Competing in bodybuilding competitions no matter what federation or division is no easy feat. There is a lot to consider before you take the plunge and pick a show. This goes for both new people and veterans.
My goal of this episode is to share with you seven things that I believe are absolute MUSTs for you to think about beforehand…long before the prep goggles go on. And to tell some of you that need to hear it that you might want to reconsider the timing of your show until you are REALLY ready, for the right reasons.
I hope this helps some of you hear the things you NEED to hear right now.
Let’s jump in!
1. Download the 5 Secrets Every Bodybuilder and Fitness Competitor Needs To Know Before Preparing For A Show at http://www.eeinbb.com
2. Want to know what is missing in your show prep? Free tutorial with 3 secrets to winning a show that you won't learn at a contest prep workshop or posing class at www.posingwinsshows.com
I remember one of my show preps there was so much buzz around the gym leading up to the show. It was so motivating to feel that support and encouragement every day. The day before I left for the pro World Championships I was surprised with a Good Luck video that included video clips from a bunch of members of the gym giving me personal good luck messages. I had never been so moved in my entire life! Like who does that? I didn’t win that show but it didn’t matter. They treated me like a celebrity anyways.
The road leading up to that competition was a lot of fun. Backing my way out of the show was a lot less fun, naturally. The competition was over, the buzz was over, and it was time to take the feedback I got from the judges and go back to the drawing board. The aftermath is the part that, if you are planning to compete more than just once as a bucket list item, is equally as important as the actual competition itself. I don’t care what level you are competing on, there is always room for improvement. Post show is really where the magic happens. When the improvements happen, if you let it. If you are too caught up in yourself and what you looked like on show day and obsessing about keeping that physique, then you are prolonging the improvements. Eventually you will crash. Hardcore dieting, whatever diet that is, is not sustainable. If you are smart, you take constrictive feedback and start thinking like a competitor, someone who wants to win, get better, improve, and focus on the things that will move the needle in that direction. Post show your mindset needs to go from being attached to your show physique and shift it to thinking more competitively.
By the way, the show day itself goes by with a blink of an eye. You prepare for this day for months and everything about it is on your mind constantly. Often when the day itself comes, it’s a LONG day, it’s often cold back stage so you are freezing, and it’s a lot of waiting around. At some point you might even say to yourself that you can’t wait for it to be over. And before you know it, it’s over and all that focus you just had leading up to the show needs to be recalibrated into a post show mindset. So moral of this is there has to be more to wanting to compete than just being all about the day itself. Or the trophy. Like the video my gym members made for me…that was more a memorable moment than the show itself!
An assessment of your mindset and overall stability in life is the first thing you can do to determine whether you should compete or not. And this goes for both new people AND veterans, because these things can change from unforeseen circumstances. Things you don’t see coming test your faith and your strength. If your mindset isn’t prepared to compete, you shouldn’t compete. Competing should only happen when your financial, emotional, and overall life stability are all in a good place.
Let me give you an example of when it’s not. I hate talking about this time in my life because it brings me back to a dark place I don’t like to remember. But it’s part of what has built me to who I am today so I’ll share it. I’m a veteran but I am not perfect. I’ve earned pro status in three different federations, and you know what? Life happens. Plus one of you listening might be feeling down in the dumps today and need to hear that everything will be ok.
So, about 5-6 years ago I didn’t think I was going to compete again. I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life and survival became my #1 goal. I thought about competing here or there, but I knew that I did not have the mental capacity to balance show prep with my every day life. In fact, during this time, I hit an all time low. I was like 50 or 60 pounds over weight and eating and drinking every day were my only comforts. One day I ended up in the hospital with pain in the middle of my back that was so severe I couldn’t sit, stand, lie down, nothing to get comfort. My fever was 104 degrees too. The ER doc found fluid in my lungs and immediately put me on broad spectrum antibiotics. I’ll never forget the fun-sized giant needle that was used to extract the fluid from my back. I remember during the hospital stay while they were trying to manage my fever, I would wake up hallucinating and screaming from crazy nightmares. A team of people rushed to my bedside to stack tons of ice packs on me to try and cool my fever down. I was in the hospital for a week and to this day they never figured out what caused the fever or the fluid in the lungs. I was tested for everything. Nope wasn’t pneumonia. Even Lyme disease was checked and came up fine.
