So You Wanna Compete in FIGURE?

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So You Wanna Compete in FIGURE?

| By Anita Kus-Roberts |

14 Things You Should Know Before Wearing A Sparkly Bikini and Clear High Heels

Anita Kus-Roberts is a world-class figure competitor and nutrition expert.

When I think back to my early days of prepping for shows, I cringe! There are so many details I wished I knew before I stepped onto that stage. Years later, I’ve helped numerous others prep for shows, and I want to pass on this knowledge on to you.

So to make sure you step onstage with the poise and polish of a seasoned veteran, here’s what you need to know and do before you enter your first competition:

1) Go to a Show

This tip might sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many competitors show up at the first contest without ever having witnessed a figure show. And no matter how thorough your trainer might be, going to a show is the only way to know what to expect the day you take the stage. Take note of how the day is broken up: Is it split into a pre-judging and a final? How are the competitors brought onstage? Are there callouts? Pay attention to how the competitors are lined up, and how each girl presents her physique. Bring a notepad and take notes. Is there something you like about a particular competitor’s look? What about a mistake you don’t want to make? I’ve been to countless shows where someone shows up completely unprepared, and it’s embarrassing for all.

2) Pick a Trainer You Trust

Coach Darren Oliver is one of the most respected bodybuilding & figure trainers in the industry.

Well before you step onstage for your first show, you’ll need to find a trainer who can assess your physique, prescribe workouts and diets, and monitor your progress. Ideally, a good trainer will have competed. I’ve worked with a bodybuilder; a figure, fitness, and bikini athlete; and a world-renowned elite figure trainer. Each brought my body into great shape through very different methods, but one thing they all shared was that they had all competed. A former (or current) competitor will know exactly what you’re going through and what to expect. To make the right choice, you should interview your prospective trainers and outline your goals. If you’re high maintenance, let the trainer know before you start! Trainers aren’t babysitters — they’re mentors and guides who set the rules that will get you to your best, and once you’ve decided to work with someone you need to trust them and do exactly what they say.

3) Expect Some Changes to Your Body and Mood

As you near your competition date, your body will have changed from the inside out, leaving you with more lean muscle and significantly less fat. For a woman, this means loss of breast volume. Another common change to a woman’s body is cessation of menstruation due to both high-volume training and loss of bodyfat. So if you’re planning to have children in the future, I’d recommend getting on a healthy “offseason” eating plan for right after the competition. (Contrary to what some might think, walking around at 4% bodyfat isn’t healthy for women in the long term.) You can also expect to run into some wicked mood swings due to changes in your hormone levels. I’ve had meltdowns in grocery stores and have even cried while doing cardio, only to burst out laughing a minute later. If you have a significant other in your life, make sure they understand what’s in store — just in case they get the impression you’re always that way.

4) Don’t Buy Clothes the Day Before a Show

Warning: Those “00” skinny jeans might not fit for too long after the show!

I’m so guilty of this one. It’s tempting to shop because everything fits! But unless you plan to stay excessively lean or to compete constantly, don’t expect those “00” skinny jeans to fit you for long. Note that many bodybuilders and figure competitors have two wardrobes: on-season and off-season. Until you’re ready to commit long-term to the sport, just buy a belt and some quality spandex that will grow and shrink with you, not against you!

5) Find a Gym with a Good Variety of Equipment

Ideally, you want dumbbells, some good quality machines and a studio. Familiarize yourself with each piece of equipment that’s available and learn what it can do for you. The key here is variety. Depending on your body’s needs and your trainer’s preferences, you could end up slogging through long routines on a daily basis. And no matter how much you love lifting, using the same machine for the same bodypart over and over can get pretty tedious. So pick a gym with plenty of options, and don’t be afraid to explore them.

6) If You Don’t Eat Meat, Start!

Protein sources from lean meats like chicken and are essential for pre-contest dieting.

This is a touchy subject for a lot of would-be competitors, but it’s extremely difficult to sustain your precontest training and its high protein demands without meat. Egg whites and whey will get old quickly, and you’ll need a variety of protein sources that offer a complete spectrum of amino acids. And don’t get me started on soy!

7) Be Prepared to Spend Some Money

Competing in figure isn’t cheap. Sure, you won’t be out partying with your friends every night, but you’ll be ponying up for proper food, and lean protein and fresh veggies aren’t cheap. There are other expenses that you might not expect: hair and makeup on the day of the show, tanning, membership fees, registration fees, your suit and shoes, trainer fees, photographer, travel and lodging. All these elements add up to big bucks, but don’t go into debt for this sport. Be smart and budget accordingly.

Luckily, the first set of items I recommend purchasing are most likely already in your home: plastic baggies, reusable containers for meals, water bottle, measuring cups and spoons and a food scale. Finally, make sure you have a cooler bag that will fit everything and keep it fresh; your cooler bag is now your new purse!

8) Plan Your Tan

You want your tan as dark as possible onstage.

