So you think you think you are ready to start your career as a bodybuilder? You lift weights and you diet, but that is the extent of your knowledge. Get a nice sun tan – Get up on stage – Flex for the crowd. Easy as one, two, three right?  Wrongo Bongo.  There is much more to bodybuilding and competing than one would think. If you are at all interested in competing, then you better read this to get your facts straight, because it is a long road ahead.

Step 1: Find a Coach

If this is your first show and you want to come home with some hardware, it is a good idea to find someone who knows what they are doing. Hiring a coach could be the difference between looking mediocre, or looking phenomenal. Odds are that you have watched a bunch of YouTube videos, or read a muscle and fitness magazine about competing. This will not be enough to excel you to first call outs. Finding a coach that has experience with the show life is very important if you as an athlete want to look like you belong on stage.

Step 2: Know where you fit

I don’t care how big you think you are, odds are you are not as big as you think, and after a twelve week cut you are definitely not as big as you think. This leads me to my next point. You have to know where you fit. There are many different classes that you can enter in order to step up on stage. Not every guy is bodybuilder caliber. Not every woman fits into a physique category. With that being said, you must train for the class you want to enter. If you want to compete as a figure competitor, you can’t train like a bikini competitor.

There are a few different options when choosing what you want to train for, and before you touch a weight you have to decide what you want to do. The categories for men are: Bodybuilding, Classic Physique, and Physique. The categories for women are: Physique, Figure, and Bikini. From here you and your coach have to decide what kind of body type you have and what category best fits you. Just because you start off in men’s physique doesn’t mean that someday you can’t compete in bodybuilding, it’s just going to take time. To save yourself some embarrassment, you would not want to get up on stage competing in bodybuilding with a physique category build.

Step 3: Diet

Literally the bread and butter of a competitors training regimen. Without a solid diet plan, you will fail to look your best when you step on stage. Sure you may nail your workouts day in and day out, but if you are not perfect during your show prep it will show on stage.

Not only does diet play a huge role during the process, but also after the show is over. Many people think you can go back to how you use to eat. This is dead wrong. Reverse dieting is also very important in order to preserve muscle mass, leanness, and a healthy metabolism.

Step 4: Workouts

Bodybuilding is not just about lifting heavy weights. If that is what you are into, then you should go be a power lifter. Bodybuilding is all about “building” your body. Picture your body as a sculpture. You have to analyze your physique and grow in the areas in your lacking. So you have to sculpt your body in a way to achieve an overall full physique. For example, if you look in the mirror and notice one calf is bigger than the other, than you must equal that out. That goes for the rest of your body. Pick the body parts you are lacking on, and build upon those to make you appear more balanced.

Show prep is not just about lifting weights to achieve your desired physique. In order to achieve that lean, striated look you also have to incorporate cardio. For most, cardio sucks. I am one of those people. I would rather crank dumbbells all day than spend forty five minutes on a stair mill. Unfortunately, cardio is a necessity. If you leave out cardio, you will not be competitive. It will affect your diet, you’re your workouts. Your body will never see the changes that it needs in order to step up on stage and be competitive.

Step 5: Posing and Routines

Posing is one thing that can be easily overlooked, but can also be the difference between first and second place. Watching YouTube videos will not be enough to perfect your form. It takes countless hours of staring at yourself in gym mirrors and restaurant windows to perfect your form.

I suggest hiring a good coach to help with the posing. Make sure he or she has plenty of experience, and make sure they know how to pose for your specific class. Not all classes pose the same. Bikini and figure girls pose very different, as well as classic physique guys compared to physique. Bodybuilding is a whole other realm in that you have a posing routine to music; almost like a dance! So in order to be successful make sure you know how to hit the angles that show off your body the best!

Step 6: Show day 

You finally made it. It’ time to head down to the venue, hop up on stage, and show off those guns. If it were only that simple. There are many things that come into play the day before the show, and the day of.

  1. Do you have a place to stay? You need a hotel or a place to stay. Usually there is a host hotel that is close. I suggest staying there. Traveling back and forth will cause too many issues. Fork up the cash, and set up a base camp that way you have everything you need. You don’t need the added stress of forgetting something. You want to look and be your best.
  2. Did you schedule your tan? You don’t want to step up on stage and be pasty white. In order for your muscles to really pop you have to get a spray tan. Once again leave this to the professionals. Whichever show you choose will have hired a company to come and spray the competitors. If this is your first show, do not try and do this on your own. Once again, you don’t want the added stress of having a bad spray job.
  3. Do you have everything you need? The list varies from class.

For women: competition bikini, jewelry, shoes, number, comfy cloths, flip flops, make-up and hair style (like the tan, there will be professionals there as an option to help you with hair and make-up).

For men: competition trunks/shorts/speedo (depending on class) comfy cloths, flip flops, hair (usually styled to your liking on your own) and your number.

Other things you may need include registration documentation, and any club membership card (NPC card, IFBB pro card).

Do you have your food/water: competition day you still have to eat so be prepared to have prepped all your food for that day. Your still going to be eating regularly scheduled meals and sipping water (depend on what coach says).

Ask your coach for support!

Any good coach is going to accompany to the show you worked so hard to get to. As long as he or she is close enough geographically. Use them while they are there. Helping you with timelines, practicing posing, and pumping up before you step out into the light. They also make a good kick stand for when the ladies need to put their shoes on!

So there you have it. If you are thinking of competing this is a good read for beginners. Hopefully this will give you insight on what to expect along the way. Competing is not for everyone, but if you are looking for a next level goal, this is definitely one. The road is long and hard, but if you stick it out until the end you will be glad you did it. Your body will change in ways you never thought possible, and you will be stronger (mentally and physically) for it.


Tony Sykes, CPT
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach

Certified Personal Trainer - ISSA
Specialist in Fitness Nutrition - ISSA
CPR/AED Certified

Tony grew up in Walden, CO in a family full of UW fans. Because of this, he was encouraged to attend UW and did so earning his Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology. However, Tony's number one hobby, interest, and passion has always been weight lifting. Tony is a Certified Personal Trainer through ISSA (International Sports Science Association) and is currently working toward his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification through NSCA. Tony has also served in the U.S. Military since 2007 and served overseas in 2013-2014. When Tony isn't dedicating his time to coaching and serving our country he enjoys dirt biking, riding snowmobiles, and cheering on the Green Bay Packers. At Altitude Fitness Tony leads our team of coaches as our Head Strength & Conditioning Coach. He has a wide variety of experience and training in strength training/muscular development, aerobic/cardiovascular training, weight loss/body composition, nutrition adjustment, goal setting, and program design/workout strategies. Tony plans to help Altitude Fitness grow into a regionally known training facility and show everyone that big things come out of Wyoming! Tony is excited to be a part of the Altitude Fitness team because "coaching and watching people learn and grow is a very rewarding experience. If I can continue to give that to people in Laramie and the surrounding region I will be happy. Giving people the tools and knowledge to achieve what they thought was impossible makes everything worth it. I believe and know the AF team can do that for anyone."

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