This low was an eye opener for me. I knew that I wasn’t taking care of myself and needed a change. I would look at my contest pictures and cry about how far I fell from my goals. It was very humbling and humiliating to have to start over. I felt like I was starting over in every area of my life. I thought about competing again and said no. I didn’t want to use a show as a goal to get myself back to healthy. I knew that competing isn’t about health; it’s about competing. I wasn’t ready to compete because I wasn’t mentally or physically healthy yet. And I knew I had greater priorities at the moment.
So instead I told myself I am stronger than this and took my health back one day at a time. At first I just did things at the gym that I enjoyed. Just being there was better than the day before so I was winning. I purposely did no cardio during this time to not teach my body to need it. ANY change I made would be better. I lifted maybe 3 days a week at first. At first I could only handle 20 minutes and maybe 2-3 sets of exercise because my cardiovascular health was in the toilet. Over time my cardiovascular system improved, my strength came back, and eventually so did my motivation to want to compete again…but I still knew this was far out. And I refused to make it a goal and instead just took it day by day.
During this time of taking back my health, I purposely kept dove dark chocolates in the kitchen cabinet and had them as dessert every night. Again, this wasn’t about deprivation. I wasn’t trying to make a quick fix. I knew from years of competing it’s the slow crawls that reap the longest benefits. That change takes time and consistency. And that 4 dove chocolates a day weren’t going to kill my progress. Lack of consistency would.
In fact, keeping the doves in my nutrition and STILL losing all the weight I knew would have a positive effect on my mental well being. You see, if you don’t feel deprived, you won’t stress about being deprived. I can eat a couple bites of a dessert and count it in my calories for the day and not freak out that I had a couple bites of something. Stressing about food and then going on a month long bender eating the foods you think are bad and hating yourself afterwards- now that is far less healthy, if you ask me. If it’s trackable, and I stay within my goal macros for the day, it’s on plan.
It took me a couple years to balance all these things out. Yes, I said years. But it did happen. And as you know if you’ve been following me here how, I’m currently 18 weeks out from my next competition. The progress has been slow but I feel zero angst. This isn’t my first rodeo with show prep and life. This detached from perfection mindset allows me to focus on other things that need my attention, like my curriculums that I’ve built to help all competitors fill in the gaps that keep them from feeling confident with their posing. Check it out at posingwinsshows.com if you haven’t. It took years for me to get back to a healthy weight and mindset and that’s ok. Taking care of me was worth it and so is it for you. Shows will always be there. Your health comes first.
Which leads me to your relationship with food and exercise as another determining factor on whether you should compete.
One thing I can say happens the most from my experience over the past 20 years in the industry is people’s relationship with their body changes forever when they do a show. This goes for you men too! You will love being ripped. I know I do! If you are a competitor, think about it for a moment, how many times do you show your contest pictures and say, this is what I “really” look like. I’ve heard that saying quite often. The funny thing is, you looked like that for like 1 or 2 weeks and then dialed back out of the show to a healthier bodyfat level. So no, that is not the “real you.” This reality is something that takes a long time for some people to come to terms with. Some never do. Some never recover from finally achieving the body of their dreams and not being able to keep it year round. This is not everyone. Some people are naturally lean and stay that way year round. I’m talking about the ones that aren’t. I know there are a lot of you.
This sport also attracts many with eating disorders, which can be both a good and a bad thing. It can be really good for someone who has had a fear of eating and for the first time finds positive reinforcement from eating when their body starts to morph into a more fit and healthy shape. I’ve seen some top level pros share some seriously disturbing before pics of them suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia before they found fitness. WBFF fitness model champion Hattie Boydle from Australia comes to mind. And so does IFBB Bikini Olympia champion Elisa Pecini from Brazil. Both are at the top of the sport and stay fit and healthy year round, despite competing.
So why do some people fall apart after a show and others who have every reason to fall apart and develop body image issues avoid a post show disaster?
I can’t speak for the exact protocols of people so let me put that disclaimer out there. I can only speculate and offer insight from my own experiences as both a competitor and as a posing coach with clients that come from all different contest prep coaches.
