A few weeks ago, this article from T-Nation was doing the rounds. John Romano on Why You Should Never Compete It’s a pretty harsh (but also true) set of statements about why some people should accept the fact that bodybuilding isn’t the sport for them. Genetics, structure, psychological inability to diet hard enough, that kind of thing.
Whether you think Romano is correct or cruel, whether you think it’s the taking part that matters or only the best should be up there, it got me thinking.
Should you compete? Should we – as current or former bodybuilding competitors – encourage people to compete? What are the questions we should encourage people to answer honestly to themselves before they embark?
Or is there no need for over-thinking at all – should anyone who expresses an interest in physique sports be encouraged to get on stage, and see how the feel afterwards?
I’ve asked around, and here are what my fellow “existing competitors” have to say.
“I sometimes think ignorance was bliss! In some ways I’m so grateful and proud that I know what I know and have had some achievements, but I half wish I’d never seen myself stage lean – anything less feels like a bit of a fail now!”
“It depends very much on their motivation to want to do so. If someone asks me for advice because they want to compete my first question is always “why do you want to?”…
“I recommend competing to everyone who trains: set yourself a goal and go for it. Signing up for any comp will motivate you better!”
“I have given first-timers my advice in the past and my honesty has been misunderstood. Some people have unrealistic expectations and are in denial.”
“For first timers I’d say “why not!” Go for it see if it makes you happy, miserable or somewhere in between. Is how you feel worth making all the effort? You can’t really know know unless you try.”
“You never know until you try and it could change your life in a positive way, be the perfect fit for you and give you a lot. Or it may turn out to be something you find does not suit you, but you will have lost nothing by trying except a few weeks of your life on a strict diet. The worse than happens is you answer an internal question.”
“After my first comp, the eating demons were hard to control. I have a background of “issues” around eating. Now I’m off-season, and I know you have to eat more to gain size… but I’m really struggling. Mainly mentally, as I just question how I think I look now!”
“More of us should openly share the real struggles nobody wants to admit.”
“I would ask them a lot of questions. I think competing is risky for anyone with self esteem or self confidence issues, and also anyone who’s experienced any sort of disordered eating. I would certainly encourage first timers to weigh up the pros and the cons and then decide for themselves. But you never really know if you’re going to enjoy the experience until you do it.”
“Their “why” is important. Weigh it up in terms of risk:reward ratio, and think about the potential benefits. Having said that, I did none of that! I just knew I wanted to do it and find out what I was made of. I learned loads I can apply in other areas of my life and work. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also one of the most rewarding. 10 comps later don’t regret a single one.”
Interesting variety of responses, huh! I can tell you that it was mostly male friends who were of the “go for it, you won’t know til you try, and what have you got to lose…” school of thought. Females were the ones who suggested you need to identify your “why”, and it was 100% females who gave any response to do with disordered eating, body-image struggles and struggling to know what’s normal after you’ve experienced a comp prep.
My view? Somewhere in between. I’ve often wondered what life would be like having never done a prep diet, not knowing about macros, how to crunch the various numbers in a meal, or how to design a meal plan. Would I be better off without the knowledge, or worse? And by that do I mean physically, mentally, in body composition, emotionally, or what?
But then again you could say that for anything!
It’s certainly true that you can’t “unknow” any of the things competition prep teaches you. But the extent to which you let them affect or control your life after the stage (or between competitions) is down to your personality, the rest of your life, your non-bodybuilding support network, and many other things.
Competition prep is a harsh mistress. So go into it with your eyes open, with full support of both bodybuilding and fitness folk, and those in other areas of your life. Ask questions – of coaches, of bodybuilding friends, and of yourself. Be very honest, and realistic. And remember that the challenges of contest prep don’t end when you step off stage. In fact, many people would say that’s when they’re just beginning.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Are you a competitor who’s been asked “do you think I should compete?” by a newbie? Have you ever felt it was your obligation to advise anyone against it? Or are you a first-time competitor who wished someone had told you what it would really be like… or shut up and let you get on with it?
Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.