Designing A Winning Contest Prep Strategy!

Find out exactly what you need to do to design a winning contest strategy. Learn all about training, diet, nutrition, supplementation, mental focus, about the shows, what to wear and everything else you could think of...

So you've accepted the challenge and decided to take your training up a couple of notches and test your physique on the stage! Congratulations! You have set a goal and are determined to achieve it. So now what? You have a very limited knowledge of what exactly it takes to compete. In fact, you don't have the slightest clue and you don't know anyone that you can go to for help. That's okay!

My goal in writing this guidebook is to outline all of the steps you will need to take to prepare for your show. I will guide you step by step through the processes of developing a training and nutrition program as well as all of the little details that it will take to get you to the stage. Are you up to the challenge? It's not always an easy and fun road, and at times you may wonder why in the world you are putting yourself through all of this.

Believe me, that's normal! Any time you take the plunge into the unknown and step out of your comfort zone, you will feel a certain amount of anxiety. If you didn't, you wouldn't really be challenging yourself now would you? When you are at the end of your journey you will be able to look back and be proud of all that you have accomplished ... regardless of the outcome of your particular placing.

You will have stepped up to the plate and tested yourself. Not only will you have accomplished something that a relative few accomplish, but you will have proved that you are true to yourself and your dreams and you go after what you really want in life. So let's get going!

Although there are several different federations for you to compete in, this article will center on the NPC (National Physique Committee), which is the federation that I have direct experience in. If you choose a different federation, I would expect that the majority of this information would be relevant, but you may want to check to be sure because there are some differences.

If you are a first year competitor, you must first enter a local and/or regional show. Annual schedules of competitions in different geographies are available on the NPC website. You can often find schedules on other sites including, and Additionally, there are several websites that have forums where competitors network and share information. These can be very useful as you train for your contest. Some of the more popular sites are and These are great for networking and for getting answers to any questions you may have. You may also be surprised to find that there are National level or even Pro competitors in your area that may be available for coaching.

In order to decide on a realistic date to compete, you will first need to honestly assess your physique. Try to locate a show in your area to attend so you can get an idea of what the format is like and how you will need to change your physique in order to compete in the category you choose. If you are going for figure, you may need less time than you would need to compete in fitness because you will not have to develop a routine. Anyone, regardless of their current physical condition can compete in local shows, but you will want to have enough time to get yourself into shape so that you can compete well.

You should have an idea of how long it will take you to lose excess your body fat and add a little bit of lean muscle. Depending on how hard you want to push yourself and how long you expect this to take, you will then pick a date for your show. PLEASE pick the date before going farther. You must first have a target in order to hit the bull's eye!! I know it's cliché', but it's very true! It's human nature to go easier on ourselves if time is not of the essence.

To give you a rough idea, I would recommend that you give yourself at least 6 months to prepare for your first show. If you begin your training and nutrition program in January, you should be able to compete well in a show that is in mid-Summer, say June or July.

Weight Training

The physique of a fitness and figure competitor is largely judged on overall symmetry, muscle definition and an aesthetically pleasing degree of leanness. Although the judging criteria for the figure division is still being defined at this time, the main difference between a figure and fitness physique appears to be in the degree of conditioning required to achieve the desired look.

Personally, I prefer a leaner look to the fuller rounder look, and train this way for my shows, regardless of whether I am competing in the fitness or figure division. You will need to determine which degree of leanness is right for your physique. In terms of weight training, I recommend training for either fitness or figure using a consistent routine that hits all major muscle groups.

There are many various types of training programs and you will need to decide which is best for you. As a guideline, I will outline my current training program, which I have used for the last 2 contest seasons. Following the written outline you will find a sample week's training routine that you can use to further clarify the written points. This program centers on the fundamental of muscle overload to stimulate growth, without overtraining. The basics of this program include the following:

  • Training each body part one time per week
  • Using heavy weight and a low rep scheme
  • Changing exercise routines every 4 weeks
  • Taking one week off for recovery after every consecutive seven weeks trained

Heavy Weight, Low Reps

The foundation of this training approach centers on muscle overload, which is achieved by using heavy weight and a low rep scheme. After a few initial warm up sets to loosen up your muscles, it's time to really hit them hard with the heaviest weight you can handle when performing 4 to 6 reps. This method will ensure that you are sufficiently stimulating the muscle to grow rather than just fatiguing it. Muscles must be broken down for them to grow and this is done by continuously hitting them week after week with a heavy weight that makes them respond (i.e. GROW).

