Competing in a bodybuilding competition is an exciting, exhilarating and fulfilling experience. It takes determination, dedication and just plain hard work. And, unless you plan on becoming a professional, all you can hope for from all of your effort is a trophy.
Ah, but what a trophy!
When you stand on stage, holding a rigid “relaxed” pose and hear the announcer call your name as Champion in your Class or Winner of the Overall Competition, it’s mighty sweet. You savor the moment and forget all about what it took to get there.
Deciding to Compete
If you are in reasonably good shape and work out regularly, at least four-times-per-week, you can be prepared to enter your first contest within a year. I trained five-days-a-week for 10 months to get ready for my first contest.
You need that much time in order to gain the lean mass your body needs to sustain itself as you enter the fat-burning/cutting phase of your diet, about 13 weeks before your contest. If you want to compete as a Middle Weight, (165 – 185 lbs.), for instance, you might need to be around 195-200 lbs before you begin your cutting phase. The reason is simple. When you go into the cutting phase, your body loses about one pound of muscle for every three pounds of fat. For my first contest, I weighed 154 lbs on January 1st. When I stepped onto the stage on March 19th, I weighed a ripped 136. I was the lightest Bantam Weight. In fact, I was too light. The Bantam Weight limit is 143 lbs. Off season, I will bulk up with lean mass to about 165 lbs and try to come in at around 142.5, near the top of the weight class for next year’s competitions.
So, the first thing you need to do, after deciding to enter a contest, is to pick a contest 10 – 12 months in the future and decide in which weight class you want to compete. Then, see where you are now and where you need to be on contest day. At that point, you can plan your diet.
To make sure this is something you really want to do though, you should attend a bodybuilding competition in your area. It’s the best place to learn about the sport. You can pick out who is really ready to compete and who needs to do more work. Depending on whether you go to a drug-tested show or non-tested show, you will also see how huge some of the men, and even some of the women, who use steroids and other illegal muscle enhancers look. You can decide if that’s the direction you want to go or not.
Once you decide you want to compete, you must make a complete change in your life style. Bodybuilding is a life-style sport, much like ice skating, marathon running, competitive snowboarding, etc. Bodybuilding takes a lot of time in the gym and a lot of time in the kitchen. Competitive bodybuilders build their lives around their workouts and their meals, which during daylight hours average once every two-and-one-half-hours. It’s also expensive, calling for large amounts of protein each day, at least one gram for each pound of body weight. Here is a typical diet for a bodybuilder who is trying to put on lean mass several months before a competition:
Breakfast: Three egg whites (protein) and one whole egg + one cup of oatmeal
Mid-morning: Protein shake (two scoops) in 8-12 oz of water
Lunch: 8 oz of steak, or chicken, or fish + 8 oz of sweet potato + cup of vegetables
Mid-Afternoon: Protein shake (two scoops) in 8-12 oz of water
Dinner: 8 oz of steak, or chicken, or fish + two cups of vegetables
Throughout the day, you need to drink between 1/2 and one gallon of spring water.
This diet is designed to put on about a pound of lean mass a week. Lots of protein, lots of carbs and little fat.
I’ll talk about how the diet changes as you get closer to your competition later.
I said earlier, bodybuilding is an expensive sport. It’s not as expensive as a Bass Boat with all the accessories, but it’s close.
In order to help your body use the fuel you put in (food and drink) and to take advantage of your workouts to build muscle, you need a good supply of supplements. I won’t go into brand names or lead you to any supplier, but, here are some of the supplements you should consider:
Protein Powder: Check the labels. Some are designed as meal replacements, some for lean muscle mass gain, others for general growth, some for fat loss and some for heavy-duty muscle building. One caution, check the labels for additives.
Glutamine: Increases muscular growth, offers a muscle pump while training, helps retain lean muscle tissue, reduces muscle soreness, helps increase fat loss.
Creatine: Allows you to train harder with greater intensity and recover faster. It aids in increasing your weights and number of reps and reduces your rest between sets. Great energy boost.
Flaxseed/Fish Oil: Fat is necessary in your daily diet for the manufacture of hormones, proper brain function and joint lubrication. Eliminate fats completely and your muscles shrink dramatically, and your energy and strength levels go with them. Enter Flaxseed and Fish Oil. Usually in capsule form. They act as solvents to remove hardened fat, support muscle growth and fat metabolism.
Multi-vitamins: Everyone’s vitamin needs are different. Hard-training athletes need more vitamins and minerals. Getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals is equal in importance to protein and carbohydrates.
