As a female millennial on social media, I see it all the time. Athletes are creating fitness-focused profiles to share their bodybuilding journeys. They post progress photographs during contest preparation, at the shows, and from professional photo shoots done while stage lean. Many of these women strive to become "Instagram famous" after a fitness competition. They might desire a philosophy to maintain a lean physique all year. They build up a following, attain sponsorship, and stay cut. Some women get paid to do that. Lucky them! Who doesn’t enjoy having rippling six-pack abs or those long, striated legs? I have a confession: I wanted to be “Instafamous." Thankfully, not anymore.

I competed in my first bodybuilding competition in August of 2015. It was a 17-week preparation for an NPC figure show and it was definitely a learning process. From workouts and meal preparations to macronutrients, meal timing, and posing, it was amazing all the things I learned within that time. After my first show, I had about five months until I would start dieting down, increasing workload intensity, and preparing for two shows in May and June of 2016. I did not work with my coach in the off-season and decided to take it upon myself. This was a hefty mistake. I really did not know what I was doing.

RECENT: Hello, My Name is: Gym Visitor

If you have ever started a meal plan or new diet, you might have the option for off meals, cheat meals, refeed meals, or whatever you choose to call them. They are meant to not only boost your morale and mind, but the increased carbs kickstart your metabolism into overdrive. For me, having a coach is a key driver for accountability. I would check in once per week minimum, send photographs and weight measurements, and my coach would prescribe adjustments accordingly. I thought I would be able to handle it all on my own, and for the most part, I did. However, for about eight weeks, I was in a vicious cycle of choosing that one off meal and binging. It would be way out of proportion. Rather than being one meal, it would turn into enough calories for the entire day. The following day, I would feel physically ill from the quick digesting, sugar-filled foods I had consumed.

3 weeks post show 2015

I finally snapped out of it, put my head on straight, and started preparing for the spring shows. Even with those “binges,” I maintained a low body weight. I weighed 121 for stage weight and only put on about five pounds during that break between preparing for shows. I had kept my average daily caloric intake pretty low during the previous few months because my mind liked the thought of being lean. In retrospect, I think this cost me some muscle development those few months. When I restricted my food intake, there was less naturally found nutrients for my body. It had to work harder to maintain mass. I reached the realization that I did not want to do that again. During my prep in the spring, I discussed with my coach wanting to structure an off-season. The end of June began that journey.

Jr USA Side 1

My coach and I developed a three-month plan to slowly increase calories, decrease cardio, and reach a steady maintenance level. I am now up 12 pounds from my spring stage weight and lifting heavier than ever. My energy level is high, my strength has increased, and so has my body fat composition. No more six pack...for now. I still have a flat stomach and some definition in my shoulders, back, and legs, but not to the extreme as when I am in a caloric deficit. It has taken some additional mental focus, but I am finally okay with it. Why? I identified what I want more.

August 2016, 2.5 months after Jr. USA

Life is all about choices. In bodybuilding and fitness, you can choose to pursue the constant aesthetic route. You can choose to build mass and prepare for an improved show season. Would you rather look leaner year round or have the chance to bring a more complete package to the stage? I am striving to earn my NPC/IFBB Pro Card. I know my weakness is a lack of muscle density and shape development. This takes time to grow. If I can remind myself of this whenever I have that urge to diet down again, I can stay focused on that goal. It is the difference between what I want now and what I want most.

The past six months, I have been teaching and learning independently in my own off-season. I mentioned above that I had learned a lot in my first prep phase. There is even more I want to learn and understand. At age 24 and five feet, four inches tall, I am maintaining 2450 calories per day and lifting five times per week, with two off/stretch days. These training days are by no means easy. I personally believe the off-season can be even more strenuous if you increase work capacity like I am. But, it is worth it. I am changing pace and working with a new coach to focus on improving weak areas, mainly my shoulders, back, and hamstrings. I am beginning to physically see my muscle development and increase in size. I am also up to 135 pounds! As a woman, this might sound unusual. And that is okay. I have developed my own philosophy for what I value in a bodybuilding off-season:

  • Added calories
  • Fun, clean, protein recipes
  • Increased strength
  • Improved workout form
  • A full, muscular, feminine shape

Nov. 12 Off season

This perspective does not stop me from sharing my journey on social media. In fact, I am more excited than ever to post progress photos, #transformationtuesday side-by-sides, and spark the conversations that allow me to share that to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle, I recommend not being lean 24/7. If you have competed in the past or are planning to compete, consider mapping out your short and long term goals. What makes the most sense and how can the coach you work with help you reach those aspirations? Right now, I don’t strive to be Instafamous. I’ll take being Instastrong instead.

Caroline Weihl had always been a skinny farm girl. However, in January 2014, she started her journey to become strong(her). She was introduced to weight training with the Ohio State BarBELLES course her senior year. She aspires to earn her IFBB Pro Card and compete internationally. She is also pursuing opportunities to educate and consult with professionals in the agriculture industry and help them live healthier lifestyles. Caroline can be found on Instagram @strongsweetcaroline.