Congratulations – you’ve accomplished something most people never will: you stepped on stage in a fitness competition! It was your main focus for 16 weeks, you turned down social invitations, you lived at the gym in all your free time, you sweat, cried, and maybe even bled for it. Then, suddenly, in one short day, it’s all over. Now what? What do you fill your time with, what do you focus on, what goal do you work towards??
The time following the stage can be an extremely tough time for many people, both first-time competitors and veterans alike. I like to compare it to a wedding – many brides plan for a year for that one day, and it’s (hopefully) their perfect day, where they feel and look like a princess, get a lot of attention and some amazing pictures to look back at. Then, suddenly it’s gone. It can be tough to adjust back to “normal” life after such a fun event. Fitness competitions are similar – you look incredible, you get a lot of attention from friends, family, and even strangers through social media. You collect some great pictures, maybe even a medal or trophy, and make a handful of new friends. It can be an incredible experience, until it ends and the dust settles around you.
Mentally, coming down from such a high can be a recipe for disaster if the athlete isn’t prepared for it. Many will feel lost, with the prime focus of getting on stage now missing. For those who started training for the sole purpose of competing, they might not see a point in returning to the gym because the goal has been reached. Once all the attention on your Facebook and Instagram pictures has dried up, what do you post about?
Watching your body transform back to its’ previous composition can be really tough as well. Everyone would love to keep that stage look, but it’s just not healthy. However, accepting that fact in your head and seeing it in the mirror are two very different factors. This can also make training difficult – thanks to all the mirrors everywhere! Our clothes get tighter again, and you might even have to stop wearing the stuff you bought in smaller sizes when you were in prep. This can be a big hit to your self-esteem, on top of the emotional issues you’re dealing with.
These are all really tough things to deal with for competitors – you aren’t alone. The post-show depression is a real thing, but it doesn’t get mentioned much, just like mental health issues in general. This may sound silly to non-competitors, but trust me, it’s a real thing!
Personally, I’ve never hit a really low point following a show. My first year, I did so many shows (definitely too many, to be honest), that I never had a chance to feel the let-down – I had to bounce right back into another prep. By the end of my 5th show, I was just ready to be in an off-season! Kyle was still in prep, so I could focus on helping him through his final weeks, and then we set to work for the next year. Following that, I was always working towards a new goal which kept me motivated and excited. Focusing on moving to a new category kept me focused, then training for the next level of competition kept me pushing hard.
However, for the last week, I’ve been struggling a little bit. I’ve had a few great workouts, but the majority of them have been pretty average, or even less than average. My focus has been off, I can’t seem to break a sweat, and the “pump” is non-existent (which is what we all aim for). I’ve stayed on a dictated meal plan to reverse diet successfully, which has kept me in good shape, but it just feels like the never-ending prep. I go through swings where I’m frustrated and confused, and times where I’m ok. So, what do you do?
Obviously some people hit a much lower low than others. My first words of advice – if you don’t truly LOVE the sport and training, it’s not for you. The highlights of show day are few and far between, especially as you move up the levels (Kyle and I only compete once a year at this point, so there’s no option to focus on a follow-up show that season as a goal). The ability to stay on track for a full year without the push of another show around the corner can be difficult if you aren’t passionate about the other aspects of the sport. Rest day should be your least favourite day of the week, in my opinion.
Get a plan together before peak week hits. If you have a coach (which you should), talk with them in advance about what you’re going to do after the show – both from a competing and a rebound point of view. Do you want to compete again? Should you take your qualification that year, or put in more work? Do you want to try a totally different sport? What’s your meal plan to avoid dangerous weight gain? How much water should you drink? These are all things your coach should be talking to you about in advance! If not… find a new coach NOW. I digress, back to the point – decide what you’re going to do before the competition hits so you have something to hold yourself accountable to.
Have a goal. This feeds off the previous point – deciding what you want to do next and setting that goal will keep you working towards something. If you qualify for the next level of competitions and you feel ready for that stage, go for it. If not, knowing ahead of time that you’re going to head into an off-season to improve for that next stage appearance is a great goal. Booking a photo shoot the week or two following your show is a good way to stay on track during the toughest time frame, too. If you didn’t love the competition process, try something new – whether it’s physical or not. It’s ok to leave the bodybuilding world if you didn’t love it! Just give yourself something exciting to work towards.
Get reconnected. Prep can get really intense and you may have gone a few weeks without seeing your friends or family in any solid get-togethers. Plan to meet up with your people again and do the things you used to enjoy with them. Keep in mind, you likely shouldn’t plan numerous celebratory meals right after your show, so be sure to include non-food events in there. Go for a walk, meet for coffee, get your nails done with a friend, see a movie… Just get out and be social, do your best to transition back to a more “normal” pace of life.
Adjusting back to pre-competition life can be a challenge for everyone in their own way, no matter how long they’ve been living this life. Sometimes you just need a little time off the gym to reignite the spark you need. Personally, I’m taking a few days off the gym now, doing a few more tasks around the house, taking more walks with the dogs, and looking forward to a weekend road trip in the near future to visit friends and family. Kyle and I are planning a few fun things on our trip – including some great restaurant visits. Hopefully, after the time away to recharge, I’ll feel back on track and ready to restart this off-season.