Guide for New Competitors

Some people shy away from competition because they think they have to be huge, or have to have years and years of weight training experience. These are common misconceptions that are due in part from supplement company ads and many of the more popular magazines. These magazines primarily show professional level athletes who aren't drug-free. These images are very misleading to those who are interested in competing naturally.

If you were to watch a drug tested competition and a non-drug tested competition, the difference between the athletes would become very obvious. In local, drug-free events, there are a wide variety of physique types and conditioning levels. Drug-free competition is more about conditioning (lowering body fat) to show more detail in the physique than size. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't take years of training to compete and build size. When an athlete is leaner, there are more visible details of the muscles and the person appears larger and more muscular. Furthermore, natural bodybuilders may appear like ordinary people with their clothes on, but when their clothes come off... look out! They look much bigger with tanning, proper posing, and under the stage lights.

Unfortunately, the misconception that size is the most important factor to winning causes some new competitors to over emphasize training to build size. In fact, they do this to the point of obsession, and it’s to their detriment. It is not uncommon to hear a first time competitor voicing concern over a drop in weight because they are worried they are going to be too small for the show. More contests are lost by competitors (male or female; all divisions) coming in too “big” and not lean enough. Sometimes this leads to unnecessary controversy about judging by those who mistakenly believe that bigger is better. There’s so much more to it than size!

The ideal natural physique does have elements of size (to include physique and figure); however, having a low percentage of body fat and nice balance to all areas of the body (i.e., symmetry) are just as relevant. It is very important to have an aesthetically pleasing and proportioned physique. The legs and upper body should be in harmony as well as the chest with the back, and arms with the deltoids, etc. What the judges are looking for is the best “overall” look, not just one particular aspect of a physique.

Some figure and bikini competitors think that they need to be at a certain body fat percentage before beginning their contest prep. This is untrue. A competitor simply needs to allow enough time to lose the desired amount of fat. For some, this could be 8 weeks, and for others it might take 22 weeks. The level of conditioning differs based on the beginning condition of the athlete and the category for which they wish to compete. For example, bikini athletes do not require the same level of conditioning as those competing in figure or physique. The same can be said for overall development between those competing in figure and physique, and the type of development (or the “look”) necessary to do well.

The best way to start your journey to the stage is to first decide which category best suits your body type or the look you desire to achieve. For men, there are usually 2-3 options depending on the promoter: bodybuilding, classic physique and physique. For women, there are usually 3-4 categories depending on the promoter: bikini, figure, women’s physque, and on occassion bodybuilding. All of these choices have a different set of judging criteria, but bottom line is there something for everyone.

What does it take to compete? All it really takes to compete is the desire! One commonly heard comment at shows nationwide by first-time competitors is “I waited too long, I could have done a show years ago. I feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities.” The reality is that you don't need a certain any experience or a certain amount of mass. The second most common remark is “I wish I had gone to see a show first, I feel so lost here!”

If you've never attended a drug-free contest, you definitely should check one out. The absolute best way to get a feeling for a show is to watch one. Peak competition season normally starts in late March and ends in late November; however, OCB promotes shows all year long in some regions. It will help you tremendously if you watch an event live to get an idea of how the show is organized and judged. Furthermore, you can identify what “look” the judges awarding.

If attending a live event is not feasible, you can view event videos and photos online. When doing your research, be sure you're looking at amateur level events rather than those at the professional level. Online photos and videos will show comparison rounds during pre-judging and individual presentations and awards during finals. By studying individual presentations, you can get an idea of the normal level of conditioning and development that is typical for each category.

If you’re a first-time competitor, compare yourself to other “novice” or “debut” division competitors. Some of the videos you come across will feature professional competitors who comprise only the top 2% of all natural athletes. If people only studied athletes in the top tier of the sport, and used that as a benchmark, very few people would ever set foot on stage! Before making a decision, be certain that your comparisons are being made at the appropriate level.


All bodybuilding organizations require a membership fee for all competitors. In The OCB, membership dues are good for one year from the date of purchase and help to cover operational costs incurred by the organization. Membership in the OCB can be obtained here. Your membership in the OCB will not automatically renew, so if you choose to compete again after the one year period has expired, you will need to purchase a new membership.

