1 year to 6 months
Choose a show that is about 6 months to a year away. Depending on what condition you are in and how symmetrical you are. You would not want to compete with a 19-20 in arms and thighs, would you? So start cleaning up your diet and attack those weak body parts with a vengeance. Also, tell everyone you know friends, family, people at the gym that you plan to compete. Peer pressure is a one of the best ways of keeping you on track.
This is another time where you start experimenting with certain supplements. Fat burners, anabolic and anti-catabolic supplements; see what works for you and what doesn't.
Five months out
So you have had a month or so with little pressure. Now, let's turn it up a notch! Every gym has resident bodybuilders, whether past or present. Ask one of these bodybuilders to truly judge your physique. It is hard to judge yourself properly. Now, take those opinions and get to work. Prioritize your body parts to bring those weakest up to par. Most bodybuilders and iron freaks tend to get in a rut, never changing their routines and always sticking to the same exercises they love.
Build your training regimen to build up your weaknesses, but still maintaining your outstanding body parts.
Four months out/16 weeks
This is time where your diet is everything. You must eat really clean. Do not resort to extreme measures of training (3 hours of cardio or severe caloric restriction). Talk to bodybuilders, read real nutrition books, talk to a sport nutritionist, and personal trainer. This is where their advice is worth its weight in gold. Also this is a good time to start incorporating cardio into your regimen. Start listening to different kinds of music that reflects your personality and physique. Keep in mind your routine. Some bodybuilders go to ballet instructors, fitness instructors, and fitness competitors for other areas of advice like counting music, form and dance routines. Remember the more you actually put into it the more you will receive in the end.
Twelve weeks out
By now you should have your diet down. Have your body composition checked every 4 weeks. You have specialized your cardio to your body type. Some bodybuilders need 2 X 45 minutes of cardio some do not. You should have already started posing and flexing. Now change your posing routine everyday (mandatories one day, most muscular another, 3 quarter turns and so on). Just like a normal workout. You should have stopped experimenting with supplements. You should know what works by now.
9 weeks out
It is really important to have a good base tan for competition. Start tanning in tanning beds a few times a week; also experiment with self-tanners to see which one works the best. You need to use both for the competition. Tanning beds do not get you dark enough for the lights at the show. Self-tanners can make you look orange or red without a base tan. Keep up the cardio. Also practice showing your body.
4 weeks out
Time to be critical; you are as big as you are going to be. This is where you have to really critique your body. Take another caliper test, it you are about 5% you should stop and really start using the mirrors as a complete source. Don't stray from your diet and keep everything short and intense, from training and aerobics to posing.
Focus on perfecting your routine; invite others to watch your routine in the gym. Shine and get feedback from them. This will also simulate an audience. Maybe you should try having pose downs with other competitors. This is also a perfect time to buy posing trunks you should use Bodybuilding.com's color chart for the right color and style.
Well, now you have made it. Just don't panic and do everything stupid. You have lost all the fat you are going to lose.
Last time to tan in a tanning bed, tanning will make you hold water.
Monday and Tuesday
These are your last days for light training and light cardio. Anymore and it hinders your physique. Also, this is the last day to shave. Shaving your body makes you retain water. Shave all the peach fuzz too. This will show up under the lights. Make a list of everything you are going to need the day of the show. Use Bodybuilding.com's list.
Pose and practice routine, get a haircut, stay active. No cardio or workouts.
Start using your self tanner today. Rinse off before bed (no scrubbing or soap). Posing and routine.
Wake up early, leave nothing to chance, and get to the competition early.
This is your day to shine; this is where everything you have worked so hard for comes to.