I have always been a huge fan of weightlifting, so I can't help but be curious about the lifestyle of bikini bodybuilders. Not only do they have incredible physiques, but I really admire their work ethic at the gym. A friend of mine (who shall remain unnamed) recently competed in her first competition, so I learned a lot about what it takes to get on stage and have your body judged by strangers. Not surprisingly, it takes a hell of a lot of work, especially when it comes to your diet.
My friend sent me the workout schedule her trainer designed for her when she first started training for the competition, and to be honest, it didn't look that different than the program I'm currently on. So I figured I'd give it a shot and see what happened. Here's how the workouts were broken up during the week:
- Monday: Lower Body
- Tuesday: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
- Wednesday: Glutes/Back/Biceps
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Lower Body
- Saturday: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
- Sunday: Glutes/Back/Biceps
- Monday: Rest
As you can see, it's not exactly a seven-day plan. You work out for three days, then rest, and so on and so forth, so your rest days will be on a different day each week. I usually lift weight from Monday to Saturday, and then rest on Sunday, so this was certainly different.
As for my diet, I had to start counting my macros, which I have not done in a very long time. I eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, and I've never really felt the need to count each gram of protein or carbs, because I know I'm getting all the nutrients I need and I feel strong and healthy. But I committed to living the life of a bikini bodybuilder for a whole week, diet included. My aim was to eat 1,800 calories a day, with 130 grams of protein, 130 grams of carbs, and 89 grams of fat. Phew. And this wasn't even in the cutting phase! Right before competition, bodybuilders will often cut their calories down to 1,200 a day or lower — while still working out daily. Yikes.
Seven days isn't a long time to stick with something, though, so I went for it. Here's what I learned.
Bikini Bodybuilding Isn't Exactly Healthy
There are many bodybuilders who will confirm this to be true, but the sad fact is that bikini bodybuilding is not something you do to get healthy. It's all about drastically changing your physique in a very short amount of time, and this puts strain on the body in many different ways. You don't have that much time to rest and you aren't giving yourself enough time to practice mobility and keep your body supple (more on that later).
It's also not a very healthy diet. I don't count my calories every day, but my guess is that I normally eat about 2,000-2,300, since I'm lifting weights almost every single day. So cutting up to 500 calories yet maintaining my rigorous workout program? That was tough. I felt pretty tired for most of the week, and I really wanted to eat more. If I'm being honest, on the fifth day, I said "F*ck it" and just ate an extra few hundred calories. I was starving!
The Workouts Are Tough but Totally Doable
When I woke up after the morning after my first lower body session, I was pretty damn sore. The workout consisted of the following (4x8 means 4 sets of 8 reps):
- Pause Squats (hold for 3-5 seconds at the bottom), 4x8
- Seated Leg Curl 3x12
- Romanian Deadlift (toes elevated on weight plates), 4x12
- Barbell Hip Thrust 4x12
- Barbell Glute Bridge 3x12
- Hip Abduction Machine 4x12
- Standing Calf Raise 3x12
Are you sweating just reading that? Because that's a lot of movement to pack into one workout. It took me over 75 minutes to do it all. I have to give props to all the bodybuilders out there — they put in hours and hours of work at the gym to sculpt their legs and butt.
However, the other chest/shoulders/triceps and glutes/back/biceps routines weren't much different than what I normally do, so I didn't get sore from those routines at all. Here's what my chest/shoulders/triceps day looked like:
- Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 4x12
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4x10
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise 4x12
- Barbell Front Raise 3x12
- Tricep Pushdown 4x10
- Cable Overhead Tricep Extension 4x12
- Skull Crushers 3x12
It's All About How You Look, Not How You Feel
Think about this for a minute: what's the purpose of training for a bikini bodybuilding competition? It's to look good, and nothing else. That means the program will inherently lack a big part of fitness that is actually the most important of all: mobility and flexibility. Because flexibility doesn't show up in the muscles on stage for everyone to see, it's not a priority for bodybuilders, which is very worrisome.
I've spoken to several bikini bodybuilders who have absolutely no understanding of mobility and its role in our lives, and I can't really blame them. Their coaches don't teach them about how functionality and flexibility is the foundation to all healthy movement. There's also no work on core, stability, and balance, which are crucial parts of fitness our bodies desperately need to be well.
Because you're spending so much time lifting weights and sculpting your body, there isn't enough time — or energy, for that matter — to invest in mobility. And I was really missing my stretch sessions, yoga, and Animal Flow. Seven days without mobility work left me feeling stiff, and I could feel the lower back pain creeping in by the end of the week.
Diligently Counting Macros Is Hard Work
Again, I have to give props to these bodybuilders. They put a lot of time and effort into counting their macros, and it takes more work than you probably realize. Every single thing you put in your mouth has to be calculated and recorded. I don't know if it was because I'm not used to counting my macros, but I found this to be tedious and, honestly, very annoying.
Finally, I hated having to shove down 130 grams of protein. It felt like such an excess amount that I didn't really need, but this simply goes back to the fact that bodybuilding is all about growing muscles and looking good, so you need a shit ton of protein to make that happen.
All in all, I've got a lot of respect for all the bodybuilders out there. But would I ever consider competing myself? No way. I find that there's much more happiness to be found when you're living a truly healthy, balanced lifestyle.