Whether it be bodybuilding, figure, fitness, bikini, or the new women’s physique, you need to take a good, hard look at your inner self as well as the current state of your physique before you begin any prep for this typically 16 week long endeavor.
#1: Who am I competing for?
If the answer to this question is not “me,” then I highly advise you leave the idea of competing behind for now. You should not compete because a significant other or family member thinks you should do it, or because someone in the gym or a friend told you you should. Competing is a very personal decision and it should be something that you look at and say, "I want to do this to challenge myself and see what I'm capable of accomplishing.” If you look at a competition as something you do for someone else, then I say don't even go through the hard work because you won't enjoy it, plain and simple.
#2: Do I have Support?
Competing is a very selfish endeavor. When in prep your world must revolve around you and often times family members and significant others feel neglected and ignored. Gone are the days of sitting around the TV eating popcorn, chips, and candy. Sunday dinners with the family? Forget about it, unless you bring your chicken breast and broccoli to the gathering. If you have kids, prep can be especially challenging with all the snacks and “kid meals” you need to prepare in addition to your own. If your loved ones don't understand what you're going through there will be resistance, tension, guilt, and sometimes anger to deal with that only intensifies as your contest date draws closer. Also be prepared for the kind of people I call “the sabotagers.” There’s always a coworker, family member, or friend who will wave pizza or candy in your face to try and make you break down and eat the food. Some people may do this just to make you laugh and relax. Others are simply jealous of your willpower and resolve and want to see you be human and crack. Don’t! Hold strong and stand your ground. Does this mean you shouldn’t follow through with a show? Absolutely not. But it is a reality many competitors are not prepared for so be ready to deal with possible friction. And who knows, you may actually be pleasantly surprised at the support you receive.
#3: What category should I enter?
If the first and second questions have been answered and you feel like you're ready to go forward then the next decision to be made is what category to enter. Do you go into fitness? Figure? Bikini? Bodybuilding? Try the newer women’s physique? Open? Novice? Masters? Many questions to answer but all pertinent ones. Do your homework and look into restrictions on categories like age, height, etc, then sit down and really think about your physique and what you have to work with. Are you more of an X shape or a Y shape? Thicker or skinnier? Do research on what is required for the category you've chosen. For example, if you chose fitness, be sure you have your bases covered with the fitness routine: time limit, mandatory moves, proper music, etc. Bodybuilding and now women’s physique have mandatory poses that will be done during pre-judging that need to be practiced daily, and figure, fitness, and bikini require that you walk on stage in heels with mandatory turns and a certain walk. You may think practicing in heels is silly but come competition day you can easily point out who feels comfortable in them and who does not!
#4: When should I compete?
Ok, you have a category (or possibly categories if you're allowed to enter more than one at your chosen show) picked out. Now you need a date. Check out your local NPC website for a list of competition dates to see what's feasible. Be sure to give yourself enough time to diet and never be scared to pick a date in say, January, for a show in November. More time is always a good thing. It's better to be ahead in prep than to be behind and try to crash diet and cardio your way to the end. That method will always show up in your final results and you never want to sacrifice your hard earned physique in order to meet a deadline.
#5: Who should do my prep?
This is possibly the most difficult and most important question to answer. Do your homework. Ask other competitors whose looks you like about their coaches. Visit websites of some of your favorite athletes to see if they do prep for other competitors. Even if you don't see any contest prep information on their site, don't be afraid to email them and ask. Always go with your gut when choosing your prep trainer. If you don’t get a good vibe from someone, thank them for their time and move on. This is your body, your time, your effort, and your money. And if you think you can handle doing your own prep then do it! It’s a rough undertaking but can certainly be done. Just remember that having someone at the very least look at you through your prep is a great idea. I equate it to someone proofreading a paper. An extra set of fresh eyes is always a good idea.
Also consider hiring someone for posing coaching. If you are fortunate enough to have your trainer be there for you in person then they can help you along with the proper posing techniques. If you are utilizing an online trainer then look for someone local who is an experienced competitor to guide you. Also look for possible camps hosted by experienced competitors/coaches. Why put in all the hard work of obtaining a great physique if you don’t also show it off properly once you hit the stage? Competitors can tell you that there was many a time when they saw a great physique ruined by improper posing.
#6: What should I wear?
You have your date set, your prep coach selected, and your category chosen. You are mentally prepared and you have your support in place. So, what do you wear? Like posing, suits can literally make or break a competitor. The wrong cut or the wrong color can all have a profound affect on the look of your physique. Bodybuilders will want to go with a plain, solid colored two piece for pre-judging and then a fully decorated two piece for the night show. Figure, fitness, and women’s physique will need to go with a fully decorated two piece suit. Fitness will also need an outfit for their routine round that is eye catching, easy to move in, and fitting to their theme. Bikini competitors need a cute two piece suit that flatters their curves (but no thongs!). Figure, fitness, and bikini will also need heels. My personal suggestion (one passed along to me from an IFBB pro) are plain, four inch clear heels. I would avoid straps unless you feel uncomfortable without them. Anything flashy can take away from your look because remember that the judges are right at your feet and you do not want to draw their attention away from all your hard work. AVOID PLATFORMS!!! Judges are typically not fond of “stripper heels.”
#7: How will I fund this?
Paired with who will do your prep this question could be the most important to answer before going forward. This is often a big hurdle for those who have limited funds. This is not a cheap sport to compete in, but deciding on a budget from the start helps. Learning ways to skirt costs helps tremendously, so check out sites like ebay, check with fellow competitors, or consignment sites like Diva Exchange for used and new suits. While a pre-made suit may not be the absolute perfect fit, odds are it will be a good one. If you're not comfortable with that idea then shop around for someone to make your suit(s). Again, don't be afraid to ask around to other competitors and don't forget that you can also get plain suits and decorate them yourself with crystals. Sometimes this is cheaper than having someone do it for you. Another idea to cut competition costs is to put some feelers out there for sponsorship. Check locally with tanning salons and supplement stores. Check online for contests. Even if all a company can do is contribute a tub of protein it's something and every little bit will count. Food and supplementation are big expenses to consider. Chicken breasts, eggs, vitamins, and protein powder add up! You also have to budget for your prep coach unless you're lucky enough to have a friend do it or you feel confident enough to do it yourself. Don't forget other important expenses like makeup, tanning supplies, bikini bite, entry fees, NPC card fees, and travel expenses. There are always ways to make the journey more affordable including, but never limited to, finding roommates for shows that require hotel stays, seeing if the hotel offers a special rate for competitors, carpooling, asking a skilled friend for help on hair and makeup, etc.
While this seems like a daunting list, in the end it is a very doable one. If it weren’t then men and women would not be entering shows every year. Competing is a serious commitment mentally, physically, and financially. Many don't realize how tough it really is until they take on their first prep. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But it has by far been one of the most rewarding tasks I’ve ever taken on and completed. Just like all things in life, if it is wanted badly enough then the correct sacrifices will be made to make it happen. Listen to those who have gone before you. Often their advice is more valuable than anything you will receive during your prep. And who knows, maybe one day you, too, will find yourself sitting down at a computer to write your own advice article to help out future competitors.