Bodybuilding exists in many different forms. For some it is purely a journey of physique development for self-satisfaction. For others it is an outlet to relieve stress and simply stay healthy. Then there are those who do it for the purposes of putting what they have achieved against others under the lights. Deciding to finally take the plunge and put your best against others who have toiled away for many months and years to see who has the best built body on that day, is exciting, personal and extremely rewarding regardless of how you place. The spectators watching only ever get to see the finished product and what they are missing is perhaps the best story of all. Preparing for a bodybuilding competition is a daunting, exhausting, meticulous, financially depleting and overall an amazing experience. It is what separates you from everyone else at your gym and gives a whole new purpose to your training. Once you have set foot on stage you enter a brother/sisterhood like no other and you can now call yourself a competitive bodybuilder.
For those of you out there considering posing trunks and flexing with all your might in front of a crowd, here’s a little perspective on what it actually takes to get on stage and give it all you’ve got.
The preparation for a competition spans the entirety of an offseason and the pre-contest prep, but when things really start to ramp up is approximately at the month out point. By this time, you should be getting very close to a condition where people at your gym will start making comments on your physique. In the eyes of people who don’t really have an eye for bodybuilding, they will see you as stage ready due to the fact that you will probably be very vascular with lots of definition and separation. This is also a time to thank those people for the compliments yet only listen to your trusted eye. You aren’t ready yet for the stage and there is still a lot of work to be done. You should also start your tanning regime at this point in the prep. Not only will the tanning help darken your skin which enhances your physique, but it also helps thin your skin out which is a necessity for ultra-muscularity. Posing should now also be a standard part of your day to day activities, focusing on all the mandatory poses and figuring out which poses best display your physique. You should also have your posing song picked out or at the very least have a few in mind and you need to start choreographing your posing routine. Practice, practice and more practice is the key to looking polished on stage. Finally, make sure you have all the things you’ll need to be ready for the stage by ordering your color, posing trunks and muscle sheen. The last thing you want to do is run out of tanning solution or have trunks too big or too small come contest day. Aside from the things mentioned, the only other thing you need to do is stay consistent with your plan, find things to keep your mind off of what you are doing in your down time (I watch a ton of movies) and keep practicing your posing.
The week out from a show is probably the most crucial part of the entire phase. No other time during your prep do you feel the pressure like the week out. You should be in condition at this point with no more fat to lose. You cardio sessions should probably be over with although if you still feel you need to tighten up even more, a couple more bouts might be in order. You are only looking at another three days of training max, ending on Wednesday so that you are well rested and muscles have fully healed and recovered come show day. Some people like to use these three days as glycogen depleting workouts so that when they start loading their muscles are like sponges soaking everything up and filling up like balloons. Depending on how big of a bodybuilder you are, your loading may start Wednesday night or Thursday afternoon. You’ll know how much time you need as a dry run should have taken place at the month out point or so. You are also starting to manipulate water and sodium intake to help achieve that shrink wrapped look every bodybuilder strives to achieve. Hair removal is now a necessity and you have a few options here. You can shave with a razor, wax or use a hair removal cream such as Nair. If you are shaving, I would suggest you completely shave your body on Thursday morning and then if need be, do touch ups with an electric razor. When you shave with a regular razor, your skin gets micro-damaged and in response to that it tries to hydrate itself which can give you a blurry look to your physique. By shaving a couple days out, your skin has time to heal and the electric razor won’t damage your skin like the regular razor so when you do your touch ups you shouldn’t have to worry about water retention. Starting Wednesday night, you’ll want to start applying your ProTan. Put on a coat, let it dry, put on another then the next morning shower to remove any excess product. Then on Thursday, apply a few more coats and shower again on Friday morning. This will be your last shower until after prejudging. Make sure you are dark enough to showcase your physique under the lights. Not being dark enough will wash out your physique and diminish any detail that should be seen on stage. Don’t put on any deodorant and especially no antiperspirant. The combination of that and Protan has a tendency to turn your skin a greenish tint which is something you most definitely do not want happening. Wherever you are sleeping, put down old sheets because you are going to ruin them with your color and housekeeping will be very upset coming into your hotel room and seeing the sheets in such a colorful mess.
