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Well, I Did It Again! My Second Contest

by jeff denson

What is a natural bodybuilding competition?

First of all, get out of your head any images of the modern mass monsters that compete at the major bodybuilding competitions. To be 6'2" tall and 360 pounds of lean muscle requires drugs. Those people will not be at a natural show (unless they're in the audience). Natural competitors rarely weigh over 220 pounds, and are usually under 190. They look like the bodybuilders of 1950's before drugs became prevalent in bodybuilding.

The Results

I took 1st in the 50-year-olds and 3rd overall (all ages) in the lightweights. While I'm always happy to win in my age group, I don't want to be just good for my age, I want to know how a stack up against all ages. That's why I always compete both against my age group and in the open (all ages) competition. It's one thing to beat a bunch of old geezers like myself, it's another to beat 20-year-olds!

2011 at age 50

2013 at 52

At Age 50 At Age 52

Click Images to Enlarge

Not bad for a
steroid and drug-free


HandstandBodybuilder Backbend


So What was the Plan?

I still don't consider myself a bodybuilder, but a fitness trainee. However, as I've said before, if you are fit and fairly strong, you will look somewhat like a bodybuilder, so I do okay in bodybuilding contests. I did my first contest two years ago to celebrate my 50th birthday. In that contest I took 1st in the 50-year-olds and 2nd overall in the lightweights. Wasn't sure if I'd ever do another, but I needed a challenge for my 52nd birthday. The challenge was to do a bigger show with more competition and see how I faired. Also, for the last show I did more of bodybuilding style workout which gave me good size, but made me puffier (like a bodybuilder). This time, I wanted to see if I could achieve a harder, leaner look.

For the show I picked the OCB Natural Southwest Body Building Classic. This was a steroid-free and drug-free (tested) show. I picked the OCB because they are serious about being drug free, as opposed to some organizations that claim to be drug free, but don't test.

 I lost about 18 pounds of fat while gaining about 8 pounds of muscle.

Like the last show, the training took about 6 weeks. But this time I focused more on getting lean. I wanted to drop about 10 pounds for the show. The plan was to gain about 1½ pounds during the week while weight training, and then burn about 3 pounds of fat off during the weekend for a net weight loss was about 1½ pounds per week. Gaining weight while weight lifting allowed me to maintain and even add some muscle mass while still reducing my body fat percentage. So my weeks consisted of weight training, while my weekends were spent on the mountain bike. To lose 3 pounds requires about 120 miles on the mountain bike. Luckily, I really enjoy mountain biking and had a lot of books on tape to listen to while riding. The plan worked exactly as I had hoped. I weighed in at the show at 164.2 pounds, almost exactly 10 pounds less than my starting weight. To track my fat loss, I made use of the Santa Fe Community College's Bod Pod. It's like a giant egg that you sit in and it estimates your body fat/muscle percentages. According to it, I lost about 18 pounds of fat while gaining about 8 pounds of muscle. My final body fat percentage according to the Bod Pod was 2.9%. Of course, you have to allow for the Bod Pod's margin of error. More realistically, I was probably closer to 5%. In any case, I was very lean!

You can lead a bodybuilder to water, but you can't make him drink!

This is one of the biggest myths about natural bodybuilding. It still amazes me how many people think a natural bodybuilder should dehydrate for a contest. This myth persists even among bodybuilders who should know better. The real deal is: If you dehydrate yourself, your muscles will deflate and you will look small and flat. Unless of course, you are a 250-pound+ steroid-using mass monster, in which case, even though your muscles still deflate, you'll still be huge! Myself, being somewhat on the small side, wanted to look as big as possible. To do that, I did what is known as a carb load. Essentially, you deprive your body of carbs for about a week, and then a couple of days before the show eat as many carbs and drink as much water as possible. The carbs consisted mostly of oatmeal and homemade pancakes made by my daughter Alexandra. The muscles after having been depleted of carbs will overcompensate and suck up carbs and water like a sponge making them swell up to larger than normal. This lasts for about three days, then they shrink back to normal. The key is, you have to drink water, and lots of it to make this work. True Story: A friend of mine told that he made the mistake of dehydrating at his last show. He dehydrated himself to point of headaches and dizziness. After the morning portion of the show, he couldn't take it anymore, so he ate and drank a lot of water. When he came back for the evening show, the judges said he looked BETTER than he did in the morning. The extra water and carbs helped re-inflate his muscles.

