What does it take to compete?
So, you’ve been working on your fitness for a year or two, and your friends are telling you that you are looking pretty good. You’re feeling confident, and are looking for the next challenge, so you set your sights on doing a show. But being a competitive bodybuilder is more than just working out and dieting, and the entire process will not only affect your body, but your mind, too. Making the decision to compete should not be one taken lightly, and you must consider the timeline and commitment involved before you set your sights on a show. This post is all about competing; or, more specifically, the the process involved with getting yourself ready to step on stage to show off the best you possible.
Step 1 - Ask Yourself Why You Want to Compete, and If Competing is Right for You
Before you go ahead and dive headfirst into picking a show and prepping, you must first look at your reasons for wanting to compete. Competition prep is one of the hardest things one can do, and failure is guaranteed if you are going into it for all of the wrong reasons. As with any endeavor, a successful prep and run on the stage is the product of being in the right state of mind before and during the prep cycle. If you are competing for a trophy - don't - competitions these days are so tough that a trophy is almost never a guarantee. However, if you're doing it for the challenge, to bring forth your best self, or for a love of the sport, then by all means proceed full speed ahead.
Step 2 - Pick a League And Your Division
So your head is in the right place. Now you've got to gain some background information, just so you know what you're aiming for. When it comes to competing, there are many different leagues to choose from. Depending on where you live, your resources, and your personal goals, there will be a league in line with you. There are a number of leagues to choose from, and each with their own lists of qualifications towards being eligible and competing. For the sake of convenience, we will focus on one of the biggest leagues in the sport of bodybuilding - the NPC (National Physique Committee). Participation is the NPC can lead to Pro status in the International Federation of Bodybuilders, or IFBB.
Delving a bit further, based on your frame, goals, personality and personal preference of aesthetic looks, you can either go with women's bikini, figure, physique, or bodybuilding. For men, this means men's physique, 212, or bodybuilding. Take a look at consistent winners in the division you choose, and work towards your best version of that look. For a more detailed breakdown of these divisions, check out one of my other articles here.
Step 3 - Find a Reputable Coach
Navigating the world of bodybuilding is tough, which is why your support team can be the deciding factor in whether or not a prep is successful. The head of your support team, your coach, will be your ultimate guide in all things diet and training. Finding a good coach that you work well with is crucial - he or she will lay out your training and diet for you, all while providing feedback and a source of accountability. Do your research when selecting a coach, because for every one good coach, there are five bad coaches out there. Go with someone who isn't afraid to provide names of previous clients he/she has worked with. Ask lots of questions, get a feel for the person, and select someone whose personality and methods meld well with yours.
Step 4 - Embrace the Process
Now we've arrived at the toughest part of the journey - the prep itself. From rigorous training, to bordering on obsessive-compulsive food tracking, prep is an all-out battle of mind and body that can either break you, or make you stronger. It requires a level of dedication and attention to detail that you may not have experienced in a goal before, but that is incredibly rewarding in its success. As your schedule, body, and mood changes, you will find that the process gets a bit more intuitive the longer you do it. Provided that you have selected a great coach to guide you, putting your trust in him/her should keep you on track towards getting where you want to be.
Depending on your division and starting point, your coach will develop a timeline for you, from start to finish. If you are fairly close to your stage weight and conditioning, a rigorous prep of about 8-12 weeks is the standard. During this time, you will test the limits of what you’re capable of. Your time in the gym will increase, and your calories will decrease. The leaner you get, the tougher prep will be, since your body will fight you to keep the fat. Trust your coach, and stick with it. You’re almost there.
The last week before a show is called peak week, and this is typically the hardest part of the prep process. As you finetune yourself, you will also be manipulating water, sodium, and carbs. Again, trust in your coach to guide you through all of this.
Step 5 - Enjoy Your Time on the Stage
Whether you prepped for three months or three years, your time on the stage will be there and gone in the blink of an eye. Hours, days, months or years all culminate into about 10 seconds of posing in front of a crowd, but it's the journey that is the real prize. Competition prep can be one of the toughest things you may put yourself through - both physically and mentally - but it may also be the most rewarding. If you earn a trophy and place, that's awesome, but even if you don't place, be proud of all you've accomplished to get there