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For The Competitor

Ashleigh Atkinson MHK

Ashleigh Atkinson obtained her Bachelors of Physical Education from Brock University, followed by her Masters of Human Kinetics from the University of Windsor. Academically, her research areas focused on sport and exercise psychology, but since leaving school, her interests have expanded. The science of bodybuilding, from muscle growth to hormonal impacts and supplementation, drew her in and she has completed a handful of certifications around training and nutritional constructs, including the Nutritional Medicine Profile certificate from the International College of Applied Nutrition & Strength. In addition to the work she does for Muscle Insider, Ashleigh works as a health promotion specialist, runs a successful online coaching business with her husband, and is also a national level figure competitor with the Canadian Physique Alliance.

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How Much Is Too Much?

How to better schedule your competitions for both sanity and success

Being bitten by the competition bug can lead to the compulsion to step onstage repeatedly in a season. For some, this may be totally feasible, but for others, this can be a challenge with harsh outcomes. So, how do you know how many times you should compete in a season? There are three important aspects to consider:

1. Competitive Category

The category you compete in will dictate the level of leanness you need to obtain, which can be the most influential factor when it comes to selecting your competitions for the year. Bodybuilders have to reach the lowest level of body fat, with bikini competitors on the other end of the spectrum. When considering this factor, know that it’s more difficult for a competitor to hold onto an extremely low level of body fat for any length of time. It’s more likely that a bikini competitor can enter multiple competitions in a season, while a bodybuilder may be able to hit one or two—if they’re timed optimally.

2. Timing Between Competitions

If you want to compete in multiple shows in a season, you need to be strategic about the time between them. For example, doing shows back to back, or with a week between, is much more feasible than a gap of four or six weeks. It’s possible to hold onto your conditioning and keep dieting for another week or two, but it becomes more difficult as the gap widens.

However, spacing competitions out in a way where you can take a “prep break” before starting up again can work for many athletes. Generally, a space of ten or more weeks will allow enough time to give the body a physical break and more calories before it’s necessary to tighten things back up.

3. Physical and Mental Condition

This final consideration is entirely individual—how hard do you need to diet and work to maintain your stage-ready physique? For some, the physical and mental toll will be too much to hold onto for long. Being in prep requires 100 percent dedication and perfection on a daily basis, which can be physically and mentally exhausting, and make you a less-than-pleasant person to live with.

If you need to log numerous hours in the gym per day along with a very low caloric intake, it could negatively affect your health if done long-term. The body doesn’t want to maintain an unhealthy level of body fat, and forcing it to do so for a long period of time can cause issues such as a slower metabolism, sleep deprivation (which brings a host of other problems), and unbalanced hormone levels. Again, these outcomes are purely based on the individual’s body; one competitor may be able to maintain a solid physique fairly easily, but others will not.

Making the initial decision to step onstage is one thing, but planning (or attempting) to do multiple competitions in one season requires more consideration and strategy. Working with a knowledgeable coach who pays attention to a variety of signals is a solid first step for anyone’s prep, and it becomes increasingly more important when long-term health outcomes are questionable. At the end of the day, you need to make the smartest decision for yourself; just do so with all the information required. Happy prepping!

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