Journey to the Stage – Crash Course For First Time Competitors Entering a Body Building / Fitness Competition
I have often been asked for advice, tips, tricks and general information for people interested in competing in bodybuilding competitions but not sure where to start. I enjoy helping and sharing knowledge so I usually end up typing out a long response, copying and pasting from past emails/msgs I’ve sent before which takes a considerable amount of time. Soooo, I had the bright idea to create a blog post as a reference guide to outline some of the most common questions someone might have when entering this sport.
We will cover the following topics:
(click any topic to skip ahead)
this is gonna be a long one… let’s go!!!
So you’ve decided to compete, great! Now you need to decide which federation you would to be apart of and which division you want to compete in. There are many federations and they all have varying rules for judging, divisions, physique criteria, drug testing, suit selection and more. In the US, the NPC (National Physique Committee) is the most popular amateur federation which sends its pros to the IFBB (International Federation of Body Building & Fitness). Below is a listing of some federations (amateur and professional) along with links to their site where you can find more about their rules and requirements.
- NPC – National Physique Committee
- IFBB – International Federation of Bodybuilding
- NANBF – North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation
- ABA – Amateur Bodybuilding Association
- INBA – International Natural Bodybuilding Association
- PNBA – Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association
- OCB – Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders
- IFPA – International Federation of Physique Athletes
- INBF – International Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness
- WNBF – World Natural Bodybuilding Federation
- ANBF – American Natural Bodybuilding Federation
- SNBF – Super Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness
- USBF – United States Bodybuilding Federation
- DFAC – Drug Free Athletes Coalition
- WBFF – World Beauty Fitness and Fashion
- Fitness Universe – Fitness America Tour
- Muscle Mania
- Model Universe
- Fitness Universe
- NGA – National Gym Association
- NPA – Natural Physique Association
- NMA – Natural Muscle Association
- OPA – Ontario Physique Association
- CBBF – Canadian Bodybuilding Federation
- UFE – Ultimate Fitness Events
Generally you can find websites for the federation and your region (State/Country) which include upcoming show dates and registration information.
Choosing a division to compete in is tied to the next section of Coaching/Training. Depending on your starting point you may be unclear on which division you best fit in and a coach can definitely help steer you in the right direction. The names of divisions will vary by federation so for brevity, I will limit this section to the NPC and IFBB divisions. You can find out more about the other federation’s divisions by clicking on their link above.
Below are the different divisions available in the NPC and IFBB federations. Each division has different requirements for muscularity, conditioning, posing, suit/attire, and judging. It’s important to keep in mind that although you may like the look of a certain division and want to complete in that division for that purpose alone, you should instead consider which division you would be most competitive in. If you aren’t sure this is where your coach comes in. If you feel you are in between divisions you may want to consider crossing over and doing both at one show (crossing over would depend on the approval of the promoter of the show).
NPC/IFBB Divisions for Men
- Bodybuilding – //npcnewsonline.com/official-bodybuilding-rules/
- Classic Physique – //npcnewsonline.com/classic-physique/
- Physique – //npcnewsonline.com/official-npc-mens-physique-division/
NPC/IFBB Divisions for Women
- Physique – //npcnewsonline.com/official-npc-womens-physique-division/
- Fitness – //npcnewsonline.com/official-npc-fitness-division-rules/
- Figure – //npcnewsonline.com/official-npc-figure-division-rules/
- Bikini – //npcnewsonline.com/bikini-rules/
Your body will not go where your mind does not push it. So much of contest prep is about what goes on between your ears. The motivation and dedication needed to adhere to your diet and training schedule every single day at times will take a Herculean effort. My advice to first time competitors is don’t begin this journey until you have already gotten a good handle on proper nutrition and are already training regularly on your own or with a trainer. You should already have some self-discipline—contest prep will enhance it for sure.
Attitude is everything. Prepping is not easy but if you find yourself hating every minute of training and loathing your meals… maybe you are not ready. If you cannot handle constructive criticism without taking it personal then maybe you aren’t ready to be judged on stage in front of hundreds of people. If you are ready to blame everyone for how you placed (or did not place) instead of seeking out feedback… you might not be ready. There may be days you want to quit it all… and you actually might but I encourage you continue on especially if the sole reason for quitting is because you’re tired and/or you want to eat ______ (fill in blank with unhealthy food of choice). I promise you, the satisfaction you feel upon reaching show day will outshine any negative feeling you may have had during prep.
If you have not already attended a show as spectator, I definitely recommend you do. It will help to put everything in context and help you understand how a show is run. Show day can be very long and exhausting. The day is typically split into two parts: Prejudging and Finals (Night Show) with a break in between. I recommend you stay for everything when attending as a spectator. Watching competitors on stage is always so motivating to me and helps re-affirm that I want to be on that stage too.
While not mandatory, it’s a really good idea to have a coach throughout this process. A coach is not to be confused with a personal trainer although there is some overlap . A great coach is well versed in all bodybuilding terminology and judging criteria. He or she may have competed and/or judged in the past (or present) but more importantly, a great coach has had years of experience successfully coaching individuals of all body types. A great coach is not just going to take your money and give you a cookie cutter 12 week plan and send you on your way. Everything should be custom for you and how your body responds to the nutrition and training protocols given. While the goal is to step on stage, a great coach knows that dates aren’t set in stone and putting a competitor on stage when they are mentally/physically not ready will not do the athlete any good nor will it do the coach any good. The relationship you have with your coach must be a good one built on trust. Additionally, you must be coach-able. You need to be able to handle critiques and you need to be able to follow through on what has been asked of you or you are wasting everyone’s time.
