Heading into my first bikini competition I had at least one hundred random questions.
Even though I wasn’t new to fitness in general, competing in bodybuilding is another beast entirely!
Thankfully I had a knowledgeable coach and other competitors I met along the way to help answer my questions. I also read any blog I could find on ‘what to know’ before your first show.
But even with all of those helpful resources (seriously though, what did people do before the internet?!) I was still freaking out almost daily because there can be so many unknowns when you’re brand new to competing.
So here’s the blog that I wish existed to answer all my random questions and curb my expectations heading into my first bikini competition.
Let’s Get Real, there are a few realities to be aware of before committing to your first bodybuilding competition.
Content Prep Requires a very strict diet!
One of the first things you should consider before competing is how drastically your nutrition will have to be controlled. Competition prep is not a “normal” diet.
If counting macros is considered 80/20 flexibility, a contest prep is 100/0. I followed a meal plan daily and while I had various options as far as veggies and protein, there is no room for fun date night meals, a glass of wine on Friday night, or your BFF’s birthday cake as you get close to your show.
Know going in that your social calendar will suffer and that you WILL have to make sacrifices to stick to such a strict diet.
I also highly recommend sitting down with your partner/significant other and having a conversation about what prep will require and ask for their support. Make sure you are both on the same page about the dedication level needed and keep in mind that your commitment to your prep may seriously impact your partner’s daily life, too.
Set a realistic timeline
By “realistic” I mean give yourself longer than you think you need.
Even if you are already athletic and very aware of your food consumption (how I would consider myself heading into prep) give yourself more than 12 weeks.
The extra time is so worth it for getting to know your coach, adjusting to a new training program, and also helps the diet process suck much less. For example, I committed to 6 months with my coach, but was already relatively lean, eating high quality foods, and lifting 5 days each week.
That extra time above the “minimum” prep time of 12 weeks allowed us to be a little ahead of schedule, meaning I got a diet break and various refeed days along the way. This made my prep much more enjoyable!
Wouldn’t you prefer to be stage lean at 4 weeks out and coast into your peak week rather than stressed out and trying to make drastic changes during peak week? Yes, you would! So give yourself more time than you think you need before your show and start working with your coach ASAP!
12 weeks out – 8 weeks out – 1 week out – eating a donut after finals!
Competing is expensive AF
I had actually read this blog on why you shouldn’t compete before committing to my first show and was still blown away by what I spent throughout the process.
The coaching, countless beauty appointments, the suit, and many more line items quickly add up in the breakdown of average costs I provided in the following section. Buckle up.
There are many other strange things that nobody talks about
While my stage photos make the bodybuilding competition process look very glamorous (helloooo stage makeup!), there are quite a few less-than-glamorous aspects to competing that not many people discuss in detail…
You have to go hairless
One of the biggest surprises to me was that you have to get rid of ALL the hair on your body except what’s on your head. I knew a bikini wax might be in order, but shaving my arms was an entirely different story.
I learned that some people actually shave their whole body regularly (shoutout to you people because that is some serious dedication) but, maybe because I’m blonde, I’ve never considered shaving my arms.
And yes ladies, you should even shave your stomach, back, and between your boobs. I could hardly see any of my tiny, blonde hairs and skipped shaving my chest – but I wouldn’t recommend that rookie mistake!
During my spray tan, the color looked splotchy and darker where I missed shaving because your body hair doesn’t allow the tan to get into the skin the same way. It turned out fine in the end, but now you can learn from my mistake and just shave EVERYTHING.
If you saw my IGTV updates along my prep then you probably heard me call myself a zombie dolphin during peak week. My skin felt so different without any body hair and combined with the mentally taxing toughness of peak week, things got weird… But a zombie dolphin is still the most accurate comparison I can think of to how I felt!
The tanning process
The other most surprising aspects were the challenges that come along with the spray tan – and maybe the whole tanning process itself.
The tanning process is legit mind-blowing. I was so impressed by this operation! It looked like a body snatchers pod takeover right in the hotel conference room. The tanning company set up at least 20 tall and skinny three-sided black tents, each with 1-2 fans pointed at the person inside the tent.
The process was as follows:
I checked in for my tanning time (first coat was Friday night) and then they matched me with a female spray tanner. They walked me back to the female section past the guys’ tents (men were able to tan with briefs on so PG-13 views only) and when I turned the corner there was a naked lady in each of the tanning pod tents in my row. Even though I knew people were getting spray tanned naked, it was still slightly shocking to see so many naked ladies!
I stripped down right there and that’s when my tanner got to work. She gave me strict orders on how to hold my arms, stick out my butt, squat, etc. Yes, it is VERY up close and personal.
