There are always a lot of articles giving advice on how to get ready to compete for physique competition. Competing is a difficult challenge that I like since it is something most people do not make it through, and because it really pushes this introvert outside his comfort zone to get up on stage. I firmly believe in trying to accomplish difficult tasks because you really learn about yourself in the process. I get asked often about advice on doing a show for the first time. I generally love being able to help people achieve their goal, but there are some times when you have to advise people that they might not be ready for that first show. These are the common red flags you are not ready to do this:
You are not properly motivated: I have a hypothesis that if social media went away, so would a good chunk of competitors. For some, posting on social media accounts that they are doing a show, and then documenting the hardship of cardio and diet is a way of getting attention and love in the virtual world. The motivation is not so much the challenge of putting in hard work on an extremely tough goal and seeing it through, but to have people fawn over them. The motivation is wrong. As the expression goes, “do it to do it, not to have done it.” If you are not internally motivated to get it done, achieving the outcome becomes really hard when obstacles come your way. And there will be obstacles – it is an extreme result that requires an extreme diet and workout. There will be inevitable plateaus, days you feel tired and worn out, family and co-workers tempting you with food not on your program, etc.
You hate this: A contest prep is a lot of hard work. Having known a number of prep coaches, I can tell you a lot of people who start the process never finish. The diet is hard. The hours in lifting and doing cardio are hard. If you find yourself complaining to everyone about how hard it is and complaining about it all the time, it is time to give it up. There is nothing wrong in admitting the lifestyle does not agree with you. Those that are successful know it sucks at times, but the desire to accomplish a difficult goal and achieve that end look is enough to embrace it and propel them through it.
You are not going to be properly conditioned: There is a huge difference of looking good at the gym and being in competition shape for the stage. The extreme is bodybuilding, where you need to get down to around 4% body fat. The other divisions will require single level body fat as well. As I have written about in previous articles, if you are not reasonably in shape 12-16 weeks out at the start of a contest prep, it is difficult to overcome that. All the “prep week” magic of water manipulation is not going to change a physique that is carrying too much body fat. You can’t “dry out” fat.
You do not have enough money: Competing is expensive. You can easily spend a couple of thousands of dollars on a prep coach, food, supplements, registration fees, tanning, hotel/travel expenses, and so on. If you don’t have the money, hold off until you can save some money up to do it right.
You cannot focus on prepping: My training partner once commented at the start of his prep about some of the distractions going on with work and other people, “I am going to have to become selfish.” Competing is not a team sport – it is just you. Competing requires a lot of time – repeating, a lot of time – between a couple of hours in the gym each day, never ending meal prep, rest, etc. If job or personal problems will take time from that, you will not be successful. Aim for a show when you can give all the required time and attention to do it right.