How to Get Started in Fitness Competitions – Women’s Edition
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Women are getting increasingly involved in fitness, but not just working out and lifting once a week in the gym. They are also working hard to get ripped bodies and are competing in events that used to be the sole domain of men.
Are you ready to take your fitness to the next level and try a competition? Even if you are a trainer, getting ready for a fitness competition will be harder and more involved than you can truly realize until you actually do it.
To give it your all, be prepared to put a lot of time into training and eating right, to spend a decent amount of money, and to get on stage and strut your stuff in an itty, bitty bikini.
Are You Really Ready to Try a Fitness Competition?
Of course, with any kind of competition, there is planning, hard work, and a lot of other factors involved. But even compared to other kinds of athletic competitions, like races and triathlons, fitness competitions require a big commitment.
Fitness competitions aren’t really like any other kind of athletic event, and it’s hard to know what to expect if you haven’t seen one. Before you make the final leap and sign up for a competition in the upcoming months, actually go to a show. See what it’s all about first-hand, and then decide. In the meantime, here are some important things to consider:
What’s Your Motivation?
The dark side of a fitness competition includes obsessing over body appearance, disordered eating, and even drug use. And all of this leads back to motivation. If you don’t have a healthy motivating reason to do this, you run the risk of heading to the dark side:
- Positive motivation – “I want to push myself to reach a new goal and have fun doing it.”
- Negative motivation – “I’ll finally look lean and muscular and have my dream body forever.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the body you craft for a fitness competition is one you’ll keep until the end of your days. It’s not healthy or realistic to be that ripped for too long. A positive, healthier motivation is the desire to simply to challenge yourself in a way that is healthy and rewarding but also realistic.
Do You Have the Time to Train for a Fitness Competition?
Ask anyone you know who does fitness competitions how much time they spend training. If you don’t know anyone personally, ask around the gym and you’ll quickly find someone. They will probably tell you it takes at least two hours a day, most days a week. Also factor in the time spent planning and preparing healthy meals, buying outfits, practicing posing, and traveling to competitions.
Can You Finance it?
There are more costs associated with fitness competitions than you ever realized until you actually do it:
- Gym membership/coaching fees
- Nutrition/posing/competition coaching fees
- Registration fees for competitions
- Food and supplements
- Tanning costs
- Expensive outfits
- Travel expenses for out-of-area competitions
- Child care costs for when you hit the gym or go to competitions
Are You Prepared to Be on Stage?
Finally, a big hurdle for many people is the actual competition. You will be putting on a tiny bikini or fitness outfit—likely gluing it to your skin to hold it in place—rubbing down with vegetable oil, strapping on a pair of high heels, and walking and posing on stage in front of judges and an audience. Can you do it? Of course you can, and don’t feel bad about being nervous because everyone is afraid of this part, even seasoned pros.
Know the Competition Types – and Choose One
Now that you have a better sense of everything involved in going through with this, it’s time to choose. Will you enter a bikini competition, try for fitness or figure, or really go for broke and try your hand at physique or bodybuilding competitions?
If time is likely to be an issue, or if you just don’t want to get the completely ripped body of a figure or physique competitor, a bikini competition is for you. This is a good way to get your feet wet in fitness competitions. Training is less intense for this category, but still requires time, dedication, and commitment. The body you’ll work toward for bikini is a little softer and more hourglass, but is still lean, fit, and muscular.
A fitness modeling competition can include a variety of degrees of physique and muscularity, but is typically most similar to a bikini competition with a focus is on modeling. You’ll wear multiple cute outfits and strike some poses beyond those typical for fitness competitions. In addition to being fit, you have to be charming and willing to act a little.
Figure fitness competitions take it up a notch in terms of muscle. Your body in a figure contest will be harder, leaner, and less hourglass than in a bikini event. Competitors have more of the classic triangular bodybuilding shape with broad, muscular shoulders and narrow waist, and increased definition between muscles.
For a physique competition you will need to ramp it up further and get even leaner and more muscular. The idea is to have a balance between a feminine shape and real, serious muscle. There should be a lot of definition between muscles during this competition.
Learn the bodybuilding secret of using time under tension to maximize muscle gains in this ISSA blog post.
The Training Component
There are two main types of training for a body competition:
- Strength training and lifting
Strength training is important for obvious reasons. This is what builds muscle size and definition. Plan to hit different muscle groups each day with one or two rest days built in each week. A typical week might look like this:
- Tuesday – chest and shoulders
- Friday – legs
- Saturday – arms and abs
- Sunday – rest
Those rest days aren’t lazy days, though, because you also need to fit in cardio. Most plans include 30 to 60 minutes of cardio five days a week to help you lose fat. Use your strength training rest days to do cardio. Double up and do both weights and cardio three days a week and suddenly you have no true rest days.
Even if you are a trainer yourself, it doesn’t hurt to work with a coach or someone experienced in fitness competitions if this is your first time. Training for figure or physique is different from training for good fitness or athletic events. Someone with experience can help you craft the right plan for you and keep you motivated and on track.
Diet is Just as Important as Training
What and how you eat is a crucial part of getting a lean, defined, and muscular body. Again, if this is your first time through, work with someone who has done it before or at least have an initial consultation with a nutritionist to help you make a diet plan.
In general, the strategy for eating for fitness competitions means:
- Eating several (five or six) small meals spaced throughout the day.
- Focusing on protein and healthy carbs and fats.
- Drinking about a gallon of water per day.
- Eating a lot of veggies to feel full on a limited-calorie diet.
There is also an important dietary strategy involved in the week and days leading up to the actual competition. For instance, most people start carb-loading two days in advance and stop drinking water to dehydrate. Both enhance the appearance of muscles.
Fitness competitions are not for the faint of heart. This is serious business, and it requires a commitment of time, effort, and a flawless diet. But, if you’re up for the challenge and have a positive attitude, training for a competition can be a fun way to take your workouts to the next level. And the experience can make you a better trainer for your clients of all types.
If you want to learn more about training in lifting and bodybuilding, check out the ISSA’s comprehensive course in Bodybuilding Specialist.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!