The last month has been a whirlwind. The competition I prepared 11 weeks for has come and gone so quickly. I want to take this opportunity to reflect on my experience, share what I have learned, and talk about how I went on to win my first ever bodybuilding competition.
First off, I believe that I won for these main reasons: 1. I was prepared both mentally and physically 2. I had a great support network 3. I was confident 4. I only focused on the controllables (myself!)
For the first time in my athletic career, I experienced being “in the zone”. I have been involved in sport since the age of 5 and never have I been able say that I was so focused that I did not remember what happened. Being in the zone is where every athlete wants to be. Many of us think that if we practice enough we can make it happen more often - false. We should be mentally and physically preparing to perform well and consistently, rather than perfectly all the time. It is very rare that athletes perform at their peak and experience “the zone” - this is when records happen. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines it as “flow”. “There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
Let me explain how I did this: As a mental skills coach I had the extra tools and knowledge to add mental skills training to my preparation and training. The strategies I used helped me increase my focus and confidence. My goal was not to win, it was to step out of my comfort zone and focus on being the best that I could be. I was not worrying about my competition or if I would trip on stage in those 5-inch heels. I did not let perceived pressure get to me, and I made sure to brush off any negative vibes that came my way. Was it easy? No, but I knew that to develop my mental toughness and to stay focused and confident that I had to try my best to see the positive in every situation and not care what other people thought of me and what I was doing.
When I walked on stage to do my routine I did not feel nervous or stressed for a split second. I was all smiles and found myself giving other athletes high fives as they walked off the stage. My preparation helped me feel confident about the package I was bringing to the show, so I was able to enjoy the moment, and before I knew it I was walking off the stage asking myself if I forgot any poses in my routine. Because I was so worried from the beginning of my prep about doing my routine on stage in what I was told was one of the biggest IDFA shows of the year, I had practiced it so much that it became automatic. Adding visualization to my training and getting those reps in (practicing every weekend and then every day for one week leading up to the competition), had me feeling more ready than I would have ever imagined. I have almost no memory of doing the routine because I just let it happen. I was in the zone - no worries, no thinking.
Fortunately, having an amazing support network of friends, family, and coaches helped me have an experience of a lifetime. Yes, I had toxic people thinking I was prepping in an unhealthy way and not eating enough, but it was up to me to choose to ignore them. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what people think. If you are able to focus on yourself and what you believe in, you won’t waste your time stressing over useless comments.
I decided to do this competition to step out of my comfort zone and face my fear of being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers. The training and macro counting was part of my routine since May of last year, so that part was a little bit easier for me since the transition period was way behind me. Learning how to pose and creating a routine/T-walk was my worst nightmare, but I decided to embrace the journey instead. It’s all about how we frame the situations we are in - focus on the negative and how things can go wrong, and yes you will get stressed and anxious. Focus on how you can get better and how you progress, and it is easier to overcome a challenge. We only grow when we step out of our comfort zone. This journey has confirmed my belief that the body can do anything the mind says it can. Say you won’t, and you won’t. Believe you can, and visualize yourself doing big things, and it will happen. Winning was just an added bonus and I believe that because I did not focus on coming out of there with a trophy, that I felt less pressure and was better able to focus on myself and what I wanted to accomplish. I pushed my mental toughness to another level and I am looking forward to helping other fitness athletes enjoy the journey as much as I did.
“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” - Theodore Roosevelt.
Thank you… Curt Griffin for EVERYTHING - your knowledge, support, coaching and mentorship is priceless and I am so grateful for having done this in a healthy way because of you Catia Pavoni for your support and helping me create a T-walk that I felt confident with Kimiko for your support, friendship, feeding me backstage, and helping me feel so confident with my hair and makeup because everyone knows I am picky with that stuff Lori for all your help with the things I was anxious about - tanning, posing, nails.. the list goes on Caitlin and Tiffany for helping me with posing and giving me a good idea of how to approach my first competition Kim Richer for my amazing bikini Etienne for your support and patience - I am lucky to have you by my side Igor for being my gym buddy because we all know training everyday can get boring when you’re alone Rene and mom for your continuous support and believing in what I do Steph for believing in me and being being my personal cheerleader
...and everyone else who filled me with positive vibes and support throughout this awesome journey
Less than a month to go and I am feeling more and more prepared as each week passes. I think a big part of this is that I reward myself mainly with food. I rarely go out to eat at this point, but when I do I make sure it is something I can track easily such as a baguette and jam for weekend brunch instead of eggs benedict covered in who-knows-what-is-in-that sauce. It’s all about smart choices!
I wanted to take this week as an opportunity to let people know that it is possible to embark on a bodybuilding journey in a healthy way. I have complete trust in my coach Curt Griffin and I have been following my macros which has allowed for flexible dieting. I don’t deprive myself of anything and I am pretty satisfied with how much I eat. Now that the show is quickly approaching, people keep asking me, “So where are you planning to eat out after the competition?”. It is so hard for me to answer each time and this is why - I prep and plan delicious home-cooked meals, I am not starving myself, and I test out new recipes all the time. I plan when I want to eat chocolate so I don’t binge, and to be honest, I rarely crave anything in particular. What I do miss is being able to eat what I want, WHEN I want. I have been meal prepping and tracking for a quite a while now and this means that pretty much everything is planned… so my answer to the ‘where are you going to eat’ question is, “Whatever I feel like!”.
A lot of people think that I am following a “diet” and that I deprive myself of certain foods, but that’s not true. Most don’t understand how much I love food and this journey has been so easy for me because I put the effort to cook delicious recipes, and I plan ahead when I know I have an event that involves going to a restaurant or eating at a friend’s place. The way I eat has become part of my lifestyle and is definitely not considered dieting.
