Have you been training hard and want to show off your new physique? Sign up for a bodybuilding competition in your area and see how you fair. Never competed before? That's ok, everyone has to start somewhere. This article will lie out the floor plan of how to get you on track and in competition shape for your big day.
Can You Handle It?
When just starting off in bodybuilding you must first lay the groundwork with some serious training. If you are serious about bodybuilding then this isn't a once and done deal. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle change. There are no missed workouts when you feel like being lazy—there are no missed meals because you couldn't find time to eat.
Everything in your contest prep needs to be precise and exact. If you think you can slack a little, then think again because while you are taking it easy, someone else is training to beat you. If you don't give it your full attention and give it 100% then what is the point in going to all that trouble of bulking and cutting just to place 2nd in a contest?
If you are training to be second best then just sit at home and eat potato chips.
Motivation plays a huge part in contest prep—especially during dieting. There is nothing worse than dieting for no reason or for no end goal. You need to find a source of motivation and play off of that. Whether it be the jock in high school that always called you fat, or the guy who picked on you and called you a twig.
When it comes down to it, motivation can come from anywhere—family, friends, competitive drive, whatever. Find it, and let it burn. Use that motivation to light the fire within you that will make you push yourself to the limits harder than you ever imagined.
This is all about you, there is no team, and there are no subs. You put in the time, you put in the work, and you bask in the glory when you take home the trophy.
Competition Tips and Tricks
Training up to the contest doesn't really have to change much from your off-season training protocol. You can still lift heavy all the way up to the contest if you wish. Some people swear that they get in better condition while using high reps before the contest while others say they have to stay with the heavy weights up to the show otherwise they feel they get smaller and aren't as full.
Experiment and try different things to see what works best for you. What works for me, might not work for you and vice versa. Again, learning your body and what works best is half the battle of competing. You learn a lot through trial and error and seeing what works and looks best with your body.
Based on how much body fat you need to lose before the contest determines how much cardio you need to do before a show. If you have a lot of fat to lose then doing cardio almost everyday is a must. If you aren't that far off from your conditioning, doing cardio around a handful of times a week will suffice.
As you get to around a week before the contest, some competitors will cut out all cardio and weights. They may stick to strictly posing during that week. Again, this is personal preference since the only person who truly knows your body is you. Cardio sessions lasting an hour are common during contest prep. Some competitors even do cardio twice a day to reach their peak conditioning.
Since everyone's diet should be a little different—I'm not going to put a specific diet down. There are many articles out there that spell out a competition diet which you can find on Bodybuilding.com. Layne Norton has many good competition articles that I recommend. This is probably one of his best.
Most competitors play with their diet until they get it right. That doesn't always mean that their first show they hit their mark. If it happens that way great—however, most people need a couple tries to really understand their body and know how it works and what it needs. Your diet should be allowing you to spare as much muscle as possible while shedding as much body fat as possible.
Many competitors use high-protein/low-carb diets while getting ready for a contest. Many of them supplement with whey isolates since they have no carbs. As for the carbs, oats and veggies are the main sources.
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Carbing up before a show is very common among competitors. The time frame is different for everyone, some people only need to carb up the day of the show while others carb up for a few days before the show.
The downside to playing with your carbs is that if you go too high with your carbs you will appear flat and smooth. On the bright side, if you hit the exact amount of carbs you need, you will appear full and hard. Replenishing the glycogen in your muscles does this.
Many people who compete play with their sodium to help them pull out excess water under their skin. Layne Norton says it best when he explained sodium load/depletion—
"OK, a little lesson in cellular biology to explain sodium loading. In the body sodium is present in large quantities compared to potassium and other ions.
As a result the body's cells are always trying to pump sodium out and take potassium in. To do this task there are what is called sodium potassium pumps (I will refer to them as Na & K pumps to make it shorter in this reply) So what happens is Na (sodium) is constantly pumped out and K (potassium) is constantly pumped in.
For every 3 molecules of K that come in 2 Na molecules are pumped out. Since this reaction is occurring against equilibrium ATP is used to power the reaction. Now what happens when you Na load? Well your sodium pumps have to work harder to pump out all the sodium that comes into the cell. Then when you cut out your Na intake the day before the show your body will continue to pump out Na at that fast rate.
Since Na inside the cell makes you retain more water, all this water will be flushed out giving you the skin tight look. I believe sodium loading almost eliminates the need for water depletion."
You want to start sodium loading about 15 days out from the contest. From that day on you want to lower your sodium every couple of days.
The trick here is to cut off creatine usage 4-6 weeks before the day of the show.
Then 3-5 days out from the show you want to load the creatine back into your system. The reasoning behind loading the creatine just before the show is to pull the water from the body and flood the cells with water to make the muscles appear fuller.
Tanning is a great way to look good on stage and to show every little detail you etched into your physique. There are many options that you can choose from. You can tan naturally by lying outside or you can use a tanning bed. If the chance of cancer scares you, there are lotions and creams out there that you can use to get a natural looking tan.
Along with tanning, before competitors step on stage they oil up. The purpose of this is to highlight and show off muscle definition.
Like with anything else, practice makes perfect. The more time you spend practicing, the better you will look on stage. When you practice often, not only does it make you more confident, but it will also make you look better on stage. You want to make sure you keep your head up, abs tight, and stand erect.
When practicing your posing, hold each pose for 60 seconds—this will help build your stamina for when on stage. You also want to make sure you work on your transitions so you are fluid with your movements and everything moves smoothly from each pose.
Another huge tip for posing is to smile! By smiling you look comfortable on stage and look like you're having fun. There is nothing worse than going to a bodybuilding show and watch a competitor go out on stage and look like he/she is in constant pain and that they aren't having fun.
Choosing A Suit
Choosing a suit is more or less a personal thing. There are certain colors that go well with a certain tan, certain hair color, etc. The best thing to do is try on different styles of suits to see what best shows off your physique.
The newer trunks today seem to have a "naked" look to them as they are no longer the full-cheek suits. Black is always a safe bet and most competitors choose a plain color over something with designs or frills on them.
Grooming is necessary when competing. You work too hard to have your muscles covered by hair. Removing the hair makes it much easier to apply a tanning product and also shows off more definition on stage. There are many different options for grooming.
Majority of the people either shave or use a hair-removal lotion. Whichever you choose make sure you aren't taking off a "full" coat the day of the show. If you are shaving, start shaving a couple months before the contest so that you aren't taking all the hair off right before the show.
It will also give you some practice before the show so you don't cut yourself for the show, which will look bad on stage. Your best bet when shaving is to shave the night before the show rather than the day of the show. This will allow your skin to recover if it were to become irritated.
If you choose to use one of the hair-removal lotions, make sure to test it out on a small area first before applying it on a large area of the body. Some people have reactions and are allergic to the product, which can leave them with a rash.
This trick doesn't work for everyone but it can't hurt to try. I know what you're thinking—yes, this is the same stuff you put on your butt when you have hemorrhoids. By applying Preparation H to your trouble areas that hold excess water, it pulls water out from under the skin. Again, this doesn't work for everyone, but it is worth a try if the day of the show is coming up and you still need to lose a little water.
Hopefully this article gives you a baseline of what you need to consider and accomplish when getting ready to compete. Through trial and error you can find things that work and don't work for your body. From there you can try something new or tweak things that you used in the past to even further improve you physique.
Remember that competing is supposed to be fun. If you can't smile during your experience and look back and say you had fun, then maybe competing isn't for you. Good luck and have fun!