Q: I have a question regarding contest prep. I’m still a kid—18—but I think it would be great to get my feet wet in competition. I don’t think I’m big enough, however, so my key is going to be my conditioning. How was it for you when you were competing as a youngster, and do you have any advice for me? How did you know when you were ready? I’m thinking about entering the teen division.
A: It’s a great idea to compete in a bodybuilding contest as a teenager. I started competing at 16, and I did a total of 10 teenage shows before I turned 20. Competing gives you a lot of motivation for your training, and it really helps you improve your physique.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re ready, I still think you’re making a good decision. One of the most valuable things I received from getting onstage was that I was able to critically assess my physique from the photos that were taken. That allowed me to really see what areas of my physique I needed to work on in order to win the contest eventually.
It’s one thing to train at a gym and then hit some poses in the privacy of your home; it’s quite another to step onstage and pose in front of an audience and a panel of judges wearing only a pair of posing trunks. It can be quite intimidating, but by putting your physique on the line, you will learn what you need to do to improve and become a real bodybuilder.
I competed in my first show when I was only 16 years old after two years of training. Before the contest I naively thought I looked really good, and I was sure I would win first place easily. I quickly discovered that I had a long way to go. Some of the teenage bodybuilders that I was competing against had very thick and muscular physiques, and they were way ahead of me. That contest really opened my eyes and motivated me to train much harder.
It took me five contests before I was able to take home a first-place trophy. Each time I competed and did not place high, it fueled my desire to go back to the gym and train harder than ever so I could improve my placing at the next contest. There is nothing like knowing that you will be standing onstage being judged to motivate you to train hard and stay on a strict diet.
Your decision to go for conditioning is a wise one because the most ripped and conditioned bodybuilder usually wins or places high. Because I competed so often when I was a teen, I would alternate between competing bigger and a little smooth or ripped but a little small. I always placed higher when I competed ripped than when I competed bigger and smoother.
One mistake I made when I was a teenager was competing too often. Your teen years are the time to grow and get bigger. Because I was competing three or four times a year, I kept myself from adding the muscle mass that I could have if I’d concentrated on that and competed less frequently.
Because I didn’t have much bodyfat when I was a teen and my metabolism was superfast, I would only need to diet for about four weeks to be really ripped. I didn’t know much about dieting, so I would just reduce my calories and eat foods that I thought bodybuilders were supposed to eat, like tuna and oatmeal.
Looking back at those years, I think I would have been better off if I’d only competed once or twice a year and had more time in the off-season to build muscle. Although I slowly got bigger and improved my physique, I was really holding myself back by competing all the time because I never allowed myself the luxury of having six to 12 months to just eat a lot of food and train heavy.
It’s always good to have a plan when you’re competing. After you do that first show, look at the pictures of yourself onstage and decide what areas of your physique that you need to improve. You will probably need to add more muscle overall, but there may be a few bodyparts that you will really need to concentrate on to build a complete physique.
Work hard in the off-season to build those areas that are your weak points. Your goal should be to increase your overall muscle mass with an emphasis on your weak points.
When you get ready for next year’s competition, give yourself enough time to lose the bodyfat slowly and get really ripped. By dieting slow and losing only a pound to a pound and a half each week, you will keep your muscle while shedding bodyfat.
Give this show your all, but look at it as a chance to gain more insight and motivation into what you need to do to improve for the future. Once you get hooked on the idea of competing and working hard to improve your physique for the next show, there will be no stopping you. Best of luck in your new bodybuilding career!
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www
.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM