A Guide For Beginner's Contest Prep!
All Bodybuilders Dream Of Being A Champion
In 1983 I started training with weights as a competitive alpine ski racer and continued training with weights while competing for the University of New Mexico ski team. After a bad fall, which made me stop skiing, I began to get more and more involved in lifting weights, as my thoughts were to make a come back to the slopes.
Soon people in the gym were asking me if I was a bodybuilder. My answer was, "What's a bodybuilder?" After researching what they where talking about, I picked out a show and proceeded to get ready for my first contest. So, I did the 1988 NPC Boulder Bodybuilding Championships and I won the middleweights. Not too bad for not knowing anything.
If I remember right all I ate was large plates of pasta with cheese, butter and vegetables. Since then I have competed steadily in over a dozen shows, and made top ten in National shows and my contest prep has evolved over the years to become a very scientific process...
Ok, so, you've been lifting in the gym for months. You've been looking in those bodybuilding magazines, and you're considering competing too. I know, all your friends say you have a great physique. Before you begin, be realistic. For instance look in the mirror at your own physique. Do you have what it takes?
Bodybuilding competitions require a certain level of physical and mental discipline. Have you been to a show? Before you even begin the hard journey, find the nearest local show and check it out. Look around... in the audience alone should be a level of bodybuilders with great physiques. Watch the category you want to compete in. Interesting Huh?
One other note that is very, very important - I have gone to many shows since 1988 when I started, and there is always one constant, the individual who is on stage that everyone in the audience is laughing at. I'm sorry about being straight, but "competitive" bodybuilding is NOT what most think bodybuilding is.
You should NOT get on stage just because you dieted - it is "crucial" that your physique actually be ready for stage presentation. Bodybuilding competition is NOT for the individual who just finished their "Biggest Loser" trek and thinks that's a good reward or the individual who has only lifted for one month and gets up there with those trying to be a "real" bodybuilder.
Politics In Bodybuilding
Most importantly, you better have tuff skin to be a bodybuilder. You need to comprehend one important thing before you step on stage - Learn the politics of bodybuilding. Yes, there is politics, and I'm not talking like something is sour in my mouth about bodybuilding, I love the sport. But, there is politics and don't let anyone tell you different.
It took me years of practice and mistakes to get my diet and prep right but I still have trouble with the politics of bodybuilding. Sandy Ranalli (NPC Women's Representative and promoter) told me once, "Anita it's just being at the right show at the right time."
Did she say anything about how my physique should look? Nope. Not at all. Though it is very important there is more involved. And that's reality. Next, is do not think you are going to turn pro at your first National show. That's if you even make it that far. It has happened to some, but be realistic in your assessment.
I always shot for top 5 or better, and not to get "cut" from the lineup. All of those are realistic and positive goals for any beginner and a few that are competing right now should take note on. Just doing that will generate enthusiasm and the drive needed to keep the competition fires burning. It's a long haul for some to turn pro, just ask Bob Chicerillo, Annie Rivecio, and a few of my other fellow competitors.
Genetics & Drugs
Ok, now let's talk the genetics and drug thing. Some individuals have what might be deemed as perfect genetics and fast metabolisms. Others carry more body fat than they would like.
Some are tall and some are short. It's hard to find that perfect body but that doesn't mean you cannot make yours into something that is close to perfect. And it also doesn't mean you need to take drugs to become a top-flight bodybuilder. However, it would be nice if you lifted weights seriously for a couple years, and continue to during your competitive career.
Most, and I'm talking the ignorant out there think they have to take drugs just to make it and don't even train in the gym diligently. There is a lot of hard work, sweat, and pain that goes into those physiques you see in MuscleMag, FLEX and even Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness magazine. I've seen some GREAT INBF/WNBF bodybuilders.
Do You Have A Training Partner?
Do you have a partner? What about a support crew? If you do, have your partner look at you, or even another competitor may help. Make sure they are telling you how it is, NOT what you want to hear. That's not good help at all. We've seen that to many competitors think they should have won because they're support crew said they looked great.
I remember at the 1993 USA's - it was the morning of the show and I asked my husband how I looked, "OK!" was his reply. As soon as I heard that I knew I screwed up. After prejudging was over I thought I was cut. I was lucky; I made the cut.
As we went back to the hotel so I could relax for the evening show, my husband told me, without mixing words, "I would have cut you!" Ouch! If that isn't telling it like it is, I don't know what is. But, he was right. That is what training partners should be, direct and helpful.
Develop A Plan
Now that we got the tuff stuff out of the way, let's get into the fun stuff. Lets say you do possess the physique and you have a good foundation of lifting under your belt, are you ready for the dedication needed for competition diet? Do you know what to do to get there? I hope this guide can help you prepare properly so you can become a winner at your next show.
So, let's get you ready for the stage.
