From Pregnant to Pro - How to Build a Pro PhysiqueAug 23, 2023
Let me tell you a story. 2-years ago my client Leila Hardy was in Las Vegas with her husband JC, but it wasn’t your normal rowdy Vegas trip!
Instead, Leila was heavily pregnant and there to support JC compete in the WBFF Worlds Physique Show. On that day, JC ended up winning his WBFF Pro Card and he was coached by my brother, Mark Carroll to his title.
Fast forward 2-years… Now we’re back at the same WBFF physique show, but this time it’s Leila competing. However, now I’m the Carroll brother who is coaching a Hardy competitor.
The outcome was the same though… Leila won her category and the Bikini division title, becoming a new WBFF Pro! All it took was 2-years of hard work!
Here’s 3 secrets to how Leila went from pregnant, to Pro:
1/ Revealing her Physique
2/ Building her Physique
3/ The Mental Game
REVEALING HER PHYSIQUE
Dieting is hard at the best of times, but dieting for a physique comp is a different beast. Whilst the demands are the same, the difference is you must push longer and deeper.
This is because you must get far leaner to be competitive, but you also must preserve your muscle mass too. Crucially though, not every physique show, or division will have the same criteria as another, which is why you must personalise the approach.
The dilemma is Leila came to me stuck…
This is because Leila initially opted to briefly diet herself. But she achieved slow progress, then hit a wall, before becoming stuck. Then she hired me, but we didn’t have much time to mess around.
My job was multifaceted and centred around:
- Get Leila unstuck and kickstart progress
- Maximise muscle retention and dietary adherence
- To present her best physique on stage
TO BECOME UNSTUCK, I had to alter energy balance, which is the secret to continued fat loss progress.
This is easy to do in theory, but harder in reality. You become stuck for a simple reason – metabolic adaptation. This is a normal response to dieting and if it didn’t happen and you just kept losing forever, you would… Die!
Your body adapts due to both the weight loss and the dietary conditions imposed upon it. Ironically, your body is trying to help in many ways, by adjusting our energy expenditure to factor in the limited fuel we’re providing it, which keeps us alive!
Metabolic adaptation is why many people claim, “diets don’t work!”, which is flat out wrong! Diets do work, they just have a super low success rate because many people don’t truly understand how to:
- Counter metabolic adaption and keep progressing
- Understand how to sustain their diet afterwards
In Leila’s scenario, to kickstart progress, I altered energy balance initially via a reduction in her calorie intake. This re-created a sufficient calorie deficit to achieve new progress.
Interestingly, one funny thing I’ve learnt over the years as a physique coach is this - often little strategy changes are all you need to get the scale moving again. Yet, you will still keep adapting over the course of a diet, which is why continued changes are always needed.
This is why I kept altering Leila’s strategy, but I attacked both energy in and energy output! In fact, it was the progressive increase of Leila’s activity levels which was one of the keys to her progress. Visually, the changes would look like this:
Whilst increasing Leila’s activity does come with a bigger time cost, the positive is it allows you to eat contextually more food over the diet. Crucially though, you don’t need magical “fat loss workouts” here to aid dieting success.
Rather, I primarily increased her daily steps, plus cardio to do the trick. We also mostly used steady state cardio, as it is less taxing and stressful, plus not heavily reliant on carbs for fuel as HIIT cardio is.
TO MAXIMISE MUSCLE RETENTION AND ADHERENCE, I also strategically increased Leila’s calories when needed.
I did this via refeed days and mini diet breaks, with her calories temporarily returning to adjusted maintenance levels. These calorie increases allowed brief restoration and takes the pressure off, which is one secret to superior dietary adherence.
Plus, in my opinion these refeeds, and diet break support the reverse diet process too and a more sustainable result. Simply because you don’t go months without eating superior food and develop a poor relationship with food, which is sadly far too common.
Whilst emerging research does suggest that the chief benefit of diet breaks is largely on the adherence front, personally I do still there are other potential benefits too. Primarily on the training performance front as it can potentially provide a boost and aid continued overload.
Doing this is important, as if you keep progressing in the gym, you’re less likely to lose your precious existing muscle mass! Thus, if you optimally preserve your muscle mass, your body composition at the end of the diet will be superior, which is what we want!
TO PRESENT LEILA’S BEST PHYSIQUE ON STAGE, we didn’t push but rather we pulled back.
So, in the final days during “peak week”, I pulled back on Leila’s activity and strategically increased her calories. By doing this, you can reduce the stress which your body is under which impacts your aesthetic appearance.
Plus, by loading back in more fuel, chiefly carbohydrates, your body composition can further improve as muscle glycogen can be replenished. This results in more muscle volume and density, to better showcase your muscle mass.
BUILDING HER PHYSIQUE
You don’t have to step on stage to build your ultimate physique. However, the demands are the same, and to build your dream physique you must:
- Optimally fuel your body
- Train your butt off
- Repeat over time
So, if you’re seeking to build a pro level physique, you need the right strategy and effort to support the pursuit. Muscle building is literally a process though and it takes time!
My client Anath who is shown below is a great example of this. She built an amazing physique with me over a 12-month period, but the goal wasn’t to compete.
Thankfully, effort wasn’t an issue with Leila as she already pushed hard. From experience, this takes time for anyone to learn in the gym, but it’s far easier if you’re coming from an athletic background as Leila was.
Yet, there’s more to muscle gain than just effort and rocking up to the gym. You need the calories to support the process and need to embrace periods of temporarily higher body fat levels.
You also need the right training strategy to maximise training progress. To acquire the most optimal program for you, typically you’ll want to invest in personalised coaching.
This is because your training can be strategically tweaked to better suit your strengths and weaknesses, then it adapts over time as you do too. Yet sometimes, a great strategy can be found without a coach.
This is the route Leila went and how she built the muscle she needed to win her WBFF Pro Card. So, what programming did she follow? Leila relied on a different Carroll here, as she used my brother Mark’s brilliant programs.
Whilst today you’ll typically find online mostly generic, junk programs which will cap your progress, Mark’s programs are the exception. So, for the right person, they can unlock amazing progress, if you’re self-sufficient and don’t need the support.
This shows you the power of consistent hard work and dedication, coupled with great program design, when it comes to building muscle.
THE MENTAL GAME
What’s often overlooked with the physique transformation process, is how crucial mental toughness is. Whilst the outcome of dieting can be highly rewarding, the process is bloody hard!
At times, you will have to navigate low energy, elevated hunger, cravings, and higher stress. Plus, to optimally support the process, it consumes all facets of your life, and you must continually exert dietary control during many tempting scenarios. This can challenge willpower and adherence, which can be tough.
On the flip side, if you’re chasing muscle gain, you don’t lack the calories. However, if you’re dipping into a calorie surplus you will have to embrace body fat gain temporarily, with it the natural by-product of supporting hypertrophy potential.
So, whether you’re pursing fat loss or attacking muscle building, you need the right mindset to support each pursuit. You also will need to become comfortable, getting uncomfortable at times too.
This is because you need to ride out not only the physical challenges of dieting, but the mental and emotional ones. If the fat loss process was easy, everyone would be shredded!
Plus, when training, you must want to push and chase the hard reps, as these are often your most stimulatory for growth potential. This is why I like to say to clients, we need to “embrace the suck” to achieve a special outcome.
Though this is far easier to do when you have the right internal motivation driving you, coupled with a coach and support team which has your back too.
So, there you go – this is how my client Leila went from pregnant to Pro! You can build your ultimate physique too, but you need the right strategy, effort, and sufficient time.
Thanks for reading,