What Your Prep Coach Cannot Do

By Autumn Cleveland

 I have been on both sides of competing, by being on stage for over 12 years, and behind the scenes for about 5 years. In the beginning, I was intimated to use the title of a competition prep coach, because well, there are so many misrepresentations of the term that I had questioned my own abilities. On top of that, I was a 23 year old girl who was still trying to figure out what worked for myself, so I timidly tested the waters of figuring out what would work for other people.  I took on three Tests; one teen bodybuilder, one men’s physique, and one bikini competitor.  I did it Pro Bono, but what I would really gain out of it is confidence in my experimentation…my way of “earning” the name of a Prep Coach. I learned how to trust my gut instinct, even if I felt like I couldn’t explain it scientifically at the time. My three competitors took third, second, and overall in their classes in two of the hardest shows in Kentucky at the time.

I had found yet another passion of mine, aside from being in the spotlight myself.  I found value in the “Thank You’s” that I didn’t expect, from those who allowed me to be a part of their journey. They didn’t have to trust me….but they did…and that meant something to me.  I loved watching the transformations, and their confidence grow. It was exciting to see them in awe of what they could accomplish mentally and physically. I enjoyed watching them proudly pick up their trophies, and hug their families. Together, we had created a memory. And to this day, I look forward to working with every single competitor that comes to me, because I know we will remember the experience of our accomplishments together, for life.
When a coach and an athlete work together, there must be a great relationship. While there are many things that a prep coach can do for their competitor, it should be addressed that there are things that your prep coach cannot do.

1. We can’t do it by ourselves.

I don’t care if your prep coach invented bodybuilding….it is impossible for them to predict from start to finish how your body will respond without your help.  They may get pretty damn close, from their expertise and experience, and be able to get their athlete ready with minor adjustments and refined application, but this is partnership…and this is real life.  It is a balanced equation of cause and effect. It is complete experimentation, and you can’t learn a thing without considering results of an action. In a nutshell, your prep coach may give you specific and well supported instruction, but YOU have to cooperate by acting on it exactly as intended, and reporting feedback. That is how a good prep coach can tailor a diet or training to YOUR body’s needs. Everyone changes at a different rate and from different approaches, so for your coach to have to try and guess what will work by them self is like shooting at a moving target with their eyes closed. With your input and observation of your own body, we can insert values in the blanks of our equation to better yield the results we are aiming for. Your coach may still be able to get you to look decent if you half-ass it and loosely follow your diet or skip workouts, or forget to check in for a month, but you are wasting your own time, and your coach’s. Plus, we will more than likely we figure out that you aren’t following the plan, and it will piss us off.  It is the coach’s job to create the plan. It is the athlete’s job to follow it and give feedback. This is a team effort.

2. We are not miracle workers.

The human body is an amazing specimen. You send it a message from your brain, put substances in it, use energy to move it, and all of a sudden you have a six pack.. While your prep coach may not have specified numerical targets for you (or maybe they do), we do have a pretty good idea of what your body composition should look like by the time you step on stage.  An experienced coach may be able to tell if a certain competition is a good fit for you in the allotted timeframe based on your current look, and if you have potential. I will tell you right now…there is a degree of how well a coach can prepare an athlete, and it all depends on the individual’s starting condition. If your bodyfat is 30% and you are aiming to get down to 6%, you can expect that to be a very slow, long process. Even the best prep coach in the world can’t get you from 30% to 6% in 3 weeks without sacrificing your muscle or your health. On the contrary, if you are someone who does not have much muscle to begin with, don’t blame your prep coach if you don’t have the mass or the ass of your dreams if they’ve only had 8 weeks to work with you, and you spend most of that time in a caloric deficit. Also, the pre-prep habits of the athlete can make things difficult. If you are not currently working out, trying to quit smoking or drinking, and you have no awareness of what you eat, then it’s probably not a good idea to jump into a competition prep. Certain habits must be formed beforehand, and that includes living a fitness lifestyle which can be advanced from. That being said, if you are not taking in enough calories, it may be difficult for your coach to keep your metabolism functioning and fat loss consistent throughout the entire duration of your prep. Take it upon yourself to build muscle in your improvement season, and come to your coach relatively lean. And don’t take it personally if your coach tells you that you may not be ready for a show date in time, based on your current condition. Trust their judgement. The best and easiest prep I’ve had with my clients are those when the athlete is less than 18% bodyfat, they already have a decent amount of muscle, they are currently following a nutrition & training program of some sort, and they allowed enough time to change slowly and steadily. Come into your prep prepared…trust me, you will thank yourself for it.

3. We can’t read your mind.

I have some athletes that I see a few times a week in person, a few who I only see once a month, some that send progress pictures weekly, and some who I have never met in person and our sole interaction is through online communication. That is not nearly enough time to fully understand what is happening in a person’s life. Factor in that sometimes people forget to check in with their coaches, and it makes our job really hard to figure out why you aren’t losing fat after we’ve made the proper adjustments for several weeks in a row.  If you think you aren’t looking or feeling right, tell us. If you are freaking out or burning out, tell us. If you accidentally ate an entire lasagna, tell us. If you think you are dying and withering away to dust from dieting, tell us. If your mom’s dog’s boyfriend’s sister is unloading all of their drama on you and your boss is micro-managing you, tell us. If you got food poisoning in the same week that you had your wisdom teeth taken out during prep, tell us. There are a lot of things that you may not think would affect your body, but we probably know otherwise. This will help us make the decision if changes stagnate from something we are doing on our end, or if your hormones are out of whack and your immune system just needs recovery. Communication is vital in your time together, and unless you have a live-in coach, they can’t see what your body looks like every morning, during lifts, or after having your refeed. You have to TELL us, or show us. And if you have a question, just ASK, no matter how minute it may seem. Most problems that I’ve run into could have easily been prevented with proper communication between athlete and coach. The more information that you share with your coach, the higher the chances are that we can fix it…and sometimes the solution is as simple as a pep-talk.

4. We aren’t your babysitter.

We are all adults here. With the decision to compete comes a lot of responsibility. Your coach should not have to tell you to follow your diet. Your coach should not have to tell you to try your damnedest. Your coach should not have to baby you in any way. Have good integrity and do what is expected of you as a competitor even when no one is watching. If a coach has a team of 10+ people and you repeatedly forget to check-in or you miss appointments, don’t get upset when you don’t receive your diet updates at the time that you would prefer. It is not your coach’s responsibility to remind you 5000 times. Most of us don’t live at our computers, so if you miss the window of time that we are available for work, then everything falls behind (even your progress.) This is your job for 4 months or more, and there are policies. If you break your coach’s policy more than a few times, they have every right to fire you as a client. (But keep in mind that if you do your job but your coach constantly drops the ball, you have every right to fire your coach.)

5. We can’t save you.

Let’s say you look incredible, have fantastic genetics for this sport, we see you progressing steadily and heading exactly where we want to go….but you don’t see it. In fact, the only thing you can seem to focus on are all of the things that you don’t like about your body, or what is going wrong. I’ve had people pull out of shows because “They didn’t think that could do it.” The athlete may be making all of the right moves, but they lack a positive mentality or confidence in themselves. They self-sabotage and let their doubts eat them alive. Or even worse, they lack the passion. I have a rule as a being a prep coach: I should never care more than my client.  At any point that this gets out of balance, the game is over. That person must be focused, an optimist, driven, disciplined, and internally motivated. If your heart isn’t in it, then no amount of dieting, pep talks, or external motivation can satisfy that void in the end. A prep coach can change your aesthetics, but they cannot change your attitude. Only you can do that.

6. We can’t guarantee you a placing.

Even if you and your coach work well as a team, communicate properly, they have stellar methods and you faithfully follow them, and you show up to your competition better than you’ve ever looked in your entire life, there is still that chance that you may not win first place. You may not even get second place. Or second callouts.  The hard part to remember is that we are aiming to bring your best package of your life at every show….but so is everyone else. It all depends on who else shows up that day. Some people may be willing to use methods that you are not. Some coaches are willing to push limits where other coaches are not. Unfortunately, you may place very well at a regional level, but at a national level both you and your coach may find that realistically, your genetics are not going to get you much higher in the tier. You may not be to blame. Your coach may not be to blame. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault if you don’t get the placing that you had hoped for. Rather than focusing on the outcome, focus on having a positive learning experience with your coach so that in the future you two may work together even more efficiently. There is so much more to gain from your journey to the stage than a trophy, so don’t be upset with your coach if you aren’t taking any hardware home. 

7. We aren’t perfect.

Things go wrong. Shit happens. Sometimes we believe in our hearts that we are giving you the best plan humanly possible…and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to take a supported leap of faith or take a gamble when it comes to making a move, and it just doesn’t produce the effect that we thought that it would. Sometimes, we make mistakes.  This can come from miscalculations or new territory, and should not be assumed as carelessness. This whole sport is one of trial and error. Chances are that we have probably reached our success by learning from many failures either by experimenting with ourselves, or several others. Conditions aren’t always perfect, but a good competition prep coach will give their absolute best until the very end, and they will ALWAYS use their best judgement. But remember, we are human. You don’t know what exactly is going to happen, and to be honest, we don’t either. We can only try our best with the tools that we have, and the understanding of your body’s response. Hopefully you and your coach can realistically assess any issues, both move forward together in the future with more knowledge, and come in better prepared next time.