I am often asked about how to get into and compete in bodybuilding/bikini or fitness model shows. I did my first show in 2014 and my last show in September was my 5th. I am looking to do one more this year and then may go back to athletics (400m). If you always wanted to do a show then you need to consider the following.
Why Are You Doing It? (The achievement of competing vs Winning)
Competing on stage is a spectacular achievement, it will be one of your most treasured memories and something to cherish for the rest of your life. You will have the most muscle and the least body fat that you have ever had and get some crazy photos. This is reason enough to do it. You will separate yourself from the thousands of other gym goers who never put themselves through this process.
It is important to remember that this is a sports its own right and there is a big difference between going on stage looking your best and winning a trophy. Anyone can get themselves in shape if given enough time (see below) however, not everyone can win a trophy. Over the years I have spoken to at least 20-25 people who told me of their goals to compete. Many mention having to win a trophy and placing top 3, of all these people I cannot think of one who has actually stepped on stage. The pressure to win a trophy either paralyses people into being too scared to go on stage or perhaps is reflecting a lack of deeper desire to compete, I am not sure. However, there is a difference between wanting to compete and wanting to win.
I have seen people win on their first show, it is possible of course but the gulf in requirements to do it compared to just competing is huge. Physique competitions are now main stream, to win a show in a main federation you may well have to go up against someone who has been focused solely on this aim for 10 years, has the experience of many shows already, has a coach, knows the judges, uses steroids and much more. The flip side to the huge rise in popularity is you could target a smaller show or federation with less competitors to gain a placing. However, if you are aiming for a big popular show, you will need to bring in all the support tactics (experienced coach, posing coach, probably need good genetics, good status already, years to focus on it and maybe the use of steroids).
The point being is, focus on bringing the best you to stage is much better, healthier and comes with a higher likelihood of actually competing than just focusing on a show win. I can help you get to stage in a safe, healthy way. Other coaches sell themselves on winning shows and have a great track record of doing so. This is not right or wrong, just different for different people.
How Much Time Do You Need? (Anyone can compete with enough time!)
The great news is anyone can compete on stage, the question is not if you can, but how long you need to get in a stage shape. As mentioned above, not being focused on winning will take possibly years of prep time off your pursuit as the bar is a bit lower.
How long you need comes back to what is your current state of the body vs what kind of person are you around health & Fitness. The main issue with competing is how long it takes to build muscle. If you are already pretty stacked with muscle then it will be much quicker to develop the angles and lines to do well in a show. Please note, how much muscle you truly have is only really seen when you lose your body fat. Often we are not as muscly as we think and as the body fat comes off you realise you need to add more. On the flipside, you may find when the body fat comes off you have great shape and muscularity already. Usually though, it is the former, especially in the male or more muscle based female categories.
Bodybuilding categories are based on muscle size vs muscle angles vs comparative muscle body parts as displayed via your posing and your body fat levels. All five of these elements are important, many people complain after their lack of placing that they had a better 6 pack, bigger arms, or were leaner etc. This shows a lack of understanding of the actual rules of the show. I describe BB shows as human dog shows. When I used to take my Rottweiller to pedigree shows he was judged on tail length vs thickness of his body etc. BB shows are of similar nature, so you need to know what your category is looking for. As mentioned above of course, if your goal is to compete and not win then this is not overly that important.
For most people attracted to bodybuilding the main issue is not building muscle, it is the ability to lose fat to get on stage. Personally, I was the other way round, as a very active person, former track runner and someone who loves fat loss, fasting and so forth. I am amazing at getting rid of my body fat. However, most people are not like me. Therefore you need to develop your skills to become good at losing fat. Along these lines, how much fat you need to lose is based on where you are today. There is no issue with getting to a show state, it is just about time. If you need to lose 25kg and want to do that in 16 weeks, then good luck! If you need to drop 25kg and set the show date 24 months ahead then this leaves nice amount of time for muscle gain and fat loss.
It is important you go to a show before competing. There is still a complete underestimation of how lean you have to get to compete. The general rule of thumb is when you think you are really lean, everyone tells you that you are shredded or look too thin, then you probably have another 1-2 months of fat loss ahead. Seeing people in person gives you an idea of how lean they are. If looking at their Instagram, take more note of bathroom or home photos over stage ones as these are more readily comparable.
Things You Need To Know That No One Tells You!
These are some factors you need to consider about competing in a show that no one really talks about.
Are You Picking Up An Eating Disorder – However you want to dress it up, getting rid of all your body fat is an under eating competition. Yes some people may eat a lot of calories/day relatively to normal people but no one loses body fat without eating less than they need. Over a prolonged period of time this takes a toll, and often the result is disordered eating, especially the development of binge eating or food obsessions. Long term meal restrictions, food regulation and making your food 24 meals ahead contribute to this. The average person needs to take a different approach to their food and competing that is proposed by most BB coaches and general advice. This is not wrong, just different. The bounce back, disordered eating hangover from competing can last for years.
My approach to getting on to stage really looks to avoid this pitfall. This sport ultimately rewards people with body Dysmorphia and disordered eating to a great extent so you have to be careful about which elements you copy as this is not something you want to develop. There are certain elements that really contribute to these problems such as the classic bulking/cutting approach which I do not really use with my clients.
Posing is Really Hard – It looks easy watching someone pose, and it is not that hard when posing in a mirror, but get on stage with people around you, nerves showing and no mirror or coach to correct you and often your posing falls apart. If looking to win a show you will need a fair bit of posing help. If looking to just compete then not so much work is needed but you will definitely need some lessons with a coach.