To enter a contest, competitors must submit an entry form and pay an entry fee. The entry fees help to cover the costs of producing shows, which include facility rental, awards, hiring event staff, etc. If crossovers, (i.e., entering more than one class) are permitted, an additional crossover entry fee will apply. A crossover fee is usually a little less than the cost of entering the first division. Even though it will cost you a little more to add crossovers, we highly recommend that you enter as many classes as possible. You have trained for so long that you might as well go for as many awards as you can!

Many shows require competitors to pay for polygraph testing. If an athlete is awarded champion and a urine drug test is collected, The OCB promoter covers the costs involved with collection and lab testing.


Most events will offer a for-hire onsite professional tanning service and hair/make-up artist. Should you choose to hire the professionals, you will need to make a reservation in advance.

Most events will offer professional stage photography for an additional fee. If you think you may want professional photography, it is best to arrange that with the event photographer before the event or during athlete check-ins. This will ensure that the photographer focuses on getting the best possible shots of you. If you purchase afterward, you may not have much of a selection from which to choose.

When choosing a show it’s more economical and convenient to find one that is geographically close to you and within a timeframe that meets your training schedule. Most competitors choose an event out of convenience; however, there are many other factors to consider.

Before choosing an event, we encourage you to seek recommendations from other athletes who could offer unbiased and honest feedback. You want to make sure that you are participating in a show that is well organized and matches your current level in the sport. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are many groups of natural athletes on social media. Most of these athletes will eagerly share their personal experiences and opinions about a certain organization, promoter, or show. Use caution; however, not everyone leaving a competition will be happy with the end result. Some athletes may bash shows endlessly only to discover that their only gripe was they thought they should have placed higher or won. If you hear negative feedback, ask for an explanation. If their response focuses on unfair judging, then take it with a grain of salt. However, if they can provide specifics that can be verified by others, (e.g., poor lighting, dumpy venue, poor quality awards, etc.), you may be better off choosing a different show.

Shows designated as OCB Pro Qualifiers are larger and will generally have a higher level of competition. However, we encourage newer athletes to participate as well. All OCB Pro Qualifiers also offer novice classes for beginner athletes. This ensures that less experienced competitors compete on a more equal level.

Every show includes a list of categories and divisions that are being offered. A category is a grouping based on the desired look of the physique. Common categories include: bodybuilding, classic physique, men’s physique, women’s physique, figure, and bikini. Categories are further broken down into divisions. Divisions can be created based on age group (e.g., Teen or Masters Age 40+), or experience level (e.g., Novice or Open). When divisions are large, they are ordinarily divided into classes based on height or weight. The method of division is set by the federation or event promoter. By breaking larger groups into smaller entities, judging is more fair and manageable. For example, it's easier to judge 7-9 competitors of roughly the same height or weight than 35 athletes of highly contrasting heights and weights. Creating divisions also increases the odds that more athletes are rewarded for their effort and competition experience.

In many shows, a competitor may be eligible to enter more than one division. This is called a crossover entry. For example, a first time male bodybuilding competitor who is age 42 will be eligible to compete in the novice, masters age 40+, and the open divisions of the bodybuilding category. Be aware that some shows may have limits on crossover entries or offer no crossovers. Prior to registration, competitors should carefully review the entry application to determine what is

Before you choose an event, become familiar with the banned substance list for that organization. Most federations make their banned substance list readily available. If you have any questions about a particular supplement or product, check with the organization before purchasing or using. Verify your eligibility to compete before going through the trouble of prepping, registering, and paying entry fees.

If your intent is to enter a drug-free contest, be careful about the differences that may exist between shows that are promoted as being drug-tested (natural) events. A particular show may claim to be drug-free, but may not perform any actual testing. A contest could also be pitched as a drug-tested event, but its criteria may only require one year’s time being drug-free. The term drug-free varies greatly depending on the organization. For example, drug-free can mean1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 7 years, or even lifetime. If these issues concern you, make sure you understand the criteria before registering.