I think one MAJOR determining factor on whether someone will fall apart after a show and develop body image issues is quite simple. It comes down to the protocol they follow when preparing for their first set of shows. HOW they prepped for that show. This protocol either comes from their own research or from a contest prep coach they hire. One of my first shows of this podcast was about the death of credibility. I talked allll about contest prep coaches and how anyone that can type the word coach can say they are a coach on social media. Because of this, there are a lot of people who struggle with not just mental health but physical health after a show that should never have had to. Never. No reason for it. They could’ve dialed into a show and probably looked better too.
So having said that, I’ve summarized three types of contest prep protocols used to prepare people for a show.
Protocol #1. Cuts a ton of carbs right away no matter how far out the show is. You lose a quick 5lbs and are hooked but progress hits a plateau so it must be because of carbs. At some point carbs are barely there or nonexistent. Eating fruit means getting second place. Tons of cardio is a must too. Might even get up to 2, 3 hours a day. Bonus points for your hair falling out.
Protocol #2. Includes PEDs, regardless of whether this is your first show, or how long you have been training. The supplement list is nonchalantly included with your nutrition and training protocol. You think this is normal because the coach touts having turned more people into pros than everyone else so you go with it. Don’t know any different. Body changes happen quick which is exciting. Some other weird things happen to your body and face too but you don’t think much of it because you are “trusting the process.”
Protocol #3. Long and slow decent into a show with a coach who might actually have a PHD in nutrition or exercise. Coach might not look the part or have hundreds of thousands of followers either. Lots of science involved. Might even include diet breaks. Changes in macros can be as small as 20grams of carbs and ample time given to let the changes to the body take affect. No dramatic weight loss for an ego boost. Facts are greater than your feelings.
Think about this for a moment, which of the 3 protocols do you think are less likely to encourage a post show shit storm?
Let’s talk about #1. Teaches you to think carbs are going to ruin your physique so you try to keep them to a minimum post show too. You build an unhealthy relationship to carbs too. Also, 2 hours of cardio is hard to maintain but your body has adapted to this level of output. But you don’t have a goal grand enough to keep you motivated to do all that cardio. Plus, you are trained to think that cardio is key to show prep. There is so much that can go wrong post show with this protocol that can impact your relationship to food and nutrition for years. You might just say fuck it and eat whatever you want post show. You might never do a show again. Or you might do shows as a way to chase the physique you had on stage.
Protocol #2. I have no experience with PEDs but from what I’ve seen and heard from those who have shared their experiences is that this type of protocol teaches you to “need” drugs to get into contest shape. You never learn the power of manipulating nutrition and training alone in contest prep. Never! You never really get the chance to learn your body. If you want to add PEDs in later, that’s up to you. But in the beginning, learn your body. You’d be surprised what just diet and exercise alone can do with consistency. I remember one time I was Director of US and International Sales for a supplement company and was sent to the Body Power show in England to meet with customers and potential customers. I remember chatting with this girl at the VIP dinner after the show and not realizing that she was a competitor. She honestly, and I don’t mean this with disrespect, she genuinely looked like she didn’t train. I almost fell out of my seat when she told me she was an IFBB Pro figure competitor and was planning to do a show in a few months. I was like, a few months? I would think it would take a year to get back into shape alone. It was sad, she was self conscious, because she knew she didn’t look like she competed and was honest about it with me. I asked her how she was planning to get into shape and she listed off clenbuterol, winstrol, and some compound I can’t remember. It was some sort of an anabolic. She literally came out and said that using these compounds is the secret to her contest prep and she will be ready no problem. I don’t remember seeing her on stage that season so I don’t know what happened to her. So again, the moral of this is that starting off with PEDs doesn’t teach you how to contest prep. It doesn’t teach you how to dial in your physique for anything, forget a contest.
And lastly, protocol #3. Probably the hardest protocol and not for reasons you think. Staying on plan isn’t the issue. It’s PATIENCE and violent consistency that’s an issue. And it’s only getting worse with society wanting everything immediate mentality. How may times have you left your phone aside and someone sent you a text while you were away. They didn’t get an immediate response so they either text again to ask if you got it.
