Competing This Year? Read This First

Competing This Year


Top tips if you’re planning to step on a bodybuilding stage this year

Bodybuilding competitions are not for the fainthearted. Sure, they can be done as a personal challenge to show the results of your hard work. Not everybody competes to win or get a coveted Pro Card. But no matter what personal reason you have for starting a bodybuilding prep, you need to know what it will entail. It can be the most rewarding, challenging, and humbling experience you’ll ever put yourself through. Ready? Let’s go.

What Are Bodybuilding Competitions?

Bodybuilding contests aren’t just for huge stacked guys. These days, there’s a wide range of categories and federations offering different experiences. There are fitness model-type contests, but for this article we’ll focus on the more common kind of bodybuilding contests, where competitors are required to do mandatory poses and be assessed in a line-up together on stage. These types of contests range from bikini, though figure and fit body, to physique and bodybuilding (for women). For the guys, there is men’s physique, classic bodybuilding, and then all the weight and age categories of bodybuilding classes.

Can Anyone Compete?

Yes – and no. Bodybuilding is an amateur sport, so strictly speaking there is no qualifying criteria for regional qualifiers. Anyone can give it a go. But you do need to be realistic. Bodybuilding is not a sport like running, where it doesn’t matter if you walk just as long you “get round”. There would be little point standing on a bodybuilding stage if you had no discernible muscle development, if your physique was unbalanced, or if you were not reasonably lean. Be honest with yourself. Even if you are happy to place last, are you prepared to look out of place?

Are You Ready To Compete?

Most people have at least a couple of years of hypertrophy (muscle building) experience under their belts before they think about doing a bodybuilding prep. Once you get lean, you really see how much muscle you have (or do not have!). It would be a mistake to jump straight into the diet phase of a bodybuilding prep without a “building” phase. The most successful amateur bodybuilders have either dedicated 2+ years to building muscle, or come from a solid sports background which has helped to develop their muscle mass.

You should also consider whether you are emotionally and psychologically ready to undergo a prep and competition phase. It can be a very exciting, rewarding experience. But it can also bring out insecurities and make you hyper-critical of your own body. Remember that you will be required to stand on stage, in very little clothing, against other bodies – and you will be judged solely on how you look. If you can deal with that (regardless of the outcome), that’s a good start point.

Finally, you should ask yourself if you have the necessary support system around you. Bodybuilding prep is intense, demanding, and can feel lonely. Do you have support from other competitors or gym buddies? Are you close friends, family members, and partner on board? You need positive support to get you through the highs and lows of a prep.

Which Organisation Should You Compete With?

1) Do you want to compete in a drug tested (natural/drug free organisation) or are you happy to compete in an organisation that does not test its competitors?

2) Which category does your physique suit best? Not all organisations offer all categories. It is best to find an organisation that suits your body, not try to shoe horn your body into a category.

3) Where are the regional shows or qualifiers? It makes sense to compete close to home.

4) If you intend on taking it further – British finals or beyond – are you able to travel to the venue and commit to the date/s?

If possible, go to a few shows the year before you intend to compete. You will pick up invaluable information about the organisation, its shows, the categories, and how their contests are run. This can help you make a decision.

Contest Prep: The Diet

To get lean enough for your chosen category, you will need to diet to lose body fat (whilst retaining enough energy to train and hang on to muscle mass). There is no right or wrong way to diet, but you must create a calorie deficit and stick to it consistently for as long as it takes to get in condition. You can be a flexible dieter, eat to a meal plan, or limit your food choices. It doesn’t matter how you do it, so choose the method that fits your lifestyle and your mentality.

Contest Prep: The Training

During prep, you will need to focus on weight training to retain muscle and build up any lagging or imbalanced body parts. Cardio should be used to support your calorie deficit, and to boost your cardiovascular health.

Contest Prep: The Posing

Posing is the third aspect of bodybuilding prep, and it’s just as important as food and training. You should find out what poses you will need to master as soon as possible. The longer you have to learn and practice, the better. Your organisation should be able to give you this information, but be proactive as well. Look up YouTube videos of shows by that same organisation, and look up competitors on social media to view their posing practice and stage posing. Find someone who can give you honest and experienced feedback about your posing. And practice – a lot!

Do You Need A Prep Coach?

There is no need to use a coach for your bodybuilding prep, but it can be helpful. Back in the day, people didn’t have a prep coach, but this doesn’t mean the old ways are the best. If you do decide to hire a coach, make sure he or she knows about your organisation and the category you are entering. Be sure that you feel comfortable with them and can be totally honest with them. This will become a key relationship over the coming months (and you will be spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the coaching).

Are you planning to compete?


Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.

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