Each body part trained once per week

If you are using heavy weight and effectively stressing the muscles in order to promote growth and development, you must allow sufficient time for them to recover from each workout. There are many people who believe they need to train each muscle group at least two times each week in order to have effective muscle growth. These are usually the people who suffer from overtraining and who fail to achieve the progress they desire. I recommend training each muscle group only once per week in order to prevent the unnecessary breakdown of muscle (i.e. overtraining) and to assure that you have enough energy to effectively stimulate muscle growth each and every workout.

5 Days on, 2 days off (for recovery)

This program incorporates 5 days of consistent training, and 2 consecutive days off. You can effectively stimulate growth in all of your muscle groups by breaking them up into 5 days. The 2 days off will give you a mental break, while allowing your body to recover so it can come back the next week ready to train with intensity.

Changing exercise routines every 4 weeks

Diversity of exercises is also a cornerstone of efficient training. After every consecutive 4 weeks trained using the same exercises for each body group, I recommend changing it up a bit and incorporating a few different exercises and/or changing the days on which you train various muscle groups. This will encourage your body to continually adapt to the training process while allowing you a mental break from the same regime you've been using for the past several weeks.

One week off for recovery after every consecutive 7 trained

The purpose of the recuperation week is to allow your muscles to rejuvenate and rebuild strength before moving on to the next segment of your program. If you do not allow your body a chance to rest every now and then your intensity in the gym will gradually decrease, even if you are unaware that it is happening. So take the time off, enjoy it and move on with renewed intensity and focus!

Sample Weekly Training Schedule

You would use this routine for four consecutive weeks and then alternate exercises for the different body groups.

Monday: Chest and Triceps

Exercise Sets Reps
Flat Barbell Bench Press 2 4 to 6
Incline Bench Press 2 4 to 6
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 1 4 to 6
Dumbbell Kick-backs 1 4 to 6
Cable Press-downs 2 4 to 6
Lying Tricep Presses 1 4 to 6

Click here for a printable log of Monday.

Tuesday: Legs

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 2 4 to 6
Leg Press 2 4 to 6
Leg Curls 2 4 to 6
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts 2 4 to 6

Click here for a printable log of Tuesday.

Wednesday: Back and Biceps

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Rows 2 4 to 6
Pull-Downs 1 4 to 6
V-Bar Low-Pulley Row 1 4 to 6
Straight-Bar Low-Pulley Row 1 4 to 6
Alternating Dumbbell Curls 2 4 to 6
Barbell Curls 1 4 to 6

Click here for a printable log of Wednesday.

Thursday: Shoulders and Traps

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Shoulder Press 2 4 to 6
Side Lateral Dumbbell Raises 2 4 to 6
Bent-Over Rear-Lateral Dumbbell Raises 2 4 to 6
Shrugs 2 4 to 6
Seated Row 1 4 to 6

Click here for a printable log of Thursday.

Friday: Calves, Abs, and Forearms

Exercise Sets Reps
Seated Calf Raise 2 4 to 6
Standing Calf Raise 1 4 to 6
45-Degree Calf Raise 1 4 to 6
Weighted Leg Raises 2 10 to 12
Weighted Crunches 1 10 to 12

Click here for a printable log of Friday.

As you work through your training program, you will want to track and record your progress so that you can continually make advances in your training. For example, if you start week 1 of a routine using 15 pound weights for dumbbell curls, you will want to be incrementally improving so you are at 20 or 25 pounds by week 4 of the same routine. You will get stronger as you go so you want to make sure you have accurate record of where you were the previous workout. I take my workout sheets with me every day to the gym and I have the weights written down for the previous weeks so I can gauge my progress and know exactly where I am each workout and whether I am asking enough of myself.

Cardio Training

In order to achieve the leanness required for your competition, you will need to incorporate cardio training into your program. The amount of cardio you will need to do is dependent on several factors, including what kind of shape you are currently in, how lean you want to be for your competition, and whether or not you are also incorporating gymnastics, dance and/or routine practice into your training. As a general guideline, I would recommend doing cardio five times per week for approximately 30 minute sessions. As you get closer to your contest you will want to increase the frequency and intensity of your cardio sessions so that you are sure you are on track to be at your goal weight and body fat percentage.

