So You Want to Compete

So You Want to Compete – The Beginner's Guide

With the popularity of the sport of bodybuilding rapidly increasing, thousands of men and women are paying more attention to and ultimately setting their sights on stepping on stage. 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 all the factors before you set your sights on a show. This post is all about competing; or, more specifically, the steps that you need to take before actually stepping on stage to show off the best you possible.

Ask Yourself Why You Want to Compete

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 never a guaranteed thing. 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 charge forth full speed ahead.

Pick a League and 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 bikini, figure, or physique. Take a look at consistent winners in the division you choose, and work towards your best version of that look.

A Note on Divisions for Women

In this author's opinion, here are some defining characteristics in each division:

  • Bikini - The least muscular of the divisions, judges look for symmetry, muscle tone, and leanness in bikini girls. Bikini competitions are won from the back, they say, as full, round glutes are valued highly here. Also important is a small waist. More than in any other division, showmanship, look, and execution of posing are super important here, and account for half the score.
  • Figure - More muscular than bikini, defining characteristics of the figure girl are a pronounced v taper, defined legs, and full, round delts. The figure girl is still ultra-feminine, but visibly more muscular than the bikini girl. Putting a figure girl next to a bikini girl, they may look very much the same, until they pose.
  • Fitness - Aesthetically, fitness girls will look like figure girls in terms of musculature. What sets fitness apart from figure is the addition of a performance round, in which the competitor will perform a fitness-centric dance routine that shows off their athleticism and strength. There are a number of required moves in the fitness routine.
  • Physique - Physique girls are significantly more muscular and leaner than women in the previously mentioned divisions. Those that compete in the physique category have many more mandatory poses to hit, and actually perform their free posing routines barefoot.
  • Bodybuilding - The most muscular of the divisions, women's bodybuilding sees women with a high level of muscularity and leanness while still remaining feminine.

Each division has its mandatory poses, and mandatory bikinis. With a distinct look for each, pick the one that is most attainable and appealing to you.

Find a 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.

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.

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 where you are.