What is the biggest mistake natural bodybuilding competitors make?
This is a question I was recently asked and without hesitation my response was, “rushing to compete.” Many competitors (especially those new to the sport) often rush to compete as soon as possible and as a result the end product is not what they set out to achieve.
Before embarking upon a contest prep, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Have you lifted heavy weights while not in a caloric deficit for a significant period of time in order to build a solid strength and size base?
- If you have competed before, have you taken long enough since your last prep that you have made significant visual progress?
- Is the show you are shooting for at least a year after your previous contest season (in most cases if the answer to this question is “no,” the answer to the above question will also be “no”)?
- Is your food as high as possible and cardio as low as possible while maintaining/slowly gaining weight (depending upon your goal at the end of your offseason)?
- If you have battled with psychological issues regarding body image, food, and/or exercise, have these been resolved?
- Are you free from current major injuries (if not, a deficit will only slow recovery)?
- Are you mentally in a place where you are willing to be consistent with your plan throughout the duration of your contest prep and make sacrifices, as needed, to get stage-lean?
- A good general rule of thumb for a first-time competitor is to take the weight you think you will be onstage and subtract 10-15lbs.
- If possible, find someone in the sport who has been around the sport a while and will not BS you to get an honest assessment of what your approximate stage-weight may be.
- Once you have an idea of roughly how much weight you have to lose (this will be an educated guess at best and ultimately depend upon a number of factors), give yourself enough time so that you can lose 0.5 – 1 % of body weight weekly until you are at that point (preferably closer to the 0.5% of body weight range for most).
- Give yourself more time than the number of weeks you calculated above (especially if you have never been stage-lean before!).
- If possible, have a list of show possibilities over a several month period. That way you can pick shows based upon when you are ready rather than being locked into a specific show date regardless of how you are looking at that point.
If the answer to all of these questions is “yes” then a contest prep is a possibility for you.
However, even for individuals who take the time to set themselves up properly for a successful contest prep, many still do not give themselves enough time to get all of the way stage-lean. Here are some tips when determining how long you will need to prep:
Ultimately, one thing I think we all need to keep in mind as competitors is that the stage will always be there once we are ready to step on it. There are several hundred drug-tested shows in the US annually (see natural bodybuilding schedules below) and the sport is only continuing to grow which means there are going to be many options once a competitor is ready. The key is taking the time necessary to bring the best physique possible to the stage and enjoying the process along the way.