Top Tips for Competitive Bodybuilding

By UKBFF under 80kg British Champion Nathan Robinson.

You have spent months, maybe even years working on your physique, your hard work has paid off and you have decided to enter your first Bodybuilding Competition. Competing in bodybuilding requires an extreme level of physical and mental discipline unparalleled by most other sports, as any true bodybuilder will tell you, you will never really know what you are capable of physically until you have made the commitment to be your best on Competition Day. Here are my top tips on how to do your best in competitive bodybuilding, they helped me in my quest to become British Champion and maybe they can help you make your goals a reality, whatever they may be.

The Diet
From my own experience, the Competition Diet is probably the most difficult part of contest preparation; you must possess great willpower if you intend to be successful at this. A gruelling, heavy, hardcore workout may last an hour or two but dieting is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for however long you have decided to diet for. Typically, I diet for 16 weeks, some people do less and some people do more, however from starting at around 20lbs above my contest weight, this time scale works best for me and allows me to strip away body fat slow enough to hold on to all the hard earned muscle mass I have gained in the off season.

However, every one person is different and when you start your diet depends largely on your body composition and the date of the competition. It is always a good idea to have your body fat checked by an experienced practitioner or well trained gym instructor before beginning; fat-callipers are accurate when done properly. However long you need for your competition diet, it is important to monitor your progress daily, especially in the final weeks. As a rule, I try to let the diet do the cutting and do not rely too much on cardio, however needs must and if you are not losing fat at an acceptable pace then increase your cardio. If possible, do your cardio in the morning on an empty stomach, as this will force your body to burn stored calories. I normally implement this practice six weeks into my prep (10 weeks out from show) and believe me, it can yield dramatic results!

The last week of the diet is a crapshoot and many competitors experiment at this stage. Fat loading, carb loading, sodium loading and depletion are all tricks of the trade. Each of these is intended to increase muscle density and fullness while offering maximum vascularity. This is known as "Peaking". Peak condition can only be maintained for a very short period of time, therefore it is critical that peak condition be reached during the competition. Whilst winning my British title I needed to hold my peak for two days, this is extremely hard on both the body and the mind, but by making tiny changes as and when my body needed them I was able to peak perfectly and win the show. Any miscalculations and it is easy to peak the day before or after the show. It is a tragic to see a bodybuilder who has trained and dieted consistently in a ripped and vascular condition on Saturday only to have the same competitor come in flat and smooth on Sunday. You just need to experiment with what works for you.

Posing is one of the most neglected elements in a bodybuilder's arena; however I believe it is one of the most important. A good poser, who can showcase his physique to its full potential, can sometimes walk away with the trophy that would have normally been given to a superior physique. When the judges evaluate you on stage, they are looking for muscular size, muscular definition, symmetry and presentation

Mandatory and optional poses can vary somewhat with the sanctioning organization so do your homework in advance to know what will be required of you. It can be extremely embarrassing to have a judge call for a pose that you are not familiar with. Most competitions will use posing requirements as outlined by the UKBFF, which are as below…

Front Double Biceps

Front Lat Spread

Side Chest

Side Triceps

Rear Double Biceps  

Rear Lat Spread

Abs and thigh

Most Muscular     

It is a great idea to first attend a competition as a spectator in order to know what will be expected of you, I did this when I first started out and found it extremely helpful. Pay particular attention to the length of time that each pose is held for.

DVD’s or YouTube clips of pro bodybuilders is a great way to learn and practice various poses in the privacy of your own home. Pro’s such as Kai Greene, Melvin Anthony and Shaun Ray who have an emphasis on the more artistic and aesthetic aspects of posing are my personal favourites to watch.

Practice, practice, practice. Posing requires a great deal of strength and endurance. It is extremely difficult to simultaneously flex everything from your ankles to your ears while trying to appear relaxed and confident. Pre contest I will practice the various poses for ½ an hour a day, sometimes twice a day.

You will be required to perform an individual posing routine to music in which you will be allowed up to 90 seconds to emphasize what you consider to be your strong points and hide your weak points. Work on transitions between poses and try to add style and flair. To hit a pose, stop and then hit another without setting up the next pose is boring and unimpressive and makes a competitor look like a total amateur and while you don't have to be a dancer, it definitely helps if your poses appear to flow seamlessly from one to the next, however this all depends on your choice of music.In my experience it pays to choose music that is tasteful and inspirational. Music that is too loud, too quick or offensive may impress your friends but will not find the same audience amongst the judges and the spectators, I always try and give them something that will inspire and motivate them. It is important to smile as long as it fits your music and attitude. If not, a sterner, serious expression may be appropriate as well. Most importantly, you must be Confident. Know what

you want and what you are doing. If you are unsure of yourself you will not portray an attitude of strength and confidence!

When tanning, the general rule is that the darker you are the more defined you will appear on stage, believe me it is very difficult to be too dark. I will normally apply several coats of tan until I think that I am finally dark enough, and then apply another coat. I have a naturally dark skin tone being mixed race, so I always recommend a good natural base tan.

Liquid tanning agents that you apply with a sponge applicator such as Jan Tana, Pro Tan and Liquid Sun Rayz work best, although it can be time consuming as several coats are required to achieve maximum colour saturation, when done correctly, the colour will be very dark, even and remain fairly stable when applying oil or while sweating on stage. It does not wash off easily however it will wear off unevenly; it is not uncommon for me to have tanned elbows, knees and ankles weeks after the show. Keep in mind however that your main concern is how you look on stage during the competition and not after.

The last step is finding good posing oil that will dramatically enhance your muscularity while on stage. Most posing oils are acceptable as long as they are not overly applied, as in almost every show I attend, year after year; some competitors go overboard and come on stage literally dripping oil. A thin, evenly applied coat is all that is required, as the minute you step under the stage lights it will run and become increasingly messy.

Posing Trunks
First and foremost, get your posing trunks in advance because they can be very difficult to find at the last minute. Most organizations require that the trunks be of a solid colour with no external markings. Thong type trunks are not allowed.  Choose a style and colour that complement your skin colour and physique. I always pack a spare pair, just in case one pair gets misplaced or discoloured. To keep the sides high and the back of the trunks from creeping into unwanted areas, you can buy a product called Bikini Bite which acts as a glue to keep your posing trunks where you want them, this is not necessary but can be helpful at times.

Last minute checks:
The last thing that you want, after literally months of preparation is to arrive at the show location on competition day unprepared. Make yourself a checklist of things that you will need to do in advance, here is what I include myself, you may find them useful as well;

Be sure that you have submitted your application by the due date.

If you do not already have a membership card for the organization that you competing under than be sure to have the money to purchase one the morning of the show and bring additional money for any unexpected expenses that may occur.

Have a backup copy of the music for your individual posing and bring 2 pairs of posing trunks.

Bring extra potassium as insurance against cramps while posing.

Bring extra competition tan lotion and posing oil for last minute application and touch-up. Often other competitors will allow you to use some of theirs but be safe and bring your own.

Sodium free water to sip as needed.

Snacks such as raw honey, natural peanut butter and rice cakes are common snacks that you will see back stage.

Pack your sat nav, you do not want to get lost on your way to the competition and miss the check in deadline.

Remember, no one on stage will have a perfect physique, some will be more muscular and others more lean and defined, often competitors will lack symmetry or carry more body fat than they would like, so be realistic, you don't have to be perfect, just prepared, confident and the best you can be.

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