Competing in a show is one of the most difficult challenges a serious fitness enthusiast can undertake. It’s also one of the most rewarding. Just getting stage-ready takes incredible physical and mental discipline, and by the time you step off stage, your confidence and self-esteem will be off the charts.
But let’s be honest. As fulfilling as personal growth is, winning is even better. To help ensure that your first show is a Top Five-place showing, we tapped IFBB Pros who know the competition game inside and out. Keep these pointers in mind as you set upon your competition quest, and start making room on your mantelpiece for all of your trophies.
1. Practice, practice, practice your posing.
Contest day is sure to be stressful, and stress can make you forget important details. The last thing you want to forget before stepping on stage is what you plan to do there. “If you haven’t practiced your routine to the point that you can do it flawlessly, then you may miss something that could make the difference between a win and second place,” says Tammy Strome, IFBB Figure Pro and transformation and contest prep coach. Practice in front of a mirror, in front of friends, even in front of strangers. Then when you’re done practicing–practice some more.
2. Find the right suit.
Many suit designers focus too much on making outfits that catch the eye, and less on properly accentuating the unique cuts and symmetry of individual body types. “It’s not just about the bling—your competition suit needs to flatter and bring attention to your best features,” says Whitney Jones, IFBB Fitness Pro, contest prep coach, and owner of Pro Physiques. When in the market for a competition suit, always go with established designers that deal with top-level athletes. Many top designers also have rental programs, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank to look like a bombshell.
3. Don’t leave hair to the last minute.
Competition hair means highlights, cuts, extensions, color, you name it–all of which have to be just right in order to properly complement your physique. Get your hair game together sooner rather than later, says Holly Mitchell, IFBB Figure Pro and author of Quarter Turn: Your Guide to Stepping on Stage. “Leave yourself time to fix a hair disaster, should one pop up,” she warns, adding this helpful tip: “Do not wait until the week of the show to try a new look or cut.”
4. Conceive it, believe it, achieve it.
Visualization is one of the most important mental conditioning methods for athletes, and it should be a crucial component of every single aspect of your contest prep. When performing a biceps curl, visualize your muscles contracting and growing stronger. When on the treadmill, visualize the fat melting off your body like wax off a candle. Even when eating, imagine the nutrients coursing through your body, energizing your cells, and repairing your muscle fibers. “Visualize yourself on stage flawlessly executing your posing, walking with confidence, and looking like a champion,” says Strome. “Even visualize yourself receiving your trophy.”
5. Prepare your skin.
There’s more to tanning than just showing up and getting sprayed. Every competition has a tanning company aligned with the event. Read their recommended skin preparation protocol carefully and plan accordingly. “Properly exfoliating, hydrating, and moisturizing your skin prior to contest day is very important,” says Jones. “Every show, there are athletes on stage whose tans are way off and it ruins their chances of placing well.” Dry, peeling skin gives an aged, worn appearance under the stage lights. Using too much tanning colour to compensate can result in pooling, which gives the impression of fatty pockets. Put some planning in your tanning to gain an immediate advantage over the competition.
6. Don’t skimp on sleep.
When you’re young, your body can bounce back from a lack of sleep. Beginning in your thirties, your body starts to fight back. Water retention, fat retention, muscle loss, food cravings, and an increased risk of hormonal imbalance and adrenal fatigue are all side effects of too little sleep, warns Strome. Lack of sleep will also lower your thyroid output and raise your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which will derail your body’s ability to burn fat. “Train hard, but don’t sacrifice sleep to fit more training in,” she says. “Your body will look way better for it and you’ll feel better too.”
7. Find a proven prep coach.
An experienced prep coach can take a lot of the burden of preparing for a show off your shoulders and guide you through the areas in which you need the most help. “It’s difficult to have to do all the thinking, analyzing, and troubleshooting when you may not have all the answers,” says Jones. “With a trusted coach, you just have to follow the plan.” But be sure to do your research before working with anyone. Scope out their client list and ask for references. Some coaches are more concerned about winning than they are the long-term health of their clients.
8. Choose a prep time that’s right for you.
Just as contest prep programs will differ according to the individual, so will starting points. “If you’ve got a good deal of weight to lose, it will obviously take you longer to go through the leaning-out process than someone who is already relatively lean,” says Mitchell. First time competitors typically start their prep too early because they don’t know how their bodies will respond. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided you can maintain your gains. “There are a lot of ways to put yourself in a ‘holding pattern’ until show date,” she says. “It’s a lot easier than trying to force your body to be ready.”
9. Have fun.
Chances are every competitor on that stage is just as nervous as you are. What separates the champions from the amateurs is the ability to ignore those nerves and savor the moment. “You’ve worked so hard to get to this point, now it’s time to enjoy it,” says Milly Paez-Cowan, IFBB Figure Pro. After all, how often do you have an auditorium full of people watching your every move with awe and admiration? The more fun you have, the more at ease you will feel under the lights, and that will have a major impact on your overall presentation in the eyes of the judges.