Taking The Plunge: Tips For Your First Contest!

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You've made the decision to try your hand at competing in a bodybuilding competition, but you're not sure what steps to take. Here's a quick step-by-step guide to get you started on the right path.


The first step in competing is a self-assessment. Be honest with yourself. Your biggest challenge will be determining how much body fat you need to burn off and how long it will take you to do it.

Most competitors diet between eight and 16 weeks before a competition. It varies on how much fat you're carrying. If you can see your abs well and you already have good separation you might only need to diet for eight weeks. If you can't see one row of abs, you'll need to diet for at least 16 weeks, maybe 20.

If you set a goal of burning off two pounds per week, you'll burn off 16 pounds on an eight-week diet and 32 pounds on a 16-week diet. Remember, it's always better to start a little early rather than trying to make up for lost time a couple weeks before the big show. With all that being said, give yourself between 12 and 16 weeks to prepare for the competition.

Choose A Show

Choosing which show to compete in for your first show is important. If you've only been training a year or two and still have some growing to do, but you just want the experience, find a smaller local show to compete in before you step on stage at state or regional competition.

Find a show that's three to four months away and that is also close to where you live so you don't have to travel very far. Enter the novice and/or the junior or master division if you meet the age requirement. Entering two divisions is called "crossing over." It's a good opportunity to bring home two trophies (or more) at a show.


This is probably the most important factor in contest prep. You can find various pre-contest diets all over the Internet, but don't do anything too radical or follow one that promises too much.

The basics of a pre-contest diet are a high-protein, medium- to low-carb, and medium-fat diet. Aim for one to one and one-half grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and 100 to 150 grams of carbs per day.

Eat plenty of chicken and fish and complex carbs. Eat as many green veggies as can. Your fat intake will take care of itself by just adding a couple tablespoons of peanut butter per day.


Despite what many sources might say about pre-contest training, you don't really have to increase your workload from off-season to contest prep time.

Stay with the same training schedule you used in the offseason. Your weights might decrease somewhat, but train as heavy as you can all the way up to the contest. Keep your reps between eight and 12 per exercise. Sets per body part should range between six and 15. Keep it simple.


In addition to weight training, you'll need to add or increase the amount of cardio you perform. Begin with 30 minutes five to six days per week.

It doesn't matter if it's walking, biking, stair climbing or jogging. Do what you like. Keep it at a level where you can still breathe comfortably. You don't need to be out of breath and panting and gasping for air. After one month, increase the amount of cardio by performing cardio all seven days of the week.


If you do not know how to pose, you need to find a coach or order a DVD on how to pose properly. Purchasing a DVD of an actual bodybuilding competition will be helpful also. You should practice posing at least 30 minutes per day the last four weeks.


It is good to start tanning outside or inside in a bed about four weeks before the show. This gives you a good base to start with before you apply tanning agents. The day before the show, apply three coats of a skin stain like. The stage lights are so bright that if you do not use the tanning agents, you will look like a ghost - even if you're dark-skinned to begin with.

Posing Suits

Order your suit at least a month ahead of time. You don't need to stress out worrying if it will arrive in time. Order a style you'll be comfortable wearing. Remember, you don't have to wear a really skimpy suit. Buy two suits just in case something goes wrong. If you're in doubt of which color to get, buy black. Remember also, lighter colors get stained easily by tanning agents.


Shaving isn't a big deal for female competitors, but many guys haven't shaved their legs or chest until they compete. Start shaving at least a couple weeks before the show. Start with a hair trimmer to get the large areas. Follow up with a razor and shaving cream or soap.

You don't need to shave every day, but a couple times will be helpful. If your show is on Saturday, shave Thursday night and apply your tanning agent on Friday. Don't apply tanning agents immediately after you shave. Yowsers!... if you do.

Last Week

For your first show, don't do a crazy carb-depletion/carb-loading phase. Keep your diet the same all the way to the show. Your last weight training day should be on Wednesday.

Cardio can be done up until Thursday. Friday should be spent on posing and tanning.

Increase your water intake on Monday all the way through Friday. Drink up to two gallons per day. Just sip water on Saturday. This will help you reduce water retention and make sure your hard-earned cuts are clearly visible.

Have Fun

Above all, have fun with this experience. Whether you win or lose, this will be a challenge many people never undertake. The feeling of accomplishment will be unlike anything else you'll ever do. Good luck and train hard!