Click here for OCB’s drug-testing policy and banned substance list.

Some organizations rely solely on polygraph testing as their primary screening device for the use of banned substances. Shows tested by polygraph usually test all competitors, but some may only select athletes at random.

Click here to learn more about polygraph testing.

Other organizations may use urinalysis as their primary screening method. Shows that test by urinalysis usually only test class/division winners or select individuals instead of everyone. Some organizations may opt to use both polygraph and urinalysis testing methods.

So you are fully aware, most banned substances are no longer detectable in urine after a few weeks of last use. Additionally, urine screening tests can’t screen for growth hormone use.

Usually any kind of testing is a good deterrent to keep athletes using banned substances away from local, state or regional shows. With having to pay to enter, getting only a trophy as a reward, and not getting any major publicity, there is very little appeal for anyone to enter a natural show not being natural. This is especially true when they know they'd have to pass drug testing at a show.

Pre contest dieting is about burning off body fat, retaining muscle, and displaying the physique to the competitor’s best advantage. Most competitors seems to start anywhere from 8 to 2 6 weeks in advance to get ready for a show. However, contest prep is a very individual process and really depends on how much fat needs to be burned. For example, a person needing to shed 20 pounds of fat will need la longer time for dieting than a person who only needs to shed 10 pounds of fat. Other factors involved are speed of the metabolism and levels of various fat burning hormones. In other words, fat loss is never a linear process where you simply plug in a start weight and ending weight and travel a straight line distance between points. Fat loss is just not that simple and in many contest preps there are unforeseen speed bumps to overcome . The keys to a successful contest preparation are consistency and determination along with a positive mental outlook. Don’t get discouraged or panic and then crash diet . The fat loss will come.

Competition Body Fat Percentages

The fat that surrounds the spinal cord, heart, and vital organs is called essential fat and is necessary to sustain life. The lowest body fat percentage a person can have is their amount of essential fat. Essential fat is approximately 2 - 3% of total body weight for males, and ranges between 7 -10% for females. The difference in levels between genders is due to reproductive and hormonal factors. It is not likely for a competitor to reach the lowest possible body fat percentages though. If competitors can get within a couple percent of the lowest possible levels, they will display unbelievable definition. Most amateur regional level competitors don't even get that low.

Figure and bikini competitors can come in at a wide variety of body fat percentages, largely depending on where and how their body holds fat, as well as the desired look of the competing organization . But generally speaking, body fat levels range from 8-15% for them , not nearly as low as female bodybuilders must go to show adequate definition. Most male bodybuilders will need to attain a lower single digit percentage to do well, but again what one body looks like at 7% may be totally different from another.

When it comes to body fat percentages it is best for the new competitor to disregard the numbers and just diet to the lowest body fat percentage they can attain. Go by the mirror and what your eyes tell you and not a mathematical reading because that may not be “your” best look.

How Long to Diet to Get Ready for a Show?

So is there a way to know roughly how long someone will need to diet to get ready for a show? Well here is one solid method. First you need to determine your current body fat percentage, not just your body weight. There are a variety of ways to go about finding your fat levels. Many gyms offer body fat testing and you can also get an inexpensive set of calipers with instructions from various online resources . Calipers (skin fold measurements), bioelectrical impedance (painless electrical current through the body) and near infrared reactance (light absorption and reflection) are the most common methods for obtaining body fat estimates and are available at most health clubs . The commercial sets, such as Accumeasure, use a plastic caliper with a one site measurement and chart to estimate your fat percentage. No matter what system you use the bottom line is that you will arrive at a percentage number and that percentage will give you the data you need to get a rough idea about how much fat you have. A rough idea because all methods of fat testing have errors built into them, and no test is perfect or “exact” and the error may be 3 -8% depending so use the numbers as a guideline or a start point. From there some simple math will get you the data you need to formulate your game plan. Here's how it works:

In this example, the competitor is a female weighing 152 lbs. She has set a goal to be at 11% body fat for her competition. Say her test yields 18.6% body fat. 18.6% of 152 lbs is: 0.186 x 152 lbs = 28.27 lbs, so she currently has about 28.25 lbs of body fat on her frame. A bodyweight of 152 lbs - 28.25 lbs = 123.75 lbs of lean bodyweight (muscle, water, bones etc.). Using algebra, (who said that stuff would never get used in the real world?) to find to her goal of 11% body fat:

123.75 lbs/ x = 100% - 11%, or simply 0.89, 123.75 = 0.89x, 123.75/0.89 = x, 139 = x, so about 139 lbs would be about the target 11% body fat. As a check, weight of 139 – lean bodyweight of 123.75=15.25 lbs of fat, and 15.25/139=10.97% or 11% rounded).

28.25 lbs of fat now - 15.25 lbs of target fat = 12.75 lbs to lose. Now that 12.75 pounds may be enough and produce the ideal look we are after or she may have to lose another few pounds to get to the goal “look” , but the data at least provides a guide. Now losing 1 -2 lbs per week is a common rate of weight loss to shed body fat while maintaining muscle mass. Losing weight too quickly can come at the expense of losing muscle tissue. Figure on about 1.5 lbs lost per week for this example. It would take 12.75 lbs/1.5 lbs = 8.5 weeks of dieting to reach the target body fat level from this starting point. BUT remember , this is never a linear path! There will be obstacles , weeks of perfect dieting that yield less than the 1.5 pounds we seek or even no loss. This is when consistency and patience comes in because we do not want to starve and risk a metabolic collapse. It’s common to have weeks of little fat loss, but as long as the progression is down the diet is still a success. So what do we do to be ready for this? Try adding 25 % more time that factored in. So the 8.5 weeks becomes 10.5 or round up to 11. And factor in a week to peak (we will cover that in a bit) and you have 12 weeks to be safe.

Note: When dieting, competitors should weigh themselves first thing in the morning each time. Water weight can vary several pounds throughout the day. By recording weights at the same time of day, like first thing upon waking after about 8 hours of fasting, ensures more accurate weight readings when monitoring weight loss from one week to the next.

When you start the diet another key piece of information is what your starting caloric intake is. To find that out simply record everything you eat for a week and weigh yourself every day. If you're essentially the same weight from day 1 to day 7 then all you need to do is add up how many calories you have eaten daily over the week and that is your caloric starting point. So let's say this same female tracked every morsel of food and put it into one of the many online or downloadable apps such as “Fit Day” and her result was 2,400 calories a day. This would be her base caloric level. Any reduction would result in a deficit and that deficit is what triggers fat loss. A good start would be about a 10% reduction along with an increase in activity, not a huge jump, just an increase. If you start by cutting calories in half and adding 70 minutes of cardio and another 60 minutes of weight training a day you will lose a lot of weight quickly but after 7 -10 days your body will release catabolic hormones that burn lean tissue (muscle) and other hormones that blunt fat loss. So all the weight lost after that point is at the expense of muscle , not fat , which is why crash diets do n't work for bodybuilding. Why does this happen? 20 million years of evolution. The human body is designed to survive a famine and muscle is not good in starvation mode so it’s burned first, before fat . So a 10 -15% starting reduction is good to start the process.

Once you decide to begin your dieting for a contest, it becomes more important to know your food intake. You pretty much have to be a calorie counter at this point, at least until you gain plenty of experience with dieting down. To determine the breakdown of foods, you can use the online applications or go to a local bookstore and pick up a nutrition or food guide that lists the amount of carbs, protein, fats, sugars, sodium, etc. in foods. Begin dieting by eliminating all the junk food, excess sugars and foods high in fat from your diet , and piece together your meals using a source of lean protein, a source of complex carbohydrates, and some vegetables for fiber and vitamins and minerals. Also pick up a food scale and measuring cups. I don’t know how many times I have seen people “guesstimate” 6 oz. only to have them weigh an item and see it is more like 9 oz. When you weigh and measure everything it’s easy to cut more calories by simply cutting an ounce here or ¼ cup there.