If at all possible, you will want to separate your cardio training from your weight training so you allow your muscles appropriate time to recover without burning them out again on the treadmill, Stairmaster or other torture machine of your choice. If you are limited on time, you will want to do your weight training FIRST so that you have as much strength as possible to effectively stimulate your muscles and then move onto cardio.

Be warned that there are a million (okay this might be a slight exaggeration) theories on the best approach to do cardio—on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning, etc.&Mdash;so pick an approach that works for your schedule and be consistent. Any cardio program will likely work as long as you are determined and consistent enough.

The method that I use to measure my cardio progress is to track each and every cardio session. Specifically if my goal is to do a 30-minute session on the treadmill, I will track the calories burned and the mileage for the 30 minutes. Not only will you be sure you have done each session, but you will be able to measure and improve your performance throughout the program. For example, if at the beginning of the program you are able to walk/jog on the treadmill for 2.2 miles and burn 220 calories in 30 minutes, then you should try to beat that mileage and calories burned each session so you are continuously progressing. You may eventually reach a point where you are consistently running 3.3 miles for 330 calories burned in 30 minutes. Your new goal for each workout will be to at least match and better yet, to beat this distance/calories burned each session.

Regardless of the cardio method you use, I suggest that you record your performance after each session. By tracking your performance you will know exactly what you did to get you the results you achieve by contest time. If you are in great shape, you can just follow that same approach for your next show. If you need to make adjustments, you will have a good idea of what did and did not work for you.

An example of my weekly cardio log is below. Typically, my cardio sessions last a total of 30 minutes, and are done at very high intensity on the recumbent bike. My standard is to burn 200 calories in the shortest amount of time possible - generally around 19 - 20 minutes and then I do another 100 calories for a cool down. Beginning at about 10 weeks out from my show, I'll do 10 sessions like this per week and I try to beat my weekly average each consecutive week.

Day Morning
Minutes/calories burned
Minutes/calories burned
Sunday (1)19.36/200+100
Monday (2)19.11/200+100
Tuesday (3)19.33/200+100
Wednesday (4)20.21/200+100 (5)19.34/200+100
Thursday (6)19.25/200+100
Friday (7)19.54/200+100 (8)19.17/200+100
Saturday (9)19.54/200+100 (10)19.21/200+100
Weekly Average: 19.41 minutes for 200 calories burned

Routine Training

If you are training for a fitness competition, you will need to factor in a significant amount of time to develop and perfect your routine. In order to meet the criteria of the NPC, you will want your routine to incorporate the mandatory components and be 2 minutes in length. It is also a good idea to use differing speeds and types of music to add to the creativity of your overall presentation.

Mandatory Components

Although not a requirement at the local level, you will probably want to include the 6 mandatory components into your routine. These mandatories are a requirement and there will be a judge assigned to make sure you have included them in your routine once you reach the National Level. The mandatories are:

  • High Kicks (4 sequential)
  • One-Arm Push Up
  • Full Split (right and/or left)
  • Full Straddle Split
  • Pike Press
  • Straddle Press

You will want to spend a lot of time perfecting each of these components before you begin choreographing your routine. You will want these to be PERFECT and it's always a bonus to look like you enjoy doing them! (not always the easiest thing in the world).

To give you an idea, when I first began training for my first fitness competition, I would train components for an hour each morning until I had them perfected. As you can imagine, it takes a bit of discipline to get in there and do the components over and over again until you have them. But believe me, even if it's frustrating at first (and it likely will be), they will come and you will get it if you are determined enough. The one arm push up is all about balance, so just figure out where your base arm needs to be and you have got the hardest part down. Straddle press and pike press again are about balance. And Flexibility! You will want to stretch fully before training the components. Just treat your component training like you do your weight and cardio training and you will be good to go. It's all about desire!!

The good news is that once you have the components down, the rest of the routine is CAKE! You just transition around them and go with the music. Add your individual style and flair to your routine and enjoy doing it! You will be great!


