One year ago Brandi Laughlin walked in our doors and wanted to essentially compete in a bikini competition within one year’s time.
She had already lost about 60 pounds on her own through making better eating choices, running for the past five years, and had just started getting into lifting weights; however, even she testified that she wasn’t quite sure if she was doing everything correctly.
After spending more time talking to her, I realized she had already taken care of a lot of the hard things required when it comes to training someone. Things such as hormonal imbalances, changing lifestyle habits, ridding the notion that the number on the scale is a reflection of her health and fitness, etc…
Those things make a trainer’s job a lot easier since we have to spend quite a bit of our time coaching, not just the education process that goes with exercising and diet, but coaching a person to transition to healthier habits that lead to their end goal.
After our conversation and movement assessment, I decided to treat this as if we were going to start from the ground up, other words, a “clean slate.”
The Workout and Diet
I don’t hold anything back from people that are curious when it comes to designing my client’s workouts or nutrition because, to be honest, it is nothing that you can’t look up online. Even our blog page has quite a bit of info for workouts and our theories on diet.
With her wanting to do a bikini competition we made this a year long goal.
A year is a long time in someone’s eyes and this can be a double edge sword because if they have a bad month, well it’s ok because there are still 11 more to go. If they have a bad week, that’s fine because there are still 50+ weeks to go.
That thought process can quickly catch up to anyone, because next thing you know, you ONLY have three months left before you step on stage.
So, what I tend to do is break these year+ goals up into 12-week mini goals and each of those 12-weeks mini goals SHOULD give us the end result we are looking for when the year hits.
It’s much easier for the mind to think in terms of 12 weeks or three months vs a year or longer, and with Brandi, we broke up her training into several different phases.
Phase 1: Acclimation – The acclimation phase was all about just teaching her how to move properly, correcting any movement imbalances, activating muscles and showing her how to properly engage muscles that may not have been worked from years of running or previous lifestyle.
In this phase, her program was just total body movement three to four times a week with some HIIT at the end of each session.
An example of a workout for this phase:
1A. Squat or deadlfit x 20
2A. Overhead press of any kind x 15
3A. T-bar rows (or any rowing variation) x 20
3B. Dips (or any push up variation) x 15+
4A. Pull-ups/chin-up x failure
5A. Skull Crushers x 20
6A. Bicep Curl Variation x 20
6B. Ab movement x 20
HIIT cardio for 10min
*We would do anywhere from 2-5 sets depending on the goal of that day’s session.
Phase 2: Strength – The Strength phase was all about getting her STRONGER because, to be honest, most people that start out and want to do competitions are NOT strong enough to lift the weights they need to lift to elicit the muscular development they are looking for.
Do these people (Brandi in that case) need to be superman/woman strong? Of course not. BUT, they need to realize that lifting a 20lb barbell for squats, 5lb dumbbells for back and arms are NOT going to give them a competition winning body NOR a fit, strong, athletic physique.
So we had to focus on getting Brandi stronger in some core movements (squats, deadlifts, dips, overhead press, lunges, etc..) so that she felt comfortable with heavier weights and could handle these weights safer with solid form.
An example of her Deadlift day looked like:
1A. Deadlift 3 reps at 85%, 87%, 89% of her E1RM (E1RM = Estimated 1 Rep Max)
2A. Front Squats 6 reps at 75-80% of her E1RM
2B. Chin-ups x 8
3A. Glute Ham Raise x 20
3B. Ab Wheel x 12
4A. HIIT for 10-15min
These workouts were VERY heavy and taxing on her nervous system so they weren’t ever very long, but instead designed to get her more and more comfortable with heavier weights. This phase, however, did start adding some muscle to her frame which was a perfect transition into the next phase.
Phase 3: Building – The building phase was all about making her muscles grow and develop, and for Brandi we had to focus on her legs and arms… A LOT. She had such long limbs that they needed a lot of work to fill out; so we spent a bulk of this phase on her legs/glutes and arms.
