In 2007, I decided to become a fitness competitor. I had been an RKC for a year and kettlebells had been my sole form of exercise for two. One of my friends had a relative who had been competing and hooked us up via email. She let me know that I was on the wrong track and needed the guidance of someone with experience and convinced me to use her online consultant. Now, this company produces the top fitness competitors internationally every year and I knew they could get me where I wanted to be for the first show – and they did. The problem was the path to the first show made me insane! The overwhelming monotony and planning for the diet and hours of conventional fitness training drove me into isolation. It was all consuming. 3 months later when the show came around I was ready, but it came with a price. Was competing worth it? And more importantly, did it have to be this way?
Just a little insight into the competing world: Meals had to be timed no more than 3 hours apart. No alcohol in the last 3 months, and the only allowed vegetables in the last 4 weeks were broccoli, asparagus, spinach, and green beans. Brussel sprouts were not allowed! With 5-6 meals a day timed perfectly, my spreadsheet that had to have macros add up– not just calories – drove me crazy. I remember the times where the protein and carbs would add up but I would be short on good fat and would have to drink a tablespoon of oil at the end of the day to make it all work. And the workouts! Hours at the gym – on the hamster wheel, doing lunges, 4-6 days of hour long “cardio” with different “RPE’s” (which I never fully understood) then 4-5 days of isolated muscle training – tons of reps with very light weights. Add onto that 1-2 days of yoga or pilates, which I am sure are great programs, but they both bored me to tears. I even tried a yoga where you hung from straps off a wall to get my mind off of it. They said “Kettlebells should only be done once a week because they only work the big muscle groups and will never the lines you need.” Between a full time job, diet planning and going to the gym there was no time for myself or my friends. I was a nut job! The smallest things became the biggest deals the closer it was to show time. And apparently, that is “normal” in the fitness world. We were warned of it.
With the 2008 season approaching I decided to tweak my approach. I dropped the insane training and only did kettlebells for the Fitness Universe competition in Miami. The diet was still crazy – who likes eating the same vegetables 5 times a day for 30 days? But at least the training time was cut in at least half and I was enjoying it. At Universe I felt even more ready than for my first show and was only about half as crazy as for the first show. But with a little more clarity I started noticing how superficial that world can be and I really didn’t fit in with the glam girls. The problem was, I had invested so much money on shoes and suits and makeup and tanner that I thought it would be a waste if I didn’t do just one more show.
In September 2009, there was a competition for the Southeast regionals only 30 miles from where I live. I decided to drop the fitness diet and use the Warrior Diet instead. Again, I decided to only use kettlebells this time using the Return of the Kettlebell protocol. Once I decided on this program I wanted to run it by an expert so I called Master RKC Dan John for advice. He told me that, for my size goals, I should drop the 2x20 deadlifts and trade them for clean and front squat ladders 1-3. The deadlifts are great for inching up strength but what I needed was a little more mass relatively quickly. And the program worked! What a great way to finish my “career” in the fitness world. No stress on show day, lots of fun backstage. I actually TRULY enjoyed the whole experience. At that show I placed 2nd overall – the highest I have ever placed – and at the same time maintained “sanity” while dieting and did the training I knew was reliable. They even put my picture from that show on a poster for one of the 2010 shows.
If I was giving advice to an aspiring fitness competitor who was looking to build size, I would tell her to use Return of the Kettlebell or Kettlebell Muscle in the building phase, then 4 weeks prior to the show, use Viking Warrior Conditioning to lean out while maintaining lean muscle mass.
What I took away from the fitness competition experience is that there is more than one way to achieve fitness goals. If you run miles and miles a day or swim for hours or even spend 3 hours at a conventional gym, you can reach your goals. I choose kettlebells because I love the training and it’s the most efficient method I’ve seen. Is it the only way? No, but it makes the most sense for me. I would rather spend 20-45 minutes training 3 times a week than 2-3 hours 6 days a week. I have better things to do than train all day (like teach others to train, or read about training, or write about training…) ;)