The End of Your Body Confidence? – How confident you are in any endeavour comes back to your perceived ability vs who/what you are comparing yourself against. It is very common for bodybuilding shows to reduce your confidence around your body. For starters you will stand next to people who are genetically better than you, trained longer than you or are using steroids. This means you suddenly realise you are not in as good a shape as you thought (because you are now comparing your body to the best in the country). Alongside this, there is the issue of how you feel when you have more body fat than your extreme lows, this can make you feel fat (even though you are still lower than everyone else). The same happens with muscle size, as the fat goes you will lose a lot of size which can be demoralising. I look to help people around this issue by becoming clear on their body data during the process so they keep their body confidence.
The Costs ($$$) of Competing – The sport in theory could be fairly cheap but reality takes some financial input. However, as pretty much no one who competes drinks any alcohol you could argue you are moving money around. Costs involved with the actual show include entry fee (£100-200), Tanning (£60), photos (£50), stage outfit (£20 – £150+), getting to the show (£100-200 if you do not live near the show location).
Prior to this you have preparation coaches (£100-£250 /Month), posing coaches (£50-£500), supplements / PED’s (£20-£200+/month). These latter costs can be greatly reduced or eliminated completely. This comes back to the competing vs winning argument. If looking to win a big show on first go these latter costs will become almost essential unless already have the knowledge.
Go To a Real Bodybuilding Gym – I talk about this in my book, it is important to be around others at your current goal. The easiest way to do this is to go to a bodybuilding gym. This is often a demoralising yet inspiring adventure, you will be around some huge people who live for weight lifting. If you think you are in good shape in your commercial gym then a trip to a big bodybuilding one will soon bring you down a level or two. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to get around other people in some form. This could be going to a big BB gym or simply chatting to the bigger / more weight lifting experienced people at your gym. A coach offers this as another adventure of exposure. Most people who compete will train with other people (or did so when they started out).
You Probably Need To Develop You First – It could be you already have the majority of the needed elements in place to compete. However, it could be you are completely new to this whole area and have to change who you are before you can effortless stick to the kind of plans given out to get on stage. We are in a world where everyone is obsessed with what to do, the plan to follow, yet forget to look at the person who has to follow that plan. I work with people by developing the person, the plan then becomes easy to stick to and adhere to thereafter.
It Will Dominate Your Life During The Process – I think people underestimate how much this sport takes over your life. The process of prolonged fat loss, especially when already lean, brings you back to the present moment where your focus is often meal to meal. Linked closely to this is stability, it is very hard to prepare if you are all over the place with your life. Most competitors have a stable and repetitive routine, if this is disrupted then often people drop out for their show. This refers to things like change in relationship status e.g. break ups, stress from work issues, family illness etc. There is also usually no holidays anywhere near the run up to a show, little time for other sports, hobbies or pursuits and your social life will need to be measured. Some of these points though are out of choice not necessity. I had a stag doo right in the final week of fat loss for last show and still lost fat during it. I didn’t drink any alcohol or eat much during that stag weekend.
You Will Need To Learn These Elements During Prep – Everyone who competes pretty much knows their calories numbers to drop fat. In a world where we no longer believe in calories it is of no surprise that the people with the least body fat have their data pretty much spot on. You will also need to learn about muscle control and targeting specific parts of the muscle. Bodybuilding training is not just throwing up a weight like a cross fit class. It is about specifically targeting a certain part of the muscle using the right exercise, pulling technique, tempo and adjustment for your body. Almost no bodybuilders get credit for how good their muscle activation and mind muscle connection is.
Show prep is one big self-negotiation (like any fat loss effort) and you will need to learn how to outwit yourself. All you hear is people asking what they should do to get in shape, knowing what to do is the easy bit. The magic comes in how you get yourself to do it in the real world day after day. There are no secrets in bodybuilding anymore, you have access to almost everyone’s plans via social media. The key is how can you get yourself to follow it, this is a negotiation and there is no right answer, no one can tell you as the solution can only be found via you going through the process.
WHAT DO I DO NOW????
If you are thinking about whether to compete then I would immediately book tickets to go and watch a show (If you have never been to one before). In the UK look for NPC, 2BROS, Miami Pro, UKBFF, Pure Elite to find one near you. Any of these shows will give you the experience of seeing the end result of the process. If you know people who have competed then chat to them about the experience.
Start today! Go after your weakest area first. If you are already lean then commit to a 2 month muscle building period. If not so good at fat loss, then commit to a 1 month fat loss period. This will work on your weakest area.
If you know you are going to compete and will use a coach, or do not know where to start with a short muscle gain or fat loss period then get a coach straight away. I can help you if your goal is to compete in a sustainable and healthy way. Contact me to arrange a goals chat.
There are various coaches out there, some are awful. Other’s are very good. For me, most fail normal people yet cater well for people who are already doing most of the needed actions anyhow. Read my book for more on this.
Any questions on this or competing then ask away!
Photo – Different stage shots from my first to last show.
Battersea park was created in 1858. For me and many others Battersea Park is considered one of London’s most interesting Parks housing Battersea Zoo, Battersea Evolution Exhibition Centre and right next to Battersea Park Dogs & Cats Home and the iconic Battersea Power Station
Read my new book, The Grand Unified Theory of Weight Loss, which details why you may have struggled previously to get results and what to do about it. It encompasses every possible situation or block which varies greatly between any two individuals. Read more>>