There is really no best ratio of carbs/proteins/fats as it differs greatly from individual to individual. A good place to start would be 50% carbohydrates, 30% proteins and 20% fats , but again this can vary widely based on insulin sensitivity , testosterone levels, muscle mass , etc. Many people do fine with these ratios, others feel they must take in a lower amount of carbs when dieting for a contest. Your body type, metabolism and number of fat cells in your body (which is hereditary) can affect what works best for you. I suggest doing some research on the subject before you start as there are many books on the topic as well as numerous articles on websites like and . Just be careful about some of the hype surrounding the “next great” fat loss trend. Any diet that recommends extremes is likely flawed.

You should be eating frequent meals (4-6), but the portions will likely become a little smaller the closer to the contest you get. As an example, say your normal food intake averages 3,500 calories per day. When you start dieting, you should maintain that number but use a stricter (cleaner) diet. In many cases simply cleaning the diet will result in some initial fat loss so don’t be too quick on the trigger when it comes to cutting calories. Counting calories serves as a gauge for where to go next. If after the first week you don't experience any weight loss, you should then cut your calories back 10 -15%. After another week you can gauge your progress and take it from t here. For example, if you lose 5 pounds in a week, you should add some calories back to your daily diet. Ideally you should try to lose 1 -2 pounds per week. Much more than that would probably be at the expense of muscle , not the fat you want to get rid of. Continue adjusting your calories (or exercise amounts) as needed in order to continue to lose 1-2 pounds per week up until the week before your show. And remember , there will be bumps in the road so do not make massive cuts or by the end of the diet you will be down to too little calorie intake.

You need to continue lifting weights to send the signal that your body must hold onto that muscle you've built. Keep lifting as you normally do. If you intentionally lift lighter weights, the muscles may adjust to the decreased stress and become smaller, especially since you’ll be at a calorie deficit from dieting. The goal in contest dieting is to lose fat and retain muscle. Definition in a physique comes from lowering overall body fat so there’s less of it between the skin and muscle. You don’t really want the muscle to change when dieting, you want it to be shown more clearly, and that happens as fat is burned and skin is closer to the muscle showing more lines (less cushioning masking lines, cushioning meaning fat). You can add some cardio to your exercise program to help with the burning of fat. Cardiovascular exercise burns additional calories, and continues burning fat after the cardio session has been completed. As the weeks go by, you can increase cardio session length, if needed, to continue losing 1-2 pounds per week. Figure and bikini competitors (or female competitors in general) may need to do more cardio than males due to slower metabolisms, in part from female genetics, and in part from not carrying as much muscle mass.

Just be aware when dieting that you don’t overdo it. If you do too much exercise without taking in enough fuel (food) your body can actually work against you. It can go into starvation mode and fight to hold onto fat instead of burning it for energy. You have to keep a slight negative caloric balance, not an excessive one. Symptoms of over dieting/exercising are your legs starting to feel heavy when you walk, energy becoming drastically low for longer than a few hours (like for days), strength while working out goes down drastically, and metabolism slowing down (less frequent bowel movements). If these things happen, you’re not burning fat as efficiently as you could be, and trying to diet and train becomes harder!

Posing is essential to presenting your physique at its best. Good posing will help you accentuate your strengths and disguise your weaknesses. You have put forth so much time, energy, and money into your prep. You definitely should not cut corners on posing!

It is highly recommend that you study the mandatory poses for your category. Mandatory poses are the poses required during prejudging (group comparisons). Here are some suggested resources:

  • Watch the videos posted on the OCB site's guidelines page for your category: Bikini, Figure, Women's Physique, Men's Physique, Men's Bodybuilding, Classic Physique.
  • Watch videos of your category on OCB’s YouTube channel.
  • Study pictures from past OCB events, which can be found in the photo section.
  • HHire a posing coach or attend a seminar. OCB has a growing list of posing coaches and seminars. If there are none available in your area, many coaches now offer assistance via Facetime or Skype. If you really want to work with someone in person, ask around at your gym for a referral. A final and very good option is to attend a show and talk to coaches at the event. If you see athletes who present well on stage, find out who their posing coaches are, and ask any of those if they can help you.
  • Search videos and other resources on websites such as These can be useful for learning posing techniques and tips.

