Flipping the abdominals switch refers to any switch that takes you to the point of no return…and onto the stage of your dreams and desires.
Heading across town to check in with my coach, I hoped I would be three weeks out when I left…
What I’m referring to is the question that can creep into anyone’s mind as stage (big presentation, game, childbirth, or peak performance of any sort) looms closer…
Will I be ready?
…the greatest detractor from high performance is fear: fear that you are not prepared, fear that you are in over your head, fear that you are not worthy, and ultimately, fear of failure. If you can eliminate that fear—not through arrogance or just wishing difficulties away, but through hard work and preparation—you will put yourself in an incredibly powerful position to take on the challenges you face.” ~Pete Carroll
During times of vulnerability and flashes of self-doubt, the words out of coaches’ mouths have tremendous effect on our ability to maintain our vision and perform at our highest level.
Spotting me on the treadmill, my coach walks toward me and smiles approvingly as she looks me up and down.
Oh hello, itty-bitty you!”
With gratitude in my eyes, I shook off the compliment and confessed my concerns over a seeming plateau the past week. Even though I had been “busting my ass” more than usual with double cardio sessions, intense lifting sessions, and the new low-carb/high-carb plan (a.k.a. carb-cycling) she had assigned me the previous week, the scale wasn’t budging. As my first time carb-cycling, I was naturally a tad nervous about its effects and whether it would work for me.
My coach nodded sympathetically, but asserted:
I can tell you’ve been putting in the work. After I haven’t seen a client for a few weeks, I’m always curious to see which way they’ve gone. It’s working, Sarah. Don’t trip yourself out.”
This exchange reminded me:
A good coach sees your future self as she assesses your present self.
So, we discussed the strategy for the next week and hammered out the details of the nutrition and cardio tweaks. Looking at my pics from the locker room, she points out what she likes and what she sees in her crystal ball. Feeling a happy blend of satisfaction, relief, and excitement, I left our meeting with a sea change in my outlook.
Doubts be gone, three weeks on.
Which is better: winning or competing?”
Competing…because it lasts longer.” ~Winning Forever
And, that’s just it. The process may ramp up to a culminating point on the surface, but, at a deeper level, you see a series of points and an endless continuum in the longer run. The culminating point serves to elicit my competitiveness. Not an antagonistic competitiveness against my yet-to-be determined competitors, but the competitiveness within myself to improve week-over-week, to stay on point, and to train hard. This is “winning” in the correct sense. Not winning for a day, but in Pete Carroll’s words, Winning Forever.
Almost as if on cue, my abs emerged in the mirror the next morning… reminding me that even the most physical endeavors are truly mental ones.
Our minds control a lot of what we see…what materializes…and what we experience in our lives.
Case in point…
Since January 5th of this year, the word, midsection has appeared frequently under the category of Want to Change in my Desire Map daily planner. Back in January, I wasn’t thinking about getting back on stage, I didn’t have a coach or any kind of plan yet, but… I had a desire to manifest the midsection of my dreams.
Once again, I see how synchronicity flows from the seeds of my desires. As long as I remain an open channel to receive guidance for my next step…and the next one… all the pieces will eventually fall into place.
As a side note, by May, “clean floors” had emerged second after “midsection”. The tile floors throughout our downstairs were driving me crazy and my husband refused to let me get them professionally cleaned because we were “just renting”. That, too, has been resolved with the nothing-short-of-magical discovery of our new home. The faster timing of the clean floors also informs me that I had less resistance toward “clean floors” than “mid-section”…
The Makings of an Abs Expert
Bikini abs, the coveted mid-section, “Coke bottle” core, tight ‘n toned…however you like to call ’em, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss ’em. A midriff-worthy midsection has eluded me for most of my life…including several bikini competition years and a year performing in the skating show, Aladdin, where harem costumes were part of the everyday.
Over the years, I have come to learn (and experience), there is one thing you cannot change about your body: your bone structure. Now, where we hold body fat is indeed genetically predisposed and less malleable than other things, but, with solid bodybuilding techniques, we can address the most stubborn of these areas, too…unlike the positioning of bones…
On me, these two factors culminate in the appearance of a thicker midsection. Add to that pregnancy and you have the makings of an abs disaster or, as I intent-fully rephrase it, an abs expert!