Sample Leg Day:
1A. Squats x 10-12 at 70%(ish)
2A. Single Leg variation (her favorite was Bulgarian) x 8-15
3A. Hip Thrust x 12 with a 303 Tempo (3 seconds up, 3 seconds down)
3B. Wide Grip Pull-ups x 8+
4A. GHRs x 20
4B. Side Laterals x 25+ (or beating her numbers from last workout)
5A. Ab variation
Phase 4: Contest prep – The contest prep phase was all about the diet and diet manipulation while having her stay as close to the weights that she was lifting in her muscle building phase while we slowly cut her calories. During this phase, we did increase her cardio to 3 HIIT sessions a week.
*Typical Day of Eating:
Meal 1: 4oz of protein, 1 cup of greens, 1/2 avocado
Meal 2: 4oz of protein, 1 cup of greens, 1 serving of nut butter
Meal 3: 4oz of protein, 1 cup of greens, 2/3cup of rice
Meal 4: 4oz of protein, 1 cup of greens, 2/3cup of rice
**Meal 5: 4oz of protein, 1 cup of greens, 2/3cup of rice
*There were plenty of changes we had to make but this was the staple of her diet for most days of the week.
**The 5th meal was optional depending on how she was feeling or looking that day
***We subbed in a cheat meal/refeed meal about ever 7-10 days for her last meal of the day
On some days we had to bring her carbs WAY down to 1/2 a serving for the day and on other days her carbs were nearly 50% of her total calories; it was all a learning experience to find what her body responded best to.
Side Note: Everything that is listed here was BRANDI’S diet and exercise program designed for HER body/history/phases. Feel free to try it, but understand that you may not get the same results as she did, so adjustments will need to be made.
Challenges During These Phases
Nothing EVER goes smoothly in life and there will always be challenges and that goes with training as well. But that doesn’t mean we ever stopped and said “F.. this;” we just mapped out a plan and kept trucking forward.
Really Brandi was a trooper for the entire process, but I will say she didn’t have any problem expressing to me how “excited” she was for more Bulgarians and lunges. LOL
BUT we had PLENTY of challenges that we had to overcome and this is just part of the process with any client.
Some of the challenges that really caught my attention during this year-long progress were:
Experience – The more I work with newer people the more that I realize experience in the gym and under the weights, hold a LOT of value. The more time you have under your belt lifting and pushing, and even straining to a degree, the more muscle you have, the better you know your body and the faster we can get your diet down because the body has been to a similar level at one point in time.
If you ever take a look at the top physique competitors you’ll notice a VERY substantial difference in their bodies from their first year to their fifth. AND you’ll especially notice how much easier it is for them to get contest ready (could be because they are constantly closer to contest shape).
The level of awareness and the mindset of a person that just has the experience of dieting and working out simply makes the process so much easier; not only for the body, but for the MIND because for anyone that has ever dieted down to VERY lean levels probably understands that some days are just mindf–ks.
Brandi had spent more years as a runner than as a lifter so her body is making a transition.
Stubborn muscles – Everyone has them but Brandi had some stubborn delts and glutes, these things made us WORK to find what they liked and even then we had to hammer the hell out of them to really get the response we were looking for and I think this ended up costing some time. BUT it IS part of the process. Needless to say, if you are on a competition time schedule, losing weeks/months isn’t ideal, especially in a building phase.
Mindset around lifestyle – This is the hardest thing to change, even for the most wanting and willing of people, and with her life taking a turn this year, to say her plate was quite full, is an understatement.
She had to start over multiple times creating new eating habits and routines due to HER lifestyle changing. Some days she was just flat out exhausted from “life” and just didn’t have an appetite nor the mental energy to even workout. If anyone has ever been through any emotionally taxing life endeavors, then they know that developing and keeping a new routine during those times can tire even the best of us.
Overcoming The Challenges
There really isn’t anything we can do with experience challenge except get her in the gym more often so that she can become more comfortable with the movements, the weights and finding out what works best for HER body.
With the stubborn muscles, what we did that made a WORLD of difference was to incorporate paused and tempo work with her glutes to keep them under tension longer.
We found that when she rushed the rep with her legs she wasn’t really using the glutes to lift the weight. Instead, other muscles were starting to take over. What we did was have her do a Bulgarian squat, but hold the bottom portion of the movement for a 2 count, FOCUSING ON THE GLUTES then standing up. Instantly she felt her glutes activate which led me to believe that she just needed to slow down and take her time (easier said than done when your muscles are on fire and you have weight on your back).
Another trick was 303 tempo work, 3 seconds to lower the weight then 3 seconds to lift/stand it back up. Each rep took about 6+ seconds so when you have 8-12 reps you have a pretty long set, BUT the RIGHT muscles were firing and starting to develop.
With her delts we had to incorporate an HFT protocol (high-frequency training), we saw that overhead pressing just wasn’t cutting it so we switch to dumbbell lateral raises BUT with VERY high reps almost every workout.
We kept her form strict and would have her do lateral raises with a lighter weight for sets of 25+, and each workout (sometimes 5 workouts a week) that she had, she would have to do more than the previous workout. This quickly started developing her medial delts.
Key Points YOU Can Use:
– Experience helps… A LOT. If you are just starting out don’t be discouraged if you don’t look like a fitness model after your first year, remember those people have been at this for YEARS.
– If the muscles are being stubborn it usually means that you need to slow down and do MORE reps with a lighter weight until you finally feel the muscle being worked THEN you can start adding the weight.
– Spend some time getting STRONGER, a strength phase does wonders for the body when it comes time to build some quality muscle.
– Have shorter term goals/focus points, don’t do the year-long thing. Instead, find something to focus on for an 8-12 week period and kill it.
– Track what your body responds best to, everybody’s BODY responds differently and if you take the time to just track and see what worked for you, it will make any leaning out or dieting process 10x easier.
Some Stats and Observations:
22% body fat
Show day stats:
14% body fat
Brandi didn’t have as much muscle showing as she had wanted during this show even though she was as 14% because she didn’t have enough developed muscle. For her to get her abdominal wall showing we would have to take her bodyfat down to nearly 10-11% and at that point in time you run the risk of looking gaunt.
This is/was a bikini show NOT a figure or bodybuilding so her being absolutely shredded and getting down to gaunt levels would have counted against her.
Mentally she was exhausted. This, in my opinion, was a combination of prepping for her first show (taxing for anyone) and transitioning her life to being a single mother (even more taxing). Her last month I could tell that the struggle was real. For her to tough this out was impressive with everything that she had going on.
In my opinion she did VERY WELL for her first show! I’m freaking proud of her and know that in a few years she will do some damage on a national level.
We’re gonna keep Brandi leaner this go-round; we’re trying not to let her body fat get above 18% at the high end. This will make it easier for her to get even leaner for her next competition, which we are looking at July 2015. This will give us plenty of time to make some BIG changes.
Since we get to skip the acclimation phase, we are going straight to a 12+ week building phase so the big focal points are building her glutes, delts, arms, and abdominal wall to add some quality muscle to those areas.
Poor girl…it looks like LOTS of single leg work and handicap stalls in her future.n LOL
We will probably still have to bring her bodyfat down for her next show to lower than 14%, but with the newer muscle that she is going to get over this offseason, it will show so much better, and sooner.
Ever since I first met her, I told her that she had a TON of potential, and just needed to stick with it for several years. In all reality, this will be 3+ year project to get her to where she has the potential to do some national level damage.
She has been bitten by the iron bug and she is hyped up to get back into the gym to start working on what she needs to, so I’m pretty sure this next show we will see some BIG changes and I’m excited about it!
If you want more updates or pictures on Brandi check out her site www.mamalaughlin.com.
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.
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