Q: Congrats on your recent wins and earning your IFBB pro card. I’m in my second year of competition, and I’m already nationally qualified in the NPC—just one step away from my pro card. I’m planning to compete at the national level next year and, I hope, qualify to compete against you and the other IFBB pros. With your experience competing on the national level, can you offer any advice on stepping up to the pros?
A: Wow! You’re off to a good start. Qualifying for national competition in just your second year is quite an accomplishment. I too was nationally qualified in just my second year of competition—that was 25 years ago. Yes, the next step is a gigantic one. While there are exceptions, very few bodybuilders qualify for IFBB pro status with just a few years of competition under their belts.
I remember back in 1982 reading about Dale Ruplinger, who won the NPC USA Overall in his second show, the Nationals in his third show and the World Championships in his fourth show—all of that in just his second year of competing—but something like that is extremely rare. Physique competition has grown so much that in most cases it takes years of serious training to be good enough to qualify for Nationals. Then more years of adding muscle, honing it to perfection, and tweaking the diet and posing to win an IFBB-pro-qualifying event.
Achieving IFBB pro status is a worthy goal, but you should make it a long-term one. Many factors are involved in winning a pro qualifier, and some, like how the judges see it and whom you compete against, you can’t control.
The first thing you should concentrate on is improving your physique. Take a very critical look at your photos, identify your weaknesses, and formulate a plan for improving them. If you know any NPC judges, ask them for an assessment. Once you have your improvement plan in place, think in terms of focusing on each workout and striving to improve each one. Concentrate on your exercise technique and on contracting the muscles you’re working. Put together solid reps, and you’ll have great sets. Put together great sets, and you’ll end up having killer workouts. Put together killer workouts week after week and month after month, and you’ll certainly make tremendous improvements.
Keep in mind it’s the process that’s important. Some people get so wrapped up in getting to the next level that the process—the training, the dieting and the competition—becomes just a vehicle. The process becomes something to get through, something that is no longer enjoyable. If you lose sight of why you started training to begin with, it’s not going to be fun anymore. If you’re one of the very gifted few who reach IFBB pro status, you’ll find out that it’s really no different, just infinitely more competitive.
I’ve been involved in competitive bodybuilding for 27 years, and I’ve seen all kinds of people come and go. I’ve had friends who were so enamored of getting a pro card that they totally lost sight of what bodybuilding training and competition are all about. When they couldn’t win in the open division, they gave up and quit training completely. I’ve also seen some who were good enough to win NPC national qualifiers and to place in the top two or three at national-level contests, but because they didn’t get that IFBB pro card, they were never happy. In fact, they were pissed off after every show.
Now, I like to win as much as anybody. I train to win, and I want to win, but I’m realistic enough to know that the more prestigious the show, the worse my chances are of finishing in first place. I can control only how well I prepare my body. I can’t control how good the other competitors are or how the judges are going to place us.
In 2007 I was second—by one point—in the welterweight class at the Team Universe to Overall champion Chris Faildo. Many people thought I should have won that show. I certainly thought I had a good chance of winning it, but placing second to someone of Faildo’s caliber—that’s pretty damn good. I was disappointed that I didn’t win, but I was pleased that I was good enough to place a very close second. I also felt good about how well I’d prepared. I was in the best shape of my life. I felt good enough to go out and celebrate. Unfortunately, before I got started on the celebrating, I ruptured a hamstring tendon in my hotel room.
In 2008 I placed second at the Masters Nationals and second again at the Team Universe. Disappointing, yes; devastating, no. Again, you have to be pretty freakin’ good to place at all at a national-level show. I enjoy the competition, and it’s really exciting to be in contention for a title. There are a hell of a lot of athletes (in fact, most) who aren’t in contention. So, because earning the pro card wasn’t the be-all and end-all to me, I had a blast at all of those contests.
My best advice to you is this: Don’t live and die by the pro card. Just because you’re nationally qualified doesn’t mean that you have to compete in only national-level contests. A lot of great shows around the country have more than enough competition to challenge you, no matter how good you are. Contests like the Texas Shredder Classic (yes, I’m plugging my own show), the Emerald Cup, the Ronnie Coleman Classic, Lonnie Teper’s Junior Cal [now the NPC West Coast Classic] or any of the NPC state championships are stacked with great competitors. Go to some of those top-level shows and perfect your contest diet, your posing, your tanning and your stage presence. Take the time to enjoy getting to know the other competitors and the bodybuilding fans.
After you have a few open-division overall titles under your belt, step up to a national-level show. I’ll tell you right now that if you can’t win the overall title at a national qualifer, you’re not going to have a chance at placing in a national-level show. When you compete in an NPC national-level contest, you’re competing against champions. At the Team Universe a number of athletes who have won multiple overall titles and some who have won international titles in other organizations did not place. Get some more contest experience, and enjoy the whole process of chiseling your physique to perfection. Open yourself to the excitement and the enjoyment of competing.
Besides gaining the contest experience and learning how to fine-tune your body during the contest-preparation phase, there’s another reason to compete in more shows before you step on the national stage. If you’re good enough and lucky enough (it takes both) to earn your IFBB pro card, you step up to a level of insanely incredible physiques. Not only will you be competing against the best of the very best, but you’ll also go from seven weight classes to two. In figure or fitness you go from four or six height classes down to one class. Your odds of placing drop dramatically.
Many great bodybuilding champions earn their IFBB pro cards and never place in another contest. If you’re one of those people who get pissed if they don’t win, I feel sorry for you. You’re most likely in for a lot of disappointment. Even the great Ronnie Coleman competed in 20 IFBB pro shows before ever winning one. Dale Ruplinger, whom I mentioned above, never cracked the top seven at a pro show.
As I contemplate my move up to the pro stage, I realize that I’m never going to have a chance to win another bodybuilding title. I just don’t have the size to win an IFBB pro show. At my age and without resorting to physique-enhancing drugs, I’m not going to be able to put on that kind of muscle. Still, I like training. I like the way lifting weights feels. I like the way dieting and training for competitions make me look, and I take pride in knowing that I have the discipline to do it. I love being in contest shape, and I love competing in bodybuilding shows.
Because I enjoy the whole process, I don’t have to win to be happy. I know that I’m going to have to step up my game just to not look out of place in an IFBB pro lineup. So with the new challenge I know I’m going to improve—and isn’t that where all this started, improving your physique?
Keep that in mind, and enjoy the totality of the bodybuilding lifestyle. I’ve embraced it for 28 years, and I’ll continue to do so for many, many more. I hope that you get your pro card and that we get to compete against each other. Until you do, however—or even if you don’t—there’s so much about bodybuilding to celebrate and enjoy.
Good luck. Write and let me know how you’re doing.
Train hard, and eat clean.
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to TXShredder@aol.com. IM