Order your tanning product as soon as possible, or brace yourself for the $100 to $150 you’ll have to pay for spray tanning the day of or day before the show. I can’t stress this enough! If possible, test the product before the show so that you understand how it will react with the ph level of your skin. Some tanning product can turn green or even melt off during a show. Don’t wait for this to happen to you! Secondly, don’t expect to go to a local tanning salon or spray-tan salon and get a competition-ready tan. This is a common newbie mistake I see over and over again, as no one fully realizes how dark they need to be until they’re under stage lights. If you’re applying your own tan, you want to get as dark as possible — we’re talking multiple coats! And if you think you’re dark enough, go darker.

9) Get in Touch with Your Girlie Side

Start thinking about how you’d like your hair and makeup to look for a show. If you can’t do your own hair and makeup, get someone else to do it for you — just be sure to find them early! And if you’re going to do it yourself, practice!  Note that this is not “prom.” Up-dos are often frowned upon and look out of place. You’ll also need to get those nails buffed and polished. You want to step on stage with every detail perfect, right down to your fingertips. You’ve just spent months training your body for the show — don’t hesitate to spend a couple of hours polishing any rough edges.

10) Order or Find a Suit and Shoes

NEVER wait until the last minute to find your posing suit and shoes!

Another newbie mistake is waiting until the last minute to find a suit. It’s painful to watch girls stress out and scramble for figure suits at the last minute. Do your due diligence and order your suit early. Keep in mind that a suit’s cut and style are very important in these competitions, as a proper suit is made specifically to both enhance your body and adhere to the rules and regulations of each organization. Suck it up and rent from someone with similar proportions, or buy a custom suit tailored to your body.  Sears won’t have the suit you’re looking for. Trust me.

Likewise, don’t expect to find clear high heels at your local shoe store. Unless you live near an exotic dancer supply outlet, do yourself a favor and get your shoes at least eight weeks in advance. That way you can practice posing in them with your suit.

11) Get Your House in Order

Throw out that secret stash of chips, icing, or cookies you were saving for an emergency. Make a schedule and plan your weeks leading up to the show, and definitely make sure no vacations or events will interfere with your training. If you’re going to compete, it has to be your first priority, so get organized and stay focused on what you want to achieve.

12) Build a Support System

A strong support network is vital for long-term success in the sport of figure.

You’re about to embark on a very special journey that’s all about you. Share your goal with your loved ones, and make sure they understand the importance of their support. This sport will test your personal relationships, and the people you care about need to know that you won’t be staying out late or dipping into that birthday cake or those holiday foods. Outside of your family, find a social network of like-minded people, like on, Facebook, or Make friends with other competitors who know what you’re going through.

13) Learn to Pose

Take posing seriously — it’s an art. Your trainer should be able to help you with it. If not, find someone who can assess your poses, correct your mistakes, and make you look your best. I wish I had learned the importance of posing before I started competing — it can make or break you when you’re onstage being compared to the other competitors in your class. You can have the best body on the stage but still place last if you don’t know how to show off that hard-earned body!

14) Put Your Blinders and Earmuffs On

Dr. J once gave me the best advice ever in my early training days: In the gym everybody suddenly becomes an expert. People will try to do things differently or advise you on what you’re doing wrong. People around you will try to tell you that one bite of dessert won’t hurt you. And of course, there is my favorite: “My trainer says you should do it this way”. Naturally, competitors get curious and start asking questions about training and competing. Do yourself a favor and stick to your trainer’s plan no matter how crazy you think it is. You’ll also need to let go of your own beliefs and stubbornness. Stop listening to the doubt in your mind and stick to the game plan.

As for your blinders, focus on your body, and your body only. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone’s body is different and will respond differently to the same program, so focus on bringing your best package.

Anita Kus-Roberts

Anita Kus-Roberts is a trainer, figure competitor and fitness model who uses her extensive competition experience to transform the physiques and lives of her clients. As a performance nutrition expert, she brings to the table an equally extensive knowledge of nutrients, ingredients and their effects on various body types.

After 15 years studying ballet and contemporary dance and competing in track and field, Anita entered her first figure competition and fell in love with the sport. Since winning her first trophy, she’s gone on to compete in several national- and international-level competitions, and she’s appeared in numerous magazine spreads for publications like Oxygen and Inside Fitness.

Anita is driven by a dedication to expand her knowledge by keeping up to date with the latest research on training techniques and nutrition. Her unique approach to training involves understanding the specific needs and goals of each individual and finding the most effective path to reach them.

By |July 30th, 2011|Training|

About the Author:
Strong Athlete was founded in 2011 by Strength & Conditioning Experts PK Mills and Gaétan Boutin. With over 40+ years of combined experience in sports nutrition, athletics, and fitness, the Strong Athlete team is dedicated to helping athletes achieve their maximum potential through a holistic approach to training, nutrition, and mindset.


  1. irene jerue May 19, 2012 at 2:35 AM - Reply

    Love your site, i lost 117 lbs. And want to compete.

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