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When you look at an NPC National event, all the athletes are great—the competition is stiff, and with close to 1,000 athletes onstage, it would seem no easy task to crown a winner. All genetically blessed in their own ways, these athletes train hard and know what it takes to make it to a National-level stage.
So one question I get all the time—and have really been getting a lot since my client, Brian Yersky, took the 2012 NPC National overall title recently, is: At that level, what is it that separates the top group of athletes—and any overall winners, for that matter—from the rest of the pack? My answer is pretty simple: work ethic, sacrifice, suffering, and knowing how much you really want to win. These are what push an elite competitor into the winner’s circle. At this level, genetics will definitely help the cause, but genetics alone won’t push you over the top.
The “Tough” Is What Makes the Sport Great
The thing that makes pro athletes exceptional (no matter what sport they participate in) is going the extra mile, living their sport, and not shutting down when the competitive season has concluded.
Of course, the off-season is a more laid-back time—the diet isn’t as strict, you have a stomach full of good foods and plenty of energy, and the stress of contest prep isn’t looming over you. But you still have to work as hard in the off-season, and take it just as seriously as the contest prep. This type of mindset will enable you to outwork your competition and forge ahead. This is exactly how Brian did it—he not only trained his ass off all year, but when it came to diet—mentally and physically the toughest part of competition— he knew there was no room for error. Slacking on his cardio training or cheating on his diet never entered his mind.
The more an athlete is able to suffer through the diet and make it to the gym day in and day out—even when he has barely enough energy to tie his shoes—the more advantage he’ll have over the competition. Knowing others wouldn’t stay on track only fueled Brian’s fire and gave him a definite edge over his competition.
Brian is a dream client. He basically becomes addicted to the diet and the contest prep. The more difficult the diet and prep became, the more challenged he felt to stick to it and conquer it. It’s common, and usually necessary, to restrict the diet more and more, making it harder as the prep goes along. And more often than not, I find myself in the position of requiring competitors to perform longer, harder sessions of cardio toward the end of a prep if they haven’t pushed hard enough during the beginning and middle stages.
With Brian, however, I found myself constantly adding more food in and backing off the cardio. Not only does Brian seem more balanced with the contest plan, but he thrives during this time. As with many top athletes I’ve worked with, Brian became virtually obsessed with his prep; it’s this obsession that not only makes top athletes great, but helps keep them focused when times get tough. The obsession, as well as the fear of failure if they go off the plan, are what give them the edge over others.
By the last four weeks of his diet, Brian was a machine running in top form. He probably had one of the easiest final-stage preps because he did what he had to do.
Setting up the Winning Plan
This was the second consecutive year I’d worked with Brian, and although we had a decent showing at the 2011 Nationals (third in the super-heavies), I knew we had to make major improvements during the off-season if we wanted to not only take the class in 2012, but win the overall. Brian made incredible off-season gains leading up to our contest prep. With this in mind, I knew we couldn’t go back to the same diet plan we’d utilized for 2011. I’d have to go back to the drawing board and create a plan that would enable us to keep the solid gains we made throughout the off-season, while creating a shredded physique.
This year, Brian was not only much larger, he was also leaner and held less water than he had in the 2011 off-season. I knew that his body would go into “diet mode” much more quickly, and that if we didn’t plan correctly, all our gains could be easily dieted away. These issues are extremely important and must be taken into consideration when planning out the diet portion of the program. Stay tuned for all the details in part two next month.