With that said, here are 10 tips and tricks to meal planning and prepping…
Make it a priority: You MUST schedule time to do groceries, find recipes, cook AND clean into your weekly schedule, otherwise you will find excuses not to do it. Decide when and how often you will have to do this. I personally usually aim for Sundays and Wednesdays but a few weeks ago I did a big meal prep on Sunday evening - chilli, breakfast quiche, chicken curry, sweet potato brownies, zucchini noodles, cauliflower alfredo sauce, mashed sweet potato, and baked chicken breasts... and I still have food! I had to put tupperware in the freezer for the first time and I had so many options of different meals that I didn’t get tired of anything I made. It also allowed me more time in the week to work and do other things instead of cook.
Do your homework: Decide what recipes you need before hitting the grocery store so that your time is spent more efficiently. It’s so easy to spend too much time in there and get frustrated when you don’t get inspired on the spot. I like to look up new recipes a few times a week. When I am watching TV or need a small break at work I just Google away or pick up a cookbook and note which ones I would like to try… this keeps it exciting!
Don’t waste food: Keep track of how much you are buying, how many portions it makes, and how long it lasts you. The last thing you want to do is to be throwing out food! Don’t be scared to put your meats or cooked meals like soup or chili in the freezer… you’ll thank yourself in the future. I try and cook my vegetables within 1-3 days of buying them so at least they are ready to be eaten and won’t go bad as fast. My last resort is to chuck them in an omelette or my breakfast quiches.
Decide what kind of meal prep you want: For me there are two types of meal prep. The first consists of ready dishes like chili, soups, and chicken vegetable curry - these are your grab-and-go’s. The second type is where you have multiple things cooked separately like chicken breast, asparagus, mashed sweet potato, cauliflower, vegetable stir fry and tomato sauce. This type is not necessarily grab-and-go, but it gives you the option to play around with it. By having your main (chicken) separated from your sides (asparagus and rice), you can mix and match and make it easier to have a different meal almost every day. I like to do this when I don’t have much time to cook. You don’t need to really follow a recipe so when you cook things separately like that it goes a lot faster. It may not be as satisfying as eating a nice hearty homemade soup, but it can be an option every few days. I like to make it interesting by cooking with different spices (curry is my favorite) or vegetable based sauces.
Prep with a friend: That big meal prep day I was talking about was done with my friend. It made it a lot more fun to share recipes and cook with a friend compared to doing it alone at home in front of the TV. I left with a bunch of bags and most of her tupperware, but it was good times and you should definitely think about doing this every few weeks. Make sure you have enough kitchen space, bring the ingredients and appliances you need, and use a dishwasher if you can!
Don’t plan everything: I try not to plan my suppers because I am usually home and I have time to cook or plan on the spot. I realized that planning everything all the time got annoying because there was no element of surprise and sometimes I would be eating a meal I wasn’t necessarily craving. By leaving supper out of the plan every few days I can eat what I want when I want, to a certain extent. It also allows me to have fresh food and not a tupperware that I have to heat up.
Multitask: Don’t be shy to get everything going at the same time. You don’t want to be wasting your whole Sunday cooking now do you? Get the oven going, rice cooker, crockpot, and stovetop! Okay, so maybe you might not be as good a multitasker as I am, but I believe it’s a skill that you can develop if you really want to. A crockpot is definitely a must since it’s so easy to find recipes and usually doesn't require that much work. While that’s going, you can prep another meal.
Figure out which recipes you don’t get tired of: You should already have an idea of meals you like to eat. If you keep this in mind when meal planning, it will be easier for you to eat the same thing all week. I personally can eat sweet potato, anything curried, asparagus, omelets, and protein pancakes every week, so when I am stumped on what to cook, those are my go-to’s. I make sure to always have eggs, egg whites, sweet potato, and curry powder in the house. Start to make a list of your favorite meals and recipes, and don’t be shy to share and get some new ideas from a friend!
Plan around eating out: Like I said, the way you eat should be part of your lifestyle and saying that you will not eat in restaurants is just not realistic. If you have a birthday dinner on Friday night, plan to eat less fat and carbs during the day leading up to the event because we all know you will be having a slice or two of cake and taking the opportunity to eat things you usually don’t cook yourself at home.
Know your kryptonite and plan for it: Chocolate is my kryptonite and it is so easy for me to eat a whole sea salted dark chocolate slab in one sitting. To prevent binging I hide my chocolate (yes it is out of my sight or I will eat it), and plan to eat one square every few days. I also started to make a batch of sweet potato brownies every week. I have one brownie a day which allows me to get my fix and feel like I am not depriving myself of chocolate. My other kryptonite is pizza and when I crave it I just make it at home. It’s all about healthy choices, so I make my own pizza on naan bread or pita bread and get the satisfaction of eating the WHOLE thing.
What is important is that you find something that works for you. If you make meal prepping a priority and plan ahead you will succeed. These are my tips and strategies based on my experience with meal prepping for about 10 months now. If you’d like help with a meal planning or more guidelines of how to make healthy eating part of your lifestyle, feel free to contact me!
“Success is not easy, and is certainly not for the lazy.” - Samantha Saifer-Berngard
The challenge has officially started. Five weeks left of preparation and I am definitely feeling more tired and less motivated, which is leading to sugar cravings, a decrease in the intensity of my workouts, and a late blog post. On top of my 5 lifting sessions a week, I have added 4 cardio and 2 yoga sessions so you can just imagine how I feel after doing this for 2 weeks now. Let’s just say it’s been hard to find the energy and motivation to work out at 6am and say no to free cookie tastings at the cafe upstairs.
That’s my struggle right now, so what am I going to do about it? Quitting is not an option for me and I believe that this experience will help develop my mental toughness. I have been reflecting these last few days and really trying to become aware of how I can lift myself up. I’ve noticed what works and what doesn’t, but still have some serious planning to do in terms of my mental prep for my workouts. For those of you who have trouble getting to the gym or notice that you are easily distracted and are not able to fully focus during your trainings, hopefully these next few strategies will help you out as well.
