Have you ever seen a bodybuilder on stage, showing off his hard work and cut muscle definition to the admiring crowd? Or been there after a bikini competitor’s first show to see her beaming with pride at her incredible transformation? If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on an incredible show.
Bodybuilding has been around since the late 1800’s when it consisted more of circus strongmen than highly disciplined, scientific minded athletes. And make no mistake, bodybuilders are athletes through and through. Today’s bodybuilders train hard and carefully balance nutrition to chisel some of the leanest, most muscular, and physically ideal bodies in existence.
Both men and women identify themselves as bodybuilders, and competitions are held all over the world, all with the goal of finding out who has worked the hardest to achieve the fittest body and the most ideal shape.
A variety of different divisions and categories exist, separating competitors into groups based on their size, height, and overall aesthetic. Physique categories for women who have more developed, larger muscle mass, and Bikini or Figure for less muscular bodies.
Men are separated similarly, with segments like Bodybuilding for the extremely stacked Arnold Schwarzenegger look, all they way down to the Physique division for the surfer body type.
Fitness divisions also exist for both men and women, where the muscle definition and lean shape only makes up part of the judging criteria. Fitness competitions in bodybuilding circles attract contestants that are agile, acrobatic, and usually have some kind of gymnast inside of them raging to get out.
Getting started in bodybuilding can seem like an intimidating process, especially if you have some weight to lose. But rest assured, anyone can get on stage with the right mix of diet and training. Follow these three easy steps to start your bodybuilding journey:
Step 1: Find a Personal Trainer
And not just any trainer. Ask around at your gym to see if there are any trainers who have experience training clients specifically for bodybuilding competitions. Any good personal trainer will be capable of helping you work through a muscle bulking phase followed by a stage of fat cutting, but what you’re really looking for is a coach.
A personal trainer with experience coaching a competitive bodybuilder will have specific familiarity with competition prep inside the gym, and will also be able to help you mentally prepare for the rigors of training, and the realities of stepping on stage.
There’s a lot more to getting on stage than just building muscle at the gym. There’s costume fitting, posing practice, questions about tanning, and specialized diets will need to be adjusted, fine tuned, and followed to the letter.
For women, there’s even more to think about. Shoes—ankle strap or no ankle strap? Competition suite —blue iridescent, or a red one with rhinestones? Even the posing and routine is variable for categories like fitness and bikini where you stand and move based on what will accentuate your assets the most.
Find a good personal trainer and coach with whom you have a comfortable rapport, and get ready to get down to work.
Step 2: Learn About Clean Eating
Your coach will likely put you on a specialized diet designed to change as you progress. One thing is certain though, you’ll be eating clean. It will be helpful to understand the principles of clean eating so you aren’t surprised when your get your first meal plan emailed to you and there isn’t a trace of sugar or fast food in sight.
Be prepared to eat a lot, and often. Every 3 hours or so you’ll enjoy a meal that probably has some combination of lean protein (such as chicken or fish), complex carb (like sweet potato or brown rice), and healthy fat (think almond butter and avocado).
While you’re getting bulked up with the right amount of muscle for your division, you’ll be eating a good amount of carbohydrates. As you move closer to competition and need to shed some of the layers off to reveal all that hard earned muscle definition, carbs will probably decrease, or cycle in amounts based on the prescription your coach hands down for your meal plan.
Step 3: Choose a Competition
Now for the goal setting portion of this program. It’s good to have goals, and the best goals have deadlines attached to them. Get with your coach and decide when and where you want to compete. Your coach will play a big part in helping you decide which venue will be a good fit for your first competition.
One consideration will be how much transformation your body needs before you’ll be stage ready. If you have a considerable amount of weight to lose, or muscle to gain, before you will look the part, you’ll have a longer prep runway, and more time to get ready.
Venue location will also be important. If you think you may want to be a serious competitor, and maybe even try to earn your pro card to be a professional bodybuilder one day, your coach might encourage you to do a smaller regional show at first to increase your chances of placing well.
Training for a bodybuilding competition is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion and excitement. There will be hard days when you’ll want to just eat a candy bar already, and amazing breakthroughs when you look in the mirror and see the fat has melted away to reveal the abs you’ve been working so hard on. Stick with it you’ll end up joining ranks with some of the leanest, most disciplined bodies in existence.