When I first started to look into figure competitions, finding a coach was a big deal for me, especially if I was going to drop a large sum of money to have a prep coach guide me through this process. Not all personal trainers are created equal. Many do not have the experience being immersed in the sport of bodybuilding. I did a lot of research before choosing a coach and it really paid off. Read on to find out what your options are and what to look for in a good contest prep coach.
Contest Prep Coach/ Personal Trainer Options
Having a personal trainer to coach you can no doubt be one of the most expensive parts of this whole journey. What can a prep coach do for you? A knowledgeable bodybuilding coach can formulate and tweak your diet and workouts over the course of your training and prep based on your goals and metabolism. Some can also coach you on posing, buying a competition suit and shoes and other contest needs. But, if you are on a budget, and paying an in-person coach won’t cut it, you have some options.
Online coach: An online coach can provide all of the above services without ever having met you in person. You can utilize skype, spreadsheet sharing, pictures, daily or weekly weight checks , and a lot of communication by email. They will formulate your diet and exercise program and change it regularly based on your weight and pictures you send to them. These coaches will average about $20-$100 per week or monthly payments of $100-400 per month.
As needed: Employ a body building trainer when needed to tell you where your macros should be and what your workouts should look like. This could be 1x per month, 2x per month, 1x every 2 months etc. $50-$175 per session or a package price $200+
Group sessions: Some coaches have group workouts and posing sessions at an affordable cost that you can attend when it’s convenient for you. You can get an expert opinion on your body composition as well as get feedback and tips for workouts or posing. This usually does not include a workout or diet plan. Generally around $30 per session
Jump start: A coach will give you a diet and exercise program based on your needs. Then you direct how you cut macros and add cardio into a show. This will usually cost about $150-300 for a take it and run plan.
Workouts only: You have a personal trainer (online or in person) create a lifting program for you.
Combo or go it alone: Some will have a personal trainer for their workouts and another person do their diet and cardio. If you choose to go it alone, research, research, research. Follow knowledgeable coaches, make a plan and kick some butt. As this latter option is a super affordable one, you won’t have an experienced second party to take a look at your symmetry and body composition desired for placing at a contest. A solution to this; attend some group posing or workout sessions I mentioned above and ask the coach conducting the session how you look.
Six time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates never employed a coach, he says in an interview with London Real. He did his research and then trial and error at the gym doing what worked best for him. Although, contest prep is no joke, I highly suggest finding a good contest prep coach!
How to Find a Knowledgeable Prep Coach/Personal Trainer
If you have decided you would like a coach to help you with diet, exercise or both, you will need to find someone knowledgeable about the sport. There are a lot of great trainers out there but, they need to have experience and knowledge in the bodybuilding world. Dieting to lower body fat levels while keeping your metabolism healthy and formulating a good lifting program are must haves.
Many, many people have had less than ideal experiences with coaches that followed outdated methods, dieted them incorrectly causing serious issues and were unavailable when needed.
Where to look
Great ways to get the ball rolling to find a bodybuilding prep coach are to search online for bodybuilding prep coaches, call your local gyms, find local shows through federation websites and contact the show promoters and just plain ask around. Some gyms will have people that specialize in bodybuilding programs. The more people you contact and talk to, the more you will learn and find the right person to work with.
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions!!!!! Some can include:
What is the coaches experience and philosophy as a trainer in the bodybuilding world?
No cookie cutter plans. You want a coach that will write a plan based on your individual needs and goals. Then, tweak the plan according to your metabolic response. A good coach has many “tools” in their tool box, not just 2 or 3 that they use on everyone. For example, you may want to avoid some one that says, “I cycle carbs for everyone at 12 weeks.” Well, that may not be necessary for you. I am not saying this is a bad coach, but a statement like this may be an indicator of a cookie cutter plan.
An ill planned diet and exercise plan can cause physiological problems. Everyone is different and will respond to programs differently. When cutting for a contest, you will be cutting to lower body fat levels. In order to keep you healthy and find a diet type that works best for you, you will need someone with experience. Experience can be more important than someone that has a PHD, although, everyone does have to start somewhere. Just make sure you find a coach that understands all important aspects of dieting safely and aligns with what you are looking for.
Knowing the coaches experience and philosophy can help you figure out if this is the coach for you and if you can work together. If a coach only allows you to eat the 5 magic foods that they feel work, and that is fine with you, great. If you want a more flexible approach (IIFYM- If It Fits Your Macros) that allows you to eat foods you choose but set within the macronutrient guidelines they provide, then go with that coach.
The bottom line – you want to avoid a coach that will give you a cookie cutter approach. They need to stay on top of your program and asses it weekly just for you!
What is their method of diet as well as key aspects of their program?
Key aspects for a contest prep coach should include that fact that they will use the appropriate method or “tool” at the appropriate time in your prep or off season.
“Tools” may include carb cycling, refeed/cheat meals, reverse diet, ketogenic diet, when to lay on the cardio and for how long and so on. These are things that a coach may not be able to tell you up front as they cannot see the future but your history and current metabolic state will be a good indicator of how your prep will go.
It is important, however that the coach diets you slowly, about 1-1.5 lbs per week on average.
A good coach will also make sure your metabolism is in a good place before prepping you. If you come to them eating low calories doing a lot of cardio and want them to prep you for a show in 15 weeks, they may turn you down or tell you to reverse diet up before thinking about a contest prep.
What is their time frame for responding to you when contacted by phone, email, or text? How do they communicate with you to track progress?
A prep coach should get back to you in a timely fashion. I am comfortable with 24 hours. Some are 48. If they don’t respond to you for days or even a week at a time regularly, then you need to find a new coach.
Communicating with your coach can be important when you have questions about diet and schedule changes in your life. Life happens and it is very nice to have a prep coach that can answer your questions within 24 hours. Coaches are busy training other clients as well as having a life of their own. Try and be understanding if they don’t get back to you right away that one time, but always can be a problem! Again, what is important to you. Will they communicate by email, text or phone calls? If they are an online coach, do they also utilize skype or some sort of video chat?
The majority of communication can happen through email. As far as tracking progress, an in person coach will track your weight and body composition. An online coach will need pictures and a daily/weekly weight chart for you.
Do they work with natural athletes or assisted athletes? Or both?
Asking a prep coach whether they work with natural or assisted athletes (athletes taking anabolic supplements) as this can dictate how your program goes. Natural athletes can be dieted differently than those that are assisted. Natural athletes need to be able to maintain muscle when cutting calories where assisted athletes will hold muscle better when dieting, among other methods of contest prep such as peak week.
Asking for references
Asking a prep coach for references can be very valuable. References not only help you to find out more about the coach you are about to pay a whole lot of money for but they can give you insight on their experiences with past coaches, competing and how they have liked or disliked this sport. You can ask the references the same questions about the coach that you ask the coach. And, these references may be valuable resources for you throughout your journey! I had kept in contact with some of the references I had talked to for a few different coaches and they became very important to me for information and support. On a side note, you will also want a coach that boasts the progress of all his clients, not just the winning-est ones.
Can your coach help you with suggestions on competition suits, cut and color for your chosen contest? Can they help you with posing? While suits and posing may be more difficult online, it can still be done but not a must have for a good in-person or online trainer. Posing sessions are best done in person. If going with an online prep coach, you can always find a separate posing coach for group or private sessions such as Elite Presentation by Allison, Lenore Theobold or On Track Training.
The above questions and points are more of a list of things to help figure out all the aspects that need consideration. You may find some things more important than others but the most important things that you should prioritize when looking for a prep coach is their knowledge on a proper diet and workout plan for each individual based on their goals and lifestyle.
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