Competition Articles

The Essential Contest-Prep Checklist


Planning for the Big Day… Show Day!

The decision to compete is a big one – whether you have already done a show or two, or are contemplating stepping into the spotlight for the first time, there are a lot of factors to consider and most of us take years to hone what formula works best for us in putting our best foot (or flex in this case) forward. I am going to save you this valuable time and share with you some of the key considerations for stepping on stage – both from a monetary and time perspective.



There are a lot of excellent coaches out there. Your best bet is working with someone who has competed themselves as they have an intimate understanding of not only the training and nutrition requirements to get on stage, but also the mental mindset that plays such a huge role in a contest prep. Coaches can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, and can be a very worthwhile investment, but you need to be certain that they are a good fit for you. I recommend a chat about their coaching philosophy, what your expectations are, what services are they able to provide, and what is the depth and breadth of their expertise.

Also, a personal trainer is not the same thing as a coach – personal trainers can be excellent in their knowledge of training, supplementation and nutrition principles, but they may not have any contest experience or know anything about the other factors that go into a show (i.e. suit selection, posing, tanning, etc.)., so again dependent on your experience and knowledge, working with a trainer may or may not be a feasible option for you.



There are several organizations which promote fitness events nowadays, so the most important factors in where and with whom you compete, should boil down to the look you are striving for and what your competition goals are (in regards to progression if you place well). Most organizations offer some combination of bodybuilding, physique, bikini and Figure, so how do you choose which division is right for you? Here is a rundown of the offerings you have to choose from:

  • Women’s Bodybuilding: large amounts of muscle, minimal body fat, full muscle bellies, heavily striated, and emphasis on symmetry and X frame structure. Routine round and mandatory comparisons performed bare foot.
  • Women’s Physique: smaller amounts of muscle than BB, but still heavily muscled. More feminine appearance than bodybuilding, moderately striated, routine and mandatory comparisons.
  • Figure: medium amounts of muscle, definition without being striated, feminine appearance but continued emphasis on X frame and structure, jewelry and heels worn, no routine just comparisons.
  • Bikini: good muscle tone, healthy & feminine shape, strong emphasis on stage presence and personality, jewelry and heels worn.

As you can see there is literally something for everyone when it comes to competing and I love how the expansion of competitive divisions has encouraged participation in an industry I love so much! There are different approaches to training and nutrition which need to be followed to prepare for the respective categories, and one must also take into consideration their own genetic propensity for muscle gain, their shape & size, in addition to which division feels right for them.


Training and Nutrition

Intimately linked with coaching and/or working with a personal trainer, your training style and approach for the show is going to be your best ally in capitalising on your current physique i.e. making off season gains in muscle density and size and allowing yourself to carry slightly more body fat to be able to grow and improve structurally. Cardiovascular exercise (although essential at certain times during prep) can be detrimental to making changes in your overall physique if too much is done too early. A good baseline for food intake is the 80/20 rule, in that 80 % of food choices (year round) are clean, and the other 20% can be indulgences, which allows you to maintain a healthy body weight and keep your energy levels high. Now when you are prepping for a show this 20% becomes more like 0-5%, but that is for a limited amount of time, and for a very specific goal. All things to consider if you have difficulties eating from a limited number of food choices.


Suit Selection

One of my friends is a manager of a local sports store and told me that someone came in looking for a competition suit – NO, NO. NO! If you are going to compete you need a suit that fits your physique perfectly and meets the requirements of the federation you are competing with. Suits can be very expensive (a couple thousand dollars at the high end) or you can choose to rent or have something made by a local designer for a more reasonable price. What is most important is that you feel beautiful in it and can showcase the physique you work so hard for. If you are planning on having a suit made, or renting one, this has to be done at least two months (if not 3) prior to your competition.


Makeup, Hair and Tanning

Another hidden cost of competing (yet so important) is your tan, hair and makeup on show day. Some women are comfortable doing their own however I highly recommend outsourcing if you are questioning whether you can do a professional job. Both tanning and makeup have to be dark enough for stage, but not so dark that you look muddy, and also not so bright that you look more like a clown than your most beautiful self. I liken competition day to your wedding day in terms of how beautiful you have the potential to feel, so ensure that your face, hair and tan are on par. Makeup and hair can run you anywhere from 150-300$ and tanning is approximately 75-150$ dependent on the tanner for the show and how many coats you need.



A very hot topic in that sponsorship means something different to most people, but at the end of the day, this boils down to you being provided with a product or service in exchange for promoting an organization. If you think you have what it takes to promote a company, I would recommend putting together a promotional package which you can use to approach potential partners, and discuss how you can create a mutually beneficial relationship. Whether you are provided with supplements, tanning, gym gear or financial assistance, creating alliances with great companies can be a lot of fun and allow you to network with some really amazing people, in addition to getting the support you need through your competition preparation.


Circle of Support

A common problem for competitors is dealing with friends and/or family members who do not support a change in lifestyle. Whether it is based on lack of understanding, no desire to change, or a fear of losing the person they once ‘knew’, this can be a frustrating issue for all those involved and sometimes just requires clear communication to remedy.   In most instances these issues flare up around holidays or family functions, when one must choose celery sticks over the crème brulee, or a morning run versus sleeping in and watching television reruns.

Some may not be supportive of your robust fitness regime because it makes them feel badly about their own habits, but that cannot be your issue to contend with as it is intrinsic for them. Instead of taking a defensive stance if someone criticizes your way of eating or desire to get to the gym, simply state how good it makes you feel and offer them some simple suggestions for their own repertoire. From a training perspective, if you need time away to do a workout, try to figure out when there is ‘downtime’ for others and get away then, or better yet compromise on a physical activity that your family members would like to be involved in (e.g. skating, walk after dinner, a WII tournament, some baseball in the backyard).

The important thing to remember is that a happy life requires balance, compromise and a sense of fulfilment. Those that love you want what’s best for you and sometimes you just need to communicate to them how important things are to you so that they have a better understanding of what you need during that particular time.

Rest assured that your motivation and love for physical excellence will drive you through this process, and those who have gone before you are happy to share what they have learned.

A professional fitness athlete since 2008, Natalie Waples is a proponent for natural, healthy athleticism. Her goal is to inspire others and motivate others to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, through example. Natalie believes in attaining a healthy and fit physique through a combination of balanced nutrition, a solid wellness program, and a challenging training regime. Natalie is an IFBB Pro, Fusion Bodybuilding, Suits By Amy and Liquid Sun Rayz Sponsored Athlete.

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