It’s the spring of 2022 and the start of a new bodybuilding season which is always exciting. If you’ve used your off-season well, your focus was likely to build more muscle, work on symmetry or perfect your posing. Whether you are planning to compete for the first time or ready to make a comeback better than ever, now is the time to plan your season and be ready to hit the stage at your very best. Below are some tips on how to bring your best package.
Planning Your Competition Season
Life / Prep Balance
When planning your upcoming competition season, you must first determine how to balance life responsibilities (work, school, kids, hobbies, etc.) with the time, money, and energy it will take to prepare for a show. Balance is probably the most difficult part of committing to preparing for a show. It’s best to plan show dates away from any planned vacations, special events, and previous commitments. Once your show date is set, any time away from your prep will take away from meeting your goals. Be sure to choose a time frame that allows you to commit fully to your training, cardio, meal prepping, posing, meeting with your coach, and getting enough rest for your best results. My standard prep time is 12 to 16 weeks. During those 3 to 4 months, I know that I will commit extra time toward my training and will have to pull back from some social events to meet my goals.
Choose a Coach
If you’ve never competed before, it’s important to choose a reputable coach who understands the process from start to finish. A good coach will help you choose the proper category to compete in, give you the nutrition to support muscle growth while achieving the proper leanness to display your musculature on stage, and assist with choosing the right suit including color and style to best showcase your physique, give you all the details for what to bring to the show and really importantly, how to reverse your diet to allow for a good offseason. Your coach will also assist with choosing the best shows for you and your goals. Even if you have competed before, a coach will provide invaluable feedback on how you’re progressing and how to adjust your programming for an improved physique and presentation on the stage. Choosing a coach is very personal – some coaches do everything online, while others coaches work in person. Choose someone who best suits your needs and preferences.
How Many Shows Should I Plan To Do?
If preparing for your first show, you should plan to focus on getting through from start to finish on this one first. You can always decide to do another if the show bug bites you, but keep your focus narrow to start. As a standard, my athletes do a 12-week prep for each show. They may do some training in advance of this time frame if they need to gain more muscle or drop body fat in preparation for the actual prep time. Once the 12-week out mark arrives, milestones are set to help them achieve their proper leanness and muscularity for the stage, In the final weeks, they will add some additional changes to remove excess water for the stage look. After the whole process, either you love it or you may be one and done. From there, you can determine if you’d like to move forward with another show. Always get feedback from the judges at your show. They will give you guidance on what to do to better
prepare for your next event – be it more muscle, better conditioning, suit fit, presentation, etc. Take that feedback to heart and do the work to come back better.
If you’re a seasoned athlete, choosing shows that are at least 8 weeks apart will yield the best results. Yes – this does mean you may need to be dedicated to your prep year-round, but allowing your body to recover from a peak (dehydration and depletion) by eating in a surplus and getting some extra rest before turning it back up will allow for additional muscle gain and better conditioning coming into your next event. Doing too many back-to-back peaks will leave your muscle bellies empty not giving that amazing lean and full look we desire for show day. 4 shows are the most I would recommend competing in each year while progressively achieving better results each showing.
INBA/PNBA Shows to Look Forward to
Silver & Black Muscle Classic (San Leandro, CA)
This competition usually held in the spring is a favorite in Northern California as a season opener. This show usually draws a good number of athletes from California, Arizona, and Nevada. This is a great show for first-timers who want to start the year off getting a sense of what it’s like to be on stage and still allowing time to make improvements for Fall shows. This show is a Pro-Qualifier.
World Championships (2022 Florence, Italy)
The World Championships are always an athlete favorite as the INBA/PNBA gives its athletes amazing opportunities to travel the world and compete against other international competitors in places like Prague (Czech Republic), Florence (Italy), Bucharest (Romania), Budapest (Hungary), Dubai, Greece and more. If you like to travel and want to compete, the World Championships will give you both experiences in one. This show features both Professional and Amateur athletes.
Muscle Beach / Ironman International (Hermosa Beach, CA)
This summer show draws the best amateur and professional athletes on the West Coast (and more). The sunny weather and timing make this show a great one.