She also used a small paint roller to smooth over any imperfect spots. After one good coat, she set a timer for about 15 minutes and put a big fan right in front of my pod tent.
For those 15 minutes I rotated slowly in a circle with my arms held up absolutely FREEZING. Imagine being naked, wet, outside in Minnesota, with a consistent cold breeze.
We repeated this process one more time right after and then again on Saturday morning bright and early! So many tan, jacked, naked ladies in one room it was such a comical sight. Good news is that everyone was excited for the show and in good spirits so it was a strange, yet fun/funny, type of competitor bonding…
The challenges post-spray tan
Another crazy part about the tanning process is the challenge of using the toilet after your spray tan. Guys have it easy while us ladies have to be suuuper careful not to drip or splash because those spots will indeed wash off your tan and leave you with little pale spots.
While you can be careful and avoid any major pee-caused issues the day before the show, it’s a MUCH bigger challenge when your suit is glued to your butt on show day. I ended up using a she-wee and it was very helpful! I also heard of other competitors punching holes in the bottom of dixie cups or styrofoam cups as another strategy to pee while keeping your tan safe.
But keep in mind there will be touch ups available right before you go on stage so don’t let any imperfections in your tan stress you out!
And last but not least with the tanning adventure, you need to bring old towels and your own dark sheets if you’re staying in a hotel for your competition. Otherwise, it’s highly likely your tan will get on the hotel’s sheets/towels and you may get charged extra when you check out.
Trust me, you don’t want any more expenses in your competition budget so be sure to pack extra sheets and towels.
Budget For Your Competition
I mentioned the cost of competing on my Instagram and got a few more questions on the topic so I created this breakdown to give you more details. Keep in mind that these are averages and most everything will have a price range depending on if you want to go high-end or try to be frugal.
Costs you should budget for include:
|Nutrition + Training Coach||$1,000.00|
|Federation (i.e. NPC) Membership||$75.00|
|New Sheets for Hotel||$60.00|
|Total Average Cost =||$3,020.00|
Some additional costs might also include travel/transportation if needed, tickets to the show for friends and family, chiropractic or massage work (you will be training HARD), a personal photoshoot to show off all your hard work, gym membership, and additional food costs.
With my average estimate coming in at over $3,000 for a 12 week prep, it’s clear that getting on stage is not only a lifestyle commitment but a financial one as well!
Good thing I’m in charge of the bank statements in my household… 😉
Know Your Bodybuilding Lingo
Just like any hardcore fitness regimen, the bodybuilding world has some pretty fun lingo of its own.
Here are some code words that I picked up on along my prep so you can avoid feeling like a total newbie:
→ Conditioning – when people say “that person isn’t as conditioned” they are talking about body fat levels. If you hear “conditioning is on point” that means the person is at a great level of leanness.
→ Tie-Ins – referring to the glute-hamstring tie-in, where the bottom of the glute connects to the hamstring. It’s more an area of your body vs. a muscle you can train and it stands out at lower body fat levels. This is a key area that judges in the bikini division look for along with the shape of the glutes and hamstrings.
→ Division – the category you will compete in. For example, women’s figure division has more muscle mass and quarter turn posing while the bikini division has a little less muscle and a posing routine with transitions.
→ Classes – there are multiple different classes you can compete in within your division including First Time Ever, Novice, and Open.
→ Glazing – about a half hour before you get on stage you get glued & glazed! This is the process of gluing your suit into place (yes, up the ass) and getting sprayed with a shiny/oily “glaze” to help your muscles shine on stage.
→ Peak Week – the week before your show, which should really be called “hell week” in my opinion. This is the time where food choices are extremely limited, water may be manipulated, and workouts deload to make sure you look at your best ever on show day.
It should now be very obvious that there is so much that goes into competing beyond the basic hard work in the gym and the kitchen. There were times when I unfortunately did let the little details overwhelm me so avoid making the same mistake.
Instead, only focus on what you can control. Be strict with your nutrition, train hard in the gym, and the rest will fall into place. I’d also suggest reaching out to other competitors that will be at your same show. Chances are it’s someone else’s first show, too, and it’s nice to have that fellow rookie to chat with about all the “little” things.
Lastly, trust that things truly will all come together beautifully on show day when all your hard work will pay off!
If you’re considering your first show right now, do your research to find the best coach for you, go all in, and don’t forget to have FUN!
This is a blog written by Caroline Ofenstein. Caroline is Certified With Precision Nutrition, NCI, CrossFit, and is also a Boom-Boom Performance Nutrition Coach. Caroline is our go-to source for CrossFit Nutrition AND bridging the gap between Aesthetics and Performance, which is where she has recently pushes a lot of her focus in order to help people understand how they can achieve both performance and the lean physique we all strive for.