By Juan Rojas
Do you remember the feeling when you first started training and how quickly you fell in love with it? Do you remember when you saw your body constantly changing and seeing improvements? Maybe after seeing all this you started hearing or learning about the world of competitive physique shows. Maybe you have even thought about competing yourself and are wondering if you are ready. I constantly get messages from individuals looking to do a physique show. This makes me both happy to see that physical fitness and the beautiful sport of bodybuilding is growing, but at the same time frustrates me as these individuals have no business even thinking about a concept this advanced yet. The funny part is that many of these individuals looking to compete are not even willing to take the advice to put in some time to develop muscle first and then think about a competition. Although there are now more divisions that allow for both men and women to compete while having less muscle mass, it is still a competition where muscularity is required. Some people are so focused on doing shows for the wrong reasons that they decide to do a show with barely any amount of training under their belt. Physique competitions are a little bit different than other competitive sports. Most of the time, in many sports you pick up you can get a solid grasp of the fundamentals and you can improve quickly in a few months. It requires a few hours a week of practice and then you can go home and resume your normal life. You might have tournaments here and there that you can attend to and even if you miss a practice here and there you can still come back quickly from a missed week and pick up the skill no problem.
Getting ready for a show and coming in decent shape requires a lot more dedication and resources than people think. Unlike other sports, this is a sport that requires more than a few months of training to do okay in. Unless an individual has a solid previous base of muscle through prior physical training, it takes years to build a decent amount of muscle mass. It also takes years to be able to learn certain principles that only hard and focused training will teach you in order for you to do well at a show. You can read these lessons in my article the 12 lessons I have learned from bodybuilding. If you have not put the proper time in to have learnt these lessons, you still need to put more time into your training. You should be disciplined enough to follow a regimented nutrition and training program for your personal self-improvement. If you cannot even be strict enough to follow a basic daily eating guide and stick to a regimented training program, than a physique competition might be slightly too advanced at this point. Although a contest preparation can be an amazing journey, sometimes it can be more damaging than good for your physical and psychological state.
The main difference between being a competitive physique athlete and being and athlete in any other sport is that even at the amateur level, it involves picking up a certain lifestyle that is 24 hours of your day. Those who tend to do well, are often self-motivated, regimented, selfish and focused individuals. Individuals who are able to have laser like dedication towards their goals and do not let distractions get in their way. Oftentimes, regular society is used to eating on the fly whenever they are hungry, eating what they are craving, having spontaneous adventures, and going out for pizza after the bar at 2 am. Even many competitive athletes at a high level can get away with going out for meals of their choice and not worrying about the macronutrients etc. of the meal. If you want to do well even at the amateur level of a physique competition, paying attention to these minor details is a must. At the amateur level of other sports it requires no more than a few times a week of having games and practices to keep improving. In physique sports, oftentimes athletes are doing 4-7 weight training workouts a week on top of cardio sessions that can be up to twice a day. This level of commitment along with a full time job, kids, family and other life responsibilities can be very demanding. Other athletes will often devote a lot of energy and effort but will refuel and rest plenty to keep performance up. This oftentimes allows you to still maintain good energy levels in your daily life and to be able to devote full effort into your other aspects of life. When you are cutting calories and getting ready for a show your energy levels plummet at certain times. If you have to drive long hours, have to be alert for your work or even want to show your loved ones you want to pay attention to them, this can be a real struggle.
Another aspect that you must take into account is the financial aspect of this sport. It is a sport that can become very expensive if you want to do it correctly. From buying large amounts of high quality foods to operate at your best, to an extensive list of pricey supplements, to the potential coach you might hire, to all the registration and fees required the actual weekend of your competition. All these fees can add up and add an added stress to your life.
