Alec Fuentes did not always think that he would be a body builder. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that he realized that his heart was set on the sport. Fuentes is preparing for Minnesota State, his second body building competition coming in June 2012 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
In high school his workout regime consisted of basketball and track practice with little time left for strength training on the side.
Basketball had taught him to work as a member of a team and to work for something, as his career started while he was in the first grade.
Years later in the fall of 2008, Fuentes was practicing with the Upper Iowa State University Peacocks men’s basketball team and living his dream of becoming a collegiate athlete.
Upon his completion of one year of basketball at Upper Iowa State University Fuentes made an important decision; to transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
His hope was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter. Attending school in Eau Claire would help him reach this dream as they have a fire fighting program at the institution.
With his time and energy invested in becoming a firefighter, it was at this point that one dream ended and the other began.
While attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Fuentes continued his workout regimen to stay healthy and fit.
“I just started going to the gym and got used to working out,” Fuentes said. “At Eau Claire I was getting more serious about my workouts but I wasn’t planning on body building.”
While working out at the gym in Eau Claire, Fuentes met other body builders who sparked his interest in the sport. It was not until one year later, after moving back to Duluth to continue his firefighting education at Lake Superior College, that Fuentes committed himself to bodybuilding for life.
The body undergoes an enormous transformation when bodybuilding. The most obvious being the amount of fat loss accompanying a diet and the gain of lean muscle. These changes can be both exciting and motivating for an athlete.
According to an article written by Paul Rogers, bodybuilding has many health benefits. Bodybuilding has several benefits on an athlete’s self-esteem and overall mental wellness, as well as a decreased risk of chronic injury or health conditions.
In addition, in an article by Danijela Crevar, bodybuilding helps keep an athlete’s muscles, bones, and joints in good health as they become stronger and more flexible. But training for a bodybuilding show is also a way to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
Bodybuilding has different meanings for different athletes. For example, bodybuilding was about more than any of those benefits previously stated for Fuentes.
“I knew I had potential,” Fuentes said. “It was nice to work towards a goal, instead of just going to the gym every day.”
While Fuentes found motivation in working towards a final goal, this is not the case for all bodybuilders.
Ken Wallisch is a 52-year-old experienced bodybuilder. Like Fuentes, bodybuilding was not a sport that he had dreamed of doing his entire life.
In 2002, Wallisch became a member of Lifetime Fitness in hopes of losing weight after a hip replacement surgery. Upon becoming a gym member, he started working with Tom Mikkola, a certified personal trainer.
With the help of Mikkola, Wallisch lost 36 pounds in 12 weeks but Mikkola pushed him further; he was not done yet.
In 2004, Wallisch entered the Natural Physique Committee Bodybuilding Competition.
“I looked at my pictures online and I never should have been on stage,” Wallisch said, as he recalls being unprepared physically for the competition.
For Wallisch bodybuilding is not about being a winner or loser.
“I like the challenge. I do it for my health, I want to do one more show in my 50s," Wallisch said. "That is my goal."
While lifting weights in the gym is hard work, the real challenge for a body builder comes in the kitchen.
No matter how hard you train or what type of training routine you are on, it is all in vain if you do not provide yourself with the right nutritional support, according to an article by Tom Venuto, a natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, and a certified strength & conditioning specialist.
“It is a science and a fun challenge,” Wallisch said of the importance of good nutrition. “You have to measure every ounce. Before a show, I get down to 1,000 calories. Whatever I put in my body is fuel, that is how you have to look at it.”
The above process of eliminating foods is called “cutting.”
According to an article by Denise Minger these “competition diets allow bodybuilders to reduce their body fat and achieve maximum muscle definition.”
“Eating clean begins at a minimum of 12 weeks out for most bodybuilders but because of my age and fat from surgeries, I will take a year,” Wallisch said.
“Before my first show, someone was telling me what and when to eat,” Fuentes said. “I did not listen to my body only what the person had told me to do. This time I am going to eat what is right and see how my body adjusts to it.”
Training for a body building competition does not begin a month, a couple weeks or the night before. Preparing for the competition takes months of heavy lifting and dieting to achieve the look the judges want to see.
Going to the gym is just another part of his day, but Fuentes starts to hone in on his workouts with four months before the scheduled competition.
“I start training four months out but I get really intense with about two months to go,” Fuentes said. “That’s when I start cutting.”
The time frame for an athlete to begin their periodization training depends on their body and their training style.
Periodization is the process of dividing a training program into phases; each phase working to accomplish a specific goal, according to Don Demarco, in his article, "Periodization For Bodybuilding - Macro & Micro Cycles For Muscle Growth."
In bodybuilding there are two phases: growth and loading.
The goal of the growth phase is to retain every single bit of muscle as one loses body fat. The purpose of the loading phase is to maintain muscle and help to define it, according to Hugo Rivera, in his article, "Bodybuilding Training - Bodybuilding Pre-Contest Training Routine."
The importance of training the correct way requires a bodybuilder to spend a lot of their time at the gym. The amount of time an athlete spends working out depends on many things.
Since Fuentes is a student and working part time, he has more time than other athletes may have. He breaks down his workouts and spends each day focusing on a different muscle group, whereas athletes with less time combine muscle groups.
On the other hand, Wallisch has a wife, children, and full-time job.
“It is hard to do with a family,” Wallisch said. “I do an hour of cardio in the morning, I lift in the afternoon and then do another hour of cardio at night.”
Regardless of the total amount of time spent in the gym, it is necessary that a bodybuilder build two types of exercise into their routine.
According to an article by Laurel Brown, cardiovascular exercise is crucial for overall endurance and physical ability and strength training is important because those exercises build and maintain muscle mass.
When combining the time spent in the kitchen and in the gym, it is clear that there is one thing that Fuentes, Wallisch and all bodybuilders share: dedication.
Being a body builder requires dedication to making a lifestyle change.
According to an article by Clayton South, bodybuilding is comparable to religion because it is about a lifestyle. It is not something you do, it is something you live and become.
Derek Swanhorst, a friend of Fuentes, is impressed at the progress he has made and the dedication Fuentes has for bodybuilding.
“I think Alec should be a model for how body building should be; he does it the right way, and is really self-disciplined. It is good to see him succeed because he loves doing the competitions. It is fun to see him do well at something he loves,” Swanhorst said.
Fuentes is more than dedicated to the sport. He finds his motivation to work hard and for a goal from within. Body building is about working hard to achieve a goal and the fulfillment in reaching said goal.
Wallisch has a similar outlook on the sport.
“I know I am not going to win but I want to go out there and not embarrass myself. I do it for the challenge and to feel good about myself,” Wallisch said.
“Look up YouTube videos of body building workouts and motivational videos because I learned a lot of workouts and different techniques off of YouTube,” Fuentes said.
While Wallisch agrees that research plays a key role in being successful, he also adds, “Get help, especially for nutrition.”
Bodybuilding is a sport that welcomes competitors of all ages and genders. If a competitor is ready to make a lifestyle change, then they will reap all the benefits that the sport has to offer.
Like Fuentes and Wallisch have shown, there are different reasons to enter the sport but it is about the months of hard work in preparation for the show and the feeling of accomplishing a long-term goal.