So you want to compete? First steps for new bodybuilders

Are you interested in competing in bodybuilding (I’m including all the various bodybuilding categories here – bodybuilding, physique, figure, fitbody…)? Maybe it’s on your bucket list, or perhaps it’s the reason you started training with weights.

Whether you’ve made the decision, or are still debating it, competing can be confusing and overwhelming.

Here are a few things you’ll need to do, look into, and think about at those initial stages.

Which association/federation?
So, you know you want to compete. What next? Literally… where do you go next? There are lots of bodybuilding organisations (let’s just talk about the UK for now), all slightly different. Things you’ll want to ask yourself:

1) Drug tested or not? If you’re not a drug-free competitor, or if you’ve taken something in the distant past, you’ll need to do one of the organisations which aren’t specifically drug free. You could also choose to do one of these organisations if you don’t care either way about the people you’ll be up against, but you do particularly want to compete with that organisation. There are 3 drug-free associations in the UK (I can do another post explaining them if you like?), two have a 7-year drug-free rule, one is lifetime drug-free.

2) Which association has the category I want to do/I think I’ll be best suited to? Do your research. All the bodybuilding organisations have websites and Facebook pages, and there’s lots of advice out there. Some offer slightly different classes, some offer classes you won’t find anywhere else, and the criteria will differ. Make sure the organisation you choose suits your body, your ethics, your past or present choices of “supplementation”, and your personality too. You need to feel “at home”.

Which category?
Please note I’m just talking about the drug-free organisations here, since they’re the ones I know (and otherwise I’d be here all day!) All offer slightly different categories for women. For men, it’s slightly easier: you’ll be in bodybuilding, and can enter Novice, or age (masters) classes, or open (weight) classes. Men’s Physique is starting to be introduced.

For women, it can be a little confusing. Essentially you have:
– bodybuilding (the same poses as male bodybuilders, barefoot). Also sometimes called Physique or Ms Physique. Do not confuse this with the Physique category in the IFBB (Dana Lynn Bailey & co). Physique in drug-tested UK organisations=female bodybuilding.
– Figure (some organisations also offer Masters Figure)
– Fitbody
– Athletic

It is well worth looking at the organisation’s criteria, asking organisers/show promoters/competitors, and looking at plenty of photos from previous competitions.

IMO, it’s best to train and see how your body is looking when you start to diet down, unless you desperately want to do a specific category. That said, most women feel instantly at home in one category and can’t imagine doing another. Fun fact! I originally started out as a Figure competitor, til someone had a good look at me and suggested bodybuilding/physique. I was glad, I feel like a bodybuilding competitor 🙂

Do I need a “prep coach”?
Bodybuilding is the first sport I’ve done where people seem to feel that they need a “prep coach”. Maybe it’s because it’s such a lifestyle thing, involving more than just your training. But I’ve noticed that people new to bodybuilding seem to automatically assume you have to have a coach prep you, and panic about finding the right person and funding this.

You don’t need a coach. There is plenty of information out there about dieting for muscle gain and fat loss, about training for hypertrophy, about tanning and choosing a posing suit and how to pose. In fact there’s probably never been a better time to access tons of free information.

That said, I understand that some people feel better with a coach. Certainly it’s good for accountability, and keeping your head straight when panic and self-doubt sets in. But a good close circle of bodybuilding friends could do that, too. One thing I would say: if you have a coach, trust him or her. Question them, sure, but work with them and trust them. If you don’t have a coach, find one or two knowledgeable people who you trust. Listen to them, do your own research, and bounce ideas off them. Then don’t fuss. Listen to your “mentor/s” and don’t listen to anyone else!

Am I ready?
Hm, I don’t know! Certainly lots of people get on stage when they’re not ready. But that’s not a crime. It just means they probably won’t place, but maybe that doesn’t matter to them. I would say that you will be amazed at how “small” you end up once you’re lean enough for stage. So, ask yourself if you have the necessary muscle mass build from a foundation of solid time training with weights.

Do I have the support network I’ll need?
You also need to ensure your mind and lifestyle are ready. Are you in a “good place” in your life? Do you have support? If you live and train alone, are you OK with that? If you have a partner, kids etc, are they OK with the idea of you competing?

What should I expect?
From competing? That’s a blog post in itself! But, in a nutshell: hard work, focus, 24/7 dedication to diet, hard training, food prep, washing up a lot of plastic tubs and shaker bottles, much time assessing/measuring/crunching various numbers, hunger, tears, self-doubt, double guessing yourself, mood swings, euphoria, excitement and a massive sense of achievement. Amongst other things 😉 One thing I would say is that you do not have to compete. You could just train, and eat well, maybe even “do the diet” for yourself, or for a photoshoot, or for no reason at all. If you love lifting, and like eating a bodybuilder-y type diet, you do not have to compete. It’s not the next logical step. Unless you want it to be!

How much will it cost?
Like any sport, it’s as expensive as you let it be. But, it’s not cheap. Here are some costs you might expect. Not all are essentials.

Prep coach (if applicable)
Gym membership/s
Food for throughout your prep (doesn’t have to be expensive but can be)
Supplements (you don’t need any/many, but it can get spendy)
BB association membership
Contest entry fee
Polygraph fee
Photos/DVD of show
Beauty treatments before your show
Bottle/s of tan
Or professional tanning (if applicable)
Bikini/s or trunks
Shoes (if you’re doing Figure or Fitbody)
Stage jewellery and such adornments (if you want)
Travel to show
Tickets for supporters (if you’re the generous type)

This is getting long… so I’ll sign off for now. But if you want any more info on any of this, leave a comment and I’ll do a follow up.

Oh -I asked my bodybuilding friends to chip in on this topic, and here are some of their responses 😉

You will lose your mind at some point, so make sure the people around you are supportive and understand

You need to know just how much time and energy it takes up the closer you get.

The importance of getting tan right. …….

First go and see a competition – not like I did!

The importance of another person looking you over.

Biochemistry. Is the body ready to build muscle / reduce body fat?

The emotional impact, during and afterwards, and also the fact you should reverse diet, the possibility of bad rebound and the fact you might look great but you probably don’t feel your best!

For competitors who are parents: to schedule in set family and separate kids time. The mental side is tough already but feeling guilty of not spent seemingly enough time with family especially little ones is stressful. Time for oneself and children is vital.

Don’t over think it! The whole process is a journey, one to learn from and develop. Keep it simple and be prepared to learn for future events. Its far too easy as a newbie to get caught in the trap of trying to manipulate every fine detail so that you fail to fully understand what and how your own body responds. Keep it simple!

Nailing your posing is an absolute must.

So you want to compete? First steps for new bodybuilding competitors is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


2 Responses to So you want to compete? First steps for new bodybuilders

  1. Trish says:

    Brilliant post! One of my favourites 🙂 x


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