There is a very small percentage of crazy fitness enthusiast that understand the world of competitive bodybuilding. This blog post is dedicated to all of you “normal” people that are slightly curious and intrigued by this sport that is spreading like wildfire amongst gym rats.
The focus and goal of competitive bodybuilding is building a balanced physique and changing your body composition (less fat, more muscle) through strength training and strict nutrition. (Yes ladies, you will have to lift weights) How you want your physique to look depends on what category you are going to compete in.
I don’t have much experience with men’s bodybuilding so my overview will stop there. If you are at all interested in competing you should find a reputable coach in your area that and work with them. Be very careful of online coaches that only post pictures of themselves. In my experience, having a coach you can see in person and talk with is much, much better. I would also ask to see or meet some of their past clients. Has your coach competed themselves? I am not sure that anyone can truly understand what you are going through unless they have done it themselves. (Back stage jitters, naked spray tan, dehydration, oily bodies, pumping up, addiction to peanut butter,etc.)
Now on to my favorite topic, women. For women there are 4 categories; bodybuilding, physique, figure and bikini. Figure and bikini are by far the most popular categories. It is very difficult for women to get bulky naturally so I don’t have any experience with the physique and bodybuilding categories. Those women are beasts and I applause them. However, because I don’t know much about their prep and the kind of supplements they need to take to build that kind of muscle, I will leave it at that.
Women’s Figure is a blend of bodybuilding and fitness. Women are judged on symmetry, presentation and other aesthetic qualities such as skin tone, suite color, fit, etc. The “X” factor is the desired physique with well formed shoulders and back, small waist and round and full glutes and quads. Visible muscle separation is desired but visible striations is not, that would bring them into the bodybuilding category. Women in this category typically get into the 8-12% body fat range on competition day. At this range your hormones are out of whack and you will stop menstruating. Your family and friends will not enjoy being around you. (TRUST ME, I KNOW)
The final and most popular category is Women’s Bikini. This is where a lot of amateurs begin and where a lot of us stay. Women are judged on their lean and firm physiques and scored on proportion, symmetry, balance, shape and skin tone. Shoulders, abs and glutes are very important muscle groups. Bikini competitors are fit and lean but not ripped and shredded. They are typically win the 10-15% body fat range which is still way, way below average. Bikini competitors do a front and back pose for the judges.
So now that we covered all the different categories lets talk about how someone gets into competing and what types of shows they would do. First, you kind of have to enjoy weight lifting and eating healthy. If you hate spending time in the gym and eating meat and vegetables then you should just take this off your list. Women do not get their shapely and toned physiques from long cardio sessions and low calorie/low protein meals. We lift weights and we eat a lot of protein. Protein is the building block for muscle and to have the bodybuilder’s physique, you need muscle.
I first decided to compete becasue the trainer I was working out with for a few years had competed himself and coached a few of my friends for shows. I watched them transform their body in a few months and was absolutely amazed and inspired. I thought about it for a couple years but finally committed to a show after watching a close friend of mine prepare for a competition. I stopped making excuses and signed up. The first thing I did was meet with a reputable trainer and discuss my goals. He put me on a 16 week program that included weight training 6 days per week, eating ~1600 calories each day comprised of 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fat and weekly check-ins. Based on my photos and changes in weight, he adjusted my macros (protein, carbs, fat). My progress photos were submitted weekly to him. Cardio was used sparingly until the very end when I had to shed the final few pounds of fat. I trained legs twice per week at a minimum, upper body was focused on shoulders and back and my core was hit a few time a week.
My first show was a local amateur show put on by the National Physique Committee (NPC). Shows are held locally at the state level. If a show is designated as a “National Qualifier” then you can qualify to compete at a national level if you place in the top 3 of Open division.
Besides the strict diet and workout regimen, I practiced posing regularly with my coach and on my own. Stage presence and posing are extremely important. You can have the best body on stage but if you don’t present it well you will not place at all. Another thing most people don’t know about is the spray tan. This isn’t optional if you want to place well or even look like you belong. Think of it as foundation for your skin. It evens out your skin tone, covers up blemishes and stretch marks and helps bring out the definition in you muscles. Everyone does it and yes, you look ridiculous off of stage; however, if you didn’t get the spray tan you would not show off your shredded body and would look extremely white compared to everyone else.
After your show most competitors take what is called an off-season. It is recommended that you take at least 6 months between shows to allow your metabolism to re-adapt back to normal food intake levels. During prep you continually drop your calories to get take your body below a natural level of body fat and if you think you can just jump right back into eating like you did before you will be in for rude awakening. It is not uncommon for competitors to gain 10-20 lbs of fat in only a couple weeks after the show if they do not reverse diet properly. During a planned off season competitors focus on slowly increasing their calories, reducing the amount of cardio and building up their strength. When you are prepping for a show you are in a calorie deficit so you don’t build much muscle. The focus is on maintaining muscle while losing fat. The off season is where the gains happen in the gym. I recently maxed out my squat at 190lbs and my deadlift at 220lbs. I could not have built up to this during competition prep and owe my success to an increase in carbs and protein along with great training partners at MVP Sportsclubs. #ilovecarbs
So far I have competed in four shows total, three of which were National Qualifiers. I placed in the top 5 in Open in all of them and took 1st in the Master’s Division (35 and older) in two of them. I am a 2X Nationally Qualified Bikini competitor and currently enjoying my off season. If someone asked me today if I would compete again I honestly don’t know that I could answer that. Competitive bodybuilding is a very selfish sport and your whole focus in on yourself. My meals were planned out each day, my workouts were written out, my cardio, etc. I could not go off my plan and that made family life a bit difficult. I currently have been really enjoying helping my clients with their fitness goals and love having more flexibility with my workouts and nutrition. My goal for this month is a 200 lb back squat and I can’t wait to crush it.