Now, you need a plan. What's your Plan? What will it take for you to be successful on the stage? That's easy. A plan! Regardless of your level, a game plan is an absolute must and will make getting ready for that show so much easier. Some people can be ready in less time than a year and others take longer.
The following is a basic schedule to help you prepare for your next bodybuilding show:
12 Months Out
- Pick your show.
- Develop your off-season training program.
- Eat quality foods in the off-season, eating every two to three hours and pounding down protein, lots of protein.
- Do cardio two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes at a time.
- Keep accurate records in your training journal (get a journal if you don't have one).
- Find a couple different songs you like.
- Think about suits and your posing routine. Search For A Competition In Your Area Here!
6 Months Out
- Start working on your mandatory poses.
- Change your workout routine, with a focus on anything that might be lacking, but do not neglect the size exercises either.
- Up your cardio to 30 minutes a day.
- Continue to eat quality food and 1.5 - 2 kg of protein per pound of body weight.
- Eat regular meals all week and "junk food" on Sunday's.
- Now is really when you want to give serious thought about your posing suit and where you are going to get it. Because many places get backed up on making suites.
20 Weeks Out (Competition Diet STARTS!)
Set-Up Competition Diet: This is different for many. I was taught and truly believe that starting 20 weeks out eases you into this process rather then many other contest prep people start doing things 12 weeks out from the show - TWELVE weeks out! Isn't that pretty close and we want less stress not more. But, we all have our preferences.
- If possible have an experienced judge or experienced competitive bodybuilder assess your physique or someone who is close to the industry and knows what to look for.
- Start working on your routine and doing mandatory poses, holding each mandatory pose for 10 seconds. Do this after workout.
- Order posing suits (remember to order two sizes smaller than what you are now for contest day)
- Take pictures doing each mandatory pose.
The sooner you start working on your mandatory poses the better. I was told by Muscle Sport announcer Kenny Kassle to start doing timed mandatory poses after your workout three times a week to start and then every day the closer you get to your show.
I suggest doing each mandatory for 10-15 seconds to start. It is critical to practice these poses over and over again to cement it into your memory. You want to go up on stage during pre-judging and look like you did this before, like a pro. No, better then a pro. This alone will have you prepared and ready to show your stuff on competition day and it will definitely harden you up too!
- Every week or two take pictures. This is a great monitor for your progress.
- Contact the organization to which you are going to compete in or the state chair of that organization and get a copy of the rules. You don't want to be unprepared.
8 Weeks Out
- Register for competition and keep your receipts. This cannot be emphasized enough-you've put in the hard work. Don't let something as simple as forgetting to register ruin your big day.
- Also, make sure you have paid your membership fees for the organization to which you will be competing.
6 Weeks Out
- Make travel arrangements if competition is not local
- Choose hairstyle, accessories, and make-up
- Start tanning
- Purchase competition items such as lunch cooler, body lotion, tanning products, and (nail accessories, make-up, etc. for you ladies)
3 Weeks Out
- Stay focused!
- Stick to your diet; practice, practice, practice those mandatory poses and your routine!
- Practice mandatory poses and go over your routine in all your costumes
- Make a competition checklist to ensure you have everything you need. For example, posing suits, tanning products, 2-copies of your music
- More Tanning
Day Of Competition
- Get to venue early and that doesn't mean an hour or two before check in, unless you live around the corner - But that doesn't always work either. There could be a car accident or construction like my friend Ron Harris found out the day of the NPC New England in his own back yard - he ran into a detour and he was already running late because of Janet his wife. So, get in a day early and check-in. After all the work you put into this competition, go out there and have fun-you've earned it!
- Find out schedule of events and be ready
Competition diet, weight training, and cardio are the most important pieces of your competition preparation. Your workouts should be tailored for growth, size and shape development. Since dieting will help refine your physique, make sure you prioritize your weak points during workouts.
Yes, you have weak points, everyone has one or two, and you will need to work overtime on them. Muscle proportion, separation and size should be your main priorities. To get the best definition possible you will need to concentrate on that diet and cardio too. Ahhh, you thought I was going to tell you to do supersets, cable crossovers, and maybe 100 rep schemes? NOT!
Whoever is still talking like that has not learned a thing and you shouldn't listen to them. Point; my husband does reps in the 100 range and has done supersets, trust me he's far from cut. Another thing is do not think supersets are a workout that will get you "cut." This is not true. Or do not think you are going to get weaker the closer you get to your show. This is another fallacy.
Three weeks out from my last show I cranked-out 6 reps with 140 pounds on dumbbell rows, and was still pressing 80-pound dumbbells on Incline. If your diet is right and your food intake is maintained all the time the above will occur.
Being FULLER and THICKER is every bodybuilder's goal to look on stage. If this is your first contest, you may have a ton of questions and consulting with a coach will help eliminate your fears and help you reach your goals.