If you are new to fitness and do not have a significant gymnastics background, you may want to consider enrolling in gymnastic or dance classes if you'd like to present a more technical routine. As you may have seen at some of the National and Pro competitions, the majority of routines incorporate a significant amount of tumbling and complicated dance moves. With the advent of figure competitions, girls without the dance or gymnastics background, who would have before entered fitness competitions, are now opting for the figure division which does not require a routine.

The 2002 Fitness America Pageant.

This is both a positive and negative for those of you interested in competing in fitness. The good part is that there are less girls competing in this division, but the bad part is that the girls that are competing are generally very skilled at choreographing and performing the routine. For this reason, you may want to get a little extra help with your choreography and the skills part if you do not already have a strong dance/gymnastics background.


In terms of timing, you will want to choose and mix your music BEFORE you choreograph your routine. This may seem obvious, but I just wanted to be extra clear. Once you have your components and transitions in your routine, it's a bit hard to match up the music. And you want your routine to be crisp and clear and flow with the music so you can have the best possible presentation.

Speaking of music, you will want to have this professionally mixed. First determine which songs you would like to use and for approximately how long of time increments. You will probably want to include 3 or 4 songs in your music. For example, if you want to use a Brittney Spears song for your first song, know at approximately where in the song you'd like your counts to begin and end. Do the same for your other 2 or 3 songs. This way when you take your CD's to your DJ, you will have an idea of what you want the end result to sound like. He/she should be able to help you, but you want this to be your creation and vision. If you don't know someone in your area who is a DJ and can help you mix your music, try to find a local or nearby competitor so you can get a reference. If nothing else, try looking up DJ's who work in dance clubs or who have their own business. With any luck, you should be able to locate someone to help you.


Ideally you are a fabulous dancer AND gymnast and you have your components down perfectly! But if that's not the case (and believe me, it was NOT mine!), you will probably want to find someone to help you. Do your research and see if there are any competitors in your area that offer consulting services and can either help you choreograph or give you references of others who can.

More than likely, there will be someone in your area. If nothing else, get online and try to find a dance choreographer at one of the dance studios in your area. You can perfect your components and take them your music, and together you can come up with a routine. If nothing else, you can always travel to choreographers that offer choreographer services specifically to fitness competitors. Again, just do your research and your desire will lead you to the right person.


Okay, so how long does all of this "training" take anyway? Well, if you are brand new to competing, I would recommend beginning your prep a good 6 months out. At least. Specific timing depends on your schedule and how much time you can devote daily to training your routine, performing your cardio and doing your weight training. In addition to other obligations you may have outside of the fitness arena. Just take things one step at a time and don't get frustrated. It's all about commitment and focus! J


Nutrition will be an extremely important component of your contest preparation. Not only in terms of helping you lose body fat, but also assuring that you are taking in the right nutrients at the right times to build muscle.

The goal of an effective nutrition plan is to help your body use food to get your body (metabolism) running consistently in order to support and accelerate your fitness efforts. You should try to view food as a source of fuel for your body's activities rather than as a source of pleasure. What I mean by this is that rather than having a hamburger or a slice of pizza because they taste good, maybe you should consider having a grilled chicken salad or a protein shake instead. Opting for one of the latter items will not only serve as your lunch or dinner (or whatever the case may be), but it will also be a higher quality selection of food that will be used to form lean muscle mass and/or speed up your metabolism.

As a rule of thumb, the less processed the food, the more your body will use it as fuel and to create the lean muscle that you are trying to build. This is not to say that your body will not use the hamburger or pizza—it will. But the majority of it will be converted to simple sugar and burned as energy or if the energy is not required at that time, it will be stored as fat or converted to waste. I don't claim to be a nutritionist, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this topic. Let's just suffice it to say that every time you put something in your mouth you are making a choice in how to feed your body. Either you are eating for pleasure and/or convenience or you are eating to make progress in your nutrition and fitness goals.

Essential Macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Essential Fats

For our purposes we will break the different types of food into three categories—protein, carbohydrate and essential fat. Let's begin with the basics. What types of foods are protein, carbohydrates and fat? And how do each work towards your weight loss and lean muscle-building goals?

Although all of the macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates and essential fat—are important and necessary in creating your ideal physique, the most essential one in building lean muscle mass is protein. Without a sufficient amount of protein in your daily diet it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to sculpt and build your physique.

