I’ve seen it many times before – the look on someone’s face after I’ve told them that I’m training for a bodybuilding competition. It’s a 2-part look – the first part says “really?”, as in, “you don’t look like a bodybuilder”. Which is to say, I don’t look like what they think a bodybuilder looks like. I’m 6’0″, about 200ish pounds – not exactly gigantic by any means. The second part of the look just reaffirms the first part, that they have absolutely no idea what bodybuilding really is.
When people hear the word ‘bodybuilding’ their mind usually brings up pictures of the Governator in his prime, or some other similarly juiced up, orange-tinged meat head slathered in oil wearing nothing but a banana hammock, flexing his goods on stage for the world to see. You might expect me at this point to say that’s an unfair characterization, except it’s pretty much spot on – although at a typical competition, there is so much more to it than that. Times have changed, and now competitors at a bodybuilding show are 60-70% women. New divisions have been added that encourage a look that is less caricature-prone and more mainstream. Promoters of these shows are after money, which means more people competing in the shows, which means trying to appeal to a broader segment of the population.
What’s this all about, anyway?
So, why do people do this? What’s the draw, the allure? I can easily tell you what it isn’t: money. There’s nothing financially to be gained from this unless you’re one of the top handful of competitors in the world. If you enter your first competition and absolutely kick ass, you’re going to walk away with a cheap plastic trophy and maybe a free supplement bag from one of the show’s sponsors. From my experience, and from what I know of my friends and acquaintances who compete, the attraction is twofold: the challenge of getting ready, and the enjoyment they get from being on-stage.
Being on-stage is an understandable draw – either you look forward to it or you dread it, and most people understand where they sit on that issue. But let’s look at the other component, the challenge. For many people, making a solid, honest attempt to do their best in a physique competition will be the hardest thing they ever do voluntarily.
The diet is rough. You can certainly eat a variety of foods, but very nearly every single thing you eat must be something that you’ve cleanly prepared yourself. Eating out will become only a memory. You’ll be running a constant caloric deficit, and you must train your ass off while in that state (not an easy task). Early morning and/or late night sessions on the treadmill are going to happen. Your social life will take a big hit. Of course, you still probably have to work at your full-time job, and your boss/manager almost certainly doesn’t give a crap if you’re drained from your low-carb diet or a grueling leg workout the previous day. A lot of people go through many weeks of this routine only to realize, as showtime approaches, that they’re not ready (yours truly included). So what next? Do you give up, and waste the effort that you’ve poured in, or do you get on stage anyway, not looking anything close to your best. Remember that there will be pictures of you online to commemorate the event. It’s not an easy decision to make.
So, are you sold yet?
Obviously this sport isn’t for everybody. It takes a specific mindset and a certain work ethic and ability to commit to be even moderately competitive. But for those who fit that description, this is the perfect avenue to explore. Not happy with just “being in shape”? Want to compete in something, but your bum knee won’t let you run track anymore and poker doesn’t have the same appeal? Or maybe you want to lose weight, but aren’t content with just looking like you did 10 years ago. As I said before, there are photographers at these competitions documenting the proceedings for fans of the sport. While the cheap plastic trophy is nice, for many people the better prizes are the satisfaction of completing a goal, and having photos to share with friends and family while saying “yep, that’s me”. You want to talk about a way to inspire some people? That’s it.
Ok, so at this point now I know you’re sold. “Where can I sign up?”, I know you’re asking. Talk to me and we’ll assess where you’re at now and when a good time might be for a competition. For someone who’s “in shape”, a typical pre-contest diet is usually between 12-20 weeks. In future posts we’ll go over the various sanctioning bodies and divisions of competition, so you can make a more informed decision about your place in that first show, should you decide to take the plunge.