Today's post is an interview I did with my current 1-on-1 training and nutrition client, Rachel Brooks. Rachel came to me last fall wanting to shed some fat. At the time, she mentioned that she was thinking about competing as well.
We've been working closely together since then to bring in her best package. She was able to drop 15lbs off the scale and lose several inches all over, and ultimately, she did step on the bikini stage - twice!
It was a wonderful experience - both from my end as the coach and from her end as the client - and I've asked her to share her journey with you all. I hope that you can find some inspiration from Rachel.
Rachel, congratulations on all that you've accomplished! Tell us more about what you did the past two weeks.
These past two weeks I have been in preparation for my two back-to-back bikini competitions. For peak week, my training was more conditioning and the first time during prep that I ever had to do steady state cardio. The training consisted of three days full body with higher reps, supersets and 30 mins of cardio after training.
As for diet, we did a carb load with tapering each day keeping sodium and water consistent. Going into the first show, I felt very full. Based on how I felt and looked, we decided to approach the following week with the less is more approach and went back to my previous training/non-training day macros. This made such a difference physically and mentally. For my second show, I felt and looked my very best. What an amazing feeling!
Sohee's note: We didn't know much about how her body would respond the first go-around so we simply made our best guess. From there, we saw how she responded and learned that her body looked better by sticking with a lower carb approach. We ended up not front-loading her carbs at all for her second peak week, and she was much happier with how she came in. I'd like to emphasize here that everyone's peak week experience is unique, and there is definitely some trial and error involved in figuring out the equation that works best for you. Here is a solid peak week series from Dr. Layne Norton if you're interested in learning more about it.
How did that go? What did you take away from the experience?
It went well! With two back-to-shows, we had to figure out what nutrition approach worked best for my body and which areas of my body I needed to focus more on. Both peak weeks also reminded me how much I dislike steady-state cardio :)
Tell us about your prep. When did you start dieting, how long was your prep, and how did it go?
I started with Sohee in September 2014 for the overall fat loss 1-on-1 training & nutrition. With the steady progress I had made and a lot of learning on my part, I decided I would set a goal and compete. In January, I approached Sohee with this and we got started.
To be honest, the style of diet and training didn't really change until the 3-4 weeks from first show. This was something totally unexpected since it was nothing like prep in 2012.
All I did was my two favorite things: eat and lift. Sometimes I had to remind myself I was dieting.
What was the best part? Not missing out on anything and still setting weekly PRs!
Sohee's note: By this, Rachel means that her training approach did not change drastically, though we did start a new training program every four weeks as per my coaching protocol. She stuck to primarily heavy, compound movements with some higher rep accessory work thrown in for every session. We didn't do anything crazy like hour-long circuits or marathon cardio sessions (in fact, we did no steady-state cardio at all until peak week). With her diet, we utilized a no-foods-off-limits macros-based approach, and we tweaked her macronutrient numbers based upon her progress.
I understand that the foods that you chose to eat likely differed from day to day. But what were your nutrition staples? What did you eat on the regular? Any must-have treats?
I'm more of a flavor craving person and generally plan my meals around what flavor I'm feeling, which is mostly sweet & spicy. I live off of chicken, Tabasco Chipotle sauce, habanero cheese. I seriously eat this every day!
I ate everything and anything I wanted, as long as it fit my macros. My staples treats included Quest protein powders & bars, Arctic Zero, Kodiak Cakes, Muscle Egg (Cake Batter!️), and Walden Farms Pancake Syrup.
I enjoy the challenge of finding something I used to eat or crave and create a healthier version of it. My favorites are creating variations of pancakes & cheesecakes!
Okay, now let's chat about your training. There's this idea out there that if you want to lose fat - and if you want to look like a bikini competitor - you should lifting lots of light weights for high, high reps. Is this what you did? What kind of training programs were you on?
My program consisted primarily of compound movements at low reps. This is my favorite part about training: squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and glute bridge variations. They really challenge me and make me feel strong. I love competing against myself and setting new PRs.
We focused a lot on developing my posterior chain, which was my weakness, and balancing out my upper body since I am naturally lower body dominant.
I know you have some training limitations due to some prior injuries. How did you work around that?
In 2012, I had ruptured my L5-S1 disc during training the week before my first competition. I thought I had just pulled a muscle but didn't realize I was standing on stage in pain with such a severe injury. I chose to have surgery a few months later after exhausting all forms of treatment.