Protein is the essential building block for muscle. You must consistently supply your body with protein in order for it to support and grow lean muscle. It is denser than either carbohydrates or fat and is used last for energy and first for muscle growth.

Many foods that you probably eat on a daily basis are proteins. These include dietary staples (assuming you're not a vegetarian) such as chicken and beef, fish and dairy products like eggs, cheese, and milk. If you are trying to lose body fat you will want lean chicken and fish to comprise more of your daily protein than the higher fat meat or dairy products. Incremental amounts of protein are also found in foods that are primarily carbohydrates and/or fat. However, for simplicity's sake and because your goal is to build lean muscle mass, we will focus on the more protein dense foods in creating an effective daily meal plan.

As I said above, protein should be the macronutrient that is foremost in your meal plan. Roughly 55 to 60 percent of your daily food intake should be lean protein.

Your body needs carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates are the first macronutrient used to support your body's daily energy requirements. Although fundamental, it is important to consume only the necessary amounts of carbohydrates if you are trying to decrease body fat. If they are not used for energy needs they are likely to be converted and stored as body fat in the event your body needs to call on them in the future for energy. Simple carbohydrates like fruits and most processed and refined foods like bread, pasta, rice and white potatoes are converted to sugar more quickly than complex carbohydrates like most vegetables, sweet potatoes and oatmeal. Therefore, you should try to eat complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates whenever possible.

Carbohydrates should comprise the second most prevalent component in your daily meal plan. Approximately 30 percent of your daily food intake should be carbohydrates.

A sufficient amount of essential fat should also be incorporated into your daily meal plan. By essential fat I do not mean ice cream, pizza and other traditionally high fat luxury foods. I am referring to essential fats like flaxseed oil or fats found in naturally occurring foods like avocados, salmon and nuts. Essential fats are necessary in keeping your internal organs properly functioning and facilitating the use of body fat as energy.

If your goal is to lose body fat and increase lean muscle mass, fats should comprise approximately 10 to 15 percent of your daily food intake.

Contest Dieting and Sample Diet

The most beneficial way to go about developing your contest dieting strategy is to begin with a high enough caloric number that you are able to decrease it the closer you get to your contest. You do not want to begin immediately with an extremely low number or you are likely to cause your metabolism to stall and you will cease to make any progress. As an example, if you are currently consuming 2000 calories per day, try starting with 1700 in the beginning of your contest prep. The lower calories in addition to your increased activity (weight training/cardio, etc.) will enable to you burn body fat while still gaining lean muscle. As you get closer and closer to your contest, you can slowly decrease your calories—by about 100 per week—until you reach your desired body fat level. The balance between lowering your calories and increasing your cardio activity will get you to your goal.

You will have to personally judge how long you think it will take you to lose your body fat. As a gauge, have yours measured when you first decide to compete and begin developing your strategy. There is no rule or regulation, but most figure competitors tend to range between 8-12% body fat. Fitness competitors are often slightly lower. Talk with competitors in your area and get online and network so you have an idea of what you are aiming for. As an example—if my competition is in early August, I will begin cutting out all junk food in mid-January. As I get closer, I will make decreases as needed. Often ending up around 1350 calories/day a couple of weeks out from my show. This gets me where I want to be. You will have to figure out the best method for you.

Below is a sample competition diet that you could use to start. Many fitness/figure competitors would begin a diet similar to this one approximately 12 weeks out from their show and make reductions as needed. Depending on the type of bar or shake you use, this meal plan has about 1700 calories/day. You will also want to drink as much water as possible throughout the day and with your training. You can also adjust the timing of your meals—for instance if you train in the evening as opposed to the morning, move your pre and post meals to the evening.

Pre-AM Training/Cardio

  • 1 scoop Protein Powder
  • 1 rice cake

Post-AM Training/Cardio

  • 1 scoop Protein Powder
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal

10:00 AM

  • Protein Bar or Shake

12:00 PM

3:00 PM

  • Protein Bar or Shake

6:30 PM

  • 5 oz. fish, chicken, etc.
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetables or salad
  • 1 tsp flaxseed oil

8:30 PM

  • 1 scoop Protein Powder


I highly recommend that you incorporate a supplement program into your competition training. Consistent use of high quality supplements can maximize your training efforts and help you experience desired results. Not only are they effective, but they also provide your body with the nutrients it needs under the demanding conditions of physical training.

