You've thought about it more than a few times, haven't you? Your IG feed is constantly packed with posts from men and women dieting for contests, then proudly displaying their stage pics. You've been training for a while now, and you know you look as good as a lot of these folks—if not better. Admit it. You've tossed the idea around in your head: What would it be like to climb onstage and compete? Maybe it would be a lot of fun. You might even win! How cool would that be?
If you've been debating whether to compete, I'm here to help convince you not only to do it, but to do it now.
Reason 1: "Someday" Never Comes
"I'm gonna compete someday." A lot of people say that and never end up doing it. We human beings all share a tremendous proclivity for procrastination, only to realize many years later that we never tried all those things we thought we'd do when we got around to it.
If you are so committed to building your body that you meticulously plan your workouts, meals, supplements, and rest, it's safe to say that somewhere deep down you probably have competition on your mind. So, when are you going to do it? It takes some preparation, so if you want to give it a shot, start now. The things you'll learn about yourself, the way you'll grow—it's more than worth the battle to make yourself stage ready.
I've known plenty of men and women who had always meant to compete until life intervened. They just never quite made it. Maybe they became parents, or took on a very demanding job, or became chronically sick or badly injured. None of us know what tomorrow brings. Do you really want to look back and wish that you had competed when you had the chance? Regret is a terrible feeling.
Reason 2: Get in the Shape of Your Life
First and foremost, competing is the best way to reach your all-time physical peak condition. Sure, you can get some abs for summer or that Caribbean cruise, but most of us won't work past a certain point just to look decent for the beach.
Knowing you're going to be up on a stage, under bright lights, in front of a paying audience and a panel of judges scrutinizing every inch of your body from every angle—that will light a raging fire of motivation under your ass. You will train harder, eat cleaner, and dedicate yourself like never before.
You will face a very clear, unchangeable deadline: The contest date. You think time flies when you're having fun? Time really flies when you have X number of days and weeks to strip away as much body fat as possible; X number of days to reveal all those awesome cuts, striations, and veins.
Every workout, every cardio session, and everything you put in your mouth will serve a purpose and contribute to the finished product you will present onstage. If you think you train hard and eat well now, just wait until you've signed up for a contest!
Reason 3: Get to Know Your Body
Competing as a bodybuilder will also help you get to know your body like you've never known it before. Striving to achieve your lifetime physical peak by a specific day will force you to become an expert on diet, rest, supplements, and training routines.
You might find that a keto diet works wonders for you, or that it makes you look and feel like death warmed over. You may learn that certain types of carbs bloat you and make you sleepy, while others make you look fuller and feel more energetic. Fasted cardio might be your ticket to shred, or you could achieve the same results from hitting cardio after the weights.
Afternoon naps might refresh and invigorate you, or they could just make it tougher to fall asleep at night. Cheat meals might fill you out and reset your system for fat burning, or they could just set you back in your efforts to lean out. Squats might be the perfect way to build your glutes—or maybe hip thrusts work better.
The point I'm trying to make is that you don't really know your body, your own strength, what you're capable of, until you put it all on the line. Unless you're going to compete, you will most likely never do that.
Reason 4: Make New Friends and Connections
Maybe you're looking for your tribe. Do you ever feel like you're the only person at your gym who takes training and eating seriously? Do you get dirty looks when you hit a pose in the mirror, or God forbid, take a selfie while flexing? You might train alone, because there's no one around who would make a decent workout partner.
Being serious about attaining the perfect physique can make anyone feel like an outcast. Go to a contest, though, and you'll be surrounded by people who share your passion and dedication to perfecting your physique.
If you can dare to be a little outgoing, you will make new friends and acquaintances who could very well end up being workout partners, confidants, and members of your new support system. You might find out about excellent gyms to visit or even join. You might get tips to other regional resources like healthy restaurants, great chiropractors, or the perfect massage therapist.
Reason 5: Get a Second Shot at the Brass Ring
If you played sports growing up, you remember the thrill of competition. There was nothing quite like it, right? If you never had that experience, it's not too late. Getting up onstage to pit your hard work and dedication against a lineup of serious competitors is right up there with anything you can experience on the gridiron, baseball diamond, or basketball court.
In the months leading up to the contest, you'll battle hunger pangs, low energy, and occasional self-doubt. Once you're backstage at the show and smell the posing oil and Pro Tan, you'll be bursting with anticipation and excitement. It's an experience everyone who lives the bodybuilding lifestyle should have at least once. Fair warning: It can be addicting.
Reason 6: Set the Stage for New Gains
Spend a lot of time in the gym and you'll get to know those people I call the "perma-bulkers." These are lifters living in a perpetual off-season. They never diet down and lean out. That's a personal choice they're entitled to make. The fact of the matter, though, is that gains eventually grind to a halt when your body adjusts to that endless state of caloric surplus and minimal cardio.
If, on the other hand, you make the effort to lose significant amounts of body fat by cutting calories and upping your cardio, you can "reset" your metabolism and kick-start your body for new muscle growth.
Bodybuilders who compete will tell you that they make their best gains in the "rebound" phase that follows the contest-prep phase. After 12-16 weeks of lowered calories and increased activity, your system is primed and ready to turn extra calories into more muscle. It's one major reason why people who compete make continual progress, while perma-bulkers reach a certain point of size and strength and go no further.
The psychological aspect of competing can't be dismissed, either. If you lose, you're motivated to work harder so you don't lose next time. And if you win, you work harder so you can keep on winning!
Reason 7: Get Advice from the Best
Competing can help you lose body fat—and gain humility. One of the most valuable takeaways from competing is feedback from judges or others with expert eyes for the perfect physique. Because we see ourselves every day of our lives in the mirror, it can be exceedingly difficult to look at our physiques objectively. We all have a natural tendency to focus on our strong points and gloss over our weaknesses. Over time, that leads to greater and greater physique imbalances.
Judges are trained to look for and reward the best "total packages": the best size, shape, structure, symmetry, proportion, and condition. If you humbly ask them what you need to work on, they will certainly let you know. You may not want to hear your legs are weak or your back lacks thickness, but this is exactly the type of feedback that can help you improve your physique.
Even if you decide never to compete again, the wisdom the judges share with you is worth its weight in gold. You'll learn things you'll probably never hear from your friends, family, or people at the gym. These people mean well, but odds are they either have no eye for what constitutes a great physique, or they don't want to hurt your feelings. Judges will let you know what's really going on with your body—and how you can improve!
Reason 8: You Just Might Win!
Last, but certainly not least, if you compete, you might win your division—maybe even the overall title. Of course, it's really all about self-improvement and beating your previous best, but standing up there with your hand held high in victory is a pretty sweet feeling, too.
All you can do is prepare to the best of your ability to display the best version of your physique. You never know who else is going to show up or how you'll look compared to them on that particular day. Winning is partially up to you, partially up to fate, and partially up to the judges. Someone has to win, and if you prepare well enough, it just might be you. One thing is for sure: If you don't compete, your chances of winning drop to zero.
If any of these reasons make you want to give competition a try, your first step is to go to a website like npcnewsonline.com, and look for contests in your vicinity. Find one that's 4-6 months away so you have a decent amount of time to train. Decide which division your body would be best suited for: bodybuilding, classic physique, men's physique, women's physique, figure, or bikini (also called fitness model by some organizations). Commit yourself to it, take the attitude that there is no turning back now, and just do it!