Alright, so it’s almost time to step on stage but first you have to find out which class you’ll be competing in and this is determined at the competitor’s meeting/registration/weigh ins. Things to remember here are: your music CD (make sure it doesn’t contain any explicit lyrics or you’ll end up having your song switched mid routine to Britney Spears or whatever the default song is during intermission), your registration form if you couldn’t do it online, your membership fees if you haven’t already paid it, money for the competition fees, your thank you card which will contain those you want to thank who helped you get there and any sponsors you may have (this is how the MC will introduce you to the audience), your posing trunks for when you weigh in, bring some food with you as this could take a while especially if you are in the heavier weight classes, some water, your headphones to try to keep yourself from getting pulled into the mind screw game that is being played out as everyone is sizing everyone else up trying to figure out what they look like under their track suits and finally a plan B if you didn’t make the weight class you wanted to and have some time to lose that extra pound or two in the allotted time for you to do so. If you can, prior to weigh ins, try to get on the scale they’ll be using as the one you have been going by may be different than the one they will be using at the weigh ins. Many times people have complained they were a certain weight at their gym just an hour before then were much heavier at the weigh in. Then after this is all done, go back to your room, do some more posing, go through your routine, put on more color and try your best to get some sleep.
The day is finally here to put it all on the line. My advice is to always have a checklist with you to go over to ensure you have all that you’ll need in your gym bag when you head off back stage. Make sure you have your trunks, muscle sheen, competitor number, extra trunks, water, electrolyte mix, food, iPod, sandals, tubing to help pump up (there’s no guarantee there will be anything back stage and this has happened many times), your color product, a couple towels and then when you go back stage find a nice place to lie down and put your feet up. Putting your feet up and staying relaxed will help with your nerves and also the vascularity in your legs when you stand up (all the blood will be rushing to your feet causing all the veins to pop). Try to stay cool until it’s time to pump up so that none of the energy you’ll need is expended and then pay close attention to the stage help as they will be giving you direction and times when each class is up. I have known competitors who failed to pay attention then had to go on stage with only a few minutes’ notice leaving them no time to do the things they had originally planned to do prior to going out on stage. If you have a chance, you might also want to go out into the audience seating and check out the stage lighting to see where you should stand for the best lighting possible. During the pose down, you’ll know exactly where you want to pose to show off your physique. Finally, get out there and give it all you’ve got. Flex as hard as you can and let the judges do their job. Once prejudging is over, get some water or Gatorade in you, get something to eat, stick to your plan and don’t listen to what the other competitors are saying they will be doing, go back to the hotel room, get some rest, add on more color then head back to the venue for the finals. Do the same thing back stage that you did for prejudging, go out and nail your posing routine (you should have practiced this a lot making it look effortless and graceful) then take your placing and accept whatever happens regardless of where you finish. Grace in defeat as well as in victory is what I always say and be humble and respectful with your competitors. You all went through hell and back to get here and each of you deserves your just due. After the show, go get cleaned up and let loose a little. After all, you’ve been depriving yourself for a long time and have a lot to celebrate.
Once the dust has settled and you have come to grips with whatever transpired the day before, it’s time to take a little time off and let your body heal. Be careful with overeating as metabolic stress could quickly set in if you go off the rails and start binge eating. You’re going to feel a little out of sorts because if you aren’t competing again for a while, not having to do things on a strict schedule will feel really weird and knowing that you don’t have to eat, train and do cardio at predetermined times will be very odd to you. Start reconnecting with those you pulled away from during your prep, give back to everyone who helped you get to your show, start figuring out how you’ll get caught up with everything in your real life that you put on the back burner, take a deep breath and smile; you are now a competitive bodybuilder and chances are you are going to start setting your sights on the next show. Make sure you follow through with our post competition plan for getting your body back to normal, decide on how much time you’ll be away from the gym, if at all, slowly start incorporating new foods or new portion sizes to your diet and then just go be normal for a while. You owe it to yourself to back off a bit until it’s time to employ your new plan of attack.
As you can clearly see, there is a ton of work and effort required to step on that bodybuilding stage and chances are I missed a few details here in this article. Even though it is you and only you up there under the lights, it doesn’t mean you have to do all of this on your own. Having someone to help you get ready will serve to be incredibly invaluable.
Do your best to map everything out as close to the way you want things to play out, be prepared for unforeseen circumstances, leave nothing to chance and get out there and have fun. Your enthusiasm and excitement will shine through on stage when you’re posing and could be the difference between placing first or second.
Author: Dana Bushell
AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, ENDEVR Brand Ambassador, Sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc., SKECHERS Brand Ambassador.
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