Practice your poses in the mirror. Try slight variations of the poses to see what makes your physique look best. Watch your transitions from pose to the next pose, and think about what you can do to transition smoothly. Many new competitors are unable to hit a particular pose without having a mirror in front of them to adjust their position. Once you’re comfortable posing with the mirror, try closing your eyes and getting into your position by feel. Once in position, open your eyes and see if you nailed it. If not, practice more without the mirror, and keep working until you’re able to hit each pose by muscle memory. There are no mirrors on stage to help you, so don’t let it become a crutch. If you have a video camera, consider taping yourself going through the poses. You can get a good idea of how you will look on stage when you don’t have a mirror in front of you.

Posing takes a lot of practice to master, and a lot of practice to avoid shaking while posing on stage. Many competitors tremble when hitting poses on stage because they are nervous or because they didn’t practice enough for their bodies to become used to it. It’s never too early to begin practicing your poses and turns. For a new competitor, it’s best to start at least 2-3 months before the day of the show. Shaking takes away from one’s presentation. One trick that can help with this is to make sure your jaw is relaxed. This relaxes the muscles in the neck and prevents shaking a lot of the time. Frequent posing also adds to the hard look a physique attains as you go through the preparation phase.

Let’s review how the show day will go as far as posing in concerned. Most competitions have prejudging or group comparisons) in the morning followed by finals later in the day. During prejudging, you will go through your required poses with the other athletes in your class. Decisions for placements for your class are made at this time, but not announced until finals. Finals are an opportunity for you to present your hard work as an individual and show your creativity. During finals in the OCB, you will perform a t-walk or routine or around 60 seconds of music. Once all of the competitors have performed, awards are presented. Be aware that not all events follow this order. Please check the event registration site or email the promoter to find out what the show format will. In some instances, awards are given out after each category instead of all at the end.

Division overall winners are decided during finals. Overalls occur whenever there's more than one class in a division. For example, there might be a winner from both a Figure Open A and a Figure Open B class. These two class winners would pose down during finals to determine who would be the Figure Open overall champion.

Carb Depletion/Loading

Some people carb deplete and then carb load the final week before a show. The theory is that once depleted, muscles suck in more glycogen directly afterward and one can look slightly larger for the contest. Carb depletion usually consists of cutting your carb intake and doing many high rep exercises for three days (usually Sun, Mon, Tue for a Sat show). At the end of the third day energy will likely be low, and muscles should look flat. Then one carb loads for three days taking in more carbs than what their normal diet before the final week consisted of. Cardio or weights are usually not done during this time since it would interfere with glycogen loading. This process can be tough to master though. If you look great first thing in the morning, you may not want to play with carb manipulation and risk messing your look up. Also, for bikini competitors, it is not really necessary to manipulate carbs during the final week. Since they generally compete at a slightly higher body fat level carb manipulation would have little effect on how they look the day of the show. A bikini competitor may instead choose to carb deplete the final 2-3 days and not load until the morning of the show, to avoid holding water in the glutes. Like other variables (sodium, water) you’re looking at subtle increases and decreases. A good rule is a 50% decrease to deplete and a 50% increase to load. So if a week out you’re at 200 grams a day, decrease to 100 for several days, then load at 300 grams. Peaking is not about tricking the body, it is about subtle manipulation. There is no magic in peak weak and if you’re not ready a week out then nothing the final week will do much, but if you’re on point then a proper last week can get you dialed in.

Sodium Manipulation

Some people manipulate sodium levels right before a show to try to keep from retaining water under their skin on contest day, which would make them look softer. The underlying theory is, if you have less sodium, your body won’t hold onto as much water and you will look harder and more defined. It’s not quite that simple though. Other electrolytes (like potassium) factor in. A common misconception with respect to sodium is that you have to eliminate it completely. This can actually cause water retention. If the body doesn’t get the daily minimum required sodium (which is somewhere around 500-1500mg), it will begin to produce aldosterone that in turn retains water in the body. Again, on this one... if you look good first thing in the mornings, you may not want to play with things. If you do manipulate sodium, you should cut it in half, a gradual decrease, not a drastic one. For example, taking in 3000mg daily, then switching to 1500mg the day of and maybe the day before the show.