So now that you know why you should use them, let's talk specifically about the type of supplements that can help you achieve your goals. Okay, so what is your primary goal? Probably to build muscle and lose body fat, right?

With that in mind, I recommend using a high quality Glutamine. Glutamine has become a very popular supplement in recent years as increasing studies have shown its effects in contributing to muscle growth and preventing the breakdown of existing muscle tissue. I use and recommend AST Sports Sciences GL-3.

Pure whey protein is scientifically proven over 600% more effective for supporting muscle growth than other proteins. Just one scoop of protein powder generally has around 20+ grams of high quality protein. Remember, protein IS muscle. You must have high quality protein in order to build lean muscle mass. Although you can get protein from whole food sources such as chicken, fish, lean beef, etc., it is difficult to get enough protein to facilitate your specific muscle building needs. I'm not saying that you shouldn't eat real food—I'm just saying that you will want to use whey protein powder to supplement the real food in your meal plan.

With all of the weight training, cardio, gymnastics, etc. that you will be doing to prepare for your contest, you will probably have days when you are very low on energy. During my contest season, I incorporate a fat burner to help me effectively burn body fat and also maintain my energy level throughout the day. Common fat burners include AST Sports Science Dymetadrine Xtreme and Twin Lab's Diet Fuel.

Meal replacements are great for those times when you do not have the time to fix a real meal, but need to stick to your meal plan. Meal replacements typically contain the right ratio of high quality protein and carbohydrates to equal one meal. I recommend incorporating these into your daily meal plan—perhaps for your mid-morning and afternoon meals. AST's Ny-Tro Pro-40 is one of the best tasting MRP's currently on the market.

CLA is another way to add healthy fat to your diet. You should not be afraid to add essential fats to your diet. Essential fats facilitate your muscle building efforts by conditioning your body to use fat as a source of fuel rather than to hold onto it. Ideally you want to add enough essential fats in the form of CLA or Flaxseed Oil so your body will recognize it as an energy source and burn fat—both essential and the body fat you are trying to lose—during the day.

You should also include a variety of antioxidants in your daily training/nutrition plan. These will help your body recover from and respond to the physical demands you are continually placing on it. Each morning before I head to the gym, I take 2 Vitamin C tablets, 2 Vitamin E tablets and 2 Vitamin E tablets. I find that this combination works best for me as it also helps to keep my hair and nails strong. However, you could also choose a good multivitamin in place of these.

Mental Focus and Strategies

Now that we've covered most of the key components of developing your contest preparation strategy, let's take a minute to talk about mental focus and how this will help you throughout your journey. Keep in mind that training to compete is not an easy thing to do. It's not always the most fun of endeavors either. You will definitely have your ups and downs. Your great days and your really bad ones. But isn't that what challenging yourself is all about? Testing your physical, emotional and mental limits? Yes, you want to actually challenge yourself. And believe me, it is a challenge. Otherwise, everyone would be a fitness champ, right?

So what can you expect?

To start, you need to be prepared that at times you will be tired. You will be discouraged. You will be frustrated and feel like you are getting nowhere. You will wonder why in the world you are doing this. You will feel alone. You will feel like no one understands what you are going through. And maybe they don't. But don't let that bring YOU down. Just keep your head up and keep your eye on your goal. Just realize that these are normal feelings for you to be having when you are pushing yourself to the physical limits and going off into new territory. To really go after a goal, you must really work for it. No one is going to hand this to you. You must GO FOR IT. And at times it will be tough, the days will be long and you may be lonely.

Support System

So what can you do to make this a bit easier to deal with? First, as I said above, just realize that this is to be expected. You are not crazy or abnormal. Then, try to find a support system. Maybe this can be your family. Maybe it's your friends or people in your gym. Or maybe you can join in on one of the bodybuilding/fitness forums and share your experiences with people who may be going through or have gone through the same things as you. Two popular forums include: forum and Just get involved in the fitness industry and find like minded people who you can relate to and learn from.

Assessment Photos

I highly recommend that as you progress through your training, you take weekly assessment photos beginning at about 12 weeks out from your show. Not only will these show you how you are progressing, but they will be an invaluable resource during your next contest season. You will want these to refer back to. I promise! But for your current season, they will be important so that you can see that you are actually making changes. And if not, maybe you need to reexamine your strategy and make a few changes before too much time goes by.