So what do I do to start burning off body fat?
Weigh yourself before breakfast because this will give you your true body weight. As you can imagine, if you weigh yourself later in the day you will be heavier due to the meals and fluids you have consumed. Well, many people cut back on their carbohydrates and continue doing this along with their cardio. But, this is stupid and will make them look stringy!
What is bodybuilding about? It's about building muscle and being ripped. How on earth can anyone expect to keep muscle if they constantly keep cutting back on their food??? Aerobics: I do between 2-3 sessions per week of 30 minutes on the stepper. My body weight is stable with this, so my stage is set so that I have everything in place to work from.
Start off your diet with clean foods. If you are eating a fair bit of junk, work out your calories, etc. and replace with quality foods, so it resembles the diet I mentioned previously. Do this about 4 weeks before you start your contest run in. If you do a 12- week diet, start the clean up phase 16 weeks out, come the 12-week stage you will have your stage set perfectly.
Do aerobic 20/30 minutes, once everyday, especially when most don't do aerobics in the off-season or very little obviously, you have got to lose body fat.
When weight loss slows down, the next stage is to increase aerobics on non-training days only do two sessions.
Next, when things start to slow down, increase your aerobics by 10/15 minutes per session.
The next step you can consider to keep things rolling is to increase aerobics by doing 2 sessions everyday.
When weight loss slows down again, drop your carbohydrates intake by 50/200grams on non-training days (the amount will depend on your diet and some people will be competing in lighter weight classes, so use your judgment).
If you need to, you can reduce your carbohydrates by 100grams per day, as there is only so much aerobics you can do. This should be the first time you reduce food across the whole of your diet, as you have exploited every other avenue. If you still need to get that extra off, repeat stage 7.
Your goal should be that you are in contest condition, around 1-2 weeks out from the show. This will allow you to eat up slightly into your show and at the very least level things off so you can relax knowing that the hard work has been done.
Here is a short run down of one of my contest preps, I hope it helps some of you and maybe even gives you some ideas on what to do for your next show.
I like losing my weight slowly, which is why I start so far out, and doing this helps you from getting that depleted look. I start with my calories just under 2,800, which is pretty high for me. I do not watch my sodium and fat intake. But, I do care about carb intake so I keep them both about the same, around 70 grams each. Pretty high fat content huh?
My protein intake is very high to, about 300 grams, and I keep it that way all the way until two days prior to stepping on stage. This keeps the muscle on me and helps me to add more muscle the closer I get to the show. Also, other then an eat day on Sunday's, my diet and food stays the same all the way through. But, about 12 weeks out I do stop the eat day.
My contest diet looks like this:
Meal 4 After Workout:
As you can see, Flax Seed Oil is a major part of my dieting. I utilize Flax Seed Oil instead of carbs for energy and to burn off my body fat. This is what works best for me and for many other female bodybuilders this is the best way of dieting for a show. I also do 40-50 minutes of cardio on a treadmill in the morning and another 30 minutes after my evening iron pumping session.
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I am very lucky to have a very fast metabolism, but year after year your body changes and something that worked a year ago will not necessarily work the next year.
Regarding pumping the iron - I do not lift weights like most other bodybuilders. I do not do more sets, reps or supersets the closer I get to a show. But, rather, one body part a day, and I do 3-4 exercise and 3-4 sets per exercise for each body part, and my reps do not drop below six or go over 20.
The closer I get to show time I get stronger, instead of weaker. My husband made a bet with me that if I got to the 150's by contest he'd be my maid for a week. I lost, but I tried very hard to get those 150's. I did 140 pound dumbbells Rows for six reps each arm three weeks prior to the NPC Southern States.
Everyone's body is different and peaking is always hit or miss. Your water and electrolyte intake is a big thing the day before and the morning of the show. I always see other female competitors drinking water prior to getting on stage and the night before, then they wonder why they smoothed out. Or they ask why their legs were not as cut.
Well, my contest peaking is all due to the exact time I stop drinking water, which is between noon and 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. The only other liquid intake I might have is a glass of red wine with my steak dinner that Friday evening. Yep, steak dinner with bake potato and a cup of ice cream that Friday evening. I poured my glass of wine on my ice cream. It tasted good. The things we do when contest dieting.
I also up my dosage of multivitamins. Multivitamin and mineral supplements are perhaps the most important single supplement that can be consumed by bodybuilders and athletes.
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I stop doing all cardio and leg work about 10 days before the show; this gets rid of all the excess lactic acid. Enabling my legs to get the sharpness needed to compete on the National level.
I go through my compulsorily poses every day and hold each pose for about one minute each. It's a workout. Try it. It will prep you for on stage and you'll feel like a veteran and not a rookie posing.