Water Intake

Thinking one must refrain from drinking water on contest day is another common misconception. Again, a drastic decrease can be harmful. Not taking in enough water can cause water retention, plus dehydration is dangerous. A gradual decrease, IF ANY DECREASE AT ALL, is recommended. So if you normally take in two gallons per day, cutback to one for contest day. Remember that muscles are made up of a large percentage of water. If they lose water, they will look smaller and flatter. People who take in too little water often have trouble looking full and vascular. The goal is to not hold water between the skin and muscle, not lose water from the muscles themselves. And if you're carb loading you must keep the water intake high. The whole purpose is to have the carbs draw the water into the muscle cells with the glycogen. If you cut water and carb load it ruins the whole point of the carb load in the first place.

Training Style

The final week you may elect to do no lifting at all. Your work is done. A few days rest can refresh you and bring you into the show fully charged. If you do lift in the final days, be careful to not overdo it. If you’ve reached extremely low body fat levels there’s higher risk of injury (little cushioning in the joints). One thing you can do in place of the training is pose, pose, pose. Remember, posing can really add to that hard and polished look on stage.

Last Meal

A general guide for how long classes for prejudging take figure around a minute per competitor (so class of 5 would take around 5 minutes, class of 15 around 15 minutes). You can get a rough estimate for when your class will go on by estimating time for classes that will go on before yours. Try to schedule your last meal about three hours before you go on so your belly isn’t bloated. Avoid certain foods that can cause bloating, like high fiber foods (vegetables), or other foods that can have an effect on bloating (pretzels, bagels, ice cream, chocolate). When it comes to vegetables most find that 2-3 days is needed to get rid of any belly bloat or gas from the high vegetable intake pre contest.

Pumping Up

Pumping up should only take about 5-10 minutes. You don’t need any longer than that. It’s not a workout. You’re just doing a couple of light sets for high reps to pump blood into your muscles and make them look fuller. If you have a weak body part, you can pump it to try and balance out your physique more. You can get pumped just from posing too.

  1. If there is limited mirror space back stage, don’t hoard one all to yourself.
  2. Leave the back stage area open for those pumping up and getting ready to go out. Don’t go to the back stage area earlier than needed.
  3. Minimize your footprint. It is not fair to others to have a cooler and three gym bags covering half the back room.
  4. Clean up any mess you make and keep your area policed. Have a towel handy to sit on or to wipe off the walls at the venue in case you get tanner on them. There is usually an area set aside for tanning and applying oil. Use that area. Nice venues for physique events aren't easy to get approved. If competitors leave a facility in poor shape after an event, the promoter might not be allowed to return and hold the event again the following year.
  5. For bikini and figure, keep your heels off until you need to line up. It gets slippery back stage and you don’t want to risk a slip and fall.
  6. Be respectful and pay attention to the back stage staff. They are there to help the show run smoothly and ensure all of the athletes are in the right place at the right time.

Remember you are not alone on stage. Family, friends, and hundreds of strangers are watching you. If you're disappointed with a placement, carry yourself as a professional during and after the awards presentations. After the show ask the judges for feedback. When speaking to them, you may discover their reasoning for your placement. You may understand their decisions more and get helpful insight for future competitions. Everyone in the show worked hard, so don't allow poor sportsmanship to ruin the event for others.

If you've never experimented with getting a competition tan, you can easily be fooled when preparing for your first contest. As you become darker than you've ever been, you may think that you're dark enough. However, when you finally get on stage, you may realize you were too pale. What happened?

The stage lights are very bright. They can wash out definition and make you look much lighter once you get under them. Don't fall victim to this common oversight! Keep in mind that a stage tan for competition is very different than an ordinary spray tan or sun tan. You need to be much darker. If you are not dark enough, the judges will be unable to see details in your physique, and you may not place as well.

