Overcoming Setbacks

2019 was an incredible high for me. I had just completed 5 years of studying to become a Solicitor, taken to the stage again after 2 full years off and finished my 2019 season with the prestigious IFBB Pro Card in my hand after earning it at the first ever 2 Bros Pro British Finals (making me the first ever 2 Bros British Finals Bikini Pro - CRAZY!). Safe to say i finished my 2019 season on the highest of highs.

Then Covid-19 hit.

We have all been there. Home training, dragging out your one walk a day just in order to reach your step goal in one take, battling fellow Tesco shoppers for the last pack of eggs for your egg white omelette in the morning (because the 50 year old woman whose about to take the last pack of eggs cannot possibly need those eggs as much as you do!).

2020 was meant to be the year i travelled abroad, competed in as many Pro shows as i possibly could and got my face out there to the IFBB judges as much as possible to mark my position as a fresh faced Pro. That didn’t happen. Like the majority of us, all trips were cancelled and your garage, garden, spare room (in my case my conservatory) became that sanctuary which we once called the gym.

Despite all competing plans being up in the air, i was still determined to continue prep in the hope that before 2022 was up, i’d be able to complete my prep, step on stage and make my Pro debut. By November 2020 that is exactly what i did and i made my Pro Debut on home soil with 2 Bros Pro. I prepped the whole year, 11 months to be precise. During the start of the pandemic my mindset totally shifted. I was still on such a high from being awarded my IFBB Pro Card in September 2019, that i was fixated on having to make my Pro debut in 2020. No amount of Covid-19 was going to stop me. Despite the pandemic itself being a huge set back in the start of my IFBB Pro career, i wanted to do everything in my power to not let it stop me from at least stepping on stage, just that once! It was a case of head down, blinkers on and well, stay at home! Continuing prep that year was probably one of the few things that got me through the initial pandemic. It gave me a sense of purpose and enjoyment which at the time, we couldn’t find elsewhere outside our four walls. I am sure i am not the only one who felt like this at the time.

Despite Covid-19 being quite the set back, i felt like i had conquered it and it hadn’t completely stopped me from making my Pro debut. The real set back came when i placed second to last in my Pro debut. I was gutted. In hindsight i was quite naive as to how much i needed to grow and improve to be competitive in the IFBB Pro League. Being awarded your IFBB Pro Card is one thing, but to be competitive on a Pro stage is another kettle of fish. On reflection now, over a year later, i am glad that i came second last, that was the placing that i deserved at the time and i have absolutely no issue with that at all. I gave my 2020 prep 110% without a doubt and what i need to improve on is not something that could have been achieved in a prep, but something that is going to take years; and that is muscle! My condition was there, my posing and look were there, however, my muscle was not (at least in comparison to the other Pros on stage that day).

My Pro debut placing, which is what i thought was a set back at the time, only gave me more motivation and determination to improve. Cliche i know, but it is so true that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and that really was the situation here. By the time i step back on stage this year in 2022 i will have had 2 full years away from stage. 2 years of eating, training and working my ass on (not off). Your competing career, like anything, will have highs and lows, but it is how you react to those situations that determines the type of athlete you are. You either choose to throw in the towel, or you choose to work harder because you never want to be in that position again. I know which one i will always choose.

So this brings me to my off-season!

After prepping for the whole of 2020 i was so excited to be taking a long off season. I knew i had a lot of muscle to build, i knew (and still know) that this is going to take a long time so we made a plan and are in it for the long haul. Portioning out the year into different growing phases, mini diets/ tidy up phases allowed me to have those shorter term goals to work towards which i feel is important and something that really helped me stay motivated and dedicated to my long term goal. So with my reverse diet post prep and off-season/ growing phase in full swing, nothing could stop me… or so i thought.

My back went. And when i say ‘it went’ i mean i couldn’t even stand up and sit down or put my own shoes on. All training had to stop because i literally couldn’t move. This is probably the hardest set back i have ever had to deal with. I am so used to pushing myself to extremes, i pride myself on being so mentally strong and i will literally do anything to reach my goals, whatever they may be, but i found my back injury the hardest because it wasn’t something that i could mentally work through, it was physical. For the first time in years i had to rely on someone that wasn’t myself; doctors, physios, chiropractors etc. When my injury initially happened i only had to take about 2 weeks off the gym before i was back training (albeit an adapted training program) and i did fully recover with training flying again. I became the strongest i had ever been and was touching weights that i never thought i could. Food was high, no cardio and training was incredible! This was about August 2021 and i had almost forgotten about my back injury as, at the time, it was no longer an issue. Despite this, it happened again in November 2021 and this time a whole lot worse. We saw no gym for 7 weeks and yet more doctors referrals, x-rays, painkillers etc. It has only actually been the past 2 weeks (Jan 2022) that i have been able to return to the gym, again on a very moderated training plan and only doing a light full body day every other day.

This was a set back that really tested me. Despite my Pro debut placing initially feeling like a set back, i knew that i was completely in control of the situation and knew the steps that had to be taken and the work i had to do to improve. With my injury, i felt out of control, especially at the time when i couldn’t even bend down to put my own shoes on! Still, we adapt and we overcome. Whilst i had to rely on doctors to sort my injury, i knew that i could still make the best of a bad situation and even if i couldn’t train then you bet i would be doing everything to keep up with my steps, cardio and training - and that i did. Whilst i may not have made progress in terms of an increase in muscle mass in those 7 weeks of no training, i definitely didn’t go backwards. I had 2 options: 1) sit at home and dwell on the situation whilst eating crap or 2) continue as i normally would without training. Shock, i chose option 2 because i refuse to quit when the going gets tough.

When dealing with set backs of any kind, it always comes down to how you respond to the situation. If you react positively, as i have done, it will only make you a better and stronger person and athlete. Imagine if you quit at the first hurdle, the first set back or when the going gets tough? You will achieve absolutely nothing great. I always keep this at the forefront of my mind (even if it seems harder at times when you’re looking down at your boyfriend putting your shoes on for you!). So if you’re in a similar position now, or find yourself experiencing set back in the future, then remember this!

Alicia Gardner

IFBB Bikini Pro

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