Competing in a bodybuilding competition is an exciting, exhilarating and fulfilling experience. It takes determination, dedication and just plain hard work. And, unless you plan on becoming a professional, all you can hope for from all of your effort is a trophy.
Ah, but what a trophy!
When you stand on stage, holding a rigid “relaxed” pose and hear the announcer call your name as Champion in your Class or Winner of the Overall Competition, it’s mighty sweet. You savor the moment and forget all about what it took to get there.
Deciding to Compete
If you are in reasonably good shape and work out regularly, at least four-times-per-week, you can be prepared to enter your first contest within a year. I trained five-days-a-week for 10 months to get ready for my first contest.
You need that much time in order to gain the lean mass your body needs to sustain itself as you enter the fat-burning/cutting phase of your diet, about 13 weeks before your contest. If you want to compete as a Middle Weight, (165 – 185 lbs.), for instance, you might need to be around 195-200 lbs before you begin your cutting phase. The reason is simple. When you go into the cutting phase, your body loses about one pound of muscle for every three pounds of fat. For my first contest, I weighed 154 lbs on January 1st. When I stepped onto the stage on March 19th, I weighed a ripped 136. I was the lightest Bantam Weight. In fact, I was too light. The Bantam Weight limit is 143 lbs. Off season, I will bulk up with lean mass to about 165 lbs and try to come in at around 142.5, near the top of the weight class for next year’s competitions.
So, the first thing you need to do, after deciding to enter a contest, is to pick a contest 10 – 12 months in the future and decide in which weight class you want to compete. Then, see where you are now and where you need to be on contest day. At that point, you can plan your diet.
To make sure this is something you really want to do though, you should attend a bodybuilding competition in your area. It’s the best place to learn about the sport. You can pick out who is really ready to compete and who needs to do more work. Depending on whether you go to a drug-tested show or non-tested show, you will also see how huge some of the men, and even some of the women, who use steroids and other illegal muscle enhancers look. You can decide if that’s the direction you want to go or not.
Once you decide you want to compete, you must make a complete change in your life style. Bodybuilding is a life-style sport, much like ice skating, marathon running, competitive snowboarding, etc. Bodybuilding takes a lot of time in the gym and a lot of time in the kitchen. Competitive bodybuilders build their lives around their workouts and their meals, which during daylight hours average once every two-and-one-half-hours. It’s also expensive, calling for large amounts of protein each day, at least one gram for each pound of body weight. Here is a typical diet for a bodybuilder who is trying to put on lean mass several months before a competition:
Breakfast: Three egg whites (protein) and one whole egg + one cup of oatmeal
Mid-morning: Protein shake (two scoops) in 8-12 oz of water
Lunch: 8 oz of steak, or chicken, or fish + 8 oz of sweet potato + cup of vegetables
Mid-Afternoon: Protein shake (two scoops) in 8-12 oz of water
Dinner: 8 oz of steak, or chicken, or fish + two cups of vegetables
Throughout the day, you need to drink between 1/2 and one gallon of spring water.
This diet is designed to put on about a pound of lean mass a week. Lots of protein, lots of carbs and little fat.
I’ll talk about how the diet changes as you get closer to your competition later.
I said earlier, bodybuilding is an expensive sport. It’s not as expensive as a Bass Boat with all the accessories, but it’s close.
In order to help your body use the fuel you put in (food and drink) and to take advantage of your workouts to build muscle, you need a good supply of supplements. I won’t go into brand names or lead you to any supplier, but, here are some of the supplements you should consider:
Protein Powder: Check the labels. Some are designed as meal replacements, some for lean muscle mass gain, others for general growth, some for fat loss and some for heavy-duty muscle building. One caution, check the labels for additives.
Glutamine: Increases muscular growth, offers a muscle pump while training, helps retain lean muscle tissue, reduces muscle soreness, helps increase fat loss.
Creatine: Allows you to train harder with greater intensity and recover faster. It aids in increasing your weights and number of reps and reduces your rest between sets. Great energy boost.
Flaxseed/Fish Oil: Fat is necessary in your daily diet for the manufacture of hormones, proper brain function and joint lubrication. Eliminate fats completely and your muscles shrink dramatically, and your energy and strength levels go with them. Enter Flaxseed and Fish Oil. Usually in capsule form. They act as solvents to remove hardened fat, support muscle growth and fat metabolism.
Multi-vitamins: Everyone’s vitamin needs are different. Hard-training athletes need more vitamins and minerals. Getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals is equal in importance to protein and carbohydrates.
There are lots of other supplements on the market today. But, if you use these five, along with good workouts and proper diet, you are going to achieve the growth you desire.
Your competition training regimen will have three phases. The first, while you are adding lean mass for muscle building, you will workout with heavier weights and lower reps. During the second or gradual (13 weeks) fat burning/cutting phase, you will work out with lighter weights and higher reps. And, during your final two weeks of training before a show, you will use light weights and only “pump up” your muscles during your workouts. During your bulking up stage, you do moderate cardio. During your cutting for competition phase, you do max cardio and during the last two weeks, moderate to no cardio. I’ll talk more about the last two weeks later.
During my ten months of training for my first two competitions, I used the following workout plan:
Monday (45 Minutes) – Back & Biceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Tuesday (45 Minutes) – Legs & Calves + 20 Minutes of Posing
Wednesday (45 Minutes) – Chest & Triceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Thursday (45 Minutes) – Legs & Calves + 20 Minutes of Posing
Friday (45 Minutes) – Shoulders & Biceps + 20 Minutes of Cardio
Saturday (45 Minutes) – Posing (Video Session)
Each week I tried to mix up my workout routine so my muscle groups stayed “surprised” and didn’t let my muscles get used to a fixed routine. I mixed machines with dumbbells and never did the same thing twice in a row.