Natural Olympia (Las Vegas, NV)
The pinnacle of Natural Bodybuilding – The Natural Olympia is the Natural Bodybuilding event of the year showcasing athletes from over 60 countries around the world. Held in Las Vegas, Nevada each year, this 4-day event brings amateur and professional athletes together for not only competition, but also the annual Hall of Fame Inductions, Athletes Mixer, and of course the casinos, shopping, and sites of Las Vegas. Always an amazing time!
Tips for Show Prep
There are lots of pieces to the final look on stage. The winners are the ones who don’t overlook the “small stuff”. Everything is important when it comes to your presentation on stage.
Hire a Posing Coach
Don’t underestimate the importance of posing. The best physique on the stage can lose to someone who can present their physique better on the stage. There are lots of amazing posing coaches who are well versed in presentation for all categories. Hiring a posing coach at the start of your prep is the best way to be amazing on stage, Don’t wait until the end. Then it’s time to practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practicing your posing every day will make you so comfortable that hitting your poses becomes second nature. You want to make your presentation appear fluid, seamless, and easy. Keep practicing. And then practice some more.
Meal Prep or Meal Service
Having your meals prepared specifically for your goals is a must. It can be time-consuming, so you’ll have to choose to make the meals yourself or hire a chef or service to prepare them for you. If you choose a service, there are usually local companies that will cook your meals according to your plan specifically. Be sure to check how meals are prepared (acceptable seasoning, added sodium/sugars, oils, and how meals are measured) so that you’re getting exactly what you need. If you’re preparing meals yourself, you will need a food scale, meal prep containers, and prep-friendly recipes that will keep you on track.
A Good Support System
Besides your coach, find some like-minded buddies to support your prep. Not everyone will support your journey or goals and that’s okay. But you will want to rely on those who do and will give you the encouragement you need when you find yourself pushing through a tough week. We all have those days, so find a buddy who understands.
Once the show is over, an important piece. that can potentially be overlooked is reversing your nutrition overtime back to maintenance or strategic surplus for your off-season. Eating without regard to excess sodium and sugars (binging) can spike your appetite resulting in an extended period of time of overindulging which can lead to an emotional roller coaster. Do yourself the favor of having a strategy to implement appropriate nutrition while transitioning into your off-season or next show.
How to Get the Most Out of the Off-Season
The Off-Season is when you can make improvements to your overall physique, stage presence, and conditioning. In order to know exactly what you need to work on, use the feedback from the judges at your most recent show and your coach. If you didn’t get feedback at the show, I would suggest reaching out to a current judge with photos and comparison shots from your last show to see what improvements you can bring to the next.
Eat for Lean Gains
While a normal body composition is different from the stage, it’s important to eat in a surplus to add muscle to your frame. A surplus of calories should be a specific amount and kind to keep your body fat in check as you gain muscle. If your nutrition stays similar in your off-season compared to your prep, it will be a lot easier to transition back to the cutting phase when necessary.
Change Your Lifts
If you need to put on muscle, change up how you’re hitting the weights, This is where your coach can also help. There are lots of ways to challenge your muscles to grow, so try them all. Increasing the weight is one, but also includes changing the tempo of your lifts, changing the angles of your feet, hand, etc., or adding resistance bands or chains. Be sure your form is correct – taking pictures and video can help assess your form. You can’t rush changes in your physique, so be diligent and patient and keep pushing.
Take Progress Pictures
Take pictures every 2-4 weeks to determine progression in your physique. Taking pictures also forces you to practice mandatory poses. Pictures are much more useful than the number on the scale. Side-by-side comparisons will allow you to determine what’s working for your physique and what you may want to continue to work on while eating in a surplus.
Use cardio for conditioning in prep season. If you pull back on your cardio in the off-season, your body will respond favorably to adding it to your regimen when you’re in the cutting phase. Keep just enough cardio in your routine to keep your endurance up without eating into your surplus caloric intake.
Don’t forget that posing is really important. Doing posing once a week will keep you familiar with how your poses feel. The off-season is also the time to learn new posing especially if you’re changing categories (i.e. Bikini —> Figure) so that you’re familiar with and can perfect your poses during your actual prep.
Conclusion From the Writer: Alondra Chatman
Hopefully, these tips will help you reach new heights in your coming prep. Trust the process and get the results!
You can catch me on stage at Muscle Beach, Zeus Classic, and Natural Olympia this season.
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Written by 2x Ms. Figure Pro Natural Olympia 2021 & 2019