Competing in woman’s bikini, figure, fitness, physique or bodybuilding contests… is it right for you?
- What are you getting into?
- What is the cut phase/ contest prep?
- What are your goals?
- What does it take to compete?
- Do you have the time, discipline and funds?
- Common Fears
- The Emotional rollercoaster
- See other helpful competition related articles
What are you getting into?
So you are into fitness, eat healthy, enjoy going to the gym… maybe you are interested in getting into shape and need an amazing goal to work toward, great! …you can do this right? Sure, that is the beginning.
Preparing your body for a show may be one of the most emotionally and physically challenging things you will do, but it can be very rewarding and you may get addicted. Keep in mind, engaging in this sport with knowledgeable effort is very important. Doing the research, whether you are to endure this process on your own or with a trainer, is mandatory. The research alone can be confusing and overwhelming, so check out my contest prep posts and articles to get you started!
What is the cut phase / contest prep?
In general, there are two phases bodybuilders differentiate between, the build phase and the cut phase.
Build Phase/ Off Season: time period when you are eating maintenance or surplus calories in conjunction with a lifting program to build muscle. Cardio is minimal.
Cut Phase / In Season: time period when you are in a caloric deficit to shed fat to get into contest shape while lifting and adding cardio. Usually 12-20 weeks prior to a contest.
I personally feel like there are 3 phases to the cut phase:
- Phase 1: not bad, I can handle this diet and routine. I look great!
- Phase 2: okay… kinda hungry, but not really, but I need to eat those bag of marshmallows over there!
- Phase 3: F*** I am losing my sh**, I am craving marshmallows and all I want to do is get through the contest so I can eat a bowl of sugar with a side of fat!
Now, everyone will handle prep differently as will their program progresses. Tracking weight, body composition and taking pictures are very important. In the final weeks you may feel like you have lost some strength when lifting due to the caloric deficit you have reached. Also, dieting to lower body fat levels can cause other issues like “crabby Patti syndrome” where you are just plain super crabby or short tempered. You could also experience insomnia, low sex drive and just plain being cold!
To lessen the emotional and physical strife of this phase, you must take ample time to cut weight. Having an ample amount of time to cut weight will hopefully eliminate strength loss as well as the hopes of consuming as much food as possible to maintain your metabolism and sanity… except toward the end, there is no sanity. Aim for a 1-1.5 pound per week fat loss.
What are your goals?
Do you want a competition to give you a goal to work toward? Do you want to look like a fitness model? Do you want to be a pro? Which division do I choose? All of the above takes discipline and an individualized program to build up your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. Even if you only want to compete in one competition ever, you still have to work to maintain that body beyond competing. Being fit is a lifestyle that you live every day. Cutting weight into a show is more intense than maintenance, but it all takes discipline day in and day out. Which division do you choose? Read Divisions Explained for more info.
What does it take to compete?
Discipline, focus, discipline, focus and, did I mention discipline? Aside from the big F & D word, this sport can be time consuming and expensive. And, you just may lose your mind here and there.
The few months leading into a show can be very mentally and physically challenging. You will be peeing like a pregnant person, restricted on eating and obsessed with your weight and body composition (if you are not already). You have to keep your head on straight! Be smart. A whole lotta people go about prep in very extreme or dangerous ways because they think they aren’t ready for the stage or they are still fat. People compare themselves to those on show day with a tan on under stage lights. Keep in mind, the tan and stage lights do enhance all that muscle so take a look at people that are stage ready without the tan. You’ve also got to love (or at least somewhat like) fitness and have discipline! In the end, if dieted correctly, you will feel strong, sexy and ready to hit the stage, or beach, depending on your goals. You can do this!
- Time: Factor in the extra time you may be spending at the gym, prepping food and practicing posing.
- Money: There are many costs that you may not have thought about. Read The 23 Costs of Competing for more info.
- A supportive partner: Your partner needs to be supportive of this adventure. You will be devoting a lot of time during your cut phase leading up to a show on what you are eating, preparing food, practicing posing and getting to the gym. Not having your partners support can be daunting.
- Emotional ups and downs: In the last 4-6 weeks into a show when you are really getting stage lean you may (okay you will) experience some emotional instability in that you will be hungry, craving things and this makes you crabby and irritable. You are going against what your bodies primal mechanisms are set to do which is to survive. Low body fat signals starvation and stresses the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Unsupportive family and/or friends: Friends or family may not always be supportive of your journey and newly acquired picky eating habits, but, you don’t have to live under the same roof with them… usually :). Stick to your guns and diplomatically remind them of your goals. Haters gonna hate. 😀
- Reverse dieting: Once you are done with your contest(s), its not a free for all at the buffet…. Well, maybe for one night or the next day but, you will need to reverse diet back to maintenance calories for the off season so you do not gain tons of weight. This is not an easy task, trust me!
The following is a list of common fears many competitors experience.
- You won’t get lean enough
- You won’t have enough muscle
- You may fear that your body won’t respond well
- There isn’t enough cardio in your program
- You won’t have the discipline
- You don’t have the right body type or genetics (short, tall, stocky, square etc)
- You will embarrass yourself on stage in a tiny (stripper like) bikini
- You will feel selfish or look self indulgent to others
- Your family won’t support you
- You will just plain fail. Failing is a big one. But how will you know if you never try?
Successful people are not afraid to fail and have most likely done so many times before really succeeding. If you fail, learn from it, and try again. That’s just it. You do your best to stick to your program, trust in your coach, plan ahead, build muscle and symmetry, compete, get judges feedback and then focus on those areas for your next competition. Whether or not you are genetically inclined for this sport or if you place in your class, it’s a journey to a strong, hot and sexy body. You will meet many new and supportive people and it’s fun!
The Emotional Rollercoaster
The cycles of bodybuilding can be an emotional rollercoaster, in other words…a total mind fuck. When cutting, you are obsessively tracking your weight, weighing food, seeing weight fluctuations around your period and refeed meals, fending off cravings, trying not to hate your co workers for bringing donuts in every Monday, being quickly irritated with your significant other or children, wanting to have a few beers on Friday night…not so awesome. You have to be prepared, understand the phases and stay level headed. It feels good to be fit and lean. It feels good to accomplish your goals. It feels good to stand on stage and get that trophy. It makes it all worth it. But, not going about this entire process healthfully can be tough physically and emotionally. The proper time allotment for diet and exercise into and out of a show is crucial to your health both physically and emotionally.
There are many factors that come into play that may require a lot of discipline such as family priorities and children, job types, scheduling conflicts, will you prioritize planning and prepping meals and getting to the gym? It’s all about priorities. It’s a lifestyle, a hobby…. a commitment to yourself.
Is this an addicting sport… um yes… who wouldn’t want to look like a bad ass lean muscle fit chick? And meet super awesome positive supportive people…. And look like a bad ass lean muscle fit chick? I sure do and I am addicted. 😀
And besides, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous men!…….
Um yeah, I can handle being surrounded by hot men, sign me up!