| By Erik Alstrup |
For those who love to hit the weights and enjoy seeing progress from training and eating correctly, physique competition may be the next step for you. The challenge of a bodybuilding show can channel your enthusiasm for the gym onto the stage. In order to prepare for a contest you must develop a plan that allows you to arrive at the competition mentally and physically prepared.
Most competitors need about 14-16 weeks to fully prepare for a contest. Depending on your experience level and body composition, your pre-contest time frame can vary. Novice competitors should give themselves plenty of time – perhaps as much as 20 weeks to slowly introduce the various elements necessary to succeed. This includes a solid nutrition, training and cardiovascular program, which will allow you to reduce body fat levels, while increasing muscle mass. A long pre-contest prep period will also give you ample time to practice the mandatory poses and your individual posing routine. As your experience level increases, so will your efficiency at preparing for the stage.
Some experienced athletes who stay in shape year around can be stage ready in just a few weeks. To reach this level takes time and patience. Also, once you’ve arrived at this point in your bodybuilding journey, it’s quite possible that you will be at the national level or even a professional.
The first step to prepare for a bodybuilding contest is to determine the average number of calories you are consuming daily to sustain your average daily body weight. Begin by logging your total calories and body weight daily for 1 full week.
Next, average separately the total calories and total body weight to find the average daily totals. You’ve now determined the number of calories that sustains your daily body weight. Use this daily calorie total and reduce your daily calories by 500. Approximately 50% (250 calories) will be reduced from fat and carbs and the remaining 50% (250 calories) will be burned through exercise. It’s very important that you maintain your protein levels during a pre-contest prep as this is the macronutrient that will offset any catabolic effects and help you to maintain or even increase your muscle mass. Ensure your protein levels are between 1.5-2.0 grams per lb of body weight to offset the catabolic effects of pre-contest training.
Generally, you should expect a weight loss of about 1-2 lbs per week once your nutritional and training structure is in place and consistent.
Make small modifications to your nutrition and training program to continue making progress. To lean out further you must slowly, progressively intensify your training, while reducing your total caloric intake until you are stage ready. As you progress toward the competition you will reach a level in your nutrition program where you should not reduce calories any further as you may experience counter productive results. A minimum number of calories are needed to maintain your basal metabolism. This number is different for each individual and is based on many factors including age, gender, activity levels, training intensity, etc. and can be determined through many online metabolism counters.
During the last 6 weeks you should be in full stride with your training, meal timing, and cardiovascular work. You should be looking and feeling pretty good at this point.
At about 4 weeks out from the competition, your individual posing routine should be taking shape and regular mandatory posing practice should begin.
At 2 weeks out from your show you should definitely look stage ready. Begin mentally preparing by rehearsing your final week preparations, routine and stage presence. If you follow this timeline, unhurried and sticking to your plan, you will be able to step onstage fully prepared, mentally focused and confident, knowing you have done your homework.
You will be ready to compete for the big prize!
Finally, remember that every contest is the goal attained from months and years of consistent effort. Take in as much of the competitive experience as you can that day. Notice what worked well and what didn’t. Consider keeping a journal, highlighting the significant areas of your pre-contest process and refer to it for your next contest, tweaking the areas that you know can be improved for your next show.
Good luck and have fun!
Erik has worked as a certified fitness professional for the past 20 years. He is also one of Canada’s most accomplished competitive bodybuilders, setting a standard for shape, symmetry and conditioning that few have been able to match since.
In 1998, Erik won the Overall Canadian Bodybuilding Championships and earned his IFBB pro card, before switching gears to pursue a career in marathon running and triathlon.
Since making his return to the bodybuilding stage in 2009, Erik enjoys competing within multiple organizations where he has earned professional athlete status.