Many new clients come to me because they don’t know which division to compete in, when to compete, how many shows to do, or when to take breaks. Much of this planning needs to take place a year or more in advance, especially when seasoned pros can still make mistakes when planning out their contest season. Although this article could be miles long when considering all of the variables involved in planning, I’ll share my thought process and give you the real take home points.
1. Pick a division that suits your build and your preference.
When I first made the decision to be a bodybuilder, I never considered starting in men’s physique and then switching to bodybuilding when I had the size. I wanted to be a bodybuilder, so right away I was determined to learn bodybuilding posing and all of its ins and outs. If you want to compete in a certain division, then surround yourself in it. You will improve faster. A coach may tell you that you will be more competitive in bikini for your size…No! If you want to be a figure competitor, then put the work in to learn it and become it. Don’t waste your time on something that distracts from your goal.
You should also consider in what division you might be successful. In some cases, this might not align with what you want to do. This is something you will have to weigh out. Go to competitions to see what you like and where your body fits into each class. Ask for opinions from experienced coaches/athletes/judges. I encourage you to do what you are passionate about.
2. You’ve picked your division, now let’s get you on stage.
Hold on for one second. You need to ask yourself if you’re ready to compete—physically and mentally. You need to think about it. From a physical standpoint, consider if you have the development to compete with others at the local level. If you do not, then your choice might be to start an off-season phase. You will also need to make an estimate of how much time you need to prep based on your body fat. If you can see no ab definition and the lower back muffin top is pouring over your pants, then maybe you need to prep for contest prep first. Run a mini diet and then maintain the weight before starting your real prep diet.
While contest prep is very challenging physically, it can really test you mentally. I would make sure you have been able to follow a consistent plan for several months. Also, look at all the things you have going on in your life. If you are working two jobs, going through a divorce, moving homes, traveling a bunch for work, or dealing with other stressors during prep, then it may not be the right time to prep. Choose a better start date.
3. Pick your shows when you are good mentally and physically to prep.
Depending on your level, look for the contest schedule for the year. Pick a show that suits you based on your level. Obviously, a beginner should start at a small local show first. If you’re not a beginner, think about your last show placing. If you placed 15th at the local show last year, do not pick a state level show this year. Go back to a local show until you can win it. Same goes for a pro—don’t pick a Tier 1 show like the Arnold Classic if you have never won a smaller Tier 3 Pro show. Work your way up the ranks; build your confidence and your exposure. I would also plan to do a second show at earliest 2 weeks after the first show and at latest 5 weeks. Since you’ve worked so hard to get in shape, you might as well take two swings. Plan to do both shows but decide after the first one if you should still go through with the second show.
4. How to decide if you should still do the second show after your first one.
After your first show of the season, make sure you get some feedback from a judge or experienced coach. Many judges will let you send them contest photos and give feedback. Weigh the decision to do another show or go into off-season based on what they say. Maybe you placed poorly because you were not conditioned. Then it makes sense to keep dieting and really come in peeled to see how your best fares at another show. Or maybe you were in shape but didn’t have enough muscle to be competitive. If this is the case, it makes no sense to do another show because the same thing will happen. Go into off-season and grow.
If you won your show, then consider hitting a second show at the next level. But look at contest photos from that level and decide if you are ready or need some off-season time for improvements.
I hope this helps you to map out your contest plan for the year. It takes many years of consistency and making the right choices to do well in this sport. Don’t rush getting on stage—make sure it’s the right time for you.