Alright! So NOW it's show time! Well—almost. You are 4 weeks out from your show and it is time to start taking a look at all the details and making sure you will be good to go on contest day. So what do you need?

Contest Suits

Hmm, well, you probably need a suit to wear right? Actually you need 2 suits. And please do not wear a regular bathing suit—don't laugh, I've seen it. You want to look like a seasoned competitor by the time you step foot onstage. Doing so in a Macy's style bikini is not the way to go. I promise. You also need a fitness routine outfit if you are doing a fitness competition. Hopefully by now you have found a resource in your area and have an idea where you can buy your suit. If you are in the Northern California area, I highly recommend Jagware for suits— You can go and try on the different suits and they will tailor them specifically for you. If you are not in the California area, you can mail order your suit as well. Otherwise, you should attend a show in your area and see if there are tailors in your area that you can get your suits from. If nothing else, get on the forums and ASK for a resource. There is likely a company in your area that specializes in competition style suits.

Keep in mind that you will need to choose a suit that is flattering to your particular physique. There are many different cuts and certain ones can either help or hinder your physique. The same concept applies to the colors of your suits. Again, do your research and pick suits that best show off all the hard work you have done working up to the show.


So now that you have your suits, what shoes do you wear? Well, you need heels. Not just any pair of heels. High, clear heels. Although I know competitors that wear 4" heels, I would suggest going with a 5" heel. This height will give your leg that extra length and accentuate your calves, quads and hamstrings.

Regardless of the height that you decide on, you want your heels to be clear in color. There are also many different styles, but judges seem to prefer the ones here in the picture. Avoid the platform style heels—they tend to be a distraction. Remember, you want the judges to look at your physique—not your shoes!

Depending on where you look, these can at times be hard to find. I order mine online. Try doing a search on "clear high heels" and see what you come up with.

Quarter Turns

By the time you get to the day of your show you want to have done everything in your power to be able to display your very best physique. This includes knowing the "right" way to quarter turn. I'm not sure how much quarter turns actually contribute to your score. Meaning that I guess if you just walked out on stage and turned right, back and left that would be considered adequate. Adequate enough to constitute a quarter turn that is, but not adequate presentation of your physique. Don't underestimate the importance of learning the proper way to turn. Check out the girls in a local show and see how they present themselves. Get a video from a National or Pro level show and watch the presentation styles. Consult with a competitor in your area and learn what the judges are looking for when you walk onstage. Believe me, you are judged by how you present your physique, so learn how to highlight your attributes.

Flex your quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, shoulders, etc. And look like you love doing it and it comes naturally. This means you will need to practice! Preferably 4-6 weeks out from your show. In a highly competitive show, your presentation can make or break you, so look as polished as possible. Try practicing for your friends and family so you are as comfortable and confident as possible. Also, if you regularly practice in front of a mirror, make sure that you practice without the mirror as well. Obviously, there will be no mirror onstage and this could be a bit of a shock if you are used to seeing your reflection every time.

Show Time

Okay, so you're all ready to go. You are pleased with your physique, you have your suits and shoes, have entered the show - you will need to fill out the registration and send it in prior to the show. If you are a first time competitor, you will also need to get your NPC card. You can obtain this from or it is likely you can pay for your card at your show. Just call ahead and make sure that that is the case so there are no surprises by the time you arrive.


If you have chosen a show that you must travel to, you will need to have arranged for travel and lodging the weekend of your show. You should try to stay at the host hotel—this is usually a hotel pre-arranged by the NPC for a discounted rate and it is likely close to the location of your show.

If you are doing a Saturday show, I would recommend traveling Friday morning so you have the afternoon and evening to settle into your hotel and begin the tanning process. You will probably have an early morning athlete's meeting on Saturday and you will not have much time prior to tan or compose yourself.

Tanning Process

So you are at the hotel and you have plenty of time to get your tan on. You will need to have a few bottles of tanning "paint." There are several types—I personally use ProTan, Natural Suntan competition color. I also recommend that you have a base tan either from natural sunlight or a tanning bed. To prepare your skin for the paint, use a loofah pad or something similar to buff your skin in the shower. Pay attention to buff any rough edges like your elbows, knees, etc. This will make the application of the paint an easier process. Once you are dry, you are ready to go.

