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Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show: A Comprehensive Breakdown

Feb 26, 2019

Maybe it’s finally time to make that dream a reality and start preparing for a bodybuilding show.

After all, when you saunter into the gym everyone turns to look at you.

You know you look good–you’ve trained hard, dieted, and can really flex those muscles.

But be realistic–do you have what it takes?


Are you Really Ready?

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --woman doing bicep curls with dumbbells

Preparing for your first bodybuilding contest is definitely a big decision to make.

Are you ready to do the following?

    • Diet for a long period of time
    • Dedicate yourself to making every workout like it was your last
    • Neglecting relationships (professional and personal)
    • Having a motivating goal to keep you going as you prepare for a bodybuilding show

Related: The Value of Being Driven in Fitness


The First Step to Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --one contestant doesn't belong thereBodybuilding competitions require a certain type of physical and mental discipline.

Before you even begin this long and hard journey, go to the nearest local show and check it out.

You’ll notice that the audience has quite a few bodybuilders with great physiques.

Pay close attention to the category you want to compete in.

“Competitive” bodybuilding is NOT what most amateur bodybuilders expect it to be.

You will notice that there is one person on stage that doesn’t belong there and people are not reacting well to his or her appearance.

Bodybuilding competition is NOT for the individual who just completed their “Biggest Loser” program.

It’s also not a reward for the individual who has only lifted for one month and feels they are ready to be a “real” bodybuilder.

It is “crucial” that your physique actually be ready for the stage—for a real show.


You Need Tough Skin when Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Learn the politics of bodybuilding.

This means you’d better have tough skin.

Sometimes it’s not about how you look when you are on that stage.

Sometimes it’s just the politics of bodybuilding and it’s being at the right show at the right time.

The reality is you won’t be turning pro at your first national show.

It’s not impossible, but be realistic in your assessment.


You Can’t Change Genetics

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --Did Arnold have bad genetics?

Some people are genetically inclined to have fast metabolisms.

Others have more body fat than they would like.

It’s hard to have a perfect body but that doesn’t mean you can’t shape yours into something that is close to perfect.

Some people think they have to take drugs just to make it and don’t put their time and effort into properly training at the gym.

Don’t underestimate the amount of hard work, sweat, and pain that goes into those physiques you see in all your favorite bodybuilding magazines.


You Need A Training Partner

Do you have a training partner or a support group?

Ask your partner or even another competitor look at you.

You want them to tell you the truth NOT what you want to hear.

Too many competitors think they should have won because their support crew told them they looked ready for the bodybuilding show.


What’s Your Plan to Prepare for a Bodybuilding Show?

 Regardless of your level, a game plan is a necessity and will make getting ready for that show so much easier.

What will it take for you to be successful on the stage?

Some people can be ready in less time than a year and others take longer.


General Schedule to Help Prepare for a Bodybuilding Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 12 Months Out

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- two men with trophy

  • Choose your show.
  • Create your off-season training program.
  • Eat quality foods in the off-season every two to three hours—focus on lots of protein.
  • Do cardio two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes at a time.
  • Keep accurate records in your training journal.
  • Find some music that you like.
  • Start thinking about posing suits and your posing routine.


 Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 6 Months Out

  • Begin working on your mandatory poses.
  • Change your workout routine and look for anything that might be lacking, but don’t forget the size exercises either.
  • Increase your cardio to 30 minutes a day.
  • Continue eating quality food and 1.5 – 2 kg of protein per pound of body weight.
  • Eat regular meals all week and you can have “junk food” on Sundays.
  • Research where you will get your posing suit.

Don’t wait until the last minute, many places can get backed up.


Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 20 Weeks Out

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- man posing with back to mirror

There are different schools of thought on when competition dieting starts.

Some believe that starting 20 weeks out eases you into this process more easily.

Other contest prep people start doing things 12 weeks out from the show,

  • If you can, try to have an experienced judge or experienced competitive bodybuilder assess your physique.

          Ideally, this is someone in the industry who knows what to look for and can offer you helpful advice.

  • Start working on your routine and practicing the mandatory poses.

          Hold each mandatory pose for 10 seconds. This should be done after your workout.

  • Order posing suits that are two sizes smaller than what you are now for the day of the bodybuilding show.
  • Contact the organization to which you are going to compete in or the state chair of that organization and get a copy of the rules. You don’t want to be unprepared.
  • Take pictures of yourself doing each mandatory 

The sooner you start working on your mandatory poses the better.