I’m currently in the protocol #3 camp right now as I prepare for a show this spring/summer. I’m 18 weeks out from my goal and so far nothing dramatic is happening except maybe my waist is getting a little tighter. Cardio is still a couple days a week of 20 minute desaturation work. Lifting days are 4-5. A couple weeks ago calories were reduced and I’m just this week starting to see a downward trend on the scale. I don’t care about the number per se. The scale is one measure of improvement and I’m just looking at it to see trends. I’ve been doing this for 20 years so I know that it’s a patience game and I don’t freak out about not seeing big changes on the scale. There are a couple reason for this. I learned from the very start how dramatic a small change in macros can have on body composition. The physique changes don’t happen the day after you make the adjustment though. That can be frustrating for some and they give up before the magic happens. Hence the existence of protocols 1 and 2.
For me, after a macro adjustment, small changes can occur in as soon as one week, and sometimes as I get down to lower body fat levels, a drop might not happen for a couple weeks. Body fat loss isn’t linear. If you are trying to lose 1-2lbs a week, it’s an average. You might go weeks where you see no change and then a big drop. Many get frustrated and want to see immediate results but don’t realize that large swings in weight are likely to be more than just body fat. That they are most likely losing some of that hard earned muscle they spent the rest of the year building. Slow and steady preps also keep stress levels in check. Once you get to the low body fat levels there is no way around the stress it has on the body. But that is short lived and remedied pretty quick when you dial out of the show to a body fat level your body is happier at.
The key to having a great experience with contest prep really does come down to the protocol you use to get to the show. If you start off working with someone who starves you and puts you on a cardio machine for 2 hours prior to your first show on a pop up stage in a budget hotel, you are less likely to have a healthy relationship with food after the show. If you work with someone who has some actual credibility regarding nutrition and you dial into a show over a longer and slower period that includes minimal cardio, and the highest calories possible, you are more likely to dial out of a show without a massive rebound.
You can really learn a lot about your body when you prepare for a show. I likened it to being like my own science experiment when I first started. I was fascinated by the changes that occurred to the body and am grateful that I had a contest prep coach for my first bodybuilding show who did not starve me. The diet itself was really bland, which created its own set of issues, and I didn’t learn until many years later that food doesn’t have to suck to be on plan. But overall, keeping a slow and steady pace and having an overall positive relationship with food is key to deciding whether or not to do a show.
As you can see there is a lot more to consider if you are thinking about doing a show either for the first time or coming back into prep after a long layoff. Ask yourself, which protocol am I following? 1, 2, or 3? If you’re in the protocol 1 or 2 camp, I highly encourage you to reconsider competing. Not forever, just reconsider competing until you find someone that can help you in a way that will not wreak havoc on your mental and physical well being. There are plenty of them out there if you can look further than the amount of likes they have on social media and dive into their real credentials instead.
Another thing to consider when determining if you are ready to do a show is that preparing for shows, regardless of what you THINK is going to happen, is all consuming. You will need to find time to make workouts happen even if your schedule changes. There will come a point, whether you are doing protocol 1, 2, or 3, where you will need to be able to control what you eat more closely so you are less likely to be able to eat out at restaurants. Your friends and family will miss hanging out with you. They will at first be excited for you that you want to do this thing in 3-6 months, but they don’t understand that just because they are bored with your contest prep doesn’t mean you are going to go off plan.
They don’t understand that contest prep has a layering affect. That you aren’t trying to lose some body fat to look good in a bathing suit. You are bringing your body fat level down to contest shape, which is far beyond just a hot bod on the beach. What you do this week will determine what you look like in the weeks ahead. There is no way to know if something is working if you don’t keep it consistent and remove as many variables as possible. Consistency is key even when it’s boring.
I’ve had many posing clients on the verge of divorces because of unsupportive spouses. This unsupportive home life can be challenging. The only way I’ve seen it work is when the spouse is involved in the journey in some way. I’m lucky today with my current contest prep that my husband also aspires to compete and cooks most of my food for me. I’m still in disbelief every time he says he made me some food. Like, who are you? My first husband was the opposite. He resented my competition lifestyle and it drove a wedge between us. Sharing the experience of contest prep with your significant other in some manner is very important. Oh and remember, this is a hobby. There is no excuse for you to be a jerk to your spouse during contest prep because you are hungry. You are willingly doing this prep and they love you and should be rewarded for putting up with you.
Another thing I want to touch on to help you determine whether you should do a show is your expectations.
