There is no doubt about it – Natural Bodybuilding competition has arrived! Currently we have more shows running and a greater number of athletes competing then ever before. Unfortunately, I believe the standard of competition has remained stagnant for some time. Granted we have some sensational athletes with incredible physiques, but overall the standard of competition remains the same. I believe that many competitors are simply falling short with their contest preparations.
As a successful competitor, I have been fortunate enough to gain valuable insight from the ‘who’s who’ of international natural bodybuilding to find out what works first time – every time – to achieve sensational stage presence. I would now like to share these tactics with you.
I’ll cover each topic one by one, so by the end of this article you will be confident knowing that the package you display for your next competition will be your best!
Some people still believe that to develop ‘razor sharp’ cuts you need to decrease your weights and up the reps and chase the burn. This is simply not true. The condition you display on stage is simply a result of an effective pre-contest strategy. Your weight training is used to maintain/increase muscle mass – it’s that simple!
In our off seasons we tackle a low rep/high intensity weight-training program to stimulate muscle growth, so why change before your contest? You should be trying to build mass up until the contest day. If you take away the overload – the reason for your mass in the first place – then you will lose muscle, period! This is the reason you hear so many competitors complain that they lost way too much mass in the last couple of weeks. Low overload, high reps and excessive cardio will lead to muscle loss!
Up until 2 weeks out, your workouts should be focused on low reps and maximum weights hitting momentary muscular failure on EVERY set. The week before your final week you can taper off a little, but only a little. Here the goal is to stop one rep short of failure. The reason being is that this will reduce the chance of injury, and if you do have any injuries this will allow them to heal.
The final week before the comp isn’t a time to up your training, but actually to drastically reduce it. If your competition is on Saturday, then your final workout will be on Tuesday. Train Monday and Tuesday (whole body session split over 2 days), and make sure that they are only of a minimal intensity. You are just trying to burn off the final glycogen stores before your carbohydrate loading period. This now leaves the rest of the week for recovery and finalising the smaller details to your physique.
Believe it or not, an effective approach to cardiovascular exercise WILL NOT lead to muscle wastage, but can increase muscle size. There is 2 reasons for this:
Intensity and overload: If you engage in a high intensity cardio program, you will create the same stimulus for muscle gain that weight training causes. Just make sure that you follow your cardio sessions with the same nutritional approach that you do with your weight training.
This contradicts what a lot of others might say, but it’s not the ‘fat burning’ from cardio that you need to be concerned with. Effective cardio programming is best described as the total rise in energy expenditure over several hours. This is what creates the best results.
Intense cardio increases your fitness: The fitter you are, the more this will benefit all facets of your training. If you are aerobically fit, you will be able to push harder and recover faster from both your cardio and weight programs. It is very rare to see someone who is in great shape and not aerobically fit as well.
Nutrition is simply a ‘tool’, which is used to get you to where you want to go. So many people make the mistake in the way they view food and this only distracts then from the task at hand.
Contest dieting is only as hard as you make it. There is simply no reason to live on steamed chicken and rice if this doesn’t suit you. There are numerous choices of lean meats to eat, and vegetables and essential fats should already be part of your balanced ‘off season’ diet, and don’t forget the condiments.
Spend some time in your supermarket and you will be amazed at the varieties on offer, which are all low fat, salt reduced – even carbohydrate reduced if that’s what you are looking for. Spices can also be used to flavour any dish to your liking.
In the end, contest dieting is only as hard as you make it. There are 5 simple guidelines I offer my clients when it comes to contest dieting:
* Eat quality protein
* Eat functional carbohydrates suited to your requirements
* Eat essential fats
* Drink more water then you do now
* It all comes down to calories! You simply need to either eat fewer calories than your body needs, or burn more calories then you consume to kick-start and maintain the fat burning process.
Supplements can no doubt enhance the package you display on stage. The problem is in choosing the ones best for you. From personal experience and from the experience of my clients, I would say stick to the basics!