While in physical therapy, I was told I wouldn't be able to strength train the same again. This was devastating and depressing at the same time since I had fallen in love with the sport. It was my passion. Over the years, I slowly worked back in a few compounds movements with light weight and yoga and was on my way to recovery.
Since working with Sohee and around my injuries, I can honestly say I have never felt better and stronger and my back injury hasn't been an issue since. My limitations restricted me from pivotal and spinal compressing movements. We kept weights central to my core and a lot of squat variations. With the modifications to my training program, I am able to strengthen my weaknesses and reach my goals. The fear of my injury was truly my greatest weakness.
What was the hardest part about this prep? What were the biggest takeaways?
The hardest part of my prep would probably be the last few weeks when my carbs were cut, which actually didn't end even being all that difficult. I was hungrier at times, but it was by no means unmanageable, and I figured out how to add volume to my meals. For example, the past three weeks, I have included spaghetti squash into my daily meals. I would add it my plate and top it with proteins and fats. My other favorite meal was chicken breast with peanut Thai sauce over squash. Hits all my cravings and macros.
Of course I can't have an interview without bringing up my favorite topic: mindset. As I always say, transformations begin with the mind first and foremost before change can be manifested in the physical self. What were some of the mindset revelations did you have, and what thought processes did you find pivotal in your success?
This is a good question - one that can get pretty deep....
Since this is a slow process, you tend to get discouraged and at times wonder, "What's the point? Why is my progress not faster?" But nothing in life is easy. If you want something, you truly have to be dedicated and patient. Nothing bad has ever come out of being consistent with any positive change or effort.
The biggest difference in mindset for me is the comparison of shows. My prep in 2012 was the first time I had ever been dedicated and consistent with anything and I had 17 weeks to be "ready".
I remember the struggles and process all too well. It was 17 weeks of "clean eating" meal plans, saying no to every social event, etc. I hibernated the whole time. I developed a warped relationship with food. Although my body was changing, my mind didn't have time to catch up and take in the physical changes my body was making. It was too quick and not realistic. I knew the deadline was approaching, and my thoughts were, "I'm not ready - I need more time! Will the judges like me? Will I be enough?"
I didn't place at that show, and my spirits were crushed. How could they not like me? I hadn't cheated at all on my diet. I had sacrificed everything and they didn't even take that into account. I consoled myself by binging on all the foods (mostly Reese's) I had collected over the 17 weeks and sat in pain, physically and mentally. Over the next few weeks, I gained back almost 25lbs. On top of that, I was unable to exercise due to my injury/surgery.
Fast forward to 2015, and what a complete change! Not once in my prep did I exclude myself from any event, denied myself anything I wanted to eat, or put myself through training hell just to be "good enough" based off someone else's judgement of me.
I did these two recent shows to challenge myself and overcome the fears that had haunted me for three years.
Through this process, I have gained so much: I overcame fear and physical limitations, I created a realistic lifestyle, and I found food freedom, strength, confidence, self love & acceptance.
To me, that means more than someone else's validation or trophy. I have peace with me, I am enough!
There are lots of people out there who are on the fence about competing and are curious about giving it a whirl. What's the best piece of advice you can give to them?
The best advice I can give is... do it for you! Not for anyone else.
Everyone will be judged no matter what, but if you have a clear understanding of who and what your goals are, you will always come out the winner. Don't let others dictate your life.
What's next for you?
Right now, I am starting my reverse diet and have already set my new personal goals. I would like to increase my overall strength and muscular development and definition. Me against me!
Where we can we connect with you online?
Sohee's note: To wrap up, I thought it would be fun to plug in some graphs showing her progress from beginning to end. One thing I'd like to point out is that her progress was by no means linear. Some weeks, she made more fat loss progress than others, and at times it may appear as though she had completely stalled. Keep in mind, however, that there is more to progress than simple changes in measurements. She was still getting progressively stronger in the gym and her body composition was changing for the better over time, and neither of these things can be fully captured via bodyweight and waist circumference alone. She also nailed her macros, of course, and kept up her training intensity week after week; the below numbers are a direct reflection of her program adherence.
Don't discouraged if you feel that you've been nailing your program but the scale weight hasn't been budging. Pay attention to subtle changes in the mirror, the fit of your clothes, and even comments from coworkers, family, and friends.