Thinking about getting on stage? It’s not as easy as you might believe. We give you all the info to help you along your pathway to competition success.
The bright stage light refracting off of your bejeweled swimsuit, your hair and makeup done just right, your poses on point and all the judges looking at you, this is the stage life of a female bodybuilder.
Have you ever considered taking your fitness to the next level and getting on stage to compete?
You should. What follows is a guide to help you get acquainted with everything you need to know about female bodybuilding.
What Draws Women To The Sport?
Tereasa Grandfield, Nationally Qualified NPC Bikini Competitor, says, “After seven years of being out of my parents’ house, I was bored, doing the same thing every day, no direction and no drive. I found the gym and was hooked. I made friends who were competitors and they urged me to get on stage. I had finally found the structured lifestyle I had been craving.”
For me it was something else. I was training hard in the gym to take off baby weight from my second child. I was approached several times by people asking if I was training for a show. I had no idea that this sport existed. After being asked for the fourth time, I looked into it. I wanted to prove that having children does not mean that your body is ruined nor is it an excuse to stop taking care of it. Not only did I get my pre-baby body back, it looked better than before children.
What will your reason be?
This Happens When You First Tell People That You’re Going To Compete
Get ready for the backlash and the laughs or the disgust that you want to look like a man.
Many times this comes from those who have no clue about the sport and are stereotyping. Don’t worry. Later they won’t be laughing, but rather asking what you are doing to look like a fitness model.
Choosing A Division
There are many divisions to compete in:
Bikini – Bikini is the softest division of women’s bodybuilding. Women are judged on leanness, conditioning, symmetry, proportion, balance and overall appearance. This includes the show suit, tanning, and makeup. Two muscle groups that are particularly important regarding muscular development are glutes and abs. Bikini competitors usually have a body fat range of 8 to 10%. You will have allotted time to do an individual walk displaying your posing skills followed by comparison rounds alongside your peers.
Figure – Figure competitors tend to be more muscular than bikini competitors and slightly leaner. Judges look for leanness, conditioning, balance (the X) and overall presentation. Figure competitors strive to have their bodies balanced in the shape of an X, meaning the development of the upper back and shoulders creates a wide appearance, coupled with a small waist and shapely quads and glutes to complete the X. Competitors have muscle separation, not striation, and range from 5 to 10% body fat. You’ll have allotted time to do an individual walk displaying posing skills followed by comparison rounds.
Physique – Physique competitors have exceptionally dense muscles that are well developed and are typically leaner than figure competitors. Women in this category will have striation and be very vascular. When on stage, they have to perform a posing routine to music and go through side-by-side comparisons.
Women’s Bodybuilding – Women who compete in this division are regarded as hard core. They are very muscular, very lean and vascular, to the point that many would say they appear masculine. In this division, you must complete a routine just like women’s physique and side-by-side comparisons.
These Are The Subcategories
For each of the categories just mentioned, there are three subcategories. They are the novice, open and masters.
Novice is for first-time competitors, those with no experience or those who have never placed. The open category is for all competitors. In some federations, it’s broken down into height categories. Masters in some federations is for those 35 and over. In others, it starts at 40. It can be further broken down such as 35 to 44, 45 to 54, etc.
Hire A Coach
Hiring an experienced coach is a must for your first show. Make sure the person you hire has the proper credentials in nutrition and exercise, along with experience in bodybuilding. I wouldn’t hire someone who has never been on stage. You need someone who looks at your transformation from the eyes of a competition judge.
Some people elect to have online coaches. If you follow what an online coach tells you to do, you should be fine. However, most people prefer to have someone to step in front of each week if it’s their first prep. You will typically meet with your coach one or two times per week so they can assess your progress and go through a rigorous workout.
Your coach will find your strengths and weaknesses, as far as your muscularity is concerned, and help you build up any weak areas. They will set you up with:
- A training program.
- A nutrition plan.
Posing – You Need To Nail It
Hopefully, your coach includes posing in their price package. If your coach isn’t good at posing, they should refer you to someone who is, but that will be an added cost. For instance, your coach may be a men’s physique competitor, good at diet and nutrition, but not know a thing about women’s posing. Ask up front.
Posing makes all the difference in the world on stage. It helps you display all your best assets and shows your confidence. Keep in mind: It is different for each division. You should practice daily in your mirror at home and commit it to muscle memory. There will be no mirrors to guide you when you’re on stage.
Mental And Physical Discipline Is Needed
You may wonder what a typical day in the life of a competitor is like. Understand this will vary depending on your current fitness level, leanness, body type, and body fat percentages.
Grandfield says, “Gym every day, cardio four times per week, and for the most part whole foods and the occasional cheat. The key to all of this is balance.”
My typical day was an hour of lifting and an hour of cardio. Except Sunday! On Sunday, there would be no lifting, only cardio. Toward the end of my prep, I ate almost nothing but fish and green veggies round the clock.
It’s going to be slightly different for everyone. The most important aspect is that you have the drive, the mental and physical endurance, to keep going even when you feel like quitting. You’ll feel like quitting at some point.