Making sleep a priority There are only so many hours in a day, so prioritizing is key to making sure that I accomplish the important stuff! The competition is in about 5 weeks. I have worked so hard the past several months and it is without a doubt that my health and fitness is my focus right now. This week I realized that sleep and proper rest is essential if I want to make sure I can function in and out of work, as well as make sure that I can train consistently. This meant that I had to go back and revisit some goals to make room for more sleep.
Taking naps: I realized that aiming to do yoga 3 times a week was not realistic and that it would be better for me to replace one of those sessions by a 2-hour nap.
More efficient meal prep: I decreased my meal prep time by making big batches of food (such as fish soup), which allows me to get to bed earlier since I tend to cook before bed. Yes, this means that I will be eating the same lunches for a week, but trust me, I make sure the recipes are delicious so it doesn’t phase me!
Scheduling sleep into my agenda: I made sure to plan my day around my new bedtime which is now 9pm. I know if I aim for 9 it will probably turn out to be actually 9:30, but that’s okay.
Setting alarms: I put an alarm at 8:45pm during the week to remind me to get ready for 9pm bedtime. The sound of the alarm lets me know that I should either drop everything or hurry up - so far so good.
Meditation: I usually don’t have difficulty falling asleep, but there are days where I sit in bed and think about work, projects, interactions I’ve had that day, and so on. I believe that my meditation practice has really helped me turn off that voice, which in turn enables me to fall asleep much quicker. Once I notice that I am thinking too much, I start to focus on my breath, which gets me to knock out sooner than later.
Finding the motivation to workout when you just don’t feel like it I have been training at least five times a week for the past ten months now and not once have I felt this unmotivated to lift weight. I believe that it is because I now have a goal of participating in this competition, and the added perceived pressure and obligation to train has affected my way of thinking. I have been having more off days than usual, so it is important for me at this point to reflect on what makes my good days good. On the other hand, I have not skipped a single training yet so I want to make sure this stays the same. This issue is quite new to me and so here are the strategies I have come up with for the next few weeks...
Add in a new exercise here and there: I just changed my program so I don’t want to change it again, but this does not mean that I can’t change sets of bicep dumbbell curls to drop sets of bicep EZ bar curls. Remixing my plan for the day definitely makes it more interesting and exciting to do.
Look good feel good: Since the gym is my second home, I spend more time in shorts and Nike tank tops than in jeans and nice shirts. I noticed that when I wear new, fresh gear, I feel good because I look good (I am sure you can all relate). These are the days that I will post on my social media and to be honest, this helps me keep my intensity during my workout. Now this doesn’t mean I will go out and buy new shoes every week, but I can plan to reward myself with a new piece of clothing if I sleep a certain amount of hours in 2 months for example.
Notice distractions: I don’t know about you, but when I train with my phone next to me I tend to get distracted which leads to longer breaks between sets, a decrease in intensity, and a workout that sometimes lasts 2 and a half hours. When I leave my phone at the reception where I can’t see it, I tend to have more focused training sessions. Obviously there will be times when I check to see if I have messages (or grab it to take a video or post), but when this happens I try and punish myself by adding an extra set to whatever exercises I am doing.
Create a motivating playlist: If music changes your mood like it changes mine, have a playlist ready when you need some tunes to get you in the zone. I usually just put on any playlist on at the gym, but this week I have been noticing that certain songs get me in the right mind state (such as “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child). So I have started to make a list on Spotify and hopefully by then end of the week I will have a workout playlist to keep me motivated at the gym on Monday.
Know the ideal environment - I am sure you hate to train when there are too many people at the gym, because then you’re stuck waiting on machines which disrupts your whole plan! Now some people are good at adapting, and I have enough experience to be able to change things on the fly, but you want to know your ideal environment and plan your workouts around that. Yes, there will be times where you will have to wait on a machine, but focus on the controllables. Since the New Year there have been more people training in the morning when I usually like to train, so now I wait until they leave to work before I start my workout. In addition, I have the privilege to be control of the music since I train during my shift! Create the an environment that works for you.
Motivational images and cheesy quotes: Positive vibes help inspire positive self-talk. I find that looking at those cheesy motivational images and quotes on Instagram really gives me that kick in the butt that I need sometimes. I have started taking note of the words and pictures that work for me, so I can make Post-its to serve as visual cues. Know what motivates you and try and make sure to expose yourself to it as much as possible.
“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle” - Napoleon Hill
A little less than 7 weeks out to my first bodybuilding competition and I am feeling great. In my last blog post I talked about strategies to stay confident and positive, and it looks like they definitely helped me out of the dangerous downward spiral that I was headed towards. This week I want to talk about two things: how to stay on Cloud Nine, and how to follow through.
Cloud Nine It is great to feel indestructible, motivated, excited, empowered, and confident, but how do you make sure to keep riding Cloud Nine? As I mentioned in Chapter 4, it is important to reflect and be aware of not only what brings you down, but what brings you up as well. Because I have been feeling so good about my preparation these last few days, I asked myself, “What am I doing to stay motivated? What is exciting me?” in order to pinpoint the strategies that work for me (yes for ME - they may be different for you).
I wake up at 5am from Monday to Friday and train first thing in the morning. Yes, there are days that are harder to get up than others, so I make sure that I am excited to get up. So what excites me you ask? Food and a good cup of joe! Meal prep is part of my lifestyle (not just my preparation for this competition) and I make sure to make delicious omelets or quiches for my breakfasts during the week. I love food and experimenting with new recipes keeps me excited to wake up in the morning and devour my creations. I also love coffee and have been making a new recipe that my mom showed me on the weekend which involves cinnamon, turmeric, cocoa powder, a splash of milk, and some chocolate protein powder… I suppose it is more of a protein-coffee-spice shake? Anyway, it is delicious and I look forward to it every morning.
