Written By Nicole Lewis, Attorney, Certified Personal Trainer, Head Coach OrangeTheory Fitness (Emeryville, CA)
Photos by @seannelsonphoto

PART THREE in a six-part series following Fitness Expert Nikki Lewis through the process of competition prep.

Choosing to compete in bodybuilding—in any category—requires a complete commitment. The fact is, anyone who wants to participate alongside others dedicated to the sport—whether that’s in Figure, Wellness, Bikini or other—will need to establish an extremely detailed schedule or routine, and maintain unwavering discipline to see continued progress, and a glimpse of success up on that stage. The schedule or routine needs to be realistic though—something that is doable based on your lifestyle, otherwise, you’re simply setting yourself up for frustration, failure, and disappointment. I think most competitors would agree, the winning secret behind bodybuilding is consistency combined with learning when and how to level up. Prioritizing a plan of action paid off before I even stepped foot on stage for my first competition of the year because the confidence I built along the way felt like a win in itself.

Here’s a look at what a day in my life looked like for the 15 weeks I allocated to contest prep for my very first Figure competition this year (on April 27th, 2024):

Block 1: Wake up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. (preferably closer to 4, because I like waking up while it is dark outside and the world around me is asleep. It is very peaceful during this time of morning). 

Block 2: Quiet time for 20 to 30 minutes before I prepare to go to the gym for fasting cardio training. 

Block 3: 40 to 45 minutes of fasting cardio (while wearing a waist trainer). I try to keep my heart rate steady, and therefore wear a watch to monitor it. I never want it to get too high. Fasting cardio is followed by posing practice (if time permits) and 20 minutes in the sauna where I decompress. 

Block 4: My very first meal is after my morning training, and it consists of egg whites and spinach. After I eat, it is time to go to work.

Block 5: During work, I have all of my meals with me so that I am able to eat at my scheduled times. In addition to meals, I keep bottles of water with me (23.6 oz), because I must drink at least 1 gallon of water each day. (All of my meals consist of ground turkey breast with spinach or broccoli, and tilapia with broccoli).

Block 6: After work, I go home and change clothes in preparation for my second workout which is weight training. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I train upper body. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I train lower body. (On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I train with my coach Gaby).

Block 7: After my second workout, I eat my last meal.

Block 8: By the time I have eaten my last meal, it is close to bedtime. Therefore, I make sure my meals are prepared for the following day, and then I am in bed early enough to get at least seven hours of sleep. However, the goal is eight hours of sleep.

As a busy professional—I’m a Lawyer—it was imperative that I try to stick to the schedule that I created for myself each day to achieve success in all areas of my life. It was also important, though, to give myself grace because the truth is, it was impossible to get it right every day. Life happens, and we have to learn to quickly reset when it does. I always put forth my best effort each day, but if I missed the mark, I never beat myself up for it. I just continued working at it. Bodybuilding is extremely important to me, so I made every attempt to do things better the following day. 

You simply can’t control everything, but having a calculated plan can inch you towards your goals. Having my days clearly mapped out was a critical component to feeling good and achieving success on stage—as was establishing the right training plan.

Entering a new category (last year I competed in Wellness), I had to adopt a new training style, and diet. Gaby, is also a certified nutritionist so she modified both for me going into this competition prep. 

“You simply can’t control everything, but having a calculated plan can inch you towards your goals. Having my days clearly mapped out was a critical component to feeling good and achieving success on stage.”

Here’s a glimpse at what my training regimen looked like:

My training was split. In the morning, I would have fasting cardio, and in the late afternoon or early evening, my weight training. My weight training alternated between upper body and lower body. For upper body—one day is back, shoulders, arms and abs, and the other was chest, shoulders, and abs. (There are many different ways to work my shoulders, so even though I worked shoulders on both upper body days, I was doing different exercises each upper body day to balance out my physique).

On the days when I trained my lower body, my focus was on either my quads and glutes, or hamstrings and glutes. Depending on the exercises that I was performing, there was always the possibility I would feel some work in my lower back, too. Therefore, I was careful to have the appropriate weight so that my form allowed me to focus on the muscle without straining my back. In fact, when I am training with Gaby, sometimes she will touch the place where I should feel the work, because knowing where I am supposed to feel the work is especially important. Sometimes we recruit the use of other muscles as we perform training exercises for a primary muscle.

I would be remiss if I do not also emphasize the importance of resting. Receiving the appropriate amount of rest is extremely important to be able to train properly. Especially when it comes to competitive bodybuilding, your nutrition (which includes supplements) requires that you get plenty of rest.

With my schedule, diet, training, and rest nailed down, I had to also prioritize one more thing to ensure all that hard work wasn’t wasted once I got up on stage. Posing.

Posing practice was definitely different for the Figure category. Fortunately, Gaby is familiar with Figure posing, so she helped me with posing after our training sessions on the weekends. (Note: I keep a pair of lucite heels in my gym bag at all times). After our sessions, I would simply change into my swimwear, and throw on my heels for posing practice, which for Figure includes front, back, and side poses. 

Even though I competed in three shows last year, I still consider myself to be a “newbie” when it comes to competitive bodybuilding. Therefore, in addition to posing practice with Gaby—and on my own—I took advantage of the internet where there are tutorials (and other tools) available that explain what the poses are, demonstrate how to pose, etc. I also found it beneficial to attend bodybuilding shows just to experience the atmosphere. Attending shows can help ease your mind about competing because you gain some idea of what to expect. Also, you know that saying, “If you see it, you can be it”? That’s for sure. Seeing people do what you desire to do can give you so much inspiration to take the leap and make it happen for yourself. It’s why I’m sharing my experience here. To ignite that light in the next woman waiting in the wings. Take it from me, a “newbie” competitor determined to keep growing after feeling that fire: If you’ve done the work—if you’ve done the preparation—nothing can stand in your way. With confidence gained preparing for competition, you too will feel like a winner before ever getting up on that stage. Find out my official results in the next issue.

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