With the end of the year quickly approaching, bodybuilders everywhere are thinking about the inevitable start of their prep for an early spring show or deciding exactly what show(s) to hit for the upcoming year.  How do you pick the show that’s right for you?  There are many factors to consider, so let’s dive in.  In no particular order:

Schedule

Think about what you have planned in the year ahead and figure that an appropriate prep phase is going to take about 4 months.  It can be difficult (or impossible) to find a 4 month stretch in your life where you can just seclude yourself in a bubble and block out the rest of the world, and it isn’t necessary.  Enjoying some travel and taking part in events here and there are things that are absolutely doable while on prep – they just take a bit of additional planning and willpower in many cases.  That being said, if you’re getting married in June and having a week-long honeymoon right after that, a show in July or August is probably a bad idea.  Look at your calendar and identify the longest stretches of time that have the least going on – the end of that range is a great target date to start looking for.  Things to consider:  family events, vacations, school load/class schedule, kids’ schedules, holidays (December shows are no fun because it often means skipping Thanksgiving dinner).

Geography

Define a travel radius and look for options within that range.  In the east with states being smaller, you’ll have many more avenues to explore (this is something I help clients with).  If you live smack dab in the middle of Texas, you can pretty much confine your search to Texas and MAYBE Oklahoma if you’re adventurous.  Remember that when the show comes around you’re going to be tired and irritable – long car rides won’t help the situation.  I recommend avoiding flying in for a show unless it’s a national level show and can’t be helped.

Drug-testing

This seems obvious but is worth mentioning.  If you aren’t a natural athlete, you have no business at a natural show.  If you ARE a natural competitor, think about how important it is to have a level playing field (no right/wrong answer here).  It is possible to be a natural and still be competitive at a show that is not drug-tested.  Worth noting also that, generally speaking, natural shows are typically smaller, shorter, and at less impressive venues.

Show size

Many people enjoy competing in a large show with huge classes.  Personally I prefer smaller shows – you’re more likely to get a fair look and the show is less likely to drag on endlessly.  By looking at photo galleries online you can get a sense for how well attended a show is historically and make a judgment call from there.  If the show is a Pro/Am (professional and amateur show on the same day), know that prejudging and finals often bleed together without a break due to the number of people competing at these shows.  Know your preference and your patience level when making a decision!

Budget

Competing is expensive.  Things to consider include registration fees, organization membership fees (if needed), drug-testing fees (for natural shows), paying for spray tan/hair/makeup (or doing it yourself), purchasing a suit (huge variance in potential cost here), travel and hotel expenses – all in addition to gym memberships, food, supplements, and a coach if you have one.  Get a good grasp on what is needed financially and ensure you can swing it.

Overall readiness

This is the big one, and before addressing it I think it’s important to ask a question and really think about the answer:  Why do you want to compete?  Some people compete because it’s fun, something to do, and a way to phase their long-term training so they aren’t always in a deficit or perma-bulking.  Others have ambitions of turning pro or at least winning shows or being competitive and in the mix for hardware every time out.  I personally think both approaches are fine – we’re all individuals and we have to work for ourselves first and foremost.  If you fall into the former category of someone looking for experience and something fun/challenging to do, my goal as your coach would be to ensure you bring a competitive package to the stage and look like you belong up there.  There’s a baseline for development that is needed for all divisions and we need to ensure you have that level of overall muscular development before attempting a cut.  MANY people these days see others on social media with competition-level conditioning and think “I want to do that”, but there is WORK that must go in to your physique before aiming for that level of conditioning becomes an appropriate goal.  A good coach can help you get there.

If the goals are to win, turn pro, or something along those lines – I would ensure you have a clear picture of what that means in terms of effort and dedication, and then we need to take a good long look at your current physique and establish priorities and timelines.  It’s not uncommon for people to need a year (or years) of growth to be competitive at the highest levels – consider who you’re up against and realize that the pros didn’t become pros overnight.  How long you’ve already been at it certainly plays into the equation here as well.

Summary

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into planning your show and there are more considerations beyond what are mentioned here.  Establish your goals, work with your coach, and develop a long-term plan for where you want your body to be in 6 years rather than just 6 months.  Exercise patience and trust in the plan.  And of course, do work.

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