I changed my training program this week, with the help of my coach Curt, and this definitely has been getting me motivated and excited to wake up in the morning. There is nothing worse than a boring or old training program that you are dreading to do. I make sure to set goals for each training session and crush my workouts by staying focused and relying on my cues and performance statements to keep me on my A-game.
With that said, tips for staying on Cloud Nine are:
1. Reflect on why you are there in the first place 2. Recognize what motivates you and incorporate it in your daily routine 3. Recognize what excites you and incorporate it in your daily routine 4. Repeat your pre-set cues and identity statements in order to help you stay in a positive state of mind
Following through Training five times a week (and now nine since I recently added cardio sessions) does damage to the body, whether you feel it right away or not. I have been very lucky that my back injury has not reappeared recently, and I want to thank my coach, osteo, and physio for this. I guess I can also thank myself for doing the exercises prescribed and making sure to warm up properly before I start lifting. I was tired of pulling out my back all the time and I realized that most of us only seek help when we need it. Why not seek treatment when we don’t feel like we need it? I have come to the realization that regular massages, and osteo and physio treatments are so important to stay injury free! I also want to add yoga to this list since I am someone who could probably use a little bit more stretching in my program...
For months I have been telling myself to book appointments, but it was hard for me since the bills add up quickly, and because I don’t feel like I actually need treatment (one excuse after the other). This week I have been feeling so good that I told myself that I want to make sure I continue to feel this way for the next 7 weeks. So yesterday I booked my first cupping treatment, as well as a deep tissue massage for next week, and today I bought a membership to a yoga studio. What made me do this all of a sudden? To be honest, I was tired of seeing the same things on my to-do list. I made myself accountable by reserving 3 yoga sessions, and booking the treatments.. now I have to go! I put it in my agenda and now I am excited to give my body some TLC.
It is easy to say you will do something, but harder to follow through. This is where the mental side of things comes to play. Here are some tips on how to make sure you follow through: 1. Stop making excuses 2. Ask yourself why you have not followed through yet 3. Ask yourself why you want to do this 3. If you were successful in the past, what made it possible then? 4. Make yourself accountable 5. Schedule it in your agenda 6. Take the plunge, and just do it!
“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” -Rosalynn Carter
Confidence - it can make you or break you. Last week it broke me. I have been noticing more lowlights than highlights the last few days, which lead to discouragement, frustration, and negative self-talk. In my search for posing videos, I found that I started to compare myself to others. I started to worry about posing and how little time I had left to work on my weaknesses. The cues I implemented worked at times, but I needed something more to get me out of the downward spiral I was starting to give in to. Now I am pretty sure my experience is relatable to you in some way or another. We all have bad days where we have less confidence in our skills and abilities and question why we are doing what we are doing. It is easy to get caught up in the negative, so it is important that we become aware of not only what brings us down, but what brings us back up as well. As I have been mentioning, reflection is a very important process and it will always be the first step to behavior change. As I look back on these last few days, I notice that comparing myself to others and worrying about the unknown is a waste of time and leads me feeling pretty low. I also notice that the times that I did feel more positive was due to realizing successes (I finally learnt how to flare my lats), being around supportive people, and refocusing by doing something that brings me back up. With that said, here are some strategies that you can start to implement to make sure you build on your confidence everyday. Yes - I said everyday. They should be used to prevent that downward spiral from happening.
1. Be aware of what brings you up and what brings you down - at the end of the day reflect on your different moods, and at the end of the week, try to see if there is a similar pattern going on. Knowing what brings you down can help you manage certain situations better; and knowing what makes you feel good can be used to make your refocus strategy.
2. Surround yourself with positive vibes - get rid of the people who are not supportive. Make sure you know who is in your support network and remember to thank them! These people should be supporting you on your bad days, and not just your good days.
3. Pat yourself on the back - okay maybe not physically, but make sure you are realizing your accomplishments. Start a Highlight Journal if you haven’t already. By noticing the positives you are steering your focus away from the negatives.
4. Know your strengths - list all the things you are good at and keep it in plain sight. If you are not sure what goes on that list, ask around. This should serve as a tool to help you on those days when you feel like giving up and find yourself saying, “I suck”, or “I’m not good at this”. Make sure to leave some space at the bottom so you can keep adding to it.
Overcoming negative thoughts is not easy, and these strategies must be practiced in order for you to benefit from them. As IDFA 107 is quickly approaching, I will make sure to add these strategies to my mental skills training program. Preparation is getting harder and harder and I am starting to truly test out my mental toughness. However, I know that if I practice and implement the proper tools and strategies, it will all be okay!
"Be confident. Too many days are wasted comparing ourselves to others and wishing to be something we aren't. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it's only when you accept everything you are - and aren't - that you will truly succeed." - Unknown
I realized that I was a little ambitious last week with my goal-setting. The transition from relaxing on the beach to getting back to work and lifting has been rough. Thankfully using my pre-determined refocus cues has helped me get through some challenging moments.
For the next 9 weeks I will just be presenting you the lowlights (what needs to be improved) and highlights (what went well) of my mental skills training program, as well as how I plan on adapting the components of my mental workout to future weeks in order to be prepared for April 8th. Though I was able to get my first hour of posing practice in the books (you can see a short video on my personal Instagram account), I was unable to put in the time for daily research and finding competitors I admire. I also realized how hard it is to change my routine and put in the effort to consciously think about following my mental workout everyday. Having implementing this type of training to my preparation has definitely helped me understand what my clients go through when they do the same.
The following are my lowlights - hopefully you can relate to having similar challenges and perhaps get ideas of how to move forward.