Of all the hundreds of products sitting on the shelves as we speak, nothing beats a good quality Whey Protein, Creatine Monohydrate and L-Glutamine. You could also throw into the mix here a good quality Multi Vitamin/Mineral and if you are starting to feel the strain, a good quality Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate product.
I honestly believe that you simply do not need anything more then this. Combine these basic products with a great nutrition plan and an effective weight training and cardio vascular program, come contest day you will be big, full and with razor sharp definition.
Many people forget about recovery when it comes to pre-contest planning. Motivation is a powerful tool and you might believe that you would be able to push hard indefinitely however you definitely need to schedule time for recovery. With all the training, cardio, posing practice, and running around that comes with competition whilst on calorie-restricted diet, a frantic pace cannot be sustained forever.
Be diligent with the hours you sleep each night, and try to kick back for a couple hours during the day as well. Your body will thank you, and the mental break each day will keep you refreshed for when you need to be.
Posing – Compulsory Poses
You have spent months training and dieting hard for your competition so do not let it all go to waste with poor posing. You need to be able to pose – and pose well – to do justice to all your efforts. There is just no reason to go through all the hard work if you fail to present properly.
If you have never posed before, then I suggest you find an experienced competitor who is renowned for their ‘on stage’ grace and see if they will coach you. If you can’t find anyone, get along to your nearest competition and study how all the competitors pose. Some pose better then others, but if you have never competed before this is a good place to start.
If you are a seasoned competitor then there is no reason for you not being able to pose. But I strongly suggest that you brush up on your skills to generate some ‘stage fitness’.
Posing is hard work and the more you practice, the better you will be able to perform them and hold them for longer when it counts. A good time to start your posing practice is when you officially begin your pre-contest preparation. Start off with just 10 minutes a day in the bathroom mirror. By 4 weeks out, you should be spending a minimum 30 minutes a day on your compulsory poses, holding each pose for at least a minute and moving from one pose to the next without breaking. Pose exactly the same way you will be required to on show day. This way when the big day arrives, you will be ready.
Posing – Your Routine
My best advice here would be to know your limitations! If you cannot dance, then by all means do not include some funky dance steps into your individual posing routine. Many competitors try to dazzle the crowd with all these elaborate moves, but this tactic only ever works if you have the grace of Fred Astaire on stage.
If you have the ability then by all means go for it. This could be your forte where you really excel, but for the majority of us, know your limitations. More times then not, a simple routine with perfectly executed poses is so much better (and scores higher) then a spectacular routine performed poorly.
Posing – Your Music Selection
The music you use needs to be a reflection of your personality. It is so much easier to perform a great routine if you enjoy the song that you are using. With your routine, you are ‘selling’ your physique to the judges. They will place you according to not only how you perform your routine, but also how your routine flows with your physique and the music you have chosen. If you have a rugged, muscular physique, you would not want to focus on a lot of classic, artistic poses combined with the latest dance song.
My tips for music selection are:
* Pick a song that you like (a song that you will not get sick of hearing over and over)
* Pick a song that matches your abilities (if you cannot dance, don’t pick Ricky Martin)
* Pick a song that matches your personality (if you are a funny person by nature, don’t use a soppy love song).
Finally, don’t use anything that is top 40. If you do, then there is a good chance that someone else could use your song as well. Could you imagine the frustration if you arranged a great routine and the competitor performing before you has used the same song as you had chosen? No matter how great the routine is, the impact will not be the same on the judges because they have just heard that very song
Tanning is always one of the things that people seem to muff on contest day. Usually they are too dark, too light, blotchy skin etc and this can really distract from an otherwise championship physique. Here I am going to reveal my tanning program, which will result in a prefect tan, every time!
From 5 weeks out – You need to get into the solarium! The solarium serves two purposes. The first is to create a great base tan, which you need before you apply contest colour. The second is that the solarium will dry your skin out. To bring out the deep cuts and vascularity on stage, you need a good base tan and paper-thin skin. Here is how I advise solarium usage:
5 weeks out – 2 x sessions (Tuesday, Friday)
4 weeks out – 3 x sessions (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
3 weeks out – 4 x sessions (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday)
2 weeks out – 4 x sessions (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday)
Week of show – 4 x sessions (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday – this session must be in the am).
