For competitive bodybuilders, the word ‘relax’ is one that creates a response that is the exact opposite! This is because the word (a verb) is defined as the action of “making or becoming less tense or anxious’. For a non-competitor, it might mean kicking up your feet with a cold drink, while munching on your favorite snack. It might mean impromptu appetizers and happy hour drinks with friends on a Friday evening. It might mean stopping at a fast food joint on the way home because you don’t feel like cooking that night. In the life of a competitor, the term ‘relax’ takes on a totally different meaning. It’s an oxymoron.
When competing in a bodybuilding show we even have a pose called ‘standing relaxed’. In this pose, each and every muscle is contracted and you’re squeezing like your life depends on it. Your goal is to look rock hard yet the pose is referred to as ‘standing relaxed’. When in this pose relaxed you are not! There’s nothing relaxed about it, however, when on stage, we spend the majority of our time in this pose.
Sure … as a professional bodybuilder I relax (I think). But … my form of relaxation doesn’t fit into the typical bill. One thing to remember is what I do in the off-season directly affects what will happen when I’m in-season. That being said, any weight gained during this time will have to be lost in order to be competitive. This is why many of us are hesitant to allow ourselves to fully relax in our off-season.
Why It’s Difficult to “Relax”
I can’t remember the last time I relaxed on the couch with a bag of pretzels. I can’t remember ever participating in happy hour. Also, I suffer at the thought of choosing a fast food meal over cooking at home. As a competitive athlete I may curl up on the couch to watch my favorite TV show (obviously DVR’d since I’m never home before 9:00pm juggling work and my workouts). However, while I’m ‘relaxing’ my legs tremble from the two hour long leg workout I just put myself through. My hair is wet and soggy from the hour long StairMaster workout. I’m wearing old and tattered “Rocky-esque” sweats to keep warm as I ice my knees. My ankles crack when I stand up and my stomach growls loudly as I refrain from snacking. I definitely get the urge to snack on anything I can get my hands on but then I think about my goals and how pristine my diet must be in order to achieve them.
Then I also think about the chocolate donut I saw my co-worker shove in her mouth without hesitation. If only I could be her for one day. If I were her I’d eat the entire box and lick my fingers … enjoying every last morsel and not giving a single care. Then my mind reverts back to the fact that one day of ‘relaxation’ can lead to a world of anxiety as I attempt to burn off the debauchery in the gym the following day.
A relaxing day for me may include a little bit of downtime, although I can’t remember the last time my mind was clear of this sport. Every step I take is with my progress and goals in mind. Although I work a full time job, like most people, I have another job … one that involves being in the weight room more than two hours each day. When I’m in the gym, I train with intensity, goals top of mind, searching for ways to be better.
Each day I track my caloric intake and make sure everything that goes into my mouth is sensible. If I let a sweet treat slide in somewhere I regret it almost immediately. Each week I plan my training schedule and I feel anxious if any piece of my second to second schedule is thrown off. Missing a workout does not happen. Leaving the house without my 6-pack bag of meals does not happen. I have plenty of days when I wish I could turn ‘it’ off and not think about ‘it’. Some days I’m so sore I wish I could, in good conscience, skip a workout without worry. I wish I could sleep past 4am. I wish I didn’t feel as though I’m late if I’m not the first person in the gym each morning. This sport drives my each and every action and reaction.
The Transition: Getting Ready for Competition
Right now I’m slowly transitioning into the competition mindset. I spent the last 3 months ‘relaxing’, or attempting to relax (I guess you would say). I most likely won’t relax until I officially retire from the sport (I’m not sure I know how to right now). Now, as I transition into the competitive season I’m saying ‘good bye’ to the possibility of having a mind clear of bodybuilding and saying ‘hello’ to competition season chaos – lengthy workouts, aches and pains, spending hours in the kitchen preparing my meals, hunger pains, travel, hotel stays, and the endless piles of sweaty laundry. I loathe parts of it but, as crazy as it sounds, I don’t know how to function without it.
Looking at how strict I have been, when I say I’m transitioning from off-season to in-season one may think I actually never left in-season mode. A big part of me wants to be stage-ready so that I no longer have any qualms about taking my shirt off in the women’s locker room. On the other hand, the other part of me is anxious about the crazy lifestyle that is necessary to get back on stage (and win). My year always begins with high expectations and as difficult as the season can get, I do not quit because I cannot stand failure. Most people see the final package as we stand on stage and present ourselves to the judges or they see the Facebook “selfies” where we’re looking lean, tan and outright amazing. Not many people can say they understand the tirelessly long process that goes into the final product – long hours in the gym, pristine diet, missing out on events and outings with family and friends, the blood, the sweat, or the tears. Most don’t talk about the treacherous road up the mountain and all of the hills and valleys along the way. Most only post the “high” they feel when they have reached the top. It’s a lot of work. I enjoy it, but there are certain points when I dread the process and I wish I could press the fast forward button.
All in all, it’s a difficult road that has my mind racing non-stop. Each time I want to quit the competitor in me jumps out and pushes me closer to my goals. Quitting isn’t a possibility and neither is failure. With success being the only option, there’s no wonder why I simply cannot relax. Relaxing is an oxymoron.