Lowlight 1: On some days I forgot to implement my mental workout. Moving forward: I will schedule in time to do it in my agenda, and put visual reminders on my training program so that I remember to use cues when lifting.
Lowlight 2: I didn’t accomplish my goal of daily research/watching videos of competitions, which led to failure in finding 2 professional figure competitors that I admire (as mentioned in “Chapter 2”, this will help me with substitution imagery). Moving forward: Since the ambitious goal of researching for 20-minutes a day did not work out, I will set a more realistic goal of researching at least 3 times this week. I found that when I did research, it was for at least half an hour, so I will just have to make sure to get more time in this upcoming week.
It is so easy for us to dwell on past mistakes, get caught up in a spiral of negative self-talk, worry, and get stuck on the dark side. All this is normal, and can be healthy as long as you learn from your mistakes, move forward, and end on a positive note.
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” - Frank A. Clark
Here my highlights from my mental skills training last week, and how I plan on staying consistent with those behaviors:
Highlight 1: When I remembered to implement my breathing technique into my lifting sessions, it helped me when I needed to refocus. I was able to play with the 2-to-1 ratio and realize that the magic numbers for me are 3 and 6 seconds. Maintaining consistency: Because I am more of a visual person, I will write the numbers 3 and 6 on my training program so that I will see it when I lift - hopefully this will remind me to use the strategy on a daily basis!
Highlight 2: With the help of two colleagues, I was able to practice walking and posing in those dreaded 5-inch heels. I expected to only practice for 30 minutes, but we went on for about an hour, and to my surprise, I was able to walk comfortably the whole time. Using substitution imagery helped me get into the right mindset when I was practicing the walks and poses. I definitely feel more confident than I did a few days ago! Maintaining consistency: To make sure I am not stressed and worried about practicing posing, I entered practice times into my calendar. Because my agenda is pretty much my bible, this works for me (you may have to play around with other strategies) and allows me to build on my confidence once again.
Highlight 3: When I remembered to implement my performance and identity statements, it helped me get in the right head space before doing those gruelling last sets that make you wonder why you torture yourself at the gym. I realized that I used only a few cues that I had planned to. It is normal for the MST program to be constantly changing, so it is good that I am aware of what cues work for me at this point in my preparation. Maintaining consistency: I need to remember to implement the mental workout everyday and use the strategies when the opportunity comes. This upcoming week I will write down the cues that I found useful directly on my training program (beside the numbers 3 and 6) to help me remind myself to use them.
Though I did not accomplish all my goals last week, it is important for me to realize my successes in order to continue to build on my confidence. One of the first things I tell my clients to do is to start a Highlight Journal. By writing down what went well at the end of your day, it forces you to end your day on a positive note, as well as think about what needs to be improved. The importance of reflection and self-awareness is key to any behavior change and listing lowlights and highlights can definitely help you with any of your goals, whether short-term or long-term. This week I challenge you to start a Highlight Journal - have fun!
I survived Punta Cana. Before leaving I was concerned that I would drink too much while away, eat my face off, and train less. To my own surprise, I found that it was only normal for me to get up early and run on the beach before my day started. I worked out every single morning and decided to spend more time running than lifting at the gym to give my body a much needed rest. I did not deprive myself of any food - one night I ate 5 slices of cake. I ate 3 meals a day instead of my usual 5 since I was burning less calories just lying on the beach all day… it also helped that the heat took away my never-ending appetite that I usually have. My motivation to stay fit and lean for this upcoming competition kept me disciplined. I simply just did not feel like sipping on “cervesas” and cocktails all day long, but I did let myself indulge in Dominican rum during a day trip to Saona Island, and may or may not remember the end of that adventure… To be honest I was expecting some loss of my gains upon my return home, along with some difficulty in the transition to following my macros again, but it feels good to be back in my routine. It was nice not to meal prep for a week (okay maybe I meal prepped a few times for our day trips and the plane ride home), but I am glad to be eating my regular meals again. I went to Punta Cana without any expectations in terms of training and eating clean, and I am happy that I was able to stay mentally strong and disciplined while away. On top of all that, I even managed to get a yoga session in, as well as work on my focus through some meditation in the sun. A week of rest and relaxation definitely did the mind and body good as I feel refreshed and energized at work and have definitely gotten stronger with my lifts. I am ready to crush these next 10 weeks of mental and physical preparation for my first bodybuilding competition.
It’s crunch time as the word, “no” will be a big part of my vocabulary. This will be a true test of my mental toughness as I will not be drinking or eating out for the next 66 days. Nutrition is everything so it is important that I stay on point with my macros. Don’t get me wrong, I will not be starving myself or depriving myself of chocolate and carbs. My goal is to do this in a healthy way which means to eat as clean as possible, but not completely cut out the foods I love, otherwise I will go crazy! I’ve done well so far - since May last year I have been counting macros from Monday to Thursday and eating what I want on weekends, so I know that I have the discipline to continue this hard work daily for a few weeks.
As I mentioned in my first blog, I will be sharing my brain training program with you in order to educate and increase awareness of the importance of mental skills training (MST). Today I started to put together my mental workout which includes:
The 2-to-1 Breathing technique
Highlight reels (visualization)
This is a pre-performance mental routine that will last 5-10 minutes, which I will use to stay in the zone on game day. It is important that I perfect this routine so that it is useful when I need it the most. Like any mental skills training program, trial and error is a big part of figuring out what works for you, so I will be incorporating the routine to my lifting 5 times a week, and posing practice. By using the routine on a daily basis, I will be able to quickly figure out what mantras, cues, statements and images are best for me to stay confident, in control, and focused when I get distracted or find myself having negative thoughts.
In addition, I will have to watch posing videos and learn how to walk gracefully in 5-inch heels. By setting short-term goals, blocking off times during the week to research, pose, and practice my mental workout, I can assure that I stay on top of my prep.