Spray the paint on your skin or the brush and smooth as evenly a coat as possible. Have someone help you with the hard to reach places like your back, calves, etc. It's up to you whether you want to paint your face or not. You can use makeup if not (I'll explain below). Paint one even coat. Let that dry. Paint a second and third coat. You are doing this Friday evening (or the day prior to your show). The day of your show, take a shower, but don't buff. Some of the paint will wash off, but that's okay. Once you are out of the shower and dry, paint 2 more coats (allowing time to dry between). After the second coat has dried, apply 1 even coat of bronzer - Protan makes a good one. Now you should be good to go for tanning.

Makeup, Hair and Nails

Figure and fitness competitions are not beauty contests, but your appearance definitely factors into your overall presentation. You will want to have your hair in a style that is flattering and neat. This can be either up or down. Some girls go as far as to get hairpieces or have their hair done. I have never done this, but what you do with your hair is up to you. I would think that as long as it looks nice, the judges don't really care how you arrived at the look.

In terms of makeup, you need to make a few adjustments from how you would normally (probably) do your makeup. The lights onstage will wash you completely out if you do not apply your makeup darker than usual. And remember, you have painted your body, so you will want your face to match as closely as possible. If you have not painted your face, go with a dark foundation—I use MAC foundation in a shade called Terra. This matches the ProTan pretty close. You will want to use a red or burgundy lipstick and liner. You will want your eye makeup to be dark. In general you want to look like a clown. Just kidding. You just want to show up when you are onstage, so go a lot darker than you would otherwise. Use your best judgment and take your makeup bag with you to the show so you can apply more if needed before you go onstage.

It's up to you what you do with your nails, but a lot of the girls get acrylic or gel nails for the shows. I prefer to go with my own nails, but I get a manicure just so they are shaped nicely and the paint job is a little nicer than if I were to do my own. Regardless of your preference, you probably want to go with a clear or light beige color polish. Remember, you don't want anything to draw the judges attention away from the physique you have worked so hard to create.

Contest Bag

Speaking of taking things with you to the show, here is a list of things you should take with you in your contest bag:

  • A bag
  • ID, NPC Card (or money to buy it when you arrive)
  • Money for photos—there will likely be photographers at your show taking pictures of you onstage. They will give you an order form and send you the pics after the show.
  • Your suits!
  • Shoes!
  • Your makeup bag
  • Bikini Bite ... you will want to use this around the edges of your suits to make sure they stay in place and you are not "presenting" more than you intend to.
  • Brush, comb, hairspray, etc.
  • Deodorant is probably a good idea
  • Lotion and/or oil to apply before you go onstage. Some shows do not allow girls to use oil, but you will want to take some sort of moisturizer to give your skin an extra sheen to accentuate your muscle tone. Neutrogena makes a spray moisturizer that I've heard is very good.
  • Your food while you are at the show. This will probably be for several hours, so be prepared with rice cakes, protein powder, etc. Protein bars tend to cause bloating, so save those for later. (By the way, there are different methods of carb loading, etc. to prime your physique for the day of the show. Talk to local competitors and find out what they do. Or email me for additional information on this).
  • Bottled water
  • A walkman to listen to your music—if you are competing in fitness. Or if you just want something to listen to during the other segments of prejudging.
  • Probably your cellphone
  • Probably your camera ... this is a BIG day, so you will want to take candid pictures if possible.
  • Clothes to wear after the show.
  • SNACKS for after the show!!

The morning of your show, you will probably want to wear something comfortable like a pair of workout pants and sweatshirt/long-sleeved t-shirt. You will have time to get into your suit at the location of the show. (I tell you this because you may feel a bit funny walking up to the athlete's meeting in your heels and 2-piece). The athlete's meeting, by the way, is where the promoters of the show will tell you how things will go ... order, where to change, etc.

If your show is one where the prejudging and Finals take place on the same day, you will probably have a break in the afternoon and can go back to your hotel room to relax a little bit. Most of the judging takes place in the prejudging, and in general, the winner will be decided during that phase of the show. The Final night show is pretty much to present the winners with their trophies and to give the audience a look at the competitors. (Bodybuilders will do their routines at this time, but this probably does not apply to you.)