There are lots of other supplements on the market today. But, if you use these five, along with good workouts and proper diet, you are going to achieve the growth you desire.
Your competition training regimen will have three phases. The first, while you are adding lean mass for muscle building, you will workout with heavier weights and lower reps. During the second or gradual (13 weeks) fat burning/cutting phase, you will work out with lighter weights and higher reps. And, during your final two weeks of training before a show, you will use light weights and only “pump up” your muscles during your workouts. During your bulking up stage, you do moderate cardio. During your cutting for competition phase, you do max cardio and during the last two weeks, moderate to no cardio. I’ll talk more about the last two weeks later.
During my ten months of training for my first two competitions, I used the following workout plan:
Monday (45 Minutes) – Back & Biceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Tuesday (45 Minutes) – Legs & Calves + 20 Minutes of Posing
Wednesday (45 Minutes) – Chest & Triceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Thursday (45 Minutes) – Legs & Calves + 20 Minutes of Posing
Friday (45 Minutes) – Shoulders & Biceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Saturday (45 Minutes) – Posing (Video Session)
Each week I tried to mix up my workout routine so my muscle groups stayed “surprised” and didn’t let my muscles get used to a fixed routine. I mixed machines with dumbbells and never did the same thing twice in a row.
I had great results with this training regimen. When I started, I weighed about 158 lbs. with about 14% body fat. Ten months later, when I stepped onto the stage at my first competition, I was 136 lbs. with 4.5% body fat. At my second competition, two weeks later, I was about 136 with 4% body fat. One ripped, competitive, dude!
Posing is one of the more important elements of bodybuilding and one that in many cases is neglected. A competitor with a well-muscled and cut body can lose to a competitor with less muscle who is better able to show the judges what he or she has.
I’m not going to get into individual poses in this article. There are many sources available on the web, in books, magazines and videos that demonstrate the various poses. Rather, I will talk about the “psychology” of posing and the importance of posing practice.
While you will hear the head judge repeatedly call out, “Relax!” between poses, there is no such thing as being “Relaxed” during a competition. From the moment you step onto the stage you are being judged, and every muscle in your body must remain flexed. Every pose is built from the legs up. If you are doing a side chest and your legs are not flexed, your upper body will look great while your legs and calves will look flat. You will lose points. In bodybuilding, the judges are looking for your flaws. As a bodybuilder, you are looking to hide those flaws. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. As a 67 year-old competitor, I have a little extra skin around my midsection. I can’t get rid of it no matter how much I diet or how many hundreds of crunches I do. So, to hide my “extra skin”, I lean back a little during my poses to tighten up the area. And, when doing the last pose of the round, the Most Muscular, I place my hands together, in front of my abs, which shows my upper body cuts while “hiding” part of my midsection.
If you think about it, all the training you do to get ready for a competition is laid out on the table during the 10 minutes you are on stage for your Class. It would be a shame to see all that hard work go to waste because you didn’t pose well. Posing practice must become part of your workout schedule during the entire time you are training. I work out 45 minutes-a-day, five-days a week. I do cardio for at least 20 minutes, three or four-days a week. I pose at least ½ hour a night, two evenings a week, and pose for 45 minutes with a video recorder on Saturday morning. The last week before a contest, I practice posing every evening.
Posing is hard work. If you aren’t exhausted after being on stage for six – 10 minutes going through your “relaxed” round and mandatory round, you haven’t posed hard enough. One helpful hint: some competitors begin taking potassium tablets about a week before your competition. By doing that, you will prevent cramping, which if it occurs on stage, can be a killer.
Every competitor, as part of the competition, must choreograph a 60 or 90 second routine set to you own music. While most of the time, the individual posing routine is not counted in your overall score, it sometimes is used as a tie-breaker or to place a person second or third, if it’s close. Nevertheless, your posing routine should be entertaining, lively and should show off your best body parts to their fullest. Try to pick music that is familiar. Make a CD and have two copies with you at your competition. Never do anything gross or that shows bad taste. Bodybuilding is a family-oriented spectator sport. A vulgar performance can get you disqualified from a competition. During the 60 or 90 seconds, you don’t have to show every pose in the book. Do between eight and 10, with graceful movements between poses. It’s OK to move about the stage while you perform your routine. In some cases, it’s permitted to use props. Check with you organizer.
Posing in a competition is a lot of work and a lot of fun. If you have practiced enough, you will pose well and you will look confident. You might still shake a little and you might get a case of dry-mouth, but if you know your poses and are confident, you can deal with it. The individual posing routine is your chance to have the judges and audiences see you at your best, without any other competitors to distract them from you.
