extreme. Social segregation, dietary restrictions, individual and societal issues also add weight to the compulsion to self-sabotage.


Find a mentor or coach who has been through the process and can steer you away from the points outlined in this article and the other triggers for self-sabotage during competition preparation.


Ken Ross is a current competitive bodybuilder with INBA/PNBA. Ken has competed in 117 INBA/PNBA competitions, is a PNBA Pro Bodybuilder, and is in the INBA Hall of Fame. Ken also coaches athletes globally for natural bodybuilding competitions.

You can contact Ken through Iron Man Magazine. 




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