Today I determined that my 2-to-1 breathing technique will consist of a 4 second inhale, and an 8 second exhale. Will this work? Who knows. I will try it out this week and see if I have to adjust. I came up with a mantra to use to replace negative thoughts and 3 powerful cue words as part as my performance statement. The hardest part of my MST program is visualization since I have never really used this in training before. It will be hard for me to imagine past successes since I have never competed on stage and therefore have no experience to draw from. For this reason it’s very important that I do proper research by watching videos and choosing professional competitors that I would like to mirror. The concept of “substitution imagery” was brought to my attention a few weeks ago from Christine Carter, a professor and performance psychology coach who gave an excellent lecture on mental skills training for musicians. With this exercise I will literally be picturing my head on someone else’s body - weird, I know. After I start practicing posing I will then be able to get a better idea of what I want my performance to look like, making it easier to create my Highlight Reel. Finally, I chose 2 identity statements that are positive and empowering that will help me feel confident.
An important part of any MST program is reflection and self-awareness, which I will be doing in a journal, as well as in this blog series. Reflection allows us to analyze our strengths and weaknesses, enabling us to better determine what has to be improved and what has to be done to maintain consistency. This is one of the first skills I teach my clients as without it, it’s hard to turn weaknesses into strengths. I will be reflecting on a “lowlight” and “highlight” of my mental skills training of the past week in each of my posts so I know how to adapt for the upcoming week - so stay tuned to see how the the concept of trial and error is used when creating an MST program.
Now that I have the “rough draft” of my mental workout, it’s time to put it into practice this week during my lifting sessions and posing practice. I believe that mental training is just as important as physical training, so I will be doing my brain exercises 5 times a week, just as often as I train. In addition, I will continue to meditate daily as this practice has allowed me to improve my focus.
My goal this week in addition to implementing my mental workout to my training, is to research (watch videos) for at least 20 minutes a day, find 2 professional figure competitors that I admire, and to practice walking in 5 inch heels - wish me luck...
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” -John Wooden
After 10 years of playing rugby I decided to hang up my cleats and focus on my career: personal training and mental skills coaching. I started to lift weights 5 times a week since I was always at the gym for work, and before you know it I was counting my macros (special thanks to Curt Griffin) and getting the leanest and strongest I have ever been. Since May 2016 I have been training and eating like a bodybuilder so I asked myself, “Why don’t I just do one of these competitions?”.
The training and nutrition aspect has become routine for me these last 9 months, so preparing to compete will be easy, right? WRONG. Apparently I have to learn how to walk in 5 inch heels and pose in front of hundreds of people. Challenge accepted. I try to step out of my comfort zone on a daily (okay maybe weekly) basis in order to grow as a person and professional, and this is something I advocate to my clients. This experience will not only challenge my mental toughness, but it will help me understand the mental and physical preparation that goes on for these competitions, enabling me to have a greater skill set as a coach and trainer.
So why am I writing these series of blogs? Well if you are hoping to learn about training and nutrition, this is the wrong blog. My goal is to bring an awareness to my readers on the importance of mental preparation and mental skills training by sharing my own personal journey towards my first bodybuilding competition. By doing this I hope that I can offer some tips and strategies for not only other competitors, but for anyone who has to prepare for any type of performance. We can all admit that the mental side plays the same role as the physical (or even more), but how many of you actually exercise your brain as much as your body? Most of us don’t put in the same hours of mental training as physical training, even though we can agree that they are both equally as important. Perhaps it’s a lack of knowledge, education, and support - well hopefully I can bring this to you in the next several weeks.
In addition, I want to start a conversation. Most of us don’t like to talk about what goes on in our head, since doing this usually leads us feeling vulnerable and looking pretty weak - it’s normal. But if you want to turn your weaknesses into strengths, and help others do the same, it must be done! So suck it up and join the conversation about the mental game with me.
IDFA 107 will be held on April 8th, which leaves me only 11 more weeks to get my shit together:
Practice what I preach and implement a mental skills program to my training.
With the help of Curt, learn how to pose and walk in 5 inch heels (aka stop worrying about posing).
Set specific goals. Winning is nice but I can’t control my competition, so I have to stop looking at other competitors and focus on myself.
Oh yeah, and have fun! The journey is much more valuable than the destination…
Every week I will be posting a blog about my mental preparation of the previous week. I will give you a sneak peek at my own mental skill program as well as present not only an issue that happened, but a highlight as well, as I believe that it is very important to finish anything and everything in a positive note. There is no use dwelling over mistakes - learn from challenges and only move forward.
My mental skills training program will consist of the tools and strategies I have learned during my Master’s degree in sport psychology. I will also take from books I have read, lectures I’ve attended, other professionals I have networked with, and the experiences and skills I have accumulated playing rugby, teaching physical education, personal training and mental skills coaching with athletes and musicians.
I will be training my brain through a series of “brain exercises” and tools such as specific breathing techniques, cues, visualization, and cognitive restructuring. All these strategies will be used to make sure I stay focused and in the zone when I need to be. There will be distractions. There will be times where I will want to give up. But by training my brain 5 times a week, just as I physically train 5 times a week, I will be able to work on my mental toughness by developing my resilience, confidence, and determination.
This weekend I leave for vacation for 7 days. This means I will pretty much lose 1 full week of regular training. Telling myself that I still have 10 weeks to prep when I come back allows me to stay sane while I am away. I will focus on the positives that I have experienced these last few months of training and know that when I come back, I will be as disciplined as I was before I left. It is important for my brain and body to rest (considering I haven’t really rested since May), so I am confident that I will be able to relax and enjoy myself while doing HIIT workouts, yoga, and meditations on the beach. Who knows, I may even have a drink or two... or thirty-seven. I will let myself enjoy the Caribbean food and when I come back, crush it just like I have been. So stay tuned for my next blog that will be out the first week of February. I will talk more about how I will be starting the first phase of the mental skills training program, and we will find out if I was able to stay sane while away, or if I come back a total mess.