One final tip. SMILE while you pose. Don’t make faces or show strain. You are in control. Have fun.
There is an old bodybuilding saying, “If you think your tan is dark enough, put on two more coats.”
Great advice. Tanning for a bodybuilding competition is different than tanning for the prom or before you go to the beach or to a modeling job. While posing on stage during a bodybuilding competition, your cuts and muscularity must show up well against the very bright stage lights. You look your best if you are very, very dark. You look washed out and flat if your tan is not dark enough.
There are lots of ways to tan. Some are inexpensive and some are very expensive. Lets talk first about the least expensive way. The sun. It’s free and easy to use. But there are drawbacks. First, you can’t always depend on the sun being “out” when you need it. Second, it takes longer to tan in the sun than it does to tan using other means. Third, you can burn in the sun and cause peeling, which, on stage would be a disaster. And, finally, unless you know of a nude beach or have access to a private deck, you will develop tan lines that may show up on stage when you wear your posing suit.
The most reliable tan is achieved over time by visiting a good tanning salon. By good, I mean one that changes their bulbs frequently and is clean and well organized. I wouldn’t go to a tanning salon located in the rear of a coin-operated laundry (they do exist). If you want to keep a good healthy tan throughout the year, you should purchase a tanning package of minutes or unlimited sessions and try to go twice a week. By doing that, you won’t have as much “white” to cover up as you make your final preparations for your competition. And, in order to keep you skin healthy and smooth, you should apply a good tanning bed oil before each session and a good moisturizer after tanning. Both of those products are available for sale at the salons.
Once you have a decent base tan, one where people ask you in the middle of the winter, “Where have you been?”, maintain that color until it’s time for your contest.
During the final week, while your body is carb robbed and your brain is a lump of mush, you must think about applying enough tanning color to be “right-on” for the stage.
Again, there are a couple of ways to achieve this impossible task while the rest of your world is in a pre-contest daze. One way to apply self-tanning products and the other is to be professionally sprayed.
The bodybuilding industry has several products that guarantee a competition-quality tan, applied in coats, two to three days before your show. And, they offer several products to enhance the “look,” including competition bronzers, contest finishers, hair removal products (we’ll talk about that later), instant tanners, etc. All of them work, some better than others. One company is ProTan ( ), another is Dream Tan, featured on many bodybuilding websites. Since they are oil-based, most of the self-application products never really dry on your skin and you wind up leaving a trail whenever you touch or rub up against something.
The most expensive, but most effective way to tan for a contest is to be sprayed professionally two or three times the week of your contest. Most larger tanning salons have a spraying room where you strip down to your posing suit, pulling it up to how you will wear it on stage and let the attendant apply a generous spray-coat of dark color. You will notice instantly that you are darker than you were when you walked in with your base tan. If you are really dark to begin with, you can get away with two coats over two days. Three coats over three days will guarantee you will be dark enough. The sprays dry on your skin and last up to four days before beginning to fade, and they can be washed off in the shower on Saturday night after your competition. But, during the competition, you will not have to worry about being dark enough.
No matter if you decide to do it yourself or have it done professionally, just be aware that your tan will help determine your standing in your competition. Give it the attention it deserves.
During a bodybuilding competition, the audience and judges are looking at you while you are standing on stage wearing nothing more than a skimpy posing suit. You are trying to show off your physique and grooming is a very important part of your appearance. If you are not well-groomed, it will take away from your overall look. In the last section, I covered tanning. Here I will cover hair. In short, other than the hair on your head, you have to get rid of it. A male bodybuilder cannot have chest hair, underarm hair or leg hair. Women need to rid themselves of all underarm and leg hair. Unless your hair is very fine, you will also need to get rid of arm hair, toe hair, and hand and finger hair. And, where there is hair under your posing suit, it has to not show, period.
Start you final week of contest preparation by getting a good haircut or styling. You should do this before you begin your final tanning prep, since you will want to tan any area that was covered by hair before it was cut. For a Saturday contest, I recommend you cut your hair by Tuesday.
Removing the rest of your body hair can be tedious. There are several ways to remove hair. The most expensive and most permanent is laser hair removal. It can take several sessions and cost hundreds of dollars but it very effective if you want your hair removed permanently. More temporary and far less expensive is using hair removal products. Usually found in the women’s products section of drug stores, the most popular are Nair and Sally Hansen. A bottle of lotion costs around $4.50 and is usually enough to take care of your contest needs. It takes about five minutes to apply, four minutes of waiting and then a shower to remove the lotion and hair. After drying, you should apply a light coating of moisturizing cream over the area where you removed the hair. Hair removal products usually keep the hair away for a week, plenty of time for your contest.
