I am looking for information on training programs and requirements on fitness competitions for women. I would like to know how to prepare routines for maximum results to be achieved along with some diet tips for caloric intake to maximize the "shredded" yet toned physique.
While the judging criteria for fitness and figure competitions continues to evolve, a few of the common denominators that all judges look for are symmetry, proportion and a certain degree of muscularity and conditioning. It's in these latter two areas that the criteria seems to be constantly changing, which sometimes makes it hard to know exactly what "package" to present. The move has been towards women who carry slightly less overall muscle yet are still muscular and who are lean but not as lean as their bodybuilding counterparts. From a development standpoint, the key areas for this class of competitor are the shoulders, lats, glutes and legs. Of course, everything should be developed appropriately, but these are the key muscle groups that optimize that "illusion" the judges seek.
Much of what goes into successful training programming for a competitive fitness or figure competitor is similar to what goes into effective programming for dieting and training for a physique competition in general. Assuming the individual already has the development she needs, the goals of resistance training while dieting are to preserve muscle mass and strength while allowing the nutritional strategy, and for cardio programming, the goal is to drop body fat. To that end, there needs to be a strength focus in training.
When training for fat loss, it's a good idea to stick to upper/lower splits or full body programs. Even for the competitor, there is no good reason to use a bodybuilding split when you stop and think about the goals for resistance training while dieting for fat loss – namely, to keep the muscle and strength you've built.
You'll also want to avoid a lot of high rep, low load training while dieting. Your body already has a limited capacity to recover due to a lack of fuel when on reduced calories. Light weights while in caloric deficit will likely run the risk of more muscle loss, especially the leaner you get. What builds muscle is what keeps muscle, and if you don't use it, you'll lose it. A person trying to lose fat needs to give her body a reason to hold onto the muscle, and this requires her to be training above a minimum intensity threshold.
To sum up training a competitor for a physique competition, the basic points to be cognizant of are:
- Focus on maintaining (or building) strength in the big, compound exercises. This will go a long way to preserving muscle mass in a caloric deficit.
- Keep a strength focus to your training. Make sure there is work being done in the four to six rep range (again, with compound exercises). Even just a few sets (two to three) in this range will go a long way.
- As recovery is impaired on reduced calories, resist the urge to do more when you should be doing less. Avoid a lot of the high rep, low rest, isolation/fluff type exercises. Contrary to popular media, this is not a good strategy, and dieting and trying to maintain muscle mass is not the time for this type of training. It tends to result in muscle loss. Let the nutrition plan and the cardio plan take care of fat loss.
Keep the following points in mind with cardio programming:
- Cardio is an adjunct therapy. Much of the fat loss should come from nutrition. Don't overdo it. Look to optimize nutrition before adding more cardio.
- Do not over use low intensity steady state cardio. It is a good way of topping off the energy expenditure, but don't fall into the trap of endless steady state sessions.
- Utilize sprint intervals. They're great for reshaping the lower body and are both a superior and more efficient means of achieving fat loss than steady state cardio.
Nutritional points to be aware of include:
- The most important thing is caloric intake. There has to be a caloric deficit to lose fat. This deficit can come from exercise, nutrition or a combination of both. So, the first thing is to set calories appropriately. A good place to start generally is 12 times total bodyweight. Monitor the person for two weeks, and if she is progressing at a satisfactory rate, stay the course. If fat loss is not occurring, reduce calories by about 10 percent and reassess two weeks later.
- Set protein anywhere from one to one and a half grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- Ensure adequate essential fatty acid intake (six grams of fish oils a day is adequate).
- The rest of the calories (beyond getting protein and your EFAs) are variable. But generally speaking, lifting days get more carbs and rest or cardio days get less carbs.
- Use nutrient timing strategies. Time carbohydrate intake to the periods when they're best utilized (i.e., in the early hours of the day and the exercise and post-exercise period). At other times, keep carbohydrates low (as they're not needed) and focus more on protein, vegetables and healthy fats.
- Continue adjusting calories as the individual gets more lean. Reducing carbohydrate intake can be one effective strategy in the latter parts of a contest diet.
- Don't cut calories too much or too soon.