Contest Prep Hacks

In a blog entry I posted last week, I wrote about some of the high level things to consider (mindset, why you need a prep coach, etc.) if you are thinking about doing your first competition.  If you read that and are ready to take that step, this blog entry focuses on more practical tips to the road to a successful competition.

Prep Tips

Budget: Competing is very expensive, so you need to prepare for a lot of costs along the way.  As recommended in the earlier blog, a prep coach is a must, so you need to factor the cost of a prep program into you budget.  In addition, aside from your food budget, you will need to set money aside for whatever supplements your prep coach recommends.   There are other costs associated with registering for a show, tanning, etc.  If you plan to compete in the NPC, for example, you have to register and pay a fee to belong to the NPC before the show. Female competitors will have even more costs as their suits can run hundreds of dollars, plus they will have hair and make-up costs for the show on top of that.

Scale: Invest in a food scale.  Your prep coach will detail a meal plan each week that includes the amounts to eat.  You will need to measure your food to match that.  Do not estimate what you think 7 oz of chicken is – most people are way off.

It is you vs you: No doubt everyone who competes wants to win, but it is a subjective individual sport.  All you can do is come in at your best.  It is easy to get psyched out in the social media age seeing others post pictures of their prep, often with enhanced filters, that make it seem like they are way ahead of you.  Do not pay attention to those and play mind tricks on you.  Many an Instagram warrior looking ripped 12 weeks out on their feed show up looking less so on the day of the show.

Posing: I will be honest in that I did not really ever practice much before my first competition.  That is a mistake many novices make.  Many state districts of the NPC offer periodic seminars on posing.  Some gyms that have a good base of competitors will offer posing classes as well.  It is actually quite hard work to stand under the stage lights and hold a pose if you do not practice it.

Posing suits:  For men, you should order one 6-8 weeks out to get a feel for what size will be appropriate for your weight, waste size, etc.  A suit too large will be ill-fitting.  A suit too small will not contain your “boys.”  Do not order a light colored suit, particularly white, as the tan will inevitably run as you sweat under the lights and stain the suit.   Almost all women’s suits have to be customized and fitted, so you should check with the place where you are getting your suit on what their lead times are.

Music: Typically in bodybuilding, the top 5 of each weight class after prejudging will do a routine set to music you provide.  This will vary from competition to competition.   The length of the routine may also vary from 45 to 60 seconds.  You will need to decide on music and work on a routine against it before the show.   Most federations bar music with profanity.  Pick music that is not going to offend any judge since they are scoring you.

Show Tips

Last minute tweaks: If you have a good coach and you are totally ready the week of the show, there is sometimes a temptation to use that “peak week” to try to squeeze a 1-2% improvement in the look.   Consider what brought you to where you are.  If you are show ready, sometimes those radical tweaks to make a small difference can backfire and make you look a lot worse.  Consider the risk/reward ratio when doing that.

Tanning: You should book your tanning in advance.  Most shows have an “official” on-site tanning team you purchase services through.  There are independent tanners that may offer services – sometimes better than what the official group does – but they may be limited to where they can work during a show.  If you go with the non-official route, be sure to find out where they will be working.  Most competitions are usually held on Saturdays with weigh-ins Friday night.   You will usually need a couple of coats: one on Friday night that you sleep with to allow the tan to soak into the skin and another coat early Saturday morning.  You will look ridiculously dark, but that is required to be under the bright stage lights to show off your lines and muscle separation.  You may want to bring a cream or clear nail polish to apply to finger nails before each coat to avoid having your nails be stained orange for weeks afterwards.  You can shower before your first tan, but cannot shower again until after the show.   You should not use moisturizers before tanning as it inhibits the skin from soaking in the color; drier skin is actually better.  You should bring oversized clothes to wear to prevent the tanning from rubbing off, which it easily does.  You also need to be careful when using the bathroom facilities.  For guys, splatter while using a urinal will mess up a tan.  Lastly, tanning stinks – it actually does not smell good, especially after having it on 24 hours and now shower since.  The best part after the show, besides a celebratory meal is the shower to start getting rid of it.

Shaving: If tanning is the worst part of a doing a show, shaving is not far behind it.  If you have never shaved yourself, you should start doing it several weeks out and touch it up as you need to.  You do not want to shave the first time a few days out and then break out from the irritation if you discover your skin is sensitive to it.

Prepare and pack your own food:  There are now many food prep companies, but it is best to prepare your own food for the weekend to make sure you control things like sodium, etc.  You also need to bring plenty of food so you are not running out backstage or the day of the show.  As well, bring your food scale to continue measure things accurately.   In addition, for electronic scales, bring an extra battery.  Much like fire alarms going off at 2AM when it detects a low battery, the battery on the food scale will die at a less than optimal time.

Sheets and towels: If you are staying at a hotel for your show, you need to bring your own sheets and towels and use them exclusively after your first tan.   The tan will rub off easily and stain hotel sheets and towels.  Even though most of the time it will wash out, hotels will charge you a sizable fee for staining their sheets and towels.

Flip Flops: Male competitors in all divisions are on stage barefoot.  So, bring a pair of flip flops for walking around the show venue and backstage.

Always flex: Whenever you are on stage, you need to be flexed in the relaxed pose.  In large classes, everyone may be on stage with some off to the side while the judges compare a subgroup at a time.  Even then, you should be holding a pose since the judges may look around while the other competitors transition between poses.

Post-show Celebration:  After months of extreme dieting and cardio, the first activity after a show – besides a shower – is the post-show meal.  No doubt you should enjoy the time with friends and family, but be careful on how excessive it is.  After all that clean eating, an all-out binge may come back to cause regret when all that delicious food works through the digestive system that has not been used to it.

Post Show

Avoid cankles and fat gains:  You worked really hard to get ripped and shredded.  You do not want to undo that in a week….and it is easy to do that.  After you have a couple of celebratory meals, it is time to get back on the routine.  You should still keep your diet clean and keep up the cardio you were doing the weeks before the show and slowly taper off them (slowly increase carbs week over week and reduce cardio slowly week over week).  The worst mistake people make is to continue celebrating and stopping the cardio – it is like going 100 mph to 0 suddenly.  Quickly moving to excessive calories and drastically reducing the calories you burn is going to cause a quick fat gain.  As well, it will inevitably cause a lot of uncomfortable water retention.   The best approach is to taper off it slowly, which also helps prolong how lean your are after all that work.


Questions or comments on competing?  Post a comment or message me on IG and I will be glad to try to help answer them.


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