I’ll never forget the time I was casually talking to someone about contests and this person expressed interest in a show but said he didn’t want to compete unless he was going to win. I was stuck for a moment. Like, dude, no matter how incredible you look and how hard you prepped, you can’t control who shows up on stage.
Don’t get me wrong, I always compete to win. You don’t put the effort in day in and day out for anything less than to bring the best package to the stage. And as you get closer and closer to the show it’s completely normal to not be sure if you will be ready and have doubts. This is normal. And is also why it’s good, no matter how many years you have been doing shows, to have an outside opinion that you trust who will monitor your progress.
Going into a show and expecting to win is unrealistic. Despite specific judging criteria, the judging itself, if you think about it, is really just opinions. Some federations in my opinion do a better job in their vetting process of their judges so you will see a lot more consistency in the results. For example, the NPC/IFBB has judges on a local level that have to pass a test in order to judge a show locally. Of those judges, there are ones that are better than others. The ones that are better are the ones that you will see judging the national shows. From there you have to really be a stand out to judge pro shows.
Often you will hear people complain that the show was “political” and there was favoritism on the judging panel, when really, there is a lot more to consider. What it comes down to is where you compete. And I mean both the division and the federation. Are you competing locally where some judges might be new to judging? Are you competing nationally where the judging is much more refined and the criteria more dialed in? The judging panel on a local level might not have the level of consistency you see at the larger shows. Also something to consider is that the same federation often has different judging panels based on region. You might fare better with one panel over another. Especially in a category. There are too many variables with judging, the level you are competing on (local versus national, and the nuances between the federations and what their judging criteria are). You can’t put all your energy and faith into one show. There is too much unknown about the day with things, like who shows up, to put all of your eggs in one basket. Plus if you have an amazing physique and show up a hot mess express on stage, aren’t able to open your lats, can’t hold your poses, bobble all over the place, you are costing yourself a higher placement. Especially as you get to the pro ranks and everyone looks amazing. Which is part of the reason I designed the Posing Wins Shows curriculum, and a new one I’m about to launch called The Lat Whisperer’s Essentials which teaches you everything you need to know to flare your lats and look effortless in the poses where you need lat engagement. Oh man, that’s a big one. I’ve had to score people down as a judge because they couldn’t flare their lats so they could not display symmetry. And this was a pro! Highly unacceptable. True story.
And the last thing I want to touch on if you are deciding whether you are ready to compete is…..COST. OMG you guys this is not an inexpensive sport. Just the suits alone I’ve heard people spend over $1500, not because they needed to, but because they wanted to display their physique their best. Granted you don’t need to spend thousands on a custom suit, but you do get what you pay for. If you are broke, this is not the sport for you. You should not be allocating your rent money to your entry fees. And skimping on things like hair and makeup at the show. Unless you are a hairdresser or makeup artist, buy the hair and makeup packages. Don’t try and do your own tan unless you have had a ton of practice at it and know what you are doing. These small things can make or break placements especially as you get to the higher level. Maybe not so much at the local level, but then again, if everyone around you looks like a mess and you are put together, you will essentially stand out and look that much better. This is a sport about looks. Everything about your look matters. Your posture, your confidence, your hair, skin color. Having a great physique will only get you so far. Don’t skimp on the things that have to do with your presentation. And I mean all of it. How many times have you heard me say Posing Wins Shows? My goodness you guys so much money is wasted on the things you don’t need and not enough allocated towards the things that are really going to matter. Start a savings account where you put money aside every month and wait until you have enough to cover all the costs before you even consider doing a show.
Mindset, focus, goals, relationships with nutrition and exercise, relationships with family and friends, your finances. All of these things needs to be considered before preparing for a show. And this goes for not just new people, but veterans too.
Oh man I touched on a lot of stuff today. My goal is for you to think about doing shows for the enjoyment of the sport, and not go into competing and think it’s going to solve any problems in your life. If anything, competing can add stress to an already stressful life, so I hope you take the things I shared to heart and really THINK about WHY you want to do a show.
Guys I hope you found this episode helpful and you share it with others that might need to hear some or one of the things I covered in this episode. As always, please comment and share so Google knows this is a cool podcast. If you are on other platforms I think you can only share the podcast so be sure to spread the word! Stay tuned guys, lots more to come.