Programming- My Switch from Power to Aesthetic


Five weeks out. Five pounds to lose. Zero problems with that.


Well, I did it: I successfully made it through more than week without screwing with my macros, just like I’d promised! Even on days I was bloated or felt like I’d gone over on carbs (numbers were on, but body said it was too much), I stayed the course this entire week, and my body is sooooooo happy. It didn’t take long to remind itself how we do things on proper carb cycling, and I’ve been waking up feeling amazing- lean, tight, strong, all the things that indicate to me that things are going well. I did, after letting my body settle in to the old carb cycling schedule, formally begin my cut, though, so calories are a little lower, lifts are a little harder, but I’m leaning out phenomenally, nice and slow, and without much added cardio. No two-a-day misery for this girl!


Here are some highlights from my week:

  • I began posing FINALLY. I was terrified I’d never get started and I’d walk on stage looking like a well-muscled toddler in heels. Now at least I’ll look like I have a little bit of an idea what I’m doing.


  • Taking the stage, like…
    The similarities ARE striking, though…

    I deadlifted this week- even though it technically it’s not in my programming. But I LOVE deadlifting. Deadlifting is my favorite. And it is noted as an acceptable substitution if planned correctly.



So let’s talk programming, specifically, how did I get from powerlifting and Strongman to signing up to compete in figure?


I love to lift heavy. Until I had surgery five months ago (I won’t be cryptic- I hate to let people think I was broken, so here’s to keeping it real: I had my boobs done), I never lifted for any reason other than to increase my maxes. I followed powerlifting programming- 5/3/1 for a long time, in various forms, and Cube, and I also threw in some Strongman practice and competition just for fun. The aesthetic aspects of lifting were secondary to me. Yes, I maintained a lean and muscular physique, but I never thought to myself “my delts are out of balance with my triceps.” I was much more likely to say to myself “my overhead press game is weak, better step it up- might help my bench too!” It was all about numbers.


When I was told no bench for six months after surgery, I literally had a panic attack sitting in my car, right there in the hospital parking lot. I felt like I had died. Going in to surgery, I was told that within three weeks I would be back to the gym, anything goes, but during my check in with the doc that week, she laid that treasure on me. I felt lied to, taken advantage of. I had made it very clear that lifting was my life, and that I was absolutely ok with forgoing surgery if it would impede that aspect of my life. And here it was, too late. My body did not feel like my own, and I cried for a solid two weeks. It sounds hyperbolic to say that I had such a strong reaction to the news, and of course, there was nobody to blame but myself- I chose to have an elective surgery. But it seriously wrecked me.

February 2014 and January 2015- serious chest gains


Luckily, I’m not one to do too much wallowing. I am the type of person who always wants to be smiling, so I’ll find a way most often to make it happen. After multiple people questioning me, “do you compete?”  I decided that I would make an attempt at  competing in physique, where the judges don’t have any idea what your lift numbers are, they just see how well you are put together. Literally the same day I decided I would begin working towards that goal, I was approached by a coach while lifting who asked me to join his figure team. Now I don’t believe in fate or any such silly hocus-pocus, but that is just uncanny, no?


Programming was a struggle, at first. Having never considered what any given lift made my muscles look like, I only knew how to program for strength gains. I floundered a bit on a non-plan, just lifting lifting lifting according to “things” I was told (read: broscience and the like), and it worked ok but not as good as I knew a plan could, something structured with intention.


I happened upon a “power building” plan called PHAT, written by the good Dr. Layne Norton (I’m a serious fangirl- if he ever asked me to join a cult I would do it no questions asked) and it seemed to combine everything I love and need: heavy lifting, Layne Norton, and aesthetic results. The way it runs is that you lift 5 days each week- INTENSE lifting. An upper and a lower power day, where you move big weight for few reps, and then three hypertrophy days, where you use a lighter weight, more accessory lifts, and higher reps. So you have powerlifting days, and bodybuilding days, essentially. Powerbuilding. There are actually a lot of bench press-type motions in the plan as-written, but to fit my specific needs of no pec involvement and also my need to grow larger shoulders, I’ve substituted overhead pressing motions for all of the upper body presses.

I love you, Dr. Norton. Not just for your muscles, but your BRAAAAAIIIINNNNN, hnggg

Note: this is NOT A BEGINNER PLAN. This will wreck you.  NO JOKE. This is a high volume, high intensity, work your face off for serious results intermediate to advanced plan. I didn’t take the warnings that Dr. Norton gave in the initial writeup of the plan seriously, but oh boy do I realize how serious he was now.

I’m midway through my fifth week on the plan and I am absolutely loving it, though I will say that after the third week my body suddenly realized what in the world was happening and I’ve been sore for the past two weeks with no sign of abatement. My lifts are strong- I’m currently at a 205 working weight squat, which means it is my current 3-5 rep max, an 80-85 pound working weight on military press; and this week I used 235 for my working sets on deadlift, but can easily take that up 10 pounds as well if I am not silly enough to attempt deadlifting at the gym that doesn’t allow chalk. My barbell glute bridges are going up easy at 235. I’m feeling really, really strong, and looking better than ever. I’m growing in all the right places- I didn’t even realize how much until I compared this week- and my mindset is as healthy and happy as it’s ever been.


Another comparison photo- it’s only fair to compare against your past self, right?


I have, however, finally after years of lifting, realized the importance of rest and recovery. Never in my life have I looked forward to a rest day, nor felt like I needed one, until about two weeks ago. I’m thoroughly enjoying my time in the gym, but I’m also, for the first time ever, relishing my rest days when my muscles have a moment to breathe. I’m making sure to get more than 6 hours of sleep so that I can repair. I’m paying closer attention to my vitamins and micronutrients to ensure my body is getting what it needs.


If I’m entirely honest, I’m feeling a little bit cocky. Other girls, you know, the Instagram girls and whatnot, are complaining about their prep, and I’m over here enjoying most aspects of it. This is so much fun! I won’t lie, though, I do look forward to focusing on my lift numbers a bit more again. Next month I should be cleared to bench once again. Perhaps, though, I would like to do both- compete in figure for part of the year, and then take my “off season” to do powerlifting. Best of both worlds, right?!


It’s my goal in life to be awesome at everything. I suppose I can’t be proven night right nor wrong unless I try, right?


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