Tips To Maximize Your Muscle Definition

transformation-contest-abdominalsWhile 12 weeks doesn’t seem like an overly long time, you’d be surprised of the transformation results your body can undergo in a 12-week transformation contest.  Even in as little as a week, Erik takes us through what to expect simply by following a diet and training program.

In the final excerpt of my interview with Erik Ledin, the nutrition and training consultant shares with us his thoughts on cheat meals along with some of his best techniques for maximizing performance on photo shoot days and more importantly, what mistakes to avoid. So let’s get into it….


Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.  So let’s turn our attention to ABDOMINALS.  Just some photo shoot tips.  Techniques or even workout stuff for how do people can maximize their abdominal definition for their after photos and when they’re getting closer to the end?

Erik Ledin: Well, I mean I think the first tip is actually to have abs.

Craig Ballantyne:  Yeah.  That will help.

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  To make sure you’re actually in good enough shape because you can’t light what you don’t have.  Lighting can help.  Lean is lean but lighting can only do so much for you.

Craig Ballantyne:  For your ab workout do you like just a couple of short ab workouts per week sort of thing?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  I don’t really do a lot of direct ab training.  I have people do a lot of compound work like squatting and dead lifting so any kind of direct ab work – I might have a couple sets of various movements interspersed throughout the week so if you’re ripped you’re going to have great abs.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.  Great.

Erik Ledin: So there’s ways that you can kind of manipulate things toward the end like this is the type of stuff that competitors do to maximize conditioning and muscle separation for contest days which I mean the photo shoot you can pretty much treat as a contest day.

Craig Ballantyne:  Right.

Erik Ledin: With hair and makeup and shaving and water manipulation, and tanning.

Craig Ballantyne:  Yeah.  So I guess that was kind of the next question.  Like it’s photo shoot day or even wedding day or a day on the beach.  What do we do to maximize performance?  And just as importantly what are things that we can do to screw up that we need to avoid?

Maybe you won’t go into like full detail of what you would give to a contest person for like seven days before but maybe more on a general population level.  Like they really want to look their best at a wedding.  What can they do and more importantly I guess there’s probably a longer list of things they shouldn’t do.  Right?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  The screw-ups are easier.

The BIGGEST MISTAKE actually with people that are trying to peak for some photos or just use it for a transformation topic is CUTTING WATER out and this is one of these practices that is always talked about in competitor circles.

They cut their water and they cut their sodium.  This is a bad move.  Even for competitors it’s a bad move and for every person that it works for it backfires for the next five.

Craig Ballantyne:  Oh, really?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  For sure.  I mean the whole act of cutting water is exactly what causes you to hold water.  The whole act of cutting out your sodium is exactly what causes you to hold water.

So there is a way to kind of take that principle though, get the benefit of it and not see the drawbacks.  So basically, and anyone can do this provided they’re in good enough shape or reasonable shape.

If you’re still way off your goal this isn’t going to do anything for you.  So you have to be lean for it to even have effect but about a week before you plan to take pictures you start basically drinking a lot of water.  A lot of water.water

Craig Ballantyne:  Like three, four liters?

Erik Ledin: Double.  Eight.

Craig Ballantyne:  Eight liters?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.

Erik Ledin: It sounds like a lot.  It’s kind of a pain in the butt because you gotta go to the bathroom a lot but this does work and it does make a difference so for a few days it’s kind of worth the pain in the butt to do it.  So what most people will do at that point is they will end up cutting the water right off.

Competitors do this.  And they usually cut it too early and then they get the effect.  They have this basically this stream of water that’s coming in and it’s going right through you and it’s going out so you have up regulated all this flushing of water.  Right?

Craig Ballantyne:  Right.

Erik Ledin: And then the trick is basically to cut – then you just stop drinking water and your body doesn’t realize there’s a gap of time here where your body doesn’t realize that there’s no water coming in so it’s still flushing and you end up dehydrating nicely and then you get better muscle separation and whatnot.

The PROBLEM is people do this too early.

When the water drops you end up actually flattening out as well so your muscles aren’t full and people think that it’s carbohydrates that make their muscles full.  It’s actually the water that comes in with the carbs.

So people can carb load.  If they don’t carb load – if they take in a lot of carbs and they don’t take in any water they don’t end up full.  It’s the water that makes you full.

So what these people should do – a much easier way to do it to take advantage of that same effect but not having to suffer through not drinking.  Start with eight liters.  And then towards the end, the last day or something like that, you just drop to normal water intake.  Whether that’s two liters or three liters.  The point is you still went from high to low and is seen as going from high to nothing.  Same thing.

Craig Ballantyne:  So if I have a contest on a Saturday, the Sunday before I start at eight liters and then on Friday I cut it back to three?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  Normal water intake.  You just cut it back to your normal water intake.  You don’t even have to cut it.

Same with sodium.  I don’t suggest anyone even touches sodium.  Don’t cut sodium.  Don’t load it.  Don’t cut it.  Just remove it as a variable.  Keep it the same.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.  Good.

Erik Ledin: That’s the biggest mistake made and if you actually avoid that mistake, provided you’re already in shape, you’ll be ten times ahead of most people.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.  What about something a little more pedestrian for people that just want to look good at a wedding.  Like even like tanning tips and stuff like that.  Like what can people do to bring out the most in their changes?

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  Pretty much.  Obviously the tan helps with the muscle definition and whatnot.  I think if you had kind of an event or something like that that you wanted to “peak for” –

Craig Ballantyne:  Yeah. Is there anything they can eat that would screw it up the day before or the day of?

