Is now the right time for you to go all-in for bodybuilding prep? LBEB helps you work it out…
“Wow, you look great! When are you going to compete?”
It’s a question every woman in semi-decent shape has heard at least once. And it’s becoming more common. As bodybuilding contests grow more popular, you’re like to face the question of competing.
I don’t think it’s the right question.
The real question should be “ are you ready to compete?” Or perhaps, “do you want to compete”? (By the way, it’s fine if your answer is “no”!)
The assumption seems to be that anybody who enjoys lifting weights will step on stage. When did that become a thing? Bodybuilding is the only sport I can think of where this happens. In other sports, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy training without ever once entering an event. Swimmers swim (often every day for decades) without anyone suggesting they join a Masters squad. Cyclists take their bikes out on the road or trails without strangers telling them to do a time trial. Joggers can carry on jogging without endless questions relating to entering a marathon.
Why is bodybuilding so different? Perhaps it’s because this is such a visual – and visible – sport. You carry the tools of your trade around with you as you train. Your body is right there on display (like it or not) every time you step into the gym. This isn’t the case for the swimmer, the cyclist, and the jogger. They keep their training times hidden in their Garmin and log book. Friends (and complete strangers) can see you growing and changing. Maybe they think suggesting you compete is a compliment.
Do You Want To Compete?
This is a simple question, but it might not be easy to answer. The only person who can truthfully say whether you want to compete is you. Sure, your friends and fitness idols might have done a bodybuilding comp. You don’t have to. Maybe you’re interested in the idea, but don’t want to do one now. That’s fine. There’s never a perfect time, but some times are definitely less ideal than others!
What You Can Do Instead
If you love lifting, geeking out over nutrition, and seeing your body change, there’s plenty you can do. Set personal goals (PRs, body composition targets, health goals). Book a photoshoot. Take regular progress pictures for your own interest. Keep a training blog. Support your local bodybuilding show by spectating or helping out. Simply enjoy a lifetime of lifting and healthy living. You still get to call yourself a bodybuilder, even if you’re not a competitive one. Bonus point: you get to save yourself a shit ton of money. Spend it on a beach holiday instead of litres of stage tan and embellished bikinis.
Are You Ready To Compete?
If you are interested in competing, I urge you to take a physical, emotional, and financial inventory before committing to a prep. Competing before your mind and body are ready could set you up for disappointment and health problems. Get it right before you start. Boost your chances of a successful prep, contest, and transition back to real life.
Your Pre-Prep Checklist:
Have you got enough muscle mass for your division? Check the judging criteria of the Federation, read previous show reports, and look at competition photos. Be realistic: how much muscle will you still have once you are stage lean. You won’t put on more whilst you’re dieting. Have you got the size and muscularity? Bikini competitors carry the least muscle of all bodybuilding categories, but still need enough mass to create the desired shape of a bikini athlete when lean. Figure athletes need significant mass on their delts, lats, quads, glutes and hamstrings. Physique and bodybuilding ladies need a lot of mass – more than you imagine. Take an honest look at your own physique, and ask someone with an experienced eye to give their opinion. If you have only been training 1-2 years, it’s probably best to train a little longer before you step on stage. There’s no rush. Enjoy training!
What’s your body composition like? Will you be able to lose enough body fat in time, without taking your calories too low? If you have a lot to lose, that’s OK. Just give yourself enough time. A rushed prep is no fun and will affect your emotions, sleep, work, relationships, and that precious muscle mass.
Are you healthy? Prep can take its toll on even the fittest and strongest body. Be sure your general health and well-being are robust before you subject yourself to the stress of contest prep.
Be honest about your relationship with food, eating behaviors, and dieting. If you have a history of disordered eating, think twice about starting a contest prep. If you go into it knowing you have food issues, make sure you have a lot of support. And be open with those people. Allow them to help you.
How well do you manage stress? How stressful is your lifestyle right now (and how would you cope if those stress levels went up?) Not only is content prep stressful on your mind and body, but it can make existing stressors seem worse. It’s a good idea to get life as stress-free as possible before you start prep. If that’s not possible, work out ways to minimize and manage lifestyle stress.
Competing winds up costing a lot of money, even if you do it as cheap as possible. Draw up a rough outline of costs involved (Federation fees, contest entry, travel, accommodation, food for prep, supplements, tanning, posing suit and shoes, coaching fee if you choose to have a coach). Be sure you can afford it. Set yourself a budget. And remember that contest prep may affect your ability to be productive at work. If you are self-employed, your income may take a hit.
Your Knowledge Base
How much do you know about competitive bodybuilding, specifically the Federation and category you want to do?
What’s your knowledge like in the areas of training, nutrition, fat loss, health, posing, reverse/recovery dieting?
If you have holes in your knowledge, do you know where you will go for guidance? Can you easily access information about the science of bodybuilding prep? If you choose not to be coached, will you be able to put your trust in a few sources and apply that info without getting confused?
Not Ready? Here’s Why That’s Fine!
If you’ve read this far and decided that you’re not ready, don’t feel down. Be proud of yourself for taking a balanced, rational approach. Stage will always be there. If you’re ready next year, or in 10 year’s time, it will be waiting for you. And in future, you’ll have more muscle mass, more training under your belt, more knowledge about your own body. You’ll be a more mature athlete, and have a better grasp of your emotional strengths (and needs). And if you never compete at all, it doesn’t make you any less of a strength athlete.