The most important part is to realize that nothing matters except how you look. It doesn't matter what your body-fat percentage is or how strong you are or even how much you weigh. You have to have good skin tone, a good hair cut, and for you girls out there make sure the make-up is just right too, do not go out with "Ghost" face, know how to pose like a veteran, and be cut and muscular.
Here is what an IFBB Pro has to say about what it takes to become a competitive bodybuilder:
"Competitive bodybuilders must come to realize and accept that they will be judged based not only on how they look when standing alone, but how they look in comparison to the other athletes on stage that day and at that particular time.
The higher up you go, the more this becomes evident. It doesn't matter what you looked like in the gym 2 weeks out, whether this is the best condition you've ever been in or if all your supporters think that the show was yours to win or lose. It only matters how you measure up to the rest of the field...
Bodybuilding is about creating the illusion of reality and convincing the judges that your physique is far above the other competitors with regards to symmetry, conditioning, muscularity and stage presence. In other words, those individuals that have the least amount of weaknesses will be the ones, most likely, that come out victorious."
Learning From Your Mistakes
In bodybuilding learning from ones experiences is very helpful; It is a good idea to attend shows (This is a must). Go to www.ronharrismuscle.com and read what Ron learned from doing his last two shows.
Talk to the competitors and ask the judges questions. The latter is something I readily tell people not to do, especially after the show they've competed in. If you ask more than one judge at the competition you'll get two different answers. I learned quickly to not ask them the day of the show or around others.
I asked the head judge of a National show, years ago, why I got placed where I did? The answer was: "Your legs where smooth!" In astonishment I replied by picking up my skirt and flexing my striated cut thighs and then went on to say that they where full of it.
I later wrote this person a letter to the fact again. Only to receive a call late one evening from this judge explaining to me why what was said. This individual read my letter of disharmony, and then explained that I received what I got because I was "too big" and though this person said I looked "great" at the time the NPC was "toning it down," and to "never ask in front of others." I said thank you and never again asked a judge why again.
First and foremost, again get a support crew or a competition prep trainer. This can be a group of individuals or one person. A support crew should help you achieve your bodybuilding goals. They serve as advisors telling you what strengths and weaknesses you have.
You can get me (www.anitaramsey.com) of course, and Chad Nichols, Charles Glass and Ron Harris (www.ronharrismuslce.com) are great for you guys. Again, contest prep requires you to devote your day's making your meals, going to the gym, doing cardio sometimes twice a day, working on your mandatory poses, and your evening routine. All these elements will determine the outcome of your efforts.
Competition is a part of life, we compete against one another every day, but the most difficult thing to do is to compete with yourself, to push the boundaries of your own physique and your own psyche. Stepping on stage can be one of the most frightening and difficult experiences that you may ever go through, but it is also something that you can walk away from with a great deal of personal satisfaction, knowing that you have accomplished something that few of your peers will ever have the guts to do.
Remember, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. If bodybuilding competition is something you've been thinking about, my advice is, to use the directions provided in this article and make your competition goals a reality. Even though competing for bodybuilding may be tough, if you maintain your focus and put in the hard work then everything will pay off and soon you'll be holding that overall trophy high over your head. Good luck, have fun, and compete!
We are not all created equally, physically speaking. Second, no matter how hard you train there are no guarantees you will ever become the level of champion you set your sites on. Every athlete, with a desire to compete, must brace himself or herself for the reality of bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding at any level and in all organizations is a subjective sport that is ruled and based upon opinions of several different people. Though guidelines and rules do come into play, and judges are supposed to be impartial, they still bring their opinions and feelings into how they, the judges, perceive you on that day and how they feel their ideal physique should look.
The madness in this muscle business, to a certain degree, is controlled and regulated by what seems to be a handful of individuals we title as judges. Judges play an integral part how we soar as a competitor up the ladder of Bodybuilding supremacy. These individuals hold your dreams in their hands.
They are the all-important amateur and professional judges in every organization. These judges also have a certain amount of control over what look takes us into each new-year! Therefore, no matter how hard you trained and dieted or what you may think of your opposition, the final outcome is totally out of your control.
So, be professional. You must accept the judge's decision as final. I don't mean "professional" as Pro status, no, what I mean is be professional and understand that you cannot control those decisions, you are in a human Dog Show, the West Minster Human Kennel Club Nationals.
At the end of the day, if you do your best you will reap the rewards of your hard work in other areas of life that may come in different forms. The real reward comes in the journey to your desired look.
Finish what you started and step up to the plate to see what you're made of. Stay the course, understand it's all subjective and you'll at least win in the most important game. The game of Life!
Always remember to compete to have fun and to win! Be happy for all your hard work and the accomplishment of making it through 20 weeks of diet, training, posing, and everything else you put into that one day on stage.
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