Muscle Sport announcer, Kenny Kassle, suggests starting with timed mandatory poses after workouts three times a week, then every day the closer you get to your show.

Hold each pose for 10-15 seconds to start.

It is critical to practice these poses over and over again to cement it into your memory.

You want to go up on stage during pre-judging and look like you did this before, like a pro.

Knowing these poses will have you prepared and ready to show your stuff on competition day.

Take pictures every week or two to really monitor your progress.


Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 8 Weeks Out

  • Register for competition and keep your receipts.

          Don’t let something as simple as forgetting to register ruin your big day.

  • Make sure you have paid your membership fees for the organization to which you will be competing.


Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 6 Weeks Out

  • If the bodybuilding show isn’t local then make travel arrangements.
  • Choose hairstyle, accessories, and make-up
  • Start tanning
  • Purchase competition items such as lunch cooler, body lotion, tanning products, and accessories, etc.


 Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show 3 Weeks Out

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --woman posing

  • Stay focused!
  • Stick to your diet; PRACTICE those mandatory poses and your routine!
  • Tan some more


 Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show Last Week

  • Practice mandatory poses and go over your routine in all your costumes
  • Make a competition checklist and make sure you have everything you need: posing suits, tanning products, two copies of your music
  • More Tanning


Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --applying tanning products

Day of Competition

  • Ideally get to your venue early, even the day before, and check-in.
  • After all the hard work you put into this competition, go out there and enjoy it
  • Find out the schedule of events and be ready


Key Elements When Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Competition diet, weight training, and cardio are the key elements of your competition preparation.

Your workouts should be tailored for growth, size and shape development.

Since dieting helps refine your physique, prioritize your weak points during workouts.

Everyone has one or two weak points and really needs to focus on them.

Muscle proportion, separation, and size should be your main priorities.


Peaking When Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --diet plan for bodybuilderKnowing how to manipulate your calories, carbohydrates, sodium and water levels can increase the appearance of muscle density and fullness.

Doing this right will also benefit in maximum vascularity.

In bodybuilding “Peak condition” can only be maintained for a very short period of time,

This is why it is critical that you understand how your body will react to stress and changes in your diet.

You do not want to introduce new foods the day of the contest and not only risk holding water but the possibility of intestinal and abdominal cramping, among other things.

These can all stress the body resulting in the loss of water from the muscle.

This can have your ripped physique look flat or “watery” even when you have very little body fat.

Your goal is to look your best during the competition, ideally at pre-judging.

If after the pre-judging you are still a contender then you may have a shot at doing well.

That’s why maintaining your physique through the evening event is also important.

Any miscalculations may cause to peak the day before or after the competition.

Related: Learn How to Become Vascular: Tips & Tricks to Get Shredded


Your All-Important Diet When Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Contest prep is walking a fine line between following the numbers and following the mirror.

By tweaking your diet, you’ll make your physique hit its peak just as you get onstage.

Here is what an IFBB Pro has to say about what it takes to become a competitive bodybuilder:

“Competitive bodybuilders must come to realize and accept that they will be judged based not only on how they look when standing alone, but how they look in comparison to the other athletes on stage that day and at that particular time.

Related: How Heavy Weightlifting Affects Diet


How Coach Tonnell Rodrigue Prepares for a Bodybuilding Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- complex carbs

Here are IFBB Men’s Physique pro, two-time Mr. Olympia Men’s Physique Showdown competitor, and contest prep coach Tonnell Rodrigue’s tips for getting stage ready.

For a first show, Rodgrigue recommends getting ready 30 weeks prior to the show.

 During the first five weeks, he suggests that you train hard and clean up your diet a bit.

Start a full-on contest prep diet at week 25.

His favorite method is carb cycling–where you eat more carbohydrates on some days than on others.

This method really helps you lose body fat.

Carb cycling recommendations for a 200-pound male at around 15-percent body fat has one high-carb day, two-medium carb days, and one low-carb day.

High day: 600 grams of carbs

Medium days: 400 grams of carbs

Low day: 200 grams of carbs

This is done until two weeks before the show.


Sets in the Gym, Plus Cardio

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- bodybuilder on elliptical machine

When you’ve reached 25 weeks out, start doing 5 sets of each exercise in your workout.

First, do one light set, then one medium set, two heavy sets, and a dropset.

This should be done every training day, says Rodrigue.