I had great results with this training regimen. When I started, I weighed about 158 lbs. with about 14% body fat. Ten months later, when I stepped onto the stage at my first competition, I was 136 lbs. with 4.5% body fat. At my second competition, two weeks later, I was about 136 with 4% body fat. One ripped, competitive, dude!
Posing is one of the more important elements of bodybuilding and one that in many cases is neglected. A competitor with a well-muscled and cut body can lose to a competitor with less muscle who is better able to show the judges what he or she has.
I’m not going to get into individual poses in this article. There are many sources available on the web, in books, magazines and videos that demonstrate the various poses. Rather, I will talk about the “psychology” of posing and the importance of posing practice.
While you will hear the head judge repeatedly call out, “Relax!” between poses, there is no such thing as being “Relaxed” during a competition. From the moment you step onto the stage you are being judged, and every muscle in your body must remain flexed. Every pose is built from the legs up. If you are doing a side chest and your legs are not flexed, your upper body will look great while your legs and calves will look flat. You will lose points. In bodybuilding, the judges are looking for your flaws. As a bodybuilder, you are looking to hide those flaws. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. As a 67 year-old competitor, I have a little extra skin around my midsection. I can’t get rid of it no matter how much I diet or how many hundreds of crunches I do. So, to hide my “extra skin”, I lean back a little during my poses to tighten up the area. And, when doing the last pose of the round, the Most Muscular, I place my hands together, in front of my abs, which shows my upper body cuts while “hiding” part of my midsection.
If you think about it, all the training you do to get ready for a competition is laid out on the table during the 10 minutes you are on stage for your Class. It would be a shame to see all that hard work go to waste because you didn’t pose well. Posing practice must become part of your workout schedule during the entire time you are training. I work out 45 minutes-a-day, five-days a week. I do cardio for at least 20 minutes, three or four-days a week. I pose at least ½ hour a night, two evenings a week, and pose for 45 minutes with a video recorder on Saturday morning. The last week before a contest, I practice posing every evening.
Posing is hard work. If you aren’t exhausted after being on stage for six – 10 minutes going through your “relaxed” round and mandatory round, you haven’t posed hard enough. One helpful hint: some competitors begin taking potassium tablets about a week before your competition. By doing that, you will prevent cramping, which if it occurs on stage, can be a killer.
Every competitor, as part of the competition, must choreograph a 60 or 90 second routine set to you own music. While most of the time, the individual posing routine is not counted in your overall score, it sometimes is used as a tie-breaker or to place a person second or third, if it’s close. Nevertheless, your posing routine should be entertaining, lively and should show off your best body parts to their fullest. Try to pick music that is familiar. Make a CD and have two copies with you at your competition. Never do anything gross or that shows bad taste. Bodybuilding is a family-oriented spectator sport. A vulgar performance can get you disqualified from a competition. During the 60 or 90 seconds, you don’t have to show every pose in the book. Do between eight and 10, with graceful movements between poses. It’s OK to move about the stage while you perform your routine. In some cases, it’s permitted to use props. Check with you organizer.
Posing in a competition is a lot of work and a lot of fun. If you have practiced enough, you will pose well and you will look confident. You might still shake a little and you might get a case of dry-mouth, but if you know your poses and are confident, you can deal with it. The individual posing routine is your chance to have the judges and audiences see you at your best, without any other competitors to distract them from you.
One final tip. SMILE while you pose. Don’t make faces or show strain. You are in control. Have fun.
There is an old bodybuilding saying, “If you think your tan is dark enough, put on two more coats.”
Great advice. Tanning for a bodybuilding competition is different than tanning for the prom or before you go to the beach or to a modeling job. While posing on stage during a bodybuilding competition, your cuts and muscularity must show up well against the very bright stage lights. You look your best if you are very, very dark. You look washed out and flat if your tan is not dark enough.
There are lots of ways to tan. Some are inexpensive and some are very expensive. Lets talk first about the least expensive way. The sun. It’s free and easy to use. But there are drawbacks. First, you can’t always depend on the sun being “out” when you need it. Second, it takes longer to tan in the sun than it does to tan using other means. Third, you can burn in the sun and cause peeling, which, on stage would be a disaster. And, finally, unless you know of a nude beach or have access to a private deck, you will develop tan lines that may show up on stage when you wear your posing suit.
The most reliable tan is achieved over time by visiting a good tanning salon. By good, I mean one that changes their bulbs frequently and is clean and well organized. I wouldn’t go to a tanning salon located in the rear of a coin-operated laundry (they do exist). If you want to keep a good healthy tan throughout the year, you should purchase a tanning package of minutes or unlimited sessions and try to go twice a week. By doing that, you won’t have as much “white” to cover up as you make your final preparations for your competition. And, in order to keep you skin healthy and smooth, you should apply a good tanning bed oil before each session and a good moisturizer after tanning. Both of those products are available for sale at the salons.
Once you have a decent base tan, one where people ask you in the middle of the winter, “Where have you been?”, maintain that color until it’s time for your contest.
During the final week, while your body is carb robbed and your brain is a lump of mush, you must think about applying enough tanning color to be “right-on” for the stage.
Again, there are a couple of ways to achieve this impossible task while the rest of your world is in a pre-contest daze. One way to apply self-tanning products and the other is to be professionally sprayed.