"...If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out, Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt...." -Unknown
"For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." - Malcom X
The holidays are a great time to test our mental toughness since we will be out of our routine, seeing friends and family and going to parties, tempting us to eat more and train less! It's all about goals and preparation. If you fail to plan, it will be easy to fall into the go-with-the-flow trap, keeping you out of your usual routine and making it harder to get back into it in the New Year. Of course a balance to everything is key. After all, it is the holidays and you want to let loose a little bit! Here are some tips to keep you mentally and physically strong during the holidays:
1. Make realistic goals and try something new Training twice a week instead of your usual four times is okay and is definitely better than not going at all. We all know that once we stop heading to the gym, it is really tough to get back in there. Set a realistic goal for yourself in terms of frequency of exercising since you may not have any “time” (not a real excuse!). Try out a 20 or 30 minute HIIT workout instead of your usual program. Trying something new might help make the task more motivating, and at the same time it will leave you with a good sweat! If you don't train at all this holiday season, it will be that much harder to hit the gym in the new year, trust me.
2. Do your research and plan your workout ahead of time If you're traveling, try and get some information about the fitness facilities and other exercise opportunities so you can PLAN AHEAD. If you don't have a program set up, let's face it - you are more likely not to go.. even if you brought your running shoes and training clothes. Here is what is going to happen: The equipment will be different than what you’re used to, you won’t know how to adapt (which may lead to frustration), and you will probably lose motivation since you have no idea what workout you can possibly do in this new environment. Plan a quick training and create a “travel workout” that includes mostly body weight and light dumbbells since gyms at hotels and resorts won't have your usual squat rack, bench press, and all that other fun stuff. Tools like a skipping rope, elastic bands, and a TRX are inexpensive and portable options that are easy to pack and use pretty much anywhere, including outside in the sun (they make excellent Christmas gifts too). You know more than you think, so create your own workout with exercises you like which will give you more motivation to follow through. The internet has an unlimited supply of program ideas.. or hit me up and we can work together to get you a workout before you leave!
3. Lace up those ice skates If you hate the snow and cold like I do, this next tip may not be as appealing to you but it can serve as an opportunity to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone. At this point you’re getting a two for one - training your body AND brain! This time of year usually gives you the chance to enjoy winter activities… which can be a great alternative to exercise if you don't feel like going to the gym or doing your regular workout routine during the holidays. Try something new - ice hockey, cross country skiing, skating.. or pop into a hot yoga studio to get your sweat on when it's minus twenty degrees outside. Bring a friend and it won’t even seem like exercise.
4. Don’t go to battle unarmed The holidays usually mean get togethers with family and friends that involve unlimited amounts of food and alcohol. Now I am definitely not telling you to be a bird about it and only eat small little portions - this is a great time of year, enjoy the food! If you know you are going for a feast.. you can plan to eat a little less beforehand and get in those veggies leading up to your get together, since we all know we rather stuff our faces with things like desserts, meat smothered in gravy, cheeses and bread. Also - don't go into the feast super hungry! This is the worst because you'll end up eating your face off (or I do anyway). My trick is that I eat a lighter and smaller meal of vegetables and lean meat before heading off to the “famjam” knowing that I won’t waste space in my stomach over there on boring veggies, and will probably consume more fatty foods. Arming yourself with a snack helps you be in control, and you're less likely to overeat if your stomach is not screaming for food.
5. Avoid the dreaded food baby Avoid eating until you feel like exploding. Just because it’s a “cheat day” doesn’t mean you have to abuse it - balance is key, and so are smaller portions. No one likes to feel lazy throughout the day anyway. Take your time and try and practice some mindful eating - challenge yourself to enjoy each bite (okay maybe not each bite) and notice the different flavors and textures, hopefully this will slow you down a bit. You can also try and develop some tricks like maybe finishing a few glasses of water before getting seconds... a buddy system with a friend or family member could also help with this since believe me, you will probably not be the only one struggling with this. Maybe you can even make it into a game!
6. Manage your body and your belly If you are lucky enough to travel this time of the year, try and stay somewhere that allows you to cook your own food. Making your own meals and snacks will not only save you some cash, but it will also put you in greater control of how you are fuelling your body. Experiencing a different culture through food is definitely a must, but you don’t necessarily have to do it 3 to 5 times a day. Plan ahead by checking out which restaurants or types of food you want to try, as well as what you plan on cooking while you are away. The last thing you want to do is waste time on your vacation looking for recipes or wandering the aisles of the grocery store. On the other hand, if you are staying at an all inclusive - well that gets a little trickier. If you are anything like me and love to eat as long as there is food available and in front of your face, resorts can be a true test on mental toughness (can’t...stop...eating!). Plan your day and decide on what times you want to eat and stick to your schedule. Challenge yourself by limiting your portions and setting an alarm or some kind of reminder that will help you follow through with regular eating times since your body likes routine and consistency anyway. 7. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach Finally, if you're one of those last minute shoppers and still have not hit the malls for gifts yet, make sure you pack a snack and eat before. It's so easy to walk around all day and either eat at restaurants or FORGET TO EAT (blows my mind how people forget to eat). Please eat people. Your body pretty much stores fat for energy when you do not fuel it properly. Put an alarm if you have to! Eating before your shopping adventures will make the experience more enjoyable (or as enjoyable as it can be) since you won't be grumpy. You will also be less likely to stop at a fast food spot if you can just reach in your bag or pocket for a snack from home.