I advise your final tanning bed session in the am because you need to start thinking about applying contest colour the day before the big show. Some people say to start applying colour from 3 days out, but I personally think this is impractical. I like to keep my house as ‘tan free’ as possible, hence the extended use of the sun bed.
After the tanning bed, get yourself into the shower for a thorough clean. Exfoliate the skin, and grab a razor to touch up any missed stray hairs. This is your last shower before the show so make it a good one. Once the first coat of tan goes on, you must stay dry.
When you’re finished, make sure you are completely dry.
You want to apply the first coat of contest colour around lunchtime the day before your show. Most beauty salons now have spray tans, which are similar to contest colour, but as I have never used them, I’ll stick to the method I know best – the brush. Additionally, It is best to have someone apply your colour for you.
I usually like to start with the legs. Start with long, even strokes to see how the colour is reacting with your skin. Start at the front of the leg and from top to toe, apply the colour. Complete one leg completely, then move to the other. After legs, I’ll move onto back, torso, shoulders, arms and finish off on the face. A great way to apply colour to your face is with a soft make up pad or soft sponge. Your face only needs subtle colour and this is a great way to control its consistency.
After you are done, remain still for about 20 minutes until the colour is completely dry. You are then able to move around freely. Apply your next coat at 8pm that same night and a final coat at about 5am on contest day.
Dream Tan, Contest Shimmer and similar products.
If there is a tanning ‘secret’ I have, then this is it. Forget what the container says about how to use these products, this way is much more effective. About 2 hours after your final coat of contest colour apply your Dream Tan (around 7am show day). Apply a nice, lustrous coat, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies. When completed, get dressed in some nice, warm clothes. Avoid anything with tight waistbands as these marks will show on stage. Draw string track pants and loose jumpers work best. Dress to keep warm, but not to sweat.
Why is this method so effective?
We would all agree that Dream Tan and associated products are quite thick and can be difficult to work in fully. When you apply it early in the day, you have time on your side. When you apply the tan 30 minutes before you hit the stage, there isn’t enough time for it to fully work into the skin, hence loss of condition and a ‘sometimes’ puffy look.
Applying it early (and staying warmly dressed) lets the tan work its way into the skin. Any excess tan you might have simply comes off onto your sweats. I guarantee that if you try this tanning technique for your next show, and you take your sweats off 10 minutes before going on stage you will be blown away with your colour – dark, even and with your vascularity intact!
When it’s time, you must remove ALL the hair. Some people will just remove the obvious hair (arms, legs etc) but even the finer hair can distract from your physique. Even if you are fair and have minimal body hair, run the razor over your shoulders, back, chest etc. When you are putting everything into your prep, you don’t want the odd patch of hair taking away from your presentation.
The choice between waxing and shaving is solely a personal one, as each will produce the same result. If you choose to wax, make sure you do it at ideally 2 weeks before the comp. This will allow the puffiness and follicle redness associated with waxing to disperse, plus it is still close enough for the re-growth to not show. If you are shaving, make sure you shave down at least 2 days out. You need to be hair free before you start applying contest colour. If you shave after application, it will effect the coat.
On contest day, make sure you are well groomed!
Yes it is a bodybuilding competition and we are looking at your physique, but don’t spoil your look with a scruffy appearance. Go off and get a haircut – clean styles work best on stage. Lastly, guys, ‘out there’ hairdos only take the judges eyes OFF your physique. Not really what we are hoping for are we?
There you have it, my complete pre-contest guide to your best ever physique. Apply these tactics for your next competition, and I guarantee you will turn up with your best ever physique!
About The Author
Josh Dickinson is a Co-Founder of Physique Essentials – A Health & Fitness consultancy company determined to assist people reach their physique goals Naturally. He is an accomplished bodybuilding competitor and a certified personal trainer. If you have any questions that you would like answered by one of Australia’s quickest rising competitors, physique-essentials.com