For first time competitors who are planning to dive into this crazy sport, I hope this article can serve as a general checklist as you approach the stage. It might not cover EVERY one of your EXACT needs, but I promise it will be useful in covering the typical bases.
To start, I hope it goes without saying that the many months and years prior to this, you have been resistance training and lifting weights in some capacity.
I am anticipating that you have never competed and have no experience dieting to the levels of leanness required to do well as a bodybuilder.
With those two assumptions in mind, here is a general suggested countdown of events as I see it. This is an approximate 1 year bodybuilding timeline.
12 TO 8 MONTHS OUT
You need to learn to weigh your food, how to count your macronutrients, and how to track them using whatever software you feel is appropriate. I personally use MyFitnessPal, but you can choose whichever means you’d like. If you’re not sure how to count your macros, this video series might help.
You need to begin writing down all of your workouts and all of your current training habits. This will all be valuable data for yourself and your coach to refer to as needed. It’s easier to tell you where to go if your coach knows where you’ve been. I promise.
It is very difficult to stay objective during the most grueling points of contest preparation. This is even more so true as a first timer. Thus, I’d highly recommend finding a coach. Luckily, we here at 3DMJ can help with that 😉
Although you will probably not begin your contest prep this soon, speak with your prospective coach and ask them what else they would like you to get familiar with in the meantime.
Some may say, “let’s start dieting now”! Or they might say, “come back to me in four months”, but at least you’re on their radar and they’ll be able to give you a tentative overall plan until the real contest prep starts.
And lastly, start looking online for shows. For Natural Athletes living in America, THIS SITE is really good that lists over 70% of the amateur competitions that occur in the country throughout the year. You can search by State, Organization, Date, etc….Generally, you will find that the majority of shows will range anywhere from June through October, with a few outliers.
8 TO 4 MONTHS OUT
A good coach will give you a training protocol and a nutrition plan centered around achieving a certain energy deficit through macronutrient manipulation (rather than a rigid meal plan with limited food selection) somewhere in this window of time if they haven’t already. It typically just depends on how lean you are, how much food you’re taking in, and how much cardio you’re already doing when you begin this whole process.
Start looking at suits you’d like. You will not order your posting suit or trunks for a while, because if you order it too early it will be too big when you get on stage. However, you can still familiarize yourself with what designs you like and what company you’d like to work with.
Start learning and familiarizing yourself with the basic mandatory poses. You don’t need to hardcore practice them yet, but if you’ve never competed before, it might be a good idea to give this 10-30 min every few days.
I would also take pictures and video as well. Begin documenting your journey in as much detail as you can handle now, because you’ll want all of that data for the next time a bodybuilding season comes around.
4 TO 2 MONTHS OUT
Finalize your posing music selection. You will want to know this piece of music EXTREMELY well so you can create a proper performance. If you find that you would prefer to get this music cut or edited professionally, give your audio engineer the time to execute what you’re looking for while still having a few weeks to practice to the completed song.
I would crank up the mandatory posing practices to at least once a week, and make sure to film yourself while doing so. Look into posing coaches in your area and perhaps send them the pics and/or video for a broad check to see if there are any screaming red flags in the way your positions are being displayed.
8 TO 4 WEEKS OUT
Pick a show and submit your registration information. You will need to pay the entry fee, purchase that organizations membership card (which can often be done online or at the show), find out who they recommend for tanning (if they don’t allow Dream Tan), when and where you will be polygraph tested, etc.
Much of this info will be available upfront. Some of it will be emailed to you about two to three weeks before the contest in an update message from the promoter. Either way, if you are curious, you can easily contact that person beforehand and get most of the answers you’re looking for.
Finalize your decision for your suit design, and take the time to talk to your tailor/company/seamstress about what you’re looking for, how much time they’ll need to have it done, when your show is, how much weight you have to lose, etc.
This is another one of those situations where they might just want you to come back in a few weeks or go ahead and submit your measurements right now if it’s getting custom-made.
If you’re purchasing an already-stocked suit, go ahead and make your order ASAP so you have enough time to practice in it and get it tailored (if necessary) before the big day.
Schedule a couple of posing sessions with someone other than yourself. If possible, I would recommend using someone who has judged in the organization of the contest you are going to enter. You can usually also find posing clinics within most major cities as show season starts approaching. If your coach is qualified, feel free to use them as well.
Individual posing practices should be mandatory at least twice per week. Mandatory poses and posing routines should all be filmed and critiqued by yourself and any other person who is willing to give feedback. Don’t just perform them, give yourself a regimen. For example: 3 sets of 3 symmetry rounds held for 10 seconds each, 10 flawless posing routines, etc.
If you are incredibly light-complected, perhaps going in for a few fake bake tanning sessions here and there could help you develop a little base color. Yes, your show day tan will make you extremely dark, but perhaps a primer could keep you from needing to do extra coats and might make the color change less obvious when you return to normal life (especially if you had to get a spray tan…that color will linger for a few days).
To help alleviate some of the stresses of the unknown, I would also recommend you attend a local, amateur bodybuilding show if you have never done so. This played a major role in helping me to realize that this whole experience is nowhere near as scary as it seems. You’ll see that there aren’t as many competitors, spectators, or “perfect physiques” as you would think. You’re one in a crowd of people with many of the same goals; you’ll fit right in.
4 TO 2 WEEKS OUT
Continue to stay on your training, nutrition, and posing game. Try not to get overly-stressed about any of it, as you’re more than prepared and can only do so much. Follow your plan and trust the process. Stressing out will just create bloat and frustration. Just be thankful you’ve come this far and look forward to the big day!
You should have a suit-fitting sometime within this window. Either your local suit-maker has had you try on for them, or your coach has checked it out and is happy with what it does for your physique. Remember, it will still fit snug when you are a few weeks away. You might still have a little bit of tightening up to do.
Assess your team of people to have backstage with you. Although it is not necessary to have anyone there, it sure has been a big help for me in the past and I’d highly recommend it.
If you have a local coach, I’m sure they will be around to help you out. If not, some shows charge extra to have a friend or teammate get a backstage pass to be back there with you. Other shows say that NOBODY but competitors can be back there. It just depends on the promoter, the venue, and your personal preference.
Either way, get a roundabout idea of who you can and will have behind the curtain on show day. This is especially important if you are planning on wearing Dream Tan, as you will need some type of assistance to apply it.
I had to do my very first show completely solo, and I had NO IDEA what was going on. It’s not ideal, but don’t stress if you gotta do this thing alone. It’s totally possible.
1 WEEK OUT
Because of all the nuances and details involved during this time, I figured it was best to give it an entire section of its own below…..
Week of Show Checklist
For many coaches and competitors, your “peak week” might consist of quite a few different protocols.
While there will most likely be a few changes to your training and/or nutrition regimen, there are also quite a few additional tasks that should be added to your to-do list.
Some, If Not All, of These Tasks Should Be Performed Between Monday and Thursday Leading Up to Your Contest:
Shop for the food that your coach will ask you to have with you on show day
Shop for the supplies to keep in your Show Day Bag (listed below)
Write your athlete bio
Get a haircut or trim if necessary (Ladies, practice hair style and make-up)
Make sure you have received your suit in its completed form and that it fits appropriately
Schedule a couple extra posing practices with yourself or a coach
The Following Appointments Will Be Scheduled for the Night Before or the Morning of Your Show:
Athlete check-in (to be determined by show promoter)
Polygraph testing (to be determined by tester or promoter)
Spray tan (to be determined by your tanning specialist…IF you are not using Dream Tan)
What to Take to Athlete Check-In:
Cash and personal checks
Organization membership card (unless purchasing it at the show)
Copy of your athlete bio
CD copy of your posing routine music and/or a file of it saved on an MP3 player
List of any questions for the staff or promoter you may have accumulated prior to that date
What to Have In Your Show Day Bag???
Cash, personal checks, organizational card, and any documentation given to you at athlete check-in
Food, snacks, and water
Suit (and the number you received at registration to pin to your suit)
An extra copy or two of your posing routine music (if applicable)
Flip flop sandals for back stage
More than enough Dream Tan for touch-ups if necessary (unless you are using a spray tan; the venue will handle that)
Hair styling products and make-up if necessary
Jewelry and high heels (female athletes in some divisions)
Body oil of your choice
Loose, dark colored clothing to sit around in that won’t mess up your tan…you WILL have a lot of down time
Phone charger, books, iPod, etc. (again, you WILL have a lot of down time)
NOTE: It is important to have extra funds with you at athlete check-in and at the show in case you would like to purchase stage pictures, a contest video, shirts, extra division entries, touch-up tanning, etc.
This is quite a lot of stuff, right? Although most of these items are pretty small, the bag itself can get quite heavy. Therefore, I would suggest using a rolling bag of some sort.
I mean, not that you’re not strong enough to lift it. It’s just that you DO NOT want to a big giant smear on your shoulder because the weight of your bag messed up your tan. Don’t be a hero. Get a rolling case….Or a non-competing friend to carry your stuff for you.
Anything Else You Should Know???
Know that you have come farther than most people ever will. Know that you chose this path, and that it is not a life or death scenario, even though it might feel like it. Know that no matter what happens, you will still have your sense of self, your loved ones, and a life to live after this show and after this season.
Know that you have done everything you could possibly do to prepare for this day and that is up to you make it a positive experience.
Enjoy the stage, enjoy the day, and share your successes with everyone who is lucky enough to have you in their life ?