If you don’t want to use a hair removal product, another way to remove hair is to shave it off. Use a fresh razor and plenty of soap or cream and go slowly to prevent nicks and cuts. Sometimes, shaving will leave a rash or stubs of hair that could show up under the bright lights on stage. If I am going to shave, I do it on Wednesday morning before my Saturday contest and on the other days, while I’m tanning, I go over the areas with an electric shaver to prevent cuts. I also use an electric shaver the morning of the contest, never a razor.
One of the best ways to remove hair is to apply tape-like strips to the desired area and then quickly rip off the strips, removing the hair with the tape. I have never tried this method and I don’t think I will. It does work though and seems to last longer than lotions or shaving. But, man, it really hurts!
You always want to look your best on Saturday morning at the prejudging. If you take care of the little things early on in your preparation, you will be confident, look confident and show well.
The Final Two Weeks Of Contest Prep
The plan during the final two weeks is to lose any remaining fat and water and to bring out the cuts and definition in your muscles.
First, you will act a little goofy. Expect it. This is due to a blend of a high protein and low carb diet. The body needs carbs. When you take them away or cut them back, you tend to lose a little of your thought processes. Not enough to be dangerous to yourself or others. It’s OK to drive, etc., but you might become a little forgetful.
Week one of the two weeks is loaded with ground turkey and fish! After a breakfast of three egg whites and 4 ounces of 98% lean ground turkey, the rest of your solid meals consist of fish. Fish and salad for lunch, fish and green vegetables for dinner. The other two meals are protein shakes. On Monday and Thursday, add a sixth meal, a carb load, consisting of a cup of oatmeal, a banana, a cup of broccoli and ½ of a sweet potato. This meal is designed to fill you out a little so you don’t wind up looking flat on stage. You want to look like Bluto, not Popeye. Or if you are a girl, Betty Boop, not Olive Oyl. The other part of this week’s diet is water. Lots of water. One to two gallons a day. It seems like a lot, but if you keep a jug nearby, drinking from it and filling it when it’s empty, you can easily take in the water you need. Try drinking filtered water or spring water. Don’t be surprised if you visit the bathroom a lot. You are flushing out your system and removing subcutaneous fluids while drinking this much liquid. Stay away from too much coffee (one cup a day is OK) and stay away from alcohol during this training period. Don’t snack. You will have cravings. Just focus on your contest. Wouldn’t you hate to blame a loss in your contest on a slice of chocolate cake?
Your workouts this week should be moderate. Use lighter weights with 8-10 reps per set. Don’t go heavy. You are weak due to the diet and doing heavy lifting could cause injuries. Be careful in the gym. Go slowly. Watch what you are doing. Stay focused. Don’t get angry or impatient with others. Do no more than 20 minutes of easy cardio per day.
Week two is loaded with ground turkey, fish, lean ground beef and grapefruit. On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, after a breakfast of three egg whites and 4 ounces of 98% lean ground turkey, like week one, the rest of your solid meals consist of fish. Fish and salad for lunch and fish and green vegetables for dinner. Again, the other two meals are protein shakes. On Wednesday, eliminate the salad and vegetables and substitute grapefruit. Fish and ½ a grapefruit works well. Also on Wednesday add a sixth carb meal. Same schedule on Thursday. On Friday, the final cutting day, all five meals consist of 6 – 8 ounces of lean ground beef and ½ a grapefruit.
Your workouts this week should consist of pumping up in the weight room and then practice posing. No heavy lifting. You should have done your last leg workout no later than last Saturday. Last Friday is even better. Don’t do any cardio after Tuesday.
On Saturday morning, before pre-judging, have a steak and two whole eggs. Eat the toast and hash browns. Have a cup of coffee. Just sip water as needed. About 45 minutes before your contest, have a Snickers bar. It will fill you out a bit and give you the boost of energy you need for pre-judging. Be sure to spend about 20 minutes back stage pumping up everything except legs. Then, have fun on stage.