And I'll repeat this for the umpteenth time: If you are not a 20-something-year-old, genetically gifted, steroid-using bodybuilder with 6-10 years of training behind you, then following the methods of a 20-something-year-old, genetically gifted, steroid-using bodybuilder with 6-10 years of training is not likely to work best for you. Ignore what the magazines say. They're mostly BS anyway. Their main goal is to sell you magazines and supplements.

How Much Work Does It Take?

Another thing was workout schedules. And while I cranked it up while training for this show, during most of the year, I typically train about SIX HOURS TOTAL a week (3 one-hour weight sessions and three one-hour OSHIIT cardio sessions). Okay, if you count Parkour and gymnastics, add a couple more hours a week (but those are mostly just about having fun). I try to work out no more than an hour a day. Most of the people I talked to did two to three times that amount. My feeling is if you are able work out more than an hour, then your intensity is too low and you need to crank it up a notch. You'll get better results with short, high-intensity sessions than you will with long marathon sessions. Do just enough to stimulate muscle growth AND STOP! After that, all you're doing is raising cortisol levels. And unless you're taking steroids to counteract the cortisol, then you're just stunting muscle growth. Again, if you're steroid free, you can't do a steroid user's workout (especially as you get older). Many of the people I beat were half my age, and most those had actually been training more years than me! Although I did a lot of bike riding and was quite fit before I started lifting, I didn't get serious about strength training until about 4 years ago.

But like I said, I cranked it up for this show, especially the two weeks prior to the show. And by show date, my body was toast. I couldn't have continued at that pace for another week. I took the week after the show to recuperate. Trust me, I needed it.

Dude, What's With the Back Bend?

Bodybuilder BackbendIt was an accident, I swear! As part of the contest, each contestant is allowed to do a 60-second routine of posing. This is kind of a free for all. You are allowed to use costumes, props, etc. There's an award for audience favorite. I knew I had no chance of winning that, so I thought I'd just have some fun with my routine. I was going to do a headstand into a leg pike raise and back, then go from there to some leg pistols, and then scorpion into one-armed backbend pushups, and then spring up and finish with some cartwheels. Just wanted to see the audience reaction to a real show of strength and flexibility. I had been practicing back stage and everything was fine. However, what I didn't take into consideration was that the stage was a wooden floor. Not a problem in itself, however, after a day's worth of oiled up bodybuilders had been walking on it, it had a few "slick" spots. Just as I was going into the headstand, my hand slipped just enough to throw me off balance. I had to land somehow, so I decided to just land into a backbend and wing if from there. I got a few comments, such as "it was the strangest routine they'd every seen," to "that was incredible." Go figure.

Is That Tan Real?

No. It's a spray on. The tan was applied and maintained by Solarius Spa of Albuquerque. I don't tan well, and without a dark tan, the stage lights will completely wash you out so that you look like a ghost. The tan mostly washes off after the first shower, but leaves a nice glow for a few days.

Do You Look Like That Year Round?

HandstandI wish! But, of course not. Just like when I was bike racing, I tried to "peak" for the contest. As described above, the tan is spray on, the muscles are carb loaded and pumped up. To pump up, I mostly did handstand pushups right before going on stage. The engorges the chest with blood, making the muscles larger and veinier. And of course I trimmed down for the contest. Less than 5% body fat is below what is considered healthy for day to day living. I try to keep my body fat between 8 and 10% the rest of the year.

Also, you don't want to have to pump your legs on contest day, as that will draw blood from the rest of your body. So, the day before the contest, I did a killer leg routine that left my legs pumped all the next day. My apologies to poor Zeb who did that leg workout with me and then had to get his girlfriend to help him stand up later that day.

Note: The picture of me doing the handstand against the wall was taken several days after the contest and is more representative of what I look like most of the year.  No tan, not carb loaded, and not pumped. Just lean, strong, and athletic.

Yeah, But You Have Really Good Genetics

I hear this all the time - And frankly, I find it insulting! I work hard and I work smart. I don't have great genetics. I was the classic string bean growing up. When I got out of the Navy, I still only weighed about 130 pounds. At 5'9", that's not a lot of muscle. I've spent a lot of time studying and learning about what works and what doesn't and I've applied that knowledge.

The reality is, you have to have good genetics to win at the elite level. I'm not there; Not even close. However, with average genetics, like me, you can achieve incredible results. More than what most people desire. I have yet to meet someone in good basic health who wasn't able to lose weight and put on muscle - Assuming of course, they were willing to change their diet and do smart workouts instead of the usual nonsense that most people do.

