Ready, Set, Compete In Fitness!

Many of you have considered competing in the past but something always seemed to keep you from the dedication required to get in competition shape. Here is your full guide to finally doing it!
"This is the year I get serious and compete!" Many of you have considered competing in the past but something always seemed to keep you from the dedication required to get in competition shape.

Do you think you have what it takes to be on stage? You have spent months, perhaps years developing your physique. Why keep it under wraps? Fitness and figure competitions have never been more popular and provide an excellent way to break into the fitness industry.

Competition requires an extreme level of physical and mental discipline unmatched by other sports and this is the year you will take action and compete. The following is a guide to help you reach your competition goals.


Before you begin, be realistic. Some competitors are blessed and have perfect genetics for competition. Other competitors lack symmetry or carry more bodyfat than they would like but through hard work, dedication, and commitment do extremely well in competition. To be a successful competitor, you must be mentally prepared to make competition the number one priority in your life - no exceptions!

"The extreme mental and physical toll, not to mention the drain on your financial resources are always the important considerations to remember prior to competition," said Elizabeth Maurice, an International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) Fitness Pro and 2002 NPC Body Rock Fitness Champ (tall class).

Contest preparation requires you to devote most of your day toward strength training, meals, and routine rehearsals. Hard work, enthusiasm, and paying strict attention to these important elements of competition preparation will determine the outcome of your efforts.

A great support system will help you, the competitor, achieve these goals by motivating and providing assistance to you when necessary. They can also serve as advisors telling the competitor what her strengths and weaknesses are; this is invaluable advice.


Regardless of your fitness level, a plan of action is an absolute must. "You have to be patient," commented Maurice. "I think some people can be ready in less time than a year and some people seem to take longer. It took me three year's to turn pro and each year I learned and grew from my mistakes and experiences. An intense competitor knows how to meticulously plan and prepare for her shows (budget, choreography, music, costumes, tanning, hair, makeup, shoes, walking, posing, diet, supplementation, and sleep)."

There are many variables to consider during the planning stages of your contest preparation; you cannot be over prepared. The following is a schedule to help you prepare for competition:

12-8 months out:

  • Pinpoint the competition and date
  • Develop your training and nutrition plan
  • If necessary, look for a gymnastic/skills coach, choreographer, and personal trainer
  • Keep accurate records of your progress in your training journal
  • Find a DJ and music
  • Think about suits and routine costume
  • Try to work the following skills into your routine:

    1. one arm push up
    2. cartwheel
    3. splits on both legs
    4. handstand
    5. straddle press
    6. forward roll
    7. pike press
    8. straddle jump
    9. high kicks
    10. air jacks

    Note: For pics of many of these movements, view this page. NPC rules and requirements are available there as well.

8-5 months out:

  • If possible have an experienced judge assess your physique
  • Eliminate junk food from your diet
  • Have music memorized and continue fine-tuning your routine
  • Order suits and routine costume (remember to order the size you will be on contest day)

5-3 months out:

  • Take weight and bodyfat measurements every other week and record
  • Continue fine tuning routine, posing, and walking in high heels
  • Revise training/diet if necessary

"The sooner you start putting your routine together the better," recommends IFBB Fitness Pro Marie Allegro. "I suggest having your routine finished at least 4 months out from your competition. It is critical to practice over and over again to cement it into your memory. Run through your routine at least 4 times a week for at least one hour. I would dedicate one practice session just on your strength skills, one session on your choreography, and the last 2 on your entire routine. This plan will have you prepared and ready to show your stuff on competition day!"

3-2 months out:

  • Try to get enough rest and sleep-vital for recovery
  • Start tanning
  • Register for competition, read the competition application carefully, 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.

2 months out:

  • Make travel arrangements if competition is not local
  • Choose hair style, accessories, and make-up
  • Purchase competition items such as lunch cooler, body lotion, tanning products, nail accessories, make-up, etc

1 month out:

  • Stay focused!
  • Stick to your diet, practice, practice, practice (this includes walking in high heel shoes)!
  • Tan

3 weeks - 1 week:

  • 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, make-up, etc.
  • Tanning
  • Make sure you have your music on CD and cassette (make an extra copy of both and have them with you just in case they are needed).

Day of Competition:

  • Get to venue early and check-in
  • Find out schedule of events and be ready
  • After all the work you put into this competition, go out there and have fun - you've earned it!


Weight training and cardio are two of the most important pieces of your competition preparation. Your workouts should be tailored to meet your individual needs and genetic makeup. Since you will be refining your physique, make sure you prioritize your weak points and train them at the beginning of your workout.

Here is a sample-training program:



Squats 4 X 6-12
Lying/Standing Leg Curl 3-5 X 4-6
Lunges 3-4 X 8-10
Crunches 3-4 X 8-12

[Printable Log For Monday]

45-60 minutes


Bench Press 3-4 X 8-12
Incline Bench Press 3-4 X 6-12
Standing Triceps Extension 3-4 X 8-12

[Printable Log For Tuesday]

45-60 minutes
Wednesday Off 30-45 minutes


Barbell Bent Over Rows 3-4 X 8-12
Lat Pull Downs 3-4 X 6-12
Barbell Curls 3-4 X 6-12
Concentration Dumbbell Curls 3-4 X 6-12
Crunches 3-4 X 10-20

[Printable Log For Thursday]

45-60 minutes


Seated Military Press 4 X 6-12
Side Lateral Raise 3-4 X 8-12
Shrugs 4 X 6-12
Standing Calf Raise 3 X 10-12
Seated Calf Raise 4 X 8-12

[Printable Log For Friday]

45-60 minutes
Saturday Off 30-45 minutes
Sunday Practice strength skills and work on weak areas 20-30 minutes

A personal trainer/coach may be useful to oversee all aspects of your contest preparation. Each competitor has different needs and a coach can provide confidence, direction, motivation, and inspiration. The key is to figure out what your individual needs are. 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.


Generally, fitness competitions include performing a routine that includes gymnastics, strength skills, flexibility, and dance in addition to the one and two piece bathing suit/physique rounds. A recent addition to the fitness industry has been the figure division. Figure competitions focus just on the one and two-piece bathing suit rounds, so no gymastics or fitness routine is needed.


There are several organizations, which offer fitness/figure competitions. Here is a list of some of the organizations:

It is a good idea to attend shows and view the websites of each organization to see what is expected and which organization fits you. Each organization has their own set of rules and regulations you should go through and understand them prior to competing. An exciting benefit for the athletes is the media exposure given to competitions through magazines like Muscle & Fitness, Oxygen, Ironman, the NPC News, and various websites.

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." --Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State

If competition is something that interests you, use the advice the pros have provided in this article and make your competition goals a reality. There will be days when you'll feel extremely hungry; you're having problems working out your routine, etc. After all, competing is quite tough but your hard work will pay off and your day to light up the competition stage is right around the corner.

Good luck and have fun!

*Contributions by IFBB Fitness Pro's Marie Allegro and Elizabeth Maurice

Preparing to Compete Reference Directory

Costume Makers


Audio Production


Tanning Products

Coaching Service

  • Prep' n' Compete: Developed by IFBB Pro's Amy Yanagisawa and Marie Allegro, Prep' n' Compete provides advice on topics such as diet, routine, costumes, and contest preparation. They have also put together a workshop where they can answer any questions related to fitness competition. For more information, contact them at

About The Author

Rob Wilkins, originally from Linden, NJ, is a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force stationed at The Pentagon, Washington, DC. Wilkins is also a Special Assistant to the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and a recipient of the IFBB Gold Medal. To contact Wilkins e-mail him at