Almost everyone needs to use artificial color before a show. Even African Americans find that they benefit from adding competition color. Tanning products even out skin tones, add shine, and make muscle detail more visible. Tanning beds are not necessary for the one day that you’re on display. Many competitors do use them to get a base tan, but it’s not at all necessary.

Any shaving that you need to do should be done several days in advance of applying any tan. Men should shave their entire bodies, and women where necessary. Shaving several days prior to adding competition color is optimal in the event you break out in areas that are unaccustomed to being shaved.

Before tanning, you should be wearing loose fitting clothing that you don’t mind being stained. You will also need an old set of sheets to use the night before your competition since you will be sleeping with tanner on your body. It will rub off, but to the best of your ability, try to keep the toilet seats, towels, and bedding at a hotel clean. You may get charged if they are damaged.

You have two choices when it comes to competition color: (1) Make an appointment in advance with the professional tanning service at the event; or (2) apply your own product. Most shows offer onsite spray tanning services for a fee. Using the professional service typically costs more, but it also addresses many common tanning issues that arise. The professional tanner will likely send you detailed instructions on how to prep your skin for tanning. It is important that you read these directions carefully and follow them. These directions often specify that you should stop using deodorants, perfumes, and certain lotions and soaps before your scheduled tan. You will take your last shower before the first coat of tanner is applied, and following the directions sent by the tanner is vital. Not following these directions may negatively impact the development of your tan or cause a chemical reaction where your tan could turn green.

The professional tanner will usually apply one coat the night before the show, which will allow it to develop overnight. You should not shower or wash off the product. In fact, you will need to keep yourself away from water as much as possible. In the morning, the tanner will usually give you another coat and touch up any areas that are uneven or splotchy. Before you go on stage, the tanner will usually glaze you, or apply a thin sheen to your skin to make it slightly shiny. You don’t want this to be excessive; otherwise, you will look greasy.

If you choose to apply your own tanner, you will need some help. This is not a task that you can do entirely on your own. Commonly used products include Pro Tan Competition Color and Jan Tana Competition Color. Although these products are less expensive than hiring a professional, you are taking all of the risk. To avoid any mishaps, it is critical that you carefully follow all of the directions. Some of these products are applied a few days prior to the contest and some the night before the show. Be aware that these products can really dry out your skin, so if permitted, apply an approved moisturizer before applying tanner. It’s not recommended that you use the spray nozzle that some brands include. They are messy and take much longer to apply the product. Instead, pour the dye in a cup and dip the applicator in it. You will get a thicker coat, and cover yourself much faster. While applying the dye, you may wish to stand on an old towel to catch any dye that drips to the floor. When you go to bed for the night, make sure you use old sheets and bedding where you sleep. It will stain. Only if directed, you may need to rinse off excess tanning agent in the morning. If you are light skinned, it is recommended that you apply another coat of dye in the morning on contest day. Once the tanner dries, you can apply a coat of bronzer (ProTan, Jan Tana) over top to make the color darker and more even looking. (Bronzer is intended for use on contest day. It won’t make you blotchy like the skin dyes, as long as it is rubbed on thoroughly and evenly). Bronzers darken the skin’s appearance, but do not stain the skin. If you want to be even darker, you can apply a second coat of bronzer on top of the first. Bronzers also wash off afterwards. If you need to even out streaks from sweating after group comparisons, apply another coat of the bronzer prior to finals. Do not apply tanner to your face or neck until the night before to avoid peeling skin in these more sensitive skin areas. Many women opt not to tan their faces at all, but choose to use matching make-up instead. It's not necessary to dye your hands, wrists, feet or ankles until the night before either. Doing so can make those areas more noticeably dark than the rest of your physique. Go easy around the elbows and knees when applying tanning agents or those areas will appear darker due to the skin being more porous. If you choose to use a glaze or oil over your tan, use professional posing products, not baby oil. You do not want to look too shiny and wet. A small amount is all that is needed.

Competitor Tip: For something to protect your spray tan and keep it looking great at competitions, check out these protective products.