True Story:

A bodybuilder wannabe I know is in his late 20s and has been training for about 10 years. But all he does is peaking and toning exercises like tricep kickbacks, lateral raises, etc. Rarely doing anything that has any hope of ever putting any real muscle on him. So one day, while I'm doing barbell deadlifts, he is next to me "sculpting his shoulders" by doing seated overhead presses on the Smith machine with a miniscule weight. He turns my way and comments that I get good results because I have really good genetics. I grunted through a few more deadlifts and commented back sarcastically, "Yeah, that must be it."

His problem wasn't a lack of good genetics, his genetics were fine. His problem was he didn't understand the difference between puffing up muscles and building muscles with exercises like deadlifts.

Look, if you have only a few weeks until that class reunion, beach party, whatever, then peaking exercises are the best way to improve your physique in a short period of time. However, once you've peaked your muscles, your progress will come to a halt until you add in some muscle building exercises. And this is what people don't understand. Yes, you will get good results for the first few months doing peaking exercises. But once your muscles are peaked, your done. Finished. Finito. You can only peak a muscle so far. Once that's done, your progress will come to a grinding halt. You'll be stuck there for years until you do something that will build more muscle. And that's the deceptive part of the problem. People start a weightlifting program by copying what they see in the magazines, they do some bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, lateral raises, etc., their muscles puff up and they think they are on the road to success. After about three months, their progress comes to a grinding halt. They are no longer making any gains. After six months, they get frustrated, and decide their progress stopped because they aren't doing enough, so they spend more time at the gym. But, this is to no avail, since their muscles are already peaked - there's no more peaking to be done - so of course, they still don't get any better results. And then they usually get frustrated, blame their genetics, and give up.

Like I tell people, how much icing can you put on a cake you haven't baked yet? Bake your your cake! Then add the icing!

If your goal is aesthetics, then by all means do some peaking and puffing exercises. Just keep in mind, you won't progress very far unless you add some actual muscle building exercises as well. So do your squats, deadlifts, pullups, rows, shrugs, standing overhead presses, dips, etc. along with your front raises.

If you aren't progressing, don't blame your genetics. Blame your diet and your workouts!

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Training for a bodybuilding competition is hard and requires commitment and dedication. You can always find an excuse to not achieve your goals. Most people have a list of goals they would like to achieve, but never do. There always seems to be something more important, like the new season of American Idol is just starting and I have to see that. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail, is that where others give in to their excuses, the successful push past them. Shortly after I started training for this event, I had a routine colonoscopy in which they removed a few polyps. Luckily, they were benign and all was well. However, I had a bad reaction to the procedure. I just felt really run down afterwards. The docs said it was just a reaction to the anesthesia and would go away in a few days. But it didn't, and it just kept getting worse. Finally, I had to go to a heart doctor because my heart had gone into a steady murmur and any physical exercises made me breathless. I was gasping for air like a fish out of water. The doc said one of my heart valves was inflamed and therefore my heart was not able to pump much blood. They're still not sure if it was a reaction to the anesthesia, or an infection caused from cutting into the colon. In any case, after a few days of antibiotics I felt much better, but not even close to my normal self. Between the reduced heart capacity and the general malaise caused by the antibiotics it was hard to do any real workouts. It took about a month to heal up. I could have thrown in the towel and called it quits, but I did what I could during this time and when I felt better, I put it into overdrive to make up for lost time. Look, we all have obstacles to overcome on the way to achieving our goals. Whether you chose to go around the obstacles, or turn back is up to us.

And oh yeah, my heart has now healed, I feel great, and am ready to kick ass and take names!

Will You Do Another Bodybuilding Contest?

Probably, but I'm not planning on doing one anytime soon. Maybe in another two years. They're too much work and too expensive. Between entry fees, tanning, motels, tickets for family, etc., this show cost me over a $1,000 USD. And they interfere with the other goals I wish to pursue such as Parkour. However, I may consider doing some fitness/physique contests.

Muchas Gracias

A big thanks to those who came out and supported me and thanks to my wife Amanda, daughter Alexandra (thanks again for the pancakes, they were delicious), and friends for putting up with my obsessive training schedule. As some noted, training for a show is just as hard for the people around you, if not harder, than it is for yourself.

Also, a special thanks to David Naylor Interiors for sponsoring my tan and to Los Alamos Fitness Center for helping me get started and letting me do some training there.

Go Here to read about my first contest

doctorAs with any nutrition or exercise program, always review them with your doctor to ensure that they don't interact with or are contraindicated by any medications or medical issues you may have. If you haven't trained for a while, start out slow and go easy. If you are pregnant, have diabetes, blood sugar problems, or any heart issues, you shouldn't do this program as it is very strenuous.
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