Okay, you bodybuilder stud or studette. You've been training hard for a long time, and your body has taken on some exceptional size and shape. People probably ask you all the time if you compete. Yet despite all the discipline and sacrifice you've dedicated to your lifting and nutrition, you still haven't taken that final step of putting your physique on the line against others and subjecting yourself to the clinical scrutiny of a judging panel. Why not just go ahead and do it, instead of thinking about it and putting it off for the elusive "someday?" Competing in a bodybuilding contest can be both the most challenging and rewarding task you will ever undertake, the logical conclusion to everything you've done in the gym and at the dinner table. In this article we'll assess briefly whether you really are ready, and what major elements go into preparing for a contest.
First of all, do you have a significant amount of muscle mass? Nobody will expect you to look like Ronnie Coleman or Dorian Yates at a local novice show, but you should still have an appreciable amount of muscle compared to the average weight trainer. I would suggest attending a local contest to check out the level of competition you will be up against. You might discover you still have some size to gain before you compete, or you might instead be pleasantly surprised to find you're already comparable to the bodies up there. Keep in mind that if you have extraordinary shape and symmetry, you often don't have to carry as much size to do well as someone with more average shape and proportion. Frank Zane had a three-year run as Mr. Olympia, handily defeating men like Tom Platz and Mike Mentzer who literally dwarfed him in terms of raw size with the strategy of "quality over quantity."
Symmetry and Proportion
The second objective estimation you need to make is to take a good look at your body and determine whether you have achieved proportionate development in all the muscle groups. It's very common for men especially to work extra hard on the "show muscles" of the chest, shoulders, and arms while neglecting or giving only minimal work to the back and legs. That's great if you only plan on showing your physique off inside a nightclub, but not so great when you're considering going up under the bright lights wearing nothing but tiny posing briefs, a light coat of oil, and a smile. You may find you need to devote a solid year to bringing up any lagging bodyparts before you compete. Don't be discouraged, many of the best bodybuilders in the world had glaring weak points at one time in their careers. As long as you recognize your problem area or areas and make a commitment to improving, it's only going to be a matter of time and consistent effort until you are proportional at last.
This applies to bother genders, despite the sound of it. Do you have the courage and confidence to walk out onstage in front of the judges and audience with just posing trunks or a posing suit on and display your body from every angle? Not everybody can stand that kind of pressure, though many of us are in bodybuilding because we crave attention and approval anyway. Realize that often the first time competing is the most difficult, and it tends to get easier every time. Eventually even those who used to be shy and timid on stage grow more at ease and confident. If you put all the work into preparing for a contest, you owe it to yourself to have a good time once the big day finally comes.
If you have made it this far and know that you are ready to make a go of competing, here are the main changes in your training and nutrition to be prepared for.
Your weight training really shouldn't change all that much. Many bodybuilders mistakenly believe that they need to use lighter weights and perform higher reps to get ripped. Sadly, this is why so many competitors show up at the contest with far less muscle mass than they had just a couple months before. If you built your body with heavy weights and moderate reps, you need to keep training that way to retain your precious muscle tissue. The only thing that should really change is that if you haven't been including many isolation movements like cable crossovers for the chest or leg extensions for the quads, it's time to start incorporating them. "Detailing" exercises take on a greater importance as you near a contest to bring out the deep muscle separations and striations. Whatever you do, don't drop your heavy basic movements like bench presses, barbell rows, and squats. These are the exercises that put the muscle on, so keep doing them. If your weights happen to go down a bit as your bodyfat gets into the low single digits, don't sweat it. Just because you can only squat with 405 a month out from your show instead of your off-season 455 is no reason to abandon the exercise altogether!
A very important part of getting ready for a bodybuilding contest is posing. As you know from what John Parrillo has been saying for over twenty years, you should be stretching your muscle fascia and posing hard at the conclusion of every set anyway. Add to this at least 30 minutes a day of practicing standing 'relaxed,' as the initial prejudging quarter-turn stance is called, and holding the mandatory poses for a duration of one minute each. Not only will this help you feel more at ease when you finally have to do them on stage, but all the squeezing and tensing brings out a lot more detail in the muscles than would otherwise be possible through diet and cardio alone. Practicing your posing will prepare you for the contest, when you might have to compare poses with others for up to thirty or forty-five minutes at prejudging. Without all the practice, you will look awkward, shake, and probably run out of steam long before the judges are through looking at you. You don't want to get that far only to lose because you didn't consider posing very important in the grand scheme of things.
You should be doing cardio year-round anyway, but pre-contest it will take on a much more vital role. In conjunction with your diet, this is the only way to shed the bodyfat needed to arrive in true contest condition, which is about 3-6% for men, 7-10% for women. John Parrillo was the first in the bodybuilding industry to recognize that performing cardio in a glycogen-depleted state was the most efficient way to burn fat stores rather than merely stored carbohydrates. This can be achieved by doing cardio either first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, or immediately after weight training, but before replenishing carbs with an Optimum Whey protein and Pro-carb shake. Depending on how much fat you have to lose, you may need to perform up to two hours of cardio, four to six days a week. Using your Parrillo Bodystat calipers will help you keep track of how much lean muscle you're keeping, and how much fat you're losing. The scale never tells the whole story.
Contest dieting is obviously the topic for an entire article by itself, but suffice to say that it boils down to increasing your protein, and replacing much of your starchy carbohydrate intake with fibrous carbs. John Parrillo doesn't believe in drastic calorie reductions, and neither do I. Your diet should be long and gradual enough so that you only lose about a pound a week. Off-season treats like candy, cookies, ice cream, and pizza all have to be shunned for the 6-12 weeks of your strict contest diet. If you must 'cheat,' do so with treats that aren't really cheat foods at all, like Parillo's Protein and Energy bars, or the new Hi-Protein pudding. The last thing you want is to compete without being as lean as you should because you gave in to cravings for junk food. In contrast, by doing everything right, you'll feel like a success regardless of where the placings fall because you'll know you did everything possible to ensure success.
Supplements are a critical component of your bodybuilding at all times, but even more so when dieting for a contest. Because you will be training at peak intensity for many weeks, and also adding the extra physical stress of hours of cardio, you need to add more of certain nutrients to compensate for the extra demands. First on your list is protein. Any time you lower your complex carbs, you must raise your protein intake to maintain muscle mass. Since it's difficult to swallow any more chicken breasts, tuna, or egg whites that you already are, add it in the form of protein shakes, as well as low-carb protein bars. To keep your body from catabolizing muscle while performing cardio, also take branched-chain aminos before cardio sessions. Thermogenics can help you cut fight while also keeping your energy levels high even as your calories dip down low.
So what do you think? Are you ready? If so, get very excited. Once you pick your first contest and start getting ready, you'll be shocked at how your devotion to intense training and perfect nutrition will soar to a whole new level. I have been competing since 1989. Though I'm not up there with Ronnie and Jay Cutler, the satisfaction of getting into a new all-time best condition is just as rewarding to me as the big $100,000 check for winning the Mr. Olympia. Well, the check wouldn't be bad, actually, but I still have a great time. If you think you're digging as deep into your motivational fires as possible now, just wait until you know you'll be up on stage in just a matter of weeks. Competing is one way to take your physique to the highest possible level it can reach, and make the most of the total potential that most lifters barely even scratch. Take it to the stage and you will be a winner.