Monday, April 9, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 1: Planning

Many people call themselves a bodybuilder but if you haven't stepped on stage, are you really a bodybuilder? It is my opinion that until you step on stage, you are just a weight lifter who follows a bodybuilding lifestyle. Competing in a bodybuilding competition requires a completely different mindset than casual bodybuilding. It will test you physically but more importantly, it tests you mentally.

As someone who has been through 2 contest preparations for a total of 3 shows under no one's guidance other than my own, I feel that I have learned a lot of information on the subject and can help people who want to compete. I do not consider myself an expert or a guru but I do believe I know more than most and can provide very useful advice.

Due to the large volume of information required on the subject of contest preparation, I'm going to break this into 7 parts: planning, diet, training and cardio, posing, mental aspects, peak week, and show day. I feel that if you know absolutely nothing about the contest preparation process, this is the order in which you should learn about it.

I'm not really into the science of contest preparation. I do understand certain important aspects of the science but for the most part, my approach is largely based on personal experiences, what I have seen work with other people, and recommendations by other knowledgeable people that I have seen work first hand.

Now, let's get started.


Before you can compete, you need to have a plan. You need to know how many weeks out to start your preparation, which organization you will be competing in, and whether or not you plan to go about the process yourself or enlist the help of a coach.

When to Start

It's always better to start dieting sooner rather than later. You aren't going to add any significant new muscle in an extra 2 to 4 weeks of bulking but significant fat loss can be achieved in those same 2 to 4 weeks. People commonly start dieting at either 12 weeks, 16 weeks, or 24 weeks out from a show. The more time you give yourself, the more room for error and the less brutal your dieting will be.

Most people severely underestimate the amount of fat they have and over estimate the amount of muscle they have. If you have never competed before, chances are you will weigh at least 10 pounds less than your original guess when you step on stage if you reach true stage condition. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Decide how much fat you have to lose and then diet for that amount of weeks plus an additional four. The reasoning for this is that you should be aiming to lose 1 pound per week when you begin dieting. Since you are likely to underestimate how much fat you actually have, the additional 4 weeks will give you some room for error. For example, if you think you have 20 pounds to lose, diet for 24 weeks. If you later realize you had a lot more fat than you originally thought, you will be forced to lose weight faster and will risk losing muscle. Either that or you just won't be ready on time. Despite some myths out there, you can't be ready too early.

Choosing a Show

For some reason, a lot of people think they need to be a mass monster to compete. As long as you have established a decent amount of muscle, there is a show for you. Whether you are 16 years old, 60 years old, drug free, or not drug free, there is a division for you somewhere. Most shows will have a teen division, masters division, and novice division so that you are competing against people of similar experience as yourself. You won't be going up against the mass monsters you see in magazines unless you sign up for the wrong show or are a mass monster yourself.

Tested or Natural Shows: There are over a dozen natural organizations that you can compete in. The more well known ones are the OCB, INBF, and NGA. You need to purchase a membership card to be eligible for each organization as well as pay a show entry fee and polygraph testing fee. However, the polygraph testing is usually good for a few months so if you compete in a few shows close together, you only need to do it once. Although the rules of each organization differ slightly, they all share the common ground of being drug free. You will need to pass a polygraph test and possibly a urine test as well. Each one has a list of banned substances and if you have taken any of them within a certain time period, you are ineligible for the show.

Untested Shows: An untested show doesn't mean you can't compete in it as a natural. It just means there are no testing procedures in place so chances are a lot of the competitors will be using performance enhancing drugs or have used them in the past. Just like the natural organizations, you need to pay for a membership card and a show entry fee. There are no drug testing fees since the shows are untested. Unlike the natural organizations, there is only one main reputable organization, the NPC. The NPC does have some natural shows but for the most part, their shows are untested. Generally, NPC shows are larger than natural shows. There are usually more total competitors, more sponsors and more media coverage. You may get to see Mr. Olympia competitors guest pose at NPC shows. You won't get that at a natural show.

To help you find the right show for you, go here. It will help you find the right show for you in whatever location you want. You can also go to the OCB, INBF, NGA, and NPC websites to view their upcoming schedules.

Contest Prep Coach or Not

A contest prep coach can be very beneficial for anyone who plans to step on stage. A coach can provide you with diet and training plans and reassure you mentally. It takes the guesswork out of the process and let's you relax a bit and focus on following the plan rather than panicking that what you are doing won't work.

However, it is my opinion that you should try competing without a coach. Bodybuilding is a hobby and most of the fun comes from figuring things out on your own. There is a ton of free information out there by very knowledgeable people. If you look in the right places, you can figure it out on your own. There will most likely be some bumps in the road but that's where the fun comes in. When it's all said and done, there is a different level of satisfaction when you know that you have done everything on your own.

That being said, a coach and seeking second and third opinions are different. It is extremely important to have a person that you can bounce ideas off of and who can be honest with how you're progressing. If you don't have anyone like this in your town, I highly suggest you make a contest prep journal in the "Contest Preparation" section on the forums. You can post your diet, workouts, and pictures and have it critiqued by a community of very friendly and knowledgeable people who are either in the process of competing themselves or have competed in the past. The best part of all is it's free!

However, I do understand that some people just prefer to have a coach. Mr. Olympia has a coach. Tiger Woods has a coach. Even Derek Jeter has coaches. There is nothing wrong with seeking the help of someone more knowledgeable than yourself. If you do decide to seek a coach, I'm willing to coach people for a very reasonable rate in order to get some coaching experience. You can be my first client!

Make sure you check back next week for part 2 which will cover diet.


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