Cardio will vary based on how many carbs you’re eating:

High-carb day: no cardio

Medium-carb days: 30-minutes high-intensity cardio

Low-carb day: 45 minutes steady-state cardio

By exercising harder on days when you consume fewer carbs, you are forcing your body to burn stored fat for fuel.

Related: Bodybuilding vs Body Sculpting: How to Achieve the Body You Want


Know What You are Eating

Stick to complex carbs for your entire prep.

Rodrigue says, “Brown or jasmine rice, oatmeal, red or sweet potatoes, and rice cakes are good examples of complex carbohydrates. When you’re training hard, you want something that’s slow digesting so you get long-lasting energy.”

Rodrigue recommends consuming 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

The remainder of your diet should include healthy fats such as almonds, peanuts, almond or peanut butter, cooking oils, and sesame seeds.

Once you’re two weeks away from the competition, drop your carbs down to whatever amount you’ve been eating on your low-carb day.

A 200-pound guy at 15-percent body fat would consume about 200 grams a day.

Stick to this number until you carb up during peak week, the last week of prep before the contest.


Water, then More Water

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- how much water should you drink?

Drink one gallon of water a day until two weeks before the show, then increase the amount, Rodrigue advises.

“At the two-week mark, 1.5-2 gallons of water per day flushes your body and gets it fully hydrated before you start removing water from your diet,” explains Rodrigue.

“I won’t go above two gallons per day during prep. Once you cut the water at two days before the show, you’ll start looking a lot tighter than if you didn’t load water in the first place.”

Most men’s physique contests are held on Saturdays.

If your first show falls on a Saturday, Rodrigue advises drinking two gallons a day from 14 days out until Friday, when you’ll drink a half-gallon of water by 6 p.m.

At 7 p.m. on Friday (day before the show), switch to a 16-ounce bottle of water and sip from it up until the show begins.


Sodium Manipulation

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --boiling chicken

Sodium manipulation also plays a part in men’s physique diets.

Rodrigue suggests lowering or completely cutting sodium from your diet three days out (on Wednesday for a Saturday show).

He believes that when it’s near show time the only main protein options are unseasoned boiled chicken or baked fish.

Beginning the Wednesday before the show, eat boiled chicken up until the show.

Introduce sodium back into your diet the night before and morning of the show.

Eat something with a lot of sodium in it—such as a burger at 10 or 11 p.m. the night before.

The late-night sodium boost will help with cramping and make you look fuller.

If you cut sodium and don’t bring it back, you may end up looking flat, which you definitely don’t want.


Wake Up Early Morning of Bodybuilding Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show --pancakes and eggs

“The day of the show, you want to wake up at 6 a.m.,” says Rodrigue. “That’s the magical hour because it gives you enough time to carb up if you’re looking flat.”

He suggests eating a breakfast of pancakes with sugar-free syrup or no syrup, and eggs.

It should be a dry breakfast, with no water.

Don’t eat whatever you want and drink water at the same time

A useful rule of thumb for the morning of the event is to eat around 25 grams of carbs every 30-45 minutes all the way until the show.

That day, have extra carb sources on hand, and be over prepared.

If you’re flat two hours before the show and you’ve already eaten breakfast, you’ll need more food to fill out.


Relax After Pre-Judging

Pre-judging is the first part of a men’s physique show.

This is when the judges get an initial look at the competitors.

After the morning pre-judging, Rodrigue recommends drinking 8 ounces of water right away.

Continue sipping water until the finals, which could be hours later.

Continue to eat 25 grams of carbs every 30-45 minutes.

After pre-judging, put your feet up and hang out so that your body is in most relaxed state possible before finals.


Don’t Work Out the Day Before the Show

Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show -- man with cowboy hat relaxing

You train during peak week to deplete the muscles as much as possible before eating all those carbs.

You want to train all upper body Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then take Friday off for a Saturday show.

Peak-week training style usually includes 15-20 reps, medium weight, brief rest periods.

Don’t train until failure.

Rodrigue likes to do Thursday morning workouts before a show on an empty stomach before the carbohydrate fill-up.

“There’s no workout the day before the show,” Rodrigue explains, “because when you carb up, you want to store all of the glycogen, and the best way to do that is to not do anything but eat.”


Final Thoughts for Preparing for a Bodybuilding Show

Competition is a part of life–but the most difficult thing to do is to compete with yourself, to push the boundaries of your own physique and your own psyche.

Getting up on a stage can be one of the most frightening and difficult experiences that you will ever have.

But you will also walk away from it with a great deal of personal satisfaction–you have accomplished something that very few people have the courage to do.



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