To get close to bikini abs, I have to be sub-15% body fat (I am currently 16%). But, simply targeting a body fat percentage is not enough. I also need a decent amount of muscle in the shoulders and booty to create the desired hourglass shape. As for my body type, I employ certain strategies in my diet and my training throughout contest prep. I consider this latter point the missing link in several competitions past, forming the basis for this week’s Seven Secrets.
For those with longer torsos and natural (bone-originating) curves, a higher body fat percentage can work in the midsection, but you will typically need the lower levels of body fat to bring down your legs and backside sufficiently.
No matter where you lie on the spectrum of bodies, it becomes important to let go of the “I have it so hard because of y” or, more commonly “she has it so easy because of z” .
We must start by loving and accepting our own bodies, their unique perks and quirks, and then optimize them to look their best on stage.
We control what we can control and let go of what we cannot — which, coincidentally, is a good strategy for most things in life!
Seven Secrets to the Elusive Mid-Section
It’s important to mention here that the ideal midsection for a bikini competitor is NOT a full-blown six-pack, it’s tight ‘n toned. The abdominal definition is more noticeable around the outer perimeters rather down the middle. In the world of bikini competition, that latter type of musculature would result in a deduction and is more commonly rewarded in other divisions, particularly the men’s divisions…
So, where does one…err…start?
#1 With a coach who gets it
During posing practice, my coach has gone so far as to tell other clients that I “just had a baby” (Desiree is now three!) so I wouldn’t be judged too harshly by my peers. Her words of encouragement are authentically empathetic. She’ll lift up her shirt to show me her mid-section and say,
See, I get it…and I have my pro card! It is possible!”
There is a ton of relief in her tactics. Psychologically, it helps knowing I’m not the only one or somehow not cut out for this pursuit. For my confidence, too, who better to entrust than someone who has dealt with it in herself and, more importantly, been successful?!
#2 With the deliberate type and intensity of cardio
In my book and experience, nothing comes close to treadmill intervals and the “stairs of death” (a.k.a. the stair climber) for bikini cardiovascular training. Just running isn’t as effective as the repetitive start and stop of intervals; equipment like the elliptical and arc climber are tied for a distant third; the stationary bike is a waste of time unless you are in rehab for a knee issue; and the row machine is great preparation for crew tryouts…
#3 With lower-body supersets
In my lower body workouts, I have been favoring a superset approach whereby I will follow a heavy lifting set with a compound lower body cardiovascular set, and repeat the series 3-5 times. After several of these supersets, I am a hot mess with a decent booty pump!
#4 With a lifting belt and no direct ab or core work
As mentioned previously, the lifting belt helps de-emphasize core muscle recruitment during lower body lifts like squats and lunges.
Since I want to keep my midsection as tiny and tight as possible, I don’t risk adding muscle tissue through direct ab or core work. At equal levels of body fat, muscle will add size to my midsection. So, except what’s mandated in the five mins of my BodyPump and BodyFlow classes that I teach a few times a week, you won’t see me “waisting” my time on direct core training.
#5 With small frequent meals
Small frequent meals is a smart approach for reducing body fat and maintaining stable blood sugar levels. When it comes to your mid-section, too, it helps to keep you tighter. Beyond the size and frequency, the quality and specifics of the food matter a great deal, too. (See next!)
#6 Without foods that will aggravate and potentially bloat your midsection
Throughout this three-month prep, I’ve eliminated my off-season staples of oats and dairy (aside from my whey protein shakes). With less than three weeks out, my beloved casein protein powder and eggs are out; avocado and almonds have been replaced with oil; extra lean turkey replaces chicken; only cream of rice and sweet potatoes remain on the carb list; and my veggie menu is limited to asparagus, green beans, zucchini, squash, and salad greens.
#7 With posing to de-emphasize your mid-section
Compared to the early days of the Bikini Division, there is much more leeway now in the front pose – i.e. the one that displays the front side of your body and your midsection. This new flexibility allows every competitor to find the right front pose for her body and her midsection. I’ll go into more detail about this after the show. Until then…
Dream Big. Desire More.