Choosing A Contest And Submitting Your Application
Once you decide to train for a competition, before you begin, you should give a lot of thought to the type, size, location, and sanctioning authority of your event. The largest amateur bodybuilding and fitness organization in the world is the National Physique Committee (NPC). They run contests throughout the U.S. and abroad and offer opportunities to compete in the Pro ranks (IFBB). The only drawback to the NPC is their reputation for tolerating steroid use among their contestants. All of their contests are non-tested events and you can expect many of the competitors to be “juiced” and massive as a result, giving them an unfair advantage.
Given the climate of negative publicity surrounding steroid use today, many bodybuilders are turning to tested events, where competitors are screened for illegal muscle enhancing drugs, such as andros, steroids, prescription diuretics, testosterone boost and growth hormones. These types of events give the athlete a level playing field in which to train and compete. There are several national and regional organizations that offer drug-free programs. One of the largest is the National Gym Association (NGA). Another is International Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness (INBF) and Supernatural Bodybuilding and Fitness (SNBF). The former requires seven years of drug free training and competition, the latter requires five years. A large international organization of drug-free competition is the World Natural Sports Organization (WNSO) which includes regional competitions that lead to the annual FAME World Championships in Toronto, Canada in June. All of the natural federations offer opportunities for natural bodybuilders and fitness competitors to turn Pro. All of these organizations have web sites that list contest locations and requirements. Most allow you to download contest information and applications.
If you have competed using steroids or other illegal drugs but haven’t for at least five years, there is a place for you in the natural arena. You will have to pass a polygraph examination before your competition and be tested upon demand at any contest you enter.
If you are just beginning and are looking to enter a contest, the first thing you should do is to attend one of these events in your area to see what they are all about. It’s important for you to attend both the early morning pre-judging and the evening entertainment and awards event to get the entire flavor.
You should then check the websites for contests in your area that are listed well in advance, choose one, look for your age, weight, height and experience categories, see if there is a fit for you and download an application. Read it carefully, make sure you have enough time to prepare (from six to 12 months, depending upon your conditioning and physical development). If you are under 18 years-of-age, a parent must co-sign your application.
One final consideration is cost. Since these are amateur competitions there are no cash prizes, only trophies and medals. A contest can be expensive. You must pay an entrance fee and the required drug test, transportation, hotel, food and miscellaneous expenses, such as ordering contest photos or DVDs. You can expect to spend around $200 for a local contest and double that if you have to travel and stay in a hotel and rent a car. If you can find a training partner to enter a contest with you, you can half your expenses.
After all is said and done, you can enter a contest and, win or lose, have the time of your life. There is nothing like standing on stage, knowing you are as prepared as you can be, and pitting yourself against other like minded athletes. It’s really cool.
I saved this section for last because if your family is not behind you and supportive of your efforts, you may as well forget about competitive bodybuilding.
“Scott was so dedicated to his exercise, and I said, ‘Gee, you’ve put so much time into this, maybe you ought to compete. His eyes lit up, like Mama had just said, ‘OK’ and now he could do what he really wanted.'” Vivian Hults
This exact quote, which appeared in a story about me recently in The Birmingham News, our local paper, was what my wife told the reporter who interviewed her about my competitive bodybuilding. Without her “interest” in my sport, “we” could have never managed it.
As I said near the beginning of this article, bodybuilding is a lifestyle, plain and simple. Preparing for a contest is time-consuming and all-inclusive in your daily life. You have to consider diet, which means shopping for and preparing special food required to reach your contest diet goals. Sometimes it’s lean mass gain. Other times it’s fat burning/cutting. You spend a lot of time in the kitchen in front of the stove and oven. Your family usually doesn’t eat what you eat, so while your family enjoys pasta and meat sauce, you may be “enjoying” fish and vegetables. That’s the way it is. You have to eat five or six times a day while your family usually has three-squares. Your food and supplements take up room in the kitchen and refrigerator. And, above all, bodybuilding food and supplements are expensive.
A competitive bodybuilder spends at least an hour-and-a-half, five or six days-a-week, in the gym. He or she will also spend 20 or 30 minutes each evening in front of a mirror, posing. This, maybe while drinking a shake. And, during the final two-weeks of carb depletion, sometimes a bodybuilder will become moody and irritable. It’s part of the “game” and the bodybuilder’s family needs to be “understanding.” Sometimes, being a family member of a bodybuilder is not fun. And, your children might be embarrassed that their father or mother participates in this sport.
Bodybuilding is a vanity sport. It’s one of the few sports where the human body is the star of the show. It’s all about the body. Hair removal, tanning, grooming, posing suits, and muscles, muscles, muscles. That’s all there is. Pretty simple, while very complex.
Now, go out and win your Trophy!
By Scott “Old Navy” Hults