Let’s Discuss Meal Prep!
Get ready to spend some time in the kitchen cooking and weighing your food. Usually, competitors will spend two or more hours on a Sunday prepping meals for the week. You will eat about every three hours.
Your diet will be derived of mostly lean meats, veggies and a clean carb source. Your coach will give you the specifics. Make sure your nutrition plans include weights of the foods in grams or ounces so you know how much of each food to portion out.
There are ways to make the process less time consuming. That includes such things as learning how to use multiple crock pots at a time. You can also look for a meal prep company near you. Just make sure that they’ll follow your coach’s meal plans to the letter. This could become costly. So, it depends on what you need more, your time or your money.
Here Are Some More Necessary Expenses
Besides paying a coach and eating quality foods, there are more expenses involved as your show date nears. What are they? They’re as follows:
That tan! – As mentioned, your overall appearance is judged when you are on stage, and your tan is part of the judging criteria. You’ll be paying between $100 to $200 for your spray tan, so you want to make sure they take care of you and get the job done right. You don’t want to stand out for all the wrong reasons. Make sure your tan is just right.
The suit – Picking the right suit can be the most exciting part of the process until they hit you with the price tag.
Bikini division suits fit like the type you wear to the beach except they are cheeky and very shiny. They cover less of your booty on purpose. What can’t be seen can’t be judged. A basic suit with no rhinestones runs $125. Start adding the bling and you can run the bill up to $1,000. Average cost is around $350 new. You can also try to buy used online or from someone local selling their suit. However, a custom suit made for you will fit and look better, and you get the exact look that you envisioned.
Figure, physique and bodybuilding suits are typically intricate, fully rhinestoned and have extravagant designs. They crisscross in the back. The top and bottoms connect using this crisscross. These suits are also more expensive due to the amount of detail.
Heels – Bikini and figure girls must compete in clear heels. They run about $50.
Hair and makeup – You’ll want to score high in presentation. This is where hair and makeup comes in. Stage makeup is more dramatic than what you would wear on a typical day and you likely won’t want to bother with your hair. To have these professional services, you are looking at around $200 to $300.
Peak Week – It’s The Final Week Before The Stage
The dreaded peak week is when you’re running on low energy and you are just ready to get it over with! Your trainer will have a special diet for you during peak week. You will be dropping most of the water from your body by manipulating your salt and water intake and taking a diuretic. You’ll also spend time lounging in the sauna. Your coach will guide you through this. Each has their way of completing this process.
Your diet will also be manipulated, mainly your carbs. At the end of peak week, you are ready to strut your stuff. Peak week brings out your finalized stage body.
Go To The Stage For The Win
By time you get to the stage, you’ll have exercised great discipline for 12 to 16 weeks. That’s the typical time for stage preparation. You’ll have turned down food that makes you salivate and that your body cries for. You will have lifted weights and done cardio when you weren’t quite sure how you were going to drag yourself into the gym. The truth is that you may have even cried several times.
However, you’ll be rewarded on stage. The day you get to showcase your work makes it all worth it. You have already won without placing because you’ll have gone through a process that maybe 2% of the population will ever make it through. You are a beastette.
How Does It Feel To Win?
Mindee Huff, WNBF Figure Pro and NFF Physique Pro, says, “I was shocked, excited, proud and thankful all at the same time. My goals were not to be last and to prove that it didn’t matter how old you are, you can do this and inspire others to try. I was 47 and 48 when I won, and it was only my first and second shows ever. I knew some women had worked many years, so I was thankful.”
Avoid The Aftershock
You must understand that your stage physique can’t last all year long. You’ll likely become addicted to being so aesthetic. Chances are, you might become locally famous in your gym since everyone watched you go through this dramatic transformation.
Reality will strike though. You’re going to want to enjoy your social life and favorite foods again. You may not want to do an hour of cardio every day anymore. Your body needs some time to recover. You may lose your menstrual cycle if you get lean enough. Therefore, your body will need to get back on track. This sport is extreme.
With that said, you don’t want to fly off the handle and gain a ton of weight in a matter of weeks after the show. It happens. To avoid this you should practice reverse dieting. And if you have a good coach, they should walk you through this even after your stage time has passed.
This Is Reverse Dieting
Basically, reverse dieting is slowly adding calories and other foods – such as fruit and dairy – that were restricted from your diet back in so you don’t shock your body. Don’t worry. You get the big cheat meal right after the show. After the cheat meal, you shouldn’t just return to your old, routine eating habits before this journey began. It can shock your system.
Shocking your body can cause extreme bloating that might last a week. It can also lead to quick weight gain. It’s not pretty.
Along with reverse dieting, you want to reverse exercise. As you’re slowing bringing your calories up to your maintenance level, you should slowly decrease cardio. This will also help your body to regulate.
Whether women’s bodybuilding becomes your new lifestyle or something you cross off the bucket list, you’ll be proud of yourself in the end. You won’t believe your own amazing transformation and how far you can really push your limitations. It’s truly a form of self-discovery.
By Sarah Chadwell, CPT