Erik Ledin: With the exception of foods that might cause you to be bloated, no.  There’s NEVER going to be one meal that’s going to erase what you’ve just accomplished.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.

Erik Ledin: I would say you probably would have to be pretty silly to go out and binge the day before an event or something like that but in some cases that can actually help because it fills you out.

If you’ve been low carbs for a long time and you’re really depleted and Saturday is your “big day” and you’ve kind of reduced your prime-rib1water intake and you go out and have a good meal like we call it fat loading basically with competitors is whether it be pizza or prime rib and French fries and cheesecake.  You wake up the next morning looking better.  You’re more vascular.  I mean it’s really neat.  So you can get that too.

Craig Ballantyne:  That’s the old thing about sometimes when the competitor does too much and then they go and have their success meal after and they end up looking better after.  That’s how it works out.

Erik Ledin: That’s exactly it.  They start drinking water again.  They reintroduce the sodium that they mistakenly cut.  And Sunday they look great.

Craig Ballantyne:  So really it’s just stick to your plan for 12 weeks.  Do a minor change in your water.  This is so much different than what I remember reading in magazines five years ago when it was like this elaborate seven-day buildup.

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  There’s no magic.  I think the biggest mistake with this last week of preparation for photos or for a show is people expect this mystical magic to happen in the last seven days and it doesn’t.

You’d even be BETTER OFF nine times out of ten to not do anything in the final week but stay on your plan.

There are many competitors who look awesome a week out and then they do some voodoo craziness in the last week and come show day they look horrible.  Had they just stayed on their diet, kept training, changed nothing, they would have been great.

But that’s probably the minimalist approach.  Do nothing.  And peak.  Just keep plugging away on your plan.

Craig Ballantyne:  Great.  Okay, Erik, just one last question here.  If there were only three tips that you could give someone, what would they be?  Say someone came to you and they want to change their body in the New Year.  And they’re just a regular person and you can only give them three tips, what would those three tips be?

Erik Ledin: My first one would be decide on your plan.  Set it up.  Nutrition, training and stick to it. Plans are only as good as the people that are following them.perfection

So related to that I would say that don’t expect perfection out of yourself.  You don’t have to be perfect on your diet.  You don’t have to be perfect on your training.  You might miss a cardio session.  You might miss a workout.  You might even miss a meal.  You might even cave and have a cheat meal that wasn’t scheduled.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not a big deal.

I really DISCOURAGE this type of thing I call compensatory cardio.  I think you call it the cardio confessional.

Craig Ballantyne:  Yeah. I tell people to avoid hitting the “cardio confessional” if they screw up. Just forget it and move on. Don’t punish yourself with extra cardio.

Erik Ledin: In the sense that people are trying to do makeup cardio for mistakes and all it does is reinforce bad habits and poor eating behaviors so if you screw up it’s not really a screw up.  Your best thing is just to forget about it.  In the grand scheme of your journey it’s not a big deal.  Get on the plan.  Get back on the horse and move on.

Craig Ballantyne:  Because you really can’t – I mean if you overeat at a meal, you’re looking at 1,000, maybe 1,500, maybe even 2,000 calories.  To actually burn that off you’re going to be on a treadmill for literally hours so people have to totally remove that from their mindset.

Erik Ledin: Exactly.

Craig Ballantyne:  One question I wanted to ask you there I didn’t ask before was do you plan in CHEAT MEALS?  Do you say one meal every seven days or whatever you can eat whatever foods you want in normal portions or do you say you can eat whatever you want in whatever portion or how do you structure that in?  And I’m assuming here that you’re just putting it in there for a mental break and not metabolic voodoo or anything.

Erik Ledin: Yeah.  Right.  Psychological benefits.  There is no physiological benefit to a cheat meal.  It depends on the person.

In some respects I usually start off with people saying you can have one or two.  One.  Two if you want.  Cheat meals a week. I do suggest they be mindful of portions in the beginning.  And I also suggest they come on exercise days.  Ideally.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.

Erik Ledin: For some people I will put a rule on it that says it can be as much as you want but it has to be low fat.  Because sometimes they’ll have a full-blown cheat day.  For example, even this client Lyn.  This mainstream woman, very overweight to start with.  We found that incorporating these once per week off plan full days was the key to her being perfect during the week.

So at first we did – I just said do what you want.  Don’t plan it.  Just get up, eat until you’re full.  Wait until you’re hungry.  Eat again.  Do whatever you want.  Full-blown cheat day.  The problem with this was she found it difficult the next day to get back on plan.  So all the sugar kind of triggered something that made it hard to get back on plan.

So the adjustment we made to that was you can do whatever you want but you gotta keep the fat low.  That was the key.  Next day she’s back on plan.  So it depends on the person.  If you can actually have a cheat – kind of an ugly or no-rules cheat and get back on plan, then I don’t see any reason why you can’t.  If you find that you can’t, then you need to make an adjustment.

I also usually say that if you’re going to make it – if you can’t actually get back on your plan to finish off the day after you’ve had a cheat meal, then make your cheat meal your LAST MEAL of the day.

Craig Ballantyne:  Okay.  That’s great.  So, Erik, do you just want to tell us a little bit more about your web site and your forum there and then we’ll finish this off?  This has been great.

Erik Ledin: My web site is  And I also run a forum that is not completely related to my business but I have a lot of clients that post there.  It’s a good support community called