Speaking of stress, the strain it can put on your personal, professional and the relationship with yourself can be quite harsh. family members and friends not quite understanding why you cannot go out with them as often, why you are prioritizing the gym over them and why you are not as lively with them. At work your boss might notice that you are a bit more tired, that you are not as productive as you have been in the past and that you are not quite as open to going that extra mile for the company. If you have a spouse, it can take a strain on your relationship as they will have to be very supportive and understanding that you are so focused on reaching your goals that you might be slightly more irritable. That you might not have the attention span anymore to pay attention to small details and to help out as much around the house. That you might be gone from the house a little longer now because of all the training you have to do. It also takes a huge toll on the immediate personal relationship with yourself. Your sex drive might take a hit because your body is exhausted from the training and caloric deficit. You will not have as much time to do the activities you quite love. You will have to override the feelings of being tired and wanting to relax because you have to do your cardio. You will feel alone at times and like you are depriving yourself of time with friends and family. You might also feel like you are being selfish and you might not like this. Unfortunately, you are being selfish, but it is part of the sport. This is why it is very important to let those around you know that you love them and that you value how much they support you. It is also crucial to recognize that once you are done the show you must also devote more time and energy to strengthening and building these relationships again.
An aspect of being ready to do a competition is being able to ask yourself this and be truly honest with yourself. Am I ready to mentally and physically push myself further and beyond than I ever have? Am I ready to feel absolutely exhausted day after day for weeks and still be able to be happy and productive in my day to day life?
These are 2 questions that are crucial to ask yourself. There are days during prep where you feel like you cannot go one more day like this. Where you feel overwhelmed with the amount of things you must do in the day just to be able to get your training, meals in and life responsibilities. Where your eyes are closing because you went to bed at 11 pm due to meal prepping and chores and you have to be up at 4:30 am to hit the gym. It is crucial to remember that you chose to do this out of your own will and that it might be hard now, but it is a very rewarding road at the end. That it is nobody’s fault other than yourself on why you feel this way. Although you might be irritable, make sure to not take it out on the individuals around you, as this not only gives you a bad name but other physique competitors as well.
Another thing to ask yourself is, am I ready to jeopardize the relationship I have with food and my body image? As we know, the way we view ourselves is crucial to our mental health. Competing can skew this image you have of your own body as now you are searching for the perfect physique. Oftentimes you can look in the mirror and instead of feeling confident in yourself, you will start picking your flaws apart and become frustrated with your physique. Along with this, comes the fear of eating the “wrong” types of food. You will become obsessive over what you put in your mouth, and if you happen to eat something off the meal plan you are trying to follow you can beat yourself up about it. This obsession with food naturally comes with wanting to do well at your competition and doing what is necessary to look your best. The problem can really get worse when this unhealthy relationship with food now controls your life and continues with you into the period after the show. Developing an eating disorder or a skewed negative self-image of yourself is no joke.
With this article I am not trying to dissuade you from trying out a physique competition. I think bodybuilding is one of the most beautiful sports in the world that combines art, athleticism and a lifestyle all in one. It can make you grow as a person physically and emotionally as it is a self-journey that teaches you so much about yourself if you allow it to. It will give you confidence and show you that anything in life is possible as long as you set your mind to it. That success comes to those who work extremely hard and effectively. What I do want you to see with this article is that this is not a sport for those who are weak minded. That it will take a lot out of you. That it will show you what working hard truly is. A lot of it has to do with the mindset and perspective that you take on when you begin to prepare for a show. You can view and focus on all the hard parts, the suffering and the sacrifices and be miserable. Or, you can view all the benefits and self-growth and see how much it can improve your life. Competing at a physique show has enriched my life in so many ways and brought so many new friendships to my life. It has completely changed my perspective on life, what we are truly capable of as human beings, and how I can truly achieve anything I set my mind to.
If after reading this article you have taken these factors into consideration and can honestly say that devoting yourself to this great goal of competing is something you want to do, then I encourage you to give it your all. After being okay with all these factors, I would say if you are disciplined enough to stick to your diet, and if training is a part of your everyday life that you enjoy you are somewhat ready at least for the psychological aspect of it. Some people hold back from competing because they never feel it is the right time; they are waiting for that perfect moment. The perfect moment in your life where you will not have any stress, where your physique is perfect, where you will have lots of free time and when all the stars align will never come. If it’s something you really want to do find a show, look for a reputable coach and devote yourself for the required amount of time necessary to get ready. Competing can be such a rewarding journey if you allow it to be!
With the pursuit of achieving the best possible physique and helping hundreds of clients do the same, Juan Rojas has dedicated his life to finding the best strategies for transforming human bodies. Constant research, trial and error and continous education in the exercise physiology and nutrition field, Juan Rojas thrives off finding the most efficient ways to transform your body and live a happier and healthier lifestyle.