Photoshoot, Physique Competition or Both?

One of my passions as a coach is to help clients improve their self esteem by encouraging weight training and healthy eating as a means of improving confidence and body composition. Before I was a coach, however, I was a ballet dancer. I danced for Northern Ballet for 10 years.

For many years, therefore, I was an industry where your body was your tool - scrutinised to the nth degree – a situation which resulted in a certain level of body dysmorphia being commonplace. It was a career and life that I had worked hard for and I knew that the scrutinisation came with the package; it had to be accepted. This was an art form and a discipline quite different to the gym life I now lead, but in hindsight I can confidently say that for a decade my world wasn't all that far away from the world of bodybuilding, physique and bikini competing that is rapidly growing within today's fitness industry.

The transition from ballet to bikini was, therefore, almost a natural one.

Competitors step on stage to be judged by a panel to determine whether they have the ‘perfect’ physique for that particular category in that particular competition; whether their look is better than the other 20 folk standing next to them in the line up.

Month and months of hard training and precise dieting go into this one moment on stage, not forgetting the money spent on posing classes, tanning, hair, makeup & costumes. Many people who do it, love it and do it over and over every year trying to bring a better package to the stage. They will also quite often do a photoshoot either before or after because that way you get plenty of photos to use for self promotion and, quite frankly – if you’re going to that much effort- you might as well get as much out of the process as you can!

Many of you will know that last year I placed in the Bikini division of my competition- something that I am extremely proud of- however this year when people ask whether I will be competing or not my answer so far has been no.

Instead I decided to do a photoshoot for which I did a 12 week prep.

In this world of competition being commonplace, the question “Why do a photoshoot, get into great shape & not step on stage?” is almost guaranteed, and this is my answer.

For me personally even though I like a challenge, I don’t see the point in doing hard things for their own sake. Everything needs to have a purpose and be a part of a journey.

What I learnt from last year was that I enjoyed the prep phase a lot more than the actual competition day itself. Maybe it’s because I spent more than a decade of my life on stage, having my hair & makeup done every night & adorning more costumes than real clothes. I’ve probably filled my quota of time on the stage (if there is one in ones life!).

However, it was the weeks of prep where I saw my body changing week to week, honing & sculpting it into something I had never seen before that was more than fascinating to me. Manipulating diet & training to develop a body I had never had before.

This year I chose to do a photoshoot because I still wanted to improve my physique from last year & I believe that having an end goal date incentivises & motivates people more than just having an ongoing goal with no end in sight. The pressure on yourself to do a shoot is majorly less than being judged by 6 people you don’t know. When you see your own photos the only person who is judging you is yourself. BUT you still have to get into great shape.

Also- with some clients who come to me wanting to achieve the same developments in their physiques it’s also important to be able to show them as their coach how it’s done, to develop the prep process from year to year tweaking techniques & to learn what not to do from my own experiences. In my opinion it helps enormously to be able to identify with your clients going through such a process as it’s a tough mental situation - especially towards the end!

This year’s prep was a lot different in the following ways:

Overall prep time was reduced by half. I did 12 weeks as opposed to the 24 I did last year. Why? Because my starting point was already pretty lean compared to last year & also knew that I could get into the shape I wanted to in 12 weeks. I also selfishly wanted it to be over by the time British Summertime came around so I can spend lunchtimes in the sun in the parks as opposed to the gym!
My training plan through the 12 weeks was significantly reduced in volume. Almost half that of last years.
This resulted in no injuries whatsoever- no niggles, no pains, nothing.

I maintained a much higher level of strength throughout with only a small drop-off curve towards the end which is usually inevitable

I discovered cardio I actually enjoyed doing! The watt bike for me is my preferred choice as I love cycling & spin classes. Put those pumping tunes on & you’re off!

I discovered that foaming rolling mostly exacerbated DOMS in my legs & did more harm than good.

My aim for this year was to come in with more muscle mass & not as lean to the same extent. I’m happy & pleased with the outcome & together with a great photographer- we got some shots in the can that I will always look back on with pride. It was also a whole day of unpressurized fun.

Mentally it’s been a lot easier too as not only did I know what was in store to start with, but the shorter duration meant that coming out of it was simpler.

This is not a blog slating physique competitions in any way- the competitors who participate in these are to be highly respected for their discipline & dedication- however my point is that you can get into the same fantastic shape, achieve the same results & learn the same processes by simply doing something like a photoshoot. You can & will also feel an enormous sense of pride in what you have achieved in the same way. You don’t have to be in a skimpy top & bottom combo- you can wear whatever gear makes you feel comfortable & shots in hoodies look fabulous too.

Moreover, you don’t have to stand and be judged by others, based on criteria which is largely subjective, and be forced to compare yourself to other people (which is something most people spend their lives telling others to avoid!).

I’m now enjoying mixing my workout up in the gym working on strength & technique & enjoying having so much energy! I’m also trialling out the new exciting line of supplements hot off the press & that has been created by our very own Ben Coomber:

Check it out here if you’re interested:

Oh and by the way… my trophy from last year. The one I worked so hard for and for which I subjected myself to the judgement of others, because it meant so much to me?

It sits in the back of a cupboard.

Blog by coach Polly Thng.