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Do you want to compete in a bodybuilding competition?
Would you like to get on the stage and compete in figure?
You might have pondered these question for years. After a long analysis of the situation, you have finally committed to getting on stage.
Saying you are going to compete is one thing, but actually taking the steps to make it a reality is another.
You have to know exactly how to prepare for your first bodybuilding competition. If you have no idea what you are doing you will be walking into an abyss of misinformation.
I walked into that dark abyss for my first show in 2011.
I’m proud of the fact that I coached myself. But I’m disappointed in the fact that I did not do enough research on what I actually needed to do to be a formidable competitor.
I went at it alone for the most part and learned the hard way.
Today we are going to talk about the 3 steps that you need to take to prepare for your first bodybuilding competition.
These steps are for beginner bodybuilders and figure competitors but an experienced pro could benefit from following these steps as well.
The goal is following the path that will allow you to bring your best physique to the stage.
Knowing how to prepare for your first bodybuilding show or your tenth show will make your journey to the stage much smoother and ensure that you yourself are not looking smooth.
There are 3 things you have to do before you decide to step on stage. They are:
1) Determine Your Weaknesses
Determining your weak areas is the most important part of starting the process of trying to prepare for your first bodybuilding competition.
In 2011, I failed at this part tremendously.
I did not look in the mirror and truly analyze my strengths and weaknesses before I competed for the first time.
By natural bodybuilding standards, I had no lats, no arms, no muscle fullness, no size, and no density.
Not having these pieces gave me no chance to win, place, or compete.
I had good legs and I was lean. But overall I was the true Bird Man of natural bodybuilding.
Being the Bird Man at a bodybuilding show is not good enough to do anything except put money in the promoters pocket.
Your best option as a soon to be competing natural bodybuilder would be to find an experienced bodybuilding coach.
An experienced coach can tell you what body parts you have and do not have because genetically we all have strong and weak parts.
This makes perfect sense when I think back to running track in grade school.
Sprinting and running came naturally to me. I was always in the top 3 in track as a young kid.
But in gym class when we had to perform pull-ups, the bent arm hang, and push-ups I was absolutely pathetic like a Phit Vixen posting excessive selfies all day on Instagram.
I had to fail in order to learn about my body.
Even though my physique was not great or even good at those first two shows, the failed contest prep made me a much better trainer and competitor.
One great thing about getting an assessment from a professional (unless they are a pure charlatan) is that they will be very candid about where you are at the time.
They should have no bias for you whether you are a paying client or just Bobby Bodybuilder from down the street.
One group of people who you do not want to listen to is your uninitiated friends, gym flunkies, or social media hype men.
If you have friends who are not keen to the physique game then what can they do to help you?
Of course, they will tell you “Dude, you look like Arnold!”
Or even “Bro, you are so shredded that no one at this contest can even compete with you. You are all the way in!”
Your friends like you and they will be biased. This is expected as they think you are a modern-day Adonis.
But the truth of the matter is that you are probably not all the way in.
What if the truth is that you are looking flabby and sick?
What if the truth is that you are not lean and “holding water” as your friends say?
The truth is that you are actually smooth and holding fat.
As a result you are much closer to looking like Sherman Smooth than you are to looking like Adonis.
Find an objective bodybuilding coach (like me) who will tell you the truth. This will allow you to focus on what you need to work on in order to build a stage-worthy physique.
2) Choose A Show
Once you have determined what you need to work on you can then determine when you will compete.
Your choice of your show is 100 percent dependent on how you currently look.
I’ve seen folks, myself included, compete when they were not ready. The one thing we have in common is that we all looked like we did not belong on the stage.
If you are a genetic superior who has a history of training hard and eating correctly then you are on the right path.
In other words, if you have been training for some time and have a lean and balanced body then your first show could literally be 8-12 weeks from today.
If you are genetically average or bad (ME) and you train hard, eat correctly, are reasonably lean but you are missing pieces, then you may be at least 1-3 years away from your first show.
