columnist author photo

"You're going to suffer the next three weeks."

That wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear from my coach John Meadows in response to my weekly check-in. But he was right. How else would I lose the 10 pounds needed to make the light heavyweight class at Team Universe like we had originally planned?

I was already training twice a day, but John was reluctant to drop food. Instead, we increased activity, adding in an additional 45 minutes of cardio in the middle of the day. With the addition of posing, my training time was exceeding four hours a day and, needless to say, with reduced calories and this low level of body fat, I wasn't able to maintain this for long. I hit my wall and broke. The number on the scale went up despite my efforts. I was irritable and exhausted, a zombie who hated the world. I hated not feeling like myself.

Honestly, as the mental exhaustion continues to set in, I’m having trouble creating flow to this article. My brain function is at an all-time low, and even simple daily tasks are becoming extremely difficult. However, as any experienced competitor knows, if you want to be conditioned, suffering is part of the process.

After a week, I confided in John, telling him that it wasn't realistic to keep this up for the next two weeks and that we were headed in the wrong direction. Our conclusion—the increased stress levels were resulting in increased cortisol levels, which were causing water retention. New game plan: reduce stress.

I began doing fasted cardio in the morning for 60 minutes. This consisted of walking on a treadmill at 2.2 mph on a five percent incline. This made an immediate difference, and I was able to train with more intensity at night and achieve a pump for the first time in a week. I transitioned to total body training. At two weeks out, if you're conditioned, you aren't gaining any more muscle mass. Instead, it becomes about muscle preservation, nutrient updates and calorie burning. Causing too much damage to a muscle belly that is already depleted of glycogen can actually lead to muscle loss. After all, what else does the body have to pull from for energy?

For diet, we reduced to one cup of white rice post-workout, as the demands of training weren't going to be nearly as intense. Over the course of the next week, I began to feel better mentally and physically and my physique continued to improve. Things were working, and I was feeling on point.

There still remained one problem though. My body weight hadn't changed. I was still 207.6 pounds in the morning. How the hell am I going to drop 9.4 pounds in a week?!

The awesome thing about working with a coach like John is he listens. He respects me as a fellow coach and listens to all the feedback I give him. He agreed that dropping carbs or fats any lower than they already were might be problematic, as my body was already looking tired and depleted. I may not be able to fill back out in time, which is what happened to me a few weeks prior to my qualifying show. It's a very frustrating feeling when you look better the morning after your show with a nice cheat meal in you.

RELATED How to Dial in Your Bodybuilding Condition

Instead, we made a reduction in dietary protein. This consisted of cutting most serving sizes in half. After all, I'm not creating near the muscular damage that my body is traditionally used to from training. I'm still meeting well above minimum protein requirements to stimulate protein synthesis and preserve the muscle mass I do have.

The result was immediate. My glutes came in overnight and I was 206.6 the next morning, a whole pound lighter! Finally, after a total of 15 months of preparation, I felt ready and confident with just six days to go.

The next morning I looked even harder and drier. I rushed to the scale eager to see what I weighed. 205! Another 1.6 pounds dropped in a day. Holy shit! It’s working! I may actually be able to pull this thing off!

The next day consisted of traveling and spending an ungodly amount of time in a sauna—two and a half hours to be exact. I would sweat and then drink, slowly bringing my weight down while replacing fluids and electrolytes. This worked extremely well, and I went to bed the night before weigh-ins at 205 pounds. Still seven pounds to go!

Side Chest-Team U

Photo via Jeff Binns

Fast forward a's the day that I was concerned about—weigh-ins. Multiple steps have been taken to bring me closer to my goal, including drastic measures such as limiting nutrient intake, taking extended sauna sessions and even limiting fluid intake the last 16 hours prior to weigh-ins. I was ecstatic to read 201 pounds on the scale first thing out of bed on Thursday morning. Only three pounds left. I know I can do this!

I went back to what I believed to be my last sauna session until I had sweat out the three pounds needed to make the light heavyweight class. I made it! I f**&ing did it! Finally, a sigh of relief.

I went down to the check-in line extremely exhausted. After standing in line for an hour, it was finally time to get this over with and weigh in. I stepped on the scale and...199 pounds!

Are you f**&ing kidding me?! Their scale is heavy. This meant that I had to go back into the sauna...again.

It’s very difficult to explain the frustration that I felt at this moment, but it didn’t matter. I've put everything I have into this and a few more minutes sitting in a hot sauna wasn't going to stand in my way from putting myself in the best position possible. After this final sauna session, I was able to weigh in again. This time I weighed 197 pounds. Finally I did it!

I checked in with John immediately and let him know that I made weight. He replied, “I’m just happy you’re still alive."

It’s July 4, and I’m in Teaneck, New Jersey. The long awaited show day for Team Universe was here. I’ve been preparing for this show for well over fifteen months, fifteen months for a total of a few short minutes on stage. Thousands of dollars invested along with countless hours of training and dieting. This preparation was difficult.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling confident, the most confident I've felt to date. I nailed it. I was at my all-time best. This was me at 100 percent. The goal was to win Team Universe. After days, months and years of hard work, it was a huge sigh of relief to know that I had left no stone unturned, no question unanswered. I truly gave this everything that I had inside of me, and the end result was exactly what I had pictured.

Fast forward a few hours and we’re at prejudging. Even though I’ve done competitions in the past, there are always things that happen, that you can’t prepare for because no show is the same as the last. For instance, I was shocked to realize how fast the judges had the competitors transition through the poses. This was something that I wasn't used to. I honestly questioned how it was possible for the judges to assess the physiques on stage so quickly. However, this is something every competitor new to the national stage says and it's something that I'll be more prepared for next time. Moments later, my heart sank, as I realized that I hadn't made first callouts. This realization was a huge disappointment.

As the day progressed and friends and family reached out to me, I was numb. At that point, the only feedback I was interested in was from my coach John Meadows. John told me that I looked fantastic. To hear him say how proud he was of me was a true honor and the best reward that I could've received. He said that with my work ethic, I have real potential. I'm excited to see what we can accomplish together in the future. His words pushed me to continue, and keep continuing, this journey.

Looking back, this was the best package that I've had on stage. With that, I'm ready to begin improving my physique once again. I've accomplished a lot and have done well naturally. That being said, it may be time for me to take the next step to further progress the successful bodybuilding career I hope to have.

As I continue the journey, I need to be at the top of the heavyweight class. Because I'll be moving up a weight class, I'm going to focus on adding quality size and keeping my proportions even. I need to bring up my back the most to match the rest of my body. Currently, I'll be reverse dieting and slowly incorporating more food as my recovery improves and I'm able to ramp up the training volume and intensity. However, for the next few months, it will be minimal changes, as I have reduced training volume, intensity and frequency until my body recovers from the months of abuse I just put it through.

I was fortunate enough to have elitefts™ extend my column series, so I'll be documenting my progress and the changes I make with my diet and training. My goal is to stay relatively lean and within 15 pounds of competition weight.