There are many great coaches out there, some local to you and some offering services only online. You need to decide what type of coach will work best for you. If you choose an online coach, ask how accessible they are? Can you talk to them regularly when needed, are check ins via skype/ photos… etc. What happens on show day? Ask all of the necessary questions to help you make the right decision. A benefit of having an in person coach is that often times they are present on your show day to continue coaching you through the day– but you should ask that up front and not assume. I didn’t realize the importance having a coach with you on show day until my very first show and I really saw everything that happens during the course of the very long day. I was so happy to have my coach by my side the entire time.
Another important deciding factor is the coach’s fees. A good coach will explain all of the fees you will be responsible for during the contest prep. Do you feel the services being offered line up with the price tag? Do your homework! I will talk more about overall cost to compete in the next section.
Competing can be expensive. While deciding which coach to choose, what federation you might want to join, etc you will need to also consider the cost of it all. Here are a few of the expenses you might need to consider– you may want to create your own spreadsheet or list to keep track.
- Coach Fees
- This is an ongoing expense which may be more or less than what you spend outside of contest prep.
- Gym/PT fees
- Massage/Physical Therapy Fees
- Posing Coach Fees
- Federation Membership
- NPC membership is $125 currently. Use the links above to determine membership fees for other federations.
- Entry Fees for Competition
- Each Division and Class you enter will cost you. For example, if you decide to compete in a novice class and open class, you would have to pay for each. On average I have seen registration range from $75 to $200 per class.
- Spray Tan
- This may be part of the services your coach offers or you might use the spray tan services offered at a show. This is not your typical tanning salon spray tan– the stage lights are really bright, if you are not dark you will be washed out and your hard work will not be as visible. You will need to use special tanning products (i.e. Jantana, Dream Tan, Fine Mist of Color etc) to achieve this look. The final look should be a darker, more flawless you. Take care of your tan to ensure the color does not change, and/or become blotchy or streaky.
- Suit/Trunks/Costumes/Wardrobe Changes
- It is important that you purchase the correct suit for your federation and division. This can get expensive especially for women and especially for those competing in federations with multiple outfit changes (WBFF). I have seen women’s posing suits alone range from $100 to $1200
- Presentation is everything. Many women opt to have things handled by a professional if they can swing it. I have learned to cut corners when I can. For example, it’s no secret, I wear wigs onstage, these cost me less than $40. I will pay for my makeup to be done professionally and I will pay for a pedicure however I will gladly pay $7/$8 for press-on fingernails. I will pop them off immediately afterwards LOL
- Figure out what you ultimately would like to look like on stage and then sort out which expenses your are OK with paying.
- Heels, Accessories/Jewelry
- Women in certain divisions will need clear heels. The more blinged out, the more expensive.
- Women are encouraged to wear earrings, bracelets, and rings. These rhinestone pieces of jewelry aren’t super expensive but something to keep in mind.
For specific recommendations for suits, heels, jewelry etc, contact me directly for links.
Posing is of critical importance. What good is having an amazing physique if you have no idea how to show it off?! Posing can be the difference between placing in the top 5 and not at all. Some individuals hire a separate posing coach, sometimes their main coach can also coach in posing. Regardless, you must practice! When I say practice I don’t mean think about what you want to do and then 2-3 weeks out from the show throw something together lol. Start practicing as soon as you know you are going to compete. Watch the pros (not amateurs) from your federation of choice. Take note of how they carry themselves on stage. Record yourself with your phone or tablet— watch and critique yourself.
Additionally, learn to walk in your heels ladies! Order your shoes way in advance and break them in. Show day should not be the first day you wear them. 🙂
Create a checklist of everything you need to bring with you (Robe, shoes, suit, wardrobe changes, workout bands, charging cables, towels, makeup, posing music, etc). Pack your bag with everything from the checklist the night before (or earlier). Plan to arrive on time or earlier. The more you prepare the more you can relax backstage.
Don’t stress. You have done all of the hard work already… enjoy this moment. Remember attitude is everything. Stressing out over x,y and z will not accomplish anything. Even if something “goes wrong” try to remain calm and focus on the solution rather than the problem.
I didn’t share this at the time it happened, but in 2016 while on the way to compete in a show nearly an hour away from my house, I was involved in a car accident that totaled my SUV. Everyone involved was/is OK with no injuries fortunately. You can imagine all of the emotions that arise during an incident like that. However, I managed to remain calm with the help from my coach, I did my best to not let my emotions take over, trusting that everything would be fine eventually. Because I left the house early, despite dealing with waiting for the police, tow truck and all of the necessary paper work, I was able to arrange for a ride to the show and I arrived with more than enough time to check in with the promoter. I ended up placing 3rd (in both classes) in that show.
Stay calm and focused.
Choosing to compete is something I take very seriously and you should too. I don’t imagine people want to step on stage and feel/look like they don’t belong nor do I believe people would want to step on stage knowing they have no chance of placing well especially after spending so much money to do so. This is why it is important to be realistic about your goals and your physique. Review the criteria expected of you for your chosen federation and division and be honest with yourself. Be organized, be prepared and be disciplined but most importantly have fun and be proud of your journey. Be proud that you have committed yourself to doing something that only a small percentage of the world can do successfully.
After a show, be easy with the treats and cheat meals. Yes it is OK to indulge but don’t hurt yourself by gorging on every salty and sweet thing you can get your hands on after months of not having any! 🙂 Additionally, realize that post show, you are not going to continue to look the way you did on stage. Post show bloat and weight gain is normal. You’ve prepped 8, 12 or more weeks for the look you had on stage… unless you continue doing the same routine you will put on weight. This is fine— don’t let the post show blues get to you (although it might). It is not healthy to try to remain contest lean year round. Give your body a break, but also have a plan for your off-season!
I hope you found this helpful! I wish you all the best in your competition season!