I have seen guys and gals who have great genetics hop on stage with no specific nutrition or training plan and place very well.
Even though genetics is not the only factor in your success as a bodybuilder it plays a huge part.
If you naturally have a few of these attributes like a big chest, thick arms, muscular legs, a wide back and shoulders, or a small waist and you are lean then you will be visibly easy on the judges’ eyes.
I have also seen guys and gals with average genetics hop on stage with no specific nutrition or training plan. The results are very underwhelming.
If you are naturally lacking body parts you can attain them but it will definitely not be easy.
But if you want to be on stage you will work through the tough times.
Remember the great book from Dr. Robert H. Schuller says, tough times don’t last but tough people do.
The bottom line here is that your assessment of your current physique will make it easier to pick a future show.
Take your time and plan it out. Do not jump at the first show you see because your friends are hyping you up.
You will want to give yourself time to build a physique that is worthy of the stage.
In the same breath do not wait forever to get on stage because you think you are not “ready.”
That is how Charlie Charlatan at the gym talks. He always tells you he is going to compete but he never steps on stage.
You will never be 100 percent ready. But you will gain experience and be able to prepare for the next bodybuilding competition even better.
3) Choose the Correct Training and Nutrition Protocol
One the biggest myths in the iron game is that you need a “contest specific” training protocol to prepare for a bodybuilding competition.
This typically results in using a program that is full of the mythology below:
• Using only high reps with light weights (15-20 rep range) to get “cut”
• No strength work (3-6 rep range)
• Using excessive, long-duration cardio (treadmill, elliptical, stairmaster)
• A drastic reduction in compound exercises and a big focus on isolation moves
• Implementing extreme dietary restrictions like super low calories or the removal of all carbs
• An over-reliance on “fat burning” supplements
When this protocol is used, the bodybuilder or figure competitor always ends up smaller, flatter, and weaker.
They do not end up as muscular or conditioned as they should have been.
When you are a true, steroid-free natural bodybuilder it is very important that you continue to lift heavy and perform high-intensity conditioning like sprinting or sled pushing during the pre-contest period.
Lifting heavy is relative. You may experience some slight drop-off in your strength mainly with your upper body pressing movements.
This naturally happens as your calories continue to drop.
But by continuing to lift relatively heavy you will ensure that your muscle loss will be minimal if any at all.
When you continue to sprint or perform other high-intensity forms of conditioning it allows you to maintain your hard earned muscle.
You can always tell when a competitor spent way to much time slogging away for hours on the treadmill.
They always look stringy, small, and lacking muscle fullness.
Nutrition-wise the same myths are out there too.
The most persistent and flawed dieting advice is the classic ultra low-calorie dieting combined with low to no carbs.
This nutrition protocol leaves you with no energy, low intensity in the gym, fading confidence, and depleted muscle mass.
Eating excessively less and exercising dramatically more is a guaranteed road to Flatsville.
As a natural bodybuilder, you need to diet in a way that allows you to retain muscle and lose fat.
My nutrition protocol of choice for this task is a daily rotational carb/calorie cycle as it is the most effective way to accomplish this task.
But many a bodybuilder have used various nutrition schemes to allow them to retain muscle and lose fat.
The bottom line here is that you need to pick a training/nutrition plan and stick to it.
You cannot be program hopping all the way up to the competition. This will put you on a one-way trip to nowhere.
If you properly prepare for your first bodybuilding competition you will have a great experience.
You will meet some cool folks from the physique community and possibly even place at the show.
By developing a plan of action, your first show may motivate you to continue to compete.
Follow the above steps and success will be talking to you soon.
Multiple natural bodybuilders and figure competitors have used my training system to place top 5 in their respective divisions.
This list includes myself, NGA competitor Jeff Brockenbrough, NGA Physique Pro Jazmane Jenkins, and 2019 Ms. Natural Philadelphia Winner Johanna Blume.
If you are ready to prepare for your first natural figure or bodybuilding competition please fill out this form.
I’ll holla at you next time,
The People’s Trainer
(This article was written in 2014 but has been updated.)