Six Things Every New Competitor Needs to Know

It’s a new year and that means new goals, new aspirations, and perhaps a resolution or two. Maybe you’ve been thinking about competing for the first time in a bodybuilding, figure, physique or bikini show. The idea is exciting and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do. But where do you start? What should you expect?

I know how you feel. I’ve been there. And I can help. 

I completed my first figure show in 2002 at the age of 23. Since then I’ve consistently placed in the top 10 at the national level, become a sponsored athlete, and been published in one of the leading fitness magazines in the industry. I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t and helped others to achieve their dream of stepping onstage. I’ve stumbled along the way, but the majority of my experiences have been great and I’ve met some truly amazing people along the way for whose friendships I will be eternally grateful.

This list is a compilation of everything I’ve learned after 12 years competing in figure competitions, most of which I’ve learned the hard way. Here are my top 6 things that every new competitor needs to know in order to have the best first show experience possible.

I love this sport because you can participate for life, and it CAN be very fun and rewarding if you go into it with your eyes open:


#6).Give yourself plenty of time 

The standard practice for contest prep is 12 weeks. I’m not exactly sure where this number came from, but please understand that this is ONLY a guideline and there are many factors that will influence when you’ll be in show shape, including but not limited to:

-Current conditioning

-Dieting history

-Commitment to nutrition and training program

-other factors out of your control ( illness, hormones, etc)

Unfortunately, fat loss does not typically happen at an even and steady rate ( and usually not as fast as we’d like it to). Sure you may be able to “force” the body into contest shape through excessive cardio, extreme dieting, dehydration and other “common” peak week techniques, the results can de disastrous, even deadly. Please don’t go there. Give yourself plenty of time.

As a VERY GENERAL rule, if you’re at a good starting point body fat-wise ( around 21% or less for women and 17% or less for men), the 12 week prep timeframe is reasonable. However, I would suggest building in a couple of cushion weeks if possible. In my experience, it usually takes a few weeks to get fully into the groove of your nutrition and training, plus who knows if you’ll get the flu or confronted with an emergency, etc. Plus, if you end up ready a few weeks early, bonus! You won’t be killing yourself on the treadmill or resulting to silly measures to drop excess water and weight in the last week.


#5). It’s unrealistic to be in “show shape” year round

Don’t shoot the messenger, but the gods and goddesses you see gracing the covers of your favorite magazines don’t look like that all the time. They have to train and diet and peak for a shoot just like you do for a show (and they have photoshop, really good lighting, and professional stylists). Do they stay in shape? Yes. And so should you, within 10-15 pounds of contest weight for the most pain-free prep experience. But the majority do not walk around totally shredded (or tan for that matter). It’s not realistic and may be unhealthy to be super lean year round. And you probably won’t be very fun to be around if you spend every holiday and special event eating your cold chicken and broccoli out of your Tupperware ( trust me).

#4).  You will be hungry 

In order to get super lean, you have to create the ideal environment for fat loss. This requires a caloric defect. And the leaner you get, the more difficult it becomes to lose fat.

You will be hungry.

You will be tired.

It’s not always going to be fun.

I’m not trying to scare you, it’s just that in our North American culture, many of us have never known what’s it’s like to NOT eat until you’re full. You won’t be starving, but there’s a really good chance that one day you will look down at your plastic dish, the food will be gone, and that’s all you get for the next three hours. This may cause you to obsessively scrape the sides of your oatmeal bowl with a spoon in order to free the last few measly bites ( guilty). You may also cry when said oatmeal explodes all over the work microwave and there’s no way to salvage it (again, guilty).  Mild hunger is part of the game. Expect it and don’t be surprised when it shows up.

#3). It can be expensive 

Competition costs add up quickly, and sometimes unexpectedly. There’s association fees, entry fees, coaching, tanning, FOOD, supplements, makeup, hotel costs, photos, and let’s not forget the suit: The most expensive suit you’ll ever own that you can’t even swim in. Other costs include hair, nails, shoes, outfits for photo shoots, and any other travel expenses.

There are ways to mitigate the costs however. Suits can be rented or purchased used, you can share hotel costs with a buddy, and you can take a lesson and purchase your own makeup and do it yourself , which will save you money over the long term ( note: I don’t typically recommend this to first-timers as you may be VERY nervous on the day of the show which could lead to a beauty disaster). Alternatively, local companies or family/friends may be willing to sponsor parts of your show prep.Hey, you never know until you ask.

Spend sometime doing some research online on typical costs for such items. Visit the websites of the local organizations, connect with other competitors, and then outline a contest budget (hint: whatever number you come up with, add 10% for incidentals). It’s better to be prepared than surprised.

#2).  NEVER underestimate the importance of posing 

While we’re on the subject of budgeting, let me say that there are some things that you don’t want to skimp on and are totally worth the money. I cannot stress this enough: even if you’re resolved to designing your own nutrition and training program, PLEASE spend the money and hire a posing coach. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen guys and girls onstage with amazing physiques that didn’t know how to properly pose, and it cost them their placing. There are rules, standards, and technique to posing. Posing is an art form, and you need to PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

Being amazingly in shape is only part of the competition. You are also scored on presentation. The more you practice your posing and pay attention to the little details such as tan, hair, and suit selection, the more confident you will be onstage and the more you will catch the judges’ eye.

Attend a posing clinic, hire a coach, video tape yourself, watch videos, and practice your posing 30 minutes a day, or at minimum several times per week. It will make a HUGE difference come contest day.

#1). No matter how you place, you’ve won 

At the risk of sounding totally corny and cliche’ ( too late), please know that you’ve won simply by stepping on that stage. You’ve done something that 99.99% of the population would never dream of doing, let alone have the discipline and dedication. You saw it through. You built an amazing physique and you’re quite possibly in the best shape of your life.

I know it sounds silly, but I really wish someone would’ve sat me down and had this conversation with me when I started competing. Bodybuilding is a SUBJECTIVE sport. On the day of the show, other than your spectacular posing and presentation, it’s out of your hands. A panel of judges now get to decide who takes home a trophy. Trophy or no trophy, you are not your placing. For the longest time I thought I wasn’t “good enough” because I didn’t place top 5 or hadn’t turned pro yet. Now I know better.

Give yourself credit where credit is due.

Enjoy the journey. I’ll see you at the show.

 Are you a first time competitor? What other questions do you have? Leave your comments below! 

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