Back to basics These tips were not meant to stress you out. I hope you leave here with some strategies for this holiday season, or at least some ideas to think about in order to stay mentally and physically fit. Planning and setting realistic goals will always help you manage tougher situations. Don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone, reward yourself for your successes and efforts, but most importantly - know that it’s okay to fail; failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. Some strategies will work, and some will not, but that’s okay. It’s important to forgive yourself, appreciate the effort you put in, learn from it, and then move forward. The new year is coming up quickly and despite popular belief, you don’t have to wait until January 1st to try something new.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
There are two types of people - those who set goals, and those who don’t. As a mental performance consultant, personal trainer, and educator, I know first hand that goal setting is part of the road to success, but you have to know how to set them properly.
Now dreaming of one day standing on a podium with a gold medal seems all fine and dandy, but how do you plan on getting there exactly? Having short and long-term goals that are supported by action plans will let you focus on the process instead of the outcome, and make sure you are striving towards the tasks you need to do in order to be the champion you aspire to be.
The concept of SMART goals is something that I love, and I am sure most of you have heard about it already. Most coaches and teachers will advocate it as it stresses these 5 major points:
Specific Measurable Action-oriented Realistic Time-bound
SMART goals put you in the mindset to think about what exactly you want to achieve, how you will track your progress, your action plan, how realistic it is, and when exactly you want to achieve the goal. I have been advocating this concept to my clients for the past few years, but what I heard during a lecture from Richard Koestner, a professor at McGill University at this year’s NASPSPA conference has changed that. I have now realized why SMART goals don’t always work for everybody. There are 3 key ingredients that are missing in order to succeed.
I am going to take SMART goals to the next level and remix the name to SMARTISS goals. That’s right, it makes no absolute sense but let me explain.
Make it Interesting Now that you know what “SMART” stands for, let me elaborate on the extended version. You have to absolutely make sure your goal is interesting and meaningful to you. If you are only studying to be a doctor because mom and dad said so, well the next few years of your student life (and well I guess your entire life) will be unbearable if you are not enjoying what you are doing. I want you to take a second and look back at how many times someone set a goal for you - you probably didn’t even know it was happening! It is normal that the ones we love expect us to do things, and well sometimes you just have to make sure you are doing things for the right reason. If you have an interesting and meaningful goal, you are more likely to persist through times of adversity. It’s not always easy to get what you want, so make sure to strive for something that will also keep you motivated. Once you reach the top, that sense of fulfillment will be more than words can express.
Create your Support network In general, a goal is usually challenging. It is normal to be in periods where you lose motivation and confidence, so it is important that you have someone who supports you in your journey. This could be a friend, coach, parent, mentor, teacher - anyone who is able to be there for you when you reach a setback. The problem here is that we all have a different definition of support. It was shown that most people prefer listening support. I don’t know about you, but when I am not motivated I want someone to listen to me complain when I am being a Debbie Downer. The last thing I want is Peter trying to change the subject when all I want him to do is listen to me complain!Usually we just need to get things off our chest and voice our thoughts in order to realize how ridiculous they are, followed by some encouraging words.
In addition to listening, having support from someone you trust and can communicate easily with is important. It is unfortunate, but there are athletes out there that do not receive the individual support needed for their performance success - whether it be from a coach, parent, friend or even a teammate. Communication is key, and if for example an athlete and coach are not on the same page about goals, it will be hard for the athlete to develop and grow both on and off the field.
Support also means giving feedback, checking-in, and following up. Yes, a lot of us tend to prefer Iistening support (especially when things go wrong), but when it comes to strengthening weaknesses and improving certain skills, a different approach is needed. It is hard to work on certain skills if you are unsure of how to go about it. Having that someone on the outside (such as a coach or teammate) can make sure that they shine the light on a situation a little differently, as well as help spark new ideas. When you lose motivation because you are not improving, or run off course, it is a lot more easier when you have support to check-in and see what’s going on to help you get back on track.
Secede from past failed goals Are you one of those people who sets the same New Year’s resolution time and time again but is unable to achieve it? That’s okay - you are not alone. If you are one of these people, you probably set the same goals throughout the year over and over again with zero success. The good news is that you can change that! It is important to let go and secede of goals that you never achieve and start setting goals that you will be able to succeed in.
One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions that I hear at the gym is,
“I am going to get active and train at the gym all year!”
People who have never stepped in a gym before tend to buy a year membership and think that they are magically going to get the motivation to train three to five times a week - for 12 months! As a personal trainer it is great to see such seemingly motivated people, but it is not that easy. It involves adding this new behavior to your weekly schedule, finding the motivation, and changing your habits and routine. Now, there are few that are able to do this - hats off to them, but setting a goal without giving much thought to an action plan will usually lead to failure. It is important to reflect on why you were never successful in the past, and realize what you can do to make a more realistic goal in the future. Perhaps you never trained for more than 3 months at a time because your program was boring, or you weren’t seeing results. Maybe this year you need a personal trainer, a gym buddy, or maybe lifting weights is not for you and you’d rather begin by attending group classes.
What I am trying to get at here is that you need to realize why you did not achieve success in the past, and make the right changes to make sure it works in the future when you decide to try again for the 10th time. Maybe this means taking baby steps (start training at home first), or perhaps it means to throw the whole idea out the window. Perhaps training for marathons may be more exciting and motivating than lifting weights at the gym all year round!
Now that you know how to be a “Smart-iss”, I challenge you to write your own SMARTISS goals. It could be for your career, the sport you play, school, or even a more personal one like being more friendly to those you dislike! Remember that you should always revisit your goals. What you write down is not set in stone. If your action plan doesn’t seem to be realistic or something in life makes it hard for you to take that next step towards the top, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and change things around - just make sure it’s SMART....ISS!
Short Bio: Camille Charbonneau is the founder and lead Mental Performance Consultant at Peak Perform. As a health and fitness enthusiast, she teaches her clients how to develop mental toughness through what she likes to call “brain training”, and believes that mindfulness is a key factor in improving overall performance.