Approaching Improvement Season the Right Way


By Ali Fraser

The post photoshoot, competition, dieting phase is a tricky situation to be in, I know this all too well.

In fact, as I’m writing this – I find myself in this phase once again.

What I hope you take from this piece, is how to transition from an extreme dieting phase and into your next goal. As productively as possible.

Let’s be real: It’s an amazing feeling once you’ve gotten into truly epic shape. Unfortunately though, depending on how low in body fat you’ve gotten, it’s probably neither healthy or sustainable.

We also have the psychological aspect to contend with too. It’s hard letting it go. Your perception of what is lean Vs what is fat is distorted.

If you’ve been through this before, it probably sounds familiar to you. If you’re going through it for the first time – pay attention.

You’ve just dieted for the past 12/16/20 weeks.

Counting everything that goes in your mouth from chicken to fucking lettuce.

Counted how many steps a day you do.

Tracked your HR whilst doing cardio.

Essentially, your life has revolved around training and nutrition for a certain period of time.

The day comes and goes, and once it’s over your feel lost. Almost like an anti-climax.

On top of that, you have this internal debate of wanting to stay in this shape for the long term – but – you also want to have a life. Which for the past > insert length of diet < you haven’t had.

It’s confusing.

How much weight should put on? How much cardio should you be doing? Can you have the odd treat now? How hard should you be training?

What I’m going to attempt to do is give you my opinion on how you should approach it, as I’ve finally realised that I’ve been approaching it wrong for the past 6 years.

Every time I’ve stepped on stage, the feedback has always been the same.

“Lower body overshadows upper body”

“You need more muscle up top.”

“You were the leanest on stage – but overpowered by guys with more size.”

Even though I have had this feedback again and again, I’d never embraced the ‘rebound period’ in which your body is in such an optimal place to put on muscle (at a certain rate, it can also put on fat just as easily, if not more).

I’d always have holidays booked post diet, in which I’ve wanted to stay in shape for. Of course, this has held me back in terms of putting on real size and making the serious progress that I’ve needed between shows.

This time round though, I sat down and got deep on how I wanted to look at my next show. What meant more to me? The holiday photos for the ‘gram or my placings on stage? And remember, this isn’t just for competitors. This could be you finally jumping from a medium to a large in your t-shirt size. Or progressing visually between now and your next photoshoot. Bodybuilding is just my barometer.

Instead of falling into the trap I’ve fallen into, I urge you to sit down once your diet is done, and get crystal clear on the next steps. Set goals that are going to be conducive to you over the next 6, 12, 24 months.

Once you’ve done this, reverse engineer it and work backwards on how you are going to achieve these. Having a long term plan will make a huge difference in how you approach the next phase, and hopefully not have you blinded by the short term ego-driven situation of trying to stay too lean at the expense of the big picture.

So, goal setting aside. How do we put this into practice?

Let’s say you’ve been on 1500 cals on average for the final couple weeks leading toward the end of the diet. Depending on bodyweight, this will have been quite a deep deficit. Hunger levels will be skewed. If you give into this and eat everything in sight; you’ll do nothing but:

  • Gain a tonne of water (potentially increasing blood pressure/stress on kidneys)
  • Gain an un-needed amount of body fat
  • Have you feel like shit, by screwing your digestive system

My suggestion is that you plan a decent meal out with friends and family immediately post show – and enjoying it socially. This means have what you want but don’t be excessive. Use the people you’re with as a gauge. Ultimately, enjoy the night and relax, as you’ve worked so hard over the course of the diet.

The next day I would do the same at breakfast, I also wouldn’t train and would just enjoy quality time with people that have most likely suffered/missed out a little over the past month or so.

From here, I’d get a routine in place and start pushing food back to a ‘healthy’ place gradually over time. So if we take the 1500cal average that you were on, we might bump that up to 1800cal. See how that sits for 5-7 days and then slowly increase again until your weight starts to stabilise.

Eventually you’ll find the sweet spot (typically 4-6 weeks post diet) as to where your approximate maintenance calories are.

Once you’ve successfully done this, you can move into having a productive growth phase, without just piling on lots of body fat. Appetite will be better regulated, your stomach won’t feel like you’ve swallowed an atomic bomb, and you’ll still be in ‘good’ shape – just not quite shredded.

Whilst I’m not a therapist, I do understand the mental battles you can have with yourself when you are transitioning between these two phases.

The easiest way of dealing with it is to start focusing on performance instead of just your physique. Focusing on log book progression is key.

And in particular, on certain lifts that are going to benefit the ‘look’ that you’d thought about when you did your planning post diet.

Need to thicken your chest? Start hitting PBs on incline pressing.

Need hanging hamstrings? Make RDL’s your new best friend, and absolutely dominate them.

I’d also stop counting veg, stop tracking every single gram of food and let yourself to switch off from the prep mentality and start enjoying life. Have a treat or two with your other half, meet your friends for a coffee that isn’t boring and black.

Being honest, this is the first time I’ve embraced this. And instead of being scared, I’m loving every second and am actually excited to see the end result the next time I step on stage.

As they say: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”.

To finish:

Unless this is your career.

Unless you’re a fitness model making a living from it.

Unless you’re a professional bodybuilder being paid to compete.

There is more to life than just looking good for social media.

There are experiences out there that you just don’t want to miss out on. And not just you, but your friends and family too.

